Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair - roll the dice!

By Bob Bowman
Special to the Journal

Two Shelby County, Texas, communities might have passed into history without as much as a footnote if a singing cowboy had not popularized a marching and dice playing chant by East Texas soldiers.

Bobo and Blair, two farm communities on the old Houston East and West Texas Railroad, achieved fame when Texas Ritter borrowed the soldiers' chant, "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair," for his popular song.

The soldiers' chant was used by a National Guard Unit composed of men from Shelby County who discarded the familiar cadence of "hup, two, three, four" for "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair," their home towns.

Dice players also took up the chant to make the point of ten on a pair of dice and others argue that the popularity of the saying began with a conductor on the HE&WT line, which ran from Houston to Shreveport, passing through Shelby County.

The conductor supposedly called out the various destinations along the way to Shreveport, and the alliteration of "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair" made it a favorite of passengers.

Robert S. Maxwell's history of the first railroad in East Texas, Whistle In the Piney Woods: Paul Bremond and the Houston, East and West Texas Railway, offers several accounts. First, some believe that stringing the town names together began during World War IMaxwell claims that the song had little to do with the HE&WT other than through the recording by Ritter that made the towns and the railroad line famous.

Leon Hale of The Houston Chronicle once wrote that he remembered, as a young soldier in World War II, watching crap games in Italy. When shooters were trying to make a point number of ten, those trying to help him would coax the dice by yelling out "Tennyhaw, Timpson, Bobo and Blair."

Hale said the players were from Pennsylvania and New York and likely had never been to Texas. Yet it was one of the most common crapshooter cries that Hale heard during World War II, and he often wondered about its origin.

Years later, while traveling in Shelby County, Hale talked to R.R. Morrison, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and heard the only version he's ever heard of how the "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair" crapshooter cry came to be.

Morrison had been commanding officer of Company B, 3rd Texas Infantry of the National Guard. The boys in the outfit were shipped together from Shelby County to France during World War I, but just before being shipped out, some of the soldiers got into a craps game. One was trying to make his 10 point and yelled "Tennyhaw!"

Another soldier from the unit, betting on the shooter, yelled "Timpson!" Others, used to hearing these names, called "Bobo" and "Blair."

Hale wrote, "Morrison told me that the Tennyhaw cry went overseas with his company and fell on fertile ground. It spread, big time, among dice players who'd never been to Texas."

As time passed, Tenaha and Timpson remained viable towns in Shelby County while Bobo and Blair faded as rural communities. Tex Ritter's familiarity with the four towns came from his knowledge as a boy growing up in neighboring Panola County.

Bobo got its name from John Henry (Billy) Bobo, who opened a sawmill in the community while Blair was first known as Blair Switch, which was likely named for an engineer for one of the trains.

Another story says a young man and woman boarded a train at different places--one at Timpson and another at Gallagher--and were married as the Blairs.

Bob Bowman of Lufkin, Texas, is the author of more than 30 books about East Texas, including "The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Volume I." He can he reached at bobb@consolidated.net, or at Bob Bowman & Associates, Inc., PO Box 1647, Lufkin, TX 75902; Telephone 936-634-7444; FAX 936-634-7750.