Names on the Map

by Jeff Carlstrom

I once had a summer job with the US Geological Survey. As a rodman with a survey crew, I was classified as a GS-1, the lowest pay grade on the government’s roles (I vaguely remember making $95 a week). I was living in east-central Wyoming at the time, and I was told we were surveying the last remaining unmapped part of the lower 48 states. “Unmapped” didn’t really mean what is sounded like. It was just the last maps remaining (at that time) in the official USGS series.

It was one of my favorite jobs. Spending most days outdoors, I saw landscape I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and I saw it through a mapper’s eyes. Running a survey line meant traipsing across the Wyoming plains in a straight line (as much as possible). This meant knocking on rancher’s doors to get permission to drive or walk across their property with a transit and a rod.  Whenever we ran across a friendly rancher (most were friendly enough), we would ask them to name some of the features that were visible in the area. Creeks, buttes and mesas, remnants of old ranches, etc. All this information would be written up in the survey notes to be used in the final product. 

I presume that the USGS maps of Emigration Canyon would have evolved in the same way. The names that appear on the map were likely gleaned from locals, and were generally thought valid when confirmed by multiple sources. Of course the transfer of knowledge from the memories of residents to a final map can be incomplete or incorrect, but our canyon’s USGS maps do give us an interesting snapshot of how the land came to be known. Some of the place-names honor former homesteaders, becoming their most lasting footprint. Others reflect wildlife that was probably seen in the area. Maybe a single feature remembered by an old-timer became a name on the map.

The USGS maps weren’t the first maps of the canyon, but they were state-of-the-art when many of us moved here (the earliest version I found was dated 1951). The digital maps we use today contain many of the same names, so I can only guess that the old USGS maps served as their authority for place names. Emigration Canyon stretches across two of these maps – called the Fort Douglas Quadrangle and the Mountain Dell Quadrangle. 

I contacted the USGS archive (in Denver) in hopes of finding survey notes that might help get to the bottom of the canyon’s place names. The archivist was able to send me a couple of “field review” documents for each map. The most interesting was a “Name Check” – a list of place names with a brief description of what each name was based on, along with a reference of who supplied the information. Unfortunately, only the Fort Douglas Quad included a Name Check. And just as unfortunate, the document was redacted, as confidentiality applies whenever a person cited may still be alive (this document was dated 1950).  Even with redaction, the citation in Emigration Canyon referenced “…farmers and real estate” and also “…one of the original settlers in the canyon and only one left alive. His names can be considered authoritative.”

I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that the surveyor was talking to brothers Fran and Lowell Meik. I can’t prove it, and I hope I’m not breaching any confidence here, but I’m happy to honor their memory with my belief. Even if I’m wrong in seeing their fingerprints all over our canyon map, I can still say that they left a large footprint here in Emigration Canyon. Sadly, no canyon place names memorialize this family, but they certainly made their mark here in the memories of our old-timers and in our shared history.

Click the map above to open the full size image in a new window. Follow along as we take a trip up the canyon (from bottom to top), and see what names crop up.

  1. Wagner Springs (note the misspelling) is on the left around the first bend.  This was the water source for the old Wagener Brewery at the canyon’s mouth. Name Check notes say they were a “twin spring.”
  2. To the right just past Eagle Gate is Emigration Tunnel Springs, a water source developed by the city that taps into the canyon’s abundant underground flow (Emigration Canyon is known by hydrologists as “The Sponge.”).
  3. PS:  Eagle Gate does not appear on our map (seems like an oversight). This was a narrow section of the Pioneer Trail that could only take one wagon at a time.
  4. On the left as we approach Sunnydale Lane is Rattlesnake Hollow.  Snakes may still thrive along that sunny slope.
  5. Again on the left, across from the Sunnydale neighborhood is Lithograph Fork, named for a “quarry” of lithographic slate developed in the 1890s.
  6. Just upstream is Gold Gulch.  Unknown if the search was fruitful.
  7. Johnson Hollow, named for homesteader John P. Johnson, is on the south side and now contains houses (Standel Cove).
  8. Big Jenson Hollow across from Rattlesnake Point is named for homesteader James S. Jenson.
  9. Rattlesnake Point (at Ruth’s Curve) is … well, you try walking around there and see what you find.
  10. Perkins Hollow overlooks the old Walter K. Perkins homestead.
  11. Strongs Fork is named for Perkins’ predecessor, James T. Strong (and his brothers).
  12. Bayliss Fork is named for Edgar Bayliss, who owned this property after the homesteaders left.
  13. Badger Hollow. Badgers are shy and a sighting would be remembered (even today).
  14. Pioneer Gulch. Name Check notes tell us that Pioneers hauled wood from this spot.
  15. Cederloff Hollow (note misspelling) named for homesteaders John and Mary Cederlof.
  16. Pioneer Fork named for Pioneer Addition subdivision (though perhaps named for the “gulch” just down canyon).  Known as Sharp’s Hollow before that.
  17. Sheep Gulch.  Name Check notes tell us that an early-day sheep corral stood at its mouth.
  18. Little Tree Hill.  Name Check tells us a lone tree grew at the top.
  19. Blacksmith Hollow.  Name Check says it’s the site of an “old blacksmith shop.”
  20. Kelvin Grove was the site of a dance hall and restaurant, originally owned (and named) by the Meik family. This area was to the north of the road, not on the south as labeled on the map.
  21. Maple Grove was named for a grove of Maples found near the creek.
  22. Freeze Creek had a few names (McCrea’s Hollow; Mead’s Draw).  This creek shouldn’t freeze up any more or less than Brighams Fork right next door, but it’s the name that stuck. 
  23. Brigham Fork is named for Brigham Young Jr, who owned the sandstone quarry at the head of the fork.
  24. Last Camp is honored with a monument erected by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
  25. Henderson Spring is a flowing spring in the vicinity of the old Henderson House.
  26. Killyon Canyon (note misspelling) named for John Killian, who lived near Last Camp and secured timber rights for the upper canyon.
  27. Burr Fork.  Name of unknown origin (oh to find the Name Check for this map).

Here are links to the today’s USGS topo maps.