If you have ever taken a road trip through Texas, you are sure to have noticed that some towns that have very peculiar names. Many honor people, perhaps founders, sweethearts, or heroes. Other town names seem to describe the surrounding terrain or perhaps a whimsical landmark. But then there are names like Fairy, Uncertain, and Zipperlandviile that leave you totally flummoxed! Believe it or not, there ARE explanations for these unusual names. Here are ten that have baffled many a Texan.
Gun Barrel City
Even though its name seems to harken back to pioneer days, Gun Barrel City is one of the youngest towns in the state. It is located about an hour southeast of Dallas on the eastern shore of Cedar Creek Lake and emerged after the construction of the reservoir in 1969. Gun Barrel Lane, however, a well-traveled dirt road that crossed the area (now Highway 198), existed long before the reservoir. It is rumored that the road got its name in the 1920s and ‘30s, during bootlegging times when criminals used the short cut to make quick escapes. Also, one surly resident along the road was rumored to often sit by his window with a shotgun sticking out to discourage “visitors.” Others speculate that since Gun Barrel Lane was often used as a shortcut from Mabank to Seven Points, the name may actually just refer to the straightness of the road. Regardless of the inspiration, the locals must have liked the road’s colorful moniker since it was later adopted as the name of the town. Appropriately, the city’s motto is “We shoot straight with you,” and its symbol is a rifle and sometimes, two crossed pistols.
The name Fairy was not inspired by an ethereal creature with gossamer wings but rather, another tiny member of the community. The Hamilton County town in North Central Texas was originally called Martin’s Gap for James Martin, a passing pioneer who died in the area. However, in 1884, when the settlement decided to apply for a post office, the town’s folk decided to rename the community in honor of diminutive Fairy Fort Phelps, the daughter of a Confederate general named Battle Fort, who had been the governor of Mississippi before moving to Texas. Little Fairy was reputed to only stand 2 feet 7 inches as an adult and weighed about 30 pounds. Even though she was extremely tiny, she lived a productive and normal life and even married twice. The much-loved Fairy and her father taught the area children in a school at their home and later donated land they owned to several local churches.
What red-blooded, Alamo-remembering Texan would ever have the gall to name a town in this state Santa Anna? Well actually, it is NOT named after THAT Santa Anna, the general who led the Mexican forces against the Texas militia in the state’s war for independence. Located in eastern Coleman County in the center of the state, the town opened its first post office in 1879 and is actually named after the Comanche war chief “Santanna,” or Santa Anna, one of the most important Native American leaders in Texas history. Although Santa Anna was originally was quite militant against the white settlers, he changed his stance after visiting Washington D.C. in 1847. Santa Anna was the first member of his tribe to visit the capital and was “overwhelmed” by the huge number of Anglos that he saw and became convinced that fighting Texas and the U.S. was virtually suicide for his people. He became a strong advocate for peace but lost prestige among his still war-like tribe because of his softened position. The mountains near the town also bear his name.
Although “Sweet Home … Texas” may not sound quite right to you after hearing the ubiquitous Alabama anthem for years, it sounds perfect to the residents of the small, unincorporated community in southeast Texas. Ironically, Solomon West, the founder of the community, was from Alabama. In 1853 he purchased about 2,200 acres of land along Mustang Creek in Lavaca County and a year later brought his family from Alabama to see their new home. After a long and exhausting journey to Texas, West’s daughter Mary looked around at her new surroundings and stated, “Pa, this would be a sweet home,” and according to local lore, the name stuck!
Zipperlandville, located about five miles west of Rosebud in Falls County, has one of the more outlandish town names in the state, but a disappointingly pedestrian explanation. Immigrants from Northern Europe settled the community in the 1870s, and one of the most ambitious and prominent of these was the German Zipperlen family who operated a cotton gin and a general store. Eventually, the town became commonly known as Zipperlen or Zipperlenville. As was the case with many of the unusual town names in Texas, when the community sought a post office, the postal authorities took the liberty of changing the name slightly to Zipperlandville.
Telephone is a tiny, unincorporated town in northeastern Fannin County, about 12 miles north of Bonham and just a few miles from the Arkansas border. Like many communities in Texas, settlers began arriving in the 1870s, but a true town did not emerge until about 1885 when Pete Hindman opened up his general store. In addition to being the de facto meeting place for the settlers, the store was the location of the only newfangled “telephone” in town! As the leading businessman, Hindman was designated by the residents to apply for a town post office. Like many others in Texas, Hindman found that the postal authorities were not easy to please with an appropriate name for the community. After they rejected multiple name suggestions because they were too similar to others in use, in frustration Hindman sent in the name, “Telephone.” It was accepted and a post office was opened in 1886. Today, Telephone has a handful of businesses, a post office, about 250 people and, most likely, about that many telephones!
It is said that Turkey, Texas is one of only three communities in the country with this distinctive name. Once again, the U.S. postal authorities had a great influence on the ultimate designation of this small Panhandle community. When settlers first began arriving in this Hall County settlement, they called it Turkey Roost for the numerous wild turkeys that lived along what they called Turkey Creek. When the town applied for a post office in 1893 for Turkey Roost, the postal authorities shortened the name to Turkey when the application was approved. Besides its name, Turkey’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that it is the home of musician Bob Wills. It is here that Wills formed his famous Texas Playboys band and created the country music variation known as Western Swing.
Incorporated in 1961, The City of Uncertain in Harrison County is nestled on the shores of Caddo Lake near the Texas-Louisiana border. The origin of the unusual name is also “uncertain” as there are at least three competing ideas about its origin. One version speculates that steamboats loaded with supplies headed for the burgeoning West traveled through the lake on their way to the bustling port of Jefferson, Texas. The steamboat captains were aware that the water levels varied greatly in this area and that mooring was often “uncertain.” Another story tells that a group of surveyors were attempting to map the border between Texas and Louisiana and at one point in the middle of the lake they became confused and “uncertain” as to what side of the line they were on. Another legend has it that the name came from the area settlers’ feigned uncertainty about their citizenship before the boundary between the U.S. and the Republic of Texas had been finalized. The settlers’ uncertainty supposedly stemmed from their distaste for paying taxes. Whichever version is true; it is certain that the Caddo Lake area around Uncertain is one of the most scenic settings in Texas.
In the early 1800s when much of North Texas was unsettled and used primarily as a route for cattle drives, two distinct communities emerged in close proximity in Tarrant County, near what is now Fort Worth. One community was populated by Anglo settlers and the other by Native Americans. The Native Americans began calling the first group, the “white settlement,” and the name remains to this day. Bordered on the north by beautiful Lake Worth, today White Settlement is a thriving city of about 16,000 in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
Sometimes the inspiration for a town name is exactly what is implied– in this case that the town had no trees, or at least no native trees. Located in Ector County, about 20 miles northwest of Odessa, Notrees began to emerge in the 1940s when a number of oil fields were discovered there. Records show that the community actually had one native tree before the construction of a large gas plant that required its removal. Over the years, the town had sometimes been called Caprock or Strawberry, but when resident store owner and postmaster Charlie Brown applied to the authorities for a post office in 1946, he recommended the descriptive name Notrees and, the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the once thriving community has shrunk to about 25 people, but one assumes that there are now a number of saplings that have grown to tree status.