During deep winter I focus a lot of efforts on my genealogy hobby. I think it’s because the holidays offer big blocks of time where I’m stuck indoors. I can concentrate on intricate details as I piece together my family puzzle. Recently a line of research brought my attention to a small town in East Texas called Timpson. My Great Grandmother’s aunt and cousin lived there in the early 20th Century. They ran a milliner shop, selling women’s hats. That last part actually had nothing to do with the article, I just liked the term milliner.
An interesting bit of musical history emerged as I checked into the records of Timpson. It featured prominently in a popular song performed by cowboy singer Tex Ritter in the 1940’s. He called it "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair." Go ahead and give it a listen if you like. I’ll wait.
Those places were all towns in Shelby County, Texas. Tenaha and Timpson continue to exist today without about a thousand residents each. Bobo and Blair practically disappeared. No more than a few scattered houses, and maybe a church or a cemetery existed at either place to mark that they once existed. Nonetheless they all lived on in a way, permanently connected by this one old song at least until the generation that remembered it fades away. That day probably isn’t too far away, unfortunately. It’s a good thing I found out about it when I did.
Ritter’s song described a train ride through the Texas countryside, of a man waiting for the conductor to call out stops for Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair, where a girl waited. As described in the Houston Chronicle,
It seems that by the time he got through calling out each name, the train had already passed through all four towns. So the conductors started calling out all four before the train arrived at the first… thus "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair."
It became a common expression in East Texas and came to be applied to the rolling of dice in craps games, as players tried to make 10. Generally players pronounced Tenaha in an unusual way, calling it Tennyhaw. They would yell out something like “come on Tennyhaw, Timpson, Bobo and Blair” as they threw the dice. The gambling gods answered their prayers when the dice rolled ten. The expression became popular with American troops during World War II thanks to soldiers from Texas, and then became even more well known because of the Tex Ritter song.
The old Houston East and West Texas (HE&WT) Railway served those four towns. According to the Handbook of Texas, the HE&WT got its charter in 1875 with great aspirations, as noted by the railroad’s name. Those lofty goals never happened. Only the eastern portion — and only partially — ever saw a train, running as a narrow gauge from Houston to Shreveport. That took the railroad straight through Shelby County and past the settlements of Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair. Local residents claimed that HE&WT actually stood for "Hell Either Way Taken."
A Competing Explanation
It made a nice story, however a different explanation emerged later. The order of villages listed in the popular expression didn’t make sense. A conductor would ordinarily call out the stations sequentially. If that were truly the case the conductor would be expected to call out "Tenaha, Bobo, Timpson and Blair" instead. According to the competing theory,
… stringing the town names together began during World War I when soldiers in a National Guard Unit composed of men from Shelby County discarded the familiar cadence of "hup, two, three, four" for "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair," their home towns.
In reality, the true explanation may never be known. Honestly, it didn’t really matter.
Tex Ritter spent his early years in Murvaul, Texas, a few miles up the road in neighboring Panola County, Texas (my direct ancestors also lived in Panola County). He would have been very familiar with the expression from his childhood. He probably thought it sounded nice and simply crafted a set of song lyrics around it based on legends that had been passed down through the area.
Nobody more famous than Tex Ritter ever came from Panola. In Carthage, the county seat, there now stands the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum (map). A statue of Ritter with his guitar and horse stands out front in honor of its famous son.
A lot of people in the Twelve Mile Circle audience probably never heard of Tex Ritter. I’ll bet more readers probably knew about his son, though. It’s hard to believe that John Ritter so well-known for his role in the sitcom Three’s Company as well as well as many others, had an East Texas cowboy singer for a father.
Tex’s real name was Woodward Maurice Ritter. In the 1910 and 1920 Census he had a brother named Booty. Mom and dad weren’t great at names, apparently. Tex sounded so much better.
A random Twelve Mile Circle reader became an unwitting inspiration for this article simply because of where he or she lived. The little dot within Idaho on my Google Analytics dashboard mentioned State Line. That seemed too good to be true. I’ve done plenty of articles about border towns although I’d never noticed that one before. It sounded like a good excuse to peel things back a layer and take a closer look.
State Line didn’t cover much area and only 38 people lived there (map). It seemed an odd situation until I uncovered a bit of history in an old newspaper article. This creation sprang to life in 1947 and existed for a very specific reason. Quite simply, "the town was incorporated so it could sell liquor and have slot machines." End of story.
Those who incorporated the town leveraged the adjacent state border, just enough over the line to fall outside of the laws of Washington State. Residents of the region’s dominant city — Spokane, Washington — needed only a short drive to take advantage of the more liberal alcohol and gambling rules of Idaho. Apparently incorporated towns in Idaho had some legal leeway to provide these services so State Line filled that niche. The town didn’t have to worry about do-gooders interfering with its business either; it carefully corralled a sympathetic population. I’ve explored similar themes before, e.g., in Right Up to the Line.
A lot of separate sins packed into that tiny package, too. I drove down Seltice Way, the main road through State Line, vicariously using Google Street View. From the border heading into Idaho I noticed a smokeshop, a liquor store, several taverns including a biker bar, and a building with no windows advertising "Show Girls." I wonder what could possibly be going on inside there? This is a family-friendly website so I’ll leave it at that. I also found the residential area consisting of a small trailer park. Maybe the show girls lived there? If so then one of them visited 12MC and landed on the Thelma and Louise Route Map. Maybe someone was planning a weekend getaway?
Idaho didn’t contain the only town with that familiar name. Stateline existed in Nevada, too. I talked about that one briefly in the Loneliest Road in the USA and it appeared in reader comments from time-to-time as well. South Lake Tahoe, on the California side, seemed like the average ski resort town. A gondola led up to the slopes, part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Just down the street, however, marked Nevada. Five humongous casinos rose starkly from the pavement barely inches onto the Nevada side of the border. This grouping represented the same basic premise as its Idaho counterpart, bringing convenient "sinful" businesses closer to the masses.
A morbid geo-oddity of sorts existed in Stateline. The ski resort included trails on both sides of the border. Skiers crossed the state border on several of the runs. That was a worthwhile oddity by itself of course, although that wasn’t the morbid part. Something awful happened there in 1998. That’s when Sonny Bono, the lesser-known half of Sonny and Cher, slammed into a tree on the Orion slope (map). Bono died in Stateline on a border-crossing trail.
Stateline existed as one of thirteen townships in Sherman County, Kansas. The name went back historically to the 19th Century and simply represented its geographic placement next to Colorado. Stateline didn’t exist to entice people across the border and only 344 people lived there in the most recent Census. The township contained only one settlement of any size, Kanorado (map), the home of about half of Stateline’s residents. That still made it large enough to serve as Sherman County’s second largest town. My attention automatically focused on that spot because, as longtime readers know, I love a good portmanteau. The name combined and shortened Kansas and Colorado into Kanorado. It’s website noted that someone originally named it Lamborn. I preferred Kanorado. Excellent choice.
This one also existed in a bit of a geo-oddity. Only four counties recognized Kansas Mountain Time, including Sherman County. Of course that also included Stateline Township and the village of Kanorado. From my experience driving directly through there on Interstate 70 several years ago, I couldn’t determine why the area felt more aligned to Mountain Time. It seemed really remote, regardless. Either one should be fine. Nonetheless residents apparently felt otherwise and aligned chronologically with Colorado. Actually, as I thought about it more, Stateline should probably exist on the Colorado side instead. Colorado seemed to feature more sins than Kansas, particularly cannabis and perhaps alcohol too. The current Stateline alignment represented lost economic opportunities.
I found other State Lines and Statelines. For instance, check out State Line Pond in Connecticut. It also had its own website, believe it or not. From its description,
State Line Pond is an approximately 75 acre lake in Stafford Springs, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border at Monson, MA. The lake was formed when a stream running through a meadow was intentionally flooded approximately 150 years ago. For many years, the Stafford Ice House "harvested" ice by horse from the lake during the winter and delivered it to restaurants, homes and businesses as far away as Boston.
Even more obscure places existed in the form of State Line, Mississippi and State Line, Indiana. I couldn’t find much about either place other than their existence.
While looking at a map recently I noticed two curious towns in Wisconsin. Their names seemed perfectly fine and normal, Poplar and Maple. Their proximity seemed more than a little coincidental. I never found an explanation for collocated tree towns and the pattern didn’t extend to other settlements in Douglas County. Nonetheless, I felt a connection so I took a closer look. Eventually I realized that I drove through both of them on a trip to northern Wisconsin several years ago. My path took me from the Apostle Islands to Duluth, Minnesota. However, the names never dawned on me for some odd reason as I crossed through them in-person.
More people lived in Poplar (map) than Maple, about 600, even if little happened there during its long history. Even so, the village hoped to celebrate its centennial in 2017 assuming it could form a committee to handle the details. Hopefully people will step up and help recognize the hundred years since its founding. I also enjoyed the interactive cemetery map. It was really well done. Seriously. You should check it out. Yellow rectangles marked veterans’ graves and blue ones marked everyone else.
The website also featured a Lockheed P-38 Lightning airplane on its banner. Those fighters last saw combat during World War II. I’ve always loved the shape of those planes. They’re a bit difficult to describe so…
I wondered if an airplane museum might also exist in Poplar. No, unfortunately one did not. However, the website did memorialize the most famous person ever to come from Poplar, a WW2 pilot named Richard Bong. He shot down 40 Japanese aircraft during the war, becoming the recognized "Ace of Aces" while earning a Medal of Honor. I know this shouldn’t amuse me and I don’t want to take away from this great hero’s accomplishments, but a local historical marker did list him as Major Dick Bong. My apologies in advance for the Beavis and Butthead humor.
Sadly, Bong died in 1945 while serving as a test pilot.
Two Maples existed in Douglas, a township and an unincorporated community (map) within the township. The larger area included several hundred residents and also provided an informational website for its residents. The top item on its Frequently Asked Questions page involved reservations for its baseball field. It must be nice to live in a place where the residents’ biggest concern focused on recreational sports.
If I were to guess, I’d say that the maples in Maple must have been sugar maples. They grew all throughout Wisconsin natively. I couldn’t find any places in Maple selling maple syrup although I bet they’re there if I looked close enough. My wife’s family elsewhere in Wisconsin, knows people who make their own maple syrup so it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Then I looked a little closer and spotted another community called Blueberry.
Blueberries. My Own Photo
Of course, Blueberries don’t involve trees, they grow on bushes. I saw that in person when I went up to Maine a few years ago. Nonetheless it was a plant and maybe close enough to keep the naming convention going? Three adjacent communities, three plants?
Several Blueberries fell within the same area, the Blueberry community, a Blueberry Creek and the Blueberry Swamp Natural Area (map).