An upcoming show of Joe's collection of historic photographs....

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Fortune in Gold

Last week I shared the story of a group of men searching for the lost San Saba silver mine -- and from the responses I've received, that story of a lost fortune piqued the interest of more than one reader.
I suppose there's something about the thought of buried treasure which encourages one to wonder if the stories are true, and if the fortune is still out there to be found. The following story, from my files, is likely true:
Occasionally one finds a mystery when reading about Kerr County’s history. I was reading about two of Kerr County’s earliest families, the Burney and Rees clans, when I stumbled upon a story about buried gold.
The two families came to Kerr County from the same county in Tennessee, McNairy County. McNairy County is in the southwest part of the state, and borders Mississippi. It’s still rural; the population there in 2000 was under 25,000 people.
And both families, when they came to Texas, were headed by widows with three sons. According to Bob Bennett’s excellent history of our community, “each of the three sons in both the Burney and Rees families participated in the organization of Kerr County and all of them eventually served as county officials. Succeeding generations of the two families became related through marriage and 100 years later, descendants of both families were leaders in business and civic affairs of Kerr County and elsewhere.”
A quick check of today’s telephone directory shows both of the family names are still listed here.
Of all of the various members of the family, this story focuses on Hance McCain Burney, or rather his wife, Mary Tatum.
Hance Burney was Kerrville’s first postmaster, serving for eight years after the post office was established here in 1858. He also served as county judge – twice, once during the Civil War and later in the late 1870s. He was president of the First National Bank of Center Point, and he died in the spring of 1915.
His wife, Mary Tatum Burney, moved from McNairy County, Tennessee, to Washington County, Texas with her parents in 1853. She married Hance Burney three days after Christmas that same year in Washington County.
Soon thereafter the Hance Burneys and Mary’s parents moved to Kerr County. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Tatum, and they settled on a homestead “across the Guadalupe from Joshua D. Brown.”
Henry Tatum served as a county commissioner from 1863-65 (while his son-in-law was county judge). I imagine that proved interesting, especially when their votes were different.
Now for the gold.
According to Bennett, “Henry Tatum is said to have brought along $10,000 in gold which was buried on his farm during the Civil War days. In 1872 a smallpox epidemic broke out in Kerr County and both Mr. and Mrs. Tatum were stricken. Both died within a week’s time without revealing the hiding place of the gold.”
$10,000 worth of gold – in 1870-era dollars – would be worth considerably more today. It would be worth a fortune.
There is evidence more than one person believed the gold was buried on the property. According to Bennett, “A. P. Brown, a son of Joshua D. Brown, recalls that during his youth, holes about six feet deep were dug all over the old Tatum farm.”
You know, Gentle Reader, that gold might still be buried out there on the Tatum farm. Who said history books can’t be interesting?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks he knows where the Tatum farm was, and there are holes still visible there. He does not know if the gold was ever found.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 23, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

An 1839 Hill Country Journey: the lost San Saba mine

What did this part of the world look like before Joshua Brown and ten others built a shingle making camp here in the late 1840s? That camp was about where today's Water and Spring streets intersect, across the street from Notre Dame Catholic Church. From that small camp Kerrville and Kerr County grew.
John Leonard Riddell
tulane.edu

We do have a few clues about what this area looked like in the autumn of 1839 -- because a band of men, seeking a fortune in silver, passed very close by. Among the group was a scientist, John Leonard Riddell, who had a share in the fortune, if it was found. Others contributed funds; Riddell's contribution was his knowledge of geology. He was also a medical doctor, and a botanist.
Years ago my friends Jon and Sandy Wolfmueller, of Wolfmueller's Books, gave me a slim book called "A Long Ride in Texas: the Explorations of John Leonard Riddell." Edited by James O. Breeden, the book was published by the Texas A&M University Press in 1994.
Riddell kept a journal of the party's travels, and on Friday, October 25, 1839, his entry reads "North or left bank of the Rio Guadalupe, near 40 miles N. of W. from Bexar." I think that would place them somewhere near modern-day Boerne.
The following Monday the group "encamped in a pleasant place after an easy day's march. The musquit [mesquite] tree now disappears and is replaced by live oak, post oak, & c. The country becomes more & more hilly; the eminences are beautifully rounded, and the highest perhaps 400 or even 600 feet above the valleys. Land sparsely timbered, but no uninterrupted large prairies real thickets occur only in the caƱadas or ravines of water courses. In such places the trees and herbaceous plants are like those in Louisiana, viz., hackberry, elm, box elder, oaks, [yaupon holly, ironwood, and Indian-Cherry]." He notes numerous woody vines, and mentions elsewhere the cypress trees.
"I find on the high, dry places many novel, undescribed plants. My diary would be more extensive were it not that I spend most of my leisure time in drawing up descriptions of these plants from fresh specimens."
In 1839, this part of Texas was the frontier, and most of its plants unknown to science. Riddell brought along a press and paper to preserve the plant specimens which he collected on this 1839 trip; what happened to that collection is unknown.
"As we neared Sabinas Creek, a tributary of the Rio Guadalupe, the traveling became unpleasant for horses on accord of flint, hornstone, buhrstone, and rough limestone which wholly occupied the surface of the ground. The ravine of the Sabinas is exceedingly bad to cross on account of its steepness, as well as the thicket and rocks. A careless Irish servant in this ravine accidentally shot a soldier through the breast."
This was one of two accidental shootings on the journey; the other occurred when a young soldier accidentally discharged his rifle, injuring himself. Both men died from their wounds.
"In consequence of that accident," Riddell wrote, "we encamped early on a grassy, stony, and partially oak clad hill just on the north bank of the Sabinas."
Sabinas Creek is near where FM Road 474 crosses the Guadalupe River in Kendall County. If this creek is the same as the one Riddell mentions, it's not too far from Kerrville.
Their next camp was near present-day Sisterdale. "The land here is fine. Large cypresses grow along the water, but they looked odd to me because the Spanish moss was not to be seen pendant from their branches [as it was near his home in Louisiana]."
"Bees are wonderfully abundant in this country. The men immediately find, within 40 rods of camp, more bee-trees than they can cut down and rob. So we have honey pretty plenty.
"The Guadalupe is here a swift running, clear green water, say 15 yards or 20 across, and not belly deep to a horse. But there are marks of a recent rise some 15 or 20 feet higher than at present. Here about our present camp the land is rich, the soil black and deep, and the surface finely disposed with about the right proportion of woodland and prairie, and I have no doubt the region will prove eminently healthy when it shall become settled."
In that, of course, Riddell was correct.
Did they ever find the lost San Saba silver mine? No one knows. The diary ends abruptly when the men came near the site. What was on those missing pages is a mystery to this day.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has no idea where the lost San Saba mine can be found. It's still out there, somewhere.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 16, 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tivy Artists Hall of Fame reception tonight at Pint & Plow

Artwork by my friend Tanya Wilder
one of the student artists honored in the
Tivy Artists Hall of Fame from 1975 - 2015

A reminder: the reception for the artists honored in the Tivy Artists Hall of Fame is tonight July 16, from 6 - 9 pm at Pint & Plow, 322 Clay Street, Kerrville.  Come see the wonderful art of the past 40 years, and visit with a lot of the artists who created these wonderful pieces.

From my Kerrville Daily Times column of July 2, 2016:

A pair of local educators are "making lemonade from the lemons" they discovered. I'm proud of Bridget Putnam, who is the current Fine Arts Chair at Tivy High School, and John Ruth, who was a young librarian at the high school back when I was a student there. They've turned what could have been a very negative situation into a positive event.
Years ago -- back when I was in high school -- the art program at Tivy High School celebrated its students with a contest where the best piece of art was chosen to be displayed permanently in the "Tivy Artists Hall of Fame," on the walls of the school's library.
Permanence is relative, apparently, because someone in the school system's administration decided to take down all of the art. By quick thinking, it was quickly rounded up before it slipped away or was discarded.
Rather than bemoan the situation, Putnam and Ruth have found a neat way to give the art back to the former students who created it -- some was created over 30 years ago.
Partnering with Pint & Plow, the prize-winning pieces are on display at the new restaurant's historic building at 332 Clay Street. It's been fun to look at all of the art on the walls in the old Dietert house. I'm proud of the Walther family, owners of Pint & Plow, for being such good hosts.
On July 16, from 6 - 9 in the evening, as many of the former student artists as possible will gather for a social event at Pint & Plow, and, at the end of the evening, the art will be returned to those who created it.

It's a wonderful idea, and I hope it will be a fun and meaningful event for everyone. Thanks, Ms. Putnam and Mr. Ruth -- this is a brilliant solution.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A time machine made of paper and ink

Have you ever wished for a time machine?
As someone interested in local history, I have often wished I could go back in time and get answers to several persistent questions of our community's past.
For example, what did Kerrville look like before Joshua Brown and his fellow shingle makers arrived in the mid-1840s?
There is no evidence of permanent settlement here before Brown arrived here from Gonzales, though there are several archeological sites which suggest campsites used intermittently over hundreds (if not thousands) of years. That is, there were sites where Native Americans camped as they passed through the area, sites which were used repeatedly over many generations. But those campsites were not permanent settlements.
Fortunately, we have a time machine, of sorts.
Years ago my friends Jon and Sandy Wolfmueller, of Wolfmueller Books, gave me a slim book called "A Long Ride in Texas: the Explorations of John Leonard Riddell." Edited by James O. Breeden, the book was published by the Texas A&M University Press in 1994.
John Leonard Riddell was a botanist, geologist, and medical doctor who recorded a journey he took in 1839 from Houston to our neck of the woods. That diary is our time machine.
He was a fairly good observer, noting many of the plants he saw along the way, describing the geology of the lands along his journey, and keeping a log of the days he and the rest of the explorers spent as they traveled deeper into the wilderness of central Texas. It was a dangerous journey: Comanche bands attacked frequently, and the roads were infested with murderous bandits of many nationalities. Disease, too, followed the travelers; of the entire party, only Riddell had a tent, and the journey was in the Autumn. Two in the party died from gunshot wounds, both instances being preventable accidents. And there were divisions in the group: civilians and soldiers; various races; various cultures. It was not a unified team.
Science was not what compelled Riddell to travel into our area: He and the others were looking for silver, specifically the lost San Saba mine. This is the same mine associated with Jim Bowie and others -- a rich mine of silver, still talked about today, but never found.
Like Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit," Riddell had a share in the treasure. He was not required to make a financial investment in the company -- Riddell's contribution was his knowledge of geology. (Bilbo Baggins' contribution was to burgle treasure from a vengeful dragon named Smaug.) All Riddell had to do was apply his knowledge to find the mine.
Riddell's journey from Houston took him through San Felipe, Columbus, Gonzales, Seguin, and San Antonio. There was little left of most of these villages in 1839 -- they'd been destroyed by Texans after the fall of the Alamo in 1836 to deny supplies, shelter, or fodder to the advancing army of Santa Anna.
Of Gonzales, Riddell wrote: "Gonzales, which I come near forgetting, is a small place of six or eight houses, perhaps ten or twelve. It is smaller even than Columbus. The site is fine and the lands about fertile and beautiful. This night [September 19, 1839] we stayed with Mr. King, whose house is eight miles from Gonzales, in a direction rather northwest towards Seguin. His house is a kind of fort, very pleasantly situated."
I mention his impression of Gonzales because that community is where many of our earliest settlers lived before coming to what would become Kerr County -- including Joshua Brown, the founder of Kerrville. In 1839, Joshua Brown likely lived in one of those ten or twelve houses.
Next week I'll tell you what Riddell saw when he visited our area.
Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would enjoy time travel, provided he could make his way back to the present day.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 9, 2016.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A sad goodbye

I'll miss Joseph Benham and Dick Fitch, two local newsmen who passed away this week.
Fitch was not only a newspaper man, but also a children's book author. I got to know him through those projects, which he let us print for him. He was always cheerful when he visited the shop, and I enjoyed talking with him about his classic cars. He had served several communities as a newspaper publisher, and he was always so pleasant to be around.
Benham has been a friend to me since his earliest days in Kerrville. He was a real journalist, and I often relied upon him for advice, which he cheerfully gave. He was active in our community, serving on the boards of dozens of non-profit organizations, often helping them publicize their events and purpose. It was only last week Benham and his wife Verna were recognized by this newspaper and the Dietert Center as "Life's Treasures 2016." Several years ago Benham was named Citizen of the Year here -- and it was well deserved.
I'll certainly miss both men.
* * *
The Museum of Western Art, on Bandera Highway, was kind enough to ask me to prepare an exhibit of some of my collection of historic Kerr County photographs, artifacts, and ephemera. I have been busy working on the show for about a month.
The show is called "Looking Back: Historic Photographs of Kerr County," and runs from July 2 through August 27. The folks at the museum have been so nice and I'm really excited to be showing items that tell the story of our community's history.
Gentle Reader, let me tell you something: I wish we had a history museum here. As I've gone through my collection selecting which items to include, it occurs to me that I'm just a temporary custodian of these rare items. In August, I'll turn 55 years old. I need to find the collection a permanent home.
I've enjoyed working on the show and have restored two old oak display cases from the Charles Schreiner Company to house some of the rare pieces.
A few of the items I'll be displaying have never been shown in public before, ranging from an pre-1850 portrait of James Kerr; an early James Avery Craftsman catalog; shingle making tools and a real cypress shingle. (Kerrville was founded by Joshua Brown, in the late 1840s, who came here to make cypress shingles.)
The Museum of Western Art is located at 1550 Bandera Highway, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 - 4. Admission.
* * *
A pair of local educators are "making lemonade from the lemons" they discovered. I'm proud of Bridget Putnam, who is the current Fine Arts Chair at Tivy High School, and John Ruth, who was a young librarian at the high school back when I was a student there. They've turned what could have been a very negative situation into a positive event.
Years ago -- back when I was in high school -- the art program at Tivy High School celebrated its students with a contest where the best piece of art was chosen to be displayed permanently in the "Tivy Artists Hall of Fame," on the walls of the school's library.
Permanence is relative, apparently, because someone in the school system's administration decided to take down all of the art. By quick thinking, it was quickly rounded up before it slipped away or was discarded.
Rather than bemoan the situation, Putnam and Ruth have found a neat way to give the art back to the former students who created it -- some was created over 30 years ago.
Partnering with Pint & Plow, the prize-winning pieces are on display at the new restaurant's historic building at 332 Clay Street. It's been fun to look at all of the art on the walls in the old Dietert house. I'm proud of the Walther family, owners of Pint & Plow, for being such good hosts.
On July 16, from 6 - 9 in the evening, as many of the former student artists as possible will gather for a social event at Pint & Plow, and, at the end of the evening, the art will be returned to those who created it.
It's a wonderful idea, and I hope it will be a fun and meaningful event for everyone. Thanks, Ms. Putnam and Mr. Ruth -- this is a brilliant solution.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes everyone a happy and safe Fourth.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 2, 2016.

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