The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.
How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.
The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).
It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.
Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980’s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.
Cactus Springs, Nevada
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,
Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.
The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.
Cactus Flat, South Dakota
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.
The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.
Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.
Cactus Beach, South Australia
Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.
Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!
I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,
The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.
So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.
(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.
This is the story of John Kennedy. No, not that John Kennedy! I’m referring to John Wright Kennedy who I guarantee you know nothing about, nor should you. It’s about how a formative event in his life resulting in the naming of a town twenty years later. He was a farmer who underwent a harrowing ordeal, lived to tell about it, who went back to a quiet agrarian life and survived to a ripe old age.
Tangentially, I suppose it’s also about the huge paper trails we leave behind since every bit of information I discovered for this story I found online in less than an hour. If I could learn this much about someone who passed away nearly a century ago, imagine how much people will find out about you and I a hundred years from now in our digital wakes.
Mr. Kennedy was born in Stamford, New York (map), on April 18, 1838, a child of Scottish immigrants as the census records describe it. This put him at a prefect age to serve in the military when the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861. Stamford straddled the line between Delaware and Schoharie Counties, and he joined many of his neighbors when they enrolled in the Union Army in nearby Schenectady to form Co. F of the 134th New York Infantry on August 22, 1862. He mustered in as a Private and worked his way up to Sergeant, then was commissioned as a Lieutenant and eventually gained a promotion to Captain.
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The regiment was attached to XI Corps of Army of the Potomac, a corps best remembered for its role in the Battles of Chancellorsville in Virginia and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, in mid-1863, and in not an entirely flattering light. The Eleventh Corps was caught unprepared at Chancellorsville and was routed on the first day of Gettysburg, retreating through the streets of the town before reaching the high ground of Cemetery Hill. They redeemed themselves somewhat on the second day with a valiant defense of the hill, although XI Corps never truly recovered its reputation and was later dismantled and spread amongst other units. The 134th New York was in the thick of the battle at Gettysburg and lost 42 killed 141 wounded and 59 missing. This put 242 of the regiment’s 400 soldiers out of action in a single battle.
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The 134th New York monument at Gettysburg in the distance. See photo.
John Kennedy never make it to Cemetery Hill. He became one of the 59 missing on July 1, 1863. It turned out he was captured by the Confederate army on the first day at Gettysburg. He became a prisoner of war and was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The story didn’t end there, however. Kennedy escaped imprisonment and rejoined his unit in Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. He then served in the Union army for the remainder of the war, finally mustering out with his company on June 10, 1865.
He relocated to South Dakota sometime after the war, establishing a home and a farm in Potter County. Others moved to the area and it was time to form a town. They needed a name for their new settlement. As Genealogy Trails explains,
The group [of Civil War veterans] sought to name the new town Meade in honor of General Meade, renowned for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. When the Post Office rejected that name because it was already too popular, Captain John W. Kennedy, a member of Gen. Howard’s 11th Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg, submitted the name Gettysburg instead. That was accepted.
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Gettysburg, South Dakota has more than 1,100 residents today and is the seat of government for Potter County. In 1991, the two Gettysburg towns became "sister cities." Kennedy passed away on February 13, 1918, in Gettysburg — the one in South Dakota — and was buried there. His tombstone noted that he fought at Gettysburg.
I can’t think of any other town named explicitly to commemorate a battle, by a veteran of the battle. I hope I can discover others.
The Intertubes wants to know and I’m happy to oblige. This is one of those occasional articles that regular 12MC readers may want to skip because it doesn’t involve much from an intellectual standpoint. I keep receiving search engine queries about the 100th meridian west of Greenwich, specifically the list of United States counties that the line intersects as it splits the nation figuratively into eastern and western halves. I can’t figure out why anyone would want or need to compile such a list, however, Google and the like believe that it exists and that I own it. I don’t, or rather I didn’t. Now I do. It’s here at the bottom of this article.
View 100th Meridian West – twelvemilecircle.com in a larger map
The 100th meridian fascinates many people in a mystical Great Plains way. I’ve written about it previously, both from a Canadian perspective and a USA perspective. Not only does the meridian cleave nicely through the middle of the North American continent geographically, it creates a divide meteorologically. The landscape tends to be wetter on the east side and dryer on the west, resulting in differences in farming, settlement, ecosystem and ultimately culture. The 100th meridian is so much more than an arbitrary line, albeit that’s exactly what it is from a technical perspective, it serves as a vague psychological transition.
This is the result. Feel free to open the image in another tab and view it in full size. I’ve compressed it here for purposes of squishing it into a blog format. I’ve color-coded it by state to make it easier to follow.
I rather enjoyed drawing the map even if it was a bit tedious at times. Mapquest was actually more useful to this effort than Google Maps. Mapquest provides all county lines automatically. I had to check county-by-county to confirm that I was still straddling the 100th meridian. Borders don’t always run straight and sometimes I had to check multiple county locations or even consult other sources. I’m pretty sure this is a definitive list although errors always seem to find a way to creep-in. I’ll be glad to make corrections as necessary.
The meridian passes from north to south through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. I found some interesting peculiarities along the way. You’ll notice a few clusters of side-by-side counties. Those are locations where a county may have only a tiny knob clipped by the line.
Gosper County, NE was a good example of that. It’s roughly rectangular with a small square appended to its southwestern edge, almost as an afterthought (map)(1). The meridian passed through part of the square. Harper/Ellis and Beaver Counties in Oklahoma also raised an eyebrow. It appeared that the meridian ran right down the eastern edge of Beaver. However — and I checked this in a couple of different places — Beaver fell completely west of the line by a few hundred feet. Notice how Beaver Co. doesn’t extend quite as far east as the Texas-Oklahoma border when it cuts south, which absolutely does follow the 100th meridian.
Speaking of that, does the meridian cut through those Texas-Oklahoma border counties or not? Some people may say that it does not because the theoretical width of the meridian is infinitesimally small approaching zero, and the two states and their respective border counties only "touch" not "cross" the meridian. I’m inclined to say that it does happen although for a more practical reason: I’m willing to bet that there are enough minor border oscillation due to tiny surveying errors that someone could find genuine instances of those counties actually crossing the meridian (maybe by only a few feet) if we looked hard enough. I’m too lazy to confirm that, though. Bear in mind that there is plenty of precedence in U.S. law to recognize these kinds of surveying errors as true boundaries if they’ve been observed as such historically.
Finally, there was also good reason for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to put the two sundials in their Dodge City, KS railroad station. The meridian fell only a mile away from the station (map) even though Central Time has crept slowly towards the western edge of Kansas over ensuing years.
Here is the list, from north to south.
- Keya Paha
- Ellis, OK
- Lipscomb, TX
- Hemphill, TX
- Roger Mills, OK
- Wheeler, TX
- Beckham, OK
- Collingsworth, TX
- Harmon, OK
- Childress, TX
(1)I discovered a neat little trick I spotted on some random website while researching this article. Did you know that you can perform a Google Analytics review on any link created by the Google URL Shortener? Maybe I was the only one who didn’t know that? Anyway, all you need to do is append either a "+" or a ".info" to the shortened URL. For example, here is a shortened URL I created for Kansas Mountain Time: For a map = http://goo.gl/maps/073xz; for Analytics = http://goo.gl/maps/073xz+ or http://goo.gl/maps/073xz.info. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever have any practical purpose for this feature, however it’s an interesting oddity to pack away in my toolbox. And who was the person from Argentina that clicked on the link, I wonder?