ORIGIN OF THE NAME "TULLAHOMA"

 

Several theories have been advanced concerning the origin of the name Tullahoma. Recently I notified Marjorie Collier of a theory new to us involving Peter Decherd and his proposal of the name Tulkahoma as described later in this section.
Marjorie replied promptly as follows:

"There are several fanciful versions of the naming of Tullahoma which, in my opinion, are not backed up by history or logic. Corinne Martinez in our book, "Coffee County from Arrowheads to Rockets", describes some of these versions. The best evidence is in the May 1929 issue of the NC & St L Newsletter where Mayor W.J.Davidson in his History of Tullahoma describes a visit of John C. McLemore to T.A.Anderson about the time the site was surveyed wherein he proposed the Indian words "Tulla Homa" meaning "red dirt". It had formerly been the name of a town in Mississippi, the ancient home of the Choctaw Indian tribe. He thought it described the color of the soil here. Mayor Davidson stated, "The above plain statement of facts contradicts the many beautiful allegories that have been written about the name of the town, in which pretty Indian maidens bore a conspicuous part, but the facts were related to the writer twenty-five years ago by the late Honorable L.B.Morgan, a son-in-law of Dr. Anderson, and who was living here when the town was named."
  I have a book, the "Choctaw Definer" by Ben Watkins which gives English with Choctaw Definition. He shows "tuli" means" rock or metal" and "homa" means"red". Oklahoma, where the Indians were settled by the US Government, means "people" and "red". There are other names with the homa ending in Mississippi and Oklahoma. Some people like to think tullahoma means yellow flowers and would like to use it as a symbol of the city. It would be more attractive (although not accurate) than red rocks.
- Marjorie"

The part of Mayor Davidson's 1929 history Marjorie describes follows:
"TULLAHOMA is the only town in the United States bearing a name not applied to any other place, thing or personr and the name being a singular one it may be of interest to those familiar with the town to learn when and by whom the name was applied to this little city. The site upon which Tullahoma is built and for many miles adjacent was originally owned by Benj. Decherd, Dr. T. A. Anderson, Pierce B. Anderson, Volney S. Stevenson, and William Moore, the 'most of these men, having immigrated to tlis seclon from Eastt Tennessee about 1848, men prominent in their day and being among the first peopIe to settle in this immediate vicinity en February 8, 1850, these men entered into an agreement to found the town of Tullahoma and Pierce B. Anderson, of Civil and Mexican War fame and one of the owners of the land was engaged to survey and map out the territory for the town site. Other emigrants, mostly from Jonesboro, Tennessee, were gradually moving into this section of the State, and Tullahoma was becoming quite a little village, and up to this time was without a name. About the time the town site was surveyed, John C. McLemore of Memphis, Tennessee, made a visit here to one of his old friends, Dr. T. A. Anderson, and in discussing a name for the town he proposed the Indian words "Tulla Homa" meaning red dirt, as a name for the little village. The peculiar yellow or red color of the soil suggested the name, and this name was adopted and the town has since been known as Tullahoma. The above plain statement of facts contradicts the many beautiful allegories that have been written about the name of the town, in which pretty Indian maidens bore a conspicuous part, but the facts were related to the writer twenty. five years ago by the late Honorable L B. Morgan, a son-in-law of Dr. Anderson, and who was living here when the town was named."

The URL of theTullahoma History web site hosted by Tullahoma.net is:
http://www.tullahoma.net/historical/historic2.html
and includes the following re the name:

"Where did the City of Tullahoma get its name?That's a question that has been asked for many years in the area and, depending on whom you ask, you might get three to four different answers.
There are several of colorful Indian fables about the origin of Tullahoma's name that have been handed down over the years. One tells the tale of the Indian Chief who rescued his daughter, Tulla, from men working at the railroad camp during the city's early history with the words - "Tulla-homa".
Then, there is the supposed Indian translation of Tullahoma that means "the Land of Golden Flowers". Although the name fits the area perfectly due to the amount of wildflowers, there is yet another Indian name attributed to the area.
Another interesting tale comes from then most unlikely of sources: a restaurant place mat. According to the tale told to visitors of Darras Restaurant in Grenada, Mississippi, the town was once split into two villages: Tullahoma and Pittsburgh. A political rivalry went on for years until the two communities were joined in 1836 to form the town of Grenada.

John C. McLemore was a very well know land surveyor and speculator in the southeast. From the UTK Library Collection for McLemore:
"John Christmas McLemore was born on January 1, 1790. After coming to Nashville, TN, in 1809, he became a surveyor's clerk and then succeeded his uncle as Surveyor General of the Tennessee Military Tract. McLemore married Elizabeth Donelson and befriended her uncle Andrew Jackson. The two cooperated in land development in Alabama and West Tennessee, resulting in towns named McLemoresville and Christmasville. He is also attributed as the fourth founding father of Memphis, TN, having owned 800 acres of land in the city and donating some for the Memphis Court Square. McLemore speculated in nearby Fort Pickering and the LaGrange and Memphis Railroad. Following bankruptcy in these speculations, he joined the California gold rush in an attempt to find new wealth, returning a decade later to Memphis, where he died on May 20, 1864."

The Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce web site provides a slightly different version which was provided by the Coffee County Historical Society. http://www.tullahoma.org/History.htm
Which includes the following:
"In the area surrounding what is now known as Tullahoma, there was evidence of Indian villages dating before the Revolutionary War.  Historians have noted that the area was very desirable as a hunting ground for the Indians. Tullahoma, Tennessee, is currently the only city in the world bearing that name, but this wasn't always the case. In the early 1800's, there was a small settlement in Mississippi named Tullahoma. When that community decided to improve its resources by joining forces with a neighboring town, they discarded the name "Tullahoma" and gave the larger town a new name. A short time later, a small group of those Mississippi townspeople from the original Tullahoma decided to migrate north to Tennessee. They settled in an area near the Cumberland Mountains where there was a plentiful water supply including therapeutic mineral springs. When it came time to identify their new town, they decided to use the name of the former Mississippi hometown that was at one time called Tullahoma - the Indian word meaning "red earth."
The Tullahoma Fine Arts Center web site hosted by Midtenn.net is:
http://www.tullahomafinearts.org/past.htm and includes the following:
"Tullahoma, A Pictorial History
Illustrations by Jim House and narration by Paul Pyle
This section called Tullahoma was formerly a hunting ground for various Tribes of Indians that settled along the Duck River, about seven miles north, and the Elk River about the same distance south. At each river there is evidence of large, former Indian encampments. There is also, evidence of a few former temporary Indian residents near Big Springs (in Frazier MeEwen Park), along Rock Creek.
Prior to1850, the Tullahoma area was divided into large farming sections, ranging from 100 to 600 acres, which were owned by various families of Hogan, Grizzard, Holt, Ferrell, Hazlehurt, Harris, and so forth. Corn, small grains, fruits, and vegetables were grown, even though the soil was not as productive as it was in the surrounding areas.
The farming plots greatest assets were the hardwood timbers, even though the land owners were greatly handicapped with a lack of roads and modern shipping methods. The Tullahoma property was joined on the west by Bedford County, and was about equally divided between Franklin and Coffee Counties.
The coming of the railroad (Nashville and Chattanooga) changed the entire course of the area's history.
Being the highest point (1,070 feet above sea level) and the nearest center between Nashville and Chattanooga, it was a likely spot for developers William S. Moore, Dr. T.A. Anderson, Pierce B. Anderson, Benjamin Decherd, and Volney S. Steverson to organize a town company around 1850, and to found the town which was incorporated in 1852. The name of "Tullahoma" is of Choctaw Indian vintage possibly meaning "red dirt." Even though the Choctaw Indians were mostly in Mississippi, at this time."

Don.Merritt an archelogical consultant of Tullahoma Tennessee sent me an email on March 18, 2006 noting that the had seen my presentation on Channel 6 and that he had enjoyed reading my Tullahoma Then Web site. He then mentioned that while watching the CSPAN Book TV Program, he had seen the author talking about his book and mentioning something about the name of the town of Tullahoma.
The book was "Soldier of Tennessee: General Alexander P. Stewart and the Civil War in the West" by Sam Davis Elliott. Don had the local library obtain the book and there he found the following statement: "Peter Decherd offered rail road right-of-way through his land in 1845 and thus was given the right to name two local stations, "Decherd" and "Tulkahoma," the latter for an Indian chief captured by his grandfather. "Tulkahoma" was gradually corrupted to "Tullahoma". The statement has sources listed including "Lee and his Lieutenants" 11, 15-16, 18, 200-208 by Pollard. "A Brief History of Decherd, Tennessee" by Mrs. Bob C. Hall. "Stewart" by Wingfield and "Franklin County Historical Review" 3 (june 1972) 3-4.

From the Tullahoma Arts Center web site listed in the preceding:
"Being the highest point (1,070 feet above sea level) and the nearest center between Nashville and Chattanooga, it was a likely spot for developers William S. Moore, Dr. T.A. Anderson, Pierce B. Anderson, Benjamin Decherd, and Volney S. Steverson to organize a town company around 1850, and to found the town which was incorporated in 1852."

Marjorie Collier points out that Tullahoma is not the highest point between Nashville and Chattanooga as follows: "As much as I hate to shatter myths, I can't let this one go by. Tullahoma is _not_ the highest point on the railroad mainline between Chattanooga and Nashville. The Cumberland Tunnel at 1147 feet near the center is the highest. Since Chattanooga's elevation is 689', Cowan's elevation is 968', Tullahoma's is 1067' and Nashville's is 455', you could say Tullahoma is at a high point or even the highest point between Cowan and Nashville, but not the highest point between Chattanooga and Nashville.
Marjorie"

Note that a Decherd was among those who laid out Tullahoma and even today there are Moore, Anderson, Decherd and Volney streets in Tullahoma.

In my opinion, Mayor Davidson's 1929 history is a very useful and outstanding work and nicely complements the earlier work of Archibald Yell Smith. We have noted that Tullahoma was named almost 80 years before Davidson's History was written and the third-hand comment from Dr. Anderson to L. B. Morgan to Mayor Davidson was about 50 years after the nameing event. Also some have noted that there was little red soil on the original Tullahoma site but if our city name was imported from Tullahoma, Mississippi then the significant question becomes "Is there red soil in Grenada the successor of Tullahoma, Mississippi?" And according to Don Merritt this type soil does exist in the Tullahoma, MS area. Also, Davidson does not present any evidence that McLemore had any contact with Tullahoma, MS.

However in her very well documented
1975 Tullahoma History, Dorothy (Williams) Potter provides evidence that McLemore
owned land near and in the 1830s served on a planning commission for Tullahoma, MS and she documents the fact that McLemore and Dr, Anderson knew each other very well. This document is available from the Coffee County Historical Society. The following is abstracted from Dorothy (Williams) Potter's work:
"BEGINNING AND END OF TULLAHOMA, MISSISSIPPI:
THE PROBABILITY that the attractive name, Tullahoma, had been reborn in Tennessee after its demise in Mississippi seemed high enough to warrant closer study. Obviously, if one hoped to find this link between the two towns named Tullahoma, it was necessary to delve into the history of the Mississippi settlement. Built on land which was ceded by the Choctaws just prior to the forming of the town company, Tullahoma, Mississippi, came into existence in 1833. A number of prominent Tennesseans were involved, and, indeed, Tennesseans figured quite importantly. most of these early land transactions were made by promotors and land speculators who, through town companies, dreamed of founding towns in strategic locations and amassing fortunes by the sale of town lots. Both Tullahomas, Mississippi and Tennessee, are shown to have been founded in this manner. From this brief history of Tullahoma, Mississippi, it is clear that a number of influential Tennesseans knew about the town and could have been responsible for transplanting the name to Tennessee. But who actually did it, and what were the circumstances? Within a short time evidence was found. While researching in the Tennessee State Archives one day, Betty Bridgewater discovered in the Manuscript Section an entry which read as follows: TULLAHOMA: Town, Coffee County (founded 1861; inc.; alt. 1,070 ft.; pop. 10,123 [sic]; N.C. & St. L R.R.; State [highways] 16,55). John C. Mclemore proposed the Indian words "Tulla Homa" as the name of the village when he was visiting an old friend, Doctor T.A. Anderson, a resident. Because the words mean "red dirt" and since the[y] aptly described the soil, the name was adopted.It is quite natural for Thomas Anderson to discuss the new town
company being formed at the time, and one can see McLemore recalling the small town in Mississippi which had been in existence around 16 years earlier. Both areas were marked with red or yellow soil, why not use the Choctaw word. Tullahoma. meaning red stone. Tullahoma Post Office, Tennessee, came into being February 5, 1850 the only place in the world that has carried the name since."

Dorothy also provides evidence against the Decherd Tulkahoma idea as follows:
"SOME EARLIER STORIES First there is the story that Tullahoma was named for an Indian chief called "Tulkahoma" who lived in Pennsylvania during the 1750's. In a family genealogy we read that Peter Spyker Decherd was born ... in Abingdon, Virginia.... He moved early in life from Abingdon to Winchester, Tennessee.... He removed from Winchester about 1831 to the Decherd Plantation about two miles distant. The town of Decherd is located on what was his Estate. He gave so much land that he had the privilege of naming another station about 10 miles from Decherd which he named after his horse, Tulkahoma. This was repeated in an article written in 1944 by Marshall Wingfield, a Minister, of Memphis, Tennessee.
Peter Spyker had preceded his son-in-law Michael Decherd, to Winchester, He too, had come from Berks County, Pennsylvania. There he had been an Indian fighter and the capturer of Chief Tulkahoma at the raid on the Tulpehocken settlement near the western boundary of Berks County, November 16, 1755. When the first railroad was projected, Peter Spyker Decherd donated a right-of-way through his extensive domain.... In recognition of this he was asked to name two of the stations. One he named "Decherd" for his family, and the other "Tulkahoma" for his favorite horse, which animal had been named for the Chief captured by his grandfather. "Tulkahoma" being slightly difficult of pronunciation, was gradually transformed to "Tullahoma."

Finally, in response to a letter in April 1972, the Director of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Dr. Nicholas B. Wainwright, wrote that the State society found no mention of a Chief Tulkahoma, and the sources they consulted included the definitive 1881 and 1897 editions of Indians of Berks County by D.B. Brunner. In this connection it is significant that the National Archives' records of the Post Office Department show that the post office was established at Tullahoma, in Franklin County, on February 5, 1850. Through county boundary and other changes, the post office was located in Coffee County a short time later, and certainly prior to November 25,1851, when an Act was passed by the State Legislature to charter the Manchester and TulIahoma Turnpike Company "... for the purpose of building a Turnpike Road from Manchester in the county of Coffee, to intersect the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad at Tullahoma, in tbe same county..." This is the fIrst: mention of the town in the Public Acts and also would indicate that the name was always Tullahoma, not Tulkahoma. Hence, we cannot substantiate the family tradition about a "Chief Tulkahoma," or a horse of the same name."

But this story is so interesting that Don Merritt, me and other members of our local group continue, needing entertainment and something legal to do, research on that concept.

The reader is urged to read Dorothy Potter's
work in its entirity noting the thoroughness of her work and the citing or basic sources for her comments and conclusions.


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