We've all heard of them- the Animas, Cache La Poudre, Cimarron, Yampa, Purgatoire, Uncompahgre. All of these Colorado rivers are household names throughout the state. We all say them, most of know where they are located, but what's up with the names? Most rivers are named after a town or a physical location (Colorado River, Gunnison River). Other's are named after the individuals who first recorded their discovery of the river or the leader who sent them on their exploration.
But some rivers have unusual names with unusual histories. Stories that have been told for centuries still resonate through their unique names.
The Animas River near Durango, Colorado got it's name from in 1765 from Spanish explorer Juan Maria de Rivera. When Maria De Rivera went in search of gold from Sante Fe, his group was haunted by the empty ruins of pueblo dwellings. Thus, they decided to name the river, "Rio de las Animas Perdidas" meaning River of Lost Souls. The Animas also runs through other Aztec, Ute and Navajo lands that have sense been "lost".
Cache La Poudre River has it's headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows east from the Continental Divide. The river has supplied mining and railroad camps, cities, towns and agriculture throughout northern Colorado for centuries. But what does Cache La Poudre mean? In the 1820's French explorers were caught in a tremendous snow storm along the headwaters of the river. In order to lighten their load, they had to bury substantial amounts of gun powder along the river banks. The burying of the powder gave the water it's name, Cache La Poudre or "Hide the Powder."
The Cimarron River get it's name from early Spanish Explorers who named the water "Río de los Carneros Cimarrón" translating to "River of the Wild Sheep." Given for the large amounts of big horn sheep that explorers found along the river. Early American Explorers called the same river, "The Red Fork of the Arkansas" due it's color from the red clay banks.
The Yampa River is a tributary of the Green River which then flows into the Colorado River. The name Yampa was coined by John C Freemont who noticed the large amounts of Perideridia plants along the banks of the River.
While some rivers have names from their explorers, others have interesting stories behind their name. The name could come from an event along the water, like the Purgatoire River- meaning purgatory, named by French explorers after they saw Spanish Explorers killed by a native tribe. Or it could come from the sightings explorers noticed, like the Umcompahgre- which means "Dirty Water" in Ute because of the off color of the water.
All of these river names are known to Coloradans and anglers alike, but the history behind the naming of their favorite river is known to few.