ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Viewpoint: A better name for Ashland’s landmark red hill

Pompadour Bluff rises above Ashland, with the Oak Knoll golf course in the foreground. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
December 15, 2023

‘Pompadour Bluff’ was known to the native Takelma people as ‘Lathkawk’ — a far better term than a dated hairstyle

By Mahmoud Shelton

In his field notes, the heroic ethnologist John Peabody Harrington identifies the Takelma place name Lathkawk as “the little red hill at Ashland,” and more precisely the “red looking hill across (Bear) Creek from Ashland, close to Ashland.”

The only place matching this description is now somewhat embarrassingly called Pompadour Bluff. However, elsewhere in his notes Harrington uses the same name for Grizzly Peak, which rises far above the town and is neither a hill nor “red looking.”

This discrepancy derives from his dependence upon two distinct sources for his information. The former identification is linked to Frances Johnson, the incomparable source of Takelma traditional knowledge, both for Harrington as well as for Edward Sapir, who preceded him. The association with Grizzly Peak, an association invariably adopted by subsequent academics, is based upon the report of Molly Orton, who accompanied Harrington on a visit to the Ashland area in 1933.

During that visit, it was often difficult to connect the topography with Orton’s memory and so make simple identifications. Harrington notes clearly, however, that “Lathkawk = Grizzly Peak.” Lathkawk literally “means front of person,” and it is in this sense that Orton apparently used the word, since anyone in Ashland looking up toward Grizzly Peak is “faced” by a distinctively rocky ridgeline. It is important to recognize that this ridge is not Grizzly Peak proper, but rather its western flank; its peak is actually hidden from view.

The term Lathkawk therefore refers not to a peak but only to the “front” of the mountain; in fact, Harrington notes that once when Orton was regarding the wider ridgeline, she asserted that she “could call the whole thing Lathkawk.”

Any mountain obviously presents different aspects depending upon the position of the witness, so Grizzly Peak is not really unique in this regard. The hill known as Pompadour Bluff is known as a bluff precisely because the side seen by most people in the Ashland area is a cliff face. On the other hand, from behind it appears as an unremarkable hill. More than Grizzly Peak, then, it appears to have a “front” that faces people.

The name “Lathkawk” is therefore eminently appropriate, which is, of course, why Frances Johnson used it.

Composed of sandstone, unlike Grizzly Peak, its identity as a “little red hill” is perfectly comprehensible. Rather awkwardly, Harrington notes that Grizzly Peak appears “reddish at times,” but so will any rocky ridge that faces the setting sun. Here, unfamiliar with the geography of Ashland and in the company of Molly Orton, Harrington seems to be attempting to reconcile two conflicting reports. In his final notes on the matter, however, Harrington cites Johnson rather than Orton.

The meaning of this Takelma word is actually not unrelated to the significance of the bluff’s current name, since the “pompadour” hairstyle is distinctive for its front. However, it must be insisted that its current name, deriving ultimately from French aristocracy but recalling more immediately the pop culture destitution of the 20th century, is no longer acceptable. The designation “Pompadour” is far from iconic, with virtually nothing named after it.

The time has finally come to replace it with a better word from Indigenous culture that happens to be relatively straightforward. The Takelma name Ti’lomikh has thankfully been restored to the village site along the Rogue River, and the name Taowhywee has become the official name of a lesser known hill in Ashland’s vicinity.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy presently has the privilege of managing the landmark, and for years has advertised that “we hope to discover” its Indigenous name. With privilege comes responsibility, and discovering the truth requires action. The native name of this landmark is Lathkawk, a name that, despite academic presumption, never corresponded to Grizzly Peak as a whole but has always served to designate the “little red hill at Ashland.”

Speeches including land acknowledgements are all well and good, but more permanent reminders are better. Once the land conservancy facilitates visits to the bluff as they have “envisioned,” the proper name should help people remember to walk in harmony with those who no doubt respected the bluff for thousands of years.

Mahmoud Shelton is the author of “Ancient Secrets of the Rogue Valley” and other books. A longer version of this article with references is available by clicking here.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

Related Posts...

Viewpoint: Hope and dread and the presidential election

Michael O’Looney: We are all exhausted just thinking about another four years of Trumpian strife and self-glorification or another four years of seeing a faltering though well-intentioned, elderly statesman who simply may no longer have the energy or vision to guide the nation through the perilous times ahead.

Read More »

Writers on the Range: War comes to my small town

Talent councilor Jason Clark: “People all over the world want a negotiated solution that provides peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. More military aid just provokes more resistance and makes a negotiated solution harder to achieve.”

Read More »

Latest posts

Council agrees: A denser Ashland would make more city more ‘liveable’

In just an hour and half on Monday night, the Ashland City Council strongly affirmed that the city’s future will include major swaths of taller, denser development designed to reduce our dependency on automobiles, adapt to climate change, and provide a greater amount of multi-family and affordable housing, while striving to provide spaces for commercial and small-scale industrial uses.

Read More >

Chris Honoré: A debate narrative

Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.

Read More >

Obituary: Jed D. Meese

Obituary: Jed Meese died on June 24 at the age of 86. Jed started several successful companies, each with a physician partner in Japan, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK, which designed and developed both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Jed was extremely generous and philanthropic to our community and nationally. He served on Boards of Directors and Foundations for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, Ashland Community Hospital, Asante, Ashland Family YMCA, and many others.

Read More >

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Brenner) Epstein

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Breener) Epstein, 96, of Ashland died March 26. Her work has been dramatized by college and university theater arts departments, and she is the author of the chapbook, “A Journey Through Life Unguarded, The Book,” and “The Stars Gave Us Names.”

Read More >

Explore More...

In just an hour and half on Monday night, the Ashland City Council strongly affirmed that the city’s future will include major swaths of taller, denser development designed to reduce our dependency on automobiles, adapt to climate change, and provide a greater amount of multi-family and affordable housing, while striving to provide spaces for commercial and small-scale industrial uses.
Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.
Ashland's Street Division installed a colorful thermoplastic artwork piece titled "Walking Upstream." The work was designed by Glory Salinas Nylander and chosen by the Public Arts Advisory Committee and funded by the Ashland Beautification Initiative.
City Corner: Please remember, effective emergency preparedness means ensuring ALL your family members have access to Citizen Alerts, including older children with cellphones.
Jed D. Meese, known in the Rogue Valley for the many millions he and his family donated for the betterment of the community, died at home in Medford on June 24, 2024, at the age of 86. Friends and associates say the true measure of the man was in the contribution of not only his treasure, but also his time and talent and empathy.
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.