In this occasional feature, we explore the origins of Central Oregon place names. To suggest a place name for explanation, contact Julie Johnson, jjohnson@bendbulletin .com or 541-383-0308.
What: Broken Hand
Where: East ridge of Broken Top mountain
Cast your gaze to the west and take a look at Broken Top, that jagged peak (9,175 feet high) just to the southeast of South Sister. Not hard to imagine the origins of the name, is it? It’s a beast of a snaggle-toothed mountain, a complex stratovolcano “magnificently exposed by glacial erosion,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
On the east flank of the mountain, about a mile and a half from the summit, juts a distinctive rock formation, pyramidal in shape with shrub-dotted, rocky sides. The small peak (8,376 feet high) is called Broken Hand. But despite their similarities, the names Broken Top and Broken Hand are not related.
Broken Hand was named for one the West’s most famed mountain men and fur trappers, Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, according to Lewis A. McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names.” While he never gained the same fame as his compatriots Jedediah Smith or Kit Carson, Fitzpatrick was an important figure in the fur trade and westward exploration of the mid-1800s. He led two wagon trains on the Oregon Trail and negotiated one of the biggest agreements with American Indians at the time, the Fort Laramie treaty of 1851.
Fitzpatrick was an accomplished guide, and it was in that capacity that he accompanied John C. Fremont on his exploration of Oregon in 1943. In 1966, Judge John F. Kilkenny, a federal judge in the District Court of Oregon, proposed naming Broken Top’s subsidiary peak after Fitzpatrick, according to McArthur.
Fitzpatrick, a native of Ireland, died in Washington, D.C., in 1854. He had acquired his nickname early in his career when a rifle misfired and exploded, crippling his left hand. The moniker “Broken Hand” was bestowed on him by the Nez Percé.
One more thing: Broken Hand is a gendarme, and we don’t mean the medieval soldier variety. “Gendarme” is a French word for a spiked pinnacle or isolated spire perched atop a mountain ridge. The word comes from a pinnacle’s resemblance to a gendarme, or medieval French soldier, standing at guard.
— Julie Johnson, The Bulletin