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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.

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