I mentioned Colfax, Louisiana in "Just the -fax, Ma’am." Something rang in my mind with a sense familiarity. Where had I heard of the town’s namesake, Schuyler Colfax before? I combed through the 12MC archive and discovered he’d made an appearance in a different context, mentioned originally by reader John Deeth and then featured in First Name, Surname Symmetry. Mr. Deeth noted that there was a town of Schuyler that served as a seat of local government for Colfax County, Nebraska. This was intentional; both the town and the county were in fact named for Schuyler Colfax.
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
If I could be bold or perhaps exceedingly lazy, I think I’ll quote from myself as presented in that earlier article.
Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad.
I then went on to reference the irony of Schuyler, the town in Nebraska, having been situated along the Transcontinental Railroad so that the man and the scandal would be link forevermore. Actually the town was founded two years before the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872 so the irony didn’t come until later. However it served thereafter as a visible reminder of Colfax’s political demise, certainly visible to Colfax personally and to those who happened to possess knowledge of an obscure Nineteenth Century bribery scheme like the members of the 12MC audience.
That would become prescient. Railroads, as I noticed once I began to reacquaint myself with the life and times of Schuyler Colfax, would continue to trail him to his death and beyond.
Cold and Alone
Where Colfax Died, Mankato, Wisconsin, USA
I featured Mankato, Minnesota recently in the Blue Earth series. Little did I realize that I’d return to Mankato for its prominent role in the death of Schuyler Colfax. An historical marker sat in a public park although it wasn’t always a park. It was once an railroad depot. Waymarking.com recorded the Washington Park Historical Marker, including the key paragraph.
… On January 13, 1885, Schuyler Colfax, former U.S. Vice President and Speaker of the House, was traveling in Mankato, Minnesota. In order to get from the depot located along the Minnesota River to the depot on Fourth Street, he had to walk three quarters of a mile in 30 degrees below zero weather. After he arrived at the depot on Fourth Street, he collapsed and died…
His biography on the United States Senate website attributed his death to a heart attack and duly noted, "Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket."
Rest in Peace?
City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana, USA
Schuyler Colfax, recently departed, was delivered to the place where he’d spent much of his adult life, and he was interred in the City Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Always a popular figure in Indiana, Colfax was further honored by town officials when they renamed a street Colfax Avenue adjacent to the cemetery.
Notice, however, the proximity of several nearby rail lines and railyards. They practically extend all the way to the cemetery gates, no doubt their warning whistles and clacking tracks taunting his gravesite.
Colfax Gets a Statue
Schuyler Colfax Statue by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Undoubtedly, Colfax would have been pleased by the statue of his likeness placed prominently in a town named for him in California. However, the location added to the irony. Take a look at a map in Street View. Colfax town officials placed the Colfax statue on Railroad Street at the Amtrak train station. This line also formed part of the original western route of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Police sergeant Joe Friday never actually said "just the facts ma’am" on the vintage television show Dragnet, according to Snopes. Rather, the character played by Jack Webb uttered different lines that were later confused with the classic phrase now erroneously attributed to the show.
A similar confusion surrounded the suffix "-fax" appended to surnames and place names, and also to surnames that later became place names. -Fax had an interesting etymology as described in Wiktionary and in other sources:
From Middle English, from Old English feax (“hair, head of hair”), from Proto-Germanic *fahsą (“hair, mane”), from Proto-Indo-European *poḱs- (“hair”, literally “that which is combed, shorn, or plucked”), from Proto-Indo-European *peḱ- (“to comb, shear, pluck”).
It also noted cognates that existed in Dutch, German, Norwegian, Icelandic and Sanskrit generally translating to something like hair, head of hair, mane, and so on.
This might lead one to conclude that English place names ending in -fax might have something to do with hair. Those theories certainly existed with frequency, with some substantiated, some wrong and some uncertain, not unlike Joe Friday sort-of uttered his famous catchphrase using different words. A second title for this article — since I’m in the mood for bad puns — might have been, "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow."
I focused on four -fax place names that traced to England. I’d be interested to know if there were more, and particularly, their etymologies.
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
I was sensitized to Fairfax right away because it was both a county and an embedded independent city in Virginia just outside of Washington, DC, and quite near where I live. Longtime readers might recall my epic journey to the City of Fairfax highpoint, the so-called Water Tower Tour a number of years ago.
Fairfax had the cleanest history, etymology and past association with hair. County and city were both named for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, the county earning its name during the colonial era and the city afterwards. In this instance the peerage was named for the surname so one must start there. I’ll help readers avoid a pile of sleazy baby-naming pages and sketchy genealogy websites peddling advertisements and skip directly to an etymological dictionary. Fairfax meant "fair haired." The million-plus residents of Fairfax, Virginia can decide whether that confers some kind of exalted level of status upon them or not.
Nearly every Colfax was located in the United States, and many traced their naming origin to Schuyler Colfax, the scandal-plagued Vice President who served under President Grant during his first administration (1869-1873).
One such Colfax town named for him, the one in Louisiana, had particular historical significance.
Colfax Massacre, Colfax, Louisiana, USA
As described by the Public Broadcasting Service,
On April 13, 1873, violence erupted in Colfax, Louisiana. The White League, a paramilitary group intent on securing white rule in Louisiana, clashed with Louisiana’s almost all-black state militia. The resulting death toll was staggering. Only three members of the White League died. But some 100 black men were killed in the encounter. Of those, nearly half were murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered.
The other side of the story, as noted by an article in the New Pittsburgh Courier Online, was reflected by an historical marker placed outside the Grant Parish Courthouse in Colfax in 1950. The marker stated, "On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpet bag misrule in the South." To be fair, the nation was undergoing racial turbulence during the 1950′s and the marker reflected certain sentiments of that period. Nonetheless the marker hasn’t been removed either (street view image).
American Surnames discussed two possible etymologies for Colfax. From German, Kohlfuchs referred to a specified color for horses, "dark sorrell or liver chestnut," with the fuchs part referring specifically "a very dark red." Alternately, from Old German, it could refer to the previously-noted hairy explanation. I couldn’t find anything definitive either way.
I worked hard to make sure I didn’t make any typographic errors on that last paragraph! This is a family-friendly website.
The preponderance of Halifax place names in North America were traced to George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax (1716-1771), for example Halifax in Nova Scotia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Unlike Fairfax, the Halifax peerage derived from a place name rather than a surname. The original underlying Halifax used both for the earldom and the primary North American locations was Halifax in West Yorkshire, England.
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, UK
Legends floated across the Intertubes about how Halifax descended from "holy hair" with some fanciful tale about a pious virgin who was executed and her hair displayed in public. The explanation had fallen out of favor though, making way for a much more mundane theory about how it may have derived "from the Old English halh-gefeaxe, meaning an ‘area of coarse grass in the nook of land.‘"
Readers from the United States likely did a double-take after seeing Carfax mention because it’s better known there as a company that bombards viewers relentlessly with advertisements for vehicle history services. No worries, the Carfax reference in England seemed to be completely coincidental.
Carfax Tower by Holly Hayes on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Carfax, a crossroads, marked the central point of Oxford, England. Carfax itself also had a central point, Carfax Tower, the remnants of a medieval church (map). It’s a tourist attraction now and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views for a modest fee.
Most sources seemed to believe that Carfax derived from the French carrefore, "a place where four ways meet" and and earlier Latin quadrifurcus, "four-forked." Some earlier sources discounted that etymology largely on the grounds that French place names weren’t common in England, and halfheartedly wondered if hair figured into the etymology. Those theories didn’t seem to reach beyond the 19th Century, though.
Overall, -fax was a mixed bag: one usage likely related to hair; one maybe and two probably not.
What does one call a thousand geo-oddities? Ultimately I decided to use the metric prefix "Kilo," although kilogeooddity and kilooddity both looked clunky with all of those extra vowels. Ultimately I coined the phrase kiloanomaly, equating to units of a thousand objects combining to form singular anomalies. It almost sounded like a Hawaiian word. I liked it!
There were numerous examples of kiloanomalies. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.
Thousand Oaks, California, USA
The City of Thousand Oaks in California was probably the most well-known urban forest of a thousand oaks that I uncovered, with over 125 thousand residents. There were plenty of others of the same name too, even in California (neighborhoods in Berkeley and San Jose at the very least). I then found Thousand Oaks in Florida, Missouri, and Texas, and a Thousand Oaks golf course in Michigan.
That’s a lot of acorns!
Thousand Islands, USA and Canada
I noted in Just as Enigmatic that the area known as the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United States didn’t actually have a thousand islands. Rather, those early explorers must have had a sense of modesty because there were actually 1,864 islands once they were all tallied.
What about Thousand Island (without an "s" after Island) salad dressing? Logically enough, "According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, ‘the name presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River.’"
Valley of a Thousand Falls
I learned of a Valley of a Thousand Falls in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada. It’s the area between two small bodies of water, Berg Lake and Kinney Lake, on the map displayed above.
What do a thousand falls look like? I found a short YouTube video that provided a nice preview.
The valley can be accessed from the Berg Lake Trail:
… a world-renowned backcountry hiking trail. Gaining just under 800 metres in 23 kilometres, the trail traverses three biogeoclimatic zones. This trail takes hikers to some of the best scenery in the province. Beyond Kinney Lake, the trail enters the Valley of a Thousand Falls. Fed by the massive Mist, Berg and Robson glaciers, visitors often see huge sections of ice break off or “calve” into the blue/green, silt-laden waters of Berg Lake.
Biogeoclimatic is a great word that I need to add to my vocabulary although I still like kiloanomaly more.
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa
The second valley with a thousands objects I discovered online was the Valley of a Thousand Hills in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I wanted to use a better map. Unfortunately, I found it hideously difficult to find a Terrain View option on the new Google Maps and apparently it’s impossible to embed an object in that mode. I’ll provide a link though: (map).
The Valley of a Thousand Hills is a major tourism destination.
The breathtaking Valley of a Thousand Hills is an exciting component of Durban and South Africa’s province of KwaZulu-Natal – the Kingdom of the Zulu… an hour’s drive from the centre of Durban. The area is named after the thousands of hills which tumble down to the mighty Umgeni River, which flows from the distant Drakensberg Mountains to the warm inviting Indian Ocean.
It’s centered on the confluence of the Umgeni and Msunduzi (Duzi) Rivers, halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg
Thousand Ships Bay
Thousand Ships Bay, Solomon Islands
I found very little on Thousand Ships Bay in the Solomon Islands. It’s located "on the south coast of Santa Isabel Island… between San Jorge Island and Santa Isabel Island." The story goes — and who knows if it’s true — that the label came from "Spanish explorer Mendaña who named the location ‘Thousand Ship Bay’ [because he] believed a thousand ships could fit into the bay." Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira was indeed the first European to see the Solomon Islands in 1568. He named a lot of its individual islands so maybe the story had a grain of truth. However, the explanation seemed pretty lame even if true.
Many centuries later,Thousand Ships Bay was "occasionally used by the Japanese as a seaplane base or temporary ship anchorage from May to August 1942."
A hearty thank you to everyone who read all the way to the end of this post. The very first Twelve Mile Circle entry appeared on November 6, 2007. This is article number 1,000. I hope I’m still motivated to write when it’s time to feature The Land of 10,000 Lakes.