World Museum of Mountains:

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Donald G. Daviau (Riverside)

The Naming of Mountains in the Western United States

Before addressing the variety of names given to the many mountains in the western United States, it will be useful to begin by discussing the various ways that names came to be attached or assigned to specific geographical locations. In the early days of exploration and western expansion, there was no control and anyone could name a mountain according to his or her own fancy or whim. The name would remain as long as others, particularly those who came to settle in the region, accepted it. Spanish explorers and Indians bestowed the first names, primarily in the South and Southwest. In the Northwest, in addition to the Indians, there came the French and Russian fur trappers and hunters. They were followed in the 19th century by official American exploratory expeditions, like those of Captain Fremont, of Lewis and Clark, of the British navigator and explorer George Vancouver, and of Joseph Dwight Whitney. In addition, there were the unofficial surveys undertaken by the famous Swiss-American scientist Louis Agassiz and by the equally renowned naturalist John Muir, who is also remembered for his advocacy of establishing National Parks to preserve natural wonders. The Mormon trek West brought numerous settlers, and the discovery of gold in 1848 on the Swiss Johann Sutter's property called New Helvetia, began a gold rush that lured gold seekers from all over the world. They not only overran all of his property, driving him into ruin, but also all of the surrounding mountains. Finally, there were the normal settlers who came looking for a better life in the west. Each of these waves of people left a legacy of names attached to geographical and geological features in the West. The names became official by being recorded on early maps. This laisser faire procedure for assigning names to geographical sites came to an end in 1890 when the U.S. Department of the Interior established a branch agency called The Board on Geographic Names. The membership of this Board might be considered quite remarkable: one member from each of the armed services, the Army and the Navy, and one each from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, and State along with members from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Government Printing Office, The Post Office Department, and the Library of Congress. The Executive staff was divided into two sections, one for domestic names and one for foreign names. The field work for the Domestic Geographic Names Committee was done by the Geological Survey. While the Board had complete control over names, local residents were not deprived of all influence. If the Geological Survey recommended a name change for whatever reason, local protests were often heeded and able to prevent a locally established name from being altered. Indeed, the Board has now adopted the fixed policy that local residents must be fully consulted on any proposed change and that no names may now be altered against the wishes of the local residents.

For example, the Board changed the name of Gravel Mountain in Arapahoe National Forest in Colorado, so called by the local residents for the simple reason that the mountain had had patches of loose gravel on it, to Bennay Mountain to commemorate an Indian named Bennay, without indicating who he was or why he deserved this recognition. The maps were duly changed, but the people in the area persisted in calling it Gravel Mountain. Eventually the public protests forced the Board to reverse its decision and change the maps back to what they had been: Gravel Mountain..

The Board has total authority not only over new names, but also over existing names. It must study old maps to avoid duplication. It must also know etymology, even though it retains names corrupted by usage rather than attempting to restore them to their original form. The Board must also know history, in order to trace names of Indian, French and Spanish origin, many of which were transliterated incorrectly and have come to be misspelled and mispronounced over time. In all cases the Board strives for simplification. For example, it avoids the use of apostrophes and hyphens when names of individuals are used for mountains.

It is clear from studying the various names, that the Indians had the most poetry and imagination in their souls when it came to naming mountains. They never named them for people but for some obvious striking characteristic such as Twin Peaks because there are two pinnacles or Bear Mountain because bears lived there. The Grand Tetons in Wyoming, named with a little whimsy by French trappers, is a good example of this approach to giving names that describe the appearance. The Indians could have given the same designation to the Twin Peaks, but they never engaged in humor in their naming.

The White Man's approach to naming is also to use a descriptive term. For example, Unicorn Peak was so named by the Whitney survey, because it has a very prominent peak with a peculiar horn-shaped outline. Whitney for some reason felt uncomfortable about the name and apologized for it, stating: "Names are frequently given to prominent objects by parties like ours for convenience. If not named, they would have to be numbered, which would be both awkward and inconvenient." Most often, however, the official state or government surveys employed personal names, either to commemorate the first person to climb the mountain or to honor some distinguished individual. In the latter case, one factor that the Board considers is whether the reputation of the honoree is commensurate with the size of the mountain. For example, Mount . Mackinley in Alaska , the tallest mountain in the United States at 20, 464 feet or 6193 meters, honors the former American president William Mackinley. The Indians had called the mountain Denali, meaning The Great, while the Russians also used the name Denali, signifying gold seeker. Mount Mackinley forms the centerpiece of Denali National Park. Another massive mountain is named for Sir Winston Churchill. A well-liked local rancher would be honored by a much smaller mountain. George Vancouver and Louis Agassiz have mountains named in their honor in Alaska. An interesting case is Sacajawea Peak in Oregon, named for Sacajawea or Bird Woman, the Shoshone maiden who volunteered to guide the Lewis and Clark expedition over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific and also served as interpreter. Often mountains are named for distinguished people who have never seen the mountain. The process of naming became pragmatic and prosaic in the 20th century, and much of the romance of the earlier Indian names was lost when they had to be replaced because they were considered impossible to spell or pronounce, one early step in creating our monotonous, homogenized, prosaic society.


Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado lies about 50 miles west of Denver and is a jewel of natural beauty. The following are descriptions of how some of the higher peaks came to be named.

Achonee Mountain (12, 649 feet) is believed to be named for Ochanee, a sub-chief of the Arapahoes, well known to whites. He was camped with his tribe at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864, when Colorado troops attacked at dawn and slaughtered everyone, men, women and children. The story is that Ochanee managed to escape, but upon witnessing the massacre, returned to be killed with his people rather than to survive alone.

Mount Albion (12, 609 feet) employs the Celtic word related to alp, meaning white or snowy. Poets use Albion as a name for the main British Isle. The name was given by homesick men from the lowlands of Scotland, who were working in the lead and silver mines in the Snowy Range Mining District. The miners called their lode Albion and applied the name to the mountain. The Board, for reasons known only to itself, changed the name to Kiowa Peak and renamed nearby Sheep Mountain Mount Albion.

How Alice Mountain (13, 310 feet), one of the tallest peaks in the entire range, was named remains a mystery, for no one has ever been able to establish the identity of Alice. Half a dozen theories have been advanced. The most interesting one claims that "saloon habitués and lewd women" used to camp out on the mountain, and that they named it in honor of one of the girls named Alice.

Apache Peak (13, 441 feet), situated on the Continental Divide, where the water on the West side flows westward and on the Eastern side to the East, must have been named by whites, for the word means "knive whetters" or enemies. The Apaches, one of the fiercest of the tribes, led by such well-known and glorified chiefs as Cochise, Victorio and Geronimo, were certainly formidable enemies of the whites and one of the last and most difficult bands to subdue.

It is also unclear who named Arapaho Peaks (North Peak, 13,502 feet; South Peak, 13,397 feet) and when. It is known that the German prospector W. E. Andree and his two Hungarian companions climbed these mountains in July 1861 but did not name them. In fact, they thought they were on Long`s Peak. The name Arapaho Peaks was in common use before 1873, because it is recorded on early maps.

Arikaree Peak (13,150 feet) commemorates the tribe of that name which used to live in the region but which now lives in North Dakota. The name means "horn" and refers to the fact that the Arikaree men wound their hair around two pieces of bone on either side of their head.

Audubon Mountain (13,223 feet) was named for the distinguished naturalist John James Audubon (1780-1851), who painted hundreds of birds and wild animals. He never visited Colorado, but two of his admirers on a trip there named the mountain in his honor.

Battle Mountain (12,044 feet) was named by a naturalist Enos Mills because of the battles of nature wind, snow, and fire that he observed on this mountain. He also named nearby Storm Peak for the stormy weather he observed there.

Bighorn Mountain (11,463 feet) was named by Pieter Hondius, who had come to the area from Holland for his health. Bighorn Sheep, sometimes called Rocky Mountain sheep, are known as the world`s most skillful mountaineers. The Bighorn is the official state animal of Colorado.

Chiefs Head Peak (13,579 feet) has been recorded by a number of different names on early maps. For example, it was called Comanche Peak, until it was discovered that that name was already being used for another mountain. The Arapaho called it Head Mountain, because they saw in it the profile of an Indian head, complete with war bonnet, just the way it still looks today. However, the Board followed the policy of abiding by local usage, and Chiefs Head Peak has now become official on all maps.

Craig Mountain (12,007 feet) was also variously called Middle Mountain by the Arapaho, Round Top by some local villagers, and Old Baldy by others, because the top is treeless. However, Reverend Bayard Craig decided to immortalize himself by naming the mountain for himself, and he had enough influential friends to have the name made official.

Cumulus Mountain (12,725 feet) is one of the peaks in the series of mountains called the Never Summer Mountains, all named for the cloud formations that hover over them.

Desolation Peaks (12,949`) is a straightforward descriptive name to capture the barrenness pinnacles.

Dickinson Mountain (11,831 feet) was named for Anna Dickinson, an actress and political activist who had political influence. She was known for her lectures against slavery and for women`s rights. She received this honor because she was the first woman to climb Long`s Peak, the highest mountain in Estes Park.

Dunraven Mountain (12,571 feet) was named for the Irish Earl of Dunraven, who had come to Estes Park in 1874 to hunt. He liked the place so well he tried to buy the entire area. However, even employing such schemes as bribing men to claim land as homesteads and then selling it to him and also using fictitious names on deeds, he still could not acquire all the land he wanted. Nevertheless, he accumulated sizable holdings, on which he built a hotel, then left everything to be managed by an agent.

Elk Tooth (12,848 feet), originally called Ogalla Horn, was renamed, because in 1875 elk by the thousands congregated there. Just as with the buffalo, the hunters soon arrived and slaughtered the elk, until by 1890 none were left. In 1913 the Forest Service relocated some elk from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Since they were and are under government protection, there are once again elk on the mountain today.

Flattop Mountain (12,324 feet), originally called Table Top Mountain, is named for its major geological feature.

Hiamovi Mountain (12,395 feet) may be derived from an Indian word meaning God. Or it may have been named for a Cheyenne chief who contributed an account of Cheyenne life before the advent of the white men. He also furnished songs, legends and even illustrations for a volume by Natalie Curtis, entitled The Indians' Book (1908).

Isolation Peak (13, 118 feet) stands as an isolated summit on the Continental Divide. Some enthusiasts had proposed the name Sioux Peak, but this suggestion was rejected. The present descriptive name best suits the character of the mountain.

Jackstraw Mountain (11,704 feet) took its name from the child`s game of jackstraws, thin sticks of wood tossed in a heap, with the players then attempting to remove one without disturbing any of the others. The mountain looks like a giant game of jackstraws, with dead trees standing upright or crazily jumbled, just as they were left after a fire in 1872. At that time forest fires, often started by lightning, continued until they burned themselves out or were stopped by rain or snow. The Indians also set fires to drive out game or to burn out settlers.

Lone Eagle Peak (11,920 feet) was named for Charles A. Lindbergh, who received the nickname Lone Eagle for his solo flight from New York to Paris in May 1927. In 1923 in a bid to publicize the area around the mountain, one thousand dollars was offered to any aviator who would land his plane on the slope of St. Vrain Glacier. Lindbergh accepted the offer, but the sponsors were afraid that if he crashed and were injured or killed, they would get the wrong kind of publicity, so the stunt was called off. Today planes regularly drop tourists off on glaciers and return in an hour or two to pick them up again.

Longs Peak (14,256 feet) is the highest mountain in Estes Park, but only the 15th highest in Colorado. It was named for Stephen Long, who led the first expedition through the area in 1823. The Indians had originally called the two highest peaks, Longs and Meeker, The Two Guides because they used them for orientation. French trappers had their own name, Les Deux Oreilles.

The Never Summer Mountains, a serrated range, was given this name because the Board considered the Indian name Ni-chebe-chii too difficult for Americans to pronounce. The Indian name means never no summer. The Board did not want to use the bad English of a double negative, so it settled on Never Summer Mountains.

Niwot Ridge (13,023 feet) is named for the Arapaho Chief Niwot, who was left handed and known to whites as Chief Left Hand. He had survived the massacre at Sand Creek by refusing to fight against his white friends. Four years later he and his band killed a troop of 20 soldiers in Oklahoma before they were defeated by General Custer, ending the Chief`s fighting days.

Mt. Olympus (8808 feet) was named by Fernando Willett, a schoolteacher from Indiana. The Indians had called it Faces to the Wind.

Pagoda Mountain (13,497 feet) received its name from its appearance.

Paiute Peak (13,088 feet`) and Pawnee Peak (12,943 feet) were named for the respective Indian tribes.

Ptarmigan Mountain (12,324 feet) was named for the numerous ptarmigan (grouse species that thrives in cold, snowy regions) gathered on its slopes. The ptarmigan changes color with the season, snow white in winter and mottled brown in summer to blend in with the rocks.

Mount Richthoven (12,940 feet) created controversy, because it is not clear whether it was named for Ferdinand or Walter, both Barons von Richthoven from Silesia. Ferdinand never saw the mountain, which was possibly named for him as a tribute, but he was a member of the Whitney survey in California from 1862-1868, before moving on to central China to make the first map of the mountains there. Walter became an important man in Denver, where he arrived in 1877 and devoted his energies to promoting the city. The current consensus is that the mountain was named for Ferdinand.

Sundance Mountain (12,466 feet) was named by a prospector variously known as Miner Bill or Crazy Bill. He always enjoyed watching the play of the early morning sunlight on the mountain and so gave it this name.

Ypsilon Mountain (13,514 feet) was named one day in 1888, when Frederick Chapin and his wife were enjoying a picnic in the area. A large snowfield lay on the eastern face of the mountain, and two glittering bands of ice extended skyward to the ridge of the mountain forming a perfect Y. The name was accepted by the dwellers of the valley and subsequently became official.


New Mexico

I have chosen to describe only one mountain in New Mexico, because of the interesting story that accompanies it. Hermits Mountain was so named because of a religious man, evidently of Italian nobility, named Giovanni Marie Augustine, later known as Juan Bautista Justrano. He made his home in a small, shallow cave on top of the mountain, and local people, who regarded him as a seer and holy man, carried food up to him and also came to seek his advice. He dug around on the side of the mountain with his staff until a stream of fresh water flowed. It is said to be still running today. As more and more people climbed the mountain to consult this recluse, he departed for a cave in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces. He was warned about wandering Apaches, but he left saying he would send a signal in three days if all were well. No signal came.

An important landmark in New Mexico was Wagon Mound on the old Santa Fe Trail. Today people do not understand the name, because they have never seen an old prairie schooner and so do not recognize the picturesque similarity.


The Cascade Mountain Range in Washington and Oregon

The way that each of the Cascade`s lofty peaks stands alone makes this range unique in America. These mountains form a resplendent, stately procession, which extends from Mount Baker in Washington, near the Canadian border, through Oregon, to the little known McLoughlin Peak, just north of the California state line, and ending with Mount Lassen in Northeastern California. This 500-mile column of giants consists of ten individual peaks, each rising above the 10,000-foot level. In winter the entire range is covered by snow. In summer only the northern four mountains remain snow-covered. Except for the winter season, each imposing peak stands surrounded by a lush green setting.

Mount Rainier at 14,408 feet or 4392 meters is the highest peak in the Cascades, higher than any of the Rocky Mountains and only 100 feet shorter than Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental or lower 48 United States. Mt. Rainier also holds the distinction of being the most massive individual mountain in America. In sheer size it is equivalent to eight Mount Whitneys. Because of its impressive height and mass, majestic Mt. Rainier can be seen from most points in Washington, from many parts of Oregon a hundred miles away, and from far out to sea. The mountain is enclosed in a National Park, which features ice caves and glaciers, among many other scenic features. The name Rainier was bestowed in 1792 by the British sea Captain and explorer George Vancouver, who explored the northwest down as far as San Francisco and named many mountains and other features. The city of Tacoma, South of Seattle, the major gateway to the park and the only entrance during the winter, proposed changing the name to Tacoma Mountain, but Seattle violently opposed the suggestion, creating a virtual civil war that pitted friend against friend and divided families. Even the U. S. Congress debated the issue. The result of all the bitterness and controversy was to retain the original name. The reason for the suggested change was not only for local pride and publicity but because the Indians had always called the mountain Tacoma or Tahoma, their name for snow peak. In Indian tradition the Mountain was respected and reserved as a sanctuary, where one could retreat and meditate or do penance in the presence of the Great Spirit.

While Mount Rainier is the tallest and most massive, Mount Hood (11,245 feet) has been designated the most beautiful mountain of the Cascade Range. The air currents around the peak create a unique phenomenon. Even if the sky is clear all around, a single cloud hovers over the topmost peak, appearing like a pennant flying in the breeze. Some thought that this feature was responsible for the name, but actually the mountain was named in 1792 by Navy Lieutenant Broughton, a member of George Vancouver's expedition, in honor of British Rear Admiral Hood of His Majesty`s Navy. There have been attempts to change this British name, but none have proved successful. In addition to Mounts Rainier and Hood, George Vancouver and his party also named Mount Baker and St. Helens. Fifty miles south of Mount Hood is Mount Jefferson.

Mount Baker, the northernmost peak of the range, dominates the horizon and is a landmark far up into Canada and from almost everywhere on Puget Sound in Washington. The Indians called it Komo Kushan, meaning "White Shining Mountain" or "White Watcher." Sailors called it the "White Friar," because in appearance it resembles the flowing robes of a Carmelite monk.

Sixty miles to the south of Mount Baker stands Glacier Peak, named for its most prominent feature. It is one of the most remote and inaccessible of the mountains.

Further to the South is St. Helens, which is still regarded as an active volcano. Indians believed that the entire area belonged to the dead and served as the residence of "Devils" cast out by other tribes. George Vancouver named the mountain for Baron Alleyne Fitzherbert St. Helens (1753-1839), the British Ambassador to Spain.

Mount Adams is the second highest peak in the Cascades at 12,307 feet or 4100 meters. It is located 30 miles north of the Columbia gorge, has had volcanic action, and is rimmed by seven glaciers, hot springs, and a deep ice cave.

The Three Sisters stand midway between Mount Hood in Washington and Crater Lake in Oregon. They are the last of the peaks in the southern end of the range that are permanently covered with snow. Crater Lake was formed when Mt. Mazama erupted and blew off the top of the mountain, opening a hole 4000 feet deep. The glaciers melting from the heat created the lake as well as streams flowing to the Pacific Ocean.

Lassen Peak in Northern California also belongs to the chain of the Cascades. It, too, has had volcanic activity and today features a unique display of geysers, pools and hot springs, presenting an amazing array of colors. The area has been made into a National Park to protect the natural wonders.


The Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is usually considered to range from just south of Lassen Peak in Northeastern California to Tehachapi Pass in the South, about 200m miles north of the Mexican border. This range is about 400 miles long and varies in breadth from forty to eighty miles. It formed one of the biggest obstacles for the wagon trains headed west, forcing them to go around the mountains either over the Santa Fe Trail and through Arizona to the South or to Oregon over the Oregon Trail in the North. Except for a small angle of Nevada that touches upon Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada lies entirely in California. The Spanish name means snowy ridge. Sierra is also the word for saw, and when taken in this meaning becomes a descriptive term capturing the jagged appearance of the mountains, which resemble the teeth of a saw. The famous naturalist John Muir favored a name he thought more appropriate, calling it not the Nevada or Snowy range but the Range of Light. However, the designation Sierra Nevada has prevailed.

None of the earlier names of individual peaks in the Sierra Nevada has been handed down from the past. All of the names found on official maps are of relatively recent origin. The one exception is the name of the range itself, which is attributed to Pedro Font, who possibly did not even know he was naming the range, when, in April 1776, he described it as una grande sierra Nevada. In general, Spanish or Mexican priests and soldiers named very few features in the Sierra Nevada. They had no interest in exploring the mountains, for there were no converts to be found at high altitudes nor did the mountains offer anything valuable or useful that the soldiers could appropriate.

Mount Whitney (4418 meters), the tallest peak within the continental U.S., is situated approximately 100 miles West of Badwater in Death Valley, which is below sea level. Thus, the highest and the lowest points in the U.S. are closely juxtaposed. The mountain was first called Fisherman`s Peak by the three fisherman who claimed to be the first to climb it on August 18, 1873. This story was later challenged by the official Geological Survey, whose members did ascend it. They claimed that the three fishermen had climbed another mountain close by. The local residents wanted to change the name to Dome of Inyo, because the mountain stands in Inyokern County, but the name never caught on. Finally, the debate reached the California State Legislature, and the name Mt. Whitney, in honor of the leader of the official state geological survey, was adopted, ending the controversy. Whitney had actually forbidden his subordinates to name the mountain for him, as they had wished to do. Initially they respected his demand, but in his absence they followed their own inclination. Once the legislature accepted their recommendation, there was nothing more Whitney could do to prevent it.

The Indians played little role in naming mountains in this area, except in the Yosemite Valley and vicinity, where a considerable number of Indian names have been preserved. Most of the names are misspelled and mispronounced because of the phonetic transcriptions, and a number of them have been given multiple interpretations. Many of the major formations in Yosemite were given their present names during a short period of time in March and April 1851 by Lafayette H. Bunnell. He led a party of 58 members of the Mariposa Battalion into the valley in pursuit of Indians, making them the first known white men to enter the Yosemite Valley. From 1861 to 1865 members of the first California Geological Survey (the so-called Whitney Survey) named many of the identifiable features for use on the maps they were preparing. They mostly named mountains for one another, usually for the member of the party willing to climb it. Otherwise they used the names of prominent geologists and other scientists of the time, who were thus honored without ever even having seen the mountain named for them. From 1889 to 1914 the U.S. Geological Survey conducted the first comprehensive survey and mapping of the entire area and produced new names never seen on earlier maps. Some of the new names were those used by the local residents, others were created by the surveyors and cartographers who prepared the maps. Mountains were named for family members, friends, wives and daughters. There are hundreds of place names whose origin is not known, created informally by people who kept no written records.

Over many objections Indians were much despised and hated at the time the name Yosemite, which means grizzly bear, was adopted for the whole valley. At an open hearing one man shouted: "Devil take the Indians and their names. Why should we honor these vagabond murderers by perpetuating their name?" Let`s call this Paradise Valley. The Indians themselves claimed that Yosemite was not a pure Indian name, and therefore they preferred A-wah-ne, but, pure or not, Yosemite remained the name.

The following small selection represents but a few of the most interesting names:

Ahwiyah Point overlooks beautiful Mirror Lake. The name means quiet water. Earlier names included Old Man of the Mountains in 1875, Acorn Peak and The Old Paiute, for the local Indian tribe.

Artist Point, was the place where the artist Thomas Ayres drew the first picture of Yosemite on June 20, 1855. He proclaimed, that "This point, on account of its impressive comprehensiveness, and near proximity to Yosemite, has been selected by all leading artists as the best general view and should receive the name of Artist Point. Ironically, the spot was mislocated on all maps up to 1947.

Basket Dome received its name from an Indian legend. Tis-sa-ack entered Yosemite with her husband, carrying a great conical basket. They were thirsty and hurried into the valley for water. The woman arrived at Mirror Lake first and drank all the water before her husband arrived. He flew into a rage and beat her. She cursed him and threw her basket at him. They were both turned into stone for their wickedness. Half Dome is supposedly the woman Tis-sa`-ack and North Dome is her husband. Beside him is still the basket she threw at him in the form of Basket Dome.

Bunnell Point, also known earlier as either Cascade Point or Sugarbowl Dome, was renamed for Lafayette H. Bunnell, the man who led the first expedition into Yosemite.

Cathedral Spires was named by James M. Hutchings in September 1862, because to him the two spires looked like two towers of a Gothic Cathedral. An earlier name had been The Three Graces.

Mount Conness was named for John Conness, a native of Ireland, who came to the U.S. in 1836. He was honored, because as a United States Senator he sponsored the bill authorizing the Geological Survey of California.

Mount Dana (13,053 feet) was named by the Whitney Survey for James Dwight Dana, Professor of Geology at Yale, considered the foremost geologist of his time.

Mount Davis (12,311 feet or 3750 meters) was named for Lieutenant Milton Fennimore Davis, who climbed the mountain while serving with the first company of troops assigned to guard the newly created Yosemite National Park in 1891.

Many other peaks in Yosemite were, like Foerster Peak, named for members of the army command patrolling and protecting the Valley.

Grand Mountain (9,491 feet) was so named by John Muir because it is bare granite right to the summit.Earlier it had been called Tuolumne Castle.

Gray Peak, Triple Divide Peak, Merced Peak and Red Peak are all named descriptively for their respective color or formation.

Hetchy Hetchy Dome was so called by Indians because of twin yellow pine trees, which also gave the adjacent valley the name The Valley of Two Trees.

Koip Peak (12, 979 feet) was a Mono Indian word meaning mountain sheep.

Kuna Peak comes from a Shoshone word meaning fire, but in the Mono dialect means firewood.

Lee Vining Peaks (11,691 feet) commemorates the man who founded the town and named the mountain for himself in the early 1860s. He met a peculiar end. There was a shooting in the local saloon, and he ran out. Later people found him dead. His pistol had gone off accidentally in his pocket as he ran, shooting him in the groin, and he bled to death before anyone found him.

Madera Peak was given this Spanish name meaning wood or lumber because the town had a sawmill. Originally it was called Black Mountain by the Whitney Survey and then Black Peak Fork.

Matterhorn Peak (12,264 feet), was given this name by John Muir, even though there is only the barest suggestion of resemblance to the imposing Swiss mountain.

Mount Ritter was named by the Whitney Survey in honor of Karl Ritter, the great German geographer, who founded the science of modern comparative geography. Whitney knew Professor Ritter from the time he spent as a student in Berlin during the 1840s.

Sentinel Rock was so named because of its likeness to a giant watchtower.

Sheep Peak (over 11, 840 feet) named by or for the sheepherders who tended their flocks in this region from the 1880s until the early 1900s.

Sing Peak (10,552 feet) was named for Tie Sing, a Chinese cook with the Geological Survey from 1888 to 1918, when he was killed in an accident in the field.

This is but a small sampling of the thousands upon thousands of mountain names in the U.S. I have concentrated on the western ranges that extend north and south from the Canadian almost to the Mexican border, because they represent the highest peaks and are in every way the most imposing American mountains. They also have the most unique names. In the East there are the Green mountains of New Hampshire, the White mountains of Vermont, and the Catskill mountains in New York. The longest range is formed by the Appalachian Mountains. There is a walking trail, the Appalachian Trail, which extends the entire length of the range, almost a thousand miles from North to South.

At any rate, I hope that I have been able to convey some of the natural wonders that exist in the Western U.S. and through the names give some idea of the history and lore of the settling of the West.

Today all of the major mountains are protected by having been turned into State or National Parks, surely one of the wisest decisions of 19th century politicians. Otherwise, there would likely not be a single remaining Redwood tree or any Sequoias, which are among the oldest living things on earth, more than 6000 years old. The hope now is that the U.S. Government will keep its environmental resolve and not succumb to the enormous pressure to open more of the park land to logging and mining and more of the Alaskan lands to oil drilling. Only the Government can preserve these irreplaceable natural wonders as a legacy for future generations to enjoy.



Louise Ward Arps and Elinor Eppich Kingery, High Country Names. Rocky Mountain National Park. Denver: The Colorado Mountain Club, 1966.

Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra. Wilderness Press: Berkeley, 1986.

Peter Browning, Yosemite Place Names. LaFayette, California: Great West Books, 1988.

Alice Bullock, Mountain Villages.

Robert Ormond Case and Victoria Case, Last Mountains. The Story of the Cascades. Portland, Oregon: Binfords and Mort, 1945.

Karl Gratzl, Mythos Berg. Lexikon der bedeutenden Berge aus Mythologie, Kulturgeschichte und Religion. Purkersdorf: Verlag Brüder Hollisch, 2000.    


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