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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Only Five One-Room Cabins in Kerrville

The first houses in Kerrville were fairly primitive.
Kerrville got its real start in 1856, when Kerr County was formed.  Joshua Brown offered land for the county seat at the very first commissioners court meeting, and his offer was accepted.  Though Brown and several others lived on land that would become Kerrville, Brown didn't actually own the land he offered to the county until a few weeks later.  He purchased the land from the heirs of B. F. Cage -- heirs who thought Mr. Cage was deceased, though he was actually alive at the time, living in nearby Blanco.  (Oops.)
Joshua Brown, who founded Kerrville, built a cabin in roughly what is now the 600 block of Water Street today.  Mostly it was built from lumber salvaged from the old shingle camp Brown had started years before, in 1846. Brown's cabin was in a prime spot, high on the bluff overlooking the river.  I have a photo which Brown's descendents believe was a portion of the cabin, and it's pretty rustic.  It appears to be constructed of cedar poles and rough-hewn logs.
The cabin is long gone, of course, but the trees which surrounded his cabin are still there, in the open area between our print shop and the library, next to the A. C. Schreiner home.
Daniel Arnold bought the first town lot in Kerrsville (as Kerrville was then spelled), lot No. 99, in 1856. Lott 99 was behind the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, toward Sidney Baker Street.  Three years later he was still not living on his own lot, but in a ‘little shack propped up with long poles to keep it from falling down’ where the present-day Kerr County Courthouse stands.
At the beginning of Kerrville, very few people lived here.
When Rosalie and Christian Dietert arrived in 1857, there were only five one-room huts in the entire town.   The Dieterts built a place on Spring Street, which is near the intersection of today's Washington and Water Streets, overlooking the river.  Dietert was a millwright, and he built a mill on his property along the river.
His first mill here was powered by horses, and was designed to make shingles.  He later built a mill powered by the river, which he used to saw lumber.
Here's how Rosalie Dietert described Kerrville as it was 1857, in a 1931 interview with her great-granddaughter, who was writing a report for school.
What was in Kerrville when you came here, the granddaughter asked.  "Nothing, my child, but a cluster of five small log huts, of one or two rooms, a wilderness of trees, and grass as high as a man, with Indians skulking through."
When this interview took place, Mrs. Dietert was 93 years old.
"Your grandfather built the sixth house," Mrs. Dietert said. "It had three rooms and was built of cypress timbers cut on the saw mill he set up at the place where the ice plant now stands."
Cooking, too, was difficult.
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.
"Meat there was always plenty, venison, wild turkey, fish, occasionally bear, and later beef. 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.'"
However, "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."
Years ago, when I first wrote of "Dietert Cookies," the creative Chef Karen at Kerrville's Dietert Center made up a batch and shared them with me.  I can assure you, Gentle Reader, "Dietert Cookies" are delicious.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes many types of cookies, but especially homemade cookies.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 21, 2015.

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