My annual long relaxing August weekend in Wisconsin came to an end. I can’t think of any place I’d rather pass the time for a few days than Wisconsin — in the summer. Many people who come to this part of the country end up in Wisconsin Dells. I never thought much about the definition of a dell although for some reason I began to wonder recently. It had to be some kind of rural feature like a hilly field or something. Rather than assume, I went ahead and checked the actual dictionary definition.
Merriam-Webster defined dell as "a secluded hollow or small valley usually covered with trees or turf."
Next, of course, I wondered where it came from so I turned to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Old English dell "dell, hollow, dale" (perhaps lost and then borrowed in Middle English from cognate Middle Dutch/Middle Low German delle), from Proto-Germanic daljo (source also of German Delle "dent, depression," Gothic ib-dalja "slope of a mountain")
Wisconsin Dells. My own photo.
So how about those Wisconsin Dells (map)? They formed rather recently in geological terms. Glaciers hundreds of feet thick extended far into North America in the last Ice Age although they bypassed an area near its southern extreme, in present day Wisconsin and Minnesota. This became the Driftless Area and it looked considerably different than surrounding terrain because of it. A huge lake formed as the ice began to melt around 15,000 years ago, dammed by a glacier. When the glacier inevitably burst, the lake drained in a single massive flood, cutting a gorge through solid rock along the banks of the Wisconsin River. People of European descent who moved into the area in the modern era named this featured the Wisconsin Dells.
Dell City, Texas
Dell City, Texas. Photo by mwwile on Flickr (cc)
I discovered many different towns and villages bearing the Dell designation or variations throughout the United States (e.g., Dell Junction, Dell Rapids, Hazel Dell). Dell City in Texas seemed particularly interesting (map) because of its origin. It didn’t exist until around 1949 when someone discovered a large underground reservoir. Farmers pumped water from this subterranean source to irrigate their fields and a town formed around it. Distinctive green circles resulting from center pivot irrigation appeared all around town, still visible in satellite photos today. According to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, Dell City thrived for awhile and grew to nearly a thousand residents, before declining to about four hundred by the year 2,000.
Its etymology fascinated me, if true. Texas Escapes tracked down the story and reported,
When we asked who Mr. Dell might have been, Mr. Lutrick asked if we were familiar with the nursery song "The Farmer in the Dell". There was no Mr. Dell – it’s Dell as in "a small, secluded, usually forested valley." Just forget the part about the forest.
I think many of us remembered this singing nursery rhyme from our childhood:
The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
However one of the comments posted on that article claimed that Dell City was named for an early resident, Ardell (Dell) Donathan. We may never know the truth. I’d bet on the comment although I’d hope for the nursery rhyme.
North Dell / South Dell, Scotland
Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Photo by ShinyPhotoScotland on Flickr (cc)
Places named for dells likely existed throughout the world although I didn’t check extensively, halting my search after finding North and South Dell in Scotland (map). They formed adjacent to each other, separated by the Dell River on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Little information existed although the Galson Estate Trust featured brief entries for both North Dell and South Dell. Many local residents spoke Gaelic as a primary or secondary language, calling the towns Dail bho Tuath (north) and Dail bho Dheas (south). The Butt of Lewis — the northernmost point on the isle — sat nearby with its impressive lighthouse.
The Dalles looking NW. Photo by Glenn Scofield Williams on Flickr (cc)
Oregon had The Dalles (map). The Historic The Dalles website described the situation.
"The Dalles" rhymes with "pals", and "gals" and doesn’t rhyme with much of anything else. And yes, "The" is part of our name. File us under the letter "T". The "dalles" was a reference to a series of treacherous rapids once located just upriver from where the community is today. The French speaking Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders and mountain men of the 1800s used the term to describe areas where river water was constricted by rock channels.
Despite the dictionary definition, not every dell featured either forest or fields although they all included a gorge or a valley.
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.
State Route 26 Between Hawkinsville and Montezuma, Georgia. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)
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.
Matamoras, Pennsylvania. Photo by Doug Kerr on Flickr (cc)
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.
Another Matamoros surfaced in Indiana.
Buena Vista Furnace. Photo by Kordite on Flickr (cc)
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.
Hidalgo County Courthouse. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (cc)
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.
I requested an additional account on the Mob Rule county counting website recently. I’d been planning a couple of trips for 2016, including one focused primarily on adding new counties to my lifetime tally in an obscure geographic corner of Appalachia. I’d been using the spare account to calculate "what-if" scenarios and I didn’t want to disturb my existing map in the process. Twelve Mile Circle readers will likely see maps generated by this account over the coming months and years as I chart further adventures.
It occurred to me that I will need to hit backroads a lot more often as I fill in the blanks and doughnut holes in my personal capture map. Those will diminish my pace although they will also allow me to experience out-of-the-way places where few people tread. It made me wonder exactly how much of the United States one would miss using only the Interstate Highway System. It wasn’t a question that demonstrated any greater practical purpose although that never stopped Twelve Mile Circle from going down a rabbit hole before. It wasn’t completely pointless I rationalized, because the results could be used to separate the "easy" counties from the more difficult ones, roughly speaking. Amateur county counties would stick primarily to the Interstate Highways while the truly dedicated hunters such as myself would need to veer into the empty white spaces. I supposed it made me feel more serious about my pursuit by separating me from the pack. It fed into the mythology of not being able to truly appreciate the United States until exiting the highways.
Naturally, I began by making a map of counties served by Interstate Highways, both two-digit and three-digit. Readers would probably want to open the image in another tab to get the full-sized image.
I couldn’t guarantee that I marked every county served by an Interstate Highway because I created this manually — I was still finding new ones that I’d missed hours after I thought I’d fnished it — although this should be close. Please feel free to offer corrections and I’ll update the map. For those wondering about the odd title, "Travels of T. H. Driver, " that was simply my initials plus the word Driver. I had to give the dummy account a name and that seemed as good as anything.
One of the features of Mob Rule that I’ve enjoyed over the years is its simple statistics to catalog counties visited by state. It produced a nice summary table of counties visited and percentages of states covered. I placed those data into a Google Docs Spreadsheet that readers should feel free to review if interested. Mob rule assumed everyone knew the 2-letter postal code abbreviations for each state so I can’t help you if you don’t know them because I didn’t feel like typing them out. Wikipedia provided a nice cross-reference. I sorted states by percentage completed from highest to lowest although one could rearrange the table in reverse order, alphabetically, or whatever might be desired and it won’t harm the underlying document.
Some observations jumped out. For example, county counters who stuck solely to Interstate Highways wouldn’t even visit half of the counties in the United States. The total would hit 44% but who’s counting? The chart also sifted winners from losers. I discarded the District of Columbia’s 100% although it was considered both a state and a county for county counters (in reality neither) because it was such a specialized case. Discounting that, Interstate Highways served 7 of 8 counties (87.5%) in Connecticut for the top spot, ranging all the way down to 16 of 77 counties (17.2%) for Nebraska at the bottom. Results followed intuitive patterns. Small northeastern states with large populations contained numerous Interstate Highways. Large, expansive Great Plains states with smaller populations featured fewer of them. New York and Pennsylvania posted particularly impressive results given the number of counties contained within each of them, hitting above 70 percent.
There were some anomalies. Someone would likely mention the paradox of Interstate Highways in Hawaii so I’ll simply link to the Federal Highway Administration’s explanation (i.e., "the Interstate System is more than just a series of connected highways. It is also a design concept") and get that out of the way. The same condition existed in Alaska although the roads weren’t signed as Interstate Highways (I included all of the so-called Secret Interstates too).
However, I’d been unaware of the bizarre disconnected set of Interstate Highways in the southernmost tip of Texas, Brownsville and McAllen. They formed a rough U-shape, outlined by I-69E, I-2 and I-69C (for central?). One would need to hop a plane or drive through Mexico to capture these Interstate counties without disturbing non-Interstate counties surrounding them, which nobody would ever do because it would be absurd.
I enjoyed the exercise even if it didn’t serve much of a useful purpose. It did confirm to me that Interstate counties were visited more frequently in general than non-Interstate counties, not that there was an underlying controversy. That could be observed quite easily when comparing the map I created with Mob Rule’s composite map of all county counters. The patterns looked strikingly similar.