Tidbits of Shelby County History
Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair

This week’s article was written by Mattie Dellinger, “Snooping reporter” exact date is unknown but probably written prior to 1978. The folk song recorded by TexRitter was published in the 1940’s.  Enjoy!

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To those who think of boxcars as something diesels pull and snake-eyes as the things a reptile sees with, then to them Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair are merely four towns in East Texas.

But millions of other Americans, most of who wouldn’t swear that the four communities even exist, swear by the magic chant – “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair” – as they gamble their fortunes on the dots of a pair of plastic cubes.

In the same way that boxcars mean double six and snake-eyes is double ace, Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair is translated as 10 in the legendary lingo of crapshooters.

But there’s nothing legendary about the towns themselves. They actually exist in the Pineywoods’ Shelby County, all within a few miles of one another.

Texans still disagree on how the chant came to be.

The story told in Shelby County is that it originated in a World War I National Guard unit made up of men from the four towns.

As they marched along, instead of hup-two-three-four, the men would call out the names of the hometowns – Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair.

The chant later was picked up by the Army crapshooters with the 1- in Tenaha representing the point they are trying to make.

Still another version of the story comes from Houston where it is said that a porter at a railroad station thee was known for his unusual way of calling out the destinations.

“All aboarrrd,” he would shout, “for Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair.”

Probably the biggest boost for the four towns came from Country-western singer Tex Ritter, native of East Texas, who immortalized them in song:

“On the E&W line, old East Texas a-sure is fine.”

“Drop me off just anywhere, Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair.”

The E&W was the Houston East and West Texas Railroad from Houston to Shreveport which opened up the timberlands of East Texas in the late 1800’s and brought to lift dozens of communities, Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair among them.

Today, the towns can be found by traveling U.S. 59 north from Nacogdoches, though not in the order of tradition.

First comes Blair, which the traveler won’t find on the maps and –unless he knows where to turn –would be hard-pressed to find it all.

Two miles south of Timpson, take farm road 2667 which angles back north to what is now a church community where only a cemetery sign marks it as Blair.

No one knows for sure the exact age of Blair or how it came to be named, but some residents recall that there once was a Blair family who lived there.

Other than the Good Hope Baptist Church and its adjoining cemetery, there is little left of Blair.

Timpson, the second name the crapshooters chant, happens to be the second stop – and much easier to find.

Located along U.S. Hwy 59, Timpson is a friendly farming community of more than 1000 population. The town took its name from Paul Timpson, son of director of the HE&WT.

Bobo, four miles west of Tenaha, is all but impossible to find even though it is marked by city limits signs. Within the approximate 100 yards between the city signs, only a few hen houses and a half-hidden lake mad up the downtown area of Bobo. The traveler is there and gone before he knows it. The signs were placed there by the Texas Highway Department at the request of Buford Mims, the unofficial mayor of Bobo. “I found out any community could get city limits signs by requesting them,” said Mims. “People were always asking where Bobo is located, so I showed them.”

The lake was the principal purpose of Bobo’s existence, serving as a water stop for the steam locomotives of the railroad.

Bobo is believed to have been named for a man who once operated a sawmill in the community. (Note: Bobo was established about 1885 when the Houston, East and West Texas Railway was completed near the northern border of Shelby County. It had a post office and a general store at the end of the 19th century.)

Five miles farther up the road is Tenaha, the last town on the tour and the first in the chant.

Similar in size to Timpson, Tenaha drew its name from the Tenaha Creek, an Indian word meaning muddy waters. But today, Tenaha – along with Timpson, Bobo and Blair – still means “ten” on the dice and probably always will.

(Note: In reality, the true explanation of the phrase “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair” may never be known. Honestly, it didn’t really matter.)