Steens Mountain

Steens Mountain
Steens Mountain from the Alvord side Harney County













Snow is falling, partially obscuring some of the high country… at our level just above 4,000 feet we didn’t get enough to measure. Even though we were just a few days into May we saw air temperatures as low as 23 degrees early morning… so it’s still winter in the higher hills.

We pondered the name of Steens Mountain: Should it be Steens or Steins? Oregon has two geographical features named after the same man, Union Army Major Enoch Steen, one is Steins Pillar in Crook County and the other is Steens Mountain in Harney County. New Mexico has graced five locations… Steins Peak, Steins Mountain, Steins Creek, Steins Pass, and currently a ghost town named Steins. Steens Buttes in Oklahoma are also named after the well traveled Major.

William Safire also pondered the difference.  “What about steen and stine? Is there any rhyme or reason to the chosen pronunciation? Everyone named Stein, and Stein alone, pronounces the name stine . Stein is a stein is a stein, as Gertrude used to say.”

After a thorough analysis of steens and steins William Safire reported… From this, we can formulate Stein’s Rule: Although names ending in stein can be pronounced either stein or steen , names consisting exclusively of Stein are pronounced stine . (In the rare case of a person named Stein refusing to go along with the crowd, this is changed to ”Steen’s Rule.”)

The mountain was called “Snowy Mountain” by John Work, one of the Hudson Bay fur traders who were the first Europeans in the area. In 1860, it was renamed for Union Army Major Enoch Steen who fought and drove members of the Paiute Tribe off the mountain.

What would the Paiutes call the mountain? They lived in the vicinity for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. No doubt they had a name for it… and, I doubt if they would have named it after the man who evicted them from their mountain.


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