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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

County Named After Once Bitter Enemy

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

The majority of Texas counties honor the memory of someone regarded as a state or national hero, but one of the state's 254 political subdivisions is named for a once bitter enemy-the Comanche.

Today, of course, most residents of Comanche County wouldn't want any other name for their part of Texas. It's a distinct, apt, evocative name for a place rich in history. Locals have grown used to it after all these years, but the name choice was highly unusual when first proposed.

On Nov. 20, 1855, state Sen. James Armstrong, who represented McLennan and four other Central Texas counties, introduced "An Act to Create the County of Comanche." Why "Comanche" had been selected as the name of the proposed new county was not explained in the measure, which moved through the Senate and House with only technical amendments and got signed into law on Jan. 25, 1856.

The unusual thing about the Legislature's action in naming the new county was that the state just happened to be at war with the Comanche people at the time. To put that into more modern perspective, imagine how bizarre it would have been in 1942 if someone had suggested naming something in Texas after Tojo or Hitler.

Comanche County, carved from what once was the heart of the Comanche's land, would contain land that had previously been part of Bosque and Coryell counties. The idea was to make local government more accessible to the handful of hardy folks who had settled on the veritable knife blade of the frontier.

Barely a year after creating Comanche County, the Legislature passed a law declaring hostile Indians public enemies and making it legal for Texans to kill them without concern for the state's homicide statues. Comanches of this era did not read newspapers, but if they had, surely they would have wondered what in the world the "chiefs" meeting in that big limestone building in Austin had been thinking: They had just named one of their counties after the Comanches and now gave an official blessing to their extermination?

Meanwhile, settlers and Indians died in raids and skirmishes. At least five of the new county's residents were killed near their homes by Indians, most likely Comanches, just during Comanche County's first year of existence. And more would die violently in the county and elsewhere along the western edge of the state.

No matter the bloodshed, if any of the early settlers in the new county bristled at the nomenclature the legislature had saddled them with, it is not recorded. Of course, a later courthouse fire destroyed all the county's records up to 1860 and the county's newspaper-the Comanche Chief-did not begin publication until 1873.

Given the intensity of one settler's letter to a preacher in Arkansas, surely someone in Comanche County thought it odd that the place they were trying to live had been named for a people who did not want them living there.

"Perhaps at no time in her history has the frontier of Texas had greater cause for alarm than at present,' he wrote. "Bands of hostile Indians have been making decents upon us, drive off our stock in large hurds and murder & plunder our citizens in a brutal manner....In early life I have read novels describing scenes on the frontier that would chill my blood, but reading novels is nothing to compare with realities."

His spelling and grammar skills were not perfect, but there was nothing wrong with his powers of observation. Comanche County was a dangerous place.

The letter was written in Cora, the first county seat. That settlement had been named for Miss Cora Beeman, a Bell County belle. Several possible names had been submitted to the Post Office Department with the petition for mail service for the new county, including Troy, but Cora won out since another community in Texas already had the name of Troy.

Cora as a place name was okay with Washington, but it did not survive as the county's capital. When pioneer resident John Duncan offered in 1858 to donate 240 acres along Indian Creek to the county for more centrally-located town site, the commissioner's court accepted the deal. In 1859, the new community was designated as county seat and named Comanche.

Trouble with the Comanches continued for another decade before the pace of depredations began to slow. By 1873, the appropriately-named Comanche Chief reported that, "It has been about three or four years since any person has been killed by Indians in our county."

Texas' long struggle with the Comanches finally ended as a result of the Red River War when the U.S. Army forced the remnants of a once proud people onto a reservation in what is now Oklahoma in 1875.

Comanche County, incidentally, is one of only two Texas counties named after an Indian tribe. The other is Cherokee County in East Texas. Two other counties have a Native American connection in their name. Panola County got its name from an Indian word for cotton. And while Wichita County was technically named for the Wichita River, the river was named for the Wichita Indians who used to camp along it banks.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May 3 , 2018

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