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Monday, December 10, 2012

Two new books on Texas Hill Country history

Most of the books I use while researching topics for this column are quite old and hard to find. But occasionally a new book comes along that is helpful and is also easily obtained. Two crossed my desk in recent weeks, and I'm happy to recommend them to you.

The Ranch That Was Us
The first, "The Ranch That Was Us," by Becky Crouch Patterson, combines the personal history of Ms. Patterson's years with stories of long ago.
Patterson is directly related to many early German immigrants, including several founding families of the Comfort, Texas area, and includes many stories from that time.
I need to warn you: it's not an altogether happy book. There are losses in Patterson's life as well as in the lives of her ancestors, and none of these are glossed over, but are relayed in a direct and frank manner.
The ranching life has always been something of a mystery to this town boy, and I'm sure when I dreamt of that life as a youngster I had no inkling of the long hard work each day brings on a ranch. That hard work is almost a character in Patterson's book, and I'll admit it made me appreciate my downtown Kerrville upbringing.
Another strong character in the book is the land itself, the acres and pastures where so many generations of Patterson's family have worked. The thing about reading about the land is how familiar it sounds; it's like a thousand places we've all seen here in the hill country, though creased and folded in its own way, and worn smooth in places by those who lived there.
Patterson's book is a good one, with lots of local seasoning, and I'm happy to recommend it to you.

The second book is "The Reckoning" by Peter Rose, which tells the story of the "triumph of order on the Texas outlaw frontier."
In the years from the Civil War to about the turn of the last century this area was home to more than a few rough characters, and this book explores that history.
One local story is examined closely: the murder of the four Dowdy children in Kerr County back in 1878. It is often referred to as the last fatal Indian attack in Kerr County, though I have heard persistent rumors that those responsible for killing the Dowdy siblings were actually not Indians at all, but a rough gang of white outlaws. One Dowdy descendent shared this view with me, and I've heard it from others as well.
The Reckoning
In early October 1878 the four Dowdy children were tending livestock near their parent's home on Johnson Creek past Mountain Home. There were three sisters, Alice, Martha, and Susan, and a brother, James. They were found "pierced by arrows." At least two also suffered gunshot wounds. The sheep they were watching were scattered and all of the horses were gone. No witnesses, other than the slain children, saw the attack.
Rose examines this case in detail and offers some new research I haven't seen elsewhere. In conversation he says the evidence he's found -- over 130 years after the event -- is probably not sufficient to convict those he feels were responsible, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest it wasn't a roving band of Native Americans who killed the four children.
While it's unlikely we'll ever know the complete story of what happened that day, especially after the passage of so much time, Rose makes a strong argument about the Dowdy massacre which bears consideration.
Both books are available at Wolfmueller's Books on Earl Garrett Street in downtown Kerrville.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys the rugged hills around Kerrville, but who would likely be unable to make a living out there.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 8, 2012.

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