Thursday, May 9, 2013

The 'Weber" name leaves plenty to wonder about ...

Weber County, as seen from Mt. Ogden, with Taylor Arave sitting on copter pad.

By Lynn Arave

A county's name is, naturally, the first element in any identification. The sources of the names for most of Utah's 29 counties are clear cut, ranging from descriptions of the regions or their inhabitants to memorials to specific individuals.
However, the origins of a few are in a bit of dispute, and one - "Weber" - is extremely obscure. 
Only in recent decades has new evidence seemed to clarify the story behind the county's name. Weber County school students have over the years learned next to nothing about the background for the county's name, with history lessons jumping quickly ahead to tales about trappers and traders like Peter Skene Ogden and Miles Goodyear.
Where did Weber County's name originate? Consider these theories:

- The book "Utah Place Names" indicates the name probably came from John W. Weber, a trapper killed by Indians near today's Weber River in 1823.
- The Weber River and Weber County could have been named for another trapper, Pauline Weaver, who became a frontiersman in Arizona, according to "Weber County . . . Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." The name Weaver was corrupted to Weber. The book also refers to the story of John Weber, indicating he was killed by Indians near the river in the winter of 1828-29.

                          The Weber County sign in Weber Canyon.

- Some have suggested the name came from a member of Peter Skene Ogden's trapping party. However, Weber is a not a French-Canadian name. So, it may be Capt. John G. Weber of Danish nativity who is the namesake. He is said to have died in 1859 in Bellevue, Ill., according to an undated historical sketch of Weber County.
- John H. Weber was in the Ogden area from 1822-27 and discovered the Great Salt Lake, Weber Canyon and the Weber River, summarizes the book "Beneath Ben Lomond's Peak."
- Weber County, says "A History of Ogden," was named for Capt. John B. Weber, who was with trappers in the area until 1827. He died in Iowa in 1859.
- Several other books, such as "Utah: A Guide to the State" and "Ogden: Junction City," simply state the river and county were named for "Capt. Weber." John G. is listed in the first of those books; John H. is named in the second.
So what's the most plausible story behind the name?
The late William W. Terry, an Ogden historian now in his 90s, spent many years sorting out the facts. He came up with this:
John H. Weber (note the middle initial) was born in Altona, near Hamburg, then a part of Denmark. He joined the William Henry Ashley trapping party in 1822. Weber was described as a large man, with a nose like a Roman emperor and eyes like an eagle. But he was also said to be very moody, as well as brash.
The Ashley party eventually split in two, and Weber led one group, with Jim Bridger also belonging to it for a while.
In the fall of 1824, Weber, then 44 and much older than most mountain men, likely discovered Bear Lake. In the winter of 1824 he took his group along what is today's Weber River to the Great Salt Lake, reaching it almost six months before Peter Skene Ogden.
Bridger had discovered the Great Salt Lake the preceding summer, and Weber and his party trapped on the Weber and Ogden rivers for about six months.
The trappers called the larger river the Weber, in honor of their leader. When Ogden arrived on the scene, the river was already known as the Weber (or some times "Weaver" river.)
Weber went east in 1827. Although he had earned $20,000 trapping - a small fortune in that day - dishonest partners apparently swindled him out of his money. He died in 1857 at age 78. Weber is buried in the Bellevue, Iowa, cemetery. Terry visited the community and found Weber's grave to prove Indians didn't kill him at the river named in his honor.
Terry also discovered that some of the men in the Ashley-Henry trapping group were the ones who misspelled the name Weber as "Weaver." Hence some of the confusion over the name.
Today Weber is a prominent name in the area, with Weber State University making it nationally known - though it is often incorrectly pronounced "Webber" outside of Utah.
-- HERE are the stories behind the names of Utah's 28 other counties:
Beaver County: Recognizes the plentiful beaver in the area.Box Elder: Box Elder trees east of Brigham City apparently lent their name.
Cache County: First called Willow Valley by a trapper. Also referred to as Logan's Hole in memory of Ephraim Logan, who was killed near Jackson, Wyo., by Indians in the mid-1820s. The Cache name is said to have been applied after a trapper, employed by the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., was killed during a cave-in while excavating for stashed furs (caches).
Carbon County: Named for coal deposits in the area.
Daggett County: Ellsworth Daggett is the source of the county's name. The first Utah surveyor general, he surveyed an irrigation canal in the county.
Davis County: Named for Daniel C. Davis, a captain in the Mormon Batalion, who died in 1850.
Duchesne County: The source of the name is uncertain. The word supposedly came from the Duchesne River, but before 1875 the river was known as the Uinta River. So, there are six other possibilities: 1. Du Chasne, possibly an 1830s French trapper in the area; 2. an early Indian chief in the region; 3. Rose Du Chesne, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart in America; 4. Fort Duquesne, built by the French in 1754 in what became Pittsburgh, Penn.; 5. the Ute Indian word,"doo-shane," meaning dark canyon; 6. Andre Duchense, French geographer and historian.
Emery County: Named for George W. Emery of Tennessee, who was appointed governor of Utah Territory in 1875. (Some residents wanted to name it Castle County.)
Garfield County: Received its name in 1892 in honor of U.S. President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.
Grand County: Established in 1890 and named for the Grand or Grande River, now the upper Colorado River in the area. It was in 1921 that the name "Colorado" was extended upriver beyond the confluence with the Green.
Iron County: Originally called Little Salt Lake Valley County, the name was later changed to Iron County as a reminder of the iron mines west of Cedar City, which was the Mormon Iron Mission.
Juab County: The name comes from what Indians called the valley, apparently meaning level plain or flat. Another variation of the word is said to mean thirsty valley.
Kane County: Named for Col. Thomas L. Kane, friend of the Mormon settlers.
Piute County: Recognizes the Piute, or Paiute, Indians who inhabited the region.
Millard County: Honors U.S. President Millard Fillmore.
Morgan County: Jedediah Morgan Grant, father of LDS President Heber J. Grant, is the source of the name.
Rich County: Originally created as Richland County, the name was later shortened to Rich. The name came from Charles C. Rich, an early Mormon apostle and prominent settler in the Bear Lake region.
Salt Lake County: Named for the nearby Great Salt Lake.
San Juan County: There's a slight dispute on this county's name origin. Most credit it to the San Juan River, in turn named for one of two early Spanish explorers in the area. Both Don Juan de Onate and Don Juan Maria de Rivera are credited as sources for the river's name.
Sanpete County: The name is a variation of San Pitch, who was a Ute Indian chief who lived in the area.
Sevier County: Named for the Sevier River. The name is a variation of Rio Severo, a Spanish word meaning severe and violent. The river also had other names, such as the Ashley River. Some incorrectly believe the county was named for Brigadier Gen. John Sevier of Kentucky.
Summit County: This name came from the county's high country. Summit encompasses 39 of the state's tallest named peaks - the most of any county in Utah. (Second is Duchesne, with 28, but Duchesne also has Kings Peak, the state's tallest at 13,528 feet above sea level.)
Tooele County: Spelled "Tuilla" at first and later changed. The origin is a subject of dispute. Some believe it came from a Goshute Indian chief named Tuilla. Others say the word refers to the rushes and weeds so common in swampy areas of the valley.
Uintah County: Named for the Ute Indian tribe that lives in the basin. Early maps put an "H" on the end of the word. John Wesley Powell left the H off in his writings, and as a result both variations are in use.
Utah County: Apparently Anglicized from "Yuta," which is what the Spanish explorers called the Ute Indians. The name probably means meat eaters.
Wasatch County: A Ute Indian word meaning "mountain pass" or "low place in a high mountain." This Ute word was a general reference to Weber Canyon, the lowest cut in the Wasatch Mountains.
Washington County: Named in honor of George Washington, the first U.S. president.
Wayne County: Supposedly named for Wayne Robinson, son of state legislator Willis E. Robinson. A counterclaim for the name's origin indicates it honors Revolutionary War Gen. Anthony Wayne.

(-Distilled from an article by Lynn Arave, Jan. 5, 1996, in the Deseret News.)

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