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Origin of the Name Shasta

The Name Shasta

From The Mount Shasta Story

By Arthur Francis Eichorn, Sr. 1954

Used with permission from the Mount Shasta Herald
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Inasmuch as the name of the mountain and the Shasta Indian tribe is synonymous, it would appear that one was derived from the other. It seems however, that there is some question regarding the exact origin and meaning of the name.

Long before the advent of the white man, the region surrounding the great volcanic mountain was inhabited by the following tribes of Indians. The so-called Shasta tribe held the region on the west and northern flanks of Mt. Shasta, which comprised an area covering nearly all of what is known at present as Siskiyou county, together with parts of Jackson and Klamath counties to the north. On the northeast lived the Modoc tribe, and to the southeast lived the Acho-Mawi, to the south lived the Okwanutcu and the Wintun.

Since most of the terrain within the boundaries of the territory held by the Shasta tribe was rugged and extremely mountainous, the main villages of the tribe were scattered throughout the various valleys, each settlement being known by individual names. The group living in the Klamath River region was known as Kamma'twa, and also known as Wiruhikawai'iruka', those inhabiting the region of Scott valley was known as Ki-Katsik and Iruai'tsu. The Shasta valley portion of the tribe was known as Ahotire'itsu.

One source of information proclaims emphatically that the Indian tribe was named after the mountain, and the name is of Russian derivation. It is claimed that the Russians who settled at Bodega on the coast, could see Mt. Shasta from the summit of the coast range and named it "Tchastal." or the white or pure mountain. This name the early Americans are supposed to have adopted, spelling and pronouncing it Chasta, later substituting the soft sh for the hard ch.

There were many variations of the name Shasta used by the early settlers, some of which related to the mountain, the others to the Indian tribe. The earlier forms were Sastise, Shastl, Chasta, Shaste, Saste, Shasty, Sastean, Shastan, Leka, Ieka, Wy-e-kah, Wai-ri-ka, Ye-ti, Yet, Snowy Butte, Shaste Butte, E-ti-you, Chasta Butte and finally Shasta.

According to Stephen Powers the tribal name of the Indians living in the Mt. Shasta region was Shasts-ti-ka, and their name for snowy mountains, and for Shasta in particular, was Wai-ri-ka, or, more correctly, Wai-i-ka.

Perhaps the most concentrated effort made to determine the source of the name Shasta, was that made by Roland Dixon who wrote his findings under the title "The Shasta, bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, 1907:

"Unlike many of the Indian stocks in California, the Shasta have, almost from the beginning, been known by a distinct and invariable name. The earlier forms, such as Saste, Shaste, Sasty, Shasty, Chasty, Shastl, Shastika, have given place to the form Shasta, which is that mainly used to designate the Indians of this stock. The origin and meaning of this term (the various forms of which in spite of the slightly differences shown above, are clearly one and the same throughout) are both obscure. So far as my information goes, it is not a term used by the Shasta themselves, either as a whole or in part, although there is some doubt as to whether or not the term may not have been used to designate a portion of the stock, i.e., that about the eastern portion of Shasta valley. Its use, however as such, is recent. It is not a term for the Indians of this stock in the languages of the surrounding stocks, whose names for the people are known, although in use by both Achom'wi and Astuge'wi. It is emphatically denied by the Shasta that it is a place-name for any section of the territory occupied by them, and indeed there is some question as to whether it is even a work proper to their language. After persistent inquiry, the only information secured which throws any light on the matter is to the effect that about forty years ago (1850) there was an old man living in Shasta valley whose personal name was Shastika (Susti-ka). He is reported to have been a man of importance, and it is not impossible that the name Shasta came from this Indian, and old and well known man in the days of my informant's father, who living at the time of the earliest settlement in this section, in the 50's. Inasmuch as the suffix ka is the regular subjective suffix, we should have Susti as the real name of this individual, from which the earlier forms of Shasty, etc., could easily have been derived. The derivation from the Russian Tchastal meaning "white, clean," a term supposed to have been applied by the settlers at Fort Ross to Mt. Shasta -- is obviously improbable. The matter is further complicated by the difficulty of clearing up the precise relationship of the so-called "Chasta" of Oregon and of explaining the recurrence of the same term in the name of the Athabascan tribe of the Chasta Costa of the Oregon coast."

 

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