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The Fascinating names of Texas Towns

From Bugtussle to Fairy and from Muleshoe to Ding Dong, Texas towns (and some counties) have unique names.

From Bugtussle to Egypt and Stranger to Telephone, many Texas town names are surprising and  perplexing. Prepare to chuckle, scratch your head, and just enjoy the unusual names of Texas cities, towns, and “spots in the road,” on this whirlwind tour of fascinating names.

This is Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast.  Today’s topic: Texas Towns, It’s all in a name! Texas’ population of more than 29 million people is spread among cities, towns, small places, and what Texans call “spots in the road.”  These spots are so small that if you blink, you’re likely to miss them. Texans and visitors alike are often surprised, charmed or even perplexed by many of the names of these diverse places.

For instance, while you are in Texas, you can visit places named Ireland, Holland, Italy, Paris, Athens, China, London, Moscow, and Egypt. There are about three dozen town names creating an around-the-world-tour without having to leave the state!—but don’t forget a stop at two of my favorites, Earth and Venus!

Texans claim things are bigger in the state, so it makes sense that we have Big Foot, Big Lake, Big Sandy, Big Spring, and Big Well. However, towns beginning with Ben outnumber those beginning with Big. For example, Ben Hur, Ben Franklin, Ben Arnold, Ben Bold, Ben Wheeler, Benbrook, Benjamin, Bennett, Benchley, Bend and Bentonville.

Some names reflect the delight and hopes of the founders—Utopia, Happy, Blessing, Cash, Comfort, Eden, Eldorado, Sweet Home, Joy, Security, Paradise, and New Hope.

By contrast Cheapside, Bleakwood, Sour Lake, and Motley aren’t optimistic names. One has to wonder what the founders were thinking. None of these grew up to be very big, although Motley is actually the name of a Texas county.

Some names carry a link to the past. How about Muleshoe (named after a nearby ranch)? Buffalo, Buffalo Gap,  Buffalo Springs, Chisolm, Spur, Comanche, and Quanah (as in Quanah Parker, the last of the great Comanche chiefs). How about Houston (after Sam Houston) or Austin (named for Stephen F. Austin, the Empresario known as the Father of Texas) There’s even a place bearing the name of Santa Ana (the Mexican leader defeated by Houston at San Jacinto). There are towns named  Crockett (for Alamo hero Davy Crockett), Jeff Davis (president of the Confederacy), Jefferson, and Jim Hogg (The Texas governor remembered along with his daughter Ima Hogg. But that’s another story).

Many towns must have been named based on specific characteristics of their locations. You can visualize what the first settlers saw with these names—Fairview, Plainview, Prairieview, Spring, Roaring Springs, Rockwall, Roundrock, Redwater, Thicket, Shady Grove, Medicine Mound, Blooming Grove, Shallow Water, Sunny Side, Sunray, Turkey and White Deer.

Some names are perplexing.  Would you name a town Fairy, Ding Dong, Bugtussle,

Tarzan or Wink?  How about  Stranger, Telephone or Tuxedo? People did.

I’ll tell you the stories of a three unusual place names and leave you the fun of doing your own research on others.  Let’s start with Deaf Smith, the unusual name of a Texas county. Erastus “Deaf” Smith was born in New York. He lost most of his hearing due to a childhood illness. Smith moved to Texas in his early thirties and became a well-known scout and guide. He is famous for carrying and delivering the William Barrett Travis’ letter from the Alamo. Trusting him, Sam Houston sent Deaf Smith back to confirm the Alamo’s fall. At the Battle of San Jacinto, Deaf Smith destroyed a key bridge to block escape routes for the Mexican army.  Following the Texas Revolution, he commanded Texas Rangers charged with protecting Texans from Indian and Mexican attacks. The county was named in his honor

Dime Box, about 66 miles from Austin, is a small town with a name that raises questions. In fact, there’s an an old Dime Box and a new Dime Box.  As the story goes, prior to getting a post office in 1877, residents of the town—which was named Brown’s Mill—could leave a dime in a box to get a letter delivered to the nearby town of Giddings. A former resident told me that one citizen  of Dime Box put a dime in the box weekly, not for letter service, but instead, requesting that a dime box of tobacco be acquired in Giddings for her. I’m not sure who collected the dimes and took the letters and the requests for tobacco to Giddings. Perhaps anyone who happened to be going.

When official postal service began, the postal service kept confusing Brown’s Mill with Brownsville and ordered the town to change its name.  The town submitted Dime Box as its new name which the postal service accepted. Later in 1913, the Southern Pacific Railroad ran within three miles of the town and most of the citizens moved to start New Dime Box near the railroad. Those who remained behind became Old Dimebox.

On a lighter note the town of BugTussle was, according to one story, named by young people who claimed the only entertainment in town was to watch tumble bugs work. This story raised another question in my mind. What in the world is a tumble bug? I turned to the website for an answer.

Turns out tumble bugs are dung beetles also known as scarb beetles. These small dark beetles have short antennae, large jaws, and strong legs. They are commonly referred to as dung beetles because they roll dung into balls, then lay their eggs on the balls which serve as nests and food for the grubs. Dung balls are generally twice the size of the beetles and the hard work forming the balls and rolling them to a desirable spot results in many beetle tumbles. Thus, the name BugTussle. If these tumbling bugs represented the most interesting activity in town, it’s probably not surprising that BugTussle is now a ghost town.

But let’s go back to the topic of Texas town names, and talk about some surprising pronunciation. The name of a Dallas suburb is spelled W-y-l-i-e.  Wylie, right?  Nope! Residents pronounce it y-LEEE with emphasis on LEE.  Then there’s what looks like Colorado City but is pronounced by locals as Col-A-RAY-duh City.  Don’t know why.

The classic example of uncertain pronunciation has inspired an urban legend which most Texans know well. Two visitors driving through Texas stopped at a Dairy Queen fast food outlet for lunch. As they ate their burgers and fries they debated how to pronounce the name of the town, which according to the welcome sign, was spelled M-E-X-I A.  Finally they turned to the waitress and asked, “Where are we, what is the name of this place?” Without batting an eye, the woman very slowly and with great emphasis said, “DAIRY QUEEN.” Of course the correct pronunciation of where they were is Ma-hay-a.

Where do you live and do you know how your city, town, or spot on the road got its name?

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—Tidbits of Texas history you never learned in school.  Posting every other week. Subscribe and come on back.  Thanks for listening. Visit and read my historical novel based in Texas: GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper 1856-1861.