Arizona is filled with ghost towns and spooky tales going back to “Wild West” days, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of name stories to get you in the Halloween spirit. Here are a few…
There are many stories of how Tombstone, Arizona got its name. The most famous of which purports Ed Schieffelin named his mine in the Mule mountains Tombstone because his brother Al told him “all he would find [there] would be his tombstone,” as recounted by Will Barnes in his 1935 Arizona Place Names book. However, Barnes also notes a 1927 story in the 50th anniversary edition of the Tucson Star newspaper in which Max Marks said when citizens met to decide on a name, Epitaph and Graveyard were suggested at first but Tombstone was decided on because of the “granite rocks here that stand out like tombstones in the moonlight.” Epitaph was the name of the town’s newspaper. Either way, they were dead serious about naming the town in honor of people that died here.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park’s name isn’t as sinister as it sounds. It’s actually a family story. According to the park’s website, Calvin “Cap” Ireys bought the ranch in 1950 and named it such because we he asked his children which ranch they should buy, they said they wanted the property “with the dead horse” on it. When Arizona State Parks acquired the land in 1977, “the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of sale.”
The Superstition Mountains, about 40 miles east of Phoenix, are one of the most photographed places in Arizona. Their legends are long-running, with lots of Halloween-worthy tales. Long known as “Sierra de la Espuma” (which translates as “mountain of the foam”), the name comes from an old “Pima flood legend,” according to Barnes which says the white limestone stripe on the mountain is a flood mark where water once rose to. Barnes also notes that early Spanish settlers and people of Pima ancestry the mountain’s peak was “bad medicine.” Superstition is also home to many “lost gold mine” legends. It was also once called “Thunder Mountain” because of the weird sounds travelers heard in the area. There’s even a spot called “Haunted Canyon” in which ghost riders are said to guard an old Apache graveyard.
Read more “Scarizona” stories in Part 2 next week!
- Book: Arizona Place Names by Will C. Barnes, 1935, reprinted in 1988, 405, 432, 446-7.
- Website: Tombstone Epitah
- Website: Dead Horse Ranch State Park
- Website: AZ Central story “How Superstition Mountains Got their Name”
- Article: True West Magazine, “What is the origin of the name Haunted Canyon in Arizona?”
- Article: Apache Junction & Gold Canyon News “Chasing Ghosts in Haunted Canyon”
A version of this story first appeared on the Arizona Name Stories Instagram storytelling project page:@AZnamestories. This story is part of the project that explores the history of names in Arizona and that is also asking citizens of Arizona of all ages, cultures, backgrounds to share their own name story. If you’d like to submit your name story (and you’re from AZ or currently are a resident), read the instructions at AZnamestories.com. We welcome your participation. (Not all stories from the Instagram page will be posted on Names Redefined.)