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.
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
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
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
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.
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.