What's in a name

Exploring the origins of the places of Routt County


Mad Creek was named by locals because it nearly killed a visitor and beat the person's horse to death on the rocks.

Toponas is an Indian word meaning "sleeping lion," probably describing the look of the rocks in the area.

Mount Zirkel and the Zirkel Wilderness was named after famed geologist Ferdinand Zirkel.

Nearly every name of a place in Routt County has some sort of historical significance.

"We have so many unusual names here and there are so many fascinating stories behind them," Tread of Pioneers Museum Director Marty Woodbury said.

One of Woodbury's favorites is the name behind Whiskey Park, which is just south of the Wyoming border near Hahn's Peak.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Routt County was still largely cattle country, but more and more sheepherders were coming to the area, invading prime cattle-grazing areas on the national forest.

Around the time, a group of sheepherders frequented the park area, and the cattle ranchers knew it.

"The cattle ranchers hired a wagon full of whiskey and women to visit the sheepherders to get them all drunk," Woodbury said, using John Rolfe Burroughs' book "Where the Old West Stayed Young" as a guide.

The result was the sheepherders lost 11 herds of sheep because of the whiskey party. Since then, the park area has been known as Whiskey Park.

The ultimate responsibility of finding all the animals fell on the shoulders of Forest Supervisor J.H. Ratliff and his staff.

The women were known prostitutes from Brooklyn, an area that is now part of Steamboat Springs where bars were allowed at the time.

Ratliff, enraged by the women's actions, tied the leader of the women to a tree until she promised to leave the area, according to Burroughs.

To commemorate the event, Ratliff cut a lock of hair from the woman and hung it in a Forest Service building, where it stayed for years.

Routt County

Routt County was named for Col. John L. Routt, who was the last territorial and first state governor of Colorado.

Routt first achieved notoriety in the Civil War. An Illinois carpenter, Routt organized and was elected captain of the 94th Illinois Volunteer Regiment. While at the Battle of Vicksburg, Routt caught the eye of General Ulysses S. Grant when he volunteered to ride a 24-hour round trip to headquarters to outfit his regiment with ample ammunition, according to research done by Albert B. Sanford.

At the end of the war, Routt, who had been promoted to colonel, returned to Illinois in 1865 and successfully ran for county treasurer. He held the post for two terms. In 1869, Routt was appointed chief clerk to the second assistant postmaster general. He relinquished that job after being appointed as a U.S. marshal in Illinois. Routt held this office until 1871, then he became the second assistant postmaster general.

After 10 years and four government positions, President Grant rewarded Routt with the territorial governorship of Colorado March 29, 1875. The next year, he was elected governor under a campaign of no speeches, just one-on-one meetings with the public, according to Colorado State Government archives.

Hahn's Peak

Hahn's Peak, one of the most recognizable landmarks in North Routt County, was named after Joseph Hahn, who was credited with the first gold strike in the area in 1861, according to Burroughs.

Hahn's gold mining was cut short by the Civil War, but he returned in 1865 with William A. Doyle and Captain George Way.

That year, Doyle and Way climbed Hahn's Peak, probably the first white men ever to do so. Doyle carried a Preston and Merrill yeast or baking powder can to the top and buried it at the summit.

In the can, which was shut water tight, was a piece of paper with a description of the climbers' route and a dedication to Hahn that read: "This is named Hahn's Peak by his friend and comrade, William A. Doyle."

Morrison Creek

This creek carves a canyon near Lynx Pass, southeast of Stagecoach Reservoir. According to U.S. Forest Service research that is archived at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, the creek was named by Steamboat Springs founder James Crawford in the 1870s after he found a starving man living near the creek.

Ute Indians, who are native to the Yampa Valley, told Crawford that a crazy man lived on the creek. Crawford went to investigate and found a man named Morrison cooking his burros' tails for food.


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