County has pleasant names, if not hills

By David Stevens: Freedom New Mexico

If Ceran St. Vrain ever passed through his supposed Curry County namesake, he didn’t know it.

St. Vrain, the man, may have spent time in the northern Texas Panhandle where he owned partnership in a business for a while, but his visits to eastern New Mexico are not well chronicled if there were any. And he died of a stroke at age 68 in 1870 — 37 years before the St. Vrain post office was established 17 miles west of Clovis.

Curry County’s St. Vrain was nothing but prairie grass until the early 1900s when the Santa Fe railroad briefly considered it a possible division point for its new route west.

No one on this earth today knows why St. Vrain would have been named in honor of the personable fur trapper, soldier and merchant who spent most of his life around Taos in northern New Mexico.

Truth is, we’re not even sure St. Vrain is named for Ceran St. Vrain. Curry County historian Don McAlavy has often reported the community was named by an unknown railroad official who wanted to honor his father-in-law, who was named St. Vrain.

Robert Julyan recognizes both possibilities in his book, “The Place Names of New Mexico.”

It’s possible both theories are correct, of course. The New Mexico office of the state historian’s Web site tells us Ceran St. Vrain may have been married up to four times, with children from each union. So maybe one of them married a railroad worker.

The point of all this trivia is to segue into recognition of Curry County’s 100th anniversary. Territorial Gov. George Curry signed the papers creating the county on Feb. 25, 1909.

Guess where Curry County got its name.

As for how other county communities came by their names:

• Melrose was originally called Brownhorn after local ranchers Wildhorse Brown and Lonny Horn. The name was changed in 1906 by railroad officials who apparently liked the town of Melrose, Ohio. We don’t know why Brownhorn residents accepted the change, especially after the railroad reneged on its plans to establish headquarters there.

• Clovis was created by the railroad. Only a general store was here before the railroad built a town in 1907. A railroad official’s daughter — or maybe his wife, historians are not sure — picked the name to honor the first Christian king of France.

• Most agree Grady was named for Pearl Grady, the community’s first postmistress in 1907 and the owner of most of the land in the area.

• Texico was a no-brainer: Texas is just across the railroad tracks from New Mexico’s oldest Curry County community, established in 1902.

I think my favorite Curry County community name is the pastoral Pleasant Hill.

The place is pleasant enough alright, though I can’t see any hill in that area north of Clovis.

Julyan tells us a settler selected the name because he’d always been fond of Pleasant Hill, Texas.

At least that makes more sense than St. Vrain.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at 1-800-819-9925 or by e-mail: dstevens@cnjonline.com