Tucumcari New Mexico, August, 1913 by Bortell
Courtesy of the State Records Center and Archives.
Reproducing prohibited without express permission from the State Records Center and Archives.

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According to T.M. Pearce, one of the better explanations comes from Elliott Canonge, an Oklahoma linguist, who opines that “the name is Comanche tukamukaru, ‘to lie in wait for someone or something to approach.’ According to Felix Kowena, his Comanche informant, this particular mountain was frequently used as a lookout by Comanche war parties.” Fray Angélico Chávez discovered a 1777 burial record mentioning a Comanche woman and her child captured in a battle at Cuchuncari, apparently and early version of Tucumcari. But other etymologies are also possible; a West Texas anthropologist believes it comes from a Kiowa word meaning “breast.” The town of Tucumcari appeared much later than the name. In 1901 the Chicago,Rock Island &Pacific Rail Road extended its line to the area, and half the population of nearby Liberty moved to the unnamed tent city. Prairie winds caught clothing and rags and scattered them among the brushes, giving the town it first nickname, Ragtown. The camp’s saloons and gambling halls soon attracted outlaws and rowdies, and before long the camp had another nickname, Six-shooter Siding. The town’s first formal name was Douglas, given for reasons unknown, but this was short-lived, and soon the name Tucumcari was adopted in 1901. Quay County was formed in 1903 and Tucumcari became the town seat; it was incorporated in 1908. Tucumcari Creek in the south part of the county near Ragland flows northeast and northeast of Tucumcari joins the Canadian River at Logan. Tucumcari Lake, immediately north and east of Tucumcari, is a large natural lake, for centuries a watering place for Indians, comancheros, and cattle drivers on the Goodnight-Loving Trail. In 1926, U. S. Highway 66 came through town and Tucumcari became a roadside attraction with motels, restaurants, and dazzling neon lights.

Robert Julyan

Place Names of New Mexico

Historical Gazetteer of US-New Mexico

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