A hog by any other name would smell as sweet

Routt County place names often tell more than one story

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— We drove all the way to Hog Park over the weekend and never saw one darn pig. That would be 104 miles roundtrip and the place didn't live up to its name. Not a boar, not a sow, not a gilt, not even a piglet. Man, that chaps my hide. To top it off, we drove straight through Whiskey Park, and I didn't spy a single drop of rye to sip. What's this country coming to?

When it comes to place names in Northwest Colorado, there's often a good story behind the name of that mountain peak in the distance, that creek that has nothing but tiny brook trout in it or even that nondescript gulch.

Take for example, Fly Gulch. If you didn't know better, you'd think the draw situated out by Sleeping Giant was named after a plague of horse flies on the same magnitude as the twin grasshopper infestations of '02 and '03. But that's not the case. A settler with the unlikely name of Faunt Fly named it after his father sometime in the 19th century. The gulch was on the main route between Hahn's Peak and Steamboat until 1890, when the current course of the Elk River Road was chosen.

One of my favorite place names is Dinosaur Lake. You can be certain that there are no dinosaur fossils there. Still, there is a lake by the name of Dinosaur roughly halfway between Summit Lake and Fish Creek Reservoir. There's no trailhead to the lake, but if you consult a map and pay attention, you'll find it. A book entitled "The Historical Guide to Routt County" explains the name of the lake. An old prospector named Van Alcar encountered a large number of throwback-looking salamanders in the lake and displaying a wry sense of humor, named the lake after their ancestors.

More than a few Routt County landmarks come with dual explanations for their names. Take Yellowjacket Pass on the way to Stagecoach Reservoir. Take your choice -- it was named either for the large number of stinging insects there, or for an outlaw who had the audacity to wear a yellow jacket.

And that brings us back to Hog Park. To be technically correct, Hog Park is not in Routt County. In fact, it's not in Colorado. Hog Park is in Carbon County, Wyo. However, if you leave Steamboat Springs on a warm July morning and drive northwest for 52 miles on Routt County 129, you'll get to Hog Park. And it looks a lot like Colorado to me.

Way back in the early 1800s, there were a fair number of Swedish and Danish immigrant families who lived in Hog Park year round. They cut lodgepole pines into 8-foot lengths and used broad axes to flatten them on two sides. The logs were stacked on the banks of the Encampment River. When spring runoff came, the logs were floated downstream into Wyoming for use as railroad ties by the Union Pacific Railroad.

The men who cut the trees were called tie hackers. But that doesn't explain Hog Park and here's where ambiguity creeps in. Hog Park was named for the pigs raised by the tie hacker families who cured giant hams to get them through the winter. Alternately, Hog Park is a crude reference to the women who were recruited to come to the remote mountain outpost and consort with the lonely tie hackers (please note that I did not make this up, and history rarely nods to political correctness).

On your next visit to Hog Park, be certain to visit the Jesse Mine and the broken down cabin of Guy Nichols.

As it turns out, this part of Colo/Wyo has a direct tie to the famed inventor of the electric light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison. Back in 1882, Edison endeavored to establish an electrical powerplant to serve a portion of New York City. Copper wire was deemed the best conductor of electricity, and that knowledge kicked off a copper mining boom in Hog Park, Colo/Wyo. The Jesse Mine was one of many copper mines in the Sierra Madre Range of what is now the Medicine Bow National Forest.

The old mine shaft is still there, covered by a steel grate. Not far away, you can sit down amidst the lupine and gaze through the window of guy Nichols' tumbledown log cabin. Nichols was assigned to survey the old Jesse Mine, which never proved out. Although 23 million pounds of copper were taken out of the Sierra Madre between 1882 and 1909, the copper ore in the area was of relatively low grade and mining on the state line died out in favor of other richer veins.

When you've finally give up looking for pigs in Hog Park, your best option is to return to Steamboat via Whiskey Park.

"The Historical Guide to Routt County" reports that the park was named by a Hahn's Peak placer miner named Charles Miller after he found an unusually large pile of whiskey bottles at a cabin commonly known as Halfway House.

However, there's another, more intriguing version of the story. It seems there was a freight driver traversing the park back in frontier days, who felt the presence of a band of Indians tracking him. His wagon was loaded with barrels of whiskey and he stopped along the way to dig holes large enough to bury the barrels and keep them safe from the marauders (remember, I advised you that history has no regard for our 21st century notions of what is and isn't politically correct).

Anyway, the whiskey, now aged some 90 years, is still waiting for a thirsty soul with a shovel to recover it.

Happy hunting.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in the Steamboat Today.

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