What’s in a name?
by Sarah Gilman
The West of yore must have been a miserable, filthy place, with lonesome settlers teetering precariously atop a stack of long odds. Or so you might conclude after surfing the U.S. Geological Survey's database of place and landform names. The region certainly has a corner on Disappointments, with 46 of the nation's 53 references falling in the 11 Western states and Alaska. And we have just a third of the 903 places dubbed Happy, despite all the Sheep we possess - over 1,500 out of the total 1,943. Unfortunately, counting sheep helps insomnia, not low spirits, and this land is harsh: Over 2,800 Western place names contain the word Dry, while 1,343 others are Lost. And Death lies around every corner, literally, with 122 of 159 falling here (Starve to Death, Froze to Death, Death Valley). Skulls and Bones are rampant (193 out of 293 and 212 out of 577 respectively), as are Rifles (61 of 135) and Knifes (72 of 136; 22 of the Butcher variety). Not surprising then, that we also have all five Cannibals (plenty of company for Hinsdale County, Colo.'s infamous Alferd Packer). Or that Devils (969 of 1,856) haunt the landscape as though this were Hell itself (571 of 987). To top it off, the West is pretty Dirty, with 60 of 88 so-named spots, perhaps explaining our unusual preoccupation with Bathtubs (39 of 46). Amid all this gloom, where does one turn for solace? To lecherous thoughts, of course (86 of 99 Nipples can be found here, often attached to a Molly or Nellie or Clara), and also, even more enthusiastically, to Whiskey (339 of 476). But such comforts are fleeting when you're at the mercy of Chance (with 359 of 558 references), and though sometimes it's First Chance or Lucky Chance or Fighting Chance, usually it's Last Chance. Maybe it's no coincidence that Oregon and Washington have six features named Jump Off Joe.
Data Source: The USGS Geographic Names Information System© High Country News