Twelve Mile Circle explored the Ends of the Earth recently, including the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. However, more accurately, the article reached the end of mainland Bangladesh. In the course of my research I found a spot even farther removed in the Chittagong Division, a place called Saint Martin’s Island (map). I never knew it existed until then. It could have belonged to Myanmar (Burma) just as easily. In fact the island fell closer to Myanmar than to its own nation.
About That St. Martin Name
How odd to find another island of Saint Martin. It shouldn’t be confused with that weirdly divided island in the Caribbean. I enjoyed exploring that one a few years ago in person, recording border markers between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. I’d also experienced the weirdly bifurcated Saint Martin Parish in Louisiana. Apparently things with that name attracted geo-oddities. Who knew?
The same saint underpinned both the Caribbean island and the Louisiana parish. They honored St. Martin of Tours. Christopher Columbus spotted the Caribbean instance during his second voyage in 1493. It happened to coincide with the saint’s feast day, November 11, thus the name. I saw earlier that certain locations discovered on December 25 sometimes came to be called Christmas so it didn’t surprise me to see a similar naming convention here. The same could be said for Easter Island too, I supposed. The European discovery in the Caribbean fell on St. Martin’s Day and Columbus named it accordingly
As for Louisiana
Similarly, Saint Martin of Tours inspired the name of the parish in Louisiana, albeit in a roundabout way. The town of St. Martinville, the seat of local government for the parish, described what happened in 1765:
[Charles-Philippe] Aubry had also sent a French priest, Fr. Jean Louis Civrey, to accompany the Acadians and serve the Attakapas district, where he became the first resident curate. In his records, Civrey refers to his new home as "la Nouvelle Acadie". He calls his new parish "l’Église des Attakapas (Attakapas Church)" and later, "l’Église St-Martin de Tours (St. Martin de Tours Church)", for which it is said St. Martinville is named.
St. Martinville predated the parish, which then adopted the town’s name upon its creation in 1807.
Did Saint Martin’s Island in Bangladesh memorialize the same saint? Honestly, I never found out. It seemed likely. The Anglican Communion venerated St. Martin of Tours too. He would have been a familiar figure to British adventurers who named the island.
Saint Martin lived during the Fourth Century and became a conscript in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity as a young adult around the time it became legal to do so in the Empire. The most well-known story recounting his pious acts involved an incident during his time as a soldier. A beggar dressed in rags on the verge of freezing to death sat by the side of the road. Martin removed his tunic, sliced it with his sword, and gave half of it to the beggar. That night God came to him in a vision and set him on a course that would guide him for the rest of his life. Martin became a conscientious objector, founded a monastery and eventually became Archbishop of Tours (now a city in France).
I’ll take a moment for an interesting tangent. The portion of the cloak retained by St. Martin became an important relic to the early Christian church and to the Frankish kings. In the Latin language a cloak of this type was called a "cappella." The priest in charge of guarding the cloak became a cappellani. The modern English words chaplain and chapel both descended from the people and places designated to protect this sacred cloak. Indirectly, the musical style "a cappella" (in the manner of the chapel) descended from the same etymology.
He became the patron saint of an eclectic group of people, both soldiers and conscientious objectors, as well as the poor, tailors and winemakers. The Basilica of St. Martin in Tours, France marked his tomb (map) and became a place of pilgrimage.
Nobody lived on the Bangladeshi island of St. Martin’s until about 250 years ago when Arabian sailors occupied it. The British came soon thereafter and took control. It wasn’t a large place, just 8 square kilometres (3 square miles) at high tide and a good bit less at low tide. It was also the only coral island in the entire nation of Bangladesh. St. Martin’s became its English name, of course. In Bengali it went by a phrase that translated into something like Coconut Island.
Most people who moved there became fishermen. They prospered quite nicely until recent decades. Since then, a number of tourist hotels and resorts opened, stressing the island ecology and the coral reefs around it. Fish populations declined. The reefs began to erode. The island began to shrink. Still it seemed to be a mostly idyllic place where tourists came to escape a hectic pace found elsewhere. Ferries crossed from Cox’s Bazar on the mainland, a two hour ride away. Electricity didn’t exist except for the generators at some of the larger hotels. No motorized vehicles were allowed, the only mechanized transportation being pedal-powered rickshaws. Wikitravel noted "not even a hint of nightlife."
Even farther south, the true southernmost tip of Bangladesh, culminated at an area called Chera Dwip (or Chera Dip, or Chera Deep). At low tide Chera Dwip attached to St. Martin’s Island. At high tide it separated and formed its own distinct island. Tourists enjoyed the area although they needed to be careful to keep from being stranded there when the tide rolled in.
Unbelievably, the island included Google Street View coverage! Someone carrying a backpack recorded it in October 2015. I noticed something peculiar, however. The same man appeared in every single Street View image. He wore a uniform. He didn’t seem to be wearing a military uniform, although he might have been a policeman, a crewman from a ferryboat or a tourism official. I couldn’t tell. Regardless, he escorted the Street View camera all over the island. The day warmed up and he removed his tie. He got bored and talked on his mobile phone. Occasionally he helped himself to a bottle of water that he carried around in a red translucent plastic bag. Then he carried a different bag. Then he wore a different shirt, I think because filming probably took place over a couple of days. Was it weird that he followed the camera or that I tracked him obsessively from the other side of the world?
He probably appeared in hundreds of distinct images, sometimes right by the camera and sometimes lurking in the shadows, our own South Asian Where’s Waldo. I finally found an image of him where Google forgot to blur his face. I figured I’d give him a little Intertubes recognition. He deserved it.
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 few weeks ago I wrote about Triangle, a name on a road sign that I pondered as I sat stuck in traffic on a drive back from Richmond, Virginia. I also noticed another exit on this fateful trip as I slogged through miles of gridlock. The sign said Ladysmith and my mind began to wander. I figured it didn’t refer literally to a Smith by its occupation, i.e., a skilled metal worker. However, who was this lady Smith and why did she deserve a place name?
I passed Ladysmith about halfway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The community sat just west of Interstate 95, at the intersection of Ladysmith Road and Jefferson Davis Highway (map). I didn’t bother to stop. My trip had been delayed long enough already.
The answer had to await until I got home. It required more searching than I expected although I finally found something in the Fredericksburg Star, "From Ladysmith to Ladysmith." The article recounted how Ladysmith in Virginia reached out to Ladysmith in Wisconsin in the aftermath of a tornado a few years ago. It also discussed the unusual name.
…Clara Smith, the daughter of Sally Collins Smith and Civil War Capt. C.T. Smith, named the community. Her father donated land for one of the Caroline’s first public schools in the hope that the town would grow up around it. Clara Smith most likely named the town after her mother, although the daughter is the more celebrated of the two ladies Smith in Caroline.
That solved the mystery. It also opened a new door to a different Ladysmith in Wisconsin.
The details actually came easier in Wisconsin. Ladysmith became the seat of government for Rusk County so historians wrote about it. The whole thing involved someone trying to curry favor for a business transaction. The town began in 1885 at the intersection of two railway lines on the Flambeau River. The owner of a local logging company, Robert Corbett named the town after himself. It became Corbett. Then it became Warner because of a railroad station located there.
James Gates, a local land speculator, wanted to make a tidy profit. He knew that Charles Robinson Smith of Menasha Wooden Ware considered opening a manufacturing plant in Warner. If that happened then people would move to the area and buy Gate’s land. Gates probably wanted to hasten that along so he suggested a new name for the town, Ladysmith (map). This honored Charles Smith’s recent bride, Isabel Bacon Rogers Smith.
This lady Smith was an interesting character. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she secretly married Charles Smith before announcing it publicly. She seemed to be quite the socialite, living in high society and frequenting the theater. Smith died a few years later, leaving Isabel with a fortune so she moved into a fancy Park Avenue apartment in New York City. There she met and married Orrin Johnson, a Broadway star and silent movie actor. Eventually she returned to Wisconsin along with her third husband after his acting career faded.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Interestingly, an alternate theory emerged independently in Virginia and Wisconsin. A few sites I consulted listed the town of Ladysmith in South Africa as the source of their names (map). It was much in the news at the turn of the last century. British forces broke a Boer siege of Ladysmith in 1900. This explanation didn’t seem as compelling as the actual ladies Smith that lived in Virginia and Wisconsin so I doubted it. However, I followed the trail to KwaZulu-Natal anyway.
The lady Smith in question went by a rather elaborate name, Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith. She grew up as Spanish nobility, later orphaned as a result of the Peninsula War. The British army sacked her home town during the Siege of Badajoz and one of the British officers helped protect her. Then he married her. The officer rose in ranks over the years, becoming a Brigadier-General and a knight, Sir Harry Smith. Later he became the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Lady Smith followed along faithfully on his military adventures and the town name honored her devotion.
This Ladysmith might be remembered in modern times less for the Second Boer War than for the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They formed in 1960 and received worldwide acclaim when singer Paul Simon partnered with them in the 1980’s. The name came from:
…the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means "axe" in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to "chop down" the competition.
Lady Smith might have been surprised to see the relevancy of her name a century later.
It didn’t stop there, however. Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, British Columbia actually did name itself after the siege and battle in South Africa.
Ladysmith was an "instant town", founded by coal baron James Dunsmuir. Oyster Harbour, as the area was previously called, became the shipping port for Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, about 12 km to the north. The townsite was planned in 1899 as a tidy grid pattern facing the bay. Streets were named after British Officers of the Boer War, victorious in recapturing the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, in the year 1900.
The streets retain those names today: Symons; French; Buller; Baden Powell; Methuen, and so on (map).