C.W. “Bill” Hellen, a third-generation cattleman, was the keynote speaker during the Roswell Rotary Club meeting, Thursday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
His tie hangs down against a white collared shirt, tucked into black pants. He sits on the stoop of his new house in Texas, one arm resting against a crutch, the other wrapped around a woman standing next to him. The woman’s white dress covers all but her face, which is shaded by a white bonnet, and her work-hardened hand grips a broom.
The couple looks serious, as is true in most old black and white photos, but there is a glisten of a smile in each of their eyes, giving away their undoubted happiness.
Married shortly before the photo was taken in 1914, Charles (Charlie) Waugh Hellen and his wife Alice Finckel Hellen were not particularly young — she was 39 and he was 37 — but they had children just the same. And Thursday at the Sally Port Inn their grandchildren, Charles William “Bill” Hellen and Charlotte Hellen, gave testament to the pride they have in their grandparents by presenting to Roswell Rotary Club a brief Hellen history.
Nicknamed “El Cojo” meaning “The Lame One” after he lost a leg at age 5 in a horse-drawn street car accident, Charlie went on to be a “Texas Pioneer,” and in 1894, at age 17, he learned the cattle ranching business.
He eventually started a family business in the industry, and now, 120 years later, the legacy continues with Bill and his family. The book he is writing documents all the struggles and successes of the original Hellen cattleman.
There are two reasons for writing the book, Bill said. The first is to instill pride in the family history so the next generations will continue to appreciate the past, and the second is to provide a collection, all in one place, of the family’s writings, drawings and photographs, especially all the writings by Charlie.
He lived in an area that was highly dangerous at the time. It was a crossroads, and a popular place for thieves to steal and skin cattle to sell the hides in Mexico. But living out there alone gained Charlie respect from his later relatives.
“We just think that’s so impressive,” Bill said of his grandfather’s living arrangements.
These surroundings and the dangers were also cause for Charlie to carry a gun. But while many carried a pistol, Charlie said he usually didn’t because “they were a lot of trouble … they were hanging on your side all the time.” So when he did have one, he strapped it on to the back of his saddle, but “I lost it pretty quick,” he said. After losing the pistol, he chose to carry only a rifle.
But as Charlotte said, “Behind every hard working man is a hard working woman,” and it wasn’t until after Alice wrote herself into the Hellen history that Charlie truly found his happiness.
Alice came from a family of wealth and education. Living in Washington, D.C., she was always very social, with plenty of suitors. Though as disclaimed in the diary she kept for 60 years, none of the suitors ever gained much of her attention. For years, her heart belonged to Charlie.
In 1909, she sent him a photo of herself dressed in a long and becoming white dress, complete with a folded parasol, and on the back she wrote: “To Charlie, from one who hopes to be his.”
In return, Charlie bought El Ebanito Ranch, which was closer to town so his beloved Alice would not be so far from necessities. He built a house for her, and although it was surrounded by nothing, she noted in her diary that she was “crazy about it,” and because she very rarely mentioned how she felt about anything, this was a big deal.
They lived happily together until death, Charlie going first and Alice following shortly after in 1965. As Bill and Charlotte shared photos of this couple and talked about their ancestors, their voices reflect an obvious respect and fondness.
“Our pride in our heritage, and an opportunity to honor our forbearers … that’s what brought us (to Roswell),” Bill said.