Thursday, August 1, 2013

What's in a Name -- Arizona Place Names

The 30-day novel I’m working on is set in southeastern Arizona. As the baddies try to make their getaway, they must deal with the tough terrain. In peering at my 1880 may of Arizona, I thought perhaps you all might be interested in some Arizona place names and how they came about.

Castle Dome Mountains

Adam’s Well

Samuel Adams of Pennsylvania came to Arizona in 1863. He established himself at the south end of the Castle Dome Mountains on the trail that went across the desert. Here he dug a well about ninety feet deep, which provided the only water in that district.

Adams won the nickname of “Steamboat” because of his enthusiasm for developing the Colorado River for use by ocean-going ships. He ran for the state legislature on a river-development platform, but received only thirty-one votes. He also claimed to have gone through the Grand Canyon before Powell’s expedition.

Gunsight Mountain


The Gunsight Mine was located on November 25, 1878, by a man named Myers and three others. The mine was named because of its location near a mountain with a striking resemblance to a gun sight with the “barrel” of the gun being formed by a ridge. The gunsight portion of the formation looks like a flat whisky bottle seen sideways. The first name of the mining community in this area was Allen, or Allen City, named for John Brackett Allen, the merchant got the camp. He first came to Arizona in 1857 and returned in 1862 with the California Column. Thereafter he settled near Yuma, had a store at Maricopa Wells, and finally moved to Tucson. Allen seems to have followed mining camps in establishing his stores. His name crops up time and again in the history of mining communities of Pima County. In his later years, he lived in Florence.

Mineshaft Market in Chloride today


(I visited Chloride on my way back from WWA convention in Las Vegas)
Chloride was named because of the type of silver ore found in the area. Of the several mining communities that sprang up in this area in the 1860s and 1870s, Cloride was not only the first, but it is the only one that still survives. Chloride was a mining camp in 1864. With the opening of additional mines, th camp developed into a town, and by 1900, it had a population of two thousand. The earliest prospectors in the district were time and again driven away by Indians, but the richness of the ores always brought the miners back. The first locations were made in 1863 at Silver Hill, where the Hualapai Indians laid their hands on their first guns, using them to kill four miners at Silver Hill Camp. One was shot, and two others were killed by the Indians throwing stones down the mining shaft.

Current day Eager


Some years after his arrest for cow stealing, followed by his escape from jail, young Bill Smith came back into home territory to see his brothers, Al, George, and Floyd. They made the mistake of showing up at Crosby’s store, sixteen miles south of Eager. After the Smiths left, Crosby organized a posse to track Bill down. The Smiths were found in a sunken marshy meadow where a fierce gun battle ensued. Bill and two of the posse were killed. The place is now called Battleground.

Coyote Creek 

(many places carry Coyote in their names)
A stockman named St. George Creaghe caught coyotes here and hence named the creek. Miles of Indian ruins line both sides of Coyote Creek, indicating the former plentifulness of water in this now dry streambed.

Twenty-Four Draw

Prior to 1900, the big 24 Land and Cattle Company maintained a corral here. Owned by Smith, Tee, and Carson (Englishmen), the 24 Outfit was the largest in that part of Apache County. In 1881, the 24 Ranch, 15 miles north of Springerville, had 15,000 cattle. It used a 24 brand. The notorious Clantons had their H Bar V ranch just across the line in New Mexico, using the 74 brand. The ease with which the Clantons could and did alter the 24 brand into their own led to trouble between the two outfits. This did not stop the Clantons, who did a profitable business driving cattle and horses south in winter, where they made a name for themselves in the Tombstone area. Once when Clantons returned to Springerville, Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens had warrants for a dozen of their group. In three years, most of the warrants were served, some on dead men.

Outlaw Mountain

Outlaw Mountain earned its name by serving as a hideout for many outlaws, including the Clanton gang.


A small settlement grew up around what was known as the Brady House, also called the First Chance Saloon, as it was the first chance for a drink on the road from Charleston to Tombstone.

The name Pick-Em-Up was applied to the settlement as a result of an occurrence in which Johnny O’Rourke, a tinhorn gambler known as Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce, was the central figure. He earned his nickname by consistently backing his favorite card. In a fit of petulant temper in Charleston, Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce shot Henry Schneider, a mining engineer, and was promptly arrested. Just at that moment, the mining mill whistle began to blow. Miners poured into the streets where blood still ran. They wanted to lynch the murderer, but the constable aimed to get Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce safely behind bars in Tombstone. The constable and his prisoner set out hell-bent-for-leather with a team of horses. The miners were not to be put off. They mounted every available horse, climbed into buggies and wagons, and took after the constable and Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce.

Two miles out of Tombstone at Jack Saloon, a racing mare was standing. McCann was preparing her for a race at the Watervale Track nearby. The constable shouted urgently to McCann that the miners wanted to lynch Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce and yelled to the saloonkeeper to “pick ‘em up.” Off went the tinhorn gambler and the saloonkeeper on the mare, with the mob in close pursuit. Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce arrived in Tombstone where the sheriff faced the would-be lynchers with a shotgun. They dispersed and Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce was safe for the time being.

These items can all be found in Arizona Place Names, by Will C. Barnes. A very good reference book on Arizona and one to get if you don’t have it already.


  1. Colorful names for towns in Arizona. I especially like the name and story behind "Pick 'Em Up."

  2. Thanks, Charlie. That was really interesting and very useful. I have filed it for future use.


  3. Ah, the inventive mind of early adventurers. Glad you shared it, Charlie.

  4. Charlie, what a great post! I loved learning about these names. I'm sure there are stories to tell about a lot of the place names here in the west and southwest. In Oklahoma we have a town called "Slapout" and one called "Bowlegs" it's said is named after an Indian chief, Billy Bowlegs. Thanks for a very fun post!

  5. I always find it interesting how spots are named. Great post!

  6. One of my favorite pastimes is looking up the origins of place names. What a fun post!

    I (and a friend, too) spent nearly a month trying to find out the origin of the town name I used in Much Ado About Madams, Dickshooter, Idaho. There's an entry in wikipedia but we proved it incorrect.

  7. Love old place names. Texas is full of 'em. However, you can find interesting place names in every part of the country. For example, up here in Connecticut there's a Gay City State Park. Nope, not at all what you think. It's named after the town which once stood there, Gay City, which was not named for a town of homosexuals but after John Gay, the manufacturer who built the town. Shows how a perfectly good word now has a whole other meaning.

    We also have a Devil's Hopyard State Park. And an Ekonk. And New England is full of many places which still bear the old Native American Indian names.

    Jim Griffin

  8. Would not like to say, "Hi I'm from Chloride," but all of these names are fun. Seems like I have read more than one novel using Gunsight as a town. I once passed through, Bill, Wyoming and Clinton, Nebraska in same week.