At a recent visit to Diamond Point Shadows I heard folks talking about how Prescott should be pronounced. They pronounced it as many Arizonans do: “press-kit,” instead of how many out-of-staters do, “press-scott.”
I had recently been in Prescott and heard a Realtor from Washington continually be mystified by Arizonans’ “correct” pronunciation. It got me thinking about the different pronunciations found in Rim Country, of which there are quite a few.
The anchor land-form that is the basis for Rim Country has been mispronounced a number of different ways over the years. The Mogollon Rim towers over everything, but how to pronounce it is a whole different matter. It was named in honor of Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, Spanish governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715, who visited this area. The old-timers called it “Moe-gee-OWN,” leaving it with its Spanish heritage. But during the 1930s, as new people moved to town who were not familiar with Spanish, Mogollon was mispronounced as “Muggy-own.”
Eddie Armer wrote a song about the Mighty “Muggy-ow.” Others pronounce it a number of different ways and even old maps had a tendency to get creative. You can find it displayed even as “Mongolians” in some cases. One important historic fact though to remember is that it used to referred to as the “Mogollon Mountains” instead of the Rim as we know it today. People used to say they were “going up on the mountain” which meant they were going up on the Rim.
Gisela is many things, but it will never be confused by outsiders as an easily pronounced place. Locals know it as “guy-see-la,” with emphasis on the second syllable, but outsiders know it intuitively as anything but. “Gee-sehl-a,” with emphasis on the first syllable, is a more common pronunciation of the word. Of course the local pronunciation comes about from school children, who mispronounced the name. It was schoolteacher Mrs. Carrie Stanton who named the little valley in 1889. According to Jayne Peace Pyle’s History of Gisela, Arizona, the name is derived from the heroine of a book titled the Countess Gisela, by E. Marlitt.
Gila is the name of our county and also as a word that sometimes gives people trouble. Pronounced “he-la,” it is sometimes mispronounced as “gee-la.” Gila County was named as such because part of the southern border of the county is formed by the Gila River. The original intent, according A Cultural History of The Pioneer Women of Gila County, Arizona and Their Descendants, was for the county to have an Apache name and there was some confusion about this. Gila is actually a Spanish name that goes back to the 1600s and referred to Native Americans who lived along that river.
Another key one is Mazatzal. Mazatzal is a Spanish word pronounced much like Mazatlan, with the emphasis on the last syllable, according to Jinx Pyle. It should be pronounced “Ma-zat-zal,” but it easier to say “Mat-a-zel” so the old-timers changed the pronunciation to suit themselves. This brings about the humorous or dumb — depending on your point of view — “joke” of “mad-as-hell.” There is even a Mad As Hell Trailer Park in lower Tonto Basin.
These are very noticeable landmarks in the area, particularly if you are south or west of Payson.
Throughout history we also see various pronunciations of names. August Pieper is one example. Traditional German spelling of a name pronounced “piper” would actually be Peiper, but the family, at least upon coming to America, reversed the first two vowels. His father-in-law, Gustav Bohse, had similar misspellings. I’ve seen the name spell Bosh, Boshe, and a number of other different ways.
Many times in early records, whether it is assessor rolls or censuses, people wrote down a name the way it sounded. And remember, in those earlier days many of those folks were recent immigrants with heavy accents as well.
Along the same lines as mispronunciations are misidentifications, mainly brought about because of multiple places being named the same thing.
I encountered this recently when using “Table Mountain” as a point of reference as it relates to the old Excursion Mine. I failed to realize that there are quite a few “Table Mountains” around, including one not all that far away in Gisela. If one Googles “Table Mountain Arizona” you’ll see more of what I mean.
Pine Creek is another example. It can refer to a location in the Happy Jack area, Pine area, or Sunflower area. This creates challenges when it comes to old assessor rolls from the 1880s that give Pine Creek as a location.
Rim Country is a unique and varied place and our place names and how they are pronounced reflect that.