The park is named for Elizabeth Caruthers, an early pioneer woman who was one of the first settlers in the southern part of the young city of Portland. Elizabeth Caruthers was born in Tennessee. In 1816 she married Joe Thomas, and the couple had one son. She later rejected her married name, and in 1847 she and the son, Finice Caruthers, came to Oregon. They settled here on the banks of the river near the abandoned 1842 Johnson cabin. Under the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, they claimed this 640-acre section. Elizabeth died in 1857 and Finice in 1860. Their deaths, without wills or heirs, led to fraudulent claims and litigation, which reached the United States Supreme Court in 1868. There the matter was resolved in a landmark decision ruling that, under the 1850 Donation Act, a woman - married or not - had the same property rights as a man. SW Caruthers Street, SE Caruthers Street, and Caruthers Creek in Marquam Gulch also reflect the family's prominence in the early history of Portland.
Prior to European contact, over 50,000 Native Americans lived in the Portland area and hundreds of thousands of Native Americans came to trade along the river. During the time of early land agreements and negotiations with local tribes, the South Waterfront area became a relocation camp for Native Americans who were removed from other parts of the city. This is one of many greenspaces within our park system that are sacred and important sites to our Native communities.