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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Burnt Boot Creek

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
All we wanted were freshly made breakfast tacos followed up with some sweet Mexican postres - but we ended up with a mystery along with our groceries.

Northbound on Interstate 35 on our way home from a South Texas dove hunt, we began to realize we needed some food on top of all that coffee we'd been drinking. Stopping at one of the several fast-food franchises we passed would have been easy enough, but I had a taste for some madre-padre food.

"Let's check out Devine," I told my friend Roger Moore. "I bet we can find a mom and pop place with some real food."

The memory of the time I had dared to suggest eating at a Thai food place in Canyon still fresh on his mind, my colleague-in-arms nevertheless hit his turn signal. He pulled his pickup off the interstate for State Highway 132, which leads to Devine. That's when we saw the green Texas Department of Transportation sign that temporarily got our minds off our growling stomachs: Burnt Boot Creek. Not a particularly appetizing name, but one that got our attention.

"Wonder how they came up with that name?" I asked. A West Texan who wears his cowboy hat in the shower and boots for house shoes, Roger had no answer for what has proven to be a tough-as-leather question.

Texas has no shortage of Elm, Oak, Dry, or Brushy creeks, but Burnt Boot Creek?

The words "burnt" and "boot" aren't a particularly likely pair. I could see Burnt Pear (as in Prickly Pear) Creek, Burnt Rock Creek, even plain old Boot Creek, but why Burnt Boot?

I wrote the name down so I'd remember to check on it when I got back to Austin. I had every confidence the origin of the name could be found on line with no more difficulty than typing the words "Burnt Boot Creek" into my favorite search engine. Easy as pouring sand out of a boot, I figured. But the digital vastness of the World Wide Web proved silent on how Burnt Boot Creek got its name, noting only that it is a stream in Medina County rising at Ghost Hill and flowing to Devine.

The creek begins at 29 degrees, 7 minutes north latitude, 98 degrees, 54 minutes, 28 seconds west longitude and ends at 29 degrees, 13 minutes north latitude, 98 degrees, 54 minutes, 56 seconds west longitude. In other words, it is not much of a stream length-wise.

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Geological Survey site offers assorted maps showing the creek, but the federal cartographers apparently think that merely pinpointing a geographical feature is good enough for government work. They offer no explanation as to how Burnt Boot Creek came by its name.

My search did indicate that there's only one Burnt Boot Creek in Texas and apparently only one other similarly named stream in the nation, that being in Washington State in the vicinity of Burnt Boot Mountain.

The Handbook of Texas, a treasure trove of information, has no mention of Burnt Boot Creek. Neither does a history of Medina County.

So how did Burnt Book Creek get is evocative handle? Unless some old timer has some insight, at this late date we may never know.

Obviously, the back story has something to do with a burnt boot. Someone either found a burnt boot in the vicinity and thought that would make a catchy name for a creek or sustained a burnt boot along its banks.

The later seems more plausible. Once, camping at historic Castle Gap not far from the Pecos, my friends and I sat around a campfire drinking coffee and telling tales.

With cowboy-school teacher-turned talespinner Paul Patterson holding court, it was easy to lose yourself, especially when he started telling how he had once seen a cowboy boil a "pot" of coffee in a brown paper bag. I didn't drift back into this century until I began noticing that my feet seemed awfully hot.

On closer inspection, I discovered steam rising from my boots, the rubber soles beginning to melt from being too close to the fire. I still have my feet as well as those short-top hunting boots, but I came very close to finding out first hand about burnt boots. Had Patterson's story been just a bit more engrossing, "burnt boots" might not have been the first two words out of my mouth, but in retrospect I can understand how the term could have special meaning.

So until someone comes up with a better explanation, my broad theory on Burnt Boot Creek's nomenclature will have to stand. One thing's for sure: The breakfast tacos we enjoyed in Devine smelled a lot better than burnt boots.
Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" >
December 14, 2006 column
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