Provo’s Name Has an Interesting History.
Provo received its name from the Provo River, and how the Provo River received its name is quite a story.
When Spanish Fathers Dominguez and Escalante visited Utah Valley in 1776, they found it inhabited by Timpanogots Utes. In the native dialect, the name Timpanogots means, roughly, people who live near the mouth of a rocky canyon though which water flows. Since the large lake in the valley and the main river flowing into it were claiming by the Timpanogots Band living nearby, the Spanish named them Timpanogos Lake and Timpanogos River.
Nearly fifty years later, French-Canadian mountain man Etienne Provost led a group of ten trappers down the Timpanogos River and into Utah Valley. They rode around the north end of the lake, followed its outlet into Salt Lake Valley, and met a band of Shoshone warriors.
Provost and his companions were unaware that a year earlier men from the Hudson Bay Fur Company had clashed with these Indians, stolen some of their horses, and killed one of their warriors. The Shoshone longed for revenge and almost all of Provot’s men became their victims.
While the two groups were smoking the pipe of peace, the Shoshone chief gave a prearranged signal. The Shoshone threw off their blankets, under which they had concealed their weapons, and attacked the surprised trappers. Only Provost and one of his men escaped.
After this time, the trappers called the river near which the incident occurred, Proveaux’s Fork. They renamed Timpanogos Lake, calling it Utah Lake in honor of the Ute Indians who lived near it. After the Mormon settlers arrived in 1847, they renamed Proveaux’s Fork the Jordan River, and switched the name “Provo” to what had been known as the Timpanogos River.
In 1849, the first colonists in Utah Valley called their stockade Fort Utah. Since their town site, which was over a mile east of the fort, was further away from Utah Lake but still close to the Provo River, the colony was called the “Settlement on the Provo” and then just “Provo.”
This is plaque #54 in the Series of Events from Provo’s History.