I first came across Borden County, Texas in More Land than People, Part 2. It’s amongst the 63 out of 3,143 counties or equivalents where square mileage exceeds the number of its inhabitants. For Borden (map), that was 897.4 square miles for only 641 people recorded in the 2010 Decennial Census so there was plenty of room to stretch out. That’s impressive but there are counties even emptier in Texas so it wouldn’t be enough to make it truly remarkable all by itself. Rather, the name impressed me: the town of Gail serves as the Borden county seat.
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Why does that matter? Check out this guy.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
This is Gail Borden, Jr., who died in 1874 at the age of 72. That’s right, the county seat memorializes his first name and the larger county his surname. There are people — not many for this town is quite small — who can say they live in Gail, Borden Co., TX.
Gail Borden’s national fame came from his ability to perfect a technique to condense milk. He removed much of the water from cow’s milk in such a way that it didn’t curdle or scorch it when he heated it. When placed into cans, especially when sweetened, his condensed milk lasted for years without any refrigeration during an era when that truly mattered. This was an incredible achievement in the 1850’s, which he discovered and perfected only after repeated failures. Until then, milk had to be consumed in close proximity to the cow from which it came.
Raw milk was also somewhat of a crap-shoot in general up to that point. People could die from a host of infectious diseases transmitted by cow’s milk. This including the dreaded "consumption," a bovine tuberculosis bacterium (Mycobacterium bovis) that could and often did jump to humans. Borden’s meticulously process and attention to cleanliness created a product that was not only long-lasting but devoid of harmful pathogens.
Why is the Borden County School called the Coyotes? Wouldn’t Cows be more appropriate?
Borden got his big break during the Civil War. The U.S. government ordered huge supplies of condensed milk as a field ration for Union soldiers. His product contained a mighty package of calories, protein and fat, plus it tasted pretty good because of the sweetening used to extended its shelf-life. And it was safe. Soldiers returning from the war spoke highly of the product and it quickly spread to household use.
The Borden Company began a remarkable run and its "Elsie the Cow" became an iconic advertising image. The company branched-out to other products including Elmer’s Glue and Cracker Jacks, and lasted as an independent entity until 1995. One can still see Borden’s name on condensed milk cans produced under its successor, the Eagle Brand.
Borden never saw the town of Gail nor the county of Borden in Texas. They were both named posthumously in the years immediately after his death. Not to diminish the importance of condensed milk, but it might seem odd that a random corner of Texas completely disconnected with Borden invoked his name twice. If a milk breakthrough was his only achievement in life then perhaps that would be true. However, he was in his 50’s when he finally discovered the means to condense, package and distribute milk successfully. He’d already had a full and accomplished life prior to that.
Gail Borden was one of those driven people who managed to pack enough accomplishments for several lifetimes into his brief time on earth. His achievements prior to the milk ventures contributed meaningfully to the history of Texas.
- He found his way to Texas while it was still part of Mexico. He platted Houston and Galveston.
- He helped create the first topographic map of Texas.
- He was a newspaper publisher as the Texas Revolution began. His was the only paper that published through the duration (his presses kept rolling until seized in the final days of the conflict). His paper provided an important historical first-hand record of events unfolding during the Revolution.
- He helped draft early versions of the Texas constitution.
- Sam Houston appointed him Collector of Customs for the port of Galveston, an important source of income for the early Republic.
- Around that time he begin to experiment with a series of foodstuff and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Thus, while he was not a native of Texas (he was born in New York), he was an early pioneer who did well both for the reputation of the Republic and the State, while also becoming a successful businessman later in life. It was entirely appropriate for Texans to feel pride in his achievements. It’s completely logical from that perspective to name a town and county in his honor.
Actually there is one other town in Texas named for Gail Borden and that one had a direct, physical connection to the man.
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The even tinier town of Bordon (60 residents) in Colorado County, TX was actually Gail Borden’s home in his latter years. The Handbook of Texas notes: "Soon after the war, however, Gail Borden, Jr., founder of the Borden Milk Company, returned to Texas and after building homes for himself, his sons, and his brother, John P. Borden, on the hills above the creek, named the settlement Bordenville" where he opened a meat-processing plant along a rail line. I discovered, as I looked at the map, that I’ve actually driven through Borden and not just on Interstate 10 but directly through the little town itself on Route 90 (I had family living near Weimar less than five miles away from there at the time). I guess that demonstrates what happened to Borden’s town. I couldn’t even remember driving through it.
I found only one other place named for Gail Borden: The Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, Illinois (map). He never lived in Elgin. However, his second wife came from there and his step-sons were residents. The step-sons purchased and donated "Scofield mansion" with a stipulation that there always be a Gail Borden Public Library. That request continues to be honored.
I know of only one other first name / surname combination. That’s Horace in Greeley County (map), Kansas. Horace isn’t the county seat, though. That honor goes to Tribune. It’s important to note that Horace Greeley was the editor of the New York Tribune so it all makes sense.
Does anyone know of any other first name – surname combinations?