Perhaps like you, I find place names interesting. I was looking at a map of Quetico Provincial Park recently. That is the Ontario park across the border from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Names like Savage Portage, Emerald Island, Fern Lake, and The Pines, elicited all kinds of thoughts on the character of the area.
North Dakota has some interesting names too, but we seldom give them much thought. Many names are quite intriguing and informative, particularly in their ecological or historical context. If you get the opportunity, look over a U. S. Forest Service map of the Little Missouri National Grasslands. You will see names like Ash Coulee, Cedar Canyon, Rattlesnake Butte, Bear Creek, Eagle Draw, Buffalo Gap, and Poison Spring Creek.
Anyone with an interest in history can not help but wonder about the naming of Burning Mine Butte or who Poker Jim Creek was named after. Scairt Woman Creek undoubtedly has an interesting but perhaps tragic story!
The origin of a town name is always an interesting topic. They can also shed light on the character of the immediate area, such as Golden Valley, Willow City, Wild Rose, and the town that would make any good Norwegian’s heart flutter: Walhalla. Then of course there are some interesting natural features such as Dog Den Butte west of Butte. That is apparently a reference to coyote or wolf den in the area. Hawks Nest Ridge southwest of Carrington is likely a reference to a ferruginous hawk or harrier, also known as a marsh hawk, and the Wild Rice River leaves little doubt as to what grew in its water.
Paying attention to place names is just plain fun. Plus it can also give us some insight as to the flora and fauna of an area, or perhaps shed some light on area history. If nothing else, they can just give us something to wonder about. That reminds me of some lakes in Manitoba that have my curiosity: Cranberry Lake, Swan Lake, and God’s Lake. Now that is a lake I gotta see!
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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