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Monday, April 25, 2016

Local politics can be rough

If you follow local politics, you'll notice we're in the entertaining part of the Kerrville city election, that period when unusual things happen.
The election for two Kerrville city council positions and the Kerrville mayor takes place May 7, and early voting begins April 25. The campaigns are now in their final stretch.
My favorite section of the newspaper, the letters to the editor, is apparently being used strategically by several of the campaigns, and there have been some interesting news stories, as well.
One news item, about one candidate's yard signs not meeting the letter of the law, is pretty clever. Allegedly, the letters of one word on the signs are about 3/16" too short; 3/16" is about the height of 3 stacked pennies. I pity the poor printer who prepared the proof on that project. Mistakes like that are surprisingly easy to make. (It wasn't me, at least this time.)
I think over the next few weeks we'll continue to see such stories, and find some entertainment in the letters written to the editor. Soon enough, thankfully, the municipal election will be over, and hopefully the candidates who win will be able to work together and make Kerrville a better place. Frankly, I just hope people vote. And I hope your candidates win.
If you think this current election shows a tough side of politics, consider an event from 100 years ago right here in Kerrville.
Reading the March 18, 1916 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun I noticed a story on the front page: "Entire School Board Resigns."
The members of the outgoing Kerrville school board include some names you might recognize: J. E. Grinstead, who was a former mayor and publisher of the newspaper; D. H. Comparette, who organized and ran the Kerrville Telephone Company; Ally Beitel, a prominent builder. The rest of the board were Frederic Nyc, A. A. Roberts, R. S. Newman, and W. G. Peterson.
All seemed to be going smoothly for that board of education. The board president, Grinstead, had never had to cast a deciding vote, and "no complaint against any teacher or other person employed in said schools was ever brought to [the notice of the board]."
That is, until March 10, 1916, when a petition was presented to the board, signed by 98 members of the public.
"This petition was a request that J. G. Chapman be not reelected superintendent of Kerrville Public Schools," according to the news story published in Grinstead's newspaper. "This petition was not considered because said J. G. Chapman had stated to the board some time prior to that date that he would not accept the position if elected."
Although that petition is lost to the sands of time, it appears the petitioners were concerned with the superintendent's lack of credentials in the state of Texas. He apparently had teaching certification in another state, but not here.
A span of 6 days separates the presentation of the petition to the resignation of the entire school board. The outgoing board had been threatened with legal action, which would be withdrawn provided they all resigned.
During those six days a lot of gossip was traded in Kerrville, and little of it kind. The outgoing board was suspected of all sorts of wrongdoing, though a careful examination of the accounts demonstrated the books of the school district were in order.
On Thursday morning, March 16, a new school board "took charge of the schools." The new board was made up of T. C. Johnston, A.W. Henke, W. A. Fawcett, J. E. Palmer, J. H. Ward, E. Galbraith, and R. B. Everette. Johnston was elected board president.
In less than one week the entire school board was ousted and replaced. Now that's some rough politics.
Some of those board members forced to resign never fully recovered. Grinstead eventually sold his newspaper, though he continued to publish magazines about the hill country and also wrote a number of pulp westerns.
And what of the Tivy Class of 1916? Among the graduates that year were Rosita Holdsworth (Hollar), who became a teacher, despite the chaos of her senior year, and Louis Comparette, who was probably the son of one of the ousted board members.  Tivy graduated 18 students that year.
As we endure the municipal election, just remember: it could be a lot worse.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who, years ago, placed his name on several municipal ballots. Please vote in the upcoming elections -- I don't care which candidate you support, but I encourage you to vote. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 23, 2016.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A country lit only by fire

I've been watching a television series from the BBC, and wondered if the same idea could be applied to our part of Texas. Could a similar series be produced about the settlers of the Texas Hill Country?
Please don't judge me, but the name of the series is "Tudor Monastery Farm," which originally aired in 2013, and is available on YouTube.
Yes, you can begin the jokes now. Yes, I understand I'm likely the only one in our community who would find this series interesting.
However, watching the series, which shows farming practices as they were in Tudor England, around the time of Henry VII, about 1500 AD, it soon became obvious that many of the farming and cooking methods shown would not have been so foreign to the practice of Kerr County's earliest settlers.
The earliest settlers arrived here around 1846; the first permanent settlement came about 2 years later, in 1848. Although the hills and river would have been recognizable to a modern time traveler, almost nothing else would have been like what Kerr County is today.
Of course, there would many fewer structures, and no roads. As late as 1857, a year after Kerr County was organized, and a year after Kerrville was named its county seat, there were only "five small log huts, of one or two rooms, a wilderness of trees, and grass as high as a man, with Indians skulking through," according to Rosalie Dietert. She and her husband, Christian Dietert, built the sixth house in Kerrville.
In 1931, Ms. Dietert helped a grandchild with a school history report, and her memories were published in a booklet, along with the stories of other early settlers.
"Your grandfather built the sixth house," Mrs. Dietert said. "It had three rooms and was built of cypress timbers cut on the saw mill he set up at the place where the ice plant now stands." The remains of that ice plant still stand, at One Schreiner Center, along the bluff by the river at the end of Washington Street.
Rosalie Dietert started housekeeping with a skillet and a small dutch oven, "which was a small round iron pot with three legs and a dented-in lid to hold live coals." She also had a brass kettle holding about one gallon, for cooking utensils.
"Meat there was always plenty, venison, wild turkey, fish, occasionally bear, and later beef. In the beginning there were practically no vegetables. They made a salad of wild parsley and tea from a variety of the small prairie sage, and greens from the 'lamb's quarters' or 'land squatters.'"
J. Marvin Hunter, who was a roving newspaperman and established Frontier Times museum in Bandera, wrote about the fare found in typical hill country homes:
“Near us lived an old couple, Grandpa and Grandma Murray, early settlers on the frontier. They lived in a very small house, and Grandma Murray cooked on the open fireplace, as she did not have a cooking stove.”
Grandpa Murray was a freighter, hauling goods to Menardsville from Austin, a distance of about 160 miles. The round trip would take about three weeks. While he was gone, Grandma Murray often invited young Hunter to stay with her.
“At meal time she would prepare the best she had, which was usually bread, coffee, bacon and [black] sorghum molasses…. She had a large Dutch oven in which she cooked her bread, and a smaller skillet in which she fried the bacon. She would rake the coals of the fire out on the hearth and place the Dutch oven on these coals. Then she would slice strips of bacon and place them in the skillet, which she placed on the fire, and as soon as the grease had been fried out of the bacon she lifted the skillet and placed it on the hearth. She made up the dough for her bread, sometimes it was of cornmeal and sometimes it was of flour. After kneading the dough well, she would make it into one big patty, or pone, and after greasing the inside of the Dutch oven, she would place the patty in it, then taking a long iron rod which was crooked at one end she would lift the oven lid from the fire where it had been heating and place it on top of the oven. Then taking a shovel of live coals she heaped them up on the oven’s lid, taking care to get just the right heat… During this the big coffee pot was simmering on the coals at the left side of the hearth.”
A hunk of the ‘pone’ was served with coffee and fried bacon; ‘grease gravy,’ made from the drippings of the bacon without flour, just grease, really; and the molasses.
“Bub,” Grandma Murray would say, “do you want some sorghum?” and I would say “Yessum, Grandma,” and she would pour out a great quantity of the blackstrap molasses onto my plate, and add to it a generous portion of the ‘grease gravy,’ and I would set to, with a man’s appetite, and when my plate was emptied clean she would fill it again.”
From watching the series, the only real difference might be the dutch oven and some of the ingredients used in meals.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who watches documentaries few others would care to see. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 16, 2016.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kerrville, 1870s: $1500 cash, and no place to put it

I enjoy poking around on the Library of Congress website, looking up things about Kerrville and Kerr County. Recently I ran across Ella Cox's story, as recorded by a writer with the Works Progress Administration in 1936, under the heading "Range Lore."
Mrs. Cox was born in 1855, and when she was 17 married James Monroe Cox in Washington County near Brenham, Texas.
"All the hardships of pioneer days did not consist of fighting Indians," according to Mrs. Cox.
A few years after they married she and her husband moved to Kerrville, probably around 1875 to 1880. "This long, long trip was made in wagons, one drawn by oxen and the others by horses. A boy drove our milk cows. We passed through San Antonio which was then very small and dirty."
The couple sold a farm near Brenham before moving to Kerrville.
"When we got to Kerrville, Mr. Cox unloaded our stuff in the house and started the next day to San Antonio to take the men who had helped us move back that far as he had promised to do when we left Washington County. My husband left me with $1500, as he did not want to take it with him. I didn't know what to do with that money. I put it first one place, then another, and finally at night put it in my shoe. Then in the night I thought that rats or mice might get it, so I held it in my hands all night, and was thankful I didn't have any more."
Imagine her dilemma -- most of their capital, in paper money -- and she was alone in a house, worried about the responsibility of keeping it safe. I'm surprised she slept at all.
"When Mr. Cox came back, he went to work for Captain Schreiner who at that time owned nearly everything in that country. Captain Schreiner was a fine man, always helped everybody in any way he could.
"Our place at Kerrville was on the Guadalupe River. One side of the cow pen was the bank of the river. We had a windlass to let a bucket down into the river and drew up our water that way. I used to milk the cows in that pen and in those days when I was young and silly, I used to wish that all the cows would fall over that bluff into the river. I was afraid to leave the children in the house, so would bring them out and let them stay on the fenced side of the pen."
Her description of the place "on the Guadalupe River," with a bluff directly over the river, sure sounds like it could be somewhere between the 800 to 1000 block of Water Street, though at the time I think the Christian Dieterts owned most of that area. Perhaps, Gentle Reader, you have a better idea where they could have lived, on a lot which meets those criteria. Bluffs over water "at Kerrville" are not that common.
The Cox family moved to the San Angelo area in 1886. "The soldiers were here in the fort (Fort Concho), and there was very little town. We lived in a tent on our place north of town until we could get lumber hauled from Abilene to build a house.
"I was glad when things were more settled. I have never objected to taxes for we have so much better roads and other comforts. I have always enjoyed train trips. I liked the long one when I went to California several years ago. I like to ride fast in an automobile, and may ride some day in an aeroplane," she said, ending the report.
I liked the part about Captain Schreiner, describing him as fine and helpful. I'm sure he was. And I'm intrigued about the location of their home in Kerrville.
The Library of Congress has many resources available online; the website address is www.loc.gov
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes to read local histories, especially those written in the words of those who lived here long ago.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 9, 2016.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Cowboy named Ed Bell

I think this Internet thing might prove to be useful, especially to those of us who enjoy researching local history. While visiting the website of the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov), I found quite a few items about Kerrville and Kerr County. There are several oral histories there, and I found one by Ed Bell to be quite entertaining and interesting.
Ed Bell was born in Redrock, Bastrop County, Texas on January 5, 1857. His father was a farmer and a ranchman.
Ed started out early as a cowboy. "I have been working stock since I could sit on a horse," he writes.
“I was born in a little two-room log house with a hall between, and I have been riding regular after cattle since I was seven. When I was nine years old, I was out helping my father with the cattle and we had a stampede. They run right by our house and almost scared my mother to death. I guess there was about a thousand head. My father finally got hold of a red flag and run in ahead of them and got them checked. However there were several head killed.
“I went up the trail when I was 18 years old with a herd of cattle for Jim Allison. We had a pretty nice trip this time. It took us about four and a-half months to make the trip. We had a few little runs but our trip was a pleasant one."
"I went to the trail again to the territory in '89 after I was married. With an outfit for [Captain Charles] Schreiner of about 3,000 head of two-year-old steers. We didn't have any trouble with runs but we had a hard trip, it was so dry and grass and water was scarce. One time we had to drive two days and nights without stopping and without water. Part of the boys would sleep a little in the wagon while the others were drifting with the herd. Some of the cattle died for the want of water. When we reached Pease River, we lost quite a few in the quicksand.
But we didn't lose as many as the herds ahead of us. One man lost three-hundred head in one place. He sent word back to us to let the fence down and go on the other side of this quicksand.
"Well, the owner of this pasture caught us pretty quick after we went over this fence into his pasture. That man was some mad when he caught us in his pasture with those cattle. He threatened to have us arrested. While he was raving and was so mad when he found us in his pasture, Old Man Hen Baker who was with our outfit wanted me to let him kill the [landowner] and throw him in the quicksand."
The Pease River is a tributary of the Red River, and since they were driving the cattle to the "territory," I'm guessing they were headed to Oklahoma. The incident above probably took place near Quanah, Texas, and Vernon, Texas.
I've seen photographs of the Pease River, and quicksand was very likely a problem for cattle herds being driven north.
Hen Baker, mentioned above, was quite a character. According to Haley's "Charles Schreiner, General Merchandise," Mr. Baker killed more than a few men, though he escaped the noose every time. He was finally sent to prison for killing his son-in-law, an unfortunate man named Dudley Laurie, who was killed in downtown Kerrville. I'm guessing, had Ed Bell consented, the landowner along the Pease River would have met with an unfortunate accident.
Ed Bell continues his story: "“When we got the cattle to water, we turned then a-loose. I guess it was our old Irish cook that saved the day. He was cooking for the outfit and he kept telling Irish stories till he got the [landowner] in a good humor and finally he got down off his horse and ate a little. I was foreman of the outfit and after he quieted down and got in a good humor I asked him how much we owed him. He said about fifty dollars so I wrote him out a check for seventy-five
dollars and we parted good friends.
“I remember on that trip we found watermelons growing right out on the sand hills in the pasture, in the woods. We ate all we wanted and so did the cattle."
There are many stories about our part of the world available on the Library of Congress website, and I hope you have as much fun reading them as I have.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who knows every trail in the Lone Star State (from riding the range in a Ford V-8). This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 26, 2016.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Forgotten Kerr County towns

Kerr County postal map, 1907.
Click to enlarge.
I enjoy studying old maps, especially when they contain a surprise or two.
Recently, I came across several old maps of Kerr County which noted a few things I wasn't expecting: town names for places which no longer exist.
These aren't maps from the 1800s, either -- they range in age from 1907 to the 1940s, so they're fairly recent. They're certainly recent enough to expect similarities to the places we know from current maps.
Take the community of Eura, for instance. That community still exists in the upper middle portion of the county. However, it goes by a different name now: Mountain Home. In most maps, including the 1907 map I found, it's called Mountain Home (or Mountainhome), but in a map from 1925, it is labeled Eura.
On several post office maps show other community names which no longer exist. Most of the post office maps were created, I suppose, to show where post offices were located.
If so, our county had several post offices which are now gone.
Kerr County map from the 1920s.
Click to enlarge
Take Pebble, for example. As I've reported earlier, "According to the Kerr County Album, 'the Pebble Post office was established in 1905. The location was the Sam Taylor property and it was situated between Camp Heart O' the Hills and Camp Mystic. A small room was enclosed on the end of the front porch. Ms. Emma Taylor was the postmistress. Mr. Cleve Griffin carried the mail on a horse called 'Ole Blue' and Mr. B. F. Merritt carried the mail on a horse called "Old Streeter." The horse pulled a buggy most of the time; It took all day to make the trip to Ingram and back to the Pebble post office.'
"There is some disagreement as to the exact location of the Pebble post office; some say between Heart o' The Hills and Camp Mystic; others near present-day Crider's. I really don't know where Pebble was. Perhaps a member of the Merritt family can help solve the mystery."
One of the early maps does show the exact location of Pebble, but unfortunately that portion of the map is obscured by a crease and a tear. With some patience, though, the mystery could be solved. It was on the south fork of the Guadalupe. Pebble appears in maps as late as the 1940s.
There was also a post office at Vix, which was about 10 miles west of Hunt on the north fork of the Guadalupe, in the mid-1880s. I haven't seen much information about Vix, but if it was 10 miles from Hunt on the north fork, it was between Camp Waldemar and Mo-Ranch.
Japonica was a community near Hunt, according to one map. Hunt is shown on the 1907 post office map, and just a little bit north, Japonica.
A different map, from 1920, shows two communities between Kerrville and Center Point: Parson and Split Rock. Parson was about where the Veterans Administration hospital stands today, and Split Rock was just past where the Kerrville Municipal airport is today. Parson could have been named for Dr. George Parsons, an early physician here who started the very first tuberculosis clinic, but I'm not sure; it could have been named for the Presbyterian Encampment which once stood where Schreiner University now stands. I think these were both train stops back when the old San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad ran between Kerrville and San Antonio.
Kerr County Map from the 1940s.
Click to enlarge.
In a 1940s map, the name Parson has been changed to Legion, and a new spot has been added between Kerrville and Legion -- Schreiner. I'm guessing it was Schreiner Institute, which may have had its own post office, and also had a stop on the rail line. As late as the 1940s Split Rock was shown on the map. I'm old enough to remember when the area near the V A Hospital was called Legion -- after the American Legion, who first built a hospital for veterans there in the 1920s.
There is one other place name I found on a 1908 map: Ganahl, which the map places between Center Point and Kerrville. I have a copy of a plat for Ganahl, on which lots and streets were designated. I don't think Ganahl ever got off the ground, though.
It was likely named for Dr. Charles Ganahl, who represented Kerr County in the secession convention just before Texas joined the Confederacy. He also happened to own the greatest number of slaves in the county in 1860 (24), which was almost half the slaves held here (49). His plan to use slave labor to grow cotton here obviously failed for several reasons, but the scheme to create a new community didn't fare much better.
A lot of the old maps misspell Camp Verde as Camp Verda. Even printers make mistakes sometimes.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can get lost with or without a map.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March19, 2016.

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