The Oregon Geographic Names Board will hold one of two annual meetings in the Crook County Library

Whether it’s a canyon, a mountain, a creek, or some other Oregon landmark, they all need a name.

That responsibility falls on the Oregon Geographic Names Board, and next weekend it will come to Prineville to host one of two yearly meetings.

The board initially formed in 1908, and was run by the state government. That changed in 1959, when then-Gov. Mark Hatfield assigned administration of the board to the Oregon Historical Society.

“The purpose is to supervise the naming of geographic features in the state of Oregon,” said Kerry Tymchuk, the board’s executive secretary and executive director of the historical society. “We pass on those recommendations to the United States Board of Geographic Names, which has final approval.”

More often than not, the board assigns names to features that have thus far lacked one. Such actions are typically spawned by requests from a government agency or even members of the general public.

“We also speak with the local government agencies and local citizens to provide some justification for the name,” Tymchuk said. “You can’t just pick a name out of a hat ... The board looks for historical reasons for the name.”

Other times, the board considers name changes.

“More information has come along about a historical point of that feature, and they want to change the name,” Tymchuk offered as a potential scenario.

Such is the case with their meeting in Prineville. The board meets once a year in Portland, the location of the historical society, but hold another meeting elsewhere in the state. One reason, as Tymchuk puts it, is they are an Oregon board, not a Portland one. Secondly, they try to meet near an area that is up for a new or changed name.

“One of the reasons we are going there (to Prineville) is because we recently renamed a canyon (in Central Oregon),” said Tymchuck.

The canyon, located near Warm Springs, will now bear the name John Brown Canyon, a change that will eliminate a racial description from its original title.

“It was known as (N-word) Brown Canyon for many, many years by locals,” said Bowman Museum Historian Steve Lent. “Then it became Negro Brown Canyon when (the U.S. Board of Geographic Names) put a name to it.”

The canyon, located north of Madras, near Highway 26 where it drops down toward the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, was named after an African American man John Brown.

“He came from Polk County,” Lent said. “He followed his friend Til Glaze here, who became a bar owner and started the first band here in Prineville.”

Arriving in the late 1870s, Brown is believed to be the first settler in the canyon.

OGNB members will arrive in Prineville next Friday, at which time they will go visit the canyon in question. The following day, they will take a ride on the Mt. Emily Shay steam engine, a locomotive owned by the historical society and cared for by the City of Prineville Railway. The official meeting will later convene in the early afternoon at Crook County Library. The public is welcome to attend.

The Oregon Geographic Names Board will meet at the Crook County Library on Saturday, June 21, at 1:30 p.m.

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