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We (should) know the capital’s named after “Kit” Carson, but some Nevada monikers are less obvious.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (Pioche)
Famed explorer Kit Carson blazed through the West, leaving behind hope for future travelers and a landscape proud to bear his name. Today the eponymous Carson River rollicks through Carson City, Nevada’s capital, which pays homage to the pioneer. Other Nevada town names, however, aren’t quite as obvious. Where did Jarbidge get its peculiar name? And who was Rachel, and why did she have a town named after her? Following is a look at how some Nevada towns and cities got their names.
Let’s start with our most famous city, Las Vegas. For having a reputation as hot and dry nearly all year long, many are surprised to learn that Las Vegas translates to “the meadows” in Spanish. When early Spanish settlers ventured into what would become Nevada, they found respite in this area of lush meadows and cool springs. The site of those springs has been restored in the form of Springs Preserve, a spectacular attraction and a contrast to the lights of the Strip only a few miles away.
Battle Mountain is perhaps the biggest misnomer in the state, primarily because no particular battle can be accurately traced to the naming of the town. According to the Central Nevada Emigrant Trail Association, there is a story about a prospector who, in 1866, stopped in at the Reese River Reveille, the area’s main newspaper at the time, to brag about his mine and its rich copper ore. The editor asked why the prospector named the mining district Battle Mountain, and he was treated to a tall tale of a fight that the prospector and 22 fellow emigrants had with local Indians nearly a decade earlier. However, because Battle Mountain and the surrounding area were so crucial to the overland route to California, skirmishes with Indians were thoroughly recorded, and there is no record of this specific battle.
Cal Nev Ari
The winner of the most obvious, but still interesting, town name goes to Cal Nev Ari, a small town near the southernmost point of Nevada. It’s between Nevada’s borders with California and Arizona. Enough said.
Elko, a common railroad-station moniker, was settled by railroad workers. There are Elkos in Alabama, Georgia, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina, Virginia, and British Columbia. There are many local legends surrounding the origin of the name, including that it was named after the abundance of elk in the area. Another theory is that it’s the Shoshone name for “white woman,” and a local American Indian named the town Elko after seeing a white woman for the first time there. The legends are more interesting, but it’s most likely that the town was named by the railroad.
Jarbidge is a combination of several misinterpretations of its original American Indian name. Indians avoided the mountains in the remote northeastern corner of Nevada because of their belief that a giant man-eating monster named Tsawhawbitts or Jahabich—pronounced Tuh-Saw-Haw-Bits and Jah-hah-bich, respectively—lived there. When miners and ranchers moved into the area, they couldn’t pronounce the Shoshone name, which means devil, and instead called it Jarbidge. The name is still often mutated into Jarbridge, but no, the town is not named for a bridge.
Some squabbles are so comical they deserve to be remembered. Residents of Jiggs couldn’t decide which of its three names to call it: Mound Valley, Skelton, or Hylton, so local ranchers submitted their suggestions to the Post Office in 1918. The name Jiggs was the lucky winner. Why Jiggs? It’s the name of the comic-strip character known for constantly squabbling with his wife, Maggie, in “Jiggs and Maggie” (also known as “Bringing Up Father”).
Many Nevada towns were founded by miners and given very obvious names like Gold Hill, Gold Point, Goldfield, Silver City, Silver Peak, Copper Hill, Copper Valley…you get the idea. So why’d they get creative with Midas, an allusion to the fabled king whose touch turned everything to gold? “It was going to be called Gold Circle, but the Post Office said, ‘No, you can’t name it anything else gold!’” says Nevada historian David Toll, coincidentally of Gold Hill. “I think they came up with a rather creative name.”
The official story behind the name Mina is that it’s the Spanish word for “mine” or “ore.” Toll, however, shares the unofficial story. “It’s supposedly named for someone either named Wilhemina or Mina, but who that was, well, there are a couple of different stories,” he says. “One was that it was a prostitute doing business, I suppose in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Mina was a railroad station on the Carson and Colorado, and it was bigger than Hawthorne during World War II.”
If George Wheeler were around today, he would refer to the Southern Nevada establishment as Pahrimp. That’s what the 19th-century surveyor called it in an 1872 document. He described a desert that “contains several beautiful little oases, the principal one being at Pah-rimp Springs…” The name evolved into Pahrump, but the area could still be described in the same manner—only now it boasts a winery, golf, fine dining, and recreation galore.
A pioche is a pickaxe as well as the stack of undealt cards in a card game. Both definitions are appropriate for this now-quiet but once-raucous town founded on mining. Pioche once rivaled Deadwood, South Dakota for its rowdy brawls and cutthroat poker games. Miners protected their earnings with the help of their favorite six-shooter, and rumor has it that nearly 100 people were buried in Pioche before anyone died of natural causes. While a pickaxe or stack of cards would be a great story behind the town’s name, it’s more likely it was named for Alfred Pioche, a San Francisco stockbroker who purchased most of the land in the area.
Lovely little Rachel Jones, so sweet she had a town named after her. The town is relatively new, founded in 1973, and was named after the first baby born there. The Jones family left for Alaska when their daughter was only three, says Toll, leaving behind a town that celebrates its namesake every year with Rachel Days—sans Rachel. The Extraterrestrial Highway (375), a popular attraction, passes through town.
The name evokes images of wild cowboys ropin’, ridin’, and carousing. But the town was probably named for the rawhide straps used to hold up mailboxes for the prospectors working the mines. “The town didn’t really have a name at all,” Toll says, “but the stagecoach knew to drop mail at the rawhide mailbox.” It could have also been named for the surrounding rawhide-colored hills.
Reno old-timers know the city was once called Lake’s Crossing to honor Myron C. Lake, who owned the bridge rights over the Truckee River. But before that, it was called Fuller’s Crossing after C.W. Fuller, the first to build a bridge over the river. So who was Reno? It turns out that in 1868, railroad officials named Lake’s Crossing after celebrated Army officer Jesse Lee Reno (right) who was killed in action at Pennsylvania’s South Mountain in 1862. Reno never saw his namesake city.
This dusty little town in Southern Nevada is well known for being the birthplace of U.S. Senator Harry Reid. But for historians like Toll, the more interesting story is in how it could have got its name. “There were guys gathered in a circle trying to decide what to name it. One guy wanted to name it after his girlfriend, but the other guys said, ‘No, she’s not our girlfriend,’” Toll says. “They took a book or piece of paper to write down the dimensions of the (mining) claims, and they saw that they used the cover of a box of Searchlight matches.” Another legend is that a searchlight was necessary to find ore there. The town most likely honors Lloyd Searchlight, however, an owner of a group of claims in the district.
This Northern Nevada town was named after a famous Indian chief, Chief Winnemucca, but it was his daughter who brought the most fame to the name. Sarah Winnemucca was the first American Indian woman to publish a book in English. A bronze statue of her was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in 2005.