Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley under a blanket of snow on Christmas Weekend 2006
Photo by UnofficialSquaw.com via flickr

The smallest place in the world to ever host the Olympic Games, Squaw Valley is actually a ski resort, not a town, however because the resort is so popular, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot else in the area, the whole community is known as Squaw Valley, (the official name is Olympic Valley, California). Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1960.

So, how did Squaw Valley come to be called Squaw Valley? Much like Lake Placid we’re not 100% sure, but we do know a little more about Squaw Valley. According to Historical Notes by Hal V. Hall:

Before the white settlers migrated and established their homes and way of life in the valley. During late summer and early autumn, prior to the migration of the abundant deer herds and before the winter snows, it was the ancient custom of the Washoe men, the hunters of their tribe, to harvest winter food with an annual hunt in the high ridges radiating from the Squaw Pass area. While the men were thus engaged, the Squaw camp remained in the valley. The first white men to visit Squaw Valley found it occupied by a camp of “squaws” and children, engaged in food gathering.

So, when the first white men came to Squaw Valley, they found the valley occupied by only “squaws,” (at the time, “squaw” simply meant “native woman”), and their children, and, we assume, called the valley Squaw Valley. We need to speak about the word Squaw. It comes from the Algonquian family of languages and translates roughly to “woman” in english. Its origins are not derogatory at all, but unfortunately it has come to be viewed as a derogatory term by many. To learn more about the history of the word I highly recommend reading Reclaiming the Word “Squaw” in the Name of the Ancestors by Marge Bruchac.

So, to recap, when white people first came to Squaw Valley, the only native people they found were women. Since, the word that was being used by white people at the time for native women was squaw, the valley was named Squaw Valley, and the word Squaw is borrowed from the Algonquian languages, and means, roughly, “woman.”

Special thanks to Katherine at Squaw Valley USA for filling me on on some historical details of Squaw Valley.

Pumpkin Center

A sign for Pumpkin Center, CA
The exit sign on the I-5 for Pumpkin Center, California, (Photo by Raymond Yu)

So, I don’t actually have a story to about why Pumpkin Center is called Pumpkin Center, but I do have some interesting, random, Pumpkin Center facts.

I was looking for information on Pumpkin Center, MO, (where Kay Barnes‘ mother was born), to continue the Missouri theme, and found that since the highway was put in there isn’t much left of that town, except for maybe a couple of buildings and a photo by the road.

However, while looking for Pumpkin Center information, I discovered that there are no less than 23 towns called Pumpkin Center in the USA. There are Pumpkin Centers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia. Some states, such as Oklahoma, have several towns called Pumpkin Center. Also, in Colorado there’s a town called Punkin Center, Population 9.

So, if anyone knows why there are so many places called Pumpkin Center, or has a story about why any of the Pumpkin Centers is called Pumpkin Center, I would love to hear them.


Photo by Patricia Drury

Hell is not only a biblical place, it is also an unincorporated town in Michigan.

There are a couple of stories about how Hell, MI, came to be named hell, the first is that some German travellers got out of their wagon and said So schön hell!, which means “So Beautifully Bright” and the name stuck. The second is that after Michigan became a state George Reeves, the founder of Hell, was asked what he thought the town should be named, and his answer was “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.”

Although the mailing address of hell is actually Pinckney, MI, (three miles away), there is a post office in the back of the general store where you can send stuff from Hell each year from May through September.

There are some other towns called Hell in the world. One was Hell, California, but it only had one family of residents and now there is a highway where it used to be. Another is Hell, Norway, and while the name is interesting in English, in Norwegian the name stems from the word for “overhang” or “cliff cave” and can also mean “luck.”