Texas Myth #319

THE HORNY TOAD CAN SQUIRT BLOOD FROM ITS EYES.
Good horror-film premise, huh? Especially because it’s true—sort of. However, our state reptile can’t scuttle about emitting such opti-spurts just for fun. The ability is a last-ditch defense mechanism that kicks in only when the little lizard feels in mortal danger. Then its blood pressure rises so rapidly that gouts of gore burst through membranes in the corners of its eyes, spraying several feet and, ideally, distracting the fearsome roadrunner or first-grader.

Q: What is the most tornado-prone spot in Texas?
A: That would be a patch of Texas Panhandle some 4.6 miles northeast of Twitty (and, not surprisingly, only 10 miles or so west of what’s-its-name—you know, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain). Between 1950 and 2004, 67 funnels touched down or passed within 20 miles of the Wheeler County site. (That info blew in from the tornado-research firm VorTek, of Huntsville, Alabama.) Texas boasts the questionable distinction of experiencing more tornadoes annually than any other state—some 120—largely because of its size. Statistically, a tornado is most likely to hit in the month of May. Texas’s two deadliest in history hit on May 18, 1902, and May 11, 1953, in Goliad and Waco, respectively; each killed 114 people.

Q: I grew up in the town of Eagle Lake. I’ve heard that the lake the town was named for is the only natural lake in Texas, but I’ve also heard that Caddo Lake is. Can you clear up the confusion for me?
A: Naturally! First, let’s dive into an examination of the phrase “natural lake.” Although the first half seems self-explanatory—i.e., no dam cheating—the second means different things to scientists and regular folks. Depending on factors such as the shallowness of the water and the lack of waves, the former may dismiss what I call a lake as a lowly pond. Odds are that the ancient Eagle Lake would have been dubbed Eagle Pond by ancient limnologists (lake experts). Doesn’t matter, though, because in 1900 a private company built a dam and diverted water from the nearby Colorado River, an undertaking that made the lake bigger but less, well, real. (Think breast augmentation.) However, your hometown body of water does come with a nice romantic legend involving an Indian babe who dispatched her dueling suitors on an eagle chase. That’s how the lake got its name.

Then there’s huge, mystical Caddo Lake, covering 30,000 acres and dating back perhaps thousands of years. But a fate similar to Eagle Lake’s awaited Caddo, even though the East Texas jewel was widely hailed as Texas’ sole natural lake. In 1914 the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam for flood control, ending Caddo’s legitimate status as “natural.” Besides, since the lake straddles the state line, we’ve always shared the moss-draped region with Louisiana. That fact, however, didn’t keep the 2003 Texas Legislature from designating Caddo the First Lake of Texas.

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