They go by the names of Happy, Turkey, Earth, Bug Tussle, Dime Box, Cut and Shoot, Ford, Fred, and Uncertain. They are neither descriptive adjectives nor birds, planets, products, slogans or states of mind. You’re most likely to come across them on a backcountry road during a Sunday afternoon drive. In fact, Texas has a wondrous array of charming, odd, weird, funny and highly entertaining town names that, well, make you wonder just how in the heck they were named that way.
The Lone Star State may well corner the market on upbeat town names, with the likes of Jolly (pop. 192), Joy, a small church community in Clay County, and Sublime (Lavaca County). But the unquestioned centerpiece of that cheery grouping is Happy (pop. 615), “The Town without a Frown.”
“I’m always asked, ‘Is everybody happy there?’” says Happy resident Cathey Jo Harman, a deputy clerk in the Swisher County and District Clerk’s office in nearby Tulia. “I usually say, ‘Yes, because the only grump is talking to you!’” she laughs.
The town got its name from nearby Happy Draw, a welcome sight to late 19th-century cowboys seeking water for their cattle. Rock ’n’ roll pioneer Buddy Knox, whose “Party Doll” was a No. 1 hit in 1957, was born on a wheat farm northeast of Happy. Travelers are quick to embrace the town’s enchanting name, snapping pictures of the city limits sign and picking up souvenirs bearing the town’s name. “We enjoy the novelty of it,” Harman says.
Third planet from Muleshoe
Just a little under an hour and a half’s drive southwest of Happy, 18 miles from Muleshoe, things start getting interplanetary.
“Welcome to Earth, established 1924,” the sign on a downtown building says. As the story goes, three different names were submitted for the town’s official tag prior to its establishment, each one rejected by the state. “The final one they sent in was ‘Green Earth,’” says Yvonne Layman, 63, a 43-year resident of Earth (pop. 1,077), “and the state shortened it to Earth.”
Residents are accustomed to the predictable jokes associated with their town’s name. “Oh, we’ve had all kinds of comments,” Layman says. “Typically, it’s ‘Yes, we know where Earth is ’cause we live on Earth,’ or some people say, ‘Yeah, you live on Earth and we live on Mars.’ But you know, little towns are decreasing all the time, so we do what we can to stay on the map.”
Just to show that the state doesn’t play favorites with the solar system, there’s also a Mercury, Venus, and Saturn (formerly Possum Trot), Texas.
A little over 100 miles east of Earth, in the southwestern corner of Hall County, lies Turkey, (pop. 492). “It started as a place called Turkey Roost on Turkey Creek,” relates Robert W. Brown, a writer for the area’s Valley Tribune newspaper. “This creek was pretty well overrun with wild turkeys. Later, when they made it into a post office, in 1893, they dropped the ‘Roost’ and called it Turkey.” The town has a foothold in music history as well. Western swing legend Bob Wills claimed Turkey as his home throughout his long career.
Also in the West Texas panhandle, in northeastern Deaf Smith County, you’ll find the community of Ford, named for J. W. (John) Ford, a 1901 homesteader and later county assessor. But it was the Ford school, built in 1905, around which residents gathered, according to neighboring Oldham County librarian Carolyn Richardson. The facility later served as an interdenominational church, community center, road maintenance equipment shop, 4-H Club and elections center.
“Locals understand that the area’s always been called Ford because of that schoolhouse,” says Jerry O’Connor, 59, of 21st Century Grain, one of four businesses in the community. In 2000, Ford’s population was 15.
You’re from . . . where?
Texas certainly didn’t short its good men and women when it came to naming towns. On the female side, you’ll find Anna, Bettie, Celeste, Diana, Elsa, Harriet, Katy, Maud, Patricia, Peggy, and Winnie. The men get their due with Alexander, Alfred, Art, Brad, Charlie, Clyde, Fred, Otto, and Ralph. If you think Bush is the only presidential name synonymous with the big state, then you haven’t been to Hoover, Nixon, Taft, or Wilson, Texas.
Twenty-five miles due south of Telephone, is a little settlement by the name of Bug Tussle. According to legend, as related by Tom Scott, 68, director of the Fannin County Museum of History, “People were trying to establish a community there and couldn’t come up with a name. Somebody said, ‘Let’s name it after those two bugs over there in the corner that are having the fight, they’re tussling.’” Reportedly more than 70 Bug Tussle highway signs have been stolen over the years.
Yes, those enchanted-named hamlets capture the fancy. But imagine the odd reaction to telling a stranger you’re from Cut and Shoot, Texas. “Oh, yeah, all kinds of that,” laughs Lang Thompson, mayor of Cut and Shoot (pop. 1,244). “But I’m used to it. Don’t pay any attention to it anymore.”
Cut and Shoot, 40 miles north of Houston, is believed to be named after a 1912 community confrontation that almost led to violence. A dispute erupted over the issue of who should be allowed to preach in the community, according to Thompson. A small boy at the scene who wanted to stay clear of the argument reportedly declared, “I’m going to cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes in a minute!” The boy’s phrase remained in residents’ minds and eventually was adopted as the town’s name.
When told of Texas Profile’s odd-named towns list, Thompson was quick to add, “and don’t forget Point Blank, Gasoline, and Dime Box!”
Dime Box (pop. 381), “a little baby town,” according to resident Jean Blaha Davis, is located between Austin and College Station. “People may not remember my name but I guarantee you they remember I’m from Dime Box, Texas,” says Davis, 72, president of The Czech Heritage Society of Texas.
The town’s name originated from the practice of leaving a dime in a box at Brown’s Mill to get a letter delivered to nearby Giddings, before a post office opened in 1877. Such a quaintly named place you’d think would be worthy of a song, and indeed, not one but two tunes—by singer/songwriter Max Stalling and country singer K Wilder—have been penned about Dime Box.
Sure about Uncertain
If you’re ever in extreme east Texas, near Caddo Lake, and aren’t entirely sure of your whereabouts, feel right at home—you’ve likely landed in Uncertain, Texas (pop. 196).
“Back in the 1860s, when steamboats came up the Red River on their way to Caddo Lake, the term ‘Uncertain’ surfaced,” says Dottie Carter, 67, whose father was one of Uncertain’s founders in 1962. “Steamboat captains often had trouble mooring their vessels in the area, thus ‘Uncertain.’”
When Carter’s father and others filed a town charter with the state, it was returned unaccepted. “You have to put in a name for the town,” the paperwork read, concluding incorrectly that the inserted name, Uncertain, meant that the good townsfolk couldn’t agree upon a name for their fair hamlet.
“A good laugh was had by all on that one,” says Carter, who runs Spatterdock Guest Houses in Uncertain with her husband, Billy. One thing not uncertain about Carter is her zest for life. Only five years ago, she first hopped on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and soon after was piloting one on her own.
Who knows, maybe she’ll end up in Paradise . . . Paradise, Texas, that is.
Visit www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online to learn more.