The Quirky Names of Arizona Towns
Bumble Bee, Arizona — All that's left in this dusty town once known for its gold-filled creek is an empty school house, a couple of ranches, a diner, a gift shop, and the legend of a swarm of angry bees that supposedly stung early settlers and gave Bumble Bee its name. [Do bumble bees swarm? — Ed.] With a population of just 10, this spot about 60 miles north of Phoenix is one of dozens of Arizona towns with quirky names.

     Check a map and you'll spot towns such as Why, Happy Jack, Inspiration, Tombstone, Snowflake, Arsenic Tubs, Two Guns, Friendly Corner, and Surprise. One of Arizona's historians says, "They're whimsical names. It's almost as if the people didn't expect to be there very long."

     Head south from Bumble Bee to Why, and you will hear the story of John Brown's winter home which used to be called "the Y" because it's near a fork in the road where Highways 85 and 86 meet about 130 miles west of Tucson. Says John Brown, "People ended up settling here, and we finally got enough for a post office. So when they had to name the town, they changed it from "the Y" to Why. And that's why Why is Why."

     Many towns in central Arizona were named when settlers found any one thing in abundance. Wild strawberries, cherry trees, or sunflowers filled open fields in towns now known as Strawberry, Cherry, and Sunflower. Strawberry also was once known as Wah-poo-eta, named for a Tonto Apache war chief known as "Big Rump."

     Many areas were named by local miners, a legacy that has lasted longer than the gold and silver they were looking for. One legend says Inspiration in southern Arizona was named when a man had a dream about the location of a rich ore deposit and then discovered it there. Another town got its name after a group of men argued over ownership of a claim. The winners named the mine Contention.

     Some were named for geological formations, such as Dos Cabezas, Spanish for "two heads," named for two prominent domes atop adjacent mountains.

     And one settler must have been awfully hungry when he spied some buttes 40 miles east of Phoenix and thought they looked like a stack of tortillas. The area has been called Tortilla Flat ever since.

     Tombstone is the southern Arizona frontier town made famous by Wyatt Earp and the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. Some claim the name actually came from a prospector warned by soldiers that all he would find in the mountains would be his tombstone. The stubborn prospector proceeded anyway, and when he found silver, he named the area Tombstone.

Adapted from Alisa Blackwood's (AP) article in Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, April 15, 2001.

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