Application for canyon to become John A. Brown Canyon to be submitted

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sarah Campbell, the wife of pioneer homesteader Ed Campbell, was an early photographer, who took this photo of the old John Brown house and farm around 1910.The canyon south and west of the Warm Springs grade of U.S. Highway 26 won't have a new name until at least November.

On Saturday, the Oregon Geographic Names Board rejected the application to name the canyon John Brown Canyon after an African American man who was the first homesteader in the area in 1881 — but not because they disagreed with the suggestion.

"The board is most certainly in favor of the proposal, but what we did not know until that day was that the status of the application should be name change and not a new name," said Sharon Nesbit, president of the Oregon Geographic Names Board.

"It turns out there is a name now attached to the canyon of Negro Brown Canyon, so the new name would be a change," she explained.

Apparently, in the 1960s, Nesbit said, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names made major changes across the country to remove or change offensive names. The canyon, which had been called by a racial slur, "N----- Brown Canyon" from the 1880s until at least the 1930s, was renamed "Negro Brown Canyon."

Madras historians Jerry Ramsey and Beth Crow had researched Brown's life and applied for what they believed was a new name, based on the information they had earlier received from the board.

"It's too prominent a feature to not be named," said Ramsey, who was disappointed, but understands the board's position and intends to pursue the change. "This has to be done right, and it involves not just local usage, but the state board, and finally, it's federal."

Brown, who homesteaded on 160 acres at the base of the canyon, grew fruit and vegetables, and raised stock for the closest town — Prineville, where he was buried in 1903. After he "proved up" and got title to the property in 1888, he sold part of the property to pioneers Ed and Sarah Campbell, after whom Campbell Creek was named.

In addition to the distinction between a new name and name change, the board also wanted to see the canyon officially named "John A. Brown Canyon. Nesbit is working with the federal naming agency to see if it is feasible to use a name with a middle initial to further distinguish the canyon's name.

"I regret that such flies get in the ointment from time to time, because it will be good to move this to a final action with the U.S. Board (on Geographic Names)," she said.

Ramsey supports the use of the middle initial in the name. "Practically, in oral usage, that will drop out, but in books and online it will be good to make that change," said Ramsey, who will sign off on a new application before the board meets again in November. "We're not really renaming it; we're restoring the man's actual name."

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