Are there really bees in that cave? How some Texas towns got their names

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
  • The town west of Austin on Texas 71 has been Bee Cave and Bee Caves.
  • All Texas names come with a story. We look at a dozen of them.
  • A new book, “Texas Place News,” helps us discover naming origins.

If you are cruising west from Austin along Texas 71 on your way to Spicewood or Marble Falls, do you pass through Bee Cave or Bee Caves?

Despite the counterevidence of stubbornly inconsistent street signs, you will go through the rapidly expanding Hill Country suburb of Bee Cave

Yet it was not always so. This Travis County spot is named for the Mexican honeybees that swarmed in a cavern near what became known as Bee Cave Creek. Yet its first post office opened on April 19, 1870, with Martin V. Lackey as postmaster, under the plural form “Bee Caves,” according to a newly published and quite useful book, “Texas Place Names” by Edward Callary with Jean K. Callary (University of Texas Press).

The authoritative “Handbook of Texas” further reminds us that the settlement was established in the 1850s by Dietrich Bohls — of the Texas Bohls family that gave us veteran newspaper sportswriter Kirk Bohls, although he derives from the Pflugerville branch — and by the 1880s, it hosted a trading post, steam gristmill, cotton gin, general store, church, school and 20 residents.

The public back-and-forth about the name has been going on for a while. On Dec. 7, 1969, the American-Statesman ran a story under the headline: “Tempest in a Bee Hive: Is it ‘Cave’ — or ‘Caves’?” Helen Beck Lallier, a daughter of settler Carl Beck, who also served as postmaster, said: “My father named it Bee Cave, and when he talked about it, he would always say Bee Cave. Yet I have postcards dating back to 1906 stamped out of the post office that spell it with an ‘s.’”

The Cadillac Ranch is one reason to visit Amarillo, which was named either for the soil or the flowers around a playa called Amarillo Lake.

Naming Texas

With a red-jacketed volume of “Texas Place Names” in hand, I thought it would be cool to share what the book says, lightly edited, about the names of some Texas towns and cities served by our Gannett newspaper chain, which distributes the Think, Texas column across the state. Note how many place names were associated with railroads. 

Send your questions and tips about Texas place names to mbarnes@statesman.com.

The town of Alice was named for Alice Gertrudis King, daughter of King Ranch owners Richard and Henrietta King, and also wife of Robert Justus Kleberg, manager of the famed ranch.

Alice: The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway established Bandana Station in the early 1880s. When the application for a post office to be named Kleberg for King Ranch manager Robert Justus Kleberg was denied, the request was resubmitted as Alice, for Alice Gertrudis King, daughter of King Ranch owners Richard and Henrietta King, and also wife of Robert Justus Kleberg. 

She was named in part for the Rincón de Santa Gertrudis and Santa Gertrudis de la Garza land grants of the early 1800s. That land was purchased in the early 1850s by Richard King and then was turned into the storied King Ranch, which bred the Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle, a cross between Brahman bulls and purebred Shorthorn cows that could survive the punishing climate of South Texas and yet produce fine beef. Its Gannett newspaper goes by the charming name of Alice Echo-News Journal.

Abilene: Founded in 1880, this town anticipated the building of the Texas & Pacific Railway. Rancher Claiborne Walker Merchant, known as the “Father of Abilene,” owned much of the townsite and chose the name for the cattle town of Abilene, Kansas, itself named for the biblical Abilene, taken to mean “meadow, grassy plain.” Its enterprising Gannett newspaper is the Abilene Reporter-News.

Amarillo: Founded in the late 1870s on the anticipated route of the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway, this substantial city was laid out by one of the founders of Abilene, James T. Berry, and was originally named Oneida. By November 1887, however, the name had been changed to Amarillo — Spanish for “yellow” — after Amarillo Lake, a place itself named perhaps for the yellow flowers along its banks, or alternatively, for the yellow soil around the lake. The Amarillo Globe-News, which goes back to 1909, serves this Panhandle city.

Anna: This growing town northeast of Dallas is named for Anna Elizabeth Quinlan, daughter of George Austin Quinlan, vice president of the Houston & Texas Central Railway. That company ran lines through the Collin County area in the early 1870s. Its newspaper goes by the graceful name, Anna-Melissa Tribune, since it is shared with neighbor Melissa.

Austin: Having a major city name Austinia was a dream of prospective colonizer Moses Austin, but the only Austinia to materialize was a small settlement on Galveston Bay, managed by Emily Austin, Stephen F. Austin’s sister. That site is now known as Texas City. 

In 1838, George Sutherland, a member of the Second Congress of the Republic of Texas, proposed a site on the Colorado River, known briefly as Waterloo, for the new capital of Texas. Thomas Jones Hardeman, also serving in the Legislature, proposed the name Austin to honor Stephen F. Austin, the empresario who held Anglo-Texas together in the 1820s and ‘30s. The fact that he periodically enslaved African Americans — and ordered the extermination of at least one Native American tribe — is now a topic of off-and-on debate about the city’s name.

Of course, our newspaper is the Austin American-Statesman.

Brownwood: Founded and named in 1857 with the birth of Brown County. We’d love to hear more from our readers from the Brownwood Bulletin about its origins.

The origins of the city name, Corpus Christi, are complicated. What's uncomplicated is the city's deep love for late singer Selena.

Corpus Christi: The city of Corpus Christi was clearly named from Corpus Christi Bay, but the naming of the bay is less certain. According to traditional accounts, the name was given by the expedition of Alfonso Álverez de Pineda, who encountered the bay on the feast of Corpus Christi, “body of Christ,” in the summer of 1519. There is little evidence to support this story, or the credit given by others to René Robert Cavalier, the Sieur de La Salle. 

The first known recorded name of the bay appears in the report of Joaquín de Orobio y Basterra, who explored the Texas Gulf Coast in 1746. He described the bay as San Miguel Arcangel, or “St. Michael the Archangel.” The first reference to the bay as Corpus Christi was apparently by Diego Ortiz Parilla in the mid-1760s. 

The Kinney’s Rancho outpost on the bay, named after scoundrel and opportunist Henry Lawrence Kinney in 1839, had become Corpus Christi by 1846. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times is the distinguished newspaper of that city.

The city of El Paso is named after El Paso del Norte, or “Pass of the North,” which was identified by Spanish explorers of the 1580s for the valley that provided a route through the steep mountains. This photo shows El Paso skyline, about 1895, as seen from Mesa Garden atop the hill at North Santa Fe Street and West Boulevard (now Yandell Boulevard).

El Paso: This one is easy and ancient: El Paso del Norte, or “Pass of the North,” was identified by Spanish explorers of the 1580s for the valley that provided a route through the steep mountains. The first Texas seat of El Paso county was San Elizario. The seat moved to the city of El Paso in 1883. Before that, in 1859, Anson Mills had surveyed a settlement known as Franklin or Smithville that he formally named El Paso after the county. The El Paso Times is the major newspaper in this large city, twinned with Ciudad Juarez on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Glen Rose: This spot was known from about 1850 as Barnard’s Mill for the gristmill operated by Charles Barnard, formerly a trader along the Brazos River. By local tradition, the name was changed to Rose Glen at the suggestion of Annie Jordan, wife of the new site owner, who claimed that the landscape reminded her of the Rose Glen mentioned in stories that she had heard about her ancestral Scotland. Rose Glen became Glen Rose on May 4, 1874. The Glen Rose Reporter, which covers this lovely town, is part of the Gannett chain.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal produces the history column, Caprock Chronicles, named for the West Texas escarpment. Did you know that the Official Texas State Bison Herd roams the acres of Caprock Canyon State Park?

Lubbock: The historically minded and fabulously named Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, home base for the Caprock Chronicles, reminds its readers that the city grew from the competing towns of Monterey, founded early in 1890 by Whitfield Rayner, and Lubbock, founded around the same time by Frank Wheelock, manager of the IOA Ranch. 

The communities joined together as Lubbock in December 1890. The surrounding county was created in 1876 and named for Thomas Saltus Lubbock, a cotton trader born in South Carolina who joined the Texas Revolution. He was involved in the Siege of Bexar and the Texan Santa Fe Expedition. During the Civil War, Lubbock co-organized Terry’s Texas Rangers with Benjamin Franklin Terry. Lubbock was in command of Terry’s regiment when he died of typhoid in Kentucky in 1862.

San Angelo: Founded by merchant Bartholomew J. DeWitt, the name of San Angelo was associated in the 1860s with his wife, Carolina Angela, sister of José Rafael de la Gaza, for whose family Garza County is named. Carolina Angela was known as Santa Angela, shortened to San Angela. After the San Angela post office was opened by Nathan Osmer in 1881, the grammatical incorrectness of combining the Spanish masculine “San” with the feminine “Angela” was pointed out, and the office was renamed San Angelo in 1883. 

I read the San Angelo Standard-Times regularly for its history, especially about Fort Concho, which beckons a short walk from downtown across the Concho River.

Sherman: Created in 1876 and organized in 1889, this site was named after Sidney Sherman, who was born in Massachusetts in 1805. In 1835, Sherman raised a company of volunteers in Kentucky to aid in the Texas Revolution. Sherman distinguished himself at the Battle of San Jacinto and is credited with creating the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.” The Herald Democrat also serves nearby Denison, birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well. 

Stephenville: James M. Stephen donated the land for the seat of Erath County in 1856. Stephen opened the post office on July 28, 1857, in the store he kept jointly with his brother William. George B. Erath, for whom the county was named, surveyed the townsite. Home to Tarleton State University, news in this small city is reported by the ambitiously named Stephenville Empire-Tribune.

Several Oscar-winning movies were made in Waxahachie, including "Tender Mercies," "Places in the Heart" and "A Trip to Bountiful." The Ellis County Historic Courthouse is often featured in these and other films.

Waxahachie: Founded in 1850 on land donated by early settler and hotelier Emory W. Rogers, the town received its name from Native American origin. It is either a transfer from Waxahatchee Creek in Shelby County, Alabama, or from the Wichita, a Caddoan language of the people who lived in the area until they were removed to Indian Territory in the 19th century. The Wichita linguistic source could come from compounding “wals” and “hahch,” meaning either “fat monster” or “fat wildcat.” The Waxahachie Daily Light is the town’s leading newspaper.

Wichita Falls: Founded in 1876 by the heirs of John A. Scott who, according to legend, won the site of Wichita Falls in a poker game. The town was named for a small Wichita River waterfall that was washed out by a flood in the 1880s, leaving the name without a referent. A century later, in 1987, city engineers recreated the falls as a series of steps with recirculating waters. The Wichita Falls Times-Record-News keeps up with this midsize Texas city.

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.

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