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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
San Antonio Hotels | Uvalde Hotels |

HONDO

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Hondo.

The word sounds as tough as old rawhide. Whoever Hondo was, he must have been some hombre, the best of the West.

"So who was Hondo?" my hunting buddy asked as we passed through the town of Hondo on our way home from a South Texas dove hunt.

Well, one way to answer the question is to point out that Hondo was the late John Russell Crouch, one-time University of Texas swim meet star, all-time humorist, writer (prose and poem), rancher, philosopher and colorful character.

Born in Hondo in 1916, at some point Crouch adopted his hometown's name as his own. With a little help from Waylon Jennings, he went on to make the postage-stamp Gillespie County village of Luckenbach famous. But who made the word Hondo famous?



The trail does not go all that far back. As a Texas place name, Hondo is a relative newcomer, especially considering that it is so near the venerable city of San Antonio. When the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad came through Medina County in 1881, a real estate developer banking on future iron-rail prosperity platted a town site adjacent to the right of way. He sold the first lot on October 1, calling the new town Hondo City.

But no, this entrepreneur was not named Hondo. Back then, hondo started with a little "h." The word is Spanish, and means deep, as in Deep Creek. Hondo is better known today as a proper noun, but it got its start as just a plain old noun, albeit one of striking visual and oral power.

Meanwhile, Castroville -- settled in the mid-1840s -- hung on as the Medina County seat for a decade. In 1892, however, voters decided that Hondo City should have the honor instead. Three years later, the word "City" got dropped and the name of the post office changed accordingly.



Hondo the town's heyday came in World War II, when the Army established an aviation training field there. Thousands of young men from across the United States got their start as pilots there, and the word "Hondo" made spread from Texas in letters home from servicemen and in newspaper accounts of doings around the large military base.

Maybe one of the people who heard about the town and liked the sound of its name was a rambling North Dakotan named Louis Dearborn LaMoore. After his family moved to Oklahoma, he did a little cowboying in Texas before deciding on word wrangling as a career. He wrote some short stories and a few formulaic Westerns before pounding out a manuscript that became his breakout book, a novel called "Hondo."

In addition to coming up with a catchy one-word title, the writer decided he needed a better pen name. What he hit on was Louis L'Amour.

That was in 1953 and marked the beginning of Hondo's status as a Western word icon and L'Amour's emergence as a storyteller. The hero of the story is one Hondo Lane, a scout who rides through Apache country with a dog named Sam to save a woman and her boy.

Quickly snapped up by Hollywood, "Hondo" had been transformed into a movie by November 1953. With John Wayne playing Hondo, the 84-minute, 3-D film proved as popular as the novel.

The book's popularity has endured. By 1983, it had sold 2.3 million copies. The Western Writers of America voted it as among the best 25 Western ever published. And Hondo had completed its transformation from a Spanish noun to a word recognized around the world.

Mike Cox

January 20, 2004
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