The origin of the name ‘Rifle’ remains a bit of a mystery
Its one of the most frequently asked questions by those moving to or visiting Rifle, according to Rifle Creek Museum curator Kim Fazzi. But exactly how Rifle got its name is still a mystery.Nobody really knows for sure, she said.
It was 1876 when the name Rifle Creek first appeared in the Hayden Report, a U.S. geological survey.Geologist Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden was heading a survey party in the Rifle area in the 1870s, which was then Ute Territory.In the book Rifle Shots, published by the Rifle Reading Club in 1973, an account of how Rifle got its name was recounted by Walter Wilder, a one-time editor of The Rifle Telegram.The earlier exploring parties had to name all the different creeks and found it difficult to select names, Wilder wrote. The story goes that a party camped one night near the mouth of an unknown and unnamed creek. In the morning, they had gone a mile or so when one of the members discovered he had left his gun standing against a tree and had to go back to get it, so they put this camp down as Rifle Creek.
Another story says that early cattle camps assembled at a roundup area at the south entrance to Ward Gulch, where three streams joined, according to Rifle Shots.Here it was the custom for pioneer cowboys to fire their guns to signal their location and approach to distant herds, and they promptly dubbed the streams East, West and Main Rifle creeks. Government Creek was first called Dry Fork, the book reports.Yet another tale involves early residents finding a rusty rifle standing against a tree near the creek and thus naming it Rifle Creek.There are a couple of variations so the story and even the earliest newspapers dont really go there, Fazzi said. The problem with the stories are that they are always second-hand information. It makes you wonder how many of historys facts are given in these kinds of stories. Well never, never know.
What is known is that in 1889, a man named A.W. Maxfield the founder of Rifle divided up his ranch land into lots.When he learned that the railroad was coming through, he thought it would be a great place for a town, Fazzi said. He takes his ranch down on Second Street and cuts it up and sells the lots. He wanted to call the town Rifle, not Maxfield, maybe for the originality of the name.And it remains original. Rifle is reportedly the only city in the United States with that name.However it came about, the name has stuck unlike Glenwood Springs, which was at one time called Defiance, and Silt, once called Ferguson, and Parachute, which changed to Grand Valley and then back to Parachute.Rifle has always been Rifle, Fazzi said. Over the years, there have been popular stories of how it got its name, but we can only speculate.
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