What’s in a Name? Mustang Island Landmarks Revealed
Nestled snugly between San Jose Island and Padre Island, part of the front line of hearty barrier islands defense against hurricanes and other dangers, Mustang Island goes back a long way. Here are five island landmarks and the origin stories of their names:
1. Pretty, Pretty Horses
Mustang Island – or Isla Mesteño, is named for wild horses that used to roam this 18-mile long barrier island bridging present-day Corpus Christi and Port Aransas. The beautiful beasts ran free across the dunes and shallows until the last of their majestic wild herds disappeared in the 1800s. No one is sure how the mustangs got here… Spaniards might have brought them, or perhaps they swam from a shipwreck. Sadly, they are long gone from these parts. Ironically, popular local attraction Horses On the Beach, where you may indeed ride horses on the beach, is located on neighboring Padre Island.
It’s almost invisible, but it’s the official line between Padre Island to the southwest and Mustang Island to the northeast. Packery Channel is a small, man-made pass with two jetties great for fishing and pleasure craft, Packery Channel got its strange name from the meat-packing plants that existed here in the 1800s.
3. Horace and Bob Who?
Port Aransas’s 1,240-foot Horace Caldwell Pier, stretching out over the Gulf of Mexico, was named after a Nueces County commissioner who served from 1945 to 1960. According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, when the original pier was dedicated in 1962, one year after Hurricane Carla devastated the region, instead of using the traditional ribbon for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, they used a stringer (fish line) loaded with fish caught offshore. The man who cut the line to signal the pier’s grand opening was none other than Horace himself. After the dedication, a county judge “held a trial for Hurricane Carla, judged her a ‘bad character’ and sentenced her to walk the plank… Carla, a painted weather balloon, was tossed off the pier and immediately sank.” The year before, Hurricane Carla had destroyed the first Bob Hall Pier, located on Padre Island in Corpus Christi. The pier also was named for a Nueces County Commissioner.
4. The Bird Lady of Port Aransas
More than 600 bird species have been recorded in the Coastal Bend. That’s why we are the Birdiest City in America. The secret is that two coastal flyways converge in the Coastal Bend. One woman recorded over 401 varieties on her life list of birding accomplishments. Her name was Leonabelle Turnbull, who took up birding as a hobby, informally guiding bird-watching groups for years. Port Aransas’s Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center was named in honor of the fine friend of our fine, feathered friends.
5. A Town By Any Other Name...
As the only established town on Mustang Island, Port Aransas has been through a few name changes over the years. Here are a few:
- Sand Point
- The Pass
- Wild Horse Island (aka Mustang Island)
- Aránzazu Pass
- El Mar Rancho
In 1895, the small settlement changed the name from Ropesville to Tarpon to lure sportsmen from all over the country who came to fish there. One such sportsman who heeded the call was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who visited the town in its fish-frenzied heyday. Current fine-dining favorite, Roosevelt’s, the restaurant at the Tarpon Inn, bears the name of the famous president.
A major drought in the 1950s is said to be a contributing factor for the final blow to the tarpon population in the area (although today, keen anglers know how to follow the migration patterns just off the coast). Since 1910, citizens had already been calling their town Port Aransas, and that is the name that sticks today. Well, that and “Port A.”
Carved out of churning surf and shifting sands through the ages, Mustang Island is waiting for you to come slather on the SPF, put your toes in the surf and explore all the stories behind the names you’ll encounter on this 18-mile stretch of beaches, entertainment and history.