Thursday, January 26, 2017

A 19th Century Look at the Oquirrh Mountains

              The north end of the Oquirrh Mountains, as they appear from West Valley City.

By Lynn Arave

OFTEN forgotten mountains in Northern Utah are the Oquirrh Range. Rising to just over 9,000 feet, these mountains are the home to Kennecott Copper's huge open pit mine, to a variety of FM radio and TV transmitters and plenty of wildlife. These mountains are also often a "rain shadow" in meteorological terms to the Salt Lake Valley, tempering its total precipitation received.
But where did the Oquirrh name come from?
The first newspaper mention of the Oquirrh Mountains was in the March 2, 1864 issue of the Deseret News. That report stated Oquirrh was "the Indian name of the range on the west side of the G.S.L. Valley." It also proclaimed recent mining for lead and silver in those mountains.
The Salt Lake Herald Newspaper of Nov. 19, 1874 noted that the Utah Western Railroad had named one of its locomotives "Oquirrh."
The Salt Lake Tribune of May 28, 1878 stated that there was a local group, named the Oquirrh Club, so the Native American name became a fixture, through it was not nearly as popular as "Deseret."
The Salt Lake Herald on May 28, 1879 reported the exploration of several caves at the north end of the Oquirrh range. The larger of the two caves even had pioneer names carved into its interior walls, dating back to 1862. The larger cave, called "Giant's Cave," boasted a 10-foot-square opening and was almost 200 feet deep. The smaller, unnamed cave was only about 50 feet long.
The Salt Lake Telegram of Dec. 27, 1948 published a reader's research on the name Oquirrh. It did not dispute that the common held belief of that word meaning "Shining Mountains," but stated that Native Americans also had several alternate meanings to that word -- "Grassy Hills," "Yellow Mountains" and even "Black Mountains." 

Sitting at the north end of the Oquirrh Mountains is Kennecott's Garfield Smokestack, which rises 1,215 feet, or just 35 feet lower than the main frame of the Empire State Building. Although this stack is the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi, it is dwarfed by the nearby height of the Oquirrh Mountains, which rise more than 3,500 feet above it.

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