Elgin they’ll tell you the
town was named for a Mister Elgin. I’ve heard he was Robert and
Thomas and something else, and that he worked for the railroad,
the telegraph company, or a bank. At any rate, there seems to have
been, over the years, some confusion about exactly who Mr. Elgin
was and why the town was named for him.
Now, Elgin, Texas is different
from the other Elgins in the US. Most of them are pronounced with
a soft G—Eljin. Not Elgin,
Texas. Elgin, Texas is
pronounced with a hard G—like in ‘gun.’
If you ask the members of the Shadetree Historical Society, they’ll
give you a version of Elgin’s naming that has nothing to do with
a Mr. Elgin. They’ll tell you the original name of the place was
Helgin—derived from ‘Hell again.’
Before there was a town, there was a railroad. The railroad ran
alongside a ranch. The man who owned the ranch was not a fan of
the railroad. He didn’t keep his fences up too well if indeed he
had fences at all. His cattle wandered. Some of them wandered onto
the railroad. An engine going 40 mph, pulling a string of, say,
50 loaded freight cars—a reasonable freight in the 19th Century—has
trouble stopping if a cow wanders onto the tracks. Mostly, the cow
becomes buzzard chow if it doesn’t get out of the way on its own.
The rancher disliked this. He decided he’d chase the railroad off.
Alongside the tracks, in a thicket of postoaks, was a sandy rise.
The rancher stationed two cowboys atop that rise. He armed them
with Henry repeaters and all the ammo they could shoot. Then he
gave them their instructions. “Ever’ time one a them snortin’, puffin’,
stinkin’ things comes down that-air track, I want you boys to shoot
out ever’ winder-light an’ piece a glass on ‘er. That’ll learn ‘em
to run over my cows.”
Apparently the cowboys did just that. As a passenger train approached
the sandy rise, or so the story goes, the conductor would run back
through the cars yelling “Ever’body get down on the floor. We fixin’
to have Hell again.”
From this the sandy rise got a name—‘Hellagain Hill.’
Finally a town grew up around a water stop not far from Hellagain
Hill. Names were suggested for the town. Folks knew the Post Office
would never accept Hellagain Hill, or even just Hellagain. Maybe
the Post Office would accept Helgin. The Post Office did—sort of.
The name of the town came back approved as ‘Elgin.’ The people of
Elgin retained the hard G
pronunciation to differentiate their town from the other Elgins
across the country.
At least that’s the tale the Shadetree Historical Society tells.
The Ladies’ Garden Club, of course, insists on ‘Mr. Elgin.’ But
maybe there’s a little more to it.
There is a sandy rise alongside the railroad track outside Elgin.
When I was a kid—and that’s been a while back—I once climbed to
the top of what I was told was Hellagain Hill. It took me about
five minutes to fill the crown of a size 6 7/8 pima straw cowboy
hat completely full of big .44 rimfire cases, each one with the
distinctive double firing pin indentations that are the hallmark
of both the Henry and the Winchester Model 1866. Now, if there never
really was a Hellagain Hill and there never was a war between a
cowman and the railroad, what were all those empty shells doing
atop that sandy rise alongside the tracks?
Henry David Thoreau, of Walden Pond fame, once opined that ‘There
are times when circumstantial evidence is very strong—such as when
you find a trout in the milk.” There’s a story in San
Antonio about the time Roy Bean ran a dairy out of Beanville.
Apparently he stopped at the San Antonio River to ‘stretch’ his
milk supply, for one day one of his regulars confronted him with
an 8-inch catfish he’d found in the milk. “Wul, I swan,” said Bean.
“I’m a-gonna haveta quit waterin’ them cows in the river. Looky
thar—one of ‘em done swallered a catfish.” Those shell casings got
atop that sandy rise somehow—and I don’t think a cow swallowed them
and deposited them there, any more than I believe Roy Bean’s cow
‘swallered a catfish.’
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
April 7 , 2008 column
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