Indian Names

Dr. John E. McLaughlin mclasutt at
Thu Apr 19 16:08:32 UTC 2001

[ moderator edited ]

>> [me] My "ancestral" home (remembering that, in America, "ancestral" is only
>> 100 years or so) is in Sulphur Springs, Texas.  The entire surface of the
>> ground above the river bottoms, which were sandy, was red clay.  Bright
>> brick red and as slick as a sheet of ice when it was wet.  It's the most
>> distinctive soil I've ever encountered anywhere, both in color and in
>> general characteristics.  Perhaps it's not so much an issue of the extent
>> of surface red clay in Texas, but its truly distinctive visibility and wet
>> properties that make it memorable.

> [David White] Well, I have seen soil maps of Texas, which appear to show
> bewildering and difficult to describe diversity more than anything else.  And
> which do not necessarily mention color.  Maybe a field trip to the Map Room
> is in order.  But I am lazy.  In any event, there is certainly a lot of
> non-red soil around, and I find it difficult to imagine that the proposition
> "The soil of Texas is (generally or universally) red" is true.

I agree that the majority of soil in Texas is not red, but we're not dealing
with soil maps, but with people's visual perceptions.  I can't tell you what
the color of the soil was in my Los Angeles front yard when I lived there,
or in Wake Forest, North Carolina when I lived there or outside the barracks
at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  If I wasn't staring out my front window
right now, I couldn't even tell you the color of the soil in my yard today.
By saying "can't tell you the color", I mean that it's all "brown",
"dirt-colored".  There's nothing to distinguish it from the soil color of
anyplace else I've gardened in, walked on, slept on, etc.  Except for that
red clay of East Texas.  It's distinctive.  That's my point.  Forget the
soil maps.  Look on the ground and see what it looks like, how it feels
under the foot, what it looks like wet, and then see how long you remember
it and want to talk to someone else about it.  That's the experience of the
Spanish who named the Colorado River in Texas.  They weren't interested in
farming possibilities in Texas, but in finding gold and heathens.  Brown
dirt is brown dirt is brown dirt when you're looking for gold or souls to
save.  But that red clay.  You remember it.  Forever.  It doesn't take a lot
of it.

John E. McLaughlin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, English
Utah State University

Program Director
USU On-Line Linguistics

(435) 797-2738 (voice)
(435) 797-3797 (FAX)
mclasutt at

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