I am grateful when readers and far-flung friends send me Kerrville and Kerr County history items, and a few months ago a large manila envelope arrived at the print shop which contained several interesting items.
It came from Fred Bernhard, who now lives near Buchanan Dam, who is part of the extensive Kerr County Bernhard family.
I graduated from Tivy with three Bernhards, Julie and her twin cousins Earl and Carvel, and so have been aware of the family for as long as I can remember. It was always a special treat when the boys brought some of their famous Bernhard's smoked jerky from the family's locker plant between Kerrville and Ingram.
Among the items was a clipping from the San Angelo Standard Times dated September 12, 1976, an article by Jerry Lackey with the headline "What's for Dinner? Hippo you say!"
As a person who has worked with local businesses my entire life, I am often surprised by the resourcefulness of hill country businesses. There are few problems Kerr County business people cannot solve, and often their solutions are both ingenious and eloquent.
Imagine, then, this problem: a customer shows up at your door with a 3,500 pound hippopotamus and requests your company to kill and butcher it.
"A 3,500 pound animal," the news story reads, "was sent to market here Thursday from the Waters Ranch at Utopia. Following slaughter in Bernhard's, the meat carcass was shipped to Chicago where it will be offered along with other specialty items in northern restaurants."
I have worked in downtown Kerrville for over thirty years and have received many special requests from customers, but never one as "special" as the Bernhards received that day. I cannot imagine their reaction.
"The hippo has lived on the range of the Waters Ranch for about one year. Splashing about stock ponds most of the time, the animal seemed quite happy with his West Texas environment, similar in many ways to the streams of Africa from which he came two years ago.
"'We didn't really care about slaughtering the hippo,' explained a ranch official, 'but in the time he has been at the Waters Ranch he has killed 16 head of registered Angus cattle. Thus, we had to do something. The Chicago meat market was an answer to our prayers.'"
Yes, I can see how the hippo was a problem. But the problem was about to be transported, all 3,500 pounds of it, to the Bernhard locker plant.
"Milton Bernhard, a co-owner of the Ingram Locker Plant rushed about the office here Thursday before the animal was to arrive researching ways to kill a hippo.
"'No, I've never killed one before,' he explained. 'Matter of fact, I don't know if I ever saw one in my life.'"
Consider this: in 1976, there was no Internet, no Google, no rapid way to look up hints on how to prepare a hippo carcass, or even how to kill a hippo. I wonder what resources were available in 1976 to help solve this problem. The reporter looked up hippopotamus in the World Book Encyclopedia and learned that hippo skin is practically bullet proof.
The hippo arrived at the locker plant still quite alive, meaning the crew was expected not only to butcher the carcass but also to dispatch it. It took just one shot, thankfully, or there would have been a very upset hippo in Ingram.
"The hardest job the Bernhard staff had to do was moving the large carcass into the slaughter room for skinning and quartering."
The hippo "was huge, thick-skinned and mean looking. He had a heavy barrel-shaped body set on four short thick legs."
Thanks, Mr. Bernhard, for sending the clipping along. It's certainly not every day a hippo arrives at a local business's doorstep, but it sounds like your family's crew handled it with aplomb.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has seen hippos at the zoo. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 2, 2013.