There’s no telling what might register on my mind when I examine a map closely. Anything out-of-the-ordinary will jump to the forefront. It may be an odd shape like the perfect circle of Corona, a stranded bit of land like Carter Lake or a strange town name like Yeehaw Junction. It doesn’t matter. If it meets my warped sense of "unusual" it draws my attention and curiosity.
Imagine how I felt as I examined geographic features in southeastern Wyoming and came across a flyspeck of a town call CHUGWATER. What an odd name, I thought. All sorts of scenarios rolled through my mind. I simply had to find out more about this place.
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Chugwater is a small place by just about any definition. The population hits maybe 250 residents on a good day. However, it’s also situated right along Interstate Highway 25 only half an hour north of Cheyenne and a couple hours north of Denver, so I’m not sure I’d call it "remote." Sure, it’s rural though. Any settlement that places cattle guards on the ramps leading to the Interstate has to be considered rural.
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Nonetheless, anyone with a car can get here pretty easily from some fairly populous cities without too much time or effort.
I do love the sound of the name — Chugwater — and it certainly invokes a specific image. I was a bit disappointed with its derivation though, or rather theories of its derivation because it can’t be proven. It’s definitely named after Chugwater Creek. Some believe it traces back to the local Native Americans, supposedly the sound of bison smacking ("chug") a creek ("water") after hunters stampeded them off the nearby siltstone cliffs.
Nobody really knows if there’s a grain of truth behind the legend or if some early settler maybe misinterpreted it or simply made it up. These stories are a dime-a-dozen out West. Either way Chugwater Creek has been carrying its name for a long time. It was marked as such on some of the earliest American maps from this territory in the 1840’s. A lot more information can be found on Wyoming Tales and Trails for those who may be interested in all the details of Chugwater’s history along with numerous vintage photos.
Let’s bring this back into the 21st century. There are plenty of interesting things about Chugwater today.
(1) The Chugwater Museum
It’s free but open only by special request. You need to stop by the soda fountain to pick up the key. I’m not sure why I found that so funny.
(2) Modern Day Homesteading
Chugwater made the national news a few years ago when it offered building lots for $100 to prospective residents as long as the homesteaders built houses within a year and remained for two years. I have no idea if that succeeded.
The town is home to the Chugwater Chili Corp. As I think about it, wouldn’t that have been a much better explanation for the town name? The Chili is so hot you have to Chugwater. Oh, never mind.
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Not too surprisingly, there is also an annual Chugwater Chili Cookoff. What you may not know, and here’s the basis for a great trivia question: this event also serves as the official Wyoming state chili cook-off championship.
I’m convinced that a town doesn’t officially have an odd name until a country/western and/or bluegrass band is named in its honor. Chugwater is no exception, and the Chugwater Band has played extensively throughout the United States and even in Europe, with songs such as Tic Tac Two Step and The Cowboy Way.
Chugwater has a lot going on in a small package. Who, other than the couple hundred residents of Chugwater, knew that? Well, now you do.