An alternative theory for the naming of Windom, Texas
By Dr. Gary N. Sisson
Mar 20, 2023
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Having spent a good number of my formative years in Fannin County, I have a great interest in the rich history of Northeast Texas.  An amateur genealogist and historian for the greater part of my adult life, my primary area of interest is that of the origins of the names of people and places.  An honest historian in the purest sense of the word should deplore revisionism unless new facts (or old facts seen in a new light) overwhelmingly support previously unseen truth.  In hopes of maintaining that approach, I wish to present some of my thoughts and research concerning the naming of Windom, Texas.  I encourage any comments that the reader may wish to share in relation to the subject at hand in hopes that our common goal is further enrichment and knowledge of our local heritage.

It is first apparent from local historical writings concerning Windom that the true story of its naming has become somewhat legendary, as no single theory prevails.  There are two views that remain the most quoted.  The first concerns the topography of the area surrounding Windom.  Due its elevation (just below 700 feet above sea level) in comparison to the rest of the county, this theory proposes that the windy nature of the high point resulted in a reference to wind in the selection of a town name.  While it is impossible to completely discount this legend, it seems more likely when examining the names of communities formed in the same time frame that a name such as Wind, Windy, Winddome or Windy Dome would have resulted.  Following the same nomenclature, Honey Grove may have become Hongrov.

A more likely origin would involve a memorial approach such as the one suggested by the second view.  Some local examples are Bonham, Dodd City, Bailey, Boyd, Ector, Lamasco and Edhube.  While Lamasco and Edhube were created by the combination of more than one name, a thorough examination of the families living in the Windom area during the times of the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 United States censuses reveal no such local candidates for this nomenclature.  A surname of Windom or any variation thereof does not appear in Fannin County until the time of the 1900 census, which lists a 31-year-old Melvin Windom, a farm laborer, and his family very recently arrived (after 1896) from Georgia.  They were living in Honey Grove.  If Windom was derived from a surname, it becomes apparent that the honoree must have been from outside Fannin County.  The second legend corresponds with this same reasoning and states that the town was named for an early conductor or engineer of the Texas and Pacific Railroad, which first arrived in the area in 1872.  The only source that actually places a name on this alleged honoree is A Pictorial History of Fannin County, Project of Bonham Daily Favorite, Lyle Becker, Editor and Publisher, Historical Briefs by John Frair, a copy of which exists in the Bonham Public Library and at the Fannin County Museum. 

According to that publication, “Many stories have been told about naming the town.  One, that it was named for the conductor of the first train, Thomas H. Windom.”  There are no references listed for this information, and I was unable to obtain a response from Mr. Friar to my email and telephone requests as to his source for the first name of "Thomas" in this reference.  Because there are no known existing records of the employees of this division of the Texas & Pacific prior to 1884, there is no way to completely prove or disprove the validity of this claim. 

According to another publication, Our Town, Windom, Texas, written in 1972 by Ruby Wigley Pulliam and sponsored by the Windom Book Club, “Others say that the conductor’s name was Windom and they named the town for him.”  The reference for that statement is given as “Elizabeth Patton Posey.  Theme of 1936."

In a telephone interview with Alice Patton, a sister of Elizabeth Patton Posey and a current resident of Windom, I discovered that the reference was to an essay that Elizabeth had written as a school project in 1936.  Elizabeth had interviewed some of the older residents of Windom and had consulted the 1936 Texas Almanac in writing her essay, the original of which is still in the possession of her sister, Alice.  Ms. Patton has graciously provided me with a photocopy of the same.

The 1870, 1880 and 1900 United States censuses list numerous candidates around the United States with various spellings of the first and last names of Thomas Windom and in the proper age range to correspond with the alleged railroad employee.  None of these are listed as employees of the railroad except for Thomas C. Windom, born November 1847 in Virginia, who is listed as a railroad brakeman on the 1900 Clay County, Indiana census.  This same Thomas Windom is listed as a coal miner on the 1880 Clay County, Indiana census and as a farm laborer on the 1870 Clarke County, Virginia census.  His geographical location and occupations during the 1870-1880 time frame make it unlikely that he was employed by the T & P railroad in 1872, but not impossible.  Additionally, his middle initial is shown as “C” on both the 1860 and 1850 Clarke County, Virginia censuses.  Another candidate is Thomas H. Windham, born May 1855 in Alabama, who is listed on the 1900 Shelby County, Texas census as a farmer.  He is listed on the 1880 and 1870 Dale County, Alabama censuses as a farm laborer.  Again it is unlikely, but not impossible, that he worked for the railroad between the two censuses.  It is also conceivable that one of the other Thomas Windoms/Windhams listed in 1870 could have taken a job with the T & P by 1872 and died or taken another occupation by 1880, but in the absence of more supportive evidence my inclination is to search for a more likely honoree.

The exact date on which the name of Windom began to be used for this community is not addressed in any of the references I have researched, but the town was laid out in 1876 or 1877 and established in 1880.  Honey Grove was the post office listed on the 1870 census for the area around present day Windom.  It is noteworthy that when Walton A. Carter wrote his “History of Fannin County, Texas” in 1885, Windom was not included as one of the “Cities and Towns”.  Nor was Windom listed on the official post office list for 1882 Fannin County cited on page 18 of Fannin County Folks & Facts, a book published by the Bonham Public Library in 1977.

There is no doubt that the arrival of the railroad in 1872 brought a great deal of excitement to the area, largely due to its economic impact.  At the suggestion of Tom Scott of the Fannin County Museum, I obtained from the Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin a photocopy of the Bonham News Annual of 1888.  The very brief description of Windom included therein begins with, “Windom is a station on the Texas and Pacific railway eleven miles east of Bonham.”  It makes sense that a town formed in response to the railroad might be named to honor those responsible for bringing it.  In fact, the previously mentioned essay of Ms. Posey clearly states on two occasions that "the railroad officials called it Windom" and "the Texas and Pacific railway people called it Windom."  Lacking the luxury of having been in attendance (or having interviewed someone who was) when the name of the town was chosen, the truth may be forever mired in antiquity.  In the absence of significant evidence to support either of the prevailing legends, I wish to offer a plausible alternative theory.

William Windom was born on May 10, 1827 in Belmont County, Ohio.  He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1850 and elected as prosecuting attorney for Knox County, Ohio in 1852.  In 1854, he called for a Republican Party Convention in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where he launched an unsuccessful bid to become Ohio’s attorney general.  He afterwards removed to Winona County, Minnesota where in 1859 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.  Windom served in the House for ten years, trying unsuccessfully in 1865 to run for the U.S. Senate.  In 1870, he assumed a vacant U.S. Senate seat for one year before being elected to the Senate in his own right in 1871 and again in 1877.  He was a candidate for the presidential nomination at the 1880 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.  In 1881, President James Garfield appointed Windom Secretary of the Treasury, a post Windom resigned in November of that year following Garfield's assassination.  Windom then picked up where he left off, reassuming the Senate seat he had vacated to join Garfield's cabinet.  He served out his term, failed to secure reelection in 1882, and moved to New York City, where he practiced law until 1889. That year, Windom reprised his role as Secretary of the Treasury, this time in President Benjamin Harrison's administration.  Again, he did not hold his post as Secretary of the Treasury for long.  He died in office in 1891.  His portrait appeared on the U.S. $2 silver certificate in the 1890s.

William Windom, photo portrait by Brady Handy, ca1870-1880

William Windom's biographer, Robert S. Salisbury, reveals numerous facts about Windom which are noteworthy relative to the subject at hand.  Although Windom was a Republican and Fannin County voters were largely Democratic in the 1870-1880 time frame, he was a staunch and outspoken supporter of cheap transportation, having made numerous speeches on the Senate floor in favor of government land grants for the railroads and government funding for expansion of the waterways and other infrastructure improvements to enhance the ability of farmers and other land-locked industries to move their products to the coasts for export.  The proposed result would have been more jobs and a thriving economy, which would have appealed to Texas Democrats and Republicans alike.  Although Windom's proposals stood in contrast to the exorbitant pricing and the aspirations of Jay Gould and other railroad monopolists of the time, the average railroad official would have been endeared to Mr. Windom's ideas to increase the use of the railroads.

There are at least eight towns in eight different states named Windom.  At least two of these, in Kansas and Minnesota, are known to have been named for Senator Windom.  Minnesota would, of course, seek to honor one of her own, just as we have done with James W. Fannin and James B. Bonham.  It is interesting to note that Windom, Minnesota was named, not by the local inhabitants, but by General Judson W. Bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, the chief engineer for the construction of the railway in Minnesota.  In the same way, the names for Fannin County and Bonham were originally intended by the local inhabitants to be Independence County and Bloomington, respectively, according to the Handbook of Texas Online, but the Texas legislature wanted to honor heroes of the Alamo.  That Windom, Kansas was named about the time the Santa Fe railroad arrived and was one of the town sites the railroad marked every six miles is not likely coincidental.  Those events closely parallel the history of Windom, Texas.  What is coincidental is that both towns lie on an east-west highway numbered fifty-six.  As with Windom, Texas, other naming legends continue to exist for Windom, Kansas.  It is certainly conceivable, and in my opinion very likely, that Windom, Texas was named by someone outside Fannin County, in this case officials of the Texas and Pacific railroad who were largely Republican in their politics.  The inhabitants around Windom would therefore have had little interest in the origins of the name due to their lack of involvement in the naming process.  A naming authority outside the county would thus have led to the formation of local legends concerning the origins of the town name.

As history often goes, the naming of Windom, Texas may forever remain legendary, but the beauty of legends lies in the freedom to choose that which we wish to believe.  Legends aside, I place my silver certificate on the late, great Secretary of the Treasury, William Windom.

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