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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Part I Navasota? Pretty Sounding Name... NABASOTO? but what does it mean?

Dear Blogreader: This is a lengthy and somewhat untested string of semi-academic wild goose chases that research many possible ways to translate the word Navasota in about five languages. If you are determined to read all of the study, and I encourage you to, search the word BEDIAS at the top right corner of the blog and it will bring up all FIVE, or is it six? of the articles about this elusive word.

Navasota is the name of a significant river in central Texas, and also the frontier town built at its convergence with the mighty Brazos. Navasota, Texas as we know it was actually born in 1854 when the railroad began to deliver the mail instead of the river steamboats, and established a United States Post Office, removing the original Post Office on the east side of the Navasota River inland to a site near the crossing of the new tracks and the La Bahia trail, where it converged with an old Indian trail known to locals as the Coushatti Trace. Formerly known as the tiny crossroads village of Nolanville, after a Judge Nolan who presided here, in much the same fashion as the legendary Judge Roy bean, the new townsite was laid out by the Railroad and named Navasota, after the nearby river, and the river front post office there, soon to be relocated. This was only after the nearby town of Washington on the Brazos had turned down the option of embracing the railroad and the progress it might bring. But that is another story. It might be worthy of note however that it was the short-sighted vision of others that helped Navasota become one of the most important shipping and warehousing locations in early Texas, as its steamboat dependent neighbor across the river became a footnote in Texas history. But even before there was a town by that name, there had been a Navasota County, a label which was abandoned when Brazos County was formed. Strange that today we know so little about the meaning of this ancient Texas name.

Navasota. It has a poetic sound to it. In earlier times it might be written variously as Navasota, Navisot, Navisota or Navisoto. I always assumed it was some sort of Spanish name which we could not decipher. I was disappointed when a Mexican relative assured me it meant nothing particular in her language. I had read claims by various historians that it was an Indian word, or perhaps the conjunction of Navidad with De Soto, suggesting that the explorer by that name had crossed this river on Christmas, or his birthday, or something like that. You may have read the silly legends about the name arising from chickens that “never sat,” or the illiterate Texican seeking his missing bride, who “nevah sawed her.” One of my first inclinations that one might eventually figure this riddle out was when, years ago I discovered a Cherokee cognate, “navi - sudi,” which means local fishing. This was intriguing but problematic. The Cherokees did not migrate into Texas until the nineteenth century, and there were no known language groups known here similar to theirs.

So none of this was very satisfactory. In the years I have lived here in the Navasota area, I have matched the word with hundreds of possible translations in dozens of languages, determined to crack this mystery. I have found some interesting leads, many of which still point to Native American languages. But there are even more fascinating translations possible. So now you might find my discoveries useful as you lie awake at night pondering the imponderable.

Part II tomorrow!

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