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Colorado Place Names, by William Bright

Review by Jeanne Englert

Colorado lore – November 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado Place Names
by William Bright
Published by Johnson Books:
ISBN 1-55566-102-5

THANKS TO THE meticulous scholarship of this book’s author, I learned that there were two prominent lefties in early Colorado history, not just one, as I had long-assumed. It’s coincidence, Bill Bright says, in this tidy, alphabetized book, that Left Hand Creek, named after “lefty” Sublette fur trapper and Niwot, The Arapahoe Indian chief, who was also left-handed.

Colorado Place Names is a major revision of a book by George R. Eichler. So, if you have one, throw it away. This one is better. Bright not only does local pronunciations — Bj√ľniites take note–but capsulates histories of places that just beg for stories to be told.

Take Nathrop, for instance. Now there’s a story:

“Nathrop on the Arkansas River in Chaffee County (established 1880). The original town, about a mile and a half above the original site, was known as Chalk Creek. It moved south in 1880 when the Denver and Rio Grande railroad reached there. The site of the new settlement was owned in part by Charles Nachtrieb, a pioneer merchant and freighter; and the town was named for him — Nathrop being a corruption of his name. He was murdered in Nathrop in 1881.”

Both Salida and Durango got named by Alexander C. Hunt, an official of the railroad who was also a territorial governor. Near as I can figure, he was inspired in naming these towns by eating good burritos and drinking a little tequila when he visited Durango, Mexico.

The best part of this book is the inclusions of the Ute place names in it. Bill Bright got Saguache right, as “the blue-green place” — Ute speakers use the same word for blue and green and all shades in between. To his credit, he spent some time with the Southern Ute language committee, the Ute native speakers I consulted in writing the August, 1995, Colorado Central story I wrote about Ute Place names.

Thanks to Bright, we know lots more about Ute place names in Colorado, not just our Sawatch Mountains, but how Tigiwon, the base camp of the Mount of the Holy Cross, got named by Campfire girls from Gypsum, trying to spell Ute for friend(s).

Well heck, is there any connection between Moffat, Colorado, and the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide, I wonder. Yes, same railroad dude. Not only does he list Moffat, where it is and when it was incorporated, Bright adds that Moffat was “laid out by the San Luis Town & Improvement Association.” Good grist for Ed Quillen’s Denver Post mill, I reckon.

By this time, as book reviewer and per se carping critic, it’s my duty to find some fault in it. Bet Bright doesn’t know about “Sapinero,” I say. Wrong. It’s in there. Worse than that, Bright points out that Sapinero was Chief Ouray’s brother-in-law.

I figure he doesn’t know about Louviers. Nobody knows this place in Douglas County. I’m sure of it. Wrong again. Louviers was founded as the site of an explosive factory of the DuPont Company, named for Louviers, Delaware, where the Du Ponts manufactured woolen cloth.

Okay, I concede. Good book. Along the way, perusing it, you’ll learn how much the railroads named Colorado places, and, more importantly, how the post office bureaucrats did. Salidans could have postmarked their mail “South Arkansas” if the U.S. Post Office hadn’t intervened.

And Hooper. There’s a story here. Hooper was originally named Garrison after the mercantile firm of Garrison and Howard. Some confusion resulted between the names of Gunnison and Garrison. To work this out, the name got changed to Hooper, for Major Shadrach Hooper, passenger agent for the railroad. So what’s a passenger agent? I don’t know, but nobody who cares about Colorado history can do without this book.

— Jeanne W. Englert lives in Lafayette. Lafayette is a… town on U.S. 287, Boulder County. It was named for Lafayette Mlller, husband of Mary E. Miller, owner of the townsite land and now namesake of the Mary E. Mlller Community Theater.