The word sounds as tough as old rawhide. Whoever Hondo was, he must
have been some hombre, the best of the West.
"So who was Hondo?" my
hunting buddy asked as we passed through the town of Hondo
on our way home from a South Texas dove hunt.
Well, one way to answer
the question is to point out that Hondo was the late John Russell Crouch, one-time
University of Texas swim meet star, all-time humorist, writer (prose and poem),
rancher, philosopher and colorful character.
Born in Hondo in 1916,
at some point Crouch adopted his hometown's name as his own. With a little help
from Waylon Jennings, he went on to make the postage-stamp Gillespie County village
of Luckenbach famous.
But who made the word Hondo famous?
The trail does not go
all that far back. As a Texas place name, Hondo is a relative newcomer, especially
considering that it is so near the venerable city of San
Antonio. When the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad came
through Medina County in 1881, a real estate developer banking on future iron-rail
prosperity platted a town site adjacent to the right of way. He sold the first
lot on October 1, calling the new town Hondo City.
But no, this entrepreneur
was not named Hondo. Back then, hondo started with a little "h." The word is Spanish,
and means deep, as in Deep Creek. Hondo is better known today as a proper noun,
but it got its start as just a plain old noun, albeit one of striking visual and
-- settled in the mid-1840s -- hung on as the Medina County seat for a decade.
In 1892, however, voters decided that Hondo City should have the honor instead.
Three years later, the word "City" got dropped and the name of the post office
Hondo the town's heyday came in World War II, when the Army established an aviation
training field there. Thousands of young men from across the United States got
their start as pilots there, and the word "Hondo" made spread from Texas in letters
home from servicemen and in newspaper accounts of doings around the large military
Maybe one of the people who heard about the town and liked the
sound of its name was a rambling North Dakotan named Louis Dearborn LaMoore.
After his family moved to Oklahoma, he did a little cowboying in Texas before
deciding on word wrangling as a career. He wrote some short stories and a few
formulaic Westerns before pounding out a manuscript that became his breakout book,
a novel called "Hondo."
In addition to coming up with a catchy one-word
title, the writer decided he needed a better pen name. What he hit on was Louis
That was in 1953 and marked the beginning of Hondo's status
as a Western word icon and L'Amour's emergence as a storyteller. The hero of the
story is one Hondo Lane, a scout who rides through Apache country with a dog named
Sam to save a woman and her boy.
Quickly snapped up by Hollywood, "Hondo"
had been transformed into a movie by November 1953. With John Wayne playing Hondo,
the 84-minute, 3-D film proved as popular as the novel.
The book's popularity
has endured. By 1983, it had sold 2.3 million copies. The Western Writers of America
voted it as among the best 25 Western ever published. And Hondo had completed
its transformation from a Spanish noun to a word recognized around the world.
© Mike Cox