Unique Texas town names: Bigfoot, Panna Maria

How did these South Texas towns get their names?

SAN ANTONIO – South Texas is known for its rich history and colorful past, elements that have led to some unique town names.

Take Bigfoot for instance. The small community south of San Antonio was not named for the mythical creature. Instead, its namesake was a well-known historical figure: William "Bigfoot" Wallace.

Wallace was a war hero, Texas Ranger, and a tall guy who received his nickname after his friends reportedly mistook his for an Indian named Bigfoot.

But how did the town come to bear his name?

"Well, there are a lot of different stories," said Martha Knight, a lifelong Bigfoot resident.

The most popular, according to residents, revolves around Wallace owing 5 cents for tobacco. When he lived in Frio County, he asked a young girl to buy him tobacco at the local store.

"She goes and on her way and drops the money to pay for it," said Knight.

At the store, which is now the Bigfoot Post Office, the girl was given the tobacco, but the store owner put up a sign that read "Bigfoot owes 5 cents."

"So a little while later, the postal inspector comes down and wants to know what the name of the town is and the store keeper looks at the wall and says, 'We call it Bigfoot,'" said Knight.

Wallace was buried in Bigfoot, but his body was later moved to Austin. Still, the William "Bigfoot" Wallace Museum sits on the edge of town, in his honor.

Meanwhile, about an hour to the east, Panna Maria is the oldest Polish settlement in the country and bears a name that needs some translation.

The city's history begins when a group of immigrants traveled from Poland to San Antonio, then to the town's current location in 1854 to find farmland. They arrived to the area on the evening of Dec. 24.

"They had Christmas midnight mass and they named the place Panna Maria after the Virgin Mary," said Bishop John Yanta, an expert on the town's history. "Panna Maria in Polish means 'young girl, Mary.'"

It is a name that even attracted the Pope. When Pope John Paul II, a Pole, visited San Antonio in 1987, he was scheduled to visit Panna Maria. Sadly, he ran out of time.

"So, all the people of Panna Maria were guests of his at Assumption Seminary," said Yanta.

There are now plans to build a Panna Maria Heritage Center in the town detailing its rich history. The center is set to open in 2016.

About the Author:

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.