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Swastika Mountain is renamed Mount Halo in honor of a historical tribal leader

Swastika Mountain, located in a remote part of the Umpqua National Forest outside Eugene, Ore., has officially been renamed Mount Halo after a local indigenous leader.
U.S. Geological Survey
Swastika Mountain, located in a remote part of the Umpqua National Forest outside Eugene, Ore., has officially been renamed Mount Halo after a local indigenous leader.

A lesser-known peak in western Oregon's Umpqua National Forest was renamed Mount Halo after residents suggested a change to the moniker.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the change for Swastika Mountain on April 13. The new title, Mount Halo, pays tribute to Chief Halito of the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe.

The mountain, which stands just shy of 4,200-feet in elevation, made headlines twice in 2022: first on the state and local level when two missing teens were rescued there by a Coast Guard helicopter on New Year's Day; and nationally when 81-year-old Joyce McClain petitioned to have the peak renamed last summer.

She contacted the Oregon Historical Society and its Oregon Geographic Names Board to propose the name be changed to Umpqua Mountain, according to McClain's proposal. She said that when Mount Halo was proposed, she felt it was a better fit and withdrew her submission.

The former name has no ties to the National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party, that governed during World War II. Kerry Tymchuk, executive secretary at the historical society, told NPR last summer that the mountain, as well as the now-extinct town of Swastika, were named after a cattle ranch of the same name in the early 1900s, before Adolf Hitler and his party rose to power.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says the symbol — which the ranch used for branding cattle — dates as far back as 7,000 years and means "good fortune" or "well-being" in Sanskrit. However, in the early 20th century, the marker came to symbolize German nationalists and Hitler's Nazi Party.

The mountain's new name was approved in a 19-3 vote during an Oregon Geographic Names Board meeting in December, according to the meeting's minutes, and was made official by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in mid-April.

McClain said she knows the mountain's name had innocent origins, and that some people aren't fans of swapping out historical names, but she felt Swastika was no longer appropriate and needed to change. Looking back on it all, she's happy she saw the whole thing through.

"I was glad I could do this," McClain told NPR. "One person can really make a difference. People don't think so, but this proves that one person can, no matter who they are."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.