Durango’s Animas River is not one of lost souls

Regarding the recent “And the West is History” column where “the good Padre Escalante” named the Animas River the Rio de las Animas Perdidas (The River of Lost Souls), this simply isn’t true (Herald, Nov. 27).

As recorded in his personal journal dated July 4, 1765, the Animas River was named the Rio de Las Animas (simply, the River of Souls) by Spanish explorer Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera. Rivera broke trail, as it were, for the later Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776. The bridge across the Animas River near Home Depot was named Rivera Crossing in his honor in 2004.

You should know that in Colorado, there is actually another Animas River, also known as the Purgatory River. This is located in southeastern Colorado, mostly in present day Las Animas County. According to historian David Lavender, an exploration party was sent out of Mexico around 1594 to suppress the Indians. When they judged their mission completed, their interests turned to pursuing explorer Coronado’s fruitless search for the fabled Quivara. They disobeyed orders to return, quarreled violently among themselves, their numbers diminished, and they were set upon by the Indians. Years later, their rusted firearms were discovered by a roaming party of explorers near a river. This band of explorers named the river the “Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio” – the “River of Lost Souls in Purgatory,” a river that survives today as the Purgatoire.

How did this transfer to our own local Animas River? Could it have been a miner, or whoever named Purgatory Creek, possibly a settler who had traveled here from the eastern part of the territory? The source of how this came to be may be lost to history.

Whatever, the misnomer persists today. Tell your friends the name of the river that runs through our peaceful burg is actually the Rio de las Animas, the “River of Souls,” named by explorer Juan Rivera in 1765.

Elwin M. Johnston