What's in a name? How did Rock County and the Rock River come by their names?

Sources differ on this question.

Rock County was created in 1836 when Wisconsin was still a territory. At that time, "Big Rock" served as a landmark for Indians, traders, and early settlers. In the days before bridges, this massive rock was located near, and thus identified, a shallow part of the Rock River that could be forded safely. This enormous rock -- complete with cave -- is now within the Janesville city limits and is more commonly referred to these days as "Monterey Rock."

(Above, 1875 photo of "Big Rock" from Gruver photo collection at Hedberg Public Library)

Another source
speculates that the
county may have drawn
its name from "Rock Prairie,"
the rocky prairie within
the county's borders.

Still others believe that the
county was named for the river
that runs through it: the Rock, a
285-mile river that originates in
Fond du Lac County and flows through Janesville into northwestern Illinois on its way to the Mississippi River.

But how did the Rock River get its name?
The Rock River may have drawn its name from the rocky character of the soil through which it flows.
Others say that Indians living in the 1700s referred to it as Riviere de la Roche, meaning "river of the rock," perhaps because the river dropped over at least two large sets of rocks in Janesville, causing dramatic rapids.

We'll probably never find a definitive answer to how the county and the river came by their names, but it's fun to think about the possibilities.

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