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Monday, May 25, 2020

Remembering the Kerr County Heroes of 1918

Here’s a talk I gave to the Kerrville Noon Rotary Club this past week — remembering the men from Kerr County who died in World War I.  It seemed appropriate to share it today, on Memorial Day. (Apologies for the poor sound quality... I’ll get better at this, eventually.)


Here’s the direct YouTube link: https://youtu.be/Wh5oRAgWE54


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Part Three: The men of the expedition are surrounded

Lightning, Davis Mountains, 2014.
Click on any image to enlarge.
In 1849 a group of 17 men left San Antonio on a mission to find a practical wagon route between San Antonio and El Paso. The mission was vitally important to the interests of the nation after the end of the Mexican War; not only would such a route connect the new territories of the United States, but the route would also open up trade with California.
Led by Lieutenants W. H. C. Whitig and William Smith, the party left San Antonio in early 1849. José Policarpo Rodriguez, famous in our part of the hill country, was a member of the group, and told the following tale in his autobiography, “The Old Scout,” published in 1898.
Painted Mescalero boy,
around 1885
Sometime in March, in the “Limpio Mountains,” near present-day Fort Davis, Texas, the expedition crested a hill and came upon a small, vulnerable group: an “old gray Indian with four or five squaws and a boy.” Some members of the expedition, after hearing the defiant words of the old man, wanted to kill the Indians and move on.
It was Policarpo Rodriguez who first spoke to the old man: “Don’t be afraid; we will not hurt you,” he said. Those eight words would later mean life – or death – for the members of the expedition.
During the verbal confrontation that followed, one of the Indian women lit a fire – a signal – which, according to the old man, would “call the Indians here, and then you’ll tell what you are after.” The old man wanted to know why the expedition was on Indian lands. 
The two groups parted peacefully, and the expedition continued on its mission.
“We left them and went on our course, [one of the men] cursing because [the Indians] were not shot. It was about ten in the morning. About twelve o’clock we saw a great dust rising before us some miles away. Some of the men said: ‘Look, what a drove of antelopes yonder.’”
If you’ve ever visited the Davis Mountains in far West Texas, you know how beautiful and stark they are. We’ve seen groups of pronghorn antelopes out there, but only a few here and there. I’m not sure what the expedition members thought they were seeing.
Gorgonia, a Mescalero Apache,
around 1885
“That’s not antelopes,” Polly Rodriguez told the men, “it’s Indians. Look behind us.” Another large group of Indians were pursuing them.
“We were in mortal peril,” Rodriguez writes. “We dismounted and tied our mules together neck to neck, and formed a ring around them and awaited the Indians. Those behind came up first. As they drew near enough to be heard they began calling to us in Spanish: ‘No tiren, El capitán viene atrás!’ [Don’t shoot, our captain comes behind.]
“‘Stand off’, we said. ‘Don’t come up.’
“They kept calling out ‘Don’t shoot, the chief is coming, and wants to talk to you.’
“In the meantime they were dividing out and forming a ring around us, but keeping out of range. In a short time the chief came up. It was Chino Huero (‘Blonde Curls,’ so called because his hair was light and inclined to curl).”
Gentle Reader, you might be surprised to whom Chino Huero was related: the old man the expedition encountered earlier was his father; one of the women was his wife; the young boy was his son. 
Just as Chino Huero arrived, so did the other group of Indians, the ones approaching from the front. “There must have been 300 of them,” Rodriguez writes.
Two Mescalero Apache women stand in their camp,
in New Mexico, around 1900
Among this larger group of Indians “was one man mounted on a beautiful horse with a Mexican saddle and bridle. He wore a Mexican sombrero and a short jacket, and looked like a Mexican, except he was very dark. His only weapon was a long, slender lance which he rested on the ground. 
“He stood apart from the rest, taking no part in the conversation. Those who were calling to us did not speak Spanish distinctly, and I, thinking the silent man could speak Spanish, called to them and asked that they get that man (pointing to him) to interpret for them. 
“He spoke up sternly in good Spanish: ‘I am interpreter for nobody.’ 
“There was in our party a man who understood the Indian dialect and knew this man, and he said to me: ‘That is Gomez, the head chief, and you have almost insulted him.’
Gomez was a chief of a band of the Mescalero Apache tribe, and appears several times in the historical record of the region.  He controlled the Davis Mountain region of Texas for many years.
Gomez stood to one side, looking menacing. Chino Huero “exerted himself to keep his men back from us. They were eager to press on us and finish us in short order.”
The expedition was surrounded, caught in the dry, cold mountains of West Texas, far from help, alone and outnumbered. No friend could hear their cries, no cavalry would ride over the hill to save them. 
[Next week’s installment is going to be very tense.]
Until then, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who hopes this serial offers a gentle diversion during a season of worry. Strike that; you should worry about the members of the expedition. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 23, 2020.

Two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.





Sunday, May 17, 2020

Part Two: Peril in the Limpio Mountains of Texas

Detail, Whitig-Smith Expedition map.
Click on any image to enlarge.
The more I learn about the Whitig-Smith Expedition in 1849, the more amazed I am by the story. If it were not a true Texas tale, with several eyewitness accounts, I would not believe it actually happened.
Last week I told you a little bit about the 17 men who set out from San Antonio to find a route to El Paso. The expedition was led by two young West Point graduates, Lieutenants William Henry Chase Whiting and William Farrar Smith. Their orders were plain: find a route for a road, and find sites for U. S. Army forts along the way. The recent Mexican War focused the attention of the U. S. Government on the southwest, and routes to newly acquired territories, as well as trade routes to California, became a national priority.
Whitig, 1860s
The two young officers had a problem, though. They knew nothing about surviving in the deserts of West Texas. Both men were engineers – one taught mathematics at West Point – and neither was an outdoorsman. They needed help if they hoped to survive the journey.
Richard Austin Howard, who had attended West Point, but did not graduate, was a former classmate of Whitig’s. He had been active in Texas as a surveyor and scout, helping a variety of folks, including John O. Meusebach, of Gillespie County, in his attempt to secure the Fisher-Miller Grant for the German colonists. Howard also surveyed the tract for the future Fort Mason, and lands near Corpus Christi.
Most importantly, Howard had survived the Hays-Highsmith expedition of 1848, an effort to find a ‘practical wagon route from San Antonio to El Paso’ – which almost ended in disaster when the group got lost and nearly starved.
It was while Howard was surveying near Corpus Christi he was approached by his old classmate Whitig, and asked to join Whitig’s expedition to explore a route from San Antonio to El Paso.
Howard agreed to go on Whitig’s expedition only if José Policarpo Rodriguez would come along, too. Howard relied on Rodriguez’s talent as a scout, hunter – and as a person who could find water, even in the desert.
Smith, 1860s
The group left San Antonio in January, 1849, traveling first to Fredericksburg, and then heading for the Llano River. (They did not stop in Kerrville because, in 1849, there was no Kerrville, other than a few men at a camp making shingles from the abundant cypress trees here.)
In March, 1849, somewhere in the “Limpio Mountains,” near present-day Fort Davis, the group suddenly came face to face with a small band of Apaches, “an old gray Indian with four or five squaws and a boy,” Rodriguez writes in his autobiography, “The Old Guide,” published in 1898.
The old Indian man began dance and make incantations. He rubbed dust on his chest and hair. The entire group of Indians was very agitated.
Finally ‘Polly’ Rodriguez spoke to the old man in Spanish: “Don’t be afraid, we will not hurt you.”
You might be surprised by the answer.
“I do not know and never knew what fear is,” the old Indian said in ‘good Spanish,’ according to Rodriguez. “What do you want here? This is our country; what are you here after?”
One of the men in the expedition replied, in English: “Let’s kill that old fool and these old squaws and go on.”
Whitig replied “No. We will not hurt them. The old man is making no attempt to hurt us, and we will let them alone. My orders are not to fire first on any Indian.”
“Orders? What are orders here in these wilds? I say let’s kill them.”
“I obey orders everywhere,” Whitig replied. “These Indians will not be hurt.”
The old Indian had an understanding of what was being said, and suspected his end was near.
“You can kill us, but you will soon be ground to dust. These mountains are as full of Indians as my hand of dust, and they’ll make dust and powder of you.”
The scene was tense. ‘Polly’ Rodriguez spoke again, in Spanish, to the old man.
“Don’t you see we are not after you nor your people. You are going from one camp to another, just as we are, and we do not mean to harm you.”
The old man believed Polly, and came a little closer. “Do you have any tobacco?” And he and the squaws were given tobacco. During this exchange, the men noticed one of the squaws had set the prairie on fire – a signal.
That’s when the real trouble began. About the fire, the old man told Polly, “it is to call the Indians here, and then you’ll tell what you are after.”
Indeed. I’ll share more of this crazy but true story next week. I’m not sure the expedition is going to make it.
Until then, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who finds facemasks uncomfortable but wears them anyway. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 16, 2020.

Two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.






Sunday, May 10, 2020

Part One: A true Texas tale, told by José Policarpo Rodriguez

Detail, map of Whitte-Smith Expedition of 1849
I read a true Texas tale of peril and bravery this week, told by José Policarpo Rodriguez, who was there, and who recorded the events in his autobiography. It happened in 1849 and it changed history even though it happened in the middle of the desert wilderness and only a few people were there.
Rodriguez’s book, “The Old Guide,” was originally published in 1898 by the publishing house of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Nashville, Tennessee. My copy is a reprint, and was given to me by the late Raul Arreola, a great-grandson of Policarpo Rodriguez.
Policarpo Rodriguez,
late in life
Many will recognize Policarpo Rodriguez’s name: not only does he have many descendants living in our area, he had a long and fruitful life right here in the Texas hill country. In his early days he was a guide and tracker; later he became a preacher, and built by hand a stone church building on Privilege Creek in Bandera County, now called “Polly’s Chapel.” It’s one of the most peaceful chapels in the world, rustic and simple, in a motte of live oaks beside a clear creek, and faithfully cared for by Rodriguez’s descendants.
In 1849 Rodriguez joined an expedition led by Lt. W. H. C. Whiting to establish a road from San Antonio to El Paso, and to find locations for forts along the route. While the expedition was led by two U. S. Army lieutenants, the remaining 15 members of the group were all civilians, and included a mule packer from Mexico and a Delaware Indian. Rodriguez was only 20 years old, and his role in the group was to scout ahead, looking for water and hunting for game to feed the men.
Rodriguez was invited to join the group on the recommendation of a surveyor named Dick Howard, with whom he worked on other surveying expeditions. When Lt. Whiting offered a spot on the team to Howard, he replied “Well, if I go, I want this boy to go, too.”
“What can he do?” asked Whiting.
“Why he can do more than I can. He can hunt and he can find water. He’s my guide; can do most anything in the woods. He would be very useful to us on the trip.”
Rodriguez did prove very useful.
Polly's Chapel, still standing
near Privilege Creek
in Bandera County
“This boy Policarpo,” Whiting wrote in his diary on the journey, “is one of the most valuable members of my party – a patient and untiring hunter, an unerring trailer, with all the instinct of the Indian combined with the practical part of surveying which he has learned from Howard; moreover, a capital hand with the mules. I don’t know of any person whom I would rather have in the woods.”
The trip west was marked by severe deprivation suffered by the group; they often had to travel days without water. If you’ve traveled on IH10 from San Antonio to El Paso, you know the country. It’s a long, hot journey in an automobile. Imagine traveling the route on mules, and managing a string of mules carrying supplies and equipment.
Somewhere west of the Pecos River, and north of the Rio Grande, in the “Limpio Mountains,” the party came suddenly upon “an old gray Indian with four or five squaws and a boy,” Rodriguez writes.
“We were right upon them before either party saw the other. The boy ran off into the bushes as wild as a scared buck. The squaws stood still, with their mouths open as if struck dumb and paralyzed. We were looking at them. The old Indian commenced muttering and turning around as if making some incantations. He lifted an old blanket on two ramrods and waved it back and forth, all the time muttering. He then stooped down and gathered handfuls of dust and rubbed it on his breast, talking to the boy who held his little bow and arrows, and to the squaws. He bellowed like a bull. I thought I would speak to him in Spanish, and I said: “Don’t be afraid; we will not hurt you.”
Imagine the scene, somewhere between present-day Fort Davis and El Paso. It’s 1849, and you and 16 other men are on an expedition trying to find a route west – a southern route that will connect the country together, which will be traveled by thousands and thousands of people, protected by a line of forts. You crest a small hill and find a vulnerable group of Indians. Some members of your group suggest killing the Indians right then, and continuing on. One young man tells them no harm will come to them.
The next moments are very tense, and the decisions made will have big consequences. I’ll tell you about them next week.
Until then, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys time spent in the Davis Mountains with his family. What a magical place. This column first appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 9, 2020.

For your enjoyment, I have two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.






Sunday, May 3, 2020

Solving a history mystery with lots of help

Bachelor Mountain, between Lane Valley and Elm Pass Roads, 1896 ft in height

Before the world was turned upside down by a pandemic, a kind man showed my son and me a historic site on private property near Lane Valley Road, between Center Point and Comfort. In those days one did things like that – hopped in the truck, met by a ranch gate, shook hands, and investigated a history mystery. It was so long ago: March 12, 2020. Seven weeks.
The man’s name is Tom. He and his brother own land on Cherry Creek, land their parents purchased years ago. I’d never met him, but was introduced to him by a customer at the print shop, who lived near Tom. That customer, Chad, read my column about the graves of Jack Hardee and two others which can be seen from Lane Valley Road.
Jack Hardee was captured by Comanche raiders as a young man, walking home from the mill in Center Point, and only survived because of his brave responses to their taunts. He was a former slave, previously owned by James Crispin Nowlin, the first physician in Kerr County. I was particularly interested in Jack Hardee’s story because I graduated from Tivy High School with one of his descendants, Todd Hardee.
When I learned Jack Hardee was buried near Lane Valley Road, I drove out there to find the grave. It’s on private property, but visible at a distance from the road. Not wanting to trespass, I took photographs of the tombstones from the road.
Sylvester Edmonds
received a patent on
160 acres in 1874,
Lane Valley Road starts at Highway 27 and heads roughly south, after first crossing a shallow stretch of the Guadalupe River, then disappearing into a line of hills in the distance. It’s about as beautiful a stretch of land as you can find in Kerr County, and for generations it has attracted farmers and ranchmen. Cherry Creek runs near the road, meandering this way and that, finally forking into two smaller branches.
Researching the gravesite of Jack Hardee, I learned he was buried at what is called Lane Valley Cemetery No. 1. There is also a Lane Valley Cemetery No. 2 listed in several places, but it is not shown on any map. Lane Valley Cemetery No. 2 was a mystery.
I knew it was the resting place of Jack Hardee’s in-laws, Sylvester and Martha Edmonds, the parents of Jack’s wife, Hannah Edmonds Hardee.
In my story about Jack Hardee’s grave, I mentioned that I could not find Lane Valley Cemetery No. 2. That’s when things got interesting.
The grave of
Sylvester Edmonds
A kind reader named Aurora sent me photographs of a tombstone near Lane Valley Road she and her husband had restored and cleaned up – the marker for a toddler named Uzilla Johns who died in May, 1880. It was a homemade grave marker, a slab of limestone shaped and smoothed, with little Uzilla’s details scratched into the stone. As far as anyone could tell there were no other graves nearby. This looked like a gravesite other than Lane Valley Cemetery No. 2.
Soon after, Chad, who I knew from the print shop, said he’d ask around the neighbors out there to see if anyone knew of a cemetery on their land.
That’s when Tom called and invited me to come see the graves on his family’s land. It was Lane Valley Cemetery No. 2.
The grave of
Martha Edmonds
While there is evidence of other graves at the site, from indentions in the earth and a solitary wooden plank in the earth, worn away by time and weather until whatever writing it once held are no longer visible, there are three stone markers there: one each for Sylvester Edmonds and Martha Edmonds, and the third, for Agnes Blanks.
We met Tom at his gate, and followed in our truck across the pastures. Horses met us at the first gate and ran beside our truck to the second gate. Joe 3 and I were delighted to see them frolic beside us in the bright sunshine. (We’re townies, after all.) Tom led the way to a small rise in the center of the property where an ancient live oak stood guard. The graves were in the shade of the oak tree, surrounded by fencing to keep the livestock out.
The grave of Agnes Blanks
I busily took photographs of the headstones and other features of the site, while Joe 3 and I visited with Tom. After finishing with the photographs, we three stood quiet for a moment in the shade of the old tree, enjoying the view of the farm below us. A welcome breeze comforted us.
I’ve been to cemeteries all over the world, from fancy national cemeteries to humble graveyards beside centuries-old churches. I’ve read the names on tombs in cathedrals and marveled at the statues and carvings honoring the dead.
I’ll tell you this, though: I have never visited a more peaceful resting place than that of Sylvester and Martha Edmonds, and young Agnes Blanks, the three of them buried on a little knoll overlooking the 160 acres of land the Edmonds owned and farmed themselves. You can see their fields, the fork of Cherry Creek which ran through the property, and the green-blue hills which surround and protect the property.
I’m thankful to all of those who helped solve the mystery: Aurora, Chad, and especially Tom, who was our kind guide that day. The site is on private property. Please do not visit it without permission.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerr County native who hopes to be able to hop in his truck again soon, meet new folks, shake their hands, and go exploring. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 2, 2020.

Two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.





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