How Georgetown Became the Red Poppy Capital of Texas

Georgetown’s red poppies trace their origin to one bag of poppy seeds brought home by Corporal Henry Purl “Okra” Compton after World War I. Okra’s whole life was wonderfully colorful, but his poppy story begins, it is said, with his 28 days in the front-line trenches… without a gun. He is believed to have been the only solder to ever capture an enemy without the aid of a weapon. 

Okra’s son Carter said, in a 2007 interview, the sight of the battlefield cemeteries had a huge impact on his father. “He told Mother the thing that got to him about that war more than anything was when he went to Flanders and saw all those crosses. And most of them were American soldiers.”

Okra brought the seeds back in a Bull Durham sack, and gave them to his mother, Maggie, who planted them in her front yard on E. Seventh Street. “Every year they’d come back up. She’d water them and take care of them.”

From Mrs. Compton’s yard, aided by wind, pollinators, and citizens who later planted seeds, the red poppies spread all over town. In the 1980s, organizations like the Red Poppy Garden Club, City of Georgetown, and others began preserving and spreading poppies by giving away and selling millions of seeds of related species, which grow and reseed themselves like those from Flanders Fields.

By 1990, they propagated to the point that Georgetown was certified by the Texas legislature as the Red Poppy Capital of Texas.

PoppyFest & Popptober

Poppyfest, the street festival, had its origins in another celebration, the Mayfair on the Square. The event was sponsored, in Georgetown, by the Chamber of Commerce and usually took place during the first week of May at San Gabriel Park. The weekend included arts and crafts, a 5K run/ walk, car show, live entertainment, a dance, and plenty of refreshment. 

Today a typical poppy festival hosts more than 65,000 people, with headliners, cooking contests, and hundreds of vendors and several co-located fundraising events around the city. 

After the 2020 was rescheduled, the city is ready for three days of food, entertainment, and family fun October 1-3. “We’re hoping for perfect, fall weather for our POPPtober event,” Tourism Manager Cari Miller said in a release from the city. “Georgetown may feel like a small town, but this is going to be a big party. Folks need to plan to arrive early, be patient, and be prepared to be amongst hundreds of people, especially Saturday night.”

Cari says the city is looking forward to resuming the Springtime schedule in 2022 so Poppy lovers can look forward to another festival in about six months. 

Henry Compton’s grandchildren and Great-grandchildren

Poppyfest 2017

Henry Purl’s nickname “Okra”, came from an early attempt at entrepreneurship on his family farm. 

According to the story, his parents told him to plant 100 acres of cotton and left him to this task. Hearing that a neighbor made $1,000 from one acre of okra, the teenage Compton figured if he planted 100 acres in okra, he’d make a fortune.

When his father realized what he had done, he explained to his son that one acre of okra was enough to supply the whole county, and ordered him to plow it up.

Sadly, rains kept the eager youth from working in the fields, leaving the Compton family with more okra than they could possibly consume, and not a penny in profit. 

After his venture in vegetable farming, H.P. was known by the locals as Okra.