There is no place like Tehachapi – and no other place named Tehachapi. So just what does the name mean?
While searching the west for the U.S. government to find a railroad route to California, Lt. R.S. Williamson and his scout, Alexis Godey, in August 1853 made their way to the Tehachapi Valley and Indians who told them that their name for the creek running there was “Tah-ee-chay-pay.” Williamson did not record the meaning of the name, however.
Speculation abounds and through the years various meanings have been attributed to the word. Multiple spellings have been used, as well.
The most common belief today is that the word derives from the Kawaiisu word “Tihachipia” meaning a hard climb.
Williams, by the way, recorded a lovely description of the Tehachapi Valley from his visit nearly 150 years ago.
He entered the valley from the east, having been traveling along the Eastern Sierra Nevada from Walker Pass south through Cache Creek and wrote:
“... a steep and continuous descent for eight or nine miles, when we found ourselves in a beautiful prairie, apparently completely surrounded by high mountains, and as far as the eye could tell, it was a horizontal plain.
“We came to an Indian rancheria, where we learned there was a stream of water and good grass two or three miles further on. We proceeded to the place, and here found an excellent camping ground...
“There was another rancheria close to the place selected for our camp, and from the Indians we learned that their name for the creek was Tah-ee-chay-pah. It is one called Pass Creek by Colonel Fremont, and is the same one he ascended when he crossed the mountains in 1844.”