I found myself in familiar territory once again, with an overflowing backlog of article ideas. That signaled time for another round of house cleaning. In the past I’d featured weird place names that I’d encountered while I searched for other topics. Then I focused on More Weird Place Names and finally Even More Weird Place Names. I thought I could build upon that theme while cutting down the pile. Those weird place names just kept coming.
First I decided to take care of some unfinished business left over from the previous effort. Reader "Kiru" said, "Just a suggestion for the next one – there’s a small village near me in Devon, England called Woolfardisworthy. As weird of a name that is, the pronunciation is even worse!"
That sounded intriguing. The next opportunity arrived today so I decided to check it out. Also I couldn’t even imagine how to pronounce it. I considered I’d probably butcher it with my mid-Atlantic American accent even if I knew. Fortunately things like YouTube existed and I found my answer easily enough. Kiru knew the deal. Woolfardisworthy, when spoken through the mouths of local residents came out something similar to Woolsery.
I solved that mystery quicker than I expected although I encountered something more unusual in the process. Two towns with that same strange name existed in Devon. Was the town Kiru referenced located in mid Devon (map) or north Devon (map). They sat about 48 miles (78 kilometres) apart map.
Their history also intertwined. According to Tour Devon, the name came from the Saxon language meaning Wulfheard’s homestead, "denoting the fact that the village was probably originally founded in 680 when the Saxon Abbot Wulfheard of Crediton was granted two manors." I figured the one in north Devon in the Torridge district was probably the right one. It seemed to be the larger of the two manors granted to the awesomely named Wulfheard of Crediton.
The buoyancy on the Neversink River must be amazing. I supposed someone could fall overboard and literally never sink. Nobody needed life jackets. What magical properties existed in the waters of New York? I pondered that notion as I drove across the Neversink on the way to New England recently. The river stretched about 55 miles (89 km), flowing past Port Jervis before joining the Delaware River. It served as one of the important water sources for New York City, dammed to form the Neversink Reservoir in 1950 (map).
The etymology remained uncertain although it most certainly did not come from the English words Never and Sink, sad to say. It likely passed down from the original Native American inhabitants speaking an Algonquin language. The Intertubes offered various theories and translations. Many of them converged on Mad River or Wild River, or variations on that theme. European settlers Anglicized the phrase into something more familiar that they could actually pronounce.
I’d seen Nanty-Glo spelled with a hyphen and Nanty Glo without, so I consulted the Geographic Names Information Center. That hardly cleared up the situation, however. According to the US Geological Survey, the hyphen should be used when referring to the Borough of Nanty-Glo and dropped for the Town of Nanty Glo. Either way, they both designated the same basic area in western Pennsylvania (map). The name intertwined with the history and geology of the underlying terrain. Local mountains contained large coal deposits that people began to mine in the Nineteenth Century. Immigrant from Wales — another area with a rich coal mining tradition — brought much of the mining knowledge and labor. Thus the name came from the Welsh language, Nant Y Glo, meaning a ravine, brook or valley of coal.
A similarly-named town of Nantyglo also existed in Wales (map).
I’ve driven between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin on Interstate 94 more times than I can probably count. I always wondered about the town behind the exit sign for Ixonia (map). Did it reference a fascination with the number nine, from the Roman numeral IX? No, actually it reflected pure happenstance when a dispute arose as the township formed. According to the Town of Ixonia,
To simplify matters it was agreed upon to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a name could be formed. As the result, "Ixonia" was the name given town 8 on January 21, 1846, and remains the only town bearing this name in the United States.
Thankfully, young Mary Piper selected a random combination that everyone found acceptable. She could have done a whole lot worse as she averted a crises single-handedly. However I still remained skeptical. If Ixonia began life as Town 8 wouldn’t it make sense to name it sequentially the next time, as IX?
Geo-geek conspiracy theory!
I’ve published Twelve Mile Circle on a Sunday morning / Wednesday evening schedule for awhile. I now have a weekly Wednesday evening activity that complicates things so I plan to post on Thursday evenings instead. Don’t panic when nothing appears on Wednesday. 12MC isn’t going away!
Texas claimed its independence from México in 1836 as a result of the Texas Revolution. It became a sovereign nation. Even so, México considered Texas part of its rightful territory. Texas faced many difficulties during its early years as a new country as it struggled to keep going. It pushed to join the United States and traded its sovereignty to become the 28th state in 1845. This also created tensions between México and the United States, leading to warfare in 1846. The United States won decisively and grew considerably at México’s expense. Its spoils included all of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, plus parts of several other states.
Elsewhere in the United States, settlers pushed out from the original Atlantic states onto the prairie. These included Mexican War veterans. They returned home, platted towns, and used names familiar to them. Some of those names reflected their war victories, bringing an odd smattering of Mexican themes to places nowhere near the border.
Montezuma ruled the Aztecs from his capital of Tenochtitlan when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519. Cortés famously captured Montezuma and destroyed his empire. The Aztecs — at their prime when Cortés arrived — fell as famine, disease and warfare ravaged its lands. Tenochtitlan then evolved into a Spanish colonial capital, Mexico City. High upon a hill within that city rose Castillo de Chapultepec, the Castle of Chapultepec (map), a home of Spanish and later Mexican rulers. These were the famous Halls of Montezuma referenced in the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. Marines stormed and captured Castillo de Chapultepec, a key to seizing Mexico City during the war.
I couldn’t find a single place called Montezuma in México. However military veterans picked up the name and moved it to spots in Georgia (map), Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, California and New York. The largest, Montezuma County in Colorado, actually did not come from the war. People once thought mistakenly that the Aztecs built nearby Mesa Verde. They named the county accordingly and called its primary town Cortez.
Matamoros, directly on the southern side of the Rio Grande River, became a staging point for an American invasion. The army of the United States under General Zachary Taylor built a fort on the opposite side of the river. Mexican forces bombarded the fort, the Americans called for reinforcements, and a large cavalry and artillery battle broke out (map). The U.S. army routed its foes with better, quicker-firing artillery. Maj. Jacob Brown died during the battle so Taylor changed the name from Fort Texas to Fort Brown. Later a town grew around the fort and it also adopted the name, becoming Brownsville, Texas.
Places inspired by the battle used a slightly different spelling in the United States, namely Matamoras. I stayed overnight in Matamoras, Pennsylvania on my way to New England recently (map). I wondered why a Pennsylvania town adopted the name of a Mexican city, and that inspired my search for more. Matamoras held other secrets including the easternmost point in Pennsylvania and a corner of the New Jersey – New York – Pennsylvania (NJNYPA) tripoint. It was also remarkably close to the New Jersey highpoint.
Buena Vista translated from Spanish as "good view." However, combatants probably didn’t get an opportunity to appreciate their surroundings. Mexican General Santa Anna hoped to crush the American army at the Angostura Pass (map). His army numbered three times that of his foe and he had them cornered. American artillery and well-trained infantry stopped the Mexican advance. Eventually they withdrew. Neither side claimed victory although México suffered greater casualties and failed to defeat its much smaller foe.
Buena Vista appeared again in the American heartland. It spread to places as far apart as Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania (map), Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, and Virginia. Many of them emphasized an Americanized pronunciation, something closer to Beuwna Vista.
A vision of the Virgin Mary appeared several times in 1531 to a peasant outside of Mexico City. The spot became a sacred shrine, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Much later, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led the Mexican War of Independence, ending Spanish rule in 1821. A town adjacent to the shrine combined the two names, becoming Guadalupe Hidalgo (map). The United States defeated México in 1848, destroying its army and capturing its capital. The two sides came together at this town and negotiated an agreement favorable to the United States. It became the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The largest Hildago in the United States appeared as a county name in New Mexico (map). Another county of Hidalgo was established in Texas. A much smaller Hildago also sprouted up in Illinois.
John Wilkes Booth‘s last stand was by no means the only infamous last stand. It got me thinking about a wide range of other events from the last couple of hundred years that might fall within the same general guidelines. Last stands happened in many places in many times. I selected a few from the multitude of instances available and fixated on them. Custer’s Last Stand, well, that would practically be synonymous with the definition of a last stand. In fact that was the first thing that popped into my mind as I expanded past Booth. Undoubtedly that notion would be the same for much of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. I couldn’t simply skip it — that would be a glaring omission — so George Armstrong Custer needed a closer examination.
The spot where Custer died, the place of his last stand, was considerably better known than his birthplace. I figured I’d have a difficult time finding it because I didn’t think anyone would really care except for maybe me and a handful of other people fascinated by such things. I guessed wrong. People apparently did care. In fact I even found a Custer Memorial Association in New Rumley, Ohio, at Custer’s 1839 birthplace. They operated a small museum "open the last Sunday of each month from 1:00 to 4:00pm." They also maintained a roadside park open year round on the site of the original Custer homestead, of which little remained except for the foundation of the house where he was born (map).
However Custer spent much of his childhood in Monroe, Michigan, with the family of his half-sister.
The people of Monroe erected a monument to Custer after his death (map). He probably got a monument everywhere he ever set foot, or so it seemed, although some hadn’t fared well. Even the citizens of Monroe, a place where he spent much of his childhood, relocated the monument a bunch of times including sticking it out in the woods where vegetation overgrew it, before moving the statue to a more prominent part of town. Officially it was known as the George Armstrong Custer Equestrian Monument, alternately Sighting the Enemy.
Famously, Custer finished last in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. However it was 1861, the Civil War was just underway, and the military needed officers in a hurry so they pressed him into service anyway. He performed remarkably well once in a combat role.
Throughout the war Custer continued to distinguishing himself as fearless, aggressive, and ostentatious. His personalized uniform style, complete with a red neckerchief could be somewhat alienating, but he was successful in gaining the respect of his men with his willingness to lead attacks from the front rather than the back.
Custer quickly moved up the ranks, becoming brigadier general then brevet major general of the U.S. Army and finally major general of the U.S. Volunteers in quick succession. He was only 23 years old when he first became a general, the youngest in the army. Custer also served the entire lengthy of the conflict, from Bull Run to Appomattox. At Gettysburg, he commanded the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that was instrumental in stopping a Confederate cavalry attack on the Union army’s right flank. He got a nice monument for that too. Actually, the entire Michigan Cavalry Brigade earned the monument although Custer’s image appeared in a circular bas-relief sculpture just about half way up (map).
I mentioned all of that service because people tended to overlook his distinguished career and skip right to the ending.
Twelve Mile Circle is not a history website so I’ll only discuss the Last Stand briefly. There were plenty of other places on the Intertubes, or even entire books, where one could get a better account. Custer died on the battlefield near Montana’s Little Bighorn River in 1876 (map). The United States Army had a rule-of-thumb, naming battles for the nearest body of water during that period (e.g., the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run and Battle of Antietam) so the engagement came to be known as the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The situation leading up to it brewed for a long time. The government had been forcing Plains Indians onto reservations for awhile by that point. Various elements of the Lakota and Cheyenne resisted fiercely, sparking a whole chain of events known as the Sioux Wars. The final outrage in the eyes of native inhabitants had been a sudden incursion of settlers into the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. The Sioux considered this a sacred area that had been promised to them in a treaty. That quickly collapsed after word leaked out about gold found in the area. Many bands, fed up with broken promises, left the reservations in an effort to fight for their ancestral lands.
The government began a protracted, coordinated campaign to crush resistance. Custer hadn’t gone out there alone, he simple commanded one force amongst several crossing the plains from late 1875 and into the first half of 1876 trying to tame the rebellion. However Custer made a huge blunder. His aggressive personality that served him well during the Civil War compelled him to rush headlong into battle without understanding the true situation at Little Bighorn.
He thought he was attacking a small encampment. Instead he led 700 men from the 7th Cavalry Regiment headlong into a force three times its size. Sitting Bull’s forces quickly turned the tables and utterly destroyed Custer and his men in less than an hour. Casualties also included Custer’s two brother, Thomas and Boston. Later historical accounts by members of the tribes expressed complete bewilderment that Custer would attack them when they were so strong.