Hondo’s “Don’t Drive…Like Hell” Sign A Prime Example of Texas Small-Town Promotion

Across outstretched timeline of Texas History, from the notorious “Greenville Welcome,” sign, to signs in so-called “sundown towns,” city welcome signage has played an important part in local identity and pride for small towns across the state.

In Hondo, though, since the 1930s, folks passing through the town on US Highway 90 have been reminded, “This is God’s Country, Please Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell.”

A postcard showing Hondo’s infamous sign c. 1950.

The signs have seen their share of controversy, and have a long history.

W.N. Saathoff was credited with coming up with the iconic slogan in the 1930s, when the Lion’s Club of Hondo then erected signs with the slogan at the entrances to town along US 90. Saathoff, who later served as President of the local Lion’s Club, wrote of the signs:

“The Hondo Lions Club had a determination to place Hondo on the top along Hi-way 90. They proposed a Western Road sign would help the cause. Two weeks elapsed and no one had a slogan. Hesitating, I asked the Chairman for the floor, which was granted, and I proposed to adopt, ‘This Is God’s Country, Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell.’ It went over big.”

In a letter written to the former executive secretary of the local Chamber of Commerce, Saathoff further noted that the timing of the signs coincided with the time the Model-T “went out of existence,” and motorists were more inclined to speed.[1]

In 1968, the Hondo Lions Club ordered and distributed 100,000 picture postcards of the sign to distribute at an International Lions convention in Dallas, and at the Hemisfair in San Antonio.

A few years later, in 1971, local church members caused some uproar over the sign and the language it contained. While, at some point prior, the word, “Please” was added to the signs to appease similar negative sentiments, this time, religious leaders succeeded in having the signs removed for a short time, but they were later re-erected.[2]

For a couple of years in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the signs again came down. This time, however, it was for the widening of US 90. The signs were re-erected to great fanfare in the summer of 2012, with government funds and citizen and civic club donations helping fund new rock pads and other accoutrements for the signs.[3]

In 2016, the signs again were under fire. This time, however, it wasn’t from religious folks in Hondo. It was from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 2016, the foundation sent letters to the city requesting the signs be removed because they referenced both a specific “god” and Hell itself. Significant uproar surrounded the request, and local citizens were quite unhappy. The mayor at the time, in fact, told the media, “There is no way in hell we are taking down those signs.”[4]

[1] “Highway 90 Sign — Hondo Lions Club (C113),” reprint of an Hondo Anvil-Herald article, reprinted in The History of Medina County, Texas. Castro Colonies Heritage Association, Inc. National ShareGraphics, Inc., Dallas, Texas. Year of publication not in text, ISBN: 0-88107-010-6. Dallas Public Library holdings.

[2] Lomax, John Nova. “Hondo’s ‘God’s Country’ Signs Come Under Scrutiny,” The Daily Post (blog), Texas Monthly (online), June 23, 2016, http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/hondos-gods-country-signs-come-under-scrutiny/, accessed March 16. 2017.

[3] MacCormack, Zeke. “Iconic Welcome Signs Return To Hondo,” San Antonio Express-News, January 12, 2012. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Iconic-welcome-signs-return-to-Hondo-2474765.php, accessed March 16, 2017.

[4] Steele, Tom. “Oh, heavens: Fight breaks out over ‘God’s country, signs in small Texas town,” Dallas Morning News, June 21, 2016 http://www.dallasnews.com/news/news/2016/06/21/oh-heavens-fight-breaks-out-over-gods-country-signs-in-small-texas-town

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Vince Leibowitz

Publisher & Editor at Contemporary Texas History
Vince Leibowitz is a journalist, author, and historian. He is the Publisher and Editor of Contemporary Texas History.

He lives in Colorado County, Texas with his two dogs, Lyndon "Puppy" and Senfronia.

He serves on the Colorado County Historical Commission and as Managing Editor of The Colorado County Citizen.

He recently secured a Texas Historical Marker for Etta Moten Barnett. the first black woman to sing solo in the White House. In April, 2019, he was named South Texas Press Association Journalist of the Year for Division I.
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