A few months ago, Twelve Mile Circle featured Directional West Virginia. It focused on the situation of a state with a direction in its name, as well as various places within the state that also featured directions. Why should some random corner of the United States have all of the fun? Entire countries featured directional prefixes. I could play the same game on a national level. That thought struck me when I noticed a visitor landing on 12MC from the city of East London in South Africa.
City Hall of East London, South Africa. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton on Flickr (cc)
East London hugged the South African coastline on the southeastern side of the nation (map). A respectable number of people lived there too, about a quarter million in the city proper and nearing eight hundred thousand in its larger metropolitan area. It also occupied a strategic spot, the site of the only river port in South Africa. Because of that, Governor, Sir Harry Smith annexed this area at the mouth of the Buffalo River on behalf of the Cape Colony in 1848. He called it East London.
I wondered about the name. The London part seemed obvious. Why East, though? Using Great Circle distances and simple mathematics, it seemed that East London fell nearly 5 times farther south of its namesake than east of it. Logically, shouldn’t it be South London? Maybe Governor Smith named it for the East London section of London, or perhaps its smaller subset, the East End of London. I don’t know.
Nonetheless, a lot of people lived in East London, South Africa, a name referencing two distinct directions.
A large area abutting the Cape of Good Hope traded hands between Dutch and British interests several times between the late Seventeenth and early Nineteenth Centuries, before Britain established stable control. It became a self-governing part of the British Empire and then became a large section of South Africa as it formed. The Cape Colony changed its name to Cape Province upon South African independence. Then in 1994, after the end of Apartheid, it split into three provinces. Each part featured a different directional prefix: Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Northern Cape.
I couldn’t figure out the basis of the split. The borders didn’t seem to follow geographic features like rivers or ridges. Nonetheless they also seemed jagged. While I found numerous sources that explained that the split happened in 1994, none of them discussed why officials drew the lines as they came to pass. I assumed it must have been based on cultural divisions.
Even so, and while I hated not being able to solve the riddle, the split created a wonderful tripoint. Visitors to that spot could stand on three different directional provinces at the same time, the exact place where Eastern, Western and Northern points all came together. I would love to know if people in South Africa visited the tripoint and appreciated it. The Intertubes didn’t solve the mystery. Two clusters of stone appeared as I drilled down on the satellite image. One seemed to be too large, very likely a natural feature. The other, well, it might have been a rock or it might have been a boundary marker. Google Map’s boundary lines are often off by a few metres so it’s possible.
It certainly deserved a marker!
East to West
Lord Charles Somerset ruled as Cape Colony governor for several years, from 1814 to 1826. Naturally, his fingerprints appeared upon various features of the colonial landscape due to his influential position. For instance, a settlement grew near Cape Town beginning in 1822 and it became Somerset. A few years later, Lord Somerset founded a town farther to the east that he decided to name for himself. That might have caused some confusion so the original Somerset became Somerset West (map) and the new town became Somerset East (map). I’m not sure how much of a problem it really would have caused, actually. Quite a long distance separated them. Still, they both fell within the Cape Colony so I guess it made good sense to differentiate them.
After the 1994 split of Cape Province, Somerset West became part of Western Cape and Somerset East became part of Eastern Cape. They could both become Somerset without a prefix now if someone cared enough to change the names.
A Place with Every Direction
Sea of Gold: Match 24 – 2010 FIFA World Cup
Photo by Drew Douglas on Flickr (cc)
The name Rustenburg came from Afrikaans/Dutch, meaning the Town of Rest. It became one of the Boer’s earliest northern settlements. The town didn’t stay restful for long, however. Lands near Rustenburg became battlefields in 1899 during the Second Boer War. In more recent history, Rustenburg served as one of the host cities during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Several matches took place at Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
Why did any of that matter? Only because I discovered what might be the most directional place in the entire country. Someone could live on East Street (map) in Rustenburg Oos-Einde (East End), in the North West Province of South Africa. That made it East-East-North-West-South, for those of you keeping score at home.
I seemed to be fixated on time lately, ever since writing the recent Time Zones in Greenland. I went through my long list of open items and found a few more timely topics. The Twelve Mile Circle could benefit from subjects of that nature while I cleared the backlog. Murdo seemed a likely candidate.
Postcard from South Dakota. Photo by John Lloyd on Flickr (cc)
The little town of Murdo, South Dakota fascinated me. It began as another one of those settlements along a railroad in the Great Plains. In the case of Murdo, that happened in 1907 when the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the Dakotas. I featured this same railroad in an earlier 12MC article although for a completely different reason, in King of Portmanteau. Murdo existed like many other towns along this particular line because of Albert J. Earling, the King I proclaimed in that previous article.
Jones County selected Murdo as its seat of local government and not much else happened there ever since, although 488 people still lived there as of the 2010 Census. Murdo provided a home to a well-regarded automobile museum (including some items for sale). It also featured 1880 Town, basically a museum of old buildings transported to the spot from all over South Dakota. Murdo seemed like one of those places I’d stop to see if I were driving on Interstate 90 and happened to spot a sign, because I loved roadside attractions. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way, though.
What’s in a Name?
However, the name of the town seemed so unusual. Why Murdo? Many towns took the surname of a town founder or an early pioneer or even someone’s distant relative. Something like that happened here too although not entirely. Murdo was somebody’s first name, specifically Murdo MacKenzie. I’d never heard of anyone called Murdo before so I checked some of those awful baby name websites. Apparently Murdo came from Scottish Gaelic, meaning seaman, mariner or something similar like that, if those unsourced sites could be believed. However, it made sense for Murdo MacKenzie. He immigrated from Scotland so the linguistic connection existed assuming the dubious claims were true.
Eventually Murdo realized his American Dream by becoming a cattle baron. He focused his attention on this particularl corner of South Dakota just as the railroad arrived. The city of Murdo said:
In 1904, Mr. Murdo MacKenzie, head of the Matador brand, who had herds from Mexico to Canada, shipped train load after train load of Texas steers to the Standing Rock Reservation so they could graze on the Dakota grass.
Certainly a success story such as that deserved a little recognition. The town named in his honor seemed to accomplish that quite nicely.
What did that have to do with time?
1880 town. Photo by THEMACGIRL on Flickr (cc)
The always perceptive 12MC audience probably started wondering what my ramblings had to do with the observance of time several paragraphs ago. I’m getting to that.
I spotted an odd notation as I reviewed the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49 – Transportation, § 71.7 "Boundary line between central and mountain zones. What might be stranger, I wondered, the unusual notation or that I actually enjoyed reviewing obscure parts of the Code of Federal Regulations? Either way, it meant the audience could benefit from my discovery without having to wade through mind-numbing bureaucratic language. Subsection (g) said:
Points on boundary line. All municipalities located upon the zone boundary line described in this section are in the mountain standard time zone, except Murdo, S. Dak., which is in the central standard time zone.
One needs to understand that the boundary between Central and Mountain Time in the United States rivals just about any other division for sheer complexity. The code delineated all sorts of zigs and zags amongst various townships and ranges. Apparently officials decided that anytime the line bisected a municipality it would observe Mountain Time. However, somewhere in the distant past, someone in Murdo must have pushed back. I never learned the reason why. It seemed so far in the middle of nowhere, so distant from any obvious center of power large enough to pull Murdo into its Time Zone orbit. Why Central Time though? Why Murdo, and only Murdo? It will bedevil me forever.
Apparently some things are never meant to be known.
I’ve begun to plan a long-distance road trip for April that I’m not quite ready to reveal to the Twelve Mile Circle audience. However, offering just a hint, I noticed an oddly named town in Indiana called French Lick. It fell remarkably close to Santa Claus, the subject of one of the earliest articles on this site. I figured the fine people of Indiana must have a sense of humor.
French Lick Springs. Photo by Dan Perry on Flickr (cc)
The named sounded familiar for some reason. Once I looked it up I knew immediately why I’d heard it before. Basketball legend Larry Bird grew up in French Lick. They even named a street after him there. Nonetheless, this being 12MC, the more fascinating tangent seemed to be the name of the town itself.
I figured the Lick part probably came from a nearby salt lick somewhere. Indeed, that seemed to be the case as I researched it further. Bison herds roamed this area in the days before people of European descent started pushing over the Appalachian Mountains and paddling through the Mississippi watershed. Bison and other animals gathered at these natural licks to literally lick the ground for essential mineral nutrients. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to decimate local bison populations: "The last historical account of killing a buffalo east of the Mississippi occurred in 1830 at French Lick, Indiana."
The French part seemed more problematic. No definite French population settled at French Lick although the general vicinity fell within French control for awhile. Later American settlers just thought it sounded plausible that the French must have lived at that particular spot. An entrepreneur applied French Lick to a resort he opened at the lick — mineral spas being quite popular at the time — and the name stuck. The spa continues to exist today (map).
Licks of Kentucky
Place Names Ending in Lick
There seemed to be a definite time and place for the word Lick to be appended to towns. The names were applied during a period when people still remembered that Bison once roamed east of the Mississippi River. That seemed to coincide with the early to middle Nineteenth Century. Licks clustered in places such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and especially Kentucky. I found a bunch of Kentucky place names in the Geographic Names Information System. There, all sorts of specific Licks existed: Bank; Bee; Blue; Deer; Flat; Grants; Grassy; Knob; Lees; Log; Mays; Mud; North; Paint; Rock; Salt; Slate; Sulfur; Wolf. I never did learn why they seemed to concentrate so predominantly in Kentucky.
The biggest of those Kentucky places appeared to be the town of Salt Lick (map). Pioneers were drawn there originally by abundant game that gathered at the local licks. One early account claimed that hunters once spotted 500 bison there. The animals left long ago although their legacy survived in the name of a town where several hundred people still lived.
Appending the word Lick to various place names seemed pretty unique to this region, too. I found only minor geographic references anywhere else in the world, and certainly none included town names.
Big Bone Lick
big bone lick state park. Photo by Joel on Flickr (cc)
Every once in awhile 12MC resorts to Beavis and Butt-Head behavior. Please forgive me. It might be best to jump entirely to the next topic. Nonetheless, I felt that I should note the existence of Big Bone Lick, a State Historic Site in Kentucky (map). It’s on Beaver Road. Seriously.
Actually it sounded like a really fascinating place, and something right in my area of interest. It’s called the "Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology." An ancient mineral lick drew megafauna including mammoths. However, the lick occupied a rather marshy area and large animals sometimes got stuck. They died there and their bones remained in the muck waiting to be discovered several thousand years later. Settlers came to the area and saw those big bones so they named their nearby town Big Bone. It seemed logical enough. The unfortunate situation met by those ancient animals reminded me of the Mammoth Site in South Dakota that I visited a couple of years ago. I’ll need to keep Big Bone on my list of places to see someday.
Young Lick Knob
Young Lick viewed from Brasstown Bald via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
A mountain in Georgia’s Appalachian region bore the name Young Lick, reaching an elevation of 3,780 feet (1152 metres) (map). Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail could reach its summit –the knob — with just a minor detour. SummitPost described it as "a mellow hump along the ridgeline forming the Tennessee Valley Divide."
That’s not what made it special, though. It marked the tripoint for Habersham, Rabun and Towns counties. It also marked a triple divide for Eastern Continental Divide watersheds. Water flowed to the Atlantic via the Savannah River. In another direction it flowed directly towards the the Gulf of Mexico. A final option also flowed to the Gulf, taking a circuitous route through the Mississippi River watershed instead.
If that wasn’t motivation enough, it’s located near Hellhole Mountain.