"Origin of Washington Place Names"

Edmond S. Meany, Professor of History

University of Washington Press (Seattle), 1923

Edmond Meany was a Professor of History at the University of Washington in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He wrote several books on Washington history and geography. I have transcribed all of the entries for Cowlitz County locations from his book, "Origin of Washington Place Names." There are a number of typographical errors in the text, which are reproduced verbatim here. All of the sources listed in parentheses are Meany's own footnotes. The titles are self-explanatory, except for "Names MSS." This manuscript was actually a collection of all of the letters Meany received in response to requests for information on specific place-names. He had all of the letters bound in book-form. All of the sources mentioned by Meany are still held at the Universtiy of Washington library, in their rare manuscripts and Pacific Northwest collections.

pg. 9

ARKANSAS CREEK, in Cowlitz County. It was named in the early fifties for the reason that a number of settlers there had come from the state of Arkansas. (E. B. Huntington, in "Names MSS., Letter 158.)

pg. 31

BURKE ISLAND, in the Columbia River, Cowlitz County. The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, shows it as "Paia Island." It appears as Burke Island in the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Chart 6153, dated April, 1914.

pg. 37

CARROLLS, a town on the Columbia River in Cowlitz County. It was formerly known as Carrollton, the name being changed on March 17, 1915. The name was in honor of Major Carroll, one of the first settlers. (Postmaster, in "Names, MSS.," Letter 391.)

pg. 40

CASTLE ROCK, a city in Cowlitz County. In 1853 William Huntington gave the name to a huge solid rock, 150 feet high, covering more than an acre and having the appearance of an old castle. The rock was on his government donation land claim. When a settlement and town developed there, it very naturally took the same name. (Mrs. E. B. Huntington, in "Names MSS.," Letter 158.)

CATLIN, a town in Cowlitz County, named in honor of the pioneer, Charles Catlin. ("Tilicum Tales of Thurston County," page 228). Others believe the honor was for Seth Catlin, pioneer settler and legislator.

pg. 48-49

CLARKE COUNTY, oldest county in the State of Washington. It was named in honor of Captain Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 to 1806. The addition of the letter "e" to the name has given rise to much inquiry and discussion. The blunder is one of ignorance, but is probably now too deeply imbedded in law, literature and custom to be completely corrected. The question was ably discussed by Frderick V. Holman in his presidential address before the Oregon Historical Society, December 18, 1909. ("Oregon Historical Quarterly," Volume XI., pages 3-6.) On August 20, 1845, Governor George Abernethy approved a law by the Provisional Legislature of the Territory of Oregon creating Vancouver District out of that part of Oregon lying north of the Columbia River. The same authoriy, on December 21, 1845, subdivided the vast area by creating the western portion into Lewis County. Vancouver District was then changed to Vancouver County. On September 3, 1849, the Oregon Territorial Legislature passed a law, Section I of which briefly enacted "That the name of the county of Vancouver be and hereby is, changed to 'Clark.'" In the law as printed the name is in italics and is without the final "e." Washington Territory was created by an Act of Congress, dated March 2, 1853. The Oregon Territorial Legislature on January 3, 1854, passed an act to release Clark County from the payment of certain taxes due to the Territory of Oregon. This legal farewell used the name without the final "e." The new Territory of Washington began the blunder at once. No law was passed changing the name, but the journals of the first legislative session, 1854, always referred to Clarke County. The first newspapers, such as the "Columbian," "Pioneer," and "Pioneer and Democrat," all used the final "e" in Clarke County. Territorial laws on mentioning the name of this county used the final "e." While attention has often been called to the blunder in late years no effort at legal correction has apparently been made.

pg. 57

COTTONWOOD ISLAND, in the Columbia River, near the mouth of Cowlitz River, in Cowlitz County. It was named "Kanem" Island by the Wilkes Expedition, 1841, but on the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Chart 6153 it is shown by the present name, taken no doubt from the abundance of cottonwood trees. The Indian name "Kanem" means "canoe."

pg. 57-58

COUGAR, a town in Cowlitz County. The postoffice was established in 1906, and of the several names submitted to the Postoffice Department this one of a wild animal was selected. (John Beavers, in "Names MSS., " Letter 201.)

pg. 58-59

COWEMAN RIVER, a tributary of the Cowlitz River, near Kelso, Cowlitz County. It was once known as "Gobar's River" from Anton Gobar, a herder in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, who occupied a small prairie on the east side of the Cowlitz River. (Olympia "Transcript," April 18, 1868.) The present name is from the Indian word "Ko-wee-na", which in the Cowlitz language means "short man." An Indian of short stature bore than [sic] name, and his home being in the vicinity of the river a modification of his name was given to the river. (Henry C. Sicade to John L. Harris, in "Names MSS.," Letter 482.)

pg. 59

COWLITZ COUNTY, created by the Territorial Legislature on April 21, 1854. The name was taken from the tribe of Indians or the river of the same name.

pg. 59-60

COWLITZ RIVER. Of all the geographic uses of the word Cowlitz, the name of the river is the oldest and most important. Lewis and Clark, 1803-1806, say the Indians called the river "Coweliske." ("Journal," Cones Edition, Volume II., page 698.) Subsequent writers made various attempts at spelling. Dr. W. Fraser Tolmie, 1833, wrote it "Tawallitch." ("Washington Historical Quarterly," Volume III., page 233.) The word is said to mean "capturing the medicine spirit," from the fact that the young Indians of the tribe were sent to a small prairie to commune with the spiritis to get "medicine" or "power." (Henry C. Sicade to John L. Harris, in "Names MSS.," Letter 483.) The River's early importance was its use as a highway between the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

pg. 63

DAVIS PEAK, near Woodland, in Cowlitz County. It was used as a signal point during the Indiana wars.

pg. 86

FISHER ISLAND, in the Columbia River, in the southwest poerton of Cowlitz County. The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, charted it s "Plomondon Island," but that honor for the old retired Hudson's Bay Company man has been replaced.

pg. 93

FREEPORT, a town on the Cowlitz River, in Cowlitz County. It was laid out by Nathaniel Stone and named in honor of a town in Indiana where his family lived before migrating to the Pacific Coast in 1848. (Mrs. Antionette Baker Huntington, Castle Rock, manuscript in Pioneer Files, University of Washington.)

pg. 95

GARDNER, an old settlement on the north side of the Toutle River at its junction with the Cowlitz. (Map of the Surveyor-General of Washington Territory, 1857.)

pg. 98


pg. 122

JACKSON, a settlement in Cowlitz County, named for William Jackson, a member of a pioneer family, on whose donation land claim a postoffice was established in 1883. (Mrs. E. R. Huntington, in "Names MSS.," Letter 158.)

pg. 126

KALAMA, a river and a town in the southern part of Cowlitz County. The town was named by General J. W. Sprague of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1871. To comply with the law twenty-five miles of road was built toward Puget Sound, and the place of beginning was then named Kalama. (Elwood Evans, in "History of the Pacific Northwest," Vol. II., page 47.) Rev. Myron Eells thought the word came from the Indian word Calamet, meaning stone. See Cathlamet. Mrs. E. R. Huntington, of Castle Rock, says the name was spelled Calama in early days. She obtained from Norman Burbee when eighty years of age information that his father took up a claim on that river in 1847, and that the Indians told him that Calama meant pretty maiden. ("Names MSS.," Letter 158.)

pg. 127


pg. 129

KELSO, a town in Cowlitz County. Peter W. Crawford, a surveyor, took up a donation land claim and on it platted a townsite which he named Kelso after his home town in Scotland. The original plat is dated October 1, 1884, and it was filed on the next day. (John L. Harris, in "Names MSS.," Letter 473.)

pg. 136

KOWLITCH RIVER, see Cowlitz River.

pg. 138-139

LAKE MERRILL, in the southeastern part of Cowlitz County. Old settlers claim that it was named in 1890 by James McBride and Frank Vandever in honor of Judge McBride's father-in-law. (JOhn Beavers, Cougar, in "Names MSS.," Letter 201.)

pg. 146

LEWIS RIVER, a stream rising in the northern part of Skamania County and flowing southwestward into the Columbia River, serving as the boundary between Clarke and Cowlitz Counties. It was named for A> Lee Lewis whos land claim was about seven miles from its mouth. (H. H. Bancroft, "Works," Volume XXXI., page 10, note 23.) A former name was "Cathlapootle." The two main branches are now called North Fork Lewis River and South Fork Lewis River. The railroad surveyors, 1853, called the north fork "Cath-la-pootle River." ("Pacific Railroad Reports," Volume XI., Part II., Map 3.)

pg. 160

MARTIN ISLAND, in the Columbia River, in the south central part of Cowlitz County. The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, mapped it as "Smoke ISland" and Martin Slough nearby was shown as "Stiak Run." (Volume XXIII., "Hydrography," atlas, chart 71.)

pg. 171

MONTICELLO, a former town on the west bank of the Cowlitz River, about a mile from its mouth, in the southern part of Cowlitz County. It had been a landing place for some years before H. D. Huntington in 1849 affixed the name of Monticello in honor of Thomas Jefferson's home. The pioneers held a convention there in November, 1852, and successfully petitioned Congress for the creation of a new territorial government, which received the name of Washington. The old town is gone and the property belongs to Wallace Huntington. (John L. Harris, of Kelso, in "Names MSS.," Letter 473.)

pg. 175

MOUNT COFFIN, on the north bank of the Columbia River in the southwestern part of Cowlitz County. Elevation, 240 feet. It was mentioned by its present name by Alexander Henry on January 11, 1814. (Alexander Henry and David Thompson, "Journals," Elliott Cones, editor Vol. II., page 796.) Wilkes described the Indian canoes used as coffins and tells of a fire accidentally started by his men in 1841. (United States Exploring Expedition, "Narrative," Volume V., 121.)

pg. 178-179

MOUNT SAINT HELENS, in the northeastern part of Skamania County. Elevation 9,671 feet. (Henry Landes: "A Geographic Dictionary of Washington," page 244.) In May, 1792, Captain George Vancouver saw the mountain from Puget Sound. In the following October, while off the shore near the mouth of the Columbia River he saw it again and named it in honor His Brtiannic Majesty's Ambassador at the Court of Madrid. ("Voyage of Discovery," second edition, Volume II., page 399.) In the Hall J. Kelley scheme for names in the "Presidents' Range," Mount Saint Helens was to have been "Mount Washington." It was for a time confused with Moutn Adams in the same latitude. The Indian name is said to have been Louwala-clough meaning "smoking mountain." (Oregon Native Son in "The Washington Historian," September, 1899, page 52.) The volcano is said to have been in eruption as late as 1842. (James G. Swan: "The Northwest Coast," 1857, page 395.)

pg. 193-194

OAK POINT, a town on the Columbia River in the southwestern part of Cowlitz County. On Sunday, October 28, 1792, Lieutenant W. R. Broughton, who was exploring the Columbia River in the armed tender "Chatham" for Captain Vancouver wrote in his log: "for the first time in this river some oak-trees were seen, one of which measured thirteen feet in girth; this, therefore, obtained the name of Oak Point. ("Voyage Round the World," second edition, Volume III., page 100.) Oak Point became a great landmark. It was mentioned by Alexander Henry, the Younger, on January 9, 1814. ("New Light on the Early History of the Great Northwest," edited by Elliott Cones, Volume II., page 793.) This point is on the Oregon side of the Columbia but the Pioneer botanist, David Douglas, who mentioned it frequently, located it on the north bank while describing the oak trees. "Plentifull on the north banks of that stream sixty miles from the ocean, and from that circumstance named by Capt. Vancouver 'Oak Point.' 1792." He gave the tree its botanical name "Quercus Garryana," saying "I have great pleasure in dedicating this species to N. Gerry, Esq., Deputy Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, as a sincere though simple token of regard." ("Journal," 1823-1827, page 49.) Hubert Howe Bancroft says that the Oak Point Mills were built on the north side of the river in the summer of 1850 by a man named Dyer for Abernethy and Clark of Oregon City. ("Works," Volume XXX., page 4, notes.)

pg. 197

OLEQUA, a town on Olequa Creek in the northwestern part of Cowlitz County. The railroad station was named in 1871 by General J. W. Sprague, General Superintendent of the Northern Pacific Railroad. (Mrs. E. B. Huntington, of Castle Rock, in "Names MSS." Letter 158.) It is claimed that the word is a corruption of the Indian word "Cametze," meaning where the salmon come to spawn. Olequa was a place where many Indians gathered to catch salmon on their spawning grounds. (Henry C. Sicade to John L. Harris, in "Names MSS." Letter 481.)

pg. 203

OSTRANDER, a town and creek in the central part of Cowlitz County, both named in honor of Dr. Nathaniel Ostrander, who homesteaded there. He was a famous pioneer physician who later moved to Olympia where he died on February 7, 1902. (Mrs. George E. Blankenship: "Tillicum Tales of Thurston County," pages 226-228). In May, 1916, Justice of the Peace S. W. Holmes wrote from Ostrander ("Names MSS." Letter 392) that the honor was for Abel Ostrander, which is probably a mistake as to the first name.

pg. 252

SAINT HELENS, a town in the northwestern part of Cowlitz County. See Mount Saint Helens for the origin of the name.

pg. 267

SHANGHAI VALLEY, Cowlitz County, named by Samuel J. Huntington who thought that Mr. Choate and sons, early settlers in the valley had unusually long legs. He called them "Shanghais" and referred to the valley as "over to Shanghai." The name thus given in jest has stuck to the region. (Mrs. Antoinette Baker Huntington, of Castle Rock, in Pioneer Biography Manuscripts, University of Washington.)

pg. 2701-271

SILVER LAKE, there are five small lakes and one postoffice bearing this name in the State. The postoffice is located near the shore of the lake of that name in the north central part of Cowlitz County, about six miles northeast of Castle Rock. This lake was formerly known as Toutle Lake. (Joseph O'Neil, Postmaster at Castle Rock, in "Names MSS." Letter 158.)

pg. 282-283

SPILYEH CREEK, a tributary of Lewis River, five miles below the town of Yale, in the southeastern part of Cowlitz County. It was named for an Indian chief of that name. The word means "coyote." (Anna Griffiths, of Yale, in "Names MSS." Letter 243.) In the itinerary of Captain George B. McClellan, 1853, the creek is mentioned with its present name. ("Pacific Railroad Reports," Volume 1., pages 377-389.) The Indians of that vicinity had many legends of "Speelyai" (coyote) the great Indian god. (Dr. G. P. Kuykendall, in "History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington," Volume II., pages 64-66.)

pg. 288

STELLA, a postoffice in the southwestern part of Cowlitz County. About 1880, a man named Packard started a store and secured a postoffice which he caused to be named after his daughter, Stella. (C. F. Struckmeier, in "Names MSS." Letter 446.)

pg. 315

TOUTLE RIVER, a tributary of the Cowlitz River, may have derived its name from Indians referred to by Lewis and Clark on March 27, 1806. They wrote of the Cowlitz River as "Coweliskee" and continuing: "On the same river, above the Skilloots, reside the nation called Hullooetell, of whom we learnt nothing, except that the nation was numerous." ("Journals," Elliott Coues edition, Volume III., page 911.) The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, first charted the present name of Toutle River. ("Hydrography," Volume XXIII., Atlas, chart 67.) The railroad surveyors, in 1853, showed the river as "Seh-quu." ("Pacific Railroad Reports," Volume XI., Part II., chart 3.) The Bureau of American Ethnology says Sekwu is the Klickitat name of a village at the forks of the Cowlitz River, presumably belonging to the Cowlitz tribe. ("Handbookd of American Indians," Volume II., page 500.) The present name of the river was restored in 1856. (Preston's Map of Oregon and Washington West of the Cascade Mountains.) Subsequent maps have shown the name as Toutle River although old settlers use the local name of "East Fork of the Cowlitz." (Mrs. E. B. Huntington, of Castle Rock, in "Names MSS." Letter 158.) For years, Silver Lake, six miles northeast of Castle Rock, was known as "Toutle Lake." A town on the river, in the central part of Cowlitz County wears the name of Toutle.

pg. 344

WHILL WETZ, an Indian village on Oak Point in 1810-1813. (Alexander Ross, "Oregon Settlers," in "Early Western Travels," Volume VII., page 117.)

pg. 355

YALE, a town in the southeastern part of Cowlitz County, was formerly known by the Indian name of "Spillei." The United States Postoffice Department selected the new name. (Anna Griffith, in "Names MSS." Letter 414.) The honor was probably intended for the University.