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
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
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
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
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.
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.