the time Robert L. Phillips settled in Hays County, a person would
be hard-pressed to find an alligator anywhere in the area. Not that
Phillips would have wanted one. After all, an alligator had nearly
turned him into a murderer.
Like many 19th century Texans, Phillips got here as soon as he could,
hitting the Lone Star State with a reputation behind him. The big
state, which one non-Texas writer called the “Ominum Gatherenus
of the odds and ends of the earth,” seemed to attract people like
Phillips. Before coming to Texas, he
had lived in Washington, Ark., having arrived there in 1836 from
Tennessee. For many years, he had served as postmaster in the Southwest
“Everybody liked him for his genial ways, his jolly good nature
and his kindness of heart,” Arkansas newspaperman Sam H. Williams
later wrote of Phillips. “He had a keen sense of humor, and was
an inveterate practical joker.”
Most folks just called him Uncle Bob.
Though Phillips – Uncle Bob – always appreciated a good laugh at
someone else’s expense, he apparently was not quite as good at taking
it as dishing it out.
to unload the stagecoach mail bag one day, Phillips tried to dump
the contents on his sorting table. But nothing came out. To dislodge
whatever was holding up the mail, Phillips laid the bag on the table
and stuck his hand inside.
That’s when he found out that one of his fellow postmasters up the
line had mailed him a live three-foot alligator. The alligator,
not pleased with its parcel post status, snapped its jaws hard down
on Phillips’ hand.
Williams’ description of what happened next cannot be improved upon:
yells of pain, the contortions of face and body, the look of fright
and amazement, followed by the torrent of blasphemy and the wild
gesticulations of Uncle Bob, as he swore vengeance against the author
of his misery, all combined to make up a situation as comical, as
ludicrous, as laughter-provocative as any ever enacted upon the
As soon as he could free his lacerated paw from the gator’s mouth,
Phillips raced home and fetched his double-barreled shotgun. Carefully
measuring 48 buckshot and just as precisely pouring 24 down each
barrel, he strode back to town “swearing like a baldheaded pirate”
to await the next stage for Ultima Thule, the town the mail sack
“with the special saurian delivery had come from.”
Fortunately for the man who had mailed the alligator to Uncle Bob,
one of Phillips’ friends happened by as he waited impatiently for
the stage, shotgun gripped firmly. Hoping to ease Uncle Bob’s pain,
the man presented him with a bottle of fine whiskey.
“After taking one or two ‘swigs,’ all resentment left him, he put
away his gun, and apparently forgot all about the incident,” Williams
The fate of the offending alligator was not related by Williams
and at this late date can only be imagined.
When Williams told this story in 1886, he noted, “Uncle Bob is still
living, at a very advanced age, in San