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Monday, March 18, 2019

The story of J. P. "Polly" Rodriguez, Pioneer Scout and Preacher

The home of Jose Policarpo "Polly" Rodriguez
Bandera County, on Privilege Creek, around January 1914
This Wednesday, March 20, the Kerrville Genealogical Society is hosting a talk about a true Texas Hill Country hero: Policarpo Rodriguez.
The talk, “A Hill Country Tejano: J. P. “Polly” Rodgriguez,” will be given at 2 p.m. on March 20th at 125 Lehmann Drive, Kerrville.
I’ve written several columns about “Polly” Rodigruez. Here’s a favorite from my files, because it shows some of his skills as a scout for the U. S. Army:
We do not appreciate distance anymore.
J. P. "Polly" Rodgriguez
In reading the memoir of Jose Policarpo “Polly” Rodriguez, a true Texas pioneer, I have come to appreciate what distance once meant.
A decade ago Ed Wallace gave me a copy of a great book, “A Tejano Son of Texas,” edited by Rudi R. Rodriguez. The book is available at Wolfmueller’s Book Store on Earl Garrett Street.
In reading the book, it seems to me Policarpo’s story can be divided into three parts: his early career as a scout for the U. S. Army; his religious conversion; and his career as a minister of the gospel. He was a man of integrity who helped shape the history of our area. Many of his descendants live in our community.
I learned a lot about scouting from the book. In one memorable passage, Col. Joseph E. Johnston was preparing to lead a mission to open a road from San Antonio to the head of the Llano, and his commander, Brig. Gen. Persifer Smith, needed guides for the mission. He called in “Polly” and asked him many questions.
“Can you tell the signs of water when you are out on the plains?”
“Yes, sir, I can.”
“What are they?”
“Well, sir, there are a great many signs of water: the trees, the trails, the doves, the butterflies and the wild animals.”
“Well, that’s pretty good, but how do you tell by these things?”
“Well, sir, wherever there are willow trees or pecan trees, there is most sure to be water. The trails of the wild animals, like deer and antelope, lead to water. The doves are never very far from water.”
“How far?”
“Well, sir, four or five miles maybe. Sometimes, they might get six miles from water.”
“How can you tell when a dove is going to the water or coming from it?”
“When a dove is going to the water, it flies above the tops of the bushes and trees and goes as straight as a bee to its hive and, when it gets to the water, it drops right down at the place. When it is going away, it flies zigzag and stops carelessly along.”
Polly's Chapel, the church
built by "Polly" Rodriguez
which still stands beside Privilege Creek
“Very well,” he said. “And the butterflies?”
“Wherever there are large numbers of yellow or whitish butterflies and they rise in the air and dance up and down, as they sometimes do, they are near water and they can be seen quite a long distance.”
“If you found a trail of the wild animals, how could you tell which direction to take to go to the water?”
“You have to follow a trail only a little way to know which way the water is. If you are going from the water, the trail gets dimmer and dimmer and other trails branch out from it until it fades out. If you are going to the water, the trail gets plainer and plainer all the time and you will see other trails coming into it.”
After this interview, the general hired “Polly,” saying “I want you to with me. I am going to the headwaters of all the rivers to the north of us as far as to the Trinity and you are to be one of my guides.”
My point about distance is this: today, we sit in a car and measure distance by time. From here to Fredericksburg is about 30 minutes; from here to Junction, a little under an hour.
We rely on our smartphones to provide directions and to tell us where we are.
When “Polly” was guiding troops as they opened roads, the distance was measured in months and days, and the requirements to move all of the equipment, men, and animals included safe places to camp and nearby sources of water.
Imagine planning a trip today to the headwaters of the Llano: you only need to make sure your car has gasoline and is safe to drive. You aren’t concerned about having water to drink or place to sleep.
I don’t think I could make it from here to Junction on foot or horseback, but if I had to go, I’d want “Polly” to guide me!

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoyed a nice visit from his daughter last week. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 16, 2019.

Joe's latest book is selling well!  You can get your copy at Wolfmueller's Books, Herring Printing Company, or online by clicking HERE.  (PS: he's offering a discount online.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Original Deed to a Legend

Faltin & Schreiner's original store, founded in 1869
Art by Harold Bugbee
Click on any image to enlarge

A long-time friend brought by an amazing historical Kerr County document this week -- and it contains a small mystery.
The deed to all properties fronting
the northwest side of
Earl Garrett Street, from
Main to Water streets.
On February 12, 1870, W. D. C. Burney sold 4 town lots in Kerrville to August Faltin and Charles Schreiner. The original deed for the transaction used a printed form, with the particulars filled in by hand, in a rustic Spencerian script common to 19th century Texas documents.
The handwriting, while beautiful, is a little hard to read.
W. D. C. Burney was an early Kerr County pioneer, and served as our county's very first sheriff, from 1856-1857. He also invested in town lots, buying them from the founder of Kerrville, Joshua D. Brown.
August Faltin was a merchant who lived in Comfort, Texas, and provided capital to a young Charles Schreiner to open a store in downtown Kerrville. That store was known, initially, as Faltin & Schreiner, and opened on Christmas Eve, 1869.
The location of that first store was recorded in an interview Charles Schreiner gave to J. E. Grinstead: "It was a small beginning, just a little cypress shack that stood where my residence now stands."
That means the first store stood about where the Charles and Magdalena Schreiner Mansion now stands on Earl Garrett Street. The first store was only 16x18 feet, but it was the beginning of a string of very successful businesses for the Schreiner family.
The deed my kind friend brought me shows that Burney sold Faltin & Schreiner lots 104-106 and 114 in the "Town of Kerrsville." Faltin & Schreiner paid 150 "Coin" dollars for the lots; paper money was probably either in short supply or not to be fully trusted.
In my office I have several old maps showing the various blocks and lots of "Kerrsville" as it was originally platted. I've checked several, and if I'm reading them correctly, the lots purchased by Faltin & Schreiner faced what is now Earl Garrett Street, and stretched from Main Street to Water Street.
To orient you, that means the business partners bought property along Earl Garrett Street starting at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, continuing to the Schreiner Mansion, and ending with a portion of the current Schreiner Building, about where Keri Kropp Design currently displays goods and furnishings in the corner of the old Schreiner Company building, facing Water Street.
And now for the mystery:
If Faltin & Schreiner opened their store on Christmas Eve, 1869, but purchased the land on which the store stood on February 12, 1870 -- were they originally tenants of Mr. Burney? It's apparent they did not own the land on which that first store stood -- at least for 49 days.
There are several plausible explanations for the delay. Perhaps they'd come to an agreement on sale of the lots, but one or more of the parties was unavailable to complete the transaction. Perhaps the partners had to collect $150 in coin. Those details are lost to time.
Schreiner eventually bought out Faltin's interest in the store. Schreiner later built his home on a portion of several of the lots; where the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center stands today was originally a garden, with a big greenhouse. The store was built on another of the lots, and then expanded to face Water Street.
Having the original deed to what are now so many iconic parcels of downtown Kerrville is simply amazing, and I'm thankful to the kind person who brought them by.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys the historical treasures that come his way. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 9, 2019.

Joe's latest book is selling well!  You can get your copy at Wolfmueller's Books, Herring Printing Company, or online by clicking HERE.  (PS: he's offering a discount online.)

Sunday, March 3, 2019

A Kerrville church with "Sunbeam" written on the window

First Baptist Church Kerrville before 1914
First Baptist Church, Kerrville in its 1897 building.
Note the striped steeple and the word "Sunbeam" in the front window.
Click on any image to enlarge.
My long-time friend Lonnie Rollins brought by some wonderful photographs a few weeks ago, and I have been looking forward to sharing them with you here.
Mr. Rollins is the father of one of my childhood buddies, Darrell Rollins. I have a lot of happy memories of time spent at the Rollins home, and of the good food served there by Margie Rollins, who I miss very much.
I first met Mr. Rollins when he joined the staff of Kerrville's First Baptist Church in 1967. Though it might surprise several readers, I was once faithful in my attendance there, especially as a child.
The photos Mr. Rollins shared with me are of the church buildings that housed the First Baptist Church congregation before the present structure, which was built in 1951.
What is now First Baptist Church began as the Kerrville Baptist Church in the summer of 1887, with nine members: Prof. H. W. Griffin, H. H. Marshall, Robert Haile, Miss Doxie Haile, Miss Susan Tivy (the sister of Capt. Joseph Tivy, for whom Kerrville's high school is named), Mrs. J. Pruitt, Mrs. M. A. Davis and Mrs. L. A. Peterson. The first pastor was Rev. W. T. Sanders, and the first deacon was H. W. Griffin.
First Baptist Church Kerrville 1915
First Baptist Church's brick building, 1915
Before building its first building, the group met in the Union Church on "the Third Sunday and the Saturday night proceeding of each month."
In 1894, the name of the church was changed to First Baptist Church, and in 1897 the church voted to build its first church building. On a lot purchased from Judge Hawes, at the corner of Washington and Jefferson streets, which is now the home of Kerrville's Assembly of God.
First Baptist Church completed its first building in August, 1897, under the leadership of Rev. J. M. Mizzell.
There are several images of that building in the photographs brought to me by Mr. Rollins. Two things stand out in them: the striped steeple above the main entrance, and the word "Sunbeam" in the window facing Jefferson Street. Research suggests Sunbeam was a name of one of the programs of the church, which, surprisingly, included a Sunbeam Band, which gave public performances.
First Baptist Church Kerrville 1951
First Baptist Church, 1951.
Note Short Street visible to right.
In January, 1913, the congregation voted to build a new brick church building, for an amount "not to exceed $10,000." The old frame church was given to a Mexican-American congregation just down Jefferson Street, and moved there; I believe that congregation later became Calvary Baptist Church, which was led for so long by the Rodriguez family.
Over the years I've noticed something when looking at my old photographs of Kerrville -- that striped steeple moved northwest. Now I know why.
The new brick church building was completed in 1914, when Rev. D. P. Airhart was pastor. In a town of wooden churches, a brick church was a big deal.
That brick building served the congregation for 37 years, when the current building was finished at the corner of Washington and Barnett streets, under the leadership of Rev. D. A. Bryant.
That church building, built with stone and in a gothic style, with tall blue stained glass windows (that opened to occasionally admit an errant bat or bird during evening worship) and accented with dark wood furnishings is the church I remember from my childhood.
Today the church continues to change and grow, and still serves our community -- just as it did when it started, with nine people, back in 1887.
Until next week, all the best.
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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers quite a few of the important lessons he learned at church. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 2, 2019.

Did you know Joe has two books available?  You can shop at Wolfmueller's, Herring Printing Company, or online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Doyle School

The Doyle School, Kerrville, as it appeared in the 1990s
The Doyle School, Kerrville, as it appeared in the 1990s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
For most of its long history, Kerr County has rarely been exemplary in its treatment of its black citizens. With very few exceptions, especially in the early days of the county, inequality was the only story here.
Educating Kerrville’s young black students, until desegregation was completed here in 1966, meant those children attended a separate school from the rest of Kerrville’s children. The last of these school campuses in Kerrville was called the Doyle School, which still stands at the corner of Barnett and Paschal streets.
There were a few schools for African-American children before Doyle.
The first school in Kerrville for black students was in a Methodist church, led by the church’s pastor, Rev. Patton, according to a news story published in this newspaper in 1995.
There were other schools, too.
According to a history of the Doyle School, the "first records of black students finishing a course of study in the Kerrville area was in 1885 when three students graduated from the tenth grade. There were only two more records of graduates between 1885 and 1900. However, from 1900 until the integration of the black school [completed in 1966], complete records are on file.
The students of the Cabbage Hill school, Kerrville
The students of the Cabbage Hill School,
Kerrville around 1912
"The first record of a black school in Kerrville was in 1909. A new white school was built and one of the old buildings was given to the black community. In order to have the frame structure moved, they would have to come up with the money to have it moved. The black community raised $53 to move the structure to their property." Sources differ as to where that first school was sited, though it was likely near the intersection of Schreiner and Francisco Lemos streets; other sources say an early name for the school was the "Cabbage Hill School."
Early teachers in that school included a Mr. Burton, and later Mrs. A. W. (Annie) Doyle.
Ms. Doyle and her husband, Henry, came to Kerrville because he was ill with tuberculosis. In those days many came to Kerrville seeking health.
Annie Magnolia Walker Doyle, Kerrville teacher
Annie Magnolia Walker Doyle,
Kerrville teacher
She was a teacher, and he was a pastor, and they both were well-educated; Henry had a doctorate and Annie was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute.
Soon after their arrival here, "she collected money and purchased three lots...and persuaded the members of the school board to donate an old school building for the purpose of establishing a school. She was the only teacher at the school, and served as principal for more than 25 years," according to the Kerrville Mountain Sun.
After Henry Doyle died in 1913, Annie stayed on and continued to teach. She was paid $85 per month to be the sole teacher at the school, which was considerably less than other teachers in the Kerrville school district made at the time.
She passed away in 1937, and in 1940 a married couple, B. T. and Itasco Wilson arrived in Kerrville to teach at the "Kerrville Colored School." One of the first things the Wilsons did was change the name to the “Doyle School,” in honor of Annie Doyle. Though the school represented the division of our community, with students separated by race, and with funding inequalities between the two separate systems, many of the former students have justifiable pride in their former school, and are proud to be part of the Purple and White of Doyle High School.
Itasco Wilson at her 100th Birthday Party, Kerrville
Itasco Wilson at her 100th Birthday party,
2010 in Kerrville
That's because, despite the injustice of the situation, Doyle School had great teachers and support from its families -- and because of their determination, students received an excellent education there. The hurdles the school and its students faced were not fair, but the school overcame them with grace and strength.
Doyle’s first graduating class consisted of one student. The largest class included 12 graduates.
Doyle School’s last commencement took place in 1963. The following fall, the high school students were integrated into Tivy High School. Integration of the elementary school followed in 1966.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who misses B. T. and Itasco Wilson.  They were such fine people, and wonderful educators. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times, February 23, 2019.
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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Integrating Kerrville public schools

Doyle School students, May 1, 1947
Click on any image below to enlarge
I was reminded this week the stories we tell about a community's past and the actual history of a community are often different from each other. I'm not sure one has more value than the other, especially when each provide a way to better understand the forces that shaped today's community. Eyewitness accounts can vary, and stories can morph as they pass from teller to listener.
Tivy Jr. High 8th grade students, 1947
When I can find written, contemporary accounts of an event, often from the pages of local newspapers, I rely on them more than trying to remember events from decades ago. Many of the stories I tell happened well before I was born, in the early 1960s. Researching those stories requires me to find old newspapers, letters, and diaries.
Recently I found an old letter in my files, mailed in March, 1956, and signed by the president of the Kerrville Independent School Board. The letter hopes to explain the board’s stand on its“Integration Policy.”
“In the spring of 1954,” the letter begins, “the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that segregation in the public schools was illegal, and commissioned the various school boards in the nation to progress toward integration during the next few years.”
No timeline was established and no set method of integration was ordered; the requirement was for school boards to “act in good faith.”
Doyle School, 1960s
The Kerrville school board decided in the spring of 1955 that students from Doyle School (which served African-American students) would be admitted “upon special approval” to attend a few classes at Tivy High School.
However, in Big Spring, Texas, a similar decision there resulted in confusion “whereby State funds might be held in jeopardy if integration was accomplished.” Kerrville quickly changed course, pending a Texas Supreme Court decision in the matter, which came in September 1955. That court ruled “State funds would not be jeopardized because of integration.”
A study in Kerrville by the University of Texas found “that the educational program at Doyle School was inadequate and recommended some type of integration be accomplished to remedy the situation.”
Part of the problem, the study found, that “an adequate educational program at Doyle School could not be accomplished with five teachers teaching twelve grades.” The school’s continued accreditation depended upon “more facilities must be added and more teachers must be employed.”
Tivy High School, 1950s
The Kerrville school board quickly realized hiring twelve teachers at Doyle would be required, one for each grade. Buildings would have to be erected “to adequately house the additional teachers. Science laboratories and vocational facilities must be provided to maintain a first class high school.”
Making these changes would have meant a change in student/teacher ratios: at Doyle, after making these changes, the student to teacher ratio would be 8 students per teacher. “In the Kerrville white schools, the ratio is approximately 28 to 1.”
The local school taxes collected in 1956 was around $165,000. The needed buildings at Doyle would cost close to $80,000; the additional operational costs would be around $25,000. To meet these new expenses, the Kerrville school board realized they’d need to raise the tax rate to the legal limit ($1.50) and to further increase property valuations by 15%.
Continuing segregation in Kerrville was going to be very expensive.  It was an immoral practice which was also economically unsound.
Even with this dire financial information, full integration was not chosen as a remedy. Instead, the board decided the program at Doyle would be “under the supervision of the Tivy Junior-Senior High School principals, and that Doyle students in those grades would participate in the same academic curriculum as Tivy students as far as facilities and teaching staff would permit…Upon special approval, those students at the Doyle School who wish to participate in courses not offered there will be permitted to enroll for those courses in Tivy High School for one period per day only.”
Even this timid approach to school fairness was met with open opposition from those in the community who did not favor integration of any kind. In April, 1956 – the same month our county celebrated its centennial with a great amount of pomp and ceremony – a Kerrville school board election was held.
Several local school board candidates openly campaigned for segregation – “Vote for Segregation” their newspaper ads stated. Those candidates won election.
The very next week the new school board voted to rescind the earlier weak “integration program” outlined above.
Over the next few years the Kerrville board took baby steps forward and several big steps backward on the issue of integration. These were the biggest decisions the school boards of that era tackled, and getting to the right answer took a long time.
Doyle School finally closed in 1966, after all students were integrated into one school system. Integration began for older students in 1964.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who started first grade at Kerrville's Starkey Elementary in 1967. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 16, 2019.

Yes, it's true: I have published a new book about Kerrville and Kerr County.  All of my books are available at Wolfmueller's Books, Herring Printing, and online by clicking HERE



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