Edit ModuleShow Tags

A Heritage on a Hill

San Diego is justifiably proud of LaDanian Tomlinson, but he gladdens hearts in a piece of Texas, too


Published:

(page 1 of 2)

ONE HUNDRED and fifty years ago, a white farmer named James K. Tomlinson rode through central Texas in a covered wagon and settled 15 acres of pastureland. Today, the legacy of that land is carried on by a 27-year-old pro football player in San Diego whose ancestors were Tomlinson’s slaves. LaDainian Tomlinson, the San Diego Chargers running back and the Most Valuable Player in the National Football League, may not be related to James Tomlinson, but they are linked by the hill that bears their name.

Tomlinson Hill belongs to both of them. After Emancipation, LaDainian Tomlinson’s ancestors kept the name and stayed on the hill. They wanted to make the place their own.

“I know the hill isn’t really named for us,” LaDainian Tomlinson says. “But I take pride in it, and I take pride in my name. When I think of that hill, I think of my family. When people look at it, I want them to think about me and my family.”

Tomlinson Hill is not listed on maps. Locals refer to it as a settlement, not a town. It does not have a post office, a gas station or a store. It is not really even a hill; the altitude rises slightly from nearby Marlin and Lott. Cows graze on either side of dirt roads. Dogs run unleashed in the streets. Their barking pierces the country quiet.

The hill used to be crowded with Tomlinsons. The houses of LaDainian’s relatives and those of James Tomlinson’s descendants were divided by a pasture and a fence. The divide still exists, a pasture separating white families from black families, large homes from small ones. The population, about 100, is racially mixed and composed largely of senior citizens. There may be only one person left whose last name is Tomlinson. He is 71, has gray stubble and usually needs a walking stick to get around.

In early January, standing in his front yard, next to a rusty pickup truck and a car that needs new spark plugs, Oliver Tomlinson sorts through his mail. “I’m looking for my Super Bowl tickets,” he says. “I know they’re coming.” Oliver explains to anyone passing by that his son plays football for the San Diego Chargers and that they are going to the Super Bowl. When it is suggested that they first need to win two playoff games, he waves his hand dismissively.

Oliver lives in a one-story white house on a corner. He watches his son’s games on a television set with a rabbit-ears antenna. He surrounds himself with space heaters. Rain clatters off his tin roof. He has no phone. Among the few decorations on the walls is an unframed photograph of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“LaDainian has asked me to move to San Diego,” Oliver says, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into a peanut can. “But I can’t leave this hill. It’s been too good to me. This hill has given me everything I need. The Lord blessed me with that boy and this hill.”

LaDainian was raised by his mother in Waco and estranged from his father, who left the family for long periods. But LaDainian’s visits to Tomlinson Hill provided a connection to his relatives. His father lived on the same block as his uncles, aunts and cousins. Neighbors used to watch the young LaDainian dash from one house to another, often accompanied by his favorite pet, a black-and-white Poland China hog.

“He was fast,” says Jewel Hodges, a Tomlinson Hill resident. “He was always fast.”

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote now: Best Restaurants 2015
    From best chefs to top tacos, you choose San Diego's best eats and drinks in 63 categories
  2. 27 Reasons to Love San Diego
    Our annual list of all things San Diego and rad—from kiteboarding to urban farming to a city-wide book club
  3. San Diego's Top 50 Trails
    From hiking the foothills to biking the beach, this is a city made for exploring outdoors. Here’s our latest, greatest checklist of trails we love—some in your own backyard
  4. I Tried It: The New Jazzercise
    When I hear the word “Jazzercise,” neon leotards, leg warmers, headbands, and old ladies come to mind
  5. Get Fit & Have Fun in San Diego
    From doggie bootcamps to intense bodybuilding programs, it’s an exciting time to get in shape. What are you waiting for?
  6. 2015 Best of North County Party
    Sample, sip and party along with the best that North County has to offer at this signature event.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

La Jolla Music Society Events

The La Jolla Music Society's 2015 Calendar
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

'Tis The Season

Winter in the desert cities

100 Works of Art to See Before You Die in San Diego

Local art critics, museum directors, and the big kahunas of the art world picked their must-see paintings, sculptures, and buildings with a special checklist just for you
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags