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What's in a name? How Idiot Creek in the Tillamook Forest was named

The creek adopted the name of a nearby logging camp set up during the Tillamook Burn, a series of massive forest fires that started in 1933.

TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore. — Stretching four-miles long, a fast-moving, but shallow creek runs through the Tillamook State Forest near Highway 6. You wouldn't be considered a fool if you didn't know that Idiot Creek exists.

The name of the creek has a history behind it and it comes from a nearby logging camp named Ryan's Camp, but even that camp went by a different name.

To trace the history behind the name, it starts almost 90 years ago during one of Oregon's largest wildfires called the Tillamook Burn

Around noon on August 14, 1933 a massive fire broke out on private land in what is now the Tillamook State Forest. Over the next 18 years, three more fires would start, each occurring every 6 years. In the end, 355,000 acres of forest land burned.

VIDEO: KGW vault Tillamook Burn

"It changed everything about the landscape," said Doug Decker, former director of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The forest was private land and prior to 1941, Highway 6 hadn't been built yet.

"There was really no way to get up there," Decker said.

In the years between the fires, logging camps were set up to salvage any burned trees that could be turned into profit. One of those camps was called Ryan's Camp and it was formed in 1945.

"Ryan's Camp was a camp that was built on a not-named creek along the Devil's Lake Fork of the Wilson River," Decker said.

Ryan's Camp was commonly known by another name: Idiotville.

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Credit: KGW

Decker said there's a couple stories about how that name came to be. One of the stories that Decker has heard was told to him by those fighting the fires burning in 1945. A group fighting the fires stayed behind after being told to leave.

"They decided to stand there and fight the fire and all the firefighters thought, 'Those were idiots who were living in that place'. And that became Idiotville and that name just stuck long after the fire," Decker said.

The other story he's heard and commonly referred to says that because the camp was so remote and hard to access, anyone that chose to work there was considered an idiot.

The creek adopted the name of the nearby camp, becoming Idiot Creek and was officially listed with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 1965.

Decker is the current vice president of Oregon Geographic Naming Board, a state advisory board to the national board. He said in 2019 someone requested the name get changed to Kindness Creek because they found the name "Idiot" to be offensive. In February of 2022, the request was ultimately denied because there was no merit to change it.

So, it remains Idiot Creek and that's what's in a name.

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