Local historian James Powell has lived in Copperas Cove since 1963 and he loves telling tales about a small town’s past that he considers fascinating and colorful.
“I’m sorry – I get kind of excited,” Powell said recently, as he and Copperas Cove Historical Society president Joyce Hauk talked about plans to resurrect the city’s now-defunct Ogletree Gap Heritage Festival and other projects, including building a museum someday.
“The people in this group see the need for preserving Copperas Cove’s history,” Powell said. “It has a rich history, but most people don’t know anything about it. One of the reasons for that is because we have a transient population (associated with the military at nearby Fort Hood).”
Powell, who makes historical presentations at area schools and other places, says one of the things people probably don’t know about the city of Copperas Cove is that it first came into being as a result of the famed Chisholm Trail, a route used in the post-Civil War era for large cattle drives from various parts of Texas to railheads in Kansas.
“As you view Texas, and Texas history, we forget that the longhorn cattle drives is why we’re here. That was the beginning,” he explained. “When the cattle drives started (around 1866), going up into Kansas and Oklahoma, it was the Chisholm Trail drives that affected us. When the men left for the Civil War, the wives and children who were left behind couldn’t keep up with the steers, so they just cut ‘em loose. There were thousands of longhorn cattle here, and they were wild.
“Now, the cattle drives started from the King Ranch, Mexico, South Texas … and they came up to about where Round Rock is today, and then they divided. One of them ran through Belton – you can still see the wagon tracks at Camp Tahuaya – and the other one went through Lampasas. And we were in the middle.
“People came into this area for grazing land. As far as the town, when Marsden Ogletree came and established the stage(coach) stop, the next event was the railroad. When the railroad came through, they moved to where the downtown is now, and began to bring the cattle to the stockyards by rail. Then, of course, farming cotton came to Texas.
“I think those are two – or three – of the things that people don’t know about Copperas Cove. All of those were important not only to Copperas Cove, but it was happening all across Texas.
“Then, of course, everybody wants to know where Copperas Cove got its name...
“Where the stage stop is (a historic building that still stands in Ogletree Gap park), there were springs coming up. If you’ve tasted well water here, it has a strong sulphur taste, to me. I have a well on my place out in the country, and it’s sulphur. Back then, they called it ‘copperas.’ There’s no copper here, but it was a bitter tasting water, and they said it has a copperas taste.
“When they applied for a postal permit, they applied under the name of Cove, because it sits in that little cove area (surrounded by the famed five hills). But the city of Evant (just northwest of Cove) was originally named Cove, so their request was rejected. They re-applied under the name Coperas Cove. It was spelled with only one ‘p,’ and I have no idea why. But in 1901, for some reason, they added a ‘p.’
“In 1878, they first applied for the postal permit that was denied. In 1879, that’s when they got the postal permit. There were people here before, but that’s what we use to establish the origin of the town.”