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.’
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
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.’
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.
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
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.’
© C. F.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
April 7 , 2008 column
See Elgin, Texas