Saturday, May 25, 2013

On Naming a Cat "John Day"

As an Oregonian, certain town names ring out as specifically distinctive to our landscape and history. John Day is one of those places.

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This central Oregon town known for Fossil Beds, was named after a fur trapper who spanned the continent as part of the Astor Party. He was once  a contemporary of Daniel Boone and noted as a vital and healthy man…that is until his venture to Oregon. Legend has it that John Day went insane during the trip.

While he was an experienced trapper, the people he travelled with had no clue of what they were doing. The party ran out of food, members drowned in rivers, basically everything that could go wrong on a venture to Astoria, the eastern outpost of the era, could go wrong. This apparently drove him over the edge. He attempted suicide, became violently mentally unstable, was given provisions by the Native Americans of the area to survive. Some accounts say he was robbed by the natives of everything. He even wrecked his canoes and lost all his gear. Basically, he had a really bad time.

Needless to say, his hard luck exploits became legend and so they named a town and a river after this failed adventurer.

He ranks up there with the likes of  other icons of the Pacific Northwest such as David Douglass, famous horticulturalist of whom we named the Douglass fir, who died in Hawai'i after falling into a pit trap and was crushed by a bull. Or maybe Tanya Harding…Who is still alive but had a failed venture in figure skating due to an inept husband.

Oregon is filled with lovable losers.

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