Naming the Ruby Mountains

It was November 5,1845. Explorer John C. Fremont split his party into two groups at Mound Springs in Independence Valley. The largest, led by Joe Walker, was given the job of finding the Humboldt River's headwaters and following the stream to the Humboldt Sink. The smaller band of ten, led by Fremont and Kit Carson, skirted the south end of Spruce Mountain and headed west to present Ruby Valley. From there the party trekked over Harrison pass to the Humboldt River. Fremont named the high range of mountains and river after Baron Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). The Baron, a German naturalist, traveler and statesman, never saw the mountains and river named for him. He would have been mightily impressed by the mountains and very disappointed at the puny little river.

Ruby Mountains from Spring Creek.

Ruby Mountains from Spring Creek, August 2007

Fremont gave the name Humboldt to the beautiful mountain range but it didn't stick.

In September, 1854, Lt. Colonel E.J. Steptoe sent an Army detachment west from Salt Lake City to look for a new route across the western desert for his troops the next year. Brothers Oliver and Clark Huntington guided them. During a noon stop, a teamster named Davis took some time to do what a lot of people did in those days. Looking for gold, he panned a nearby stream. He found several garnets and misnamed them rubies thinking they were precious gems. The name stuck.

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains.

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains, October 2007

Places named Ruby multiplied over the following decades: Ruby Valley, Ruby Mountains, Fort Ruby, Ruby Dome (tallest peak in the range), Ruby Lake, Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Ruby Marsh, Ruby Valley Pony Express Station, Ruby Range, Ruby City, Ruby City Creek, Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail, Ruby Mountains Wilderness, Ruby Siding, Ruby Valley Indian Reservation, Ruby Hill, and Ruby Wash. There may be others not listed in the references below but there are a lot places named Ruby in northeast Nevada.

Ruby Mountains from Lamoille, Nevada.

Ruby Mountains from Lamoille, Nevada - February 2008

The author received an email several months ago wondering if the name had come from the beautiful ruby-colored sunsets that nicely color the Ruby Mountains. Very nice thought. Those sunsets are outstanding but did not give the name to the range.

Sources: Nevada Places Names, A Geographical Dictionary, Helen S. Carlson, 1874, University of Nevada Press, Reno; Nevada's Northeast Frontier, Edna B. Patterson, Louise A. Ulph Beebe, Victor Goodwin, 1969, Western Printing and Publishing Company, 1991reprint and additions, University of Nevada Press, Reno; Pioneer Nevada, 1951, Harolds Club, Reno; Nevada Atlas and Gazetteer, 1996, DeLorme, Freeport, Maine; and Nevada Map Atlas, 16th Edition, revised 2005, Nevada Department of Transportation, Carson City.

Photographs by the author.

©Copyright 2008 by Howard Hickson.

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