A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar (attributed to Mark Twain).
I began some initial planning for a brief county counting trip to West Virginia that I hope to undertake in a couple of months. Examining potential routes, I noted a county called Mineral that I would hit in some of the likely scenarios. I’d crossed into Mineral before, as recently as last year, right across the north branch of the Potomac River from Cumberland, Maryland. I’d never really thought about it at the time. Now I wondered, how did Mineral gets its name? What mineral came in such abundance to deserve its own county?
I also found three more Mineral Counties, a total of four. They seemed interesting in their own ways.
Many minerals came from the mountains surrounding Creede (map), the local seat of government in Mineral County, Colorado. However, silver put it on the map. Prospectors came to Colorado first for gold beginning in 1859 and then for silver a decade alter. Colorado underwent a protracted Silver Boom during the last three decades of the 19th Century. Booms jumped from place to place, the final one happening in Creede in 1890.
The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985. Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit all of the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined.
Robert Ford also lived in Creede. Ford originally belonged to Jessie James’ criminal gang and reputedly killed James to collect a reward in 1882. He died in Creede in 1892, shot in the back by Edward O’Kelley. O’Kelley came to be known as "the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." A policeman, Joe Burnett, shot and killed O’Kelley in Oklahoma City in 1904. That made Burnett "the man who killed the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." The chain stopped there. Burnett died of a stroke in 1917.
Mineral County, Montana felt so superior that it named the county seat Superior (map), although it may have been named for the founder’s hometown in Wisconsin. Gold became Mineral’s namesake mineral originally, triggered by a rush on nearby Cedar Creek in 1869. However silver also existed in abundance.
The history of Mineral County is steeped in the tales of rich gold and silver mines. From the first mining efforts in the early 1860s to the present day, mining has been important to the people who first settled here and to those who now live in this county. Today, people still actively work mining claims, which are an important part of the county economy and heritage.
Neither gold nor silver made the greatest contribution to Mineral County history. That distinction went to sheets of paper in the form of a Bible’s printed word. Gideons International placed its very first Bible in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. A Gideon named Archie Bailey stayed at the hotel regularly and sought permission to place a Bible in each of the hotel’s 25 rooms in 1908. Gideons followed that simple act with another 2 billion Bibles left in hotel rooms around the world for the next century and counting.
Hawthorne Army Depot
Twelve Mile Circle featured a town in what later became Mineral County, Nevada, in Aurora: A County Seat in Two States. Simultaneously! I’ll summarize the situation briefly. Gold brought prospectors to the area in 1860. The border between California and Nevada left a lot to be desired and both states claimed the same strip because of its mineral wealth. A later, more definitive survey placed Aurora in Nevada although it didn’t matter in the long run because everyone abandoned Aurora when the gold ran out.
Mineral County survived because of its other important feature, a bunch of nothing. What better place for the Federal government to locate the largest ammunition depot in the world? It covered 147 thousand acres (230 square miles; 600 square kilometres). Hawthorne Army Depot (map) grew around Mineral’s county seat at Hawthorne on three sides. It dated back to 1930 and continues to operate today, underpinning the entire economy of the county.
Mineral County is on the left bank of the river. My own photo.
None of the other Mineral Counties rivaled the one in West Virginia with its nearly 30 thousand residents (map). Ironically, I found fewer stories about this one than any of the others. The mineral in question may have been iron ore or maybe coal. However, coal derived from organic material so it didn’t actually meet the definition of a mineral. Neither did I find any cool stories. Sure, George Washington owned some of the land, and some minor Civil War action happened there. The same could be said for nearly every other county within a couple hundred miles.
I selected US Route 23 through Ohio as we drove back from Michigan. This would have been a long detour in normal circumstances. However I wanted to count a few new counties so I cut through a quiet slice of the state. Hours passed, boredom hovered nearby and I invented little non sequiturs to pass the time.
Lame Dad Jokes became routine. I’m a trained master of Dad Jokes, the worse the better. Each new attempt drew eye rolls from the back seat and only encouraged me more. Then I found Waldo (map). I rarely spotted Waldo in those puzzle pictures. My brain didn’t work that way. Even so I clearly noticed a large sign pointing to a highway exit for Waldo, the township in Marion County, Ohio. A repeated string of "Where’s Waldo? — There’s Waldo" left my lips as I pointed to the sign to the kids’ complete indifference. Barely 300 people lived in Waldo although that made little difference. I only needed that large green side along a lonely highway as entertainment for the next fifteen minutes.
According to The History of Marion County, Ohio (1883), "Waldo was laid out in 1831, by Milo D. Pettibone, and named after his son Waldo." I felt sorry for a family with a Milo and a Waldo. I supposed if someone named me Milo I’d also call my kid Waldo out of spite.
The search for more Waldos began in earnest once I returned. I didn’t realize I’d already captured one, a big one, in Maine (map). Waldo County got its name from the colonial-era Waldo Patent, a land grant to an aristocratic military officer, Samuel Waldo. I traveled extensively through Maine several years ago. One day-trip brought me to Fort Knox — not the one with the gold — a different one. This Fort Knox perched high above the Penobscot River, protecting inland towns during the War of 1812. It sat adjacent to the very modern Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. The views from the observatory deserved a detour.
On the other hand, I’d probably try to avoid Waldo, Florida (map) although the situation improved recently. The Waldo police created quite a moneymaking operation at the height of their speed trap, one of the worst in the nation. CBS News reported that "Waldo’s seven police officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets [in 2013], collecting more than $400,000 in fines – a third of the town’s revenue." They also ran afoul of the law because they practiced a ticket quote system specifically prohibited by the State of Florida. Waldo disbanded its police force in 2014.
I’m still not sure I’d trust driving through there.
Some Waldos hid better than others. Oregon’s Waldo (map) disappeared by the 1930’s and quickly became a ghost town. It began with promise, even serving as the county’s seat of government during its heyday in the latter half of the 19th Century. Waldo depended on mining and the mines eventually played-out, and everyone left. Nothing remained except for a couple of cemeteries and an historical marker. The town started with a different name, Sailor’s Diggings, for the people who flocked there after the discovery of gold. They changed it to Waldo because of the most significant event in its brief history. The frontier hadn’t been mapped precisely. Nobody knew exactly where the border fell and residents assumed they lived in California. William Waldo, the Whig candidate for California governor thought so too. He came to Sailor’s Diggings to campaign in 1853.
Town officials with a sense of humor learned of the mistake and chose to honor Waldo, the man who courted California votes in Oregon.
The Waldo game could be played internationally too. A tiny sliver of Bolivia called Waldo Ballivián Municipality (map) existed in the Pacajes Province of the La Paz Department. Maybe a couple of thousand people lived there. I found a YouTube video featuring Waldo Ballivián. People danced, they packaged Quinoa and other Andean grains, they also talked a lot into a microphone. I couldn’t speak Spanish although they looked excited about something. Upon further digging and after liberal use of Google Translate it seemed they’d just received a new packaging machine. This would be quite useful in Waldo Ballivián, one of the poorest corners of the nation.
Texas claimed its independence from México in 1836 as a result of the Texas Revolution. It became a sovereign nation. Even so, México considered Texas part of its rightful territory. Texas faced many difficulties during its early years as a new country as it struggled to keep going. It pushed to join the United States and traded its sovereignty to become the 28th state in 1845. This also created tensions between México and the United States, leading to warfare in 1846. The United States won decisively and grew considerably at México’s expense. Its spoils included all of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, plus parts of several other states.
Elsewhere in the United States, settlers pushed out from the original Atlantic states onto the prairie. These included Mexican War veterans. They returned home, platted towns, and used names familiar to them. Some of those names reflected their war victories, bringing an odd smattering of Mexican themes to places nowhere near the border.
Montezuma ruled the Aztecs from his capital of Tenochtitlan when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519. Cortés famously captured Montezuma and destroyed his empire. The Aztecs — at their prime when Cortés arrived — fell as famine, disease and warfare ravaged its lands. Tenochtitlan then evolved into a Spanish colonial capital, Mexico City. High upon a hill within that city rose Castillo de Chapultepec, the Castle of Chapultepec (map), a home of Spanish and later Mexican rulers. These were the famous Halls of Montezuma referenced in the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. Marines stormed and captured Castillo de Chapultepec, a key to seizing Mexico City during the war.
I couldn’t find a single place called Montezuma in México. However military veterans picked up the name and moved it to spots in Georgia (map), Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, California and New York. The largest, Montezuma County in Colorado, actually did not come from the war. People once thought mistakenly that the Aztecs built nearby Mesa Verde. They named the county accordingly and called its primary town Cortez.
Matamoros, directly on the southern side of the Rio Grande River, became a staging point for an American invasion. The army of the United States under General Zachary Taylor built a fort on the opposite side of the river. Mexican forces bombarded the fort, the Americans called for reinforcements, and a large cavalry and artillery battle broke out (map). The U.S. army routed its foes with better, quicker-firing artillery. Maj. Jacob Brown died during the battle so Taylor changed the name from Fort Texas to Fort Brown. Later a town grew around the fort and it also adopted the name, becoming Brownsville, Texas.
Places inspired by the battle used a slightly different spelling in the United States, namely Matamoras. I stayed overnight in Matamoras, Pennsylvania on my way to New England recently (map). I wondered why a Pennsylvania town adopted the name of a Mexican city, and that inspired my search for more. Matamoras held other secrets including the easternmost point in Pennsylvania and a corner of the New Jersey – New York – Pennsylvania (NJNYPA) tripoint. It was also remarkably close to the New Jersey highpoint.
Buena Vista translated from Spanish as "good view." However, combatants probably didn’t get an opportunity to appreciate their surroundings. Mexican General Santa Anna hoped to crush the American army at the Angostura Pass (map). His army numbered three times that of his foe and he had them cornered. American artillery and well-trained infantry stopped the Mexican advance. Eventually they withdrew. Neither side claimed victory although México suffered greater casualties and failed to defeat its much smaller foe.
Buena Vista appeared again in the American heartland. It spread to places as far apart as Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania (map), Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and Virginia. Many of them emphasized an Americanized pronunciation, something closer to Beuwna Vista.
A vision of the Virgin Mary appeared several times in 1531 to a peasant outside of Mexico City. The spot became a sacred shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Much later, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led the Mexican War of Independence, ending Spanish rule in 1821. A town adjacent to the shrine combined the two names, becoming Guadalupe Hidalgo (map). The United States defeated México in 1848, destroying its army and capturing its capital. The two sides came together at this town and negotiated an agreement favorable to the United States. It became the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The largest Hildago in the United States appeared as a county name in New Mexico (map). Another county of Hidalgo was established in Texas. A much smaller Hildago also sprouted up in Illinois.