The Origins of Weird State Park Names (Part Three)

When you see these names, you tend to say to yourself, "Does that mean what it sounds like?" In most cases, no.


You've seen the sign, if not from the highway in Wisconsin, then on the internet. And you've heard the jokes about "recreation" involving either a water pipe for marijuana, or more recently a funnel for drinking beer. But if you follow the signs, you'll find the name of the place is actually the Richard Bong State Recreation Area. Its namesake, Major Richard Ira Bong, was called the "Ace of Aces." He flew 200 combat missions in the Pacific during World War II, scoring 40 victories. Bong was presented with the Medal of Honor in 1944, on top of a number of other wartime medals. He then became a test pilot for the Air Force and flew the P-80, which malfunctioned during a flight in 1945. Major Bong bailed out of the plane, but was too close to the ground for his parachute to deploy properly, and he died on impact. The Richard Bong State Recreation Area is just one of many memorials to the flying ace.

Big Bone Lick

Big Bone Lick State Park in northern Kentucky is famous for its name alone. It should be more famous for its fossils, since the area was once a swamp and home to all kinds of huge prehistoric animals like mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloths. A salt spring in the area attracts animals, who would come and lick the salt that was difficult to get in the rest of their diet. Hence, it was a "lick", the same name that sticks with other such areas. Native Americans also got salt there, and passed this tip on to a French Canadian named Baron de Longueil, who explored the area in 1739. A 1744 map marks the spot as the "place where they found the elephant bones in 1739." By then, the bones found at the lick were used for all kinds of purposes. Image by Wikipedia user Mattguyver.

When John Filson published the a map of Kentucky in 1784, the lick was labeled, as well as Big Bone Creek and "Salt Springs and Medicinal Spring the large Bones are found here."

Saddleback Butte

Saddleback Butte State Park near Lancaster, California might give you pause when you see the sign. When I saw this state park listing, the name struck me as a medical condition along the lines of tennis elbow, since the last time I spent all day in a saddle my butte was quite sore. It could also be a descriptive term for the appearance of a person's posterior, although not a flattering one. But this butte is pronounced beaut, which Americans should know because of the small city of Butte, Montana. It's a term for a geological formation, a hill distinguished by steep sides and a flat top, like a large rock set on a relatively flat plain. Those who've been to Saddleback Butte (or who've seen the pictures) say it looks nothing like a saddle and is hardly a butte. Someone lost to history thought up the name. Still, the park offers hiking trails up the hill to an elevation of 3,651 feet, with the reward of a spectacular view. Image by Wikipedia user Matt Jalbert.

Big Bottom

Big Bottom State Memorial Park in Stockport. Ohio is a park that commemorates the Big Bottom Massacre of 1791, a skirmish between Wyandot Indians and Ohio Company settlers that resulted in the deaths of 14 settlers. The Native Americans attacked in part because they resented the settlers encroachment upon the large fertile area on the Muskingum River. A "fertile area" on a river floodplain was commonly called "bottom land", and since the floodplain was extensive, the settlers called it Big Bottom. However, in the modern usage of the term, you don't want to pose with the sign if you are insecure about your weight.


Nimrod State Wildlife Management Area is named for Nimrod Lake in Arkansas. The lake was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1940-42 by damming the Fourche LaFave River. They named the lake after Nimrod, the grandson of Noah, who, according to the Bible, was a mighty hunter. The area surrounding Lake Nimrod has plentiful game. Little did they know that the name Nimrod would later be a slang term for a clueless person.

Bogus Basin


Bogus Bason State Park in Boise County, Idaho, is one of those names that, yes, means exactly what it sounds like. Bogus Basin was once a destination for gold miners. However, that gold was actually pyrite, or "fool's gold," which led to the name. Miners warned others away with the name, but colorful tales sprung up to explain the exact circumstances. In one, "Pan Handle Pete" and "Jughead Jake" sold the mining rights and skipped town in a hurry. Other legends have hucksters planting gold dust in the mines or broadcasting their nugget sales to fool other prospectors into buying a claim. Image by Flickr user Disodium.

Ha Ha Tonka


Ha Ha Tonka State Park is near Camdenton, Missouri. If the name were spelled Hahatonka, we would all assume it has native origins like Minnesota or Mississippi. But the real story is even more interesting. Land speculator Robert Scott bought up a lot of Missouri wilderness in the 1890s, and wanted a better name for the area than Gunter Springs, so, inspired by the Longfellow poem "Hiawatha," he came up with Hahatonka. Scott said it was an Osage Indian name meaning "laughing waters," but there is no evidence to back up his story. Wealthy Missouri businessman Robert Snyder purchased 2,500 acres from Scott in 1904 and started building a castle, intending it as a resort area. But Snyder died in 1906, and the castle (completed in 1922) burned in 1942. When the state park was founded in 1978, the state Parks Division put spaces in the name, either to distance it from the fake Osage term or to highlight the laughing waters idea. Or both. Image by Flickr user Amazing Brian.

Humbug Mountain

Humbug Mountain State Park, Oregon

Humbug Mountain State Park in Oregon takes its name from the mountain. It was first known as Sugarloaf Mountain until Captain William Tichenor brought a group of explorers and settlers in the 1850s. He sent out an exploratory party with instructions for climbing the mountain, but they disregarded his directions and became lost. The men named the hill Tichenor's Humbug (according to Tichenor) "to palliate their gross failure." The name was later shortened to Humbug Mountain. Image by Flickr user Mark Hillary.

Frozen Head

Snow on Frozen Head Mountain

Frozen Head State Park in east Tennessee is named after Frozen Head Mountain. There are no corpses associated with the place name, despite stories told to children of the area. Settlers name the mountain Frozen Head because the peak is 3,324 feet high, and the top is covered with ice and snow in winter -unlike smaller hills in the area. Image by Flickr user Michael Hodge.

A couple of notable suggestions for this post should be included, even though they are not state parks. Head-smashed-in Buffalo Jump is a Canadian provincial park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A buffalo jump is an area in which buffalo were herded over a cliff to their deaths by hunters. The only reference to the name Head-Smashed-In I found was an unsubstantiated legend about a Blackfoot who was killed by falling buffalo through his own foolishness. Then there's Beaver Dick Park in Rexburg, Idaho, which is a county park, so you can read the story of the name on your own.

See also: Part One and Part Two of this series.

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.


As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.


Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.


A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.


Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.


The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.


The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 


All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.

A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.

Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.

American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.

Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.

Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.


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