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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The Legend Of Bone Hill

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Bone Hill, a landmark standing about four miles northeast of Center, reportedly got its name from a herd of cattle who died atop the mill, leaving their bones to whiten in the East Texas sun.

But, as with all legends, thereís more to the story.

Cattle rustlers, who ran rampant during the turbulent era between 1837 and 1850, supposedly drove large herds of cattle through East Texas, across the Sabine River and on to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to sell the stock to unsuspecting buyers.

As the rustlers passed through Shelby County, it wasnít unusual for them to lose strays from the herd. Since they didnít own the cows, they didnít bother to round them up.

As the years passed, the strays found each other, multiplied in number and came together in a verdant valley, fed by tributaries of Tenaha Creek, north of a forested hill.

Local settlers often carried salt to the hill to make sure the stock would remain there and often laid claim to some of the strays. Indians also raided the herd for meat. Gun battles were frequent between the competing parties.

And during the Regulators and Moderators War, the two gangs also fought over the wild herd, each staking claims.

Using their own instincts, the cattle gathered atop the hill, where the thick pines and brush protected them from rustlers and inclement weather.

One day, Don Torbellino, a Mexican cowboy astride a fine horse, rode into Shelby County and told settlers he had lost a herd of cattle to rustlers beyond the Guadalupe River, and was tracking down the thieves.

The settlers said he was welcome to look over the strays and, if he found his brand on any of them, he was welcome to herd them back to Mexico.

When he found none of his branded cows, he proposed to the settlers that he would stand guard over the herd, protecting it from Indians and rustlers, if he were allowed to cut a number of strays from the herd each year to build up his own herd.

Torbellino made a camp at the top of the hill and, using a unique cattle call, made friends with the herd. The strays soon responded to his commands. It was said that the cowboy loved the cows and they loved him.

But during the winter of 1843 and 1845, a severe winter left the herd in poor condition. A spring drought followed and the strays started dying.

As conditions worsened, the herd instinctively went to the hill where the Mexican cowboy made his camp. But Don Torbellino wasnít there; he had simply disappeared, leaving his horse, saddle and rifle atop the hill.

The impoverished strays soon began dying one by one. They bellowed for their master, but help never came. The local settlers could do nothing.

In a matter of months, the hill was covered with bones bleached white in the hot sun, forming a fringe around the hilltop, looking like a cap of snow.

As the years passed, the hill became known as Bone Hill.

And among the old settlers, there was the story that on a winter night they could hear in the distance Don Torbellino calling his herd to rest, and the responding sounds of crying cattle.

All Things Historical
July 7, 2008 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers

(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the association and the author of 36 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com.)

Related Topics:
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