In a state as big as Texas it is really not surprising that there are some mighty peculiar town names among the thousands of communities that make up this state! What is surprising however, are the mundane reasons for many of the odd-sounding choices. Of course there are also some very strange reasons for some very strange names!
Many Texas towns are simply named in honor of one of their founding citizens such as Elmo, Bacon, and North Zulch. Others refer to some obscure legend or event like Rainbow in Somervell County, that garnered its colorful appellation from a storm and subsequent rainbow that occurred when the community gathered to choose a name for the town.
Another common reason for many of the strange town names in Texas is the whim of the busy federal postal authority. In the mid- to late-19th century, thousands of settlements in Texas, as well as the rest of the country, emerged, grew, and when they reached a sufficient size and stability, applied for an official post office and town name. The U.S. postal authorities were very particular about not choosing names that were too long or cumbersome and making sure there were not duplicates or similar names within a state. Townsfolk were often dismayed when their desired name suggestions were rejected time and time again. The town leaders sometimes resorted to submitting random or even silly names for their towns out of sheer exasperation, and many of these offhanded submissions were actually approved by the postal authorities.
Tarzan, an unincorporated farming and ranching community in Martin County, is a perfect example of the kind of whimsical names sometimes chosen by the federal postal authorities. One of the earliest settlers in the area was Tant Lindsay, who built a general store near the center of town. In 1927, Lindsay was asked by the settlement’s citizens to apply for a post office and submit a list of possible town names. After sending several names, only to have them repeatedly rejected for one reason or another, Lindsay grabbed a pad of paper, walked through his store, and wrote down a list of random items he saw including a book he was reading called Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. According to local lore, Lindsay submitted his new list of names with a letter to Washington that said, “We don’t give a damn what you call this town. Stop this dilly-dallying around. We want some mail. Take your choice from this list.” Tarzan was the postal authorities’ choice and Lindsay became the first postmaster.
Drop and Yard
Another frequent action taken by the postal authorities was to shorten the requested town name. For example, the citizens of Drop had originally requested “Dewdrop” as their name, but since another town in the state was already called that, the official name was shortened by three letters. And then of course, some odd town names occurred because of simple human error. Yard, a rural community in Anderson County, received its name because the storekeeper in charge of submitting potential names accidentally included a customer’s request for a yard of cloth. Needless to say, the townsfolk were surprised by the choice!
Ellis County located 30 miles south of Dallas. Settled in 1850 on the banks of the creek from which it drew its name, many people erroneously believe the word Waxahachie refers to a local tribe of Native Americans. The name is indeed from a Native American language, but the actual origin is debated. Some believe the first syllable of the word is from an unspecified Indian word meaning buffalo or cow. But because the Alabama-Coushatta tribe migrated to Texas in the 1850s, others trace the word to the language spoken near the “Waxahatchee” Creek in Alabama. In that language, waakasi hachi means “calf’s tail.” There are also other theories that speculate about similar words from the languages of the Muscogee and the Wichita tribes. Historians have long noted that the origins of many place names in Texas and Oklahoma can be traced to the Southeastern United States because of the western migration of the Indian tribes.
Many Texas town names have completely different connotations today than they had when they were created. For example, Kermit, a small West Texas town in Winkler County, was named for Kermit Roosevelt, the second son of the 26th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. According to the Texas State Historical Association, “The younger Roosevelt visited the T Bar Ranch in northern Winkler County to hunt antelope a few months before the town was named.” Since about the 1960s however, the name Kermit has become synonymous with Jim Henson’s famous green Muppet creation, Kermit the Frog. The Texas town happily adopted the new “Kermit” association and has used the frog as a logo for a number of events and even has a street in town called Kermit the Frog Boulevard.
Ben Wheeler, an unincorporated town 12 miles southeast of Canton in Van Zandt County, was named after a local hero, its first real mailman! Local citizens thought Ben performed his duties just like the famous post office inscription, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” In the 1870s, Benjamin Wheeler delivered the mail to the rural community in all kinds of conditions on mule back on a route from Tyler to Buffalo.
Though little remains today of the town of Chickenfeather in Rusk County, the legend of its bizarre name remains. The story goes that around 1910, a bunch of young boys decided to go hunting one evening but did not have any luck. Late that night, the hungry boys decided they needed a midnight snack and absconded with a couple chickens from a nearby farm. They then held an impromptu barbecue behind the New Hope Church. While tidying up their campsite to hide the evidence of their crime, the boys threw all of the chicken entrails and feathers into the church well. Unfortunately, the churchgoers as well as the local school children used the well each day and the boys’ transgression was quickly discovered. From that time on, the town of New Hope became known as as Chickenfeather.