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Monday, January 26, 2015

Why did you move to Kerr County?

If you look back at the reason you moved to our community, you might find similarities to the reasons people have been coming here for thousands of years.
Some came for opportunity; others for health; some to be near family; some to escape the city; some to escape family, or the law, or bad luck. Those are the same reasons many of us came here.
It's hard to guess what motivated the earliest visitors to our area. Given some of the archaeological finds here, it's safe to say people have been in the area since the last ice age, or for about 12,000 years. The hills we now call home must have looked much different then. There is evidence the weather was also much different, much wetter than today, and with harsher extremes in temperature. The animals were different, too: mammoths and huge bison may have been plentiful.
Those early people were probably nomadic, following herds of game, taking advantage of the various edible plants in season, and quarrying flint for their tools. They moved from place to place and probably never established a village here.
But when the settlers came here, starting in the mid-1840s, many of their stories were similar to the reasons so many of today's families came to Kerr County.
Some came for opportunity. There was a job here, or an investment, or land available. Many of the earliest settlers to our community came because of the availability of inexpensive land. Others made their own opportunities: Captain Charles Schreiner comes to mind. He arrived here, along with his brother-in-law Caspar Real, to raise livestock along Turtle Creek, between Kerrville and Camp Verde. Later, they operated a small store near the fort. That store was not terribly successful, but it was a start.
Some came for health. For many years our area attracted people stricken with tuberculosis; it was thought our dry climate helped as the patient recuperated. Families lived in screened cottages, or in tents, and rested. Among those who found their way here seeking health, either for themselves, or for a family member: Dr. G. R. Parsons; Father Henry Kemper; C. C. Butt and his wife, Florence; J. E. Grinstead, a pioneer newspaperman; Starr Bryden, a pioneer photographer; Henry and Annie Doyle, pioneer educators; and even some folks who are still with us, like Joe Lewis.
But tuberculosis was not the only reason people came here for health: many of the summer camps along our beautiful river were built to provide children a healthy place to spend the summer.
Many came to be near family. One of the earliest families to come this way, the Lowrances, arrived here looking for family already here; the Starkeys arrived when James Monroe Starkey came here to reunite with his young daughter, who was being raised by her grandparents, the Ridleys.
You'd be surprised how many came to escape big cities: then, as now, life was a little simpler, and the pace a little slower here. Hundreds of families have moved to our community because, after a career spent in a busy city, remembered the place where they came to summer camp, or where they visited a beloved relative.
As for those who came to escape family, or the law, or bad luck -- well, I won't give examples of those. Let's just say folks in this category are more numerous than one would imagine, and I can think of several pioneer families who came here for some of these reasons.
Those of us who were born here -- natives -- also made a decision to live here. Some went away for a time, but many chose to come back.
Here's my point: if you think of the reason you decided to live here, and consider the reasons those in your circle chose to live here, you already know a lot of the history of this place. The reasons which motivated us are the same which have motivated people to live here for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
History is the telling of a few similar stories; it's the names of the players which change over time.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose parents moved here because of his dad's job with Evans Foodway.

This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 24, 2015.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to make cypress shingles

Click image to enlarge
I got a new app -- thought you might like the result.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Start at the beginning

A scene from the south fork of the Guadalupe River, Kerr County, December 2014
To really understand the story of Kerr County, you have to start with the land.
This part of Texas has been attracting people since before there was a Texas -- indeed, since the end of the last Ice Age -- around 12,000 years ago.  We know this because of some of the artifacts they left behind; at least two Clovis points have been found in the county, and these date from that period.  Pre-Clovis artifacts have yet to be found here.
Some of the features of this part of Texas which attracted prehistoric man are the same features which would attract settlers in the mid-1840s: water, game, and natural resources.
Most prehistoric sites here are found near water, which here means the river or creeks, and usually two ledges or levels above the water, since our rivers and creeks often flood.
Later, when settlers came in the 1840s, they often looked for the same features.  Comfort, established in 1854 "near the site of an Indian village," was built on the confluence of the Guadalupe River and Cypress Creek.   Center Point, a few miles upstream, was founded on the banks of the Guadalupe near Verde Creek.  Kerrville (or Kerrsville) was first a shingle camp, also built by an Indian campsite, though that shingle camp later moved to a site in what is now the 800 block of Water Street; the new site offered higher ground, for defense against the various tribes of Native Americans who did not welcome the settlers, and the new site also offered water, both from the river and from a spring.  Ingram, still farther upriver, was located near the confluence of Johnson Creek and the Guadalupe River.  Hunt was near the joining of the south and north forks of the Guadalupe.  Mountain Home, near both Johnson Creek and Contrary Creek.
Both prehistoric man and the 19th-century settlers relied on plentiful game, though, of course, the animals the prehistoric folks hunted were quite different from the animals hunted later when those first 1850s settlers arrived.  Prehistoric man contended with much larger game, possibly including beasts as large as mammoths, and an early type of now-extinct bison.  As the larger mammals died out, hunters sought game which would have been familiar to the 19th-century settlers: bison, deer, and bears.  Fish were also an important food source.
Just a quick aside about bears: they were very common here when the 19th-century settlers arrived, and often prized for the flavor of the meat they provided, as well as the fat they added to the settlers' diets.  Sightings of bears are now quite rare, but my sweet wife saw one once not far from the Kerr County line.
As for natural resources, aside from water and game, prehistoric man may have favored this place because of the abundance of flint, a fine type of chert which occurs in chalk and limestone formations.  There are several hillside ledges within sight of downtown Kerrville which seem to bear evidence of being ancient quarries for the material.  Flint was an important resource for tool making for over ten thousand years here.  There were probably hundreds of other important resources these early people prized here -- some known to us today, while the importance of other resources remain unknown.  I'd speculate there are plants here which were once valued for food or medicine, but which we do not recognize as being anything other than weeds.
When Joshua Brown and his band of ten men established a shingle making camp here, they were also harvesting a natural resource: the cypress trees which line the creeks and rivers.  Cypress shingles were valued because they lasted a long time.
The settlers, however, brought with them an idea which would have been foreign to those who lived here before: they saw the land, and ownership of the land, as a resource.
When Kerr County was formed (from Bexar County) in 1856, there was a scramble to secure a site for the county seat.  Joshua Brown prevailed, offering a town site, to be called "Kerrsville," to the commissioners court at their very first meeting.  It's possible Brown did not actually own the land at the time he made the offer, but he soon remedied that.
Brown's offer was accepted, and he donated a public square for the courthouse, a site for a school and a site for a church, as well as a grid of streets for the new community.  The rest of the parcel he offered to the public, and his first sale of a town lot was made soon after, to a Daniel Arnold, who listed his occupation as "bear hunter."  Mr. Arnold didn't actually live on the lot he'd purchased; until at least 1859 he lived in a shack, propped up with long poles, where today's Kerr County Courthouse now stands.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has found dart points and arrowheads at several sites within walking distance of downtown Kerrville.

This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 17, 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kerrville Folk Festival display at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Carter Blackburn, who grew up here in Kerrville and graduated from Tivy High School, recently took these photos of a display in Austin at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.  Carter is the son of Bill and Deana Blackburn, and is a respected sportscaster, currently working with the CBS Sports Network. 
Display, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, January 2015

Detail, display, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, January 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

The stories we tell

The last time I was in an airliner, I happened to get a window seat, and I found myself looking down at the towns and cities we passed.  Some were just a few buildings at a crossroads; others were crowded metropolises.  Each has a story, and as I looked at them from above the clouds, I wondered what some of those stories might be.
I'll never know those stories, of course.  But I do know at least some of the story of our community, and I hope to share what I learn of that story here.
Tranquility Island and River Trail, 2015
While much of our community's story is similar to the stories other communities tell, there is much that makes our story unique.  Mostly, it's the unique people who live here -- and those who lived here in earlier times.  The setting of our story, in many cases, also makes it unique.  We are blessed with a beautiful place to call home -- a blessing other communities cannot claim.
Here's the thing about stories: we use them to make sense of the world around us, just like our ancestors did.  It's my opinion a good story makes a good community; if we know the story, it helps build community.
Part of that story has to be what happened here before any of us arrived on the scene, the history of a place.  I enjoy history, but not because of the various dates and facts most people associate with that word.  I enjoy history because it's a story in which we generally know the ending.  These people did this at this place -- and this happened -- and this is how their efforts changed things.
I've noticed, in researching the history of this place, several others before me have attempted to tell the story of our community, some better than others.  One or two of these storytellers focused only on the positive parts of our community's story -- in the old days they'd be called boosters.
I hope you'll agree with me that telling the whole story -- even the warty sections -- makes for a better story.  I hope to tell the stories I find as accurately as I can, whether the stories are positive or negative.
For as long as the newspaper will allow me, I would like to present at least a part of our community's story in this space.  Taken together, like tiles in a mosaic, they might give hints about the larger story of this place.  Some of the stories will show our similarity to other communities; others will demonstrate what makes our area special.
Our part of Texas seems to have a story in each canyon, a tale in each bend of our Guadalupe River, and an chapter on each hilltop. Legends abound here. I hope you'll join me here as I explore those hidden stories, even the ones hidden in plain sight.
The journey ought to be fun.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who once flew an airplane -- although very briefly, and only after it was safely in the air.

This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 10, 2015.

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