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The Namesake of Nolanville

Philip Nolan, Mustanger and Filibuster

Namesake of Nolanville, Texas


Mustangs brought Philip Nolan to Texas and mustangs would bring him down in Texas.

Texas used to be horse country.  With its harsh climate and vast openness, herds of wild mustangs roamed freely during the time period in which Philip Nolan carved out a name for himself.  Those mustangs were actually descendants of the mustangs imported by the Spanish as far back as 1542 and were known for their agility, toughness, and endurance.  They likely got their name from the Spanish word mesteño, or “belonging to the stockmen.”

Jump ahead 150 years and Philip Nolan is a 20-year-old Irish immigrant fresh off the boat from Belfast and looking to make a living.  He is granted permission to make a trading expedition from Louisiana into Texas.  As with most “adventures that make great stories” this one did not go according to plan.  His goods were confiscated and Nolan spent the next two years living with the Native Americans and learning everything he could about wild horses.


Nolan returned from that first expedition with 50 wild horses and the next adventure garnered him 250.  It seems he found his niche in the world.  Each expedition saw his successes increase exponentially and the next trip saw him bring back more than 1,000 horses. This success began to breed increasing suspicion and hostility from the Spanish government.  They believed he was there as a filibuster or freebooter to support insurrectionist forces.  When Nolan returned to Texas a fourth time, he did so without a passport from the Spanish government and this would be his downfall.

Nolan and his 21 well-armed cadre were not enough to overcome the Spanish soldiers who beset them.  Most of Nolan’s men were captured and imprisoned, seven were able to escape, and the only one to lose his life that day was Philip Nolan.

As with all things wild (Irish, Texas, Mustangs) his legend is probably much bigger than his life.

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