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Library News

By: Mark Roseman, Board Member
For: Red Rock News
Date: October 30, 2009

Places, Names, and Arizona’s Historical Past

Have you wondered why Exit 285, of Interstate 17, is named “General Crook Trail?”  Who is this General and what’s this about his trail?  Northern Arizona is rich with names that reflect its Native America history, its early settlers, military camps and operations, Spanish culture, and old West bloodletting.  We live in a vibrant cultural and historical region.  The Sedona Public Library’s “Arizona Collection” (Dewey 900-999) contains general history books about our state as well as specific books of indigenous interest.  A sampling of Native America books include: “Cochise, the Apache Chief,” by Edwin R. Sweeney, “The Geronimo Campaign,” by Odie B. Faulk, “The Zuni Life, A Pueblo Indian in Two Worlds,” by Virgil Wyaco, and so much more.

The Arizona Collection reveals the fascinating historical record behind geographical names.  Most Sedona residents know that our city was named by Ellsworth Schnebly, after his sister-in-law, Sedona Miller Schnebly (1877-1950).  Research reveals that the name “Sedona” was made up by her mother, who liked how it sounded.

Most other names were not made up.  Consider the following:  Coconino, Yavapai, Cottonwood, Bloody Basin, and Two Guns.  There are too many other names to list, here, but their historical nomenclatures are right there in the library.  Let’s venture back into history for some answers. . .

Coconino County (carved from Yavapai County in 1881) got its name from the Havasupai Indian word meaning “little water.”  Arizona’s arid climate is also reflected by the name given people in the 1920s, by archaeologist Harold Colton.  Colton used the descriptive geographical term “Sierra sin agua” (Spanish for “Highlands without water”) to name the Sinagua Indians (500-1300 AD).  The Sinagua people are associated by contemporary Arizonans with Montezuma’s Castle and Well.  The name “Montezuma” is theorized to be derivative of ancient Aztec occupation; however, Montezuma, the ruler of the Aztecs from 1440 to 1469, never visited the area.  Likewise, Sedona’s Tlaquepaque district derives its name from the ancient Aztec word for “the best of everything.”

Yavapai County, which is larger than the State of New Jersey, is named from a Native American language and Spanish combination: “Yava”-  Native American -  meaning “the hill,” and Spanish – “pais,” meaning “country = “People of the hill country.”  Yavapai County is the home of the Yavapai Indians, commonly called Apache-Mojaves, in pre-statehood days. 

The City of Cottonwood takes its name from a circle of 16 large cottonwoods growing about a quarter of a mile away from the Verde River, in the late 1800s.   “Verde” means “green” in Spanish, hence, the early settlers must have associated the river with the lush green growth and cottonwood trees the river nurtured out of arid soils.  Here, too, ecological realities contributed to the naming of geographical places, hence, Verde Valley.

The name “Bloody Basin” has two known possible origins: 1) Many Indian battles took place there, or, 2) There once was a suspension bridge over a gorge, which created a basin.  Sheepherders used the bridge to take bands of sheep to fresh grazing areas.  One day, the bridge collapsed, sending sheep into what became a bloody basin, below. 

“Two Guns,” a ghost town community, on Route 66, 40 miles east of Flagstaff was originally named “Canyon Lodge,” because there was a lodge there, by the same name, owned by Henry E. Miller.  Mr. Miller liked people to refer to him as “Two gun Miller.”  It’s not known why he chose the name, but the mental picture of Miller, gun in each hand, whiskey on his breath, and no nonsense on his mind, conjures up real easy.  Two Guns died a quick death when Route 66 lost its transportation appeal to modern day Interstate 40, which bypassed the Ghosts of Two Guns.

So, who was General Cook?  General George Crook (1829-1890) is somewhat of a historical anomaly.  A West Point graduate and United States military officer, Crook earned the reputation for successful military actions against Native Americans in the Northern Arizona Territory, as the commander of the Military Department of Arizona (1871-1875).   After the Civil War, he had his headquarters in Camp Verde, and he and his men scratched out trails in the desert hills during their patrols of the area.  The General is also credited for improving conditions for Native Americans through his sensitivity to their human needs, including clean drinking water, good roads, and a détente with tribes and Indian Nations who obeyed the law of the United States government.  He did not believe in unwarranted aggressions toward Native Americans.

In 1877, General Crook arrested Standing Bear, the chief of the Ponca Indian Nation, for failing to follow the mandate of the federal government to bring his people to the Indian Territory established by the government.  The territory was not conducive for farming and food production for the Poncas.  Crook, seeing that the government had cornered the Poncas into an untenable situation, garnered sympathy for the Poncas, which resulted in a federal lawsuit:  Standing Bear vs. Crook (1879).  At the heart of the issues was the legal definition of Native Americans, of that time.  Prior to this case, Native Americans were considered “chattel” or “things” that had no Constitutional rights.  The rule of law of the case, a stunning landmark at the time, was that Native Americans were legally “persons” entitled to challenge the U.S. Government’s whimsical control over them, in courts of law.  Standing Bear won his case, and he and his People were allowed to move and live on a reservation where they engaged the land and earth’s elements into productive farming.

Mark Roseman
Mark Roseman, author of this week's article,
is a retired attorney and a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sedona Public Library.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.