July 23, 2024

Viewpoint: We may never know the Takelma name for Pompadour Bluff

Deborah Cousatte took this photo from Ashland Hills Farm of a sunset-reddened Grizzly Peak.
December 20, 2023

A recent article suggests the Indigenous tribe called the landmark ‘Lathkawk,’ but a retired historian argues that term more likely referred to Grizzly Peak

By Jeff LaLande

I very much enjoyed Mahmoud Shelton’s Viewpoint article in the Ashland News. I share his interest in Takelma place names for our area, and also hope that some of them might be restored to use when referring to the actual places the Takelma had named. He makes a well-reasoned argument for why the Takelmas’ “Lathkawk” (spelled “Lath’kawkh” by ethnologist J.P. Harrington) could have been their name for Pompadour Bluff. However, being familiar with the same sources that Mr. Shelton uses in his article, and in his lengthier paper, I come to a different conclusion. 

Not trying to provoke some tempest-in-a-teapot controversy here, and I hope not to come off as pedantic, but I believe Lathkawk was the Upland Takelma name for Grizzly Peak, as Harrington’s Upland Takelma (Latgawa) source, Molly Orton, told him nearly a century ago, and that Lathkawk was not the name for Pompadour Bluff.

There are several reasons for my conclusion but I won’t try to explain them in detail here. In a nutshell:

  1. I believe Molly Orton, as an Upland Takelma — whose people actually lived in the Bear Creek Valley area — can be considered a better-qualified informant on the matter than Frances Johnson (a River Takelma whose home was well down the Rogue River, in the general vicinity of present-day Grants Pass).  
  2. Yes, the Bear Creek Valley was indeed “disputed” territory between local Native groups, but the two groups involved were Molly’s Upland Takelma and the Shasta — who had a village within what is now Ashland — not between the Upland Takelma and Frances Johnson’s “main” Takelma. 
  3. The idea that the “little red hill” descriptor alludes to Pompadour Bluff — based on evening sunsets casting a reddish glow to it — is, for me at least, definitely “a stretch too far.” For that matter, the volcanic soil beneath much of the grassy cover of Grizzly Peak’s southwest-facing slope — a slope that does include some knolls and “little hills” — has a distinctly reddish hue, and the numerous soil slumps that result after heavy downpours expose that reddish soil to view.

I doubt we’ll ever know the actual Takelma (or Shasta) name for that prominent piece of our landscape, Pompadour Bluff. Surely they called it something, but the word seems to be lost. We’re fortunate that J.P. Harrington recorded the, alas, relatively few Takelma place names told to him by Orton and Johnson.    

As for a possible Takelma-derived name for Pompadour Bluff, perhaps one might want to consider using either “yan-gwas” (= Oregon white oak) or “t’gum” (= rattlesnake). These two words are recorded in anthropologist Edward Sapir’s 1909 Takelma vocabulary. A nice shady grove of white oaks tops the bluff on its north-aspect slope (the far side from Ashland). Rattlesnakes are particularly common among the rocks of Pompadour Bluff, and herpetologists have determined that the bluff has several rattlesnake dens and “nurseries.” 

(Also, it’s very cool to learn that, unlike most snakes, rattlesnake mothers are viviparous. The eggs don’t have shells and they stay inside the mother to mature, at which time she gives “live birth” to her young. She’ll even take care of her babies for a week or two, keeping them close and herding them to shelter, away from potential danger. Apparently, rattlers will even sometimes “babysit” another parent’s young while the mother goes off to hunt. Wow!)

A  Rogue Valley resident since 1969, Jeff LaLande, Ph.D., was an archeologist and historian for the U.S. Forest Service. Email him at

Picture of Jim


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