New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The men who built the Kerrville State Park in 1936

Company 1823, Civilian Conservation Corps, the men who
built the Kerrville State Park in 1936.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Recently, my friend Linda Stone created a display at the Kerr County courthouse telling the story of the Kerrville State Park. It is inside the old portion of the courthouse, just past the front doors.

The park is known today as the Kerrville-Schreiner Park; it’s no longer a state park, but is owned and operated by the City of Kerrville.  Not many people know its story, so I’m thankful to Ms. Stone for making such an attractive display at the courthouse.

Many of the state parks in Texas were created, in part, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), including nearby parks such as Garner State Park, Blanco State Park, and others, more distant from us, like Indian Lodge at Fort Davis State Park and the giant swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park.

Did you know that the Kerrville State Park was also created by the CCC?

Created during the Great Depression, the CCC provided employment when few jobs were available.  Over 50,000 Texans joined the CCC, and constructed many of the parks we know today.

As early as 1934, Kerrville was hoping to have a park built here. A committee made up of Kerrville mayor Richard Holdsworth, W. A. Fawcett, Hal Peterson, E. H. Prescott, and J. L. Pampell began work.  They met with the chairman of the State Parks Board, D. E. Colp, in the summer of 1934.

The plan for the park


They also had a task: find a tract of 500 acres or more, lying on both sides of a stream, and easily accessible by a state highway. 

A suitable location was identified and approved by State and Federal government representatives, yet a challenge emerged: negotiations with the landowner for the purchase of the property, situated near Kerrville with a half-mile stretch along the Guadalupe River, reached an impasse. The property owner would not agree to sell.

By October 1934, this issue had been resolved, although specifics remain vague. The property in question was the James Holloman homestead, found on the opposite side of the river from the Veterans Administration hospital. Its acquisition was made possible through a community fundraising effort with a goal of $8,000. Additionally, the City of Kerrville contributed $2,500 in cash, and Kerr County raised $5,000 through bond issuance.

By December 1934, the tract had been surveyed, and plans were submitted to Washington for approval. This step was necessary to allocate a workforce of 200 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members to undertake the project.

By April 1935, Kerrville had successfully secured the backing of both Texas senators and its representative in Congress.

The efforts to garner political support evidently paid off; in December 1935 it was reported that 225 CCC members were set to begin work on the park. They would be accommodated in pre-built cabins and barracks upon their arrival.

Company 1823 of the CCC, established on June 28, 1933, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was initially sent to Abilene, Texas, that December to work on the Abilene State Park at Buffalo Gap near Lake Abilene. Subsequently, the company underwent reorganization to become an all African-American unit, composed entirely of World War I veterans.

This company made its way to Kerrville on December 1, 1935.

"After a period of camp improvement...work on the park area began. The entire park area was cleared of undergrowth, details were assigned to moving and planting trees and shrubs, the entire park area was fenced, and a beautiful entrance to the park built of stone pillars and native wood logs was completed." The company also constructed a caretaker's house, a stone water tower, a stone amphitheater, roadways, and made various other enhancements.

Educational courses were made available to the members of the company, and religious services took place every Sunday. Reports detail the company's involvement in community activities, including performances for the public both in the town and at the camp.

Some of the work completed by Company 1823 remains visible at what is now known as Kerrville-Schreiner Municipal Park. This park continues to attract thousands of visitors annually.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys walks with his family at Kerrville-Schreiner Park. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead February 15, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)





Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Kerrville photography of A. E. Self -- from the early 1900s.

Mountain Street (now Earl Garrett Street), November 1908,
by Alonzo E. Self.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County make up an important part of my collection of historical items from our area, and they’re probably the items I most like to receive and study.

I’ve written elsewhere about early photographers here. It turns out, though, I’ve never written about one early photographer, though several of his images are important parts of my collection.

A. E. Self storefront, Mountain Street
There were many photographers working here at the turn of the last century, including Ellen O’Neal, who had a portrait studio at the turn of the century on Kerrville’s Main Street. Mrs. O’Neal also ventured beyond her studio and took images of the countryside, some at considerable effort, climbing hills to take photos of remote places, like Bandera Pass and Camp Verde.

Spencer Hinsdale Huntington was also had a photography studio here around 1901, at the intersection of Water and Sidney Baker, where the municipal parking building stands today. In addition to portraits, he also took shots outdoors, often along the river.

Interior, Self's Jewelry
Jesse Edward Grinstead, the publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, also produced a significant number of early Kerr County photographs. Arriving here in 1899, he published many of his photographs in his newspaper, and also as postcards.

Eugene Thornton Butt, the middle son of Florence and Charles Butt, was an amateur photographer, and several of his early photographs document his family and the start of what is now H-E-B Grocery Company. His family arrived here around 1905.

Starr Bryden, of course, has received attention in many of my columns, for his photography work from around 1915 to 1956. 

But the photographer I’d like to focus upon this week is Alonzo E. Self.

Emma and Lon Self
Mr. Self was a jeweler, who also sold and repaired watches, sold musical instruments, and offered film developing services. He and his family arrived in Kerrville around 1903.

That many of these photographers were working at about the same time is interesting. Photography was becoming more mainstream and popular here, and several of the photographers offered film developing as a side business, like Mr. Self, Gene Butt and Starr Bryden.

Of course, at the turn of the last century, the photos show a very different Kerrville than what we see today. There are no automobiles in these images – those really didn’t arrive here until around 1908 – so there are many photos of horses and various wagons, buggies, and buckboards. 

Self was born in Indiana in 1865. Around 1889, he married Emma Teaford. 

800 Block of Water Street, ca. 1908
In 1903, Mr. Self placed an advertisement in the “Keystone’ magazine, a trade magazine, looking for a jewelry business in the “South or West.” A jeweler from Kerrville, Charles S. Kyle, responded with details about his business, which was for sale, and information about Kerrville.

Mr. Self and his family moved to Kerrville and purchased Kyle’s store, which was housed in a small frame building on Earl Garrett Street, between the Masonic Building (now home to Turtle Creek Olives and Vines) and the Weston Building (now home to Francisco’s Restaurant).

He moved his business later, in the 1920s, into a new building near today’s Arcadia Live! Theater on Water Street. For more than 45 years he and his family operated that business here.

Self served on the Kerrville city council, and also on the Kerrville school board. He was active in the Methodist Church here, and also was a long-time Mason, and took leadership positions in both organizations.

Of the photographs in my collection taken by Mr. Self which I most admire are an image of an incredibly busy Earl Garrett Street (then called Mountain Street), a photograph of his first business building, and various photos of downtown Kerrville.

A. E. Self was a good photographer, and I’m thankful to the many different folks who’ve shared his images with me. They tell an important part of our story here.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose first camera was a 127 Kodak Hawkeye Flashfun, which was manufactured from 1961 to 1967. Of course, he still has it. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead February 8, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)





Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Living Messenger for Kerr County Heroes

Close-up image of the Kerr County War Memorial, 2024.

Mistakes happen, but sometimes a mistake becomes a remarkable thing, especially when combined with grace and humor.

As a separate project, I’ve been studying the men from Kerr County who gave their lives for our country. Most of the stories are very sad, mainly because the men who died were so very young. They were sons, some were husbands, and some were fathers. They left behind families who carried their grief for their fallen hero for the rest of their lives.

There is one name on the Kerr County War Memorial which was added in error. Dempsey E. Ballard, the second name listed among the men from here who died in World War II, did not die in that war. In fact, he attended the dedication ceremony of the war memorial here, May 1992.

I was at that dedication ceremony. I remember Ballard speaking to the crowd.

He opened with a touch of humor: “It’s a pleasure to be here – and that should really have a ring of sincerity.” This brought laughter from the crowd.

But then he continued, saying it was fortunate that his name accidentally ended up on the memorial.

“These heroes have a messenger to relay their story,” he said. He added that he remembered many of the men listed on the monument. “Let us not be lulled by current events. Those who would be conquerors respect only superior strength.”

A search through old newspapers finds many mentions of Dempsey Ballard’s name. He wrote for the Tivy Tatler, the student newspaper of Tivy High School. In addition to his bylines there, he was often mentioned in stories about student life at the high school. He was apparently a popular and serious student. He attended Texas A&M after graduation, though his time there was interrupted by the war.

Dempsey Ballard was an aviator in World War II, eventually reaching the rank of Captain. News stories from February, 1945 relay this story:

“Relatives of Dempsey Ballard have received this letter from his commanding officer:

“By now the War Department will have informed you that Dempsey is missing in action. On Christmas Day [1944], Dempsey led a mission to dive bomb and strafe enemy targets. The mission was very successful as are all of his missions, but as he headed for home base, he began to have trouble with his propeller. Because of the difficulty, he was forced to land his pane behind enemy lines. The rest of his flight had radio communications with him all the time. He landed safely and told the rest of the flight he had not been injured and was alright.

“A member of the flight, and a friend of his described him as ‘cool as a cucumber.’ It is my feeling and the feeling of the entire squadron that if anyone can make it OK while in enemy territory, Dempsey is the person who can. Because of his past performances, we all have a great faith in him.

“Dempsey is the type of person who inspires others to have confidence in him. That is why he became a flight leader, and a Captain so soon. Although he doesn’t know it – he became a Captain on December 26 for demonstrating outstanding leadership in combat. He has been awarded the Air Medal and four Oak Leaf Clusters for Meritorious Achievement while in aerial flight. His extraordinary achievements merit even higher awards.

“He was dressed warmly, and will not suffer from adverse weather conditions, if any. It is difficult to write of Dempsey’s misfortune, but we are still hopeful and have faith as to the favorable outcome. The high regard with which the squadron and I hold Dempsey cannot be properly described. We respect him and like him an know that he is one of the most outstanding pilots and officers in this theatre of operations.”

Ballard was captured by the Germans, and held prisoner for the duration of the war. He survived and came back home.

Years later, in 1992, when he was told his name had been added to the memorial by mistake, he was asked about the error.

“Well, by golly,” he is reported to have said. “I guess it will be applicable someday.”

Ballard’s talk at the dedication ceremony is one I still remember almost 32 years later. In so many words, he said: If these men could speak, this is what they might say. I am their messenger. 

Dempsey Ballard is still with us – still a messenger for Kerr County’s fallen heroes – and residing in San Antonio at an assisted living facility.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who studies Kerr County history.  This column originally appeared on the Kerr County Lead February 1, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)





Sunday, January 21, 2024

Manuel Reyes Denton: Kerrville sailor killed in Vietnam whose body was not found for 45 years

Manuel Reyes Denton, Tivy Graduate,
who was killed in Vietnam in October, 1963. 

Over the past several weeks, I have been working on a project separate from this column, where I’m trying to learn more about the Kerr County men who have given their lives for our country since World War I. Their names are carved into the Kerr County War Memorial, and also on the wall above the staircase at the Cailloux Theater.

I’ve learned some things.

First, almost all of the men were young. Very young. Which makes their sacrifice even more mournful.

Each loss remembered on the memorials is a tragedy. Each was a son. Many were husbands and fathers. All were gone so soon.

I’ve learned some stories I’d never knew before.

Manuel Reyes Denton’s name is carved on the memorials. He died in Vietnam.

Denton was born in San Antonio on June 18, 1941. He lived in Seguin, with his grandparents, for many years, and moved to Kerrville, where he graduated from Tivy High School. While at Tivy, he met his future wife, Esmeralda Sanchez Denton.

Denton enlisted in the U. S. Navy. He was a graduate of the Field Medical Service School, where he trained to be a combat medic. He was assigned to Fleet Marine Force Pacific, 1st Marine Air Wing, Marine Air Base Squadron 16, HMM-361, a Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron, known as the ‘Flying Tigers.’ He was based in San Diego.

In Vietnam, the squadron flew dangerous missions, often in UH-34D Choctaw helicopters, and often in combat conditions.

In October, 1963, Denton was part of a six-man crew aboard a Choctaw, flying 43 miles west of the city of Danang in Quang Nam Province, part of a search-and-rescue mission for two downed pilots.

But they never made it to the downed pilots. The helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed.

Of the six men onboard, only the remains of four men were found and identified. Denton’s body, and the body of Lance Corporal Luther E. Ritchey Jr. could not be found.

Remember, this happened in October, 1963. President Kennedy was still alive, though only a little over a month from traveling to Dallas. 

Denton died very early in the Vietnam War. His body was lost.

In 2001, human remains were found at the crash site; in 2002, the site was excavated, and additional remains were found.

It wasn’t until 2008 – 45 years after the crash – that Denton’s family finally got official word from the U. S. Department of Defense, confirming Denton’s remains had been found.

Denton was buried, along with other members of the helicopter crew, at Arlington National Cemetery in 2008.

Those four-and-a-half decades, where the family waited for final news of their missing loved one, would have been almost unbearable.  Denton left behind his wife, and three young daughters.

Denton made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, but his family also sacrificed.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned during this project. Yes, the memorial honors Kerr County heroes. But there are hundreds of family members and loved ones who also made huge sacrifices for our country. Their names are not listed on any memorial, and by now, many of those connections are no longer clear. 

They deserve our honor and remembrance, too.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was a child in the 1960s, but still remembers the Vietnam War and knew families who lost loved ones there.  This story originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 20, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)





Sunday, January 14, 2024

A handwritten account of trailing cattle in Texas -- in the 1870s.

A handwritten memior of a cowboy who drove cattle north
to markets in the 1870s. Click on any image to enlarge.

A kind reader brought by an incredible gift a few weeks ago.

It’s a first-person account of Texas cattle drives during the 1870s, written by a man named Joseph H. Knowles. 

The forty-six-page manuscript is written in pencil, on the back of a letterhead for W. H. Holmes, who appears to have been a dealer in building supplies, who had an office in the Angelus Hotel in El Paso, Texas. Mr. Knowles’s handwriting is legible, and the spelling is pretty good. He also had storytelling skills.  And he was thrifty – using the back of someone’s stationery.

“I was born December 20, 1856,” Knowles begins, “on my father’s ranch one mile west of old Rancho, which is now known as Nixon in Gonzales County, Texas – one of the finest stock ranges in South Texas. Sparsely settled at that time, the country was open and one’s Ranch was his headquarters, and as far every direction as he cared to work. No fences obstructed his way. My father raised horses principally, and on that account I learned to ride early.”

Though Knowles was not from Kerr County, and his story takes place in other parts of Texas, his accounts of trailing cattle are important to our local story. The cattle trailing businesses of local men – including Charles Schreiner, as well as others – provided the first real financial capital to our community. Without money from cattle trailing operations, Kerrville and Kerr County would not have prospered for many years.

In 1884, Ike T. Pryor, a successful Texas cattle “transportation agent,” calculated the costs of moving 3,000 head of cattle north. A 3,000-head herd could be moved inexpensively: “The salaries of [eleven drovers] including the boss, were $30 each for the ten men, including the cook, and $100 a month for the boss. This gave an outlay of $400 a month; and estimating $100 for provisions, there was an expense of $500 per month to move a herd of 3,000 cattle 450 to 500 miles.” In less than two months, a 3000-head herd could be moved from south Texas to the Kansas railheads for a cost of about $1,000. At $1 to $1.50 per head, could clear around $2,000 — less the cattle lost along the way, which was rarely above 3%, and paid for at the lower Texas market prices.

In the late 1800s, that was a lot of money.

The work was not easy. Unlike many of the movies we've seen, most of the cowboys on those cattle drives were young, and most only made the trip once. It was a very difficult journey.

According to a master’s these by Frank R. Gilliland, "the herds had increased sufficiently by the 1870's for a number of Kerr County ranchers to send cattle 'up the trail.' Some of the largest buyers were Charles Schreiner, Hance Burney, R. H. Burney Sr., Thomas A. Saner, and C. C. Quinlan. Among the herd bosses and cowboys who made frequent trips to Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita, and other Kansas markets were Jones Glenn, Sam Glenn Sr., Jesus and Simon Ayala, John M. Hankins, Seebe Jones, Elick and Jim Crawford, Bill Wharton, Till Driscoll, Zack Light, Doc Burnett, Buck Hamilton, and Bill Caveness."

The manuscript memoir by Joe Knowles tells the story of life on the cattle trail, and it really helps me understand what it was like, some of the dangers the cowboys faced, and the physical endurance the journeys required.

I’m very grateful to the kind reader for sharing Knowles’s story with me – and with our community.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is glad he isn’t responsible for moving cattle north to markets, by horseback and on foot. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 13, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)




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