New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Kerr County Schools Remembered

Inside the one-room Turtle Creek School, Kerr County, taken many years ago.
Click on any image to enlarge.
This past week I attended a briefing about the progress being made in the construction of the new Hal Peterson Middle School being built on Loop 534 across from Tivy High School. This new middle school campus is going to be fantastic. Kerrville Independent School District voters overwhelmingly supported a recent school bond election, and the new middle school campus is one of the major building projects underway for Kerrville students.
Seeing plans for the modern, new school made me think about my own time on Kerrville Independent School District campuses, starting at Starkey Elementary School over 50 years ago. Quite a few things have changed since those days, and most for the best. (Air-conditioning, for one thing. I attended all twelve years of public school in classrooms lacking air-conditioning. I almost froze to death in classrooms during my first week at the University.)
Although some readers may not believe it, I did not attend the first schools in Kerr County.  Those were built slightly before my time.
First Kerr County Schoolhouse,
now at the Y.O. Ranch
Many believe the oldest building in Kerr County is a former school building which originally stood in Center Point. Its historical medallion reads “First Schoolhouse. Built in 1852 by J. L. O'Conner at Center Point with cypress logs (12 by 14 inches) cut from nearby Guadalupe River. Mortar was a hand-mixed mixture of baked lime and sand dug from local shallow pits. The making of cypress shakes for roofing was first industry along Guadalupe in Kerr County. Cabin served as first school for pioneer Texas children in Center Point community in 1858. Moved to Y. O. Ranch; Restored.”
‘Restored’ might be better written ‘renovated,’ as the old cabin has been put to service as a guest cabin at the Y.O. Ranch under the name ‘Sam Houston.’
I visited the renovated schoolhouse at the Y.O. a few years ago. Even in its current form (with indoor plumbing!) it’s a far cry from modern school campuses.
Cypress Creek School
Our county was dotted with schools at the turn of the last century, and a few of the old schoolhouses still remain. I have happy memories of visits to the Cypress Creek School building, and the Turtle Creek School building, both of which serve as community centers today.
The Kerr County Album, published in 1986 by the Kerr County Historical Commission, lists a lot of rural schools I’ve never heard of, each serving a group of young students living far from town. There were schools at Pebble, the Auld Ranch, the Haby Ranch, the Reservation, Lane Valley, Buzzard Roost and Grape Creek.
Students at Lowrance School.
Note boys in the oak tree.
Herbert Oehler, one of my predecessors on these pages, wrote extensively about his time at the Sunset School, which was between Ingram and Mountain Home. He was a student there in the 1910s. I know about the Lowrance School because I have a photograph of students playing outside the schoolhouse.
Most of these schools were small and constructed of lumber; the Cypress Creek School is an exception, sturdily built from cut limestone. Most only had one room – the classroom. Many of the old schoolhouses have long since disappeared.
Of these rural Kerr County schools, only one survives as an actual school: the Divide School, which continues to serve students in western Kerr County, between Mountain Home and Garven Store, near the Y.O. Ranch.
Divide School, around 1999
My long-time friend Bill Bacon is superintendent of the Divide Independent School District, and he wears many hats in the operation of the school. Bill is not only one of the teachers there, but also the transportation director, and maintenance director, as well as “other duties as assigned.”
The Divide School has students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade; the Texas Education Agency website says there were 17 students there last year, though I think there might be 18 this year.
The Divide School can trace its history back to 1882, when classes were held in the home of a teacher; in 1893 a one-room wooden schoolhouse was built near the intersection of Highways 41 and 83. The current building was built in 1936 on land donated by F. B. Klein family.
Educating young people is a noble calling, and students in each of Kerr County’s school districts are blessed with dedicated professionals. Schools and classrooms may have changed over the years, but the miracle of learning is the same today as it was in our county’s earliest days.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is married to one of those miracle-working educators, the lovely Ms. Carolyn. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 18, 2020. 

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

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What happened to the Camp Verde camels? Here's where 14 ended up.

A camel in Central Park, New York, New York, in the late 1860s. (Wikimedia Commons.)
Click on any image below to enlarge.
Shortly before Thanksgiving my friend Michael Bowlin, who has been writing about Kerr County history a lot longer than I, sent over a clipping from the Janesville, Wisconsin Gazette, dated February 10, 1868:
1858 Camp Verde map, found by
the late Joseph Luther
“Fourteen camels, raised in Texas, have arrived at Indianola, to be shipped to New York, and placed in the Central Park of that city. Some years ago, it will be remembered, a lot of camels were imported by the War Department for use in transportation of supplies across the desert regions of New Mexico; and the lot above referred to came from that stock, having been raised in Camp Verde, Texas.”
What became of the Camp Verde camels has been a local question since the fort was finally abandoned in 1869. The question persists, even beyond Kerr County. In a recently published novel, Inland, by Téa Obreht, the fate of some of the camels and their cameleers is crucial to the story, which takes place in the deserts of southern Arizona. Closer to home, a Camp Verde camel can be found in The Which Way Tree, by Elizabeth Crook, a writer who lives in Austin.
Why, you might ask, were there camels at Camp Verde?
Camp Verde, around 1935
Camp Verde was established in 1856 – the same year Kerr County was organized. It had been the idea of Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War in the Pierce administration, to use camels “for transportation purposes” across the deserts to our west.
According to Bob Bennett, in his useful history of Kerr County, Davis conceived this idea during the Mexican War of 1847-48, while serving with his father-in-law, Zachary Taylor.
Mowing "Sheep Meadow,"
in New York's Central Park

A bill appropriating $30,000 for the purchase of the camels was passed by Congress in 1855, and a Navy store vessel, the “Supply,” was sent to obtain camels. The “Supply” visited Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and other countries, and brought 33 camels back to Indianola in April, 1856. Three Arab drivers came with the camels: Mico, “Greek George,” and Hadji Ali, known from here to Arizona as “Hi Jolly.”
The trip from Indianola to San Antonio took fourteen days; the camels were finally driven to their home at Camp Verde in August, 1856.
Camp Verde, by Bryden,
probably 1940s or 1950s
Lt. Edward F. Beale was ordered to open a wagon road from New Mexico to California, and chose camels for the task, hoping to demonstrate their “practicability.” On this journey the camels “carried water on the desert for the mules; they traversed stretches of country covered with sharp volcanic rocks without injury to their feet; with heavy packs they climbed over mountains where mules found it difficult to go, even with the assistance of their dismounted drivers, and to the surprise of all the party, the camels plunged into rivers without hesitation and swam with ease.”
Two things doomed the experiment to introduce camels to the American west: the Civil War, and the fact that most Westerners had no experience with (or use for) camels.
The war ended the experiment because those involved were called to fight. The Confederate soldiers at Camp Verde during the war saw the herd increase to 100 head, but little was done with them during that time.
Camel rides, Central Park
Those who worked with the camels had little use for them. According to Bennett, “Horses and mules had an unconquerable fear of them; packers and soldiers detested them.” These feelings were probably because the soldiers and packers had little experience with the animals.
After the war, of course, anything associated with Jefferson Davis wasn’t given high priority by the federal government, so by 1869 the experiment and the fort were history.
In 1866, the federal government got “out of the camel business,” selling sixty head of camels to Bethel Coopwood in San Antonio, at a price of $31 each. Camp Verde was abandoned November 30, 1869.
As for the camels other than those sixty sold to Coopwood, local lore says many were simply released into the wild.
Whether the camels shipped to New York’s Central Park were from the herd owned by Coopwood, no one knows.
The February 13, 1868 issue of the New York Times had this on page 4:
“The young people who frequent the Central Park, and the musical amateurs also, very probably, will be glad to hear that the camels are coming, being at present on their way from the State of Texas, for the purpose of being domiciled along with the rest of the fauna now in the menagerie of our metropolitan pleasure-ground. These camels are native Americans, born of the animals imported from the East several years ago for some of the more desert tracts of the South and the West.”
The camels proved popular, and several photo postcards from that time show camels wandering around Central Park, or being fed by visitors. Not a bad gig for 14 Kerr County natives.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would like to visit the grounds of Camp Verde. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 4, 2020.

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Top 10 Kerr History Stories of 2019

Here are the top 10 stories of 2019, as measured by pageviews of the stories here on the blog:


"History at the corner of Kerrville's Main and Sidney Baker streets," published in November. Construction of a new bank building on that corner prompted me to write about the other buildings which have stood on that site.


"Found in a Garage: Hundreds of Historic Photographs," published in April. A member of the Meeker family found an old trunk filled with hundreds of negatives, most taken by pioneer photographer Starr Bryden.


"Passenger rail service between Kerrville and San Antonio, 1923," published in October. Few remember when trains traveled to Kerrville; fewer still when passenger service stopped here. The train's arrival here in 1887 was a real game changer for our community.


"Kerrville folks remember good places to eat," published in January.  Makes me hungry just reading about some of the restaurants.


"The Voelkel's triangle-shaped building in downtown Kerrville," published in March. The story of the building with the interesting shape at the corner of Water and Clay streets.  Its first use surprised even me.


"Kerrville's Tulahteka: Just a simple starter home," published in October.  The mansion on top of a hill just south of downtown Kerrville was once the home of Louis and Mae Schreiner, and their daughter, Mae Louise.  It must have been crowded for just three people.


"Kerrville's Louise Hays Park: Built in One Day," published in September. New photographs of the day the community came together to build a park were shared with me, and I shared them with you here.


"Ghost Stories of Kerr County," published near Halloween, of course.  Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you have to admit there are some strange stories told in late October.


"The Mystery of the Old Courthouse in Comfort," published in January.  Some say Kerr County's second courthouse is still standing -- just across the Kerr County line, in Kendall County.

And the most popular story for 2019:

"Florence Butt tells her story: 
the very first H-E-B," published in November. Florence Butt, who founded what is now the H. E. Butt Grocery Company, wrote a newspaper article about her memories in 1936 -- which I happened to stumble across while researching something else.

Shop now.  Click Here.
Thanks for your encouragement and support in 2019.  I really appreciate it!  Until next year, all the best.

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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Squirrel and Chicken Barbecue

The St. Charles Hotel, Kerrville, in the late 1920s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
On Christmas Eve, my new friend Louis Amestoy, who is managing editor of this newspaper, wrote a column on several topics, including well-deserved praise for Bob Waller, a compelling photograph taken by Tom Holden of this year's last full moon, and, well, squirrels. He'd found a clip from an old issue of this newspaper which talked about a "squirrel barbecue."
Mattie Morris
I was intrigued. Although a recipe for preparing squirrel, complete with instructions on how to clean and skin the game, can be found in our 1980s-era copy of "The Joy of Cooking," it's not an entree I have ever enjoyed. Or, more accurately: I don't remember ever having squirrel on my plate. I do remember a few wild game dinners at the Ag Barn in the 1990s where it's quite possible squirrel was among the various smoked proteins I happily consumed.
I dug further on the particular clipping mentioned by Amestoy and found this, from the March 27, 1930 Kerrville Times:
"Mrs. Geo. Morris gave a squirrel and chicken barbecue at Camp Rest, five miles below Kerrville Monday at noon. Sixteen guests of the St. Charles Hotel attended the feast. Mrs. Morris gives these barbecues frequently and they are certainly enjoyed by all those who attend them."
George Morris
Well, then. I might choose the chicken, with just a taste of the squirrel.
In 1930, Mattie Morris was a widow. Her popular husband, George, had been dead five years. He is buried in Gillespie County, at the Hill Crest Cemetery, which was then a part of the giant Morris Ranch.
George Morris was born in Burr Oak, Michigan, which is near the Indiana state line. His family's ranch between Kerrville and Fredericksburg was famous for the racehorses it raised and trained there.
George and Mattie (Gowan) Morris were married in 1891 at the Morris Ranch.
St. Charles Hotel, 1907
In 1907 they moved to Kerrville and purchased the St. Charles Hotel from the Lee Mason family. The St. Charles was on the eastern corner of Water and Sidney Baker Streets, and was probably the best hotel on the long road between San Antonio and El Paso. It was built in 1883, a two-story frame structure facing Water Street. Over the years it was grew like a tomato vine, sprouting a third floor, and additional wings and guest rooms. When the Morris family owned the hotel it even had an on-site dairy herd, with cows housed in a little barn about where today's Kerrville city council meets.
George Morris served as mayor of Kerrville from 1916-1917. Mattie Morris was active in the community as well, in the Eastern Star, and serving on various committees, hosting countless banquets and dinners, from the very first meeting of the Kerrville Rotary Club to graduation dinners for several decades' worth of Tivy graduates.
St. Charles dairy herd, around 1915
Including, it seems, a squirrel and chicken barbecue in March, 1930.
In 1930 the St. Charles Hotel was in peril: only a few years earlier a much nicer hotel had been built in Kerrville: the Blue Bonnet Hotel, just down Water Street at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett Streets. It was taking business away from the much older St. Charles, which had been built for a much different traveler in a much different time.
Mattie Morris had been the sole owner of the St. Charles Hotel since her husband's death in 1925. She knew her hotel was facing difficult days.
Only a few days after the squirrel and chicken barbecue, the Kerrville Mountain Sun announced Mrs. Morris had sold the old St. Charles Hotel to the owners of the Blue Bonnet Hotel -- for a whopping $75,000. It was front page news on April 10, 1930.
So, that squirrel and chicken barbecue at Camp Rest was likely the last one she held for guests of her hotel. Undoubtedly the deal to sell her hotel was already in the works while her guests "feasted" in the countryside near the river between Kerrville and the airport.
Mattie Morris lived another 8 years, passing away in September, 1938. She is buried here in Kerrville, at the Garden of Memories.
I have some of the personal papers of Mattie Morris in my collection, mostly about the various business opportunities she pursued. I need to see if there happens to be a good recipe for squirrel among her files.
Until next year, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has harbored murderous thoughts toward the squirrels who visit his garden each spring, taking only one bite from a beautiful tomato, and leaving the rest of the tomato to molder. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 28, 2019.

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

Sunday, December 22, 2019

"A small beginning," exactly 150 years ago this Tuesday

Charles Schreiner's original store in downtown Kerrville,
opened on Christmas Eve, 1869. Illustration by Harold B. Hugbee.
Click on any image to enlarge.
This coming Tuesday, Christmas Eve, will be exactly 150 years since Charles Schreiner opened his store in Kerrville.
“It was a small beginning,” he told J. E. Grinstead years later, “just a little cypress shack that stood where my residence now stands.” The “shack” was only 16x18 feet, made of cypress, and stood in the middle of the block, facing Earl Garrett Street (then called Mountain Street).
When we think of Charles Schreiner these days, we often picture an older man, wealthy beyond imagination. It is true, late in life, he was very rich, owning over 500,000 acres of the Texas Hill Country, along with banks, wool warehouses, shares in numerous businesses, buildings, hotels, ranches, herds, and even part of a railroad. There is no doubt the man had a genius for business.
None of that was evident 150 years ago, however. He was just a young veteran opening a store in a tiny town on the edge of the Texas frontier. There was no cash in the country, and most commerce was in bartered transactions. There was no transportation to or from major markets, except for freight wagons hauled by mules or oxen. Every item for sale in Schreiner’s store, except those raised or grown locally, was brought here by wagon: every nail, bolt of cloth, jar, pan, or piece of candy was brought here through incredible labor and effort.
It wasn’t his first mercantile venture. With his brother in law, Caspar Real, in 1857 he had operated a store serving Camp Verde, the Williams Community Store, which was about a mile south of the military post. Because of the sparse population around Verde Creek, Schreiner and Real only opened the store on army paydays. Running a profitable store on such a limited schedule was tough, and made worse when the soldiers stole from the store. Real and Schreiner supplemented the store’s income by securing contracts to supply Camp Verde with beef, wool, and wood.
Meanwhile Schreiner was ranching on a small scale on Turtle Creek, again with his brother in law Caspar Real.
Charles Schreiner, 1880s
There is some evidence all of this hard work was not resulting in enough income, and so Schreiner enlisted in the Texas Mounted Volunteers, which were later commissioned into the Texas Rangers. For this service, Schreiner was paid – in his last enlistment in 1859, for a service for around three months, he was paid $114.
In 1861, Charles Schreiner married Mary Magdalena Enderle in San Antonio. In 1862, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, reporting for duty just three weeks before their first son, Aime Charles, was born. He served in the Confederate Army until the end of the war, returning home in 1865.
He returned to a land devastated economically by the long Civil War. The store near Camp Verde lacked customers; the U. S. Army did not man the post again until 1866, and abandoned it in 1869. Having a store there did not seem prudent: there were no customers.
Still, Schreiner stayed busy. In addition to ranching, he was elected Kerr County district clerk in 1865, some four years before opening his store in Kerrville. In 1868, he was elected Kerr County treasurer, a post he held for 30 consecutive years. I think these elections demonstrated two things about Charles Schreiner: first, he was likable, and won votes in numerous elections; second, he was trustworthy.
And what of Schreiner -- what was he like?
Schreiner residence on Earl Garrett Street.
I believe the original store building can be seen
just to the left of the wool wagon.
"Captain Schreiner was not so large a man as his photographs make him appear," Gene Hollon wrote in 1944 for the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. "His height was only around five feet and eight inches, and his weight never reached more than 170 pounds."
Meaning he was about my height and my weight -- by modern standards short, but back in those days Schreiner was probably about average in height among his neighbors.
"In his prime he was trim and fleet of foot," Hollon wrote. "It was said he could outrun any man in town in a foot race, and he often proved it...he did participate in foot racing down Main Street, a stunt not exactly considered dignified for a middle-aged man today, but quite proper then."
And so, 150 years ago, on Christmas Eve 1869, a 31-year-old man opened a store in Kerrville in a cypress shack on a muddy street in a town with few people. Once again, he had a business partner, this time August Faltin of Comfort.
It was a small start, just like he said. But it was the start of something big.
Until next week, all the best.

2 coffee-table books
filled with historic
Kerrville photos
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers shopping at Schreiner’s, starting when he was a boy, back in the 1960s. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 21, 2019.

I have two books available, both 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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