A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 26, 2007
“When every other land rejects us, this is the soil that freely takes us” ("Texas” folk etymology)

"When every other land rejects us, this is the soil that freely takes us” is a rhyme concocted by the Cincinnati Republican in 1839, humorously asserting that “Texas” derives from “takes us.” This was a time when people in debt escaped debtors’ prison with the words “Gone to Texas” or simply the letters G. T. T. The Cincinnati Republican’s joke was quickly commented upon by the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register, and it was republished in many other newspapers for many years afterwards.


Handbook of Texas Online
TEXAS, ORIGIN OF NAME. The word texas (tejas, tayshas, texias, thecas?, techan, teysas, techas?) had wide usage among the Indians of East Texas even before the coming of the Spanish, whose various transcriptions and interpretations gave rise to many theories about the meaning. The usual meaning was “friends,” although the Hasinais applied the word to many groups-including Caddoan-to mean “allies.” The Hasinais probably did not apply the name to themselves as a local group name; they did use the term, however, as a form of greeting: “Hello, friend.” How and when the name Texas first reached the Spanish is uncertain, but the notion of a “great kingdom of Texas,” associated with a “Gran Quivira” (see QUIVIRA) had spread in New Spain before the expedition of Alonso De León and Damián Massanet in 1689. Massanet reported meeting Indians who proclaimed themselves thecas, or “friends,” as he understood it, and on meeting the chief of the Nabedaches (one of the Hasinai tribes) mistakenly referred to him as the “governor” of a “great kingdom of the Texas.” Francisco de Jesús María, a missionary left by Massanet with the Nabedaches, attempted to correct erroneous reports about the name by asserting that the Indians in that region did not constitute a kingdom, that the chief called “governor” was not the head chief, and that the correct name of the group of tribes was not Texas. Texias, according to Jesús María, meant “friends” and was simply a name applied to the various groups allied against the Apaches. Later expeditions by the Spanish for the most part abandoned the name Texas or else used it as an alternative to Asinay (Hasinai). Official Spanish documents continued to use it but later narrowed it to mean only the Neches-Angelina group of Indians and not a geographic area. Other putative meanings have less evidence from contemporary accounts to support them: “land of flowers,” “paradise,” and “tiled roofs"-from the thatched roofs of the East Texas tribes-were never suggested by first-hand observers so far as is known, though later theories connect them with tejas or its variant spellings. Whatever the Spanish denotations of the name Texas, the state motto, “Friendship,” carries the original meaning of the word as used by the Hasinai and their allied tribes, and the name of the state apparently was derived from the same source.

2 July 1839, Macon (GA) Telegraph, pg. 2:
Origin of the word Texas.—It has exceedingly puzzled many persons to determine the real meaning of the word Texas. It originated in a couplet used by the earlier emigrants to that “land of promise:”

“When every other land rejects us,
This is the soil that freely takes us.”

The word Texas is a corruption of the phrase used in this last line.—Cin. Republican

24 July 1839, Houston Telegraph and Texas Register (Houston, TX), pg. 3, col. 1:
From the Houston Telegraph, July 21.
TEXAS.
Derivation of the Name.—We have seen a couplet from some wag in the U. States, which gives rather a ludicrous etymology of the name of our republic, by deriving it from ”Takes us.” He introduces the following lines:

“When every other land rejects us,
Here is a land which freely takes us.”

It is a very good hit, and if all who attempt to ridicule our country, would show as much wit, we should never be offended at them. But it reminds us of a legend of the Commanches, related by Isowscany, the principal chief of that nation, when on a visit to San Antonio, last summer.

The Commanches claim to be the lineal descendants of the empire of Montezuma, and the only legitimate owners of the whole Mexican country. The chief said, that (Col. 2—ed.) when Cortez landed in Mexico, he found the country torn to pieces by internal factions, and was enabled, by employing the disaffected chiefs, to raise a force and seize upon the capital. Those chiefs believed, if they could destroy the power of Montezuma, they could easily despatch the Spaniard, and have the control in their own hands. But too late they ascertained they had introduced a harder master, and that unconditional servitude was all they had to expect. They were required to change their ancient religion, and thousands of them were sent off to the mines, from which they rarely ever made their escape. A great portion of them bowed their neck to the conqueror, and became serfs and slaves to the Spaniards; but a few, the best and noblest part, preferred exile and servitude, and set out on a pilgrimage to the North, in hopes to find a land where they could enjoy their ancient institutions in peace.

They travelled for many weeks, and at last came to the great river of the North, (the Rio Grande,) where they encamped, and sent out twenty chosen men to examine the adjacent country. They crossed the great river and ascended one of the highest peaks of the mountain, which overlooked the adjoining plain. The prairie was covered with buffalo, deer, and antelopes, and they thought they had reached the happy hunting ground, and the word Tehas! Tehas! Tehas! burst from every tongue. It was decided unanimously that it should be their future home, and the country should go by the name apparently furnished them by the great spirit.

Tehas is the Commanche for the residence of the happy spirits in the other world, where they shall enjoy an eternal felicity, and have plenty of deer and always at hand. By taking the sound as they pronounce it, and giving it the Spanish orthography, it gives us the word ”Texas,” which is the ”Happy Hunting Ground,” or the ”Elysium“ of the Commanches. This is a true history of the name, as derived from Isowacany himself.

7 August 1883, Fort Wayne (IN) Gazette, pg. 5, col. 3:
Origin of the Word “Texas.”
Texas Siftings.
The derivation of the word Texas is involved in a great deal of obscurity. There are three or four different accounts of how the word originated, but they are all more or less improbable. An old Texan imparted to us an entirely new legend last week. The legend is surrounded, so to speak, with such halo of probability that we think the mystery is solved at least. Many of the old cattlers of Texas came to this, then unnamed, region because they had to leave home or be hung. They loved their former homes, nevertheless, and were often homesick. On such occasions, imitating the children of Israel, they were wont to hang their harps on a mesquite tree, and warble a plaintive ditty to the effect that

When every land forsakes us,
This is the land that takes us.

From “takes us” to “Texas” is an easy flight of the imagination.

31 January 1907, State (Columbia, SC), pg. 4:
A soldier poet of Fort Brown, Texas, says that the Prince of Darkness has stuck thorns on every tree and plant and beast in Texas. This may lead to a variant of the old couplet explaining the origin of the name:

“When every other land forsakes us,
This is the land that freely takes us;”

so that it will run:

“When every other land forsakes us,
This is the land that freely sticks us.”

29 May 1908, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Everybody’s Column, pg. 5:
“Texas;" What Does It Mean?”
(S. P.).—The name has been tentatively traced to a number of different sources: To the Spanish “tejas” or “texas” (roofs) owing to the peculiar construction of the dwellings of the original inhabitants; to the native “tecas,” meaning “friends;” to “Mixtecas,” the name given by the Spanish missionaries in 1524 to the descendant of the Mixtecatl, a son of Iztac and the reputed progenitor of the inhabitants of Mexico at the time of its conquest by Cortez, etc.; all of which etymologies we once heard derided by Professor A. S. Gatschet, of Washington, D. C.

According to the learned Indian ethnologist, the original names were “tejas,” “tecos,” “tecas,” “los tecos,” “provincia de las tecas,” etc., all Spanish adaptations of the Tatassi root “tec,” meaning “men,” “people.”

Nor can we refrain from adding the humorous postscript, that the coining of the name “Texas” was also credited to the early emigrants to that “land of promise,” who are said to have sung:

When every other land rejects us,
This is the soil that freely “takes us.”

How is that for an “easy” derivation?

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, October 26, 2007 • Permalink