Texas Travel

The ‘Uncertain’ Origins of a Community at Caddo Lake’s Front Door

By Peter Simek 8.2.21

Texas has plenty of towns with unusual names. There’s Bigfoot, Blanket, Cut and Shoot, Frognot, Jot ’Em Down, and Nameless.

Sometimes Texas towns’ peculiar names have intriguing or humorous backstories. The town of Noodle took its name from a nearby creek at a time when “noodle” was another way for saying “nothing” — the creek bed was dry. The townspeople of Rainbow decided on the name when, gathering to discuss the matter, a thunderstorm broke out and a rainbow appeared in the sky. What makes Uncertain unique among Texas’ curiously named towns is that no one really knows how the town got its name. There are nearly half a dozen plausible explanations for its origin, and residents claim dozens more. That, er, uncertainty makes Uncertain one of the most aptly named towns in Texas.

Which theory do you like best?

Uncertain Origins

No. 1: A Dodgy Mooring

Located on the edge of Caddo Lake, Uncertain didn’t officially incorporate into a city until the 1960s, but its history stretches back much further than that. In the 19th century, the murky waterways of East Texas functioned as important trade routes into the territory of the new Texas Republic. Jefferson, a few miles northwest of Uncertain, was the second-largest port city outside of Galveston. Trading vessels bound for Jefferson often found themselves tying up in Uncertain on their way into town. That’s the origin of the first story of the town’s name. The mooring around Uncertain was a bit tricky to predict, and steamboat captains began referring to the spot as the “Uncertain Landing.”

No. 2: Lost Packages

A second origin story is also related to shipping. Cargo bound for Jefferson sometimes went unclaimed, and the backed-up packages and containers — “uncertain” of the recipient — were sent down river, often piling up in Uncertain.

No. 3: Tax Evasion

A third origin story also dates back to early Texas. The town was located so close to the Louisiana border — and thus to the border between the United States and the Texas Republic — that it claimed to be uncertain about what country it resided in, a clever strategy for dodging the taxing jurisdiction of both countries.

No. 4: Clerical Error

A simpler story chalks the name up to a clerical mistake. Townspeople filing their articles of incorporation weren’t sure what to name their new town so they wrote the word “uncertain” in the space where the town’s name should go.

Uncertain Caddo Lake

A Gateway to Caddo Lake

What is clear about Uncertain’s story is that by the early 1900s, the name had stuck. The area became popular as a sportsperson’s destination and developed as a gateway to the outdoor attractions around Caddo Lake. By the 1940s, several camping lodges operated in the area, as well as a sawmill. In the 1960s, the community wanted to capitalize on tourism dollars by selling alcohol, which inspired Uncertain to formally incorporate. The population fell from a height of around 200 people in the early 1960s to less than 100 by 2015.

But the area is still frequented by visitors who are sure to find opportunities for great fishing, boat tours, holiday festivals, birding, and other adventures in the mysterious forests and bayous of Caddo Lake.

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