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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
won't even find the town named for them.
© Clay Coppedge
from Central Texas" January
21, 2006 column