Winds of Change, Part I – That Prescient Name

Detail from a painting of the lost city of Indianola, Texas ~ Shannon Salyer
Courtesy Calhoun County Museum (Click image to view the complete painting)

Today, the privilege of naming a community seems reserved for real estate developers. The names they choose for subdivisions, gated communities, or urban high-rise housing — Candlewick, Pickwick Village, The Towers — function primarily as marketing tools. While the names may reflect an area’s history, or a neighborhood’s geographic location, often they do not.

In times past, residents named their own nascent communities. If contention over the choice arose among the citizenry,  or if conflict developed between a town and the Postal Service, the history of the naming process could become as interesting as the history of the town itself.

Some places changed their name so often even residents could forget where they lived. In New Hampshire, the Plantation of Penney Cook became Penney Cook; then Pennacook; then Rumford; then Concord. In Arizona, Swilling’s Mill became Hellinwig Mill; then Mill City; then East Phoenix. Finally, the name we know today — Phoenix — became permanent.

Some names were obvious choices. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jackson rose to prominence as Americans honored men who contributed to the nation’s founding. On the other hand, Oxford, Paris, New London, and Winchester became almost as popular. It’s easy to imagine a little nostalgia in the naming process: perhaps even a longing to be as well-regarded as more historic cities.

Now and then, place names occur in clusters. Despite having no obvious single source, they spread across the country: chosen for good reason, quirky reasons, or no reason at all. Indianola is one of those names.

Florida’s Indianola, platted in 1920 by Helen Brooks Smith, extended from Little Sarasota Bay across an early part of the Tamiami Trail. The name may have been inspired by the Indian middens found in the area, since Smith named her streets Huron, Iriquois, Seminole, Mohican, and Wyandotte. Whether she imagined Indianola to be a tribal name isn’t clear. Since it’s not, most assume that she made it up, or borrowed it from another source.

Indianola, Florida home of Everett Barney, philanthropist and inventor of the clip-on roller skate.

When Indianapolis, Pennsylvania emerged in 1919 as a  coal company patch town, its development and naming was overseen by Thomas Fear, Superintendent of Mines for Inland Colliers, a subsidiary of Inland Steel. After laying out the town, Fear arranged for rail shipment of pre-cut houses from Michigan. After being unloaded at Harmarville, they were transported on to Indianola by horse-drawn wagon.

Fear had built similar towns in Tennessee and Alabama before arriving in Pennsylvania, so it’s entirely possible he passed through Indianola, Mississippi.  Sited on a river bank once inhabited by Choctaw Indians, the town received the name Indian Bayou in 1882.  Between 1882 and 1886, the name was changed to Eureka, to Belengate, and finally to Indianola. Improbable as it may seem, local lore claims  the town name honors an  Indian princess named “Ola.”

When the Treaty of Point Elliott created the Port Madison Reservation in Washington State, a quite verifiable tribe, the Suquamish, were granted two parcels of land straddling Miller Bay. Eventually, a portion of that land fell into private hands. When Ernest Loughrey, a principal land owner, sold some of the property to Warren L. Gazzam, it led to the platting of yet another Indianola.

How the town received its name has been disputed. Some accounts reference a simple Postal Service decision. Others prefer the story told by Robert Hitchman in his volume dedicated to the origins of Washington place names. There, he records the claim that land developer and eventual Seattle mayor Ole Hanson added a variant of his own first name to “Indian,” thus creating our westernmost Indianola.

The landmark dock at Indianola, Washington

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a locator for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad named D.N. Smith was seeking a town site to serve as the seat of government for Red Willow County. After a friend offered acceptable land on Coon Creek, Smith returned in the spring of 1873, surveyed the land, registered a plat, and named the new town Indianola, after his hometown in Iowa.

Remarkably, Indianola, Iowa is only fifty miles from my own hometown.When I moved to Texas and discovered another Indianola on the Texas coast, I assumed immigrants from Iowa had carried the name with them. I was wrong. Texas got its Indianola first, and the story of how the name traveled from Texas to Iowa is the quirkiest of them all.

Established in 1846, Warren County, Iowa held its first elections in 1849. The newly-elected county commissioners were put in charge of locating a county seat, and providing a name for the town.

As Paul Jewett tells the  story:

In the spring of 1849, Colonel P.P. Henderson, the county sheriff, was eating with some friends. His lunch was wrapped in a page from “The New York Sun,” to which he subscribed.
In Henderson’s words, “While we were eating, my eye fell on a paragraph in that paper which said that a shipment of camels had been unloaded in Indianola, Texas, to try the experiment of using them in the army for beasts of burden crossing the plains to the Pacific coast. Mr. A.D. Jones suggested that we call our county seat “Indianola,” and it was agreed upon by unanimous vote.
“On a New Shore” – Steel silhouette sculpture by Brian Norwood, Jal, New Mexico
Commissioned and installed at Indianola by the Calhoun County Historical Commission, 2011

The so-called “Great Camel Experiment” is a story of its own. Supported in Congress by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the first load of 34 camels landed at Indianola on May 14, 1856.  They stayed at Indianola for several weeks before beginning the trek to their new home at Camp Verde, near Kerrville. Other camels followed, and several expeditions into the desert southwest were made. Unfortunately, an assortment of complictions, including the Civil War, brought the experiment to an end.**

For years, the conceit that camels underlay the naming of an Iowa town endured. But in 1941, Don Berry, editor of The Indianola [Iowa] Record and author of A History of Warren County, found himself in Texas.

After a visit to his town’s namesake, he began some research of his own. Before long, he spotted a factual error that unraveled the story. Camels didn’t land at Indianola, Texas until seven years after Indianola, Iowa  had been founded.  Further investigation revealed that the April 6, 1849 newspaper lunch-wrapper that led to the naming of Indianola, Iowa, actually was reporting  an outbreak of cholera along the Texas Coast.

It probably wasn’t’ the first report, and it wouldn’t be the last. Between 1836 and 1867, yellow fever epidemics occurred nearly every year, and cholera outbreaks were common.  In 1846,  cholera became so widespread that the dead lay unburied in the streets of Indianola.

Warren J. Hahn records the story of Georg Christian David Kensing, his wife Henriette, and seven children, who set sail from Bremen, Germany on November 13, 1845. The mother, Henriette, died at Indianola in 1846. Two children, Heinrich and Dorothea, died in 1846, also at Indianola.  Perhaps hoping to escape, the family moved inland to Victoria. David set up a blacksmith shop, but he also died, in July of 1846.  By 1850, Texas was initiating quarantine procedures, seeking to slow the spread of disease throughout the state.

“The kind of ‘assisted emigrant’ we can not afford to admit.” An 1883 Puck drawing, showing members of the New York Board of Health wielding a bottle of carbolic acid in their attempts to keep cholera at bay. (Photo credit: © Corbis Images)
Quarantine Station No.2, Galveston, Texas (1870) Meant to slow the spread of diseases such as cholera to other Texas ports, it was destroyed in 1875 by one of two  storms which also devastated Indianola

However interesting camels, cholera, and newspaper-wrapped lunches may be, one question remains. How did Indianola, Texas, receive her name?

As with so many other towns, there were a few changes along the way. Shortly after weary and uncertain German settlers stepped onto the shores of Matagorda Bay, their little community became known as Carlshafen, after Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, the Commissioner-General of the Society for German Immigration, or Adelsverein.

Two years later, in 1846, the town of Indian Point was surveyed and formally established. Over time, the town grew, merging with the Carlshafen settlement and growing somewhat southward, toward Powderhorn Lake.

By 1849,  Indian Point had become a significant port city, rivaling Galveston in terms of trade and serving as the eastern terminus for the Chihuahuan trail. John Henry Brown, publisher of the Indianola Bulletin, had opened a stagecoach line between Indian Point and Victoria. Improvements meant to accomodate the Morgan and Harris steamship lines had been made, and regular passenger schedules were kept among Indianola, Galveston, and New Orleans.

With general agreement that a new name was in order for the burgeoning port, discussion began. After some debate, it was Mrs. John Henry Brown who suggested “Indianola.”  Her explanation, that the name would retain the “Indian” of Indian Point, while adding the Spanish word ola, or wave, was well received. On February 1, 1849, Indian Point became Indianola, and the future of the young town seemed secure.

None of those who voted in favor of Indianola could have known what lay ahead. They had, after all, provided for waves of immigrants, and survived waves of disease. Even the waves of a land-falling hurricane, in 1851, failed to temper their enthusiasm. Rebuilding, reclaiming their future, they moved on. But there was more to come — much more.

(To be continued…)


** A future post will provide more detail about Texas’s “Camel Corps.”  Comments are welcome, always.

82 thoughts on “Winds of Change, Part I – That Prescient Name

    1. It’s such a rich area, historically. Many of the sites are well-knowno, like the Presidio in Goliad, or Espiritu Santo Mission. But there are hidden stories galore, and a good bit of history at the bottom of the bays.

      Victoria’s a fine town, too. Some of the most beautiful photos of the 2004 Christmas Eve snow came from Victoria, Cuero and Goliad.

      Many thanks for stopping by — I’m glad you found it interesting.


  1. Today’s “marketing names” for towns and places pale in comparison to the fun and history of progression and political manipulation of names in the old days. I greatly prefer the old system(?!).

    1. And towns certainly aren’t the only arena where naming can turn into fun and games. Mountain peaks, rivers, streams, bayous — they’re a way to track history, too. One of the first mountains I knew was Pike’s Peak. What fun it was to roam the tall grass prairie decades later, and find one of the places where Zebulon Pike camped.

      And even names for natural features change. Today’s Lavaca Bay, the site of Indianola, once was called San Bernardo Bay. and sometimes Espiritu Santo in the Spanish mission days. I suspect you know of a ridge or mountain or river that’s changed its name (or had it changed) over the years.

  2. I love learning about the origins of town names in the US. And I love to learn the correct pronunciation of town names, too! That alone can bring some real ethnic histories to life.

    Speaking of dreadful developers, someone once said that developers always name a place after whatever it is they’ve destroyed: Pine Crest, Buena Vista, Tall Oaks, Orchard Estates…you get the picture. Every place should just be named Pottersville now.

    Love that last image.

    1. One of the things I learned while writing this post is that plenty of people out there enjoy learning about place names, and some of them write books.Why not?

      Something else I found is the so-called Atlas of True Names. There’s a photo gallery on the left side bar of the linked article, and one photo shows a section of this country. It’s a little easier to figure out. It’s an etymological map, though I can’t vouch for its accuracy. In any event, instead of the names we’re accustomed to, it shows the names’ literal meanings. It’s really fun.

      I’m going to use another version of that last image in the next post, with a nice, linked enlargement. The fellow who drew it did so from the rigging of a barque anchored out in the harbor — it’s a pretty accurate representation.

    1. There surely is. Not only that, it’s home to a really big hot air balloon fest every year. (Here’s this year’s schedule.) They weren’t doing such things when I was growing up in Iowa, but apparently it’s quite the attraction, now.

      I’m glad to have added to your Indianola knowledge! Thanks for stopping by — you’re always welcome.


  3. Do you know whether there’s good documentation for the account of Mrs. John Henry Brown suggesting the name Indianola? It’s common for speakers of a language to borrow a word outright from another language (e.g. English ranch, lariat, and rodeo from Spanish). It has also become common to blend two items within the same language to create a portmanteau word (e.g. chuckle + snort —> chortle; guess + estimate —> guesstimate). It’s rare, though, to blend two words from different languages. The only example I can think of at the moment is the addition to an English word of the Yiddish/Russian suffix -nik, which isn’t even a full-fledged word, to make English terms like beatnik and peacenik. I can’t help wondering if the interpretation of Indianola as an English-Spanish hybrid is one more instance of folk etymology.

    As an alternative (in case there isn’t indisputable documentation of Mrs. Brown explaining why she chose the name Indianola), I’m wondering about the influence of other names ending in -ola:

    1. That’s a wonderful link, Steve. I spent some time with a few -olas while I was writing this, particularly those in Florida, like Pensacola. And it was interesting to be reminded of words I haven’t heard for decades, like rubeola and variola.

      While I haven’t yet found print documentation for Mrs. Brown’s suggestion, I don’t doubt the story. I first heard it in the 1980s, in Jackson County, from a woman whose grandparents landed at Indianola and walked to Victoria behind an ox-cart.

      Beyond that, there’s the fact that John Henry Brown was a newspaper editor, and both he and his wife, Mary Mitchel Brown, were historians. Together, they published “A School History of Texas” . His other writings, are detailed here, along with his work for a number of newspapers, including the “Texas Sentinel” (Austin), and the “Victoria Advocate.”. When he wasn’t busy researching or editing, he was mayor of both Galveston and Dallas.

      While it’s not impossible that a historian would allow a false tale about the naming of his town to circulate, in this case, I doubt it. Another factor is that his time in Victoria, his work with Mexican traders in Indianola and the family’s move to Mexico after the Civil War suggests more than a passing familiarity with Spanish. If someone told me the wife of a German immigrant had combined “Indian” with the Spanish “ola,” I’d doubt it. But it seems entirely plausble that Mary Mitchel Brown would have been fluent enough in both languages to suggest the name.

      Just as an aside, John Henry Brown’s Texas roots run deep. His maternal uncle, James Kerr III, provided the name for Kerr County. His father, Henry S. Brown, came to Texas in 1824 and served with Austin at the capture of Velasco in 1832 before dying in 1834.

      What I really need to do is settle in with the issues of the “Indianola Bulletin” that are online, or make a run up to Austin and spend some time with the John Henry Brown family papers at the Briscoe Center for American History. I’ll bet I could find a definitive answer there!

      1. I looked at the index in your linked copy of A School History of Texas but unfortunately Indianola isn’t included. One interesting thing in the book’s glossary is that the pronunciation of Refugio is given as the Spanish-like Ra-foo-he-o, rather than the strange Ra-fury-o that I’m told locals now use.

        I didn’t know that the John Henry Brown family papers are here at UT. The last time I used the Briscoe Center was eight years ago, to read some of the papers of Nicholas J. Clayton, best known as the architect of various historic buildings in Galveston (and the person put in charge of a building-by-building damage assessment after the 1900 hurricane).

        1. In my comment to Susan, I just used Refugio as an example of a name that distinguishes locals from non-locals. There’s a Weather Channel guy on KTRH radio here who insists on a third option: Ra-fuge-e-o. And yes, I was one who was taught to say Ra-fury-o when I moved to Victoria.

          I remember you mentioning your work on Clayton. It’s wonderful that so many resources are available. I’ve used the Rosenberg Library in Galveston — such fun.

    2. I spoke this morning with Vicki Cox, on staff at the Calhoun County Museum. She provided this, from the book “Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas” by Brownson Malsch:

      “There had been increasing discussion of the need to change the name of Indian Point to one that better conveyed the impression of a community of importance. It had become the general belief that “Indian Point”, though quaint, and appropriate to the site, failed nevertheless to project the proper image of the town.

      “After debate on the matter, suggestions for a new name were solicited. That which was chosen, “Indianola”, was proposed by Mrs. John Henry Brown. Her reasoning was that the first part of the current name (Indian) should be retained. To that, there would be added the Spanish word for wave,”ola.”

      “Surely, it must be admitted that the wave of the future was beginning to sweep over Western Texas from this very spot on Matagorda Bay. There was beauty in the name. It had a musical sound. “Indianola” was approved without dissent and a document dated February 1, 1849, was prepared for signature by the principal property owners, signifying their agreement to the change.” [A note is appended: Map of the City of Calhoun, General Land Office, State of Texas, Austin]”

      The Museum Director will be in tomorrow, and Ms. Cox is going to see if she might have other information to add.

      1. That’s good corroboration, and it sounds as if the story really might be true, in spite of the unusual English-Spanish combination. Too bad the townsfolk didn’t know the kinds of olas that would come their way, and the ironic hola (hello) they would proclaim.

        1. There’s nothing like corroboration, and a little bilingual word play to go with it.

          I’ve been having a rollicking good time with the “Indianola Bulletin.” I thought of you when I read that a merchant there had “just received by bark Cavallo, a large assortment of fresh Garden Seeds,from Garretson’s celebrated Nurseries, at Long Island [May 21, 1859].”

          It seems a colony of Dutch settlers under the leadership of Matthew Garretson settled in the area of present-day Little Neck in 1632, naming the bay after their leader. Later, “Little Neck and the surrounding areas became known for the beauty of their orchards and gardens. The most famous was the French Huguenot, Robert Prince, who started the first nursery on Long Island in Flushing in 1730.”

  4. Oh this is a good one. Naming streets, malls, subdivisions, and way back then, towns, has always been interesting to me. It seems to have been a fairly common matter for folks back then to name towns and such after the Indians and the Spanish. I’ve seen examples of that in more than a few places.

    The town where I live is a spelling variation of the tribes name. And so it is of the rivers and some of the creeks. Surveys of land are named for Spanish men, I suppose maybe they did the surveys or were the original deed holders.

    1. You’re exactly right, Yvonne. The history of an area is hidden in its names, and the influence of the different cultures is clear. In Iowa, where I grew up, Blackhawk, Poweshiek, Tama, Appanoose, Sioux, and Winnebago were counties named for Indian tribes or chiefs. On the other hand, we have Lavaca, Tres Palacios, Espiritu Santo, Navidad, Nueces, Corpus Christi — a clear Spanish influence.

      And always, there are the funny names. Every time I go to San Antonio I cross Woman Hollering Creek. It always makes me laugh, and I’ve never looked it up. Maybe I don’t want to know the facts of its naming, just because all of my imaginings are so great.

    1. As you show us in your photographs, Nia, even the smallest places can have a big history. I’m so glad you found the tale interesting. There are a couple of statues in the next chapter that I think you’ll like even more than the paintings. ~ Linda

  5. The myths and mysteries of place names are fascinating. In New Zealand we are beginning to revert to the original Maori names for places but even how they came about is not always certain. For me, the most interesting word in your post is plat. I have not heard it before but now that I have looked in to it a little more, the word platform suddenly takes on new meaning for me.

    1. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard “plat,” Gallivanta. My first thought was that your unfamiliarity may point to differences in methods of land development between our countries. It’s one of those words I had to double-check while writing. I use it easily, but suddenly I wasn’t sure it meant what I thought it meant. I was happy to find that it does.

      The name that tickled me while I was writing this was one I didn’t use because I didn’t find it in any sources about naming the town of Indianola. Indian Point is sometimes shown on nautical charts and fishing maps as Gallinipper Point.

      The gallinipper is a ferocious mosquito, one that cursed people along Lavaca Bay as much as it does us, and it’s been around for a long time. There’s a description of the little beastie, along with some history and etymology, here. Since it seems especially fond of post-hurricane flooding, I’m wondering if it didn’t show up at Indian Point until after 1851, when the first big storm came through.

      1. Plat may be in use with land developers and lawyers in NZ but I really can’t recall hearing it or seeing it here. Development plans, plots, titles ….. are all in common use. As for those Gallinippers! They sound scary. Could a Gallivanta go fast enough to escape a Gallinipper? I doubt if this one could!

    2. If we translate the first part of the word from Latin to the native English cognate, a platform is a flatform. Not all that glitters is gold, however, and the plat that is a type of map started out as plot. Because people lay maps out flat to use them, plot in its map sense got transformed to plat.

      1. Now I wonder if this relates to something else: flat-footing. The name of the traditional Appalachian dance form often is explained as a result of the feet remaining flat on the ground. That’s the explanation offered by the young woman in the video. But the dancers use a small platform that sometimes is called a flat. Ergo: flat-footing.

  6. Oh, goodness, you are writing about one of my loves—interesting names of towns, and how they came to be named. On long trips, long before smartphones, the children and I would study the US atlas and read out the quirkiest names we could find. We would also quiz each other on states and capitols. We still carry an atlas with us on road trips, even with the GPS.

    Ohio has an Oxford, Paris, Winchester, and London, as well as, I think, a New London. Kentucky also has Paris, Winchester and London. West Virginia is just rife with off-beat and quirky names. My favorite is Beauty. Ohio has a little town close to where I grew up, a college town, by the name of Rio Grande, pronounced Ry-o Grand. I love it when anyone tries to call it by the correct Spanish pronunciation, and I can clue them in on the hick way of saying it. :)

    I can’t wait to read the second part of this fascinating story.

    1. A friend was telling me recently about one of her acquaintances who has a real love of maps. She has boxes of them: road maps, historic maps, atlases. It sounds like the two of you would get along just fine. I’m a map and atlas person myself, and still prefer maps for travel.

      Pronunciations are tricky, and a fun way to separate the locals from visitors. Of course, I’ve been in Texas for years, and there still are some names I can’t get exactly right, like Mexia. There are three primary pronunciations going around, and two of them are dead wrong.

      We always know when someone from out of state’s been hired to read news or do traffic reports on the radio. Names like Refugio, San Felipe, and Kuykendahl get them every time.

      My favorite name for an Iowa town is What Cheer. Today, it might have been named Yo!, or Whassup?

      1. Muh-hay-yuh is the way my step grandfather, a native, pronounced it, he of the palomino peppers. . . . of course, up in the panhandle, we have “Floydada” (named for Floyd and Ada somebody), Idalou — the “correct” pronunciation only has two syllables, Lamesa — not pronounced like the Spanish “La Mesa” but “La-MEE-sa,” and Amarillo, which is not pronounced like the Spanish “ah-mah-ree-yo” (means the color yellow), but good old anglofied “A-ma-RIL-lo” And then we have the imaginative names of Brownfield, Littlefield, Levelland, Plainview (yep, it is), and my favorite, Earth.

        1. I don’t remember ever hearing of Earth. Of course I had to run to the Handbook, where I found this:

          “Originally Halsell called the place Fairlawn or Fairleen, but it was renamed Earth, supposedly for a sandstorm blowing when storekeeper and first postmaster C. H. Reeves had to come up with a name acceptable to postal authorities in Washington. Another story is that Reeves described the storm in a letter to Washington and received the reply: “The earth seems to move in your country. You will call the post office Earth.” Still another story is that Halsell was impressed with the region’s fertile soil and wanted the name Good Earth, which the post office shortened.”

          What is a fact is that the population has grown. Apparently Earth has good soil for growing a town.

          Every time I see Levelland, I laugh. I lived in this state for years trying to pronounce it like Llano, before I took another look and realized: Level-land.

  7. Linda,
    How things, places, people come to be named is interesting. I had a friend named Barbara Carol. I asked how her mother chose her name. She said her mother told her it was the first nurse she heard paged over the intercom at the hospital the day she was born.

    The streets in my old neighborhood were named after the families who first lived there. One was named after my family. When I was a teenager, someone “down town” wanted to change it and succeeded. So that’s that.

    Looking forward to the rest of this story.

    1. Even my right-down-the-middle parents choose Linda as my name because no one ever had heard it. They found it in a book, and it was noted as uncommon. Today? We’re everywhere, Bella, ready to take over the world!

      One of the delights in Liberia was the constant re-naming. People could choose to change their name as they pleased, so it was common for changes from tribal names to westernized names (or vice-versa) to take place. At the hospital, there would be notes on the bulletin board saying things like, “From this day forward, Sumoiwuo Wollah will be known as David Washington.” It could be confusing, but a new name invariably meant some kind of life passage.

      Those downtown folks can be a pain, can’t they?

    1. Amicus is a nice, friendly name. Brief, too.

      I see your Sciota is connected to the East Fork of the La Moine River. I’ve never seen that used in the singular. Des Moines, sure — both the river and the city in Iowa. Interesting. Maybe La Moine from Illinois found some friends and settled Des Moines. “Spose?

  8. I always learn so much when I come here, Linda — thank you! When I lived in Texas, I heard allusions to the camel experiment, but I’m afraid I dismissed them as more “big talk”! Now I’m eager to hear your Part II.

    I’ve heard of the Mississippi version of Indianola, but I never knew other states had cities by that name. And naturally, Mississippians would come up with an interesting explanation of how it came to be called Indianola.

    That reminds me of yet another small Mississippi town we used to drive through on our treks south to visit relatives when I was a kid. The town was Winona. Daddy always told us it was named after a little girl decided to use the bathroom beneath the town’s only stoplight and her horrified Southern mama exclaimed, “Why, Nona!”

    1. You’ll have to wait a little longer than Part II to hear about the camels, Debbie. They’re going to need their very own post, once this series is over. But there will be plenty of delights to entertain you until we get to the camels.

      I knew Indianola, MS, from my travels through the Delta and the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale. BB King grew up there as a child, and it’s blue-saturated country, for sure.

      As for Winona, we had relatives in Winona, Minnesota. I remember being there, but only vaguely. I was pretty young, and more interested in things like whether I might get cookies from the nice strangers.

      Still, my first thought when I hear “Winona” always is the line from the song “Route 66” — “Don’t forget Winona!”

  9. I remember my father inquiring about directions to San Felipe when he would come visit his sister in Houston, or asking where San Jacinto was. Unfortunately, he asked about them giving them their proper Spanish pronunciation and got no where until some locals set him straight.

    Debbie’s story about Winona caught my attention as it is a small place just northeast of Tyler in Smith County where I did the end of grade school and beginning of junior high.

    I like your theory of the combination of Indian + ola, however as I checked out the affix -ola I came across a Nigerian origin time and time again. hmmm…makes me wonder if Africans who came to TX originated from Nigeria especially since Indianola is a port city. The Freedom Center in Cincinnati has a stunning account and maps of where Africans who came to the New World came from. In addition, we can consider the fact that Indian slave labor was gradually replaced by African slave labor. Of course this is just speculation on my part, but perhaps there’s evidence linking the two populations and perhaps the origin of Indianola. I could be way off the mark, but I can understand how fascinating it is to study these etymologies of place names. I must read Part II and perhaps find out.

    Re: Woman Hollering Creek, probably can be linked to the Mexican legend of “La llorona.” My colleague Brandy A. Harvey wrote an essay on Woman Hollering Creek included in the following collection of essays on this subject

    1. I think the naming of “our” Indianola can be linked to Mary Mitchel Brown and her combination of “Indian” with “ola” with a high degree of certainty. You might glance at my reply to Steve’s comment, above, to see my reasoning. I am going to pursue it a bit more, though.

      Apart from that, activity in mid-coastal Texas before Indianola took root consisted primarily of the French and Spanish wrangling with each other, and with the Karankawa Indians.

      After Mexico won independence from Spain and began encouraging settlement, population growth around the middle coast remained slow, primarily because there was no deepwater port. It’s not just that there weren’t any slave ships — there weren’t any ships. After Indianola was developed, there were ships galore, but the arriving immigrants were German, Silesian, Czech and assorted other Europeans.

      On the other hand, by the time of the 1875 storm, there were (as the records put it) colored people in town.. I got lost for an entire evening in the Indianola Immigrant Database, part of the TXGenWeb project, and found, among other things, that 58 colored people were missing after that storm, along with at least one of their churches.

      What’s most amazing to me is that Indianola lasted only forty years: 1846 to 1886. But that’s getting ahead of the story!

      Now that you mention the Cisneros book, I remember it. I did take a look at the legend of La Llorona. There’s something else I’d like to explore. Where can I buy an extra forty years to do all this?

  10. Another great history lesson. Here are a few other examples: Thane, Alaska named for the gold mine owned by Bart Thane became Juneau. Our own district of Irvington was formerly Hardscrabble. The name of Fremont itself was drawn from a hat which included other more satisfactory names reminiscent of Spanish Mission San Jose. Redwood City on the Bay. once was filled with redwood trees as was Oakland, CA filled with oak. My own 12th great-grandfather was instrumental in naming Woburn, Mass. though I have no idea of its significance.

    1. Oh, Kayti! There really is a Hardscrabble? I just went looking, and discovered that, according to our friendly Etymology Online, the word first appeared in Lewis and Clark’s journals. And look at this: there truly is a Hardscrabble Country Club. That may be the Oxymoron of the Week.

      Woburn MA, is named after Woburn, Bedfordshire, in England. It’s about five miles from Milton Keynes, and it has a safari park, among other treasures. Dire Straits played Woburn Abbey in 1992, and gave quite a nice concert.

      Here’s a Chronological History of Woburn, MA, that’s beautifully done. Let me know if you find your grandfather!

  11. I don’t know how in the world you come up with ideas but this is really fascinating — even though I’ve never heard of any Indianolas! (Although one of my favorite town names is Cynthiana — I always figured it was named after the mayor’s wife or some such thing!) What a wonderful history lesson you give us. And more to the point, you may well send me on a hunt to learn how Lansing or Gaylord (cottage town) got its name!

    1. It’s easy to pinpoint the genesis of this post, Jeanie. After Christmas, I made a side trip to Indianola on my way home from Port O’Connor — “just becase.” I spent some time taking photos, and while I was doing so I had an idle thought: “I really should track down any relationship between [Iowa and Texas] Indianolas.”

      Well, I did, and by the time I got done, I had the outline for a three-part post! Five parts, actually, if you count separate posts for the camels and a bell.

      You do need to look up Lansing and Gaylord. Both names have interesting histories, but Lansing’s is hilarious. In fact, I’ll even give you a start on Lansing.

  12. It’s interesting how in the past town names evolved and changed over time When we take a long car trip across several states I’m often surprised how it seems like I keep seeing some town names in state after state. . . Milton. . .. Danville. . .Oakdale.. . etc.

    1. We’ve noticed the same thing, Sheryl. What makes it even more interesting is that there are so many explanations for the same name. What’s really fun is to ask a resident how their town got its name. It’s surprising how many don’t know. It’s also interesting that, in some states, the proportion of people who do know is much higher — generally, where there’s a greater connection to the land, or more cohesive communities.

  13. Weirdly, Indianola was the subject of a recent ch8 PBS travel/history show. Enjoyed all the views of the place – video episode probably online. (Have you been to that museum there?) It was a huge city for the time until those two hurricanes.

    I always enjoy all the history and stories you ferret out. As kids we always laughed at the thought of camels being imported here. What did the other animals think of those big footed plodders. Wonder if they even teach that anymore in school? So much history is being lost by neglect (another reason for avoiding Common Core in schools – bypassing states’ history. Depends on your view, whether it’s important citizens really the the important things each state did/history of life in that state, or if it’s all about only the big US as a whole that counts…depends on the objective.)

    Fun post – can’t wait for the rest!

    1. I didn’t have a clue PBS did a special, Phil, but it certainly is a worthy topic. Do you mean the Calhoun County Museum in Port Lavaca? I’ve not been there, but I will be in the near future. They have the last lens from the Matagorda lighthouse. It’s not the one that would have been in place (or buried in the sand) when my gr-gr-grandpa was there during the Civil War, but it still would be neat to see. Apparently the remains of Ft. Esperanza are about 300 yards offshore, now. I wonder if a good norther would uncover any of that.

      We had an entire year of Iowa history when I was in junior high. I confess I don’t remember much from the class, but I’m not sure my interest level was very high at the time. Maybe we become more interested in the past as we age — there’s so much more of it, after all!

      Sometimes I do wonder if my growing love of history has to do with a preference for watching a country knit itself together, rather than tear itself apart. But that’s another subject, for another time.

      I’m eager to get a copy of Brownson Malsch’s book, which seems to be “the” history to read. He interviewed a lot of folks with Indianola roots who still were around, and I suspect I’ll know some of them. At least I got to hear some of the stories. I just wish I’d listened more.

  14. I learned so much in this partial piece that I won’t even begin to list them here, but I especially like Ms. Brooks’ idea of naming a place Indianola and then giving the streets tribe names. Works for me. And then to learn that camels were shipped here? From the middle east? To cross the desert from TX to CA? Wow! How resourceful! Wonder what happened to those de-enlisted dromedaries when the war started? And other odd questions are now running through my brain . . . interesting stuff, very, very interesting!

    1. Well, now. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that you’d like the tribal street names. You have a few tribal names in your area, as I recall. Caddoo and Atakapa come to mind — and of course the Houma.. Others recall Mississippi and Alabama, especially the Natchez Trace, and that danged Choctaw Bridge that BIllie Joe jumped off!

      And yes, the camels came by ship, and it’s quite a tale.As for what happened to them when the war started… Let’s just say that the swamp isn’t the only place where strange things are seen.

      But first we have to get past a sculptor as crazy in her own way as Kenny Hill ever thought to be, and a couple of hurricanes. Stay tuned!

  15. Wow, you sure did your homework for this post, Linda. We’re lucky….Amherst is named after a British general who reputedly gave the local Native Americans small pox infected blankets …probably to save on bullets. No name changes yet although a small cadre of upset citizens have campaigned for one. Another local town…Belchertown, which hosts part of my favorite place, Quabbin Reservoir….is named after a former governor. Some folks prefer the original “Crystal Springs”. Sounds better to me too.

    My guess is that, in the future, towns will follow the example of the modern sports arena and sell naming rights to the highest bidder. How does “Exxon-Mobil, Montana impress you?

    1. That’s quite a story you linked. I’d heard about smallpox blankets, but only vaguely. I must say, the line “Extirpate this Execrable Race” alliterates nicely, but that’s about the end of its virtues. I’d hate to think someone actually could plot such a thing, but there is a good bit of evidence, isn’t there?

      The Karankawa tribe, who lived in coastal Texas, received similar treatment from some Europeans, although they could give as well as they got. They finally were exterminated, after being hounded to Mexico and back.

      I’m with you on Crystal Springs, although I’m still laughing at the idea of naming rights. How about TGIFlorida,or Ozarka, Arkansas? This could be the coming thing. That’s why you never, ever should suggest it to anyone associated with a corporation!

      1. Sadly, with all that is happening in the world with no end in sight, I am not surprised any longer by such human cruelty. We have so much potential for good but unfortunately for many the slide into depravity seems greased for ease.

        Mum’s the word.

  16. The German immigrants who went on to found Roundtop, Tx first settled on one of the bayous near Houston. However, they were beset with malaria and were forced to move inland. My grandmother lost a younger sister and a stepfather to typhoid (don’t recall the exact date offhand, but it would have been in the late 1890’s), and her grandfather probably lost his wife and youngest child (the little girl was two, and they both died in1881) in either a typhoid or cholera epidemic. They had both with appalling regularity.

    Even we Texans forget that the third of the top three ethnic groups (Anglos, Hispanics) in Texas are the Germans, the descendants of those people who immigrated from the Germanic states (Prussia, Saxony, etc.). Several high-ranking (but land-poor) German noblemen had made arrangements with the Mexican Government for grants of land based on the number of settlers they could get to immigrate and settle in Texas. The Mexican government knew that in order to solidify their claim to the Texas territory, they needed Anglo-European(as opposed to the Indian tribes already there) to settle and homestead there — That’s what Stephen F. Austin was doing in Texas — founding a settlement and recruiting people to come settle there.

    Unfortunately, “uninvited” settlers from the US were coming into the Texas territory to take advantage of the good, “free” land, and “squatting” — that’s part of what sparked the conflict that culminated with the “Texicans” winning their independence and declaring Texas a republic in 1836. To put your story of Indianola in context, Texas was annexed as a state by the United states in December of 1845, and the year Indian Point was founded, 1846, was the start of the Mexican-American war (“From the halls of Montezuma”) which was triggered by a dispute over what was the southwestern boundary of Texas (The Republic of Texas said it was the Rio Grande, and so did the USA when they annexed Texas; the Mexicans said it was the Nueces River.)

    1. One of the things that amused me while I was combing through documents was the repeated assertion that the most accurate records for yellow fever and cholera may be in Army records rather than newspapers. Apparently newspapers weren’t always willing to report accurate numbers of cases. After all, they had a vested interest in encouraging emigration, and splashing cholera/yellow fever all over the front page wasn’t going to help the cause. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      As for the Germans, it wasn’t only Mexican enticement that caused them to board those ships. Political and economic conditions in Germany weren’t the best at the time, and a reduction in the German population was seen as a good thing. Prince Carl’s grand scheme probably sounded good in Bremen and Hanover. On the empty oyster flats of Matagorda Bay, on Christmas eve, with no shelter from the northers and so on? Somebody needs to make a movie.

      You’re right, of course, that other events were swirling around the new immigrants. Goliad, Victoria, and San Antonio were well established, and important in the battle for Texas independence. I read some tales of the Goliad Road, traveled by ox-cart by so many. The most striking tale I came across was of a group of travelers who came across a cart, oxen and family. They’d been mired in the mud for such a time that only the bones remained: oxen and people alike.

  17. So you have me thinking about place names around here. Our community is Slatesville, named for the Slate family who seem to have had the honor only because their farm hosted the post office. But Slatesville no longer has a post office, is no longer a mailing address, and the name lives on only as the name of the road we live on (there being no people named Slate left here–although there are a few of us who are Slate descendants hanging around).

    Our mailing address is now Keeling, named for another family who once lived here but are now long gone. Our county seat is Chatham, but before that was named Competition, by optimistic capitalists. It was changed to Chatham to honor William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, for his support of the rights of the American colonists. And thus our county became Pittsylvania.

    Meanwhile nearby Danville took its name not from a person named Dan, but rather from the Dan River, which was itself named for the Biblical Dan, an early explorer having named another nearby spot Eden, a seemingly immodest name that it still carries. Our public school is in Kentuck, named by the settlers who decided to stop there rather than proceed to their originally intended destination. It adjoins Ringgold, whose name is from a local story involving a gold ring but I can’t recall the details this morning. We have a Laurel Grove and an Oak Grove, so-named for obvious reasons.

    I could go on of course. I find that kind of thing fascinating. As you know lots of places in the South have Indian names. We are surrounded by such places but I can’t think of any in the immediate area. And then there is White Flint, named for a pretty quartz that can be used to start fires and is a nuisance in our fields.

    1. Bill, your list of names is a good reminder of the connections among parts of the country. A friend lives in Chatham, Massachusetts. At first I thought there wasn’t any connection, because the Wiki said her town was named after the town Chatham, in Kent, England. Then I figured out the link between Pitt’s title and the town, and it all made sense.

      I suspect you know your locals have Eden seriously misplaced. According to Mormon teaching, the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. As for Ringgold, it’s also the name of a county in Iowa, named for Maj. Samuel Ringgold, a hero of the 1846 Battle of Palo Alto, fought during the Mexican-American War. Here’s a tidbit: it’s one of twenty-six Iowa counties that don’t share their name with any other county in the US. Independent cusses.

      As for that flint, like so much in life it can be blessing or curse. It doesn’t make life on the farm any easier for you, but on the other hand, It helped to preserve Kansas’s Flint Hills. No one was putting a plow to that ground.

  18. Fascinating history. Where I live in the UK, in a semi-rural area, our local parish council (the lowest level of local government) is always asked (by the county council) to contribute suggestions for the naming of new roads associated with housing developments. They are often at considerable odds with the developer’s idea of a ‘name’ to help ‘sell’ their houses, but thankfully it it rare for our suggestions to be overridden. Thankfully we are listened to.

    There is an area of southern Switzerland that we visit where a lot of the names of places have north african associations – the reason being that the valley concerned was the first Swiss valley encountered when migrants crossed over a trading col from Italy.

    1. I suppose everyone has an agenda, Andy. But it’s good that those who will be living in the developments have a voice. Developers can be remarkably cynical in their naming, for one thing. I can’t tell you the number of houses here that are described as “lovely waterfront property on Blue Heron Drive” when, in fact, they’re tiny, squooshed-up cracker boxes facing a narrow and recently dredged drainage ditch. The name may entice, but a dump with a fancied-up name is still a dump.

      That’s interesting, about the African names in Switzerland. I never would have made that association. As it happens, I read just today about a Liberian war criminal who was arrested in Switzerland. I suspect more than a few have made that journey north.

  19. Then there is the story of the Swede who married an Indian princess: they named their daughter Indianola. (Before you google it, Linda, I just made that up. :)) I love the way you dig into things and add to the world’s knowledge of trivia.

    I am sure you have read William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways.” He would often travel somewhere because he liked the unusual name of a town. If you haven’t read “Blue Highways,” by all means, do.


    1. Oh, Curt — you can’t fool me. I know they called that baby girl Svenola. (You asked for it!)

      I have read “Blue Highways,” several times. It was my introduction to his writing, many years ago. I enjoyed his “Prairy Erth” so much, but I was disappointed with “Roads to Quoz.” I have it, and have dipped into it several times, but I keep getting exasperated with the introspection and the cutesy conversations with his wife. I guess I like more travel in my travel writing.

      But, yes. “Blue Highways” is a fine book, not only for what it describes, but also for what it says about a good way to travel.

  20. What a magnificent piece of detective work into the naming of towns! The twists and turns of the Indianola story are particularly delicious. When we first moved up into the Hudson Valley, I became quite curious about town names. For one, I HATED our town’s bland name–and it made no sense, as the PO for the town is miles away, with four hamlet/village POs, three of which have much more appealing names, much closer by. Moreover, we had once been part of a hamlet that was “history rich”, named after a family mill, and apparently on the underground railroad route. But our little hamlet doesn’t exist anymore, and it was the PO lady who told the tale: our hamlet’s absorption into the town we’re now in was the result of zip code tyranny!

    1. Susan, if I’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that the ways of the Post Office are wondrous strange. Apart from zip codes, they seemed in earlier times to be be a little impatient with towns that couldn’t make up their minds about their name. And then, of course, there were towns that chose the perfect name, only to be told it was taken, and that they should try again. It had to be frustrating.

      Town boundaries are just as crazy around here. Driving down a primary road I often take, I go through seven “towns” in a very few miles, There’s even a short jaunt through a finger of Houston that stretches all the way down here. Ah, well.

      I love your use of the word “hamlet.” We don’t have hamlets in Texas that I know of. In fact, I don’t remember ever coming across a hamlet. Is it a New England/Northeastern term, or your term? I had to giggle, because the first thing it reminded me of comes from your sidebar: “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be…”

      I wonder if things would have turned out differently for Hamlet if he’d lived in a hamlet?

  21. It really is very interesting how places are named. The Kitchener I live in was once called Berlin, until the city fathers in the early 20th century decided it better to keep their German heads low in this very English part of Ontario. Interestingly, at its inception, Kitchener was nearly called Ebyville after the Mennonite Bishop that brought those Penn state Deutsche up north.

    Every now and then someone floats the idea of returning to Berlin. The name is found often enough on older furniture (Berlin once had a sizeable number of woodworkers), and when I see it I must admit a certain affinity settles upon me.

    1. Allen, I had no idea there were so many Germans up there. Of course, my knowledge of ethnic groups and immigration patterns in Canada is sketchy to non-existent. I know about the Ukranians in Saskatchewan, and the French in Quebec — well, and the English, and their interactions with the Acadians. But generally, I just think of you all as Canadians.

      I actually thought of you yesterday. The trawler I’m working on needed to have the teak trim around the bridge deck replaced. It was essentially like shaping 1″ quarter round to fit any number of curves. The fellow who made and fit the pieces was so good – it was a beautiful process to watch. There is just “something” about woodworking and finishing — I still remember how much pleasure you took in the refinishing project you wrote about.

      Speaking of Germans — I just posted the second part of this series today, and it’s all about German immigration to Texas. I suspect many people don’t know about their migration here, either.

      1. Thanks for this! I’ll read your post with relish, since I know a little of the German presence in Texas. My colleague’s daughter just moved to Austin to work with a Lutheran Social Service agency there. Interesting you mentioned the desk post. Just yesterday I found myself mesmerized by the grain, and recalling the fun I had!

  22. You could make a fine living offering a column a month on the origin of a town’s name. Funny that you would choose Indianola.
    In trying to locate a new friend’s house in a new housing development in Goodyear, Arizona, I forgot that I was supposed to turn left at Indianola. Thus, I wandered around for 20 minutes because my GPS did not have these new streets in its system.

    1. It seems that Indianola’s here to stay, Cheri — particularly if they’re giving the name to new developments in Arizona. Of course I had to look up Goodyear. My first thought was the right thought: it is named after Goodyear Tire and Rubber. What surprised me is that they used to grow cotton for their tires on the land. That must have been some time ago.

      A friend is using a borrowed GPS for the first time this week, to help her navigate through Dallas/Ft. Worth. I wished her luck. Now, I’m just sitting back waiting for the stories.

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Otto.

      Just for fun, I went looking to see if there might be an Indianola, Norway. There doesn’t seem to be, but I did find this, which made me laugh. The blue line shows the driving distance from Indianola, Iowa to Norway, Iowa. And best of all? That blue line goes right through my home town of Newton, Iowa.

      I don’t think that “means anything” in the grand scheme of things, but it is a lovely bit of serendipity, nonetheless.

  23. Very much enjoyed reading more about Indianola’s history. My grandfather, Frank Theodore Dexter, was born in Indianola, Tx in 1870. Luckily the family moved to Galveston before the hurricane in 1876. His mother, Mary J. Koch, was from Hannover, Germany and his dad, Samuel Franklin Dexter, was from Charleston, S.C.

    1. It always pleases me when someone with a personal connection to one of my pieces stumbles across it. I found your grandfather’s birth record online. Did the family stay in the Galveston area after moving there? I’ve spent a good bit of time in the old Galveston cemeteries, and the name Dexter seems familiar. When I checked just now, I see there are some Dexters buried there, although I couldn’t find the gravestones in my photographs. I did find a Samuel Franklin Dexter buried in San Antonio; perhaps that’s your grandfather.

      Many years ago I knew a woman whose parents arrived in Indianola, but then moved inland, also before the storm. As she used to say, at least they didn’t move to Galveston.

      I’ve been thinking about Indianola a good bit during Hurricane Harvey. I’ve wondered how the statue of LaSalle fared, and whether the remnants of the old courthouse still are in place. I hope they survived, but the power of water isn’t to be denied.

      Thanks so much for reading, and for commenting. One of my friends who lives in Charleston will be interested in your connection, too, as she has deep roots there.

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