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Monday, April 15, 2013

Kerrville author publishes new local history book


Dr. Joseph Luther's
new book.
One of the perks of writing a history column is you get to see new books about local history early, often the same day they're published. My friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller gave me an advance copy of Dr. Joseph Luther's new book, "Fort Martin Scott: Guardian of the Treaty."  Dr. Luther is a Kerrville author, former university professor, and Tivy graduate who has also recently published an interesting book on Camp Verde.

This new book is now available at Wolfmueller's Books, and also online. The Wolfmuellers are hosting a book-signing party for Dr. Luther this coming Tuesday, April 16, from 4-6 pm, at their store in the 200 block of Earl Garrett Street in downtown Kerrville.
I like Luther's new book, and I'm happy to recommend it to you.
There are probably a few readers who don't even know where Fort Martin Scott is, and fewer still who know how important the little fort was in our area's history, especially in the story of the early settlers' relations with the various Native American tribes who frequented our region.
The first question is easiest to answer: Fort Martin Scott is in Fredericksburg, on the eastern edge of town, on State Highway 290, as you head to Johnson City. Some of the original fort structure remains and has been restored; other buildings have been constructed on the site in the style of the buildings which once stood there.
Admission is free, and it's worth a visit.
Originally the little fort was named Fort Houston, and was established by the U. S. Army on December 5, 1848. A year later the post was renamed for Major Martin Scott, who was killed in 1847 at the Battle of Molino del Rey in the Mexican-American War.
The fort was established on a route people had used for centuries: the Pinta Trail, which, according to the book dates "to the Paleo-Indian times."  I think it's interesting how the trails of the past became the roads and highways we still use.
"The Pinta Trail was extensively used during the Forty-Niner gold rush and western migrations of the 1840s and later. More than three thousand 'argonauts' left from Texas in 1849. The route became widely known as the 'Upper Emigrant Trail.'
"Historically, the Pinta Trail linked San Antonio de Valero and the Spanish colonial presidio popularly known as San Saba in present-day Menard County," so the Spanish, during their time in Texas, followed some of the same paths as those peoples who'd been here for thousands of years.
The early settlers in our area from the U. S. and Europe often followed these Spanish routes, and our roads today often follow the trails those settlers used.
It was likely the importance of the Pinta Trail led to the site being chosen by the army for a post, and why Fort Martin Scott is still there today; it was preserved, largely by one family, who transformed the abandoned fort into a commercial use simply because there was traffic passing by: the trail, which became a road, which eventually became a highway. Fort Martin Scott was preserved because a family found an economic use for the property and recycled at least some of the structures into other uses. Today they've been restored back to their historic appearance.
In the mid-1800s the United States Army created a string of forts in Texas with several important missions, including the protection of settlers and their property. Of these forts, Fort Martin Scott was the first established beyond San Antonio, helping to establish the "First Federal Line," which marked the western edge of settlement in Texas.
Few realize in 1848 our area was on the very edge of the frontier; about the same time Fort Martin Scott was established, a shingle maker named Joshua D. Brown, along with a band of other shingle makers, established a second, more permanent camp on the banks of the Guadalupe River, which later became Kerrville. Beyond Kerrville and Fredericksburg to the west was an area controlled by various Native American tribes who did not look kindly upon settlers on their lands.
There was only one treaty between Texas settlers and the Comanche tribes which was ever honored and upheld by both sides -- a treaty negotiated by John O. Meusebach, an early leader of the German immigrants to Texas, and one of the founders of Fredericksburg.  It was this treaty which is the subject of the subtitle of Luther's book.
I especially like two features of Dr. Luther's books -- both this one on Fort Martin Scott and his earlier book on Camp Verde: he takes the time to provide sketches of the various individuals important to the story, and he carefully provides the exact locations where historic events in our area took place.
Congratulations, Dr. Luther, on another fine contribution to the knowledge of the history of our area.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has spent many hours tramping around Fort Martin Scott. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 13, 2013.
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