I've Got 909 Problems but 10 Unusual Inland Empire Place Names Ain't One

Plat of Rancho Muscupiabe that the Surveyor of the United States confirmed in 1867 to Michael White, known to Mexicans as Miguel Blanco.
Plat of Rancho Muscupiabe that the Surveyor of the United States confirmed in 1867 to Michael White, known to Mexicans as Miguel Blanco.
UCLA Library Special Collections

The Inland Empire, known less broadly as the huge chunk of Southern California that includes the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, is filled with some place names that sound funny to our Orange County ears. Take these, please ...

1. Muscupiabe (pronounced muss-coo-bee-ah-bee) Not far from the original Casa de Coker, which was on Casa Loma in the city of San Bernardino, was Muscupiabe Drive, named after the 30,145-acre Muscupiabe Rancho, established (occupied?) in the 1800s to head off Indian stock thieves coming from the Mojave Desert through the Cajon (kuh-hone) Pass we pass through on the way to Las Vegas. The Serrano Indians had known the area as Amuscopiabit, but the Mexican rancheros who won independence from Spain found Muscupiabe easier to say.

2. Tequesquite (ta-kees-kee-ta) It's a bastardization of tequisquite, the Spanish word for soap-soil. Large soap-soil deposits were found in a prehistoric river channel that was later named Tequesquite Arroyo, in what would later be named the city of Riverside. There's now Tequesquite Drive, too.

3. Hesperia (hiss-pair-ee-uh) Named for the Greek god of the west Hesperus, this San Bernardino County city is in the Mojave Desert, 15 miles north of San Berdoo. Freshly ripped from the headlines is a bridge fire there that backed up traffic for 20 miles between Southern California and Vegas.

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4. Cahuilla (ca-wee-uh) This is the original name of the Agua Caliente (I'm trusting you can pronounce those) Band of Indians whose territory was the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County. The federally recognized tribe has a reservation, as does the Soboba Band of Cahuilla and Luiseño people. Cahuilla and Cahuilla Hills are unincorporated communities of Riverside County.

5. Yucaipa (yew-kai-puh) Actually, "yucca pie" is what we called the town you start seeing signs for off the 10 freeway around Redlands as you're zipping over to Palm Springs. The name evolved from "yucaipat," the indigenous Serrano Indians' name for "green valley."

French-Canadia l'orange
French-Canadia l'orange
Pomona Public Library

6. Rubidoux (rube-id-oh) Actually, "rubidoo" is what we called the formerly unincorporated area that since 2011 has been part of Riverside County's city of Jurupa (hur-oop-uh) Valley. It's named after Louis Robidoux, who settled the area in 1843 after having arrived from St. Louis, Missouri. His French Canadian grandfather arrived in St. Louis from Quebec.

7. Phelan (fay-lan) I worked with someone who lived in and loved this unincorporated High Desert community of San Bernardino County that you might mispronounce fee-lan. Settlers on the Mormon Trail passed through Phelan on the way to San Bernardino. It's named after former U.S. Senator James D. Phelan, the son of Irish immigrants who served from 1915 through 1921, when he was likely done in by his anti-Japanese proposals. One of his campaign posters proclaimed, "Keep California White."

8. Idyllwild (eye-duh-wild) Near as I can tell, this is one of those instances where a town's name sounds native but is actually the result of marketing. The area in the San Jacinto Mountains was the summer home of previously mentioned Cahuilla Indians. Maps show that for years and years after being settled, it was known as the Strawberry Valley. Laura Rutledge, who along with her husband managed a sanatorium there for patients suffering from respiratory diseases, is credited with naming the area Idyllwild in 1899, perhaps in honor of an idle, gentle community nestled in the wild. (I'm just grasping here, folks.) The Idyllwild area, which includes Pine Cove and Fern Valley, went on to become the home of a famous art and music school, a knotty pine furniture company, jazz and bluegrass festivals, film and TV shoots and notable part-time residents like Charles Laughton, Barbara Hershey, Doris Day, Michael J. Fox, Sean Connery, Dolly Parton, Bobby Womack, Timothy Leary and members of The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

9. Guasti (goo-aus-tee) You wouldn't know it by looking at it today, but the area from what is now the southern portions of the cities of Ontario and Fontana north to the foothills of Rancho Cucamonga were screaming with wine grapes. Among the growers was Secondo Guasti, founder of the Italian Vineyard Co., whose 5,000 acres comprised the world's largest contiguous vineyard. An area previously known as Zucker and South Cucamonga changed to Guasti in 1904, and a post office, company store, bakery, fire station and hotel soon followed. The city of Ontario and a San Diego developer have ambitious plans to restore historic structures and erect new buildings for a retail/hospitality/entertainment and possibly residential district.

10. Zzyzx (zie-zix) I could lay down some bullshit native-tongue explanation for this unincorporated community of San Bernardino County, whose Zzyzx Road exit off I-15 in the Mojave Desert has no doubt led to head scratching. But the truth is it had been known as the simpler to pronounce Camp Soda and Soda Springs until 1944, when Curtis Howe Springer, uh, sprang the name for his Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. He wanted to create the last word in the English language. The government reclaimed the land from him in 1974, and there is now a desert research center and wildlife habitat there.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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