"a single, bright sword cut across the murky pages of Monterey County history and literature..."

Here, in full, is the Foreword from Monterey County Place Names.
The foreword was written by history professor emeritus, Sandy Lydon, arguably the most knowledgeable authority on the history of the Monterey Bay -- certainly the most entertaining. You can find out more about him and his work here.

(Note: because of formatting differences, this is not an exact representation of the printed page. A more accurate page in Adobe PDF format is available here)

 

Foreword

When Don Clark told me that he was going to write a book on the place names of Monterey County, it was all I could do to keep from laughing aloud. Sure, Don, I said. I tried to encourage him as he started the project, but inwardly, I was very skeptical. A book on the place names of itty bitty Santa Cruz County (a mere 439 square miles in area) falls within the grasp of mere mortals. But Monterey County? Monterey County is huge — it is seven times larger than Santa Cruz County, sprawling across 3,324 square miles. Where Santa Cruz County encompasses one primary mountain range, Monterey has three running the length of the county like vertebrae. Forget about the rest of the county’s named features, a book could be written just on Monterey County’s mountain tops. Santa Cruz County has four incorporated municipalities, Monterey County has twelve. The dominant river in Monterey County is the Salinas, a 179 mile long monster which doubles back on itself in the southernmost reaches of the county before reaching Monterey Bay. The Salinas makes Santa Cruz’s largest river, the San Lorenzo (22 miles from watershed to mouth), look puny by comparison. Monterey County is to Santa Cruz County as Texas is to the other 47 contiguous states — everything is writ larger. The size of this book confirms the complexities and challenge posed by Monterey County’s place names. I underestimated Don Clark’s tenacity and resolve.

Don Clark is a name cruncher. Like the computer wizards who live in a dimly-lit world parallel to our own, Don Clark lives, breathes, and eats in the world of place names. Over the last five years, as Don Clark methodically worked his way through Monterey County, I began to wonder if he ever stayed home. I saw, or heard about him everywhere. When my own work took me into far-flung corners such as Parkfield, invariably someone would say "that nice, retired librarian from Santa Cruz was here last week interviewing everybody in town." It was like following the guy who painted "Kilroy was here," only this time it was "Don Clark was here." For a time I even suspected that he was a twin, or even a triplet.

When he wasn’t sitting on somebody’s porch in Greenfield discussing the etymology of the town’s name, he was prowling the hallways of libraries, the Monterey County government center in Salinas, and archival collections all across California. When I went down to the Huntington Library in San Marino to work on the David Jacks papers, one of the curators offhandedly mentioned that Don Clark had just been there. The Bancroft Library in Berkeley? He’d been there. The California State Archives in Sacramento? He’d been there. Doesn’t this man ever sleep?

The crowning blow came one afternoon when I ran into Don Clark in the depth of McHenry Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz (the library which Don founded and which has a courtyard named after him). Breathlessly I told him that I had just spent three weeks reading the endless reels of microfilmed papers from the John Peabody Harrington collection. As I blurted out the many place-name treasures I had seen there, a knowing, patient smile played across Don’s face. When I stopped talking long enough to catch my breath, Don quietly said, "I’ve read them." I surrendered.

To the casual reader, this book will be impressive because of its sheer size, but practitioners of local and regional history will be astonished by the book’s depth of detail and complexity. The fact that Monterey County is the 16th largest county in California is not the only challenge that Clark faced. After all, you can have a large county, like Inyo (ranked second at 10,097) with a thin, relatively straightforward layer of names. Monterey County, on the other hand, is knee-deep in history. Monterey was the capital of Alta California under both the Spanish and Mexican governments. The Franciscan mission system was headquartered just over the hill on the banks of the Carmel River. California’s first state constitution was written in Monterey. Every name dropper that you can think of came through Monterey, tossing names right and left to commemorate somebody or something. Place names lay across Monterey County like a thick mantle of powdery volcanic dust, and Don Clark happily walked through the county with names puffing up beneath his feet.

Take the name Monterey, for example. Don Clark is not content to give us the story of Sebastián Vizcaíno’s landmark voyage in 1602, but also includes biographical information on the Viceroy of New Spain for whom Vizcaíno named the bay. Then, he patiently takes all errant explanations (my favorite is the one that Monterey was named for a tortilla) and, one by one, lays them to rest.

When Don Clark is not certain about a name’s derivation, he says so, laying out all the explanations and letting his reader be the final judge. Clark’s explanation of Jolon is one of my favorites — he lists sixteen references beginning in 1911 ranging from phonetic deconstruction (sounds like "hold on" from stage drivers) to Indian words meaning dammed up swamp or tule bushes. Then, when you might expect Clark to be Solomon and give us his opinion, he slips quietly away letting us weigh the evidence for ourselves.

At other times, he carefully traces a local myth back to its origins showing how "if a certain story is repeated often enough, it becomes the ‘truth.’" While unraveling the mythology about Priest Valley, for example, he traces the movement of local priests, Kit Carson, and John C. Fremont before leaving us, again, to make up our own minds about the name’s origin.

Clark’s humor twinkles on every page, particularly when he ventures off on side-trips through local folklore. His most obvious deviation from map-based lexicography is his delightful analysis of the mystery of the name "Jack Cheese." Admitting that Monterey Jack Cheese cannot be found on any map, Clark succumbs to the phrase’s "toponymic quality" (whatever the hell that is) and wanders through the mine field of legend and rumor to examine the various (and sometimes contentious) theories behind the name.

Next to the variant theories on the naming of Monterey Jack Cheese, the most persistent legend swirling around the Monterey Peninsula asserts that "Lovers Point" in Pacific Grove was actually named "Lovers of Jesus Point." Clark again brings his dispassionate research tools to bear and after dissecting the name, he sides "until, and unless, irrefutable evidence is turned up" with those that believe the point was always, simply, Lovers Point and nothing more.

If the Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and American historical eras were not enough, Monterey County also has an overlay of literary place names to complicate matters. The writings of John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, and Robert Louis Stevenson have become such a part of the county’s fabric that life has indeed imitated art. Thus you will find literary place names such as Cannery Row (Steinbeck), Thurso’s Landing (Jeffers name for Notley’s), and Ghost Tree (Stevenson) in those books along with the "official" names. Clark’s essay on Robinson Jeffers is one of the most moving pieces ever written about the poet.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge which faced Clark on this work was the political currents which swirl through Monterey County’s historical community. Maybe it is because they have so much of it, but Monterey County historians take their history very seriously. (Any place which can call itself "The Cradle of History" with a straight face is very serious indeed.) Like feuding ethnic groups in the Balkans, groups of armed historians stand at the boundaries of one theory or another, rattling their sabers when an enemy historian’s name is mentioned. With his Santa Cruz County passport (declaring him neutral in all Monterey County feuds) and diplomatic skills in place, Don Clark was able to move across the Monterey County historical landscape and talk with all parties involved. After all, he’s a librarian. Who would be suspicious of a librarian? This book’s publication will probably end all that, however, as Clark wades into some of the county’s most heated debates and umpires them into winners and losers. For Clark, accuracy always wins out over diplomacy.

Historical rifle shots are still echoing through the Carmel Valley over Carmel’s "first" post office. It seems that folks up in the Carmel Valley got the idea that they would be celebrating the centennial of their post office in 1989, and invited none other than the United States Postmaster General to officiate at the ceremony, which he did. Postmaster General notwithstanding, apparently the centennial was held in error. Research by several local historians (confirmed by Clark) indicates that the 1889 post office not only was not up in Carmel Valley (it was on the coast near Point Lobos), but the first postmaster never took his oath of office and no mail was ever processed from there. Meanwhile the Hatfields and McCoys, the contending Carmel historians, continue to fire letters back and forth in the pages of the local newspapers. Clark will now have to watch his back when he ventures back into Carmel Valley.

Finally, Don Clark has put together all those place names which bring back personal memories of long-ago camping, hiking, and fishing in the Santa Lucias. I spent one glorious summer on the staff at Pico Blanco Boy Scout Camp (during the camp’s second year), and Clark’s entries for Pico Blanco, Bottcher’s Gap, Skinner Ridge, Jackson Camp, and Ventana conjure up memories of uncrowded trails and foot-long rainbow trout in every pool. Anybody who has spent any time in Monterey County will find familiar guideposts here.

This is a remarkable book, a bibliography, and an almanac rolled into one. It is a single, bright sword cut across the murky pages of Monterey County history and literature, making the sum total of what we know in 1991 about the history of the peoples who have lived in the place now called Monterey County. And if my tattered copy of Santa Cruz County Place Names is any indication, this book will be used every day by folks interested in Monterey County history. (The draft copy which Don Clark sent me several months ago is already dog-eared from use.)

Naming things after people to honor them is often the biggest honor we can bestow. Don Clark is much too modest a man to support any labeling in his honor, and besides, he would say, the courtyard at the McHenry Library is honor enough. Well, as Don Clark points out in his essay on Robinson Jeffers, by writing about the Monterey Peninsula and the country downcoast, Jeffers unwittingly caused the coast to become "Jeffers Country." In a similar way, most of Monterey County is now known by the appellation, "Steinbeck Country." Don Clark’s palette has been wider yet — the entire Monterey Bay Region. When the import of his two books is finally measured, the Monterey Bay Region will become known as "Clark Country."

From all of us who continue to flog away at the history of this remarkable region — Thank You, Donald Clark, I shouldn’t have doubted that you could do this. Not for a minute.

 

Sandy Lydon

Author of

Chinese Gold: The Chinese

in the Monterey Bay Region

Cabrillo College

Aptos, California

September 11, 1991