What Spanish missionaries?

Brief by Central Staff

Salida’s representation – May 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Perhaps he should have named it El Pueblito del Ratos del Rio

At first we were worried when we saw the Spring 1997 edition of Snow Country, “the magazine of mountain sports and living.”

Inside the travel guide was an article about eight “River Rat Towns” where “it’s possible to check in for a few days, raft a gauntlet of exciting runs, learn to paddle a kayak and immerse yourself in life on the river …”

And second on the list, right after Bryson City, North Carolina, was a Salida, Colorado, “capital of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area … the most paddled whitewater river in the world.”

But despair not at the publicity. Snow Country says that “Spanish missionaries gave the town its name for its location at the eastern salida (exit) of the Sawatch Mountains.”

That must be a different town. The one we live in was not named by Spanish missionaries, but by former Colorado territorial Governor Alexander Cameron Hunt.

In 1880, Hunt was in charge of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad’s land-development subsidiary, the Central Colorado Improvement Co., which platted and promoted the town as the rails approached.

The railroad had originally named the station South Arkansas, since it was near the mouth of the South Arkansas, a/k/a the Little River. But that wouldn’t work for the post office, since there already was a South Arkansas post office near present Poncha Springs. So the postal authorities decreed that it would be known as Arkansas.

Townspeople protested the name, and so Hunt proposed Salida, which pleased The Mountain Mail: “Salida is a Spanish word and means outlet…. It is an appropriate name; it is a very pretty name, and is much shorter and therefore more convenient than the old name of South Arkansas…. For the benefit of all concerned, we will say that the word is pronounced Sah-lee-dah.”

The proper pronunciation didn’t stick in Sah-lye-dah, and hey, maybe Hunt was really a Spanish missionary.

We were also confused by the Salida referenced in a recent edition of Mountain Bike magazine. That Salida, which lay beneath an exciting assortment of world-class single-track trails, was almost empty and bereft of traffic, and the author thought of Mayberry where he might see Andy and Barney — and not the 17 other officers that a modern mountain Mayberry apparently requires?