Judge approves petition to change lake's racist name

Editor | October 28, 2020 1:00 PM

A Flathead County District Court judge Tuesday ruled to grant a petition to change the name of a lake southwest of Whitefish that has carried a racial slur for decades.

Judge Dan Wilson ruled in favor of changing the name of the lake to Lost Loon Lake.

The City of Whitefish, on behalf of property owners around the lake, filed a petition with the court in August seeking to change the name from its current designation of Lost Coon Lake.

“Locals and visitors alike consider the name Lost Coon Lake extremely offensive, as its history and meaning are easily discovered,” the city wrote in its petition with the court.

Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs said once the city receives the final order from the judge, it will begin the process of changing the name with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Under state law, after a judge approves a petition to change the name of a waterbody then the change is sent to the secretary of state.

The name Lost Loon Lake comes because loons have returned to the lake in the last few years after Whitefish Lake Golf Club placed a nesting platform on the lake to encourage the birds to establish there.

Neighbors around the lake and others in the community have been working on and off for several years on the effort to rename the lake. About 20 property owners on the lake and the golf club signed onto the petition to change the name.

The lake is roughly 61 acres in size and does not have public access.

The history of the name isn’t largely known. USGS maps show the name of the lake as Lost Coon Lake for certain years, while others show it as having no name.

According to the book “Stump Town to Ski Town” on the history of Whitefish, it was originally called “Nigger Lake” and was allegedly named such because of an African American woman Mrs. Randals who operated a rooming house near the lake. Some, however, claim that Mrs. Randals was actually Spanish, according to the book.

How the lake name was changed to Lost Coon Lake isn’t entirely clear, but a Wikipedia entry says that in the mid-20th century there was a refusal to accept ice harvest contracts with the name on it.

Tim Grattan relayed a story to the Pilot regarding the name change. Grattan, who was the developer of Grouse Mountain and Lion Mountain, said he was in the process of buying Lion Mountain from Glen Brown, who at the time had the contract for getting ice off the lake.

However, Grattan said, in the early 1970s the railroad told Brown they wouldn’t buy any more ice from a lake named Nigger Lake and so the name was quickly changed to Lost Coon.

An article in the Pilot in February of 1964 says that the name of the lake was to be changed to Lodgepole Pond after polling property owners because the lake had no official name on maps. Why the name of the lake was never changed is uncertain.