Oregon is home to many offensive place names, and efforts have been made over the years to change them. Now, several racist landmark names are finally up for change, and, pending approval, three will honor Black Oregonians. U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Malvin Brown, one of the “Triple Nickles” will be the namesake of a Douglas County ridge. A Grant County landmark will become Columbus Sewell Knob, after the early Black entrepreneur and patriarch of a successful Central Oregon family. And a creek in Douglas County will be renamed Jack Carson Creek after Adam “Andrew Jackson” Carson, an early Black pioneer and horse trainer.
“It’s past time we remove these racist terms, I love that we’re honoring the individuals, and not just removing the historical presence of Black people in these areas. I’m just sad it took this long to do it.” Oregon landmarks getting new names, Oregonian/OregonLive
Malvin L. Brown was a soldier, and the first casualty of the US Forest Service’s smokejumper program.
The United States military was still segregated during World War II. One all-Black unit created during the war was the 555th Parachute Infantry. In 1945, the 555th, popularly known as the Triple Nickles, received a unique assignment:they were sent to the West Coast for what was called Operation Firefly. They trained as smokejumpers, and put out remote wildfires caused by Japanese balloon bombs. The men would jump from planes and drop into forest lands where they could extinguish the blazes on foot. In just that one summer, members of the Triple Nickles had over 1200 jumps. The unit was deployed to extinguish 36 fires in Oregon, Washington, California, and Alaska.
Malvin Brown was the first smokejumper to die in the line of duty, and the only member of the Triple Nickles to die during Operation Firefly.
Listen to Malvin Brown’s story on The Register here!
Christopher Columbus Sewell was an early Black entrepreneur and patriarch of a successful Central Oregon family during the region’s gold rush years.
In the 1850s, Sewell headed west to California in search of gold. Years later, gold was discovered in Canyon Creek, a gulch near present day John Day Oregon. A boom town sprung up which became known as Canyon City. Sewell established a gold claim in Canyon City and built a home in town. He and his wife Louisa raised two boys there. Columbus established a freight business, driving goods between Canyon City and The Dalles. He was highly successful, and eventually equipped 12 horses to his fleet of wagons. In the winter of 1884, he famously plowed snow from the road, allowing stranded travelers to continue. The Sewells became prominent members of the Canyon City community.
The son of remarkable Black pioneer Letitia Carson, Adam “Andrew Jackson” or “Jack” Carson lived and farmed in Douglas County and was known as a skilled horse trainer and land owner. The Letitia Carson Legacy Project highlights the Carson family’s unique story and seeks to preserve her land for education, exploration and inspiration.
Explore the Carson family history here
“We at Oregon Black Pioneers are happy to see historic Black individuals being recognized as the namesakes of geographic features in the parts of Oregon they called home. These individuals deserve such recognition in their own names, not in generalized racial language with antiquated terminology.” Ridge near Red Butte will get new name honoring Black smokejumper Douglas County News-Review.