Women are hard to find on a map of Texas

A few years ago, I wrote a column about how Houstonians would live in Charlottesville if Sam Houston had been successful. According to the story, the hero of San Jacinto graciously told Charlotte Allen at a dinner party one night that she, and not her more famous brethren, was the reason the Buffalo Bayou colony even existed. The city should be called Charlottesville, he argued.

Allen, a savvy businesswoman that she was, told old Sam he was the one everyone knew; his name would put the city on the map.

Charlotte Allen comes to mind because of last week’s column on Bettina, the ephemeral hill country town named after German writer, composer and feminist Bettina von Arnim. As writer / breeder Jim Kearney of Weimar reminded me, Bettina is one of the few towns in Texas named after a woman.

Kearney’s observation made me explore what we have. So far, I have found less than 30 cities, out of almost 4,000. I am probably forgetting some, but not many.

Three hours east of El Paso is a small town that is said to be named after a character from Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”. The wife of the chief engineer of Southern Pacific was reading the novel and was taken away with a servant from the Karamazov household. When the railroad reached a waterhole that needed a name, she suggested the maid, a woman named Marfa. (The late Lonn Taylor, author of “Marfa for the Perplexed,” thought it was more likely that the town was named after a popular character in a Jules Verne novel, “Michael Strogoff, Courier of the Czar. “)

East of Marfa on US Highway 90 is another town named after a woman that had nothing to do with the town itself. Langtry, home to Judge Curmudgeonly Roy Bean (“the law west of the Pecos”), is named after English actress Lillie Langtry, with whom Bean was in love, although he had never met her. She made a brief visit to Langtry in 1904, but by then the former judge had moved to a higher court.

About an hour northeast of Langtry is Iraan, a name combined in honor of Ira and Ann Yates. On October 28, 1926, the ranching couple instantly became millionaires when four sources of oil sprang from under the parched, rocky soil of their spread.

Heading east towards Abilene we come to Bronte, a settlement that originated on a branch of the Chisholm Trail in 1887. It is named after the English writer Charlotte Bronte and is near Tennyson , named after the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Turning north in the Panhandle – this trip is going to take a few days, you know – we come to another merger, Floydada. “The Pumpkin Capital of Texas” may be named after Floyd and Ada Price, parents of Caroline Price, who, along with her husband James, donated land for the city in 1890.

Northeast of Floydada is Estelline, the county seat of Hall County. Founded in 1892, it bears the name of Estelle de Shields, daughter of one of the first settlers. Be careful in the small town of 145 people. According to Wikipedia, Estelline has a reputation as one of Texas’ most notorious speed traps.

Heading slowly south-east of Estelline, we come to “The Pump Jack Capital of Texas”, Electra, a few miles west of Wichita Falls. The town is named after the late Electra Wagoner, sculptor and heiress of the famous Wagoner Ranch. Although the family sold the ranch not long ago, it remains one of the largest in the world. Electra Wagoner also bequeathed its name to the Buick Electra.

East of Wichita Falls is Henrietta. No one knows who Henrietta was.

Now we are heading south. Near Waxahachie is “A Pearl in the Heart of North Texas”. Maypearl, population of around 900, is the amalgamated name of two daughters of a railway engineer. (The railroad also named two nearby towns, Penelope and Venus, for the local girls.)

Continuing on Interstate 35 we come to Buda, until a few years ago a village south of Austin, now a thriving dormitory community. Pronounced BEW-da, the name is probably a corruption of the Spanish word “viuda” or “widow”. The name may refer to a couple of widows who cooked at the popular Carrington Hotel in the 1880s, when the town was known as Du Pre.

Below San Antonio we come to Charlotte, named after the daughter of Dr Charles Simmons, a founder of the city. Two other towns in Atascosa County are named after his daughters, Christine and Imogene.

Continued south through the Brush Country we come to Alice. The ranching community west of Corpus Christi was called first “Bandana”, then “Kleberg” and finally “Alice”, after Alice Gertrudis King Kleberg, daughter of King Ranch founder Richard King.

Heading south into the Rio Grande Valley we come to Donna, named Donna Hooks Fletcher, daughter of a former valley rancher and postmaster of the town that bears her name.

To the east of Donna is Mercedes, first called “Diaz,” in honor of Porfirio Diaz, then President of Mexico. She was renamed “Mercedes Diaz” and then “Mercedes” in honor of the president’s wife, although neither of his wives was named Mercedes.

Heading north out of the valley, we pass Victoria – named after General Guadalupe Victoria, the first president of independent Mexico – and arrive in Inez. The small town was named in 1892 for a daughter of Italian Earl Joseph Telfener, president of the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway between Rosenberg and Victoria. Another girl bequeathed her name to the Jackson County seat, Edna. Neighbor Louise is named after the count’s sister-in-law.

Also in Jackson County is Lolita, named in 1909 in honor of the granddaughter of Charles Keller Reese, a veteran of San Jacinto. Almost half a century after the city’s appointment, Russian-born novelist Vladimir Nabokov published “Lolita,” a critically acclaimed novel about an adult man’s romantic obsession with a teenage girl. Baptist deacon RT Walker may or may not have read the bestseller, but he was outraged by the title, insisting that it tainted his hometown. He circulated a petition asking the US Postal Service to change the name. Sixty years later, it’s still Lolita.

Also in Jackson County is Francitas, named by a small colony of French families in the late 1890s. Francis the person is a mystery.

Since we are near the coast, we might as well meander to Olivia, on a peninsula east of Port Lavaca. Olivia was founded in 1892 by a Swedish Lutheran colony led by CJE Haterious of Galesburg, Illinois. He named the colony in honor of his wife.

A long drive east brings us to Evadale, northeast of Beaumont. The town was called Ford’s Bluff until 1893, when Houston lumber tycoon John Henry Kirby renamed it after Eva Dale, a teacher at Southern Texas Male and Female College in Jasper.

Returning west on Interstate 10 at Schulenburg, we descend to Hallettsville, the seat of Lavaca County. The small town halfway between Houston and San Antonio is named after one of the first settlers, Margaret Leatherbury Hallett.

I intended to close the column with Hallett, but there is too much to say about this remarkable woman, so look for her next week. Margaret Hallett symbolizes everything we don’t know, and should, about the women who built Texas, even though no one named a city after them.

[email protected]

Twitter: holleynews

Previous Game wardens use new equipment as South Texas community mobilizes to save boy trapped in well
Next Bastrop County Receives Funding for Community Health Initiative in Texas