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Texas Tales

published: June 12th 2020
by: Mike Cox

Texas has 1,215 incorporated towns and cities, and another 5,000-plus wide spots in the road not counting ghost towns.
    While most Lone Star place names honor people or recognize some geographic feature, with that many locales needing names, early-day Texans showed both creativity and a propensity to memorialize where they came from in picking names for their communities. Beyond that, some Texas place names demonstrate someone’s sense of humor.
    Some names clearly have stories behind them. Unfortunately, with the passing of time and people, the real stories turn into myth or legend. For instance, while it doesn’t take a social scientist to figure out how No Trees, Texas got its name, the story behind the naming of Groom, Texas is not as clear, even though it obviously had something to do with a fellow about to get hitched or at least a guy who cleaned up nice. And for Tell, Texas, no telling.  
    Spend a little time perusing the list of towns and cities in the venerable Texas Almanac, and you can turn that into a relatively amusing parlor game. Especially fun is looking for place names that fit into a category.
     We all know, for example, that Fort Worth is also referred to as Cowtown, but Texas has at least three other communities honoring its bovine heritage – Angus in Navarro County, Hereford in Deaf Smith County and Whiteface in Cochran County.
    Texas contains ample inspiration for the landscape artist, and even a former post office in Mason County named Art.
    Nothing is more important to many Texans than their shooting irons.  The names of at least five Texas communities pay homage to the Second Amendment: Cut and Shoot in Mont-gomery County, Gun Bar-rel City in Henderson County, Gunsight in Ste-phens County, Remington Ranch in Harris County and Winchester in Fayette County. Finally, while there is no Smith and Wesson, Texas, there is a Smith in Wood County and a Wesson in Comal County.
    Troubled by seasonal affective disorder? These places are bound to cheer you up: Dawn in Deaf Smith County (for morning people), Eden in Concho County (just watch out for the snakes), Happy (enough said) in Randall and Swisher counties, New Harmony in Smith County, and New Hope. In fact, New Hope springs eternal in the Lone Star State. Six different communities in six counties (Cherokee, Colin, Jones, San Augustine, Smith and Wood) offer New Hopes.
    In addition, Texas has Paradise in Wise County, Rainbow in Somervell County, Smiley in Gonzales County, Sunset (for the nightowls) in Montague County, and Sweet Home in Lavaca County. There’s even Sweetwater in Nolan County to wash all this down with.
    Texas has numerous in-state distinations that sound decidedly out-of-state: Atlanta in Cass County; Colorado City in Mitchell County (alas, no snow-topped mountains); Denver City (ditto) in Gaines and Yoakum counties; Detroit in Red River County (its not even bankrupt); Memphis in Hall County (alas, Elvis has left the building); Miami in Roberts County (lacking the vice or Don Johnson); Nevada in Collin County (no gambling allowed); New Boston in Bowie County (sans Redsox); Santa Fe in Galveston County (again, no mountains) and Tennessee Colony in Anderson County.
    Feel like taking a trip outside the U.S?  No need to buy a plane ticket, put up with airport security or pay those luggage fees. You don’t even need a passport. Just visit Amsterdam in Brazoria County, Asia in Polk County, Athens in Henderson County, Canadian in Hemphill County, China in Jefferson County, Egypt in, take your pick, Leon, Montgomery or Wharton counties, Italy in Ellis County, London in Kimble County, Nazareth in Castro County, New Berlin in Guadalupe County, New London in Rusk County, Paris in Lamar County, Scotland in Archer County, or Turkey in Hall County.
    No need to wait for the development of commercial space travel to visit other places in the solar system: For stay-at-home types, there’s Earth in Lamb County and for the more adventurous, Mercury in McCulloch County and Venus in Ellis and Johnson counties.
    There’s even a city named after this state. Just set your car’s GPS for Texas City in Galveston County. ?       
    Tired after all this galavanting around? Maybe you need to spend some time in Energy in Comanche County. For those on the fence about traveling, there’s always Texline in Dallam County.
    Can’t afford to take your kids to Disneyland? Texas offers some fun-sounding alternatives: Elmo in Kaufman County, Kermit in Winkler County, Nemo in Somerville County, Tarzan in Martin County, and Winnie in Chambers County.
    Texas also has plenty of zoological town names: Beeville in Bee County, Buffalo in Leon County, Muleshoe in Bailey County, and White Deer in Carson County. For those who believe in animals yet to be discovered, there’s Bigfoot in Frio County.
    Of course, more practical-minded Texans might think this place name game is just plain Loco. That town’s in Childress County.                      
    Nearly six years before Hiroshima, a tremendous explosion shook the earth and briefly turned dark into light near the West Texas town of Stanton.
    Well, it’s a bit overblown to compare what took place on the morning of Sept. 29, 1939 with what happened in Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, but the 1939 event likely still stands as the biggest bang ever heard in Martin County. The explosion in Texas claimed no lives, but it did play a role in the beginning of a new life.     
    Since the 1920s, when oil production first went wild in and around the Permian Basin, the DuPont Co. operated was what known as a shooting station about two-and-a-half miles west of Stanton. In the oil patch, “shooting” des-cribed the technique in-volved in coaxing oil from geologic formations by lowering exploding tubes of nitroglycerin into a well.
    First produced by an Italian chemist in 1847 but not transformed into a commercially available explosive substance for another 20 years, nitro stood for decades as the most powerful form of explosive known to man. In addition to its formidable power, the product was dangerously unstable. Me-rely shaking a bottle of its liquid form could result in an explosion. Heat and flame also could detonate it.
    Given its notorious volatility, it’s no surprise that DuPont wanted to locate its nitro manufacturing plants near the oil patch, but at a reasonably safe distance from any heavily populated area.
    For something as devastatingly powerful as nitro, its means of production was relatively simple. In less than an hour, a few chemicals inert in their own right could be mixed, heated and transformed into an explosive substance capable of erupting into a flash of 5,000-degree gas, while producing a shock wave traveling at 30 times the speed of sound. No wonder its inventor said that nitro should never be used as an explosive or that the man who later commercialized it, Alfred Nobel, went on to fund the prestigious peace prize still awarded in his name. 
    The Stanton facility was a frame structure with only two rooms built on a sloping concrete slab to allow for gravity flow of the ingredients. The plant had a floor of lead sheeting to prevent static electricity, and for the same reason, a steam boiler to provide the needed heat instead of electrical power.
    Normally, three men per shift worked in the plant, but on the morning of Sept. 29, only the chief mixer, a man remembered only as Johnson, and his assistant, Marion Gibson, were on duty. They started work at 3 a.m. and by 4 a.m. they had made 220 quarts of nitro.
    All proceeded apace until Johnson saw smoke coming from the mixing room.
    “Let’s get the heck out of here,” he yelled. “Run!”
    While he probably didn’t say “heck,” he and Gibson raced from the building as fast as they could.
    They made it about 150 yards before the nitro exploded. Even though they were 450 feet from ground zero, the shock wave from the blast knocked both men face-down to the ground. As they lay there, pieces of splintered wood, shattered concrete and shards of lead rained down on them.
    Amazingly, when the debris quit falling, both men stood up uninjured. Their ears ringing and hearts pounding, they walked into Stanton, a community instantly astir after a pre-dawn wakeup call that rattled windows for miles around.
    Johnson called his boss in Odessa to report the explosion. The supervisor instructed him to return to the plant to see if any company property could be salvaged. He did as he was told, but he and Gibson found only a few recognizable remnants of the facility.
    One of the people awakened by the blast was Gibson’s wife, Bernice. Given what her husband did for a living, she didn’t have to lie in bed wondering what had caused the loud noise. She comprehended immediately that the shooting station had blown up, and further concluded that her husband – and the father of her unborn child – had just been killed.
    That stress-induced surge of adrenalin and cortisol sent her into premature labor.  Later that day, she gave birth to a healthy girl the Gibsons named Jeanene.
    While that was good news for the Gibson family, DuPont fired Johnson over the incident. Gibson, however, gained promotion to mixer and stayed with the company for years, making, delivering and detonating nitro in oil wells all over the Southwest. And as she grew older, his daughter Jeanene sure had a good story about her birthday to tell her kids and grandchildren.
SLS

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