Historic Kerr County photographs available!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas in Kerrville when I was a boy

Carolers on horseback, Kerr County Courthouse square,
possibly in the late 1960s.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
I write this to you each week on Thursday evenings. Tonight, I am alone in a suddenly-quiet print shop, after everyone has left for the day. There are only two of us left in the building: our print shop cat, Safety Officer, and me.
Outside it is snowing. Big snowflakes are drifting by the windows of the shop, falling sloppily on Water Street. Night is falling.
Kerrville street 
The scene made me remember Christmases past, and how the holiday was different when I was growing up here. I think the holiday was much more relaxed when I was a child, and the season started much later than it does now.
I looked through my collection of Kerrville photos for images of the holiday season here, and I found images of the old downtown Kerrville Christmas decorations, of holiday parades, of Santa, of folks on horseback.
The old municipal Christmas decorations looked like they were created by Dr. Suess -- curled arms covered in silver tinsel, decorated with snow-covered bells. When they were new, the bells had warm yellow lights inside, and the tinsel had colored Christmas lights along each strand. I remember as the decorations got older, the working bulbs grew fewer in number, and the decorations were mainly for daytime. I'm sure they were difficult to install and more difficult to store and maintain.
Lutheran children's
Christmas Pageant
I found a photo of a children's Christmas pageant from what looks like the early 1960s. It was taken at Holy Cross Lutheran. The children are dressed up as angels, shepherds, barnyard animals, along with a young Mary and Joseph. I don't recognize the children; I think they're a little older than I. That part of Christmas hasn't changed a great deal. Children will still act out the story of the birth of Jesus much as they did fifty years ago.
Santa at Notre Dame School
One photo brought back another memory. A group on horseback are gathered in front of a giant Christmas tree. The photo was taken at the Kerr County courthouse, and while I don't remember the event in the photo, I do remember that tree being decorated each Christmas. It stood for many years on the corner of the inner courthouse lawn closest to the intersection of Main and Earl Garrett streets. There was another matching tree on the corner closest to Main and Sidney Baker streets. I remember climbing both of them with downtown friends, our hands covered with resin. Both trees are gone now. I learned later, as an adult, while researching history for this column, that both trees were planted as memorials for the young men from Kerr County who died in World War I. Ice and wind and time took the trees away.
Looking closely at the photo of the folks on horseback in front of the giant Christmas tree, I see some are holding sheets of paper. I imagine they're singing Christmas carols. Most are bundled up. A street light glows from among the branches.
Christmas at the Booterie
A Christmas display from the Booterie's windows made me smile. That building looks very different today. It's no longer a shoe store; it's a restaurant called Francisco's in one of the town's oldest buldings. Today there's only one door on the corner, and it's about where that mannequin is modeling. How different it looks in the photo. And those shoes look very practical.
Santa in 1974 parade
I found some color photographs from a Christmas parade in 1974, sent to me by the younger sister of some of my classmates. Mr. and Mrs. Claus look happy. There are a group of kids on a float showing Christmas celebrations from around the world. The silver tinsel tree reminds me of the one our family had when I was a boy.
Christmas parade, 1974
Our tree had a special spotlight which we aimed at our tree. The spotlight had a wheel with lenses of different colors, and an electric motor slowly turned the wheel. The effect, I suppose, was to make the tree appear in those different colors. None of the colors on the wheel were found in nature, and the foil tree looked very Space Age to me. I thought it was so modern looking when I was a child.
Well, it looks as if the snow has slowed down. It is dark outside. Time for this old man to head home.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has seldom seen snow in Kerrville, though he's midway through his sixth decade here. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times on a bright and sunny and snow-free December 9, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Kerr County was a political mess in the 1860s

A page from the 1860 U. S. Census for Kerr County.
This page includes information about the Christian Dietert Family

Kerr County was a political mess in the 1860s.
Here the Civil War was not so much North versus South; in Kerr County the war was between Kerrville and Comfort.
In those days, Comfort was in Kerr County, and before the war the two had been political rivals. Once the American Civil War began, however, the conflict between the two intensified to violence. Kerrville was largely sympathetic to the Confederate cause; the citizens of Comfort were largely true to the Union.
Before the war, the conflict between Kerrville and Comfort was simple. Both wanted to be the county seat.
For a brief time, from 1860 until 1862, Comfort was the county seat of Kerr County, though the election calling for the move may have had some "irregularities."
The 'chief justice' of Kerr County in 1860, an office I assume was similar to today's county judge, seems to have played one faction against the other, going so far as to throw out votes from Kerrville when the election was held to determine which town was to be the seat of government.
But similar "irregularities" in elections had happened here before, sometimes favoring Kerrville, sometimes favoring Comfort.
The 1860 census enumerates the citizens of Comfort, the citizens of Kerrville, and those who lived outside those two communities; the rest of the county is divided into two precincts. The area around Comfort was Precinct 2; the area around Kerrville (and farther upriver) was Precinct 1.
The total population of Kerr County in 1860 was 634, including 49 slaves. Comfort was larger in population than was Kerrville: Comfort had a population of 91; Kerrville, 68.
But often residents of Comfort were not allowed to vote, because they had never become citizens of the United States.
And Comfort was older than Kerrville. Comfort, and the land around it, was settled first, largely by German immigrants from New Braunfels, who began moving into the area in the early 1850s.
Kerrville really didn't have a beginning until 1856, though a small group of settlers lived here. It wasn't until 1856 that Joshua D. Brown offered site for a town at the very first Kerr County commissioners court. Though Brown and others had lived in the area since the late 1840s, it wasn't until 1856 that Brown obtained title to the land on which the oldest part of Kerrville now rests. Brown purchased the land from the heirs of B. F. Cage, who assumed the veteran had died -- although it turns out Mr. Cage was quite alive at the time, living in nearby Blanco.
 The summer of 1860 was a time of turmoil in Kerr County -- this was when the storm clouds of the American Civil War were building in the east.
The census makes clear that conflict was present even here in the newly formed Kerr County. It's true there were 49 slaves in Kerr County, but they were not evenly distributed over the county.
One slaveholder, Dr. Charles de Ganahl, owned 24 of the 49. Dr. Ganahl had just over 4,000 acres near present-day Center Point. In the 1860 census, Ganahl's land was in Precinct 1.
In fact, almost all of the slaves in Kerr County in 1860 were in Precinct 1. There were 9 slaves held in Precinct 2, the area around Comfort; there were 40 in Precinct 1, the area around Kerrville.
In the town Comfort, there was only one slave: a 10-year-old girl, who was owned by a woman. Kerrville counted 2 slaves: a 28-year-old male, and a 10-year-old male. The rest were held on farms and small ranches, but mostly in the area around Kerrville.
19 of the 49 slaves here were 10 years of age or younger. None of the slaves are named in the document; they are only counted.
Precincts 1 and 2 were also divided by language; most of the families in Precinct 2 spoke German in their homes; in Precinct 1, English.
When the vote was taken on whether Texas should secede from the Union, those in favor of secession won, 76 to 57. However, there is some evidence to suggest Kerr County would not have voted to secede had the votes of Precinct 2, the German-speaking area in and around Comfort, been fully counted.
It's hard to realize today how bitter the contest became between the two communities.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is very tired of politics and the divisions politics cause, though it's obvious those divisions have been going on since the start of our community.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 2, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why did people settle in Kerr County?

The Holloman cabin.  This one is pretty fancy: it's made from sawn lumber

Some who write about local history may harbor a desire to travel back in time, but I do not. I think living here a century ago would have been very difficult, and living here 150 years ago almost impossible. So no time-travel for me, thanks.
Were such travel possible one might be able answer some questions, since you could simply ask the folks involved what they were thinking, why they made some of the choices they made.
I'd be interested in asking people why they came here in the 1850s, when Kerr County was the extreme frontier of settlement. Why would families move here? Why would they so willingly endure such hardships, suffer such isolation, and shoulder the terrors of this region?
I suppose those questions would be met with blank stares, since those early settlers would lack anything from our time to compare with the situations in which they found themselves. If anything they might consider their decision to place themselves and their families in such danger an improvement over their former circumstances.
The Florence Wootton Hadden
They would express, in varying degrees of kindness, the daftness of the question and the obviousness of the answer. Since they were given a set of conditions prevalent in that time period they made a set of choices which seemed best to them.
They'd look at their rough-hewn cabins and see shelter and safety in a land of extreme weather -- a land which also happened to be peopled with hostile native tribes. Many of those early cabins were as much small forts as family homes.
They might look at their opportunities here, with so much available land and other resources, as a boon of unbelievable fortune.
They weren't careless in the choices they made. They had no need of air-conditioning or iPhones because they had no concept of either. The conveniences of our modern life were not missing from their lives since such conveniences didn't exist.
Real family cabin
Though it's true as settlers they faced hardships some of their contemporaries in cities did not have to tolerate, their plight here was not as disadvantageous as one might think. There was violence in cities, too. There was disease and poor sanitation in cities. In fact, the conditions in most cities 150 years ago would have been dismal.
Toss politics into the equation and even more 1850s folks would be motivated to move to Kerr County. Many of the earliest settlers here immigrated from Germany, escaping the social disruptions there. Others came from Great Britain, escaping customs and traditions which stifled any hope of opportunity.
Many came here from other states in the Union, often escaping political and legal pressures at home.
Cabin of Joshua Brown,
founder of Kerrville
Few settlers' cabins survive here Kerr County. I know the Starkey family restored an family cabin which once stood near today's Walmart in Kerrville. The Warren Klein family, too, have restored a small family cabin up on the Divide. Some of the buildings out at the Y. O. Ranch are restored cabins (and schools), and a few examples can be found on the Lyndon Johnson parks in Stonewall and Johnson City.
In my files I have photographs of several early homes here, of the Holloman, Real, Brown, and Wooten family cabins.
Looking at them today one sees tiny little structures roughly assembled. One cannot imagine how families with many children lived in such a small spaces, or, frankly, how families had any quantity of children in the first place, given the absolute lack of privacy in the homes.
The cabins look like they would be very uncomfortable for any time traveler visiting from our time to theirs.
But to those who built them they represented opportunity, freedom, hope. They were like vessels built at the edge of the earth, capsules of exploration and discovery. From them our community began.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes his daughter Elizabeth a very happy birthday today. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 25, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Kerr County Thanksgiving in 1856

Real Family in Kerr County
Hunters returning to the Real family cabin after a successful hunt, around 1900
For many folks a portion of this week will be spent planning and preparing for a Thanksgiving meal.  Index cards will be pulled from old recipe boxes, to check the ingredients needed for dishes made once each year, food that reminds of us of a departed aunt or provides hints at a great-grandmother we never knew.
I noticed an article in the New York Times this week which told how two of their food writers "cooked a whole Thanksgiving dinner on one stove in one day with one temperature setting."  The writers set their oven to 400, and used four burners on their stovetop.  "You don't have to cook Thanksgiving in one day, on four burners and in one oven," the article stated.  "But you can."
I suppose that's quite a feat for a pair of New York food writers, yet my wife and I, for our entire married life, have only ever had a four-burner stove and a single oven. Even with these 'limited' resources we've manage to pull together quite a string of Thanksgiving meals.
I suppose it's the same at your house, too.  An oven and a stove make the work easy.
Consider what such a feast would have required when Kerr County was founded, back in 1856.
First, the fare.
In its earliest days Kerrville lacked a grocery store, certainly never dreaming of the variety of foods available today at H-E-B.
Early stores offered bulk items hauled here by wagon: coffee, flour, cornmeal, and perhaps salt.  The choices were few and they were plain.  Schreiner started his store in 1869; there were others before him, including John Ochse, who had a store at the intersection of Main and Washington, where the old Notre Dame Church sanctuary stands today.  These early stores would also buy locally grown produce to sell to their customers.
Any other food would have to be grown in your own garden, livestock you raised, or food harvested from the hills around your home.
Rosalie Dietert
Rosalie Dietert, who with her husband Christian settled in Kerrville in 1856, described the wild food available nearby:
"Meat there was always plenty, venison, wild turkey, fish, occasionally bear, and later beef." she says in a 1941 issue of the Frontier Times magazine. "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.'"
I've always been surprised how many of those early settlers mentioned bear meat as a staple.
J. J. Denton, an early settler of the Center Point area actually preferred bear meat to other wild game, according to another article in the Frontier Times magazine.
"The [Denton] family was never short of meat or honey. Though hogs and deer were plentiful, Denton preferred bear meat. "You can eat bear meat every day in the year and never tire of it, and, when cured, you can eat it raw as well as cooked. Everybody used bear oil as a substitute for lard; it made the best shortening in the world. My uncle, John Lowrance, was a mighty bear hunter and often had 1,000 pounds of bear meat in his smokehouse. He considered it the most wholesome of meats and believed that a diet of it would cure any sort of stomach trouble."
Consider, too, the kitchens in which these meals were prepared.
Cooking in those days was much more difficult than now. 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, according to the magazine article.
The last bear killed in Kerr County, around 1901
"In about 1870 some cook stoves were brought west as far as San Antonio, one of which [Rosalie Dietert] became the proud possessor. No more out-door cooking in all sorts of weather -- a stove and a real oven to bake bread and cakes!  Her recipes were gotten out, and all sorts of good things were made for holidays and birthdays. The favorites were stollen (loaf cake), pfeffer-nusse (spice cookies), and schnecken (a sweet dough rolled out flat and covered with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, currants and pecan meats. This was all rolled up, cut into slices, and baked.)"
The recipe became very popular in early Kerrville, and many early local families enjoyed making schnecken, though among many early families it went by a different name: "Dietert Cookies."
I am thankful for our modern kitchens.  Ms. Carolyn and I will rough it at our house with a single oven and a four-burner stove top.
I hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who will be in the kitchen with Ms. Carolyn this week, attempting to be her able assistant.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 18, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kerrville's first Armistice Day

A parade passes the old Fire Tower,
at the intersection of Earl Garrett and Water streets, around 1925.
Photo from the collection of Lanza Teague.
What we now call Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918.
There is a story of that first celebration in Kerrville on the original Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, and of the sadness that followed. Bob Bennett’s book on Kerr County history tells the story like this:
“The glad news that the gigantic armies facing each other on the long battle front in France had agreed to a an armistice reached Kerrville early in the morning of November 11, 1918. Soon after dawn the noise of celebrating began and the din brought people into town by the hundreds. Before noon downtown sidewalks and streets were packed with people and automobiles driving up and down the thoroughfares. Everybody was wildly hilarious with joy.
“Guns were fired, whistles were blown and bells were rung. Schools were suspended for the day. The old town fire bell in a tower on the corner now occupied by the Blue Bonnet Hotel played its part in the noisemaking. Men and boys climbed up the tower after breaking the rope used for ringing, and with hammers kept the bell clanging for hours.”
That old fire bell was on a wooden tower on the southern corner of the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, opposite Water Street from Francisco's Restaurant in the old Weston Building.
And yet, as those men and boys were ringing the old bell, striking it with hammers and mallets and sticks, joyous that the “war to end all wars” was over, the intersection had a different name: it was the corner of Water and Mountain streets.
On that joyous day, November 11, 1918, three Kerrville families did not know the sad news of their lost sons.
The very next day, November 12, 1918, Mrs. E. W. Baker received word that her son Sidney had died in the Argonne battles on October 15, 1918; Judge and Mrs. W. G. Garrett learned about a week later that their son Victor Earl had died October 4, during the last month of the war; the relatives of Francisco Lemos learned late that month that he had died September 15, 1918.
The town that had sung and fired shots in the air and laughed and danced in the street now hung down its head and mourned.
It had been a tough month in Kerr County leading up to November 11, 1918. The Kerrville Mountain Sun of October 25, 1918 -- less than three weeks before the war ended -- noted there was a quarantine in Kerrville, to "prevent the spread of the Spanish influenza." Church services were cancelled, and the entire faculty of Our Lady of the Guadalupe school went to San Antonio, to render assistance there "in the present scarcity of nurses."
Most of the Kerr County men who died in World War I died from disease, often either from pnuemonia or influenza, and a lot of them died in the autumn of 1918.
After that war ended, plans were being made to remember those lost in the service of their country. In its January 10, 1919 edition, the Kerrville Mountain Sun suggested "that Kerr County erect some kind of lasting memorial to her boys who responded to our country's call in the war for world liberty....
"It could take the form of a tall observation tower," the front-page article suggested, "a memorial hall in which to gather mementos of the great struggle, and in which our patriotic meetings could be held, a massive arch spanning the intersection of two of our principal streets -- these or any other form that presented itself as practicable and desirable."
That same issue, in a small paragraph on the back page, noted a committee appointed by Kerrville mayor H. C. Geddie had decided to "name Mountain Street after Lieut. Earl Garrett, Tchoupitoulas St. after Sidney Baker, and Lytle Street after Francisco Lemos."
The three Kerr County men killed in battle in World War I:
Francisco Lemos, Earl Garrett, and Sidney Baker.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historical photographs and items from Kerrville and Kerr County.  Please share your treasures with him. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 11, 2017.



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