Monday, May 6, 2013

Monte Cristo: Weber County's mysterious 'Mountain of Christ

                        Monte Cristo Mountains, far background, as viewed from Trapper's Loop Road.

By Lynn Arave

YOU could call this mysterious tale "The 'Mount' of Monte Cristo."
The tallest and most prominent mountain on Weber County's northeastern border is Monte Cristo Peak.
This is popular hunting, snowmobiling, ATV and motorcycle riding territory.
Monte Cristo is a Spanish name that means "Mountain of Christ.''
A key question is who named this Monte Cristo, a peak reaching 9,148 feet above sea level near a place where the Rich, Cache and Weber county borders come together?
The original namesake of Monte Cristo is a granite island in the Mediterranean Sea, sitting between the west Italian coast and Corsica. This isle is only about 4 square miles but stretches 2,000 feet above sea level.
    The island became known world-wide when Alex-andre Dumas pere's book "The Count of Monte Cristo'' was published in 1845. The story is a fictional tale of a hero who found a treasure there. (There's also another well-known Monte Cristo in Brazil.)

 Weber's Monte Cristo, its 10th highest peak, is part of the Mone Cristo Mountain range, about 30 miles long and located some 13 air miles northeast of Pineview Reservoir or approximately 14 miles southwest of Woodruff, as birds fly.
 Captain Howard Stansbury was the first white man recorded to have traveled the Monte Cristo area into Ogden in 1849. But, he didn't name the mountain.
The book, "Five Hundred Utah Place Names,'' by Rufus Wood Leigh, states that peak's name was originally Monte de Cristo, with today's name shortened in hybrid fashion. It says there is no known name giver.   
  The usually masterful book "Utah Place Names,'' by John W. Van Cott, lists three theories on how Utah's Monte Cristo received its name:
    1. Gold miners returning from Northern California believed it resembled the Monte Cristo Mountains in California.
    2. A road builder in the area read the book "The Count of Monte Cristo'' during work breaks and the name stuck.
    3. The name was provided by early trappers.
 Here's an examination of those three theories:
1. There is no Monte Cristo mountain or range in California. Yet, there is a Monte Cristo Gold Mine in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles. However, that mine only started up in the late 1880s.
(There is a Monte Cristo mountain range in Nevada, near Tonopah.)
Notwithstanding, "Rich Memories,'' a book by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, does agree with gold miner theory though, for Utah's Monte Cristo name.
Also, the "Remember My Valley" history book on the Ogden Valley, by LaVerna Burnett Newey, also sides with the gold miners explanation.
  2. The next theory is shaky because the highway construction project in the Monte Cristo area, which eventually became Utah Highway 39, was part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s.
    Arch McKinnon Jr. led the effort to create a gravel road from Woodruff to the summit in 1931. Today, McKinnon Peak, north of Monte Cristo Peak, is named for him. In 1960, this road was improved and paved.
 William W. Terry, an Ogden-area historian, said in 1996 he distinctly recalled taking a horse ride through what was then known as the Monte Cristo area in 1913 at age 8 on a switchback trail. So, the area had the name BEFORE the highway came along. Terry also said he didn't know the origin of the Monte Cristo name either. (Terry died in 1997.)

Terry's memory is also substantiated by a Feb. 6, 1912 story in the Ogden Standard Examiner, that mentions Monte Cristo, northeast of Ogden. (A Logan newspaper also referred to Monte Cristo in an even earlier, 1908 story.)
Newey, in her Ogden Valley history book, stated it was a lumberjack, not road builder, who carried the "Count of Monte Cristo" book to work.
  3. The final theory appears unlikely as most trappers were only in northern Utah during the 1820s to the early 1840s. There's no record of such a naming.

 The evidence then suggests perhaps two different theories:
A. Could the Monte Cristo name be silver and not golden? Could its name correspond to the La Plata silver mine, also in the Monte Cristo area? When discovered in July of 1891, this mine quickly produced a short-lived boom town of hundreds of residents. 
This was likely the first time that hundreds of people came through the area. Most were locals, but some were outsiders. And, perhaps that's when someone referred to the nearby mountains as the Monte Cristo Mountains, possibly having a knowledge of Spanish, if not also of the newly found California mine. Then, the title stuck.
After all, "La Plata" is a Spanish name itself. "La" is the feminine in Spanish and "Plata" means silver.
It can be no coincidence that there are two such Spanish names in the Monte Cristo area. They are likely related -- and that's my personal theory on where the Monte Cristo name originated from.
Also, Darrell Clarke told me has a map of Utah, dated 1895, and it shows both La Plata and Monte Christo (note the spelling here). This Map was drawn by Mosiah Hall Superintendent of Schools, Weber County, assisted by Charles Wright. 
(However, another Utah map I found on-line from 1895 shows La Plata, but not Monte Cristo.)
Also, research done by Gary Weicks has found that Colonel William Hope Harvey started a secret commercial club in Ogden, called the "Order of Monte Cristo" in about 1880. Aim of the club was to bring a "Mardi Gras of the West" event annually to Ogden.
Suffice it to say, the idea was financial and a practical bust.
With the silver mining boom of La Plata in 1891, the "Monte Cristo" group was also involved in the creation of the Middle Fork Townsite Company. This town was laid out on August 28, 1891 and was located about three miles south of LaPlata. 
The August, 30, 1891 edition of the Ogden Daily Commercial newspaper had an article about the Middle Fork Townsite founding:
  "The new townsite located by Messers Gill, Reed and others where the Chamber of Commerce proposed to found a new town, is laid out and the place is to be called Dartsite (as it was claimed to be the center of mining activity in the district). The Commercial would suggest, however, that the name of "Monte Christo" would be better for the reason that the Monte Christo range is not far distant and that name is so familiar to all readers the world over that it would readily fix itself upon the mind".
The town's name was indeed changed to Monte Christo as recommended and continued to be called that until the late spring/early summer of 1892 when it changed the name yet again to South LaPlata. (No doubt this was done to capitalize on the fame of LaPlata, a boom town known throughout the west at the time.
So, it appears the Monte Cristo mountain name was already strongly in place BEFORE La Plata came along.
Indeed, is that where the secret order's name came from?
Weicks wonders also if the many men involved during this period in helping build the Middle Fork road and may have had some impact on the Monte Cristo name sticking.
Leadville, Colorado mining expert and unofficial camp poet Ben T. Brooks also wrote a poem about Monte Cristo:
 "To Monte Cristo come tonight," Implored a sad eyed Ogdenite.  The teamster smiled and shook his head, and in reply he simply said: La Plata." 
 Furthermore, two other possibilities regarding the Monte Christo range getting named even earlier reference could be related to Johnston's Army sending out large scouts of soldiers in 1858/1859 to the Bear Lake and Rich County areas in trying to find an avenue through the mountains that would allow them possible entry to Salt Lake Valley, before negotiations brought to a close the Utah War in 1859. 
Still another possibility would be the California or Nevada Volunteers who spent much time exploring mountainous regions in Utah and Wyoming between 1864-1866 on official government time. 
B. The first lumber operations in the Monte Cristo area began in 1882 -- before La Plata --  and so a lumberjack could have been have been reading and carrying the "Count of Monte Cristo" book, available widely in that era. Hence the name.

I'm siding with the Monte Cristo name being in place before La Plata came along, meaning lumber jacks either named it, or Johnston's Army, or other government people did.
Thus, the name was there before 1891.
Yet, we may simply never know for absolute sure, as the mysterious tale of "The 'Mount' of Monte Cristo" continues ...

           The actual Monte Cristo Peak, as seen from westbound Utah Highway 39.

-Monte Cristo Peak is located between mileposts 43 and 44, to the right of eastbound Highway 39 (closed in the winter). There's no set trail and it is about a 500 yard scramble through brush, up some 140 feet in elevation to the summit. There is a geological marker on the peak, placed there in 1938.
 (It is worth noting too that Salt Lake County also has a Monte Cristo Peak, elevation 11,132 feet, located on the north slope of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Its name origin would be another story ...)
-- A visit to the Monte Cristo area today only deepens the mystery of this colorful name, since locating the peak itself is a difficult task. It requires a detailed map to even be able to pinpoint the actual Monte Cristo Peak. Nearby Mount McKinnon (9,081 feet) is well-marked by signs. Monte Cristo Peak, which is even closer to U-39, isn't marked by signs. Nor does it stand out as a particularly impressive peak.
    Monte Cristo Peak is not a highly visible peak from nearby valleys. When climbing up U-39 from Weber County, the peak remains hidden until the summit summit is reached. From Ogden Valley/Huntsville, Monte Cristo is mostly overshadowed by the mountain saddle to the west, which includes Powder Mountain. From Ogden or Davis County, the peak remains hidden behind the taller Wasatch Mountain range.
    Neither does Monte Cristo stand tall from the Woodruff side, blending in with the surrounding mountains. Only from atop Mount Ogden, Ben Lomond Peak or similar lofty Wasatch summits is Monte Cristo likely visible from a distance.
    The Monte Cristo area is a beautiful mountain region, though. Looking east or west, the green forests, plateaus and valleys below resemble a paradise.
    Today, references to Monte Cristo usually take in the entire mountain range - almost more like a plateau - to most people. The Scenic Byway is a popular drive, and the U.S. Forest Service's Monte Cristo campground, at about 8,600 feet above sea level, offers 53 camping units and is open June to September. The campground is located off U-39 about a mile north of the peak.
Nearby are Little Monte Peak and a Little Monte Spring. A ``Cristo'' peak, at 9,045 feet above sea level, is three miles to the northeast.
-To hike Monte Cristo Peak: It is located between mileposts 43 and 44. There's no set trail and it is about a 500 yard scramble through brush, up some 140 feet in elevation to the summit. There is a geological marker at the peak, placed there in 1938.

(-Written by Lynn Arave and a portion of it was published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on Dec. 13, 2013.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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