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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

ALLIGATOR, TEXAS
Bell County

Phantom Alligators

by Clay Coppedge
Clay Coppedge columns & bio
You won't find any alligators around Alligator, Texas anymore. You won't find the town either, other than in the form of Alligator Creek and Alligator Road.

It's easy to forget how thick with wildlife the prairie around here was when the first settlers arrived. Deer, wild turkeys, wolves, bear, buffalo, antelope, wild horses, ducks, geese and wild hogs were plentiful.

So were alligators.

Members of the Santa Fe Expedition, when they camped on the San Gabriel River in Williamson County, amused themselves with shooting some of the numerous alligators that lived along the river.

The buffalo and bear were wiped off the landscape by the end of the nineteenth century. The last alligator in Bell County was killed in 1908.

The old community of Alligator, a few miles east of Bartlett, lives in legend, lore and in the memory of people like Bell County historian E.A. Limmer. Limmer, 85, was born there, though he never saw any alligators.

"All I saw was crawfish," he said last week. "Before the land was in cultivation they had to drain out a low area, and that's where the alligators were supposed to be."

The Alligator community consisted mostly of a church, tabernacle and a school house. Limmer said that in the fall, Joe Pacha, G.L. Oldham, Calvin Rice and Harvey Messer would hitch up their wagons and go to the lignite beds near Rockdale and come back with enough lignite to last the winter.

The lignite served its purpose well, maybe too well; one day in 1926 the school's old pot-bellied stove overheated the pipes and the school burned down.

That was the same year that Limmer's parents moved to Bartlett so he could start school and his sister could enter high school.

"I enjoy telling people that I was born at Alligator in Bell County," Limmer, 85, writes in the recent Bartlett Activities Center newsletter.

"Every Saturday morning my brother and I would go to the country with our father. When he turned into our farm, he would let us out and we would walk the remainder of the way to Grandpa and Grandma Limmer's house.

"While there we would crate the eggs (24 dozen to the crate) in order to take them to Lawrence Brothers store with Grandma's butter."

In such a manner, the Limmers paid for their week's groceries. The way of life he describes has gone the way of the wolf, bear, buffalo and gators.

"We would shuck and shell corn and take it to Lynn Bartlett, who would grind the corn into cornmeal," he continued. "In exchange for our work, Grandpa would give us 10 cents, which was the admission to the afternoon picture show."

Alligator Creek, which rises just east of Bartlett, makes its way southeast for 21 miles to its mouth on the San Gabriel River five miles east of the San Gabriel community in Milam County. Alligator Creek ran right through the middle of the old Limmer farm. When the family bulldozed part of the creek as part of a conservation plan, neighbors dropped by to see exactly what was going on.

"They said it looked like we were building the Panama Canal," Limmer recalled.

People today are surprised to find that there was once a community out on the lonesome prairie named for alligators and even more surprised to find that the town was named for the alligators that lived there. Alligators were once common in East Texas but they made a living in these parts too. You can still find them east of the Trinity River, around the coast and, sometimes, along the Colorado River.

There was a time when alligators - not just in Texas but all across the country - were endangered. State and federal laws allowed alligators to make an amazing comeback from the brink of extinction to the point where there is a limited amount of hunting of them permitted today.

In these parts, you can hunt all you want for alligators but you won't find any.

You won't even find the town named for them.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 21, 2006 column
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