Located in southeastern Fannin County, Bugtussle is situated at the junction of State Highway 34 and Farm Road 1550, five miles north of Ladonia and 10 miles south of Honey Grove. Don't look for any highway signs announcing your arrival at Bugtussle; when I visited in the autumn of 2010, this is the only sign I could find:
Street sign at Bugtussle Boulevard and Milton Place
When I snapped a photo of the street sign, it turns out that the sign was right next to one of the few occupied houses at the ghost town, and the homeowner came out to check on me and see if everything was all right, since he was off to run a few errands anyway. The man, whom I understand teaches at a school in Ladonia, pointed out the crumbling general store just across the street:
Side view of Bugtussle's famous general store, once known as Judge Fink Groceries
The teacher explained that there really should be a sign above the front door to identify the town, but every time the locals put up a sign, someone always comes around and steals it as a souvenir of their visit. Turns out the same thing's been happening to their highway signs; at least 70 Bugtussle highway signs have been reported stolen throughout the town's history.
Before he left, the teacher asked me if I was in the market for some farm equipment; he had a few wares in the front of his house for sale. I'm a city boy, so I didn't have much of a place to put them, but I thanked him for the offer. As he left me to explore the town, the teacher smiled and said, "Welcome to Bugtussle!"
Bugtussle as a town exudes the same sort of charm, which is remarkable considering how relatively little history there seems to be for the community. Here's what I know so far: Bugtussle (also spelled Bug Tussle) was founded in the early 1890s as a farming community named Truss in honor of John Truss, a settler who made the site his new home. Truss established a post office in 1893, but it shut down after only one year of operation. Some time after that, the community changed its name to Bugtussle, and there are three competing stories as to how this happened. The most popular of these tales revolves around a church's ice cream social held on the townsite that was ruined by an invasion of tumble bugs, but apparently some folks got a kick out of watching the tumble bugs wrestle with each other - "tussle," if you will.
Bugtussle home across the street from the general store slowly being reclaimed by Nature
During the Great Depression, Judge James Bates Fink established a Justice of the Peace court in the store (hence the name "Judge Fink Groceries"), where he performed marriages for any couple that showed up at Bugtussle wanting to tie the knot. Judge Fink reportedly charged only a dollar for his services, and he may have married thousands of couples in the little general store as word spread that Judge Fink performed the cheapest marriages in Fannin County. The fact that husband and wife could boast to friends and relations that they got married in a town called "Bugtussle" appeared to be the icing on the wedding cake.
Population figures for most of Bugtussle's history are scarce. By 1962, there were only six people living at the town, but then the David Graham Hall Foundation stepped in to rescue what was left of the town center with a 15-year lease on Bugtussle. In 1966, the population of Bugtussle jumped to 30 and stayed there for about two decades. The Hall Foundation also enabled the townfolk to start producing and selling souvenirs bearing a logo that said MADE IN BUG TUSSLE, TEXAS. A tradition was also started where an impromptu parade of antique cars would gather once a year at the Judge Fink store before heading north to Honey Grove for lunch; this parade has been going on for at least 42 years. By 1990, however, the population dropped down to 15, where it has apparently hovered ever since.
A once-handsome two-story house about a mile north of downtown Bugtussle
Getting back to Judge Fink's iconic grocery store for a moment, it used to be the place where kids could grab a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper or Royal Crown Cola while Dad gassed up the family car. Today, this is what the inside of the store looks like:
Wares on display at the Bugtussle general store
"What'cha readin' for?"
There is one actual business that I know of that's based in Bugtussle. Jan Allen, who moved to Bugtussle with husband Lee a few years ago, brews up a little something in her kitchen called Bugtussle Burn Texas Salsa that I discovered at ZestFest 2012 in Irving. If Jan doesn't mind the shameless plug, I fell in love with the salsa at first bite, and now I always keep a jar handy at home. She has apparently been refining her salsa recipe for some 30 years, and the quality comes through in every bite. Bugtussle Burn is made with a little brown sugar and apple cider vinegar that impart an unusual sweetness to the salsa, and if you're not sure a salsa can pull off a little sweetness, try a bite and see for yourself. It only takes one bite. Don't say I didn't warn you. Just have your wallet or checkbook ready.
My travels keep pushing me into new corners of Texas I've never set foot in before, but I hope to find an excuse to revisit Bugtussle sometime real soon. Bugtussle is a prime example of why we need to preserve small towns in Texas - the world would be just a little bit poorer without it.