The Origins of Weird State Park Names (Part Two)


State Parks in the US have a delicious variety of names. Many are named after a famous citizen, or a prominent feature of the terrain. Other titles, mostly local place names, are puzzling. In this post, we'll look at some state parks with names that are scary or downright apocalyptic.

1. Hungry Mother

Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia is named after Hungry Mother Creek. The creek was supposedly listed on a 1774 land survey as "Hungers Mother" creek. The Name "Hungry Mother" was not officially attached to it until 1929. The traditional story handed down for 200 years (and that park rangers still tell) is that the hungry mother is Molly Marley, a victim of a Native American raid on a Virginia settlement. Marley and her child were taken captive, but they escaped into the woods, where they found only berries to eat for many days. Molly eventually collapsed and died. Her child walked on and found a settlement, and cried "Hungry mother" to the residents. The child, not specified as boy or girl, led them to Molly's body.

The story lacks certain details, such as the year, the name of either settlement, and the child's name. Virginia historian Goodridge Wilson found documentation of a 1755 raid at the Samuel Stalnaker cabin on the same creek. Mrs. Stalnaker was reportedly killed. Stalnaker family tradition says that when Mrs. Stalnaker's body was found, her child cried "Hungry Mammy." If this is interpreted that the child was starving because the deceased mother could not feed him, the phrase would be "Hungry! Mother?" with a somewhat different connotation. Image by Flickr user pcopros.

2. Poison Spring

Poison Spring State Park, south Arkansas
Poison Spring State Park, south Arkansas /

Poison Spring State Park in Arkansas is a Civil War memorial site commemorating the Battle of Poison Spring in 1864. The Confederate victory was especially notable because African-American Union soldiers were brutally murdered as they tried to retreat. But where is the poison? The actual spring water is fine, and got its name from an incident in which a thirsty pioneer drank so much cold water that he got a tummy ache. The name stuck and was enshrined permanently in history after the battle. Image by Flickr user Robert Nunnally.

3. Dead Horse Ranch

Dead Horse Ranch State Park - Ranger Station at entrance
Dead Horse Ranch State Park - Ranger Station at entrance /

Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Arizona was named after Dead Horse Ranch, which Calvin “Cap” Ireys sold to the Parks Board in 1973. The ranch was named in 1950 when Ireys bought it. His family had checked out several properties, and his children liked one better than the rest. They explained which one to their parents as the one where they saw a dead horse, so that's how the ranch got its name. The name actually helped the park project get state funding!

During the hearings on this bill, and after Parks staff made its presentation, there were always comments related to the State wanting to purchase a Dead Horse (Ranch), but the humor brought on by those comments continually resulted in a positive vote for the bill.

Image by Flickr user Alan English CPA.

4. Dismal Swamp

George Washington Canal, South Mills, NC
George Washington Canal, South Mills, NC /

Dismal Swamp State Park provides access to the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina, a depressing name for a beautiful National Wildlife Refuge. Colonel William Byrd II, founder of Richmond, Virginia, is credited with naming the swamp after he performed a land survey of the area to establish the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728. In his very opinionated report, History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, Byrd found many dismal things to say about the swamp. On page 83 he related his experiences at Norfolk.

The commissioners endeavoured, in this town, to list three more men to serve as guides in that dirty part of the country, but found that these people knew just enough of that frightful place to avoid it. They had been told that those Netherlands were full of bogs, of marshes and swamps, not fit for human creatures to engage in, and this was reason enough for them not to hazard their persons. So they told us, flat and plain, that we might even daggle through the mire by ourselves for them.

Of course, today the swamp has modern roads and amenities for tourists, but always have your DEET handy when visiting. Image by Flickr user Kathryn Blades.

5. Purgatory Chasm

The Chasms (161/365)
The Chasms (161/365) /

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation is a beautiful area for hiking in Massachusetts. Purgatory Chasm, carved by glaciers, has a legend behind its name. The Native American demon Hobomoko had a fight there with a woman who had murdered a white man. The demon killed the woman, and the formations of the chasm are in the shape of her wounds. Or Hobomoko's footprints. Image by Flickr user Jack Amick.

6. Starvation Creek

Columbia River
Columbia River /

You are welcome to picnic at Starvation Creek State Park in Oregon. Starvation Creek got its name from an incident in 1884. A train was stopped due to 25-foot snow drifts from two avalanches caused by a blizzard. That was on December 18th. The passengers were stuck there for a week until supplies were brought in on foot on Christmas Day. It was still another week before the train could continue, but no one actually died of starvation. You can bet they got pretty hungry in that time. The place was named Starvout Creek, which later became Starvation Creek. Image by Flickr user Jami Dwyer.

7. World's End

World's End
World's End /

Worlds End State Park in Pennsylvania has an apocalyptic ring to it. Forester William S. Swingler wrote about the name of the area in 1935, and noted three names had been used, World's End, Whirl's Glen, and Whirls End. It is thought that the "whirl" was a whirlpool in a bend of Loyalsock Creek. The end-of-the-world theme made sense because of the topography of the land, where several mountain ranges met. There is also an account of the early name Huerle's Bend used for a part of Loyalsock Creek. Any of these names, pronounced quickly, can sound like World's End. The state park was originally named Worlds End in 1932, then changed to Whirls End State Forest Park in 1936, then to Worlds End State Forest Park in 1943, and the word Forest was dropped in 1954. Image by Flickr user audreyjm529.

8. Kingdom Come

Kentucky's Harlan County, where I was born, has Kingdom Come State Park. When the park was founded in 1961, it was named after the 1903 novel The Little Shepard of Kingdom Come by Kentucky native John Fox, Jr. The book is a coming-of-age story about an orphan in Kentucky during the Civil War era, set in the fictional community of Kingdom Come. The movie derived from the book was released in 1961, which may have influenced the name of the state park.

See also: The Origins of Weird State Park Names (Part One). There will be more state parks explained in the future.