Editor's note: Over a period of 12 years beginning in 1983, local historian Ken Munford wrote 561 columns for the Gazette-Times. As part of the city's 150th anniversary, the newspaper will publish a selection of these columns each Saturday. This one was originally printed Aug. 31, 1992.
Punderson Avery (1843-1912), the second son of J.C. and Martha Avery - not to be confused with the late Punderson Avery (1912-1992) of Corvallis - spoke out about the source of the name Marys for the river and peak in Benton County.
On Dec. 29, 1908, he wrote in a letter appearing in the Corvallis Times, "I will say that my father, J.C. Avery, came to Oregon in 1845. He located and settled on his claim, upon which the principal part of Corvallis is now located, early in the spring of 1846. He was the first settler in Benton County …
"My mother arrived here in the fall of 1847 and, still retaining her memory and faculties although past the age of 84 years, states now positively that Marys River and Marys Peak were not only named when she came here but were named before my father's arrival. This being the case, they could not have been named by any of the early settlers, as has often been claimed, but were evidently named by someone exploring the country before any settlement was made."
C.E. Ingalls, former editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, took up the subject in the 75th anniversary issue of that newspaper in July 1937. He writes, "In an effort to find out the facts, we interviewed Johnson Porter who was born here 78 years ago and knows all the early pioneer history worth remembering. Mr. Porter too has an excellent memory, knows his details and can give comparisons, reasons and proofs. Mr. Porter's grandfather Johnson Mulkey came in 1845 and was first man to winter in Corvallis. Mr. Avery was here but went back to Oregon City for the winter.
"One day in the winter of 1845, Mr. Mulkey noticed smoke up Marys River and went to investigate and found a number of trappers from the Hudson Bay company. They had been in the habit of trapping here for a good many years. Mr. Mulkey asked if there was any name for the high peak in the Coast Range and they replied that it was 'St. Marys Peak.' Mr. Mulkey said it was called 'St. Marys Peak' for many years after he came here."
Porter told Ingalls, "I myself can remember when it was called St. Marys Peak. It was always called that when I was a youngster and I have heard my grandmother tell many times of grandfather's interview with the trappers. After the community became settled largely by Protestants, the 'St.' part of the name was dropped. As the community grew too, its early settlers became self-conscious and began making claims as to the origin of the name. These have become great Corvallis myths, but I am certain that the trappers had it right.
"Last winter Edith Tozier Wetherred was here with some pioneer exhibit. I talked to her and in the conversation I used the name 'St. Marys Peak.' She became interested immediately and said that is what it was called around French Prairie years ago. There isn't any question in my mind but that the peak and the river were known as 'St. Marys' long before my grandfather, the Averys, the Dixons or the Wimples came to this section of the country."
Ingalls goes on to say, "As for this reviewer, we think Mr. Porter is right. Whether or not the town was called Marysville after the mountain and river or after one of the ladies we do not know.
"More significant, it seems to us, is the fact that the official name given by the government was 'Averys,' the name of the post office established on Jan. 8, 1850. It was not changed to Marysville for nearly a year later, which would indicate that the Marysville business was an afterthought and that Mr. Porter's interpretation of how the peak and the river got their names is the correct one."
Ingalls' comment coincides with another tradition that the French Canadians traveling the pack trail to California in the 1830s used the peak as a landmark and that they honored it with the name of their favorite Sainte Marie.