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Views divided on changing Dead Indian Memorial Road name

Jackson County Commissioners heard a broad range of opinions about whether the name of Dead Indian Memorial Road should be changed.

Dozens of local residents offered conflicting views Wednesday night during a public hearing. Commissioners are continuing to take input on the issue through the end of this month. They will discuss the topic in November.

In 1855, white settlers found two deceased Native Americans in the area where the road was later built. How they died remains a mystery.

After the road was constructed, it became known as Dead Indian Road. Jackson County Commissioners changed the name to Dead Indian Memorial Road in 1993. The county continues to field one or two complaints per month from locals and tourists.

Darlene Donnelly, who lives near Dead Indian Memorial Road, said the history of the area is gradually being lost, from an historic barn that burned down to a meadow that has been converted into a marijuana grow. She said the name of the road was never meant to be derogatory.

"There's not going to be any history left if we take everything out of the history books that offends one or two people a month," Donnelly said.

Barry Hoffman, who owns property along Dead Indian Memorial Road, said his grandfather was from the Klamath tribe and wasn't offended by the name.

"Where do you start and where do you stop name changes?" he asked.

Dead Indian Memorial Road resident Jackie Hassell said history is made up of a rich tapestry of events, some good and some bad. She said one of her ancestors was sent to an Indian industrial school and stripped of his Indian name. She asked commissioners not to remove Dead Indian Memorial Road's name.

"Do not whitewash history," Hassell said.

But Tom Doolittle, who also lives on the road, said the name is disrespectful. He said the county should take the time to research a better replacement name, such as Mountain Lakes Road, Shasta Memorial Road or Takelma Memorial Road. The latter names would honor local tribes.

Klamath tribal member Perry Chocktoot said the area traversed by the road was traditionally Klamath tribal land. In considering a replacement name, he urged commissioners to consult with tribal members — whose ancestors lived in the area for thousands of years, long before white settlers arrived.

"That road is an affliction," Chocktoot said of its name.

Elizabeth Olson, who lives on Wagner Creek Road near Talent, was among the people who told commissioners she decided not to buy a home on Dead Indian Memorial Road because of the name.

Jay Scelza urged people to substitute their own last name, race or religion for the word "Indian" in the name to see how they would feel.

Erika Giesen asked people to imagine America being invaded, with most of its citizens murdered and killed by infectious diseases brought by the invaders. What if the invaders called a road Dead American Memorial Road and told the survivors they should like the name?

A Southern Oregon University graduate said Native American kids driving on the road for an educational field trip during SOU summer camp were brought to tears on the bus when they saw its name.

Mandy Valencia, who is part Comanche and other tribes and a former reporter, said she was one of the kids who cried when she saw the name.

"I have a little Native boy and I don't want him to cry on this road like I did," she said.

Written comments about the name can be emailed to roadsinfo@jacksoncounty.org, faxed to 541-774-6295 or mailed to Jackson County Roads, 200 Antelope Road, White City, Oregon 97503.

— Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.