It can be said that Clark County is the historical heart of Washington state.
Home to a rich past that includes the Lewis and Clark expedition, an old fort, trappers, millennia of Native Americans and geological wonders as old as the land, it should come as no shock that our town’s names are equally fascinating.
Throughout the region, towns with interesting names dot the landscape, making great stories with unique, quirky and sometimes dark histories. Each town around the county has a lush history, but these five stand out as the most fascinating and fun, allowing you to share these facts with friends and locals alike.
Knowing our region’s history helps connect us with those who first lived in the area, bringing us closer to our homes.
Most people know the origin of the city name of Vancouver, or at least assume they do.
Named after Captain George Vancouver, who explored the region in 1792, the name Vancouver is actually the city’s second official name. In 1825, the city, or what was considered to be a city back then, was named after the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort, which still sits along the banks of the Columbia. While some locals thought it may be confusing, as the community of Vancouver, British Columbia also existed, the name remained Vancouver because the town on the Columbia was created before the one in present day Canada.
The small city on the Columbia was referred to as Vancouver until March of 1854, when the Washington Territorial Legislature officially named the town Columbia City and made it the county seat of Clark County. In 1855, the legislature changed the name back to Vancouver to celebrate the history of the town.
Located northeast of Vancouver, the town of Battle Ground sounds like it should have quite a storied history. It nearly did.
In November of 1855, tensions between the growing numbers of settlers and the devastated Native American population already had been fueled by the Yakima Indian War that started in October. A group of Native Americas who were corralled in the area around Fort Vancouver fled the area, largely due to settlers’ fear of an uprising against them.
Fleeing to the northeast, the Native Americans were soon met with a volunteer cavalry. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed near Battle Ground Lake and a full battle was avoided. The only death that day still remains a mystery, as the chief of the group that fled was discovered to be dead from a bullet wound. The remaining Native Americans asked to stay back to bury their dead and after a few days, returned to their area near Fort Vancouver.
It wasn’t until the 1870s that Battle Ground became a town.
Known today for access to the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge and the paper and pulp mill, the town of Camas has a storied history.
The first settler of non-Native American descent was said to have come to the region in 1838 but quickly moved on. In the winter of 1845, the town was the winter home to George Washington Bush, a founder of the greater Olympia area. While a few sawmills were set up in the following years, it wasn’t until 1882-83 that a town was actually created in present day Camas.
The city was originally called La Camas until 1894 when the post office dropped “La” to avoid confusion with La Center and La Conner. The name Camas comes from an edible root that was commonly eaten by the Native Americans who lived in the region.
Amboy isn’t visited much and for those in the Vancouver city limits, the existence of this small town might be often forgotten. Yet, this small city of just 1,000 people has a unique origin story. Just 23 miles southeast of Mount Saint Helens, Amboy’s name is somewhat silly by today’s standards.
Settled in 1879 by the A. M. Ball family, the term Amboy is a combination of the families initials, combined with the word “boy” for their son. The family also named a town Amboy in Minnesota by using the same method.
Close to Amboy, the small town of Yacolt has a dark cloud around its name. With just under 2,000 residents and 22 miles away from the metropolitan area of Vancouver, Yacolt is easy to overlook. However, doing so would mean ignoring a unique and sad history.
While most people know the name Yacolt from the huge fire that burned around the region in 1902, the name has much older significance. Originally called Yalicolb by the Klickitat tribe, the name Yacolt translates into “The Haunted Place” or “place abounding in evil spirits.”
Long before settlers came west, numerous stories highlighted pain and suffering by Native Americans in the area. The most frequently told story is that long ago, five native American children went missing while picking berries, vanishing forever without a trace. The bad vibes by the name didn’t stop settlers from coming and, in 1876 the first post office was established in the town.
Editor’s note — Here are links to the historical facts used in this story:
Battle Ground: http://www.historylink.org/File/9321