(This blog is basically thanks to a recent episode of the Hometown Tales podcast, but I just found this so cool I thought it deserved a Historical Randomness entry…)
It’s the first Good Friday, and Jesus is being crucified between two thieves (or maybe they were terrorists); one of them turns and curses him, the other asks forgiveness and enters history as the Good Thief, the one who experienced redemption on the verge of death. A few hundred years later he receives both a name – Dismas, meaning ‘sunset’ or ‘death’ – and unofficial sainthood, becoming the patron of the penitant and reformed.
Skip forward a couple of thousand years and miles to Horsethief Canyon in California. Don Ygnacio Palomares is experiencing ongoing problems with cattle rustlers, and so prays to St. Dismas for help. This enters local legend, and maybe in an attempt to stop their livestock being stolen, the local Spanish settlers rename the area after the saint.
In 1887, a town is laid out in the region, and the founders figure that the preceding settlement’s original name of Mud Springs isn’t particularly attractive. It sounds way better to just name the town after the nearby canyon, even if they do miss out a letter or two.
(Be excellent to each other.)