HUERFANO — Perhaps one thing that keeps Huerfano the perpetual Orphan is Miss Information. How many times have we read the Big City newspapers to learn the Spanish Peaks country is “Colorado’s best kept secret”? They’re entitled to their own opinions, but maybe they just weren’t paying attention. As far back as 1821, a traveler named Jacob Fowler (who may have invented misspelling) was on his way to “Touse” when he wrote in his journal that his party had reached “Las Cumbres Españolas” or Spanish Peaks, “whare” Pike first discovered the mountains. One suspects the mountains were there all along. The account adds the peaks were known by the French as “Les Tetons” or “Les Mamelles”, which may be where the old Breasts of the World nickname came from. Those French! Plus,
Fowler states “Wahtoyal” was a Ute word meaning twins. In 1853, a German accompanying Gunnison’s expedition to find a route for a transcontinental railroad wrote “Wah-ha-ta-gas” meant Spanish Peaks. Even the famed geographer F.V. Hayden spelled it “Washatoya.” Maybe he bathed in the creek, or stopped to do laundry. Place names around here have always dumfounded visitors. One would think a simple name like Mosca Pass would go unmolested, but no. First, there are two explanations for its name. One is that it got its name from the Spanish word meaning fly, bore or bother. Some historians figure the Spaniards and their horses were plagued by horse flies while in the neighborhood, though they would more likely be deer flies. A more flighty historian conjectures the pass was named for Luis Moscoso de Alvarado who became commander of DeSoto’s exploration party after his death, and led the group across Mosca Pass in 1542. There seems to be no known date as to when the pass was named, however. When Gunnison checked it out, it was called Del Mosque. In more modern times, it got called Moscow. Antoine Robideaux (Roubideaux, Robidoux ) used Mosca Pass in the 1820s and ‘30s to take merchandise west to trade with the Indians. He used two-wheeled carts so became the first to use wagons on the route. In his honor, the pass became known as Roubideau’s. Mountain Man Bill Williams rejected all these names, and called it after himself. Or did he? Some say Williams Pass was Medano, and most say Pike crossed Medano as well, although he called it Pike’s Gap. Medano means sand dune or hill in Spanish, so an alternate name is Sand or Sandy Hill. Then there are Medina and Modenos, and even Del Medino. In 1819 when the Spanish governor wanted to build a fort to ward off French invaders, Medano or Mosca was called El Camino de Boquete, or the Road of the Narrow Gap. The confusion between Mosca and Medano is readily understood since Medano Spring is at the western foot of Mosca Pass. Hayden’s survey in 1877 noted Medano as Music Pass. This is in the realm of Miss Placed. Mount Mestas/Maestes is a good example of changing names without really trying. It has been known as Veta Peak, La Veta Peak, Veta Mountain and just plain Baldy. Rand McNally, a most trusted name in mapology, shows it as Vite Mtn in 1876. Just northeast of it old maps show Dike Mountain, which seems to be Silver. On later maps, sometimes Dike Mountain slides down to take over Veta. No wonder the locals just call it Beatty. La Veta itself has had a few insults. One map from 1897 notes it is Laveta. Tourists seem to think it’s La Vida, named for life. Even locals spell it LaVeta if they want to. Post office information in books tells us it was originally Spanish Peak (1871-1876). However, in the letters written by settlers in 1873, they use as a return address Spanish Peaks. One peak, two peaks? While the Huerfano Butte seems to have always been known as the Huerfano Butte, the river has had any number of names. The Apache called it Chiopo back in the 1700s. The Spanish always liked to ignore the Indian names and use their own designations. Captain Juan de Ulibarri/Uribarri in 1706 thought it looked like a Rio de San Juan. When the Valverde expedition passed through in 1719, Señor Valverde named the Huerfano San Antonio. Just 60 years later, the famous Governor Juan Bautista de Anza, trailblazer to California, exterminator of Chief Cuerno Verde, rejected poor Saint Anthony and said it was the Rio Dolores. When Pike came along in 1806 he didn’t know the names, and, counting tributaries along the Arkansas, called the Huerfano the Second Fork. This is blamed on a Miss Count. Not long after Pike, Auguste Chouteau crossed the plains to the butte and named the river beside it the Third Fork. He was the better counter. Along with Rand McNally, one usually trusts US Army topographers. Major Stephen H. Long of the Topographical Bureau was sent out by the government with a botanist, explorers, a painter, etc., to map southern Colorado in 1823. His French guide, one Bijeau, pointed out a waterway that sounded like Wharf Creek. Long figured it was named wharf because of “the circumstance of its washing the base of numerous perpendicular precipices of moderate height.” More likely, this was a circumstance caused by Miss Hearing. Around 1840, along came T.F. Farnham. He asked, and he heard the name as Rio Walfano. From this came Wolfano and then, predictably, Wolf Creek. There are a few geographic names we may never get straight, because the mapmakers themselves were confused throughout the years. These include Del Carbon/Delcarbon, Red Wing/Redwing, and Mule Shoe/Muleshoe, all of which appear on official state maps. When it comes to people’s names, no one has been done more injustice than Charles Autobees. Autobees is the accepted spelling nowadays, but much license was taken in earlier days. Charley has gone down in history as Artibees, Authees, Autubis, Autbees, Autobeez, Orthivez, Ortivez, Ortibez, in fact, everything but what it Ought-to-be. The man knew every notable person on the frontier, and probably a lot that were unnotable, since his main source of income was hauling whiskey from Taos north to the trading posts of the Front Range. Since Charley’s home plaza on the Arkansas River was the first seat of Huerfano County, he should get a little respect, despite Miss Behavior.