New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The very first workshop of James Avery in 1954 -- a Kerrville success story

The garage of James Avery's in-laws in 1954,
where he started making jewelry locally.
Click on any image to enlarge.

I ran across some items from James Avery in my files this week, and it brought back memories of Mr. Avery and the company he founded here in Kerrville in 1954.

James Avery's 95th birthday party
The last time I visited with James Avery was at his 95th birthday party, in late 2016, given by his wife Estela at the Alegria Barn, near their home on the Fredericksburg Highway. It was a fun event, with music, good food, and a crowd of well-wishers. Jim, though frailer than the previous times we'd visited, was kind and thoughtful. I brought him a copy of a late 1960s-era James Avery Craftsman catalog my father had printed.

I first met Mr. Avery at our family's print shop, when I was a boy. He was a focused printing customer, who knew exactly what he wanted, and several generations of my family worked hard to make sure we met his expectations. He was always kind to me, and to everyone at our print shop, and I have fond memories of him.

Homer James Avery first arrived in Texas in 1943, as a 21-year-old Army Air Corps Cadet, when he traveled by train from Illinois to Lackland AFB in San Antonio. As a child, Avery had moved around a lot, between Michigan and Illinois, and after a false start at Michigan State, and a year living with his grandparents in Iowa, he enrolled in the ROTC program at the University of Illinois. He learned of a new department at the University of Illinois, "Industrial Design," and it was Avery's "entrance into the field of design," according to a talk he gave in 2007.

Avery and air crew
During World War II, in March, 1943, Avery was sent to Lackland. Later, he went to Fort Stockton for primary pilot training, San Angelo for basic training, and on to Lubbock, where he earned his wings in January, 1944.

After Lubbock, Avery was sent to Laughlin Field in Del Rio, where he learned to fly the Martin Marauder, the B-26. The B-26 had a bad reputation, since there were a lot of accidents, especially on take-offs and landings.

Avery met his crew in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they were assigned a new B-26, which they flew from Florida to England, by way of the Caribbean, South America, Ascension Island, Liberia, Dakar, Morocco, and then Wales. The trip took nine days.

Together they flew 44 bombing missions in Europe from bases in France.

After the war, Avery returned to the University of Illinois to complete his degree.

Avery designs on
a lovely notepad
After graduation, Avery was offered a position at the University of Iowa to set up a new Industrial Design program in the Fine Arts department. He was only 24 years old.

Two years later, he moved on to the University of Colorado, where he taught in the Fine Arts school for five years.

During this time personal issues caused Avery to become very involved with his church, and with campus youth ministries at the University of Colorado. While in Colorado, he met a young woman from Kerrville, Sally Ranger, who became his second wife in 1953.

Together they moved to Minneapolis, where Avery taught at the University of Minnesota. A very cold winter there helped them decide to move back to Texas.

The couple arrived in Kerrville in June, 1954. In his in-laws' garage, James Avery built a workshop, putting up Celotex on the interior walls, building a workbench, and setting up a polishing lathe. It was there, with a few hand tools, pieces of sterling silver and copper, James Avery started making jewelry.

Page from Avery catalog
my father printed
He'd had some experience making jewelry during his days at the University of Colorado, where some of his students asked if they could design and make jewelry. Avery went to the library, found a book, and he and his students learned how to make jewelry together.

"Designing was not a problem" Avery said, years ago. "Fabricating was."

For the first three years of jewelry making in Kerrville, Avery made every piece himself by hand. He even had a catalog printed, by General Moran, who'd set up a print shop at his house on Jackson Road. Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze took the photos for that first catalog. Prices for the pieces ranged from around $2.50 to $10.00.

"Since I had to make by hand every piece shown in the catalog," Avery said, "I fortunately didn't get swamped with orders."

The first year's sales were around $5,500; the second, $7,500; the third, over $10,000.

In 1957, Avery hired his first employee, Fred Garcia. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for Fred and the wonderful people who have helped me these past almost 55 years," Avery remarked in 2007.

The first store outside of Kerrville opened in Dallas in 1973. Today there are around 110 stores in four states, James Avery jewelry counters at 240 Dillard’s locations, and at 37 Von Maur locations, and over 3,500 employees. The jewelry is even available at several H-E-B Grocery stores.

Not too many years ago I stopped by Mr. Avery's office in Kerrville. It turned out to be the last time I saw him there. He was in his nineties at the time. 

I stepped into his office and did not see him, but I heard a quiet tapping in a small adjoining room. There I found him at his workbench, a small hammer in hand, working on a piece of silver jewelry in a vise. Hand tools and a small saw were on the worktable. Before him there was a piece of paper with a pencil-drawn design. A bright light shone on the piece, and was reflected on Avery's face. He was smiling.

That's how I'll remember him: At work, alone, at his workbench, quietly making jewelry.

James Avery passed away in 2018, at the age of 96.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers lots of interesting people and their stories. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 11, 2023.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

I've been looking for a Kerr County rock with words scratched on its surface -- from 1856.

Detail, Merrill Doyle mural at the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library:
"Bone Yard Fight 1856."
Click on any image to enlarge.

I have spent the last several weeks looking for a rock, using advanced technology. More specifically, a limestone rock with a name and details scratched on its surface. It’s a grave marker. Possibly.

In a way, I could say my search for this rock began in 1967, when I was six years old.

That’s the year the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library opened. Among the treasures there was a mural painted by Merrill Doyle, an artist I knew through my parents’ print shop, and who patiently gave me an art lesson or two when I was in elementary school.

Looking back, I now realize many of my father’s friends were artists. We often visited with Merrill Doyle at Pampell’s, when we’d walk there most work mornings for a coffee break.

Merrill Doyle at work on the mural, 1967
The mural in the library depicts scenes from Kerr County’s history, in Doyle’s distinctive style. He was an illustrator, and he painted in bright colors. In just a few brushstrokes, our county’s story comes to life.

The mural is still on the walls of the library, upstairs, enclosed in a quiet reading room. Yet one of the scenes depicted there is anything but quiet.

The scene has a title: “Bone Yard Fight 1856.” I remember studying it closely, even as a boy, fascinated by the violence it showed.

Nine men are shown in hand-to-hand combat; four men, who I thought were cowboys, against five Indians. In the mural, it looks like an even fight, that the cowboys might prevail. The image relies on many stereotypes, of course – and the historical details were not exactly correct, either.

I was fascinated by that scene, though. I’m not sure when I realized it represented an actual event, a skirmish which actually took place in western Kerr County in 1856. Once I knew it represented a historical event, I was even more fascinated by the painting.

The details, in brief:

In 1856 (or possibly 1857), a raiding party of Native Americans attacked several settlers’ cabins near Kerrville, and then traveled up the Guadalupe River, past present-day Ingram and Hunt. The raiders were then pursued by seven young men: William Kelso, Spence Goss, Jack Herredge, Tom Wherry, Dan Murphy, Tom McAdams, and Newt Price.

Of the seven, only one had any experience fighting Indians: William Kelso, a former Texas Ranger. As with any group of young men, hindsight says they should have been more cautious.

They made camp in a thicket about “twenty-five miles west of Kerrville,” and staked their horses nearby in a glade. It was a very cold night.

According to Bob Bennett’s history of Kerr County, “the guns of the party were stacked around a tree several yards from the fire. About daybreak, Tom Wherry and Dan Murphy arose and rekindled the fire, and then, taking their guns, went out to hunt a deer. After they left, the other men got up and stood or sat around the fire.”

At that groggy moment, the party was attacked. First, the stacked guns were taken by the Indians and used against the settlers. Those settlers who had handguns returned fire as best they could, at close range, though it’s unclear how effective those shots were.

Hearing the gunfire, Wherry and Murphy hurriedly returned to the campsite. Murphy ran into the middle of the attackers, and fired one shot before “receiving a ball in the breast and [falling] dead on the spot.”

All but one of other settlers were wounded, either by fire from their own guns which were now in the hands of the Indians, or by arrows. 

The settlers scattered into the thicket; their horses, except for two, were taken. They had severe wounds and now they were miles from help.

The Indians did not pursue them. They had the settlers’ guns and their horses – they left with the spoils. It is unknown if any of the Indians were wounded.

Dan Murphy's gravestone
Dan Murphy died on the spot of the fight. Newt Price died trying to get home. The others struggled to get back home, and eventually made it. One, Spence Goss, whose leg was broken by a gunshot wound, spent more than twenty days in the wilderness before he was rescued.

Once news of the fight was known, a party went to search for survivors and information. Dan Murphy was buried where he fell. A flat stone was tilted upright, and his name was scratched on its surface: “D. Murphy/ Killed by Indians 1856.”

That’s the stone I’ve been searching for. I didn’t know it still existed until I found a photograph of it about a month ago, taken, most likely, in the 1990s. The photograph doesn’t give a lot of clues about its location.

However, I know roughly the area where it must be – from descriptions of a trip to the site recorded by John James Starkey in the 1930s in this newspaper.

Though the skirmish has been called the Boneyard Fight, after a pond of water called Boneyard Water Hole at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River, Starkey says the conflict actually took place about two miles from that spot, somewhere between today’s Mo-Ranch and the Boneyard Water Hole.

I’ve spent hours using ‘satellite’ images of that area, looking for the stone and the fence which surrounds it, slowly ‘flying’ over the area on my computer screen. I have not yet found it.

If you have an idea where the old grave marker stands, would you let me know? It would tell me where those men fought, 167 years ago.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys working on history mysteries. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 4, 2023.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Another way to look at local history: documentary film. The premiere of "Voices of Doyle"

The stars of 'Voices of Doyle,' a new documentary
from the former students of the Doyle School, in Kerrville

There are many ways to tell our community’s history. For many of us scribblers, newspaper writers going several generations back, the way we tell Kerr County’s story is in words printed with ink on paper. 

I’ve been writing this weekly column since 1994. Our community’s story is like a mosaic, and each week I bring one tile and place it carefully here in the newspaper.

Others, though, have a different way to tell our story.

The Kerr County Historical Commission, for example, has a remarkable series of oral histories available online, at the Portal to Texas History, a project of the University of North Texas in Denton. These can be found at and accessed by typing “Kerr County Historical Commission” in the search bar.

This collection of oral histories features local people being interviewed by members of the historical commission. I believe around 97 of the interviews are online, and there is no cost to listen to them.

The interviews range from Kerr County folks who are still with us – like John M. Mosty, or Clifton Fifer, Jr. – to folks who’ve passed away – like Clarabelle Snodgrass or James Avery. These are a valuable historical resource, since each person is telling their own story. And it’s comforting to hear stories told in the voices of those who are no longer with us. 

Quite a few of the interviews were also recorded on videotape, and these videos are also available online at the Portal to Texas History.

I often listen to these interviews, or read the transcripts of the interviews, when I’m researching a topic for this column. Very often I learn something new about the person being interviewed, even after knowing them for many years. I’m happy to recommend these interviews to you – they’re fun and informative.

The Doyle School, as it appeared in the 1980s
Now a new way to tell stories has come to our community. Alyson Amestoy, a recent Baylor University graduate, is telling our town’s story through documentary films. Her production company, Story Garden, has produced a documentary about Kerrville’s Doyle School called “Voices of Doyle.”

This new video features dozens of people offering their memories of the Doyle School. Most of those shown in the video are former students of Doyle.

“Voices of Doyle” will premiere on Tuesday, February 28, at the Arcadia Live Theater, 717 Water Street, in downtown Kerrville. Doors open at 6:00 pm, with music by Clifton Fifer, Kiah Middleton, Konrad Wert, and more. The film will be shown at 7:00 pm. There will be a question-and-answer period with Amestoy around 7:45 pm. The event is free.

I’ve seen an early copy of the film, and it’s impressive. It’s about much more than the school itself. It’s about the community around the school, a community which was made closer and better by the school, and by the couple who taught there, B. T. and Itasco Wilson.

The stories told are poignant, and told by those who lived them. Despite the hardships the students, teachers, and school faced, by hard work and grace something beautiful was created.

Some of the stories are quite humorous, like the time a group of students decided to skip school and go to the movies.

B. T. “Prof” Wilson, the Doyle School principal, showed up at the movie theater and visited with the truant students there. The students didn’t do that again, ever.

I encourage you to go see this wonderful film. It celebrates an important part of our community’s story.  And it’s fun.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items. If you have something you’d care to share with him, it would make him happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 25, 2023.

Though this newsletter is free, it isn't cheap. You can help by sharing it with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

Sunday, February 19, 2023

An historic Kerrville cemetery hidden in plain sight

The Tivy Mountain Cemetery sign, at
the intersection of Loop 534 and Cypress Creek Road.
Click on any image to enlarge

The Tivy Mountain Cemetery is easy to miss – even by folks who’ve lived in Kerr County their whole lives.

First off, it has a confusing name. The first thing to come to mind for most people are the four graves at the top of Tivy Mountain: those of Joseph Tivy, his wife Ella, and his sister Susan. Susan’s cat is also buried up there, in a grave dug (as the story goes) by none other than Chester A. Nimitz. Those graves can be accessed by foot, climbing up a caliche road off of Tivy Street between Quinlan Creek Drive and Veterans Highway (Loop 534). A state historical marker is near the gated caliche road.

But Captain Tivy and his family (plus the cat) are not buried at Tivy Mountain Cemetery. They’re buried on Tivy Mountain.

The location of the Tivy Mountain Cemetery is just farther down Tivy Street, at the intersection of Tivy Street, Veterans Highway, and Cypress Creek Road – on the northeast corner of the intersection, running along Cypress Creek Road. An old hand-painted sign says “Tivy Mountain Cemetery, Established in 1903.” An ornate (and locked) gate is to the right of the sign.

It’s easy to miss, and I’m sure many folks have driven past it without noticing.

This cemetery is an historically Black cemetery, the resting place of over 200 souls. Most are from Kerr County, though quite a few were patients at the state tuberculosis hospital here.

Looking through the names of those resting there, I recognize quite a few from their descendants I’ve known. There are Fifers, Colemans, Edmonds, Blanks, Bensons, Hardees, McCrays, Mosbys, Neals, Nesbys, and many other last names I probably should be able to remember if my memory was better.

Because of the age of the cemetery, and because it was primarily for Black families, it is the location of the largest number of graves of former slaves in Kerr County. I counted 16 names of people born before the end of the Civil War – meaning most of them could have been born into slavery, though not all of them were slaves here in Kerr County.

Their stories are an important part of Kerr County history.

Jim Thornton
In 1864, during the American Civil War, Kentucky formed the 12th Regiment, Heavy Artillery U.S. Colored Troops, in the Union Army. Those who enlisted were offered emancipation. Among those who enlisted was Charles James “Jim” Thornton (1835-1911). After the war, he eventually found his way to Kerr County, where he married Adeline Joyner in 1871, in the Turtle Creek area of Kerr County. He was a landowner here. He is buried at the Tivy Mountain Cemetery, and among those there, he was the person born earliest (1835). He lived a long life, passing away at the age of 75.

The married couple Isaiah and Lydia Blanks were also born into slavery. Isaiah Blanks was born in Louisiana in 1843, and arrived in Kerr County as a slave owned by Dr. Charles Ganahl, the man who owned almost half of the slaves held in bondage in Kerr County in 1860. The Ganahls lived near present-day Center Point.

After being freed, Isaiah Blanks worked for other families, worked in shingle camps, and later worked in the home of Captain Charles Schreiner for 38 years, and accompanied Schreiner on several trips to the northern and eastern parts of the country. His obituary noted he was able to speak both English and German. He passed away in 1930, at the age of 79.

Lydia Edmonds Blanks and daughters
His wife, Lydia (sometimes spelled Lidia) Edmonds Blanks (1849-1939) was born in Florida, and arrived in Kerr County with the Ridley family, who owned both Lydia and her mother, Nellie Edmonds. The relationship with the Ridleys was complicated: Lydia’s death certificate has “Dr. Ridley” listed as her father. After gaining her freedom, Lydia Blanks worked for many years as a cook in the home of Charles and Lena Schreiner.

Isaiah and Lydia Blanks would have been neighbors to my family’s print shop, as their daughter, Helen Blanks Neal, shared in a 1956 news story that they lived “from 1894 until 1910 [the family] lived in one of Captain Schreiner’s houses where Peterson’s Garage is now located. The St. Charles Hotel was just across [what is Sidney Baker] street. That means the Blanks lived about where the pedestrian bridge connecting the city’s parking building and the city’s clock tower stand today – on the parking building side of the street.

The couple owned a farm on Cherry Creek, near Center Point.

Black employees of the St. Charles Hotel.
I believe Lydia Blanks is on back row, 
far right.
Together Isaiah and Lydia Blanks had twelve children. At the time of Isaiah’s death, they had 46 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Lydia lived for 89 years, and is buried near her husband in the Tivy Mountain Cemetery.

There are so many other stories about the people buried at Tivy Mountain Cemetery. I wish I could write them all here. Stories about Andrew Fifer, who also worked for Captain Schreiner, keeping the grounds of his house in top shape; or Sandy Hamburg, who hauled items in his wagon for people, and who lived to be 100 years old, possibly, because he never knew exactly how old he was. 

Around the time of the Bicentennial celebrations, during the 1975-1976 school year, one of Mrs. Rosa Lavender’s civics classes at Tivy High School took on the Tivy Mountain Cemetery as a project. The class helped mark graves, cut and cleared waist-high grass and brush. They researched the burials registered there, and repaired several of the graves. It was a big project, and they kept a scrapbook of their work.

In the early 2000s, news stories in this newspaper reported the cemetery property was actually owned by the City of Kerrville. At that time, the city maintained the property twice a year. I’m not sure who owns and maintains the cemetery today.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is often surprised by the depth of stories in places he often just drives by without really noticing. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 18, 2023.

Though this newsletter is free, it isn't cheap. You can help by sharing it with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

Monday, February 13, 2023

A family named Doyle helped change our community's history

Members of the extended Doyle family -- 
before Henry and Anna Doyle moved to Kerrville with their three sons in 1908.
Click on any image to enlarge.

The reason behind the naming of places, streets, and even schools can sometimes be lost to time.

No doubt most people in Kerrville have heard about the Doyle School, which was once a segregated school for African-American students. It is now the Doyle School Community Center, and it’s thriving with a completely renovated building and a full calendar of events.

Anna Doyle
Others may have noticed street signs nearby which are purple with white letters, which say “Doyle District” at the bottom. They not only help passerby know they’re in a special neighborhood, but they’re also a subtle nod to the Doyle School’s school colors: purple and white.

But what about the name? How did it come to be called Doyle?

The answer is simple: there was once a Kerrville family named Doyle, and the school was named in honor of Anna Walker Doyle (1869-1937), who was for many years the principal and head teacher of the segregated school.

Here is the story of the Doyle family:

They came to Kerrville from Memphis, Tennessee, around 1908, for the same reason many families moved here around the turn of the last century: Henry Sebastian Doyle (1867-1913), Anna’s husband, had tuberculosis. In those days it was thought Kerrville’s dry climate helped ease the symptoms of tuberculosis. 

(Coincidentally, another family moved from Memphis to Kerrville in 1904 for the same reason: C. C. Butt had tuberculosis. His wife started a grocery store. You may have heard of it.)

Henry Doyle in London.
Back row, 2nd from left.
Henry Doyle was a native of Georgia; Anna was a native of Alabama. Both were well-educated. Henry attended both Clark University in Georgia, and Ohio Wesleyan University; Anna was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, and later attended the State Normal School at Prairie View, in Texas. They married in 1895, in Wetumpka, Alabama. Together they had four sons.

Henry Doyle was a preacher and political activist. He pastored churches in Georgia, Alabama, Washington, DC, Tennessee, and Louisiana. He was a delegate to the ‘national prohibition convention’ held in Ohio in 1892; years later, he was a delegate to the Great Ecumenical Conference of Methodism in London, 1901.

He was active in politics, delivering 63 speeches in 11 counties in 1892 on behalf of Thomas Watson, a populist candidate for congress from Georgia. His life was repeatedly threatened during the campaign, and, in one very dramatic episode, over a thousand armed men protected Doyle and the house where he’d taken refuge from specific threats.

The three sons: Albion, Henry Jr., and Bertram
In 1908, when the family arrived in Kerrville, they had three sons living with them – Albion, Bertram, and Henry, Jr – ranging in age from 7 to 12. (Another son, Levi, passed away as a youngster.) They lived on Jefferson Street. The 1910 census shows Henry working as a minister here.

After Henry died in 1913, Anna chose to stay in Kerrville. Years later, her front-page obituary said “soon after her arrival here, she found that the education among the people of her race was sadly neglected….”

In that news item, it says she collected money from her neighbors, added her own funds, and purchased three town lots, and then persuaded the members of the Kerrville school board to donate a district building which was no longer being used – to be donated for the purpose of establishing a new school for African-American students. 

“She was the only teacher for many years,” her obituary reports, “and had served as principal for more than 25 years.”

When Anna Walker Doyle passed away in August, 1937, it was a sad day for Kerrville. There were mourners from ‘all walks of life.’ She was buried next to her husband in Shreveport, Louisiana. Two of her sons are also buried nearby. Albion, like his father, died of tuberculosis. He was only 25 years old.

Bertram Wilbur Doyle, another of Henry and Anna’s sons, got his doctorate from the University of Chicago the same year his mother passed away. Like his father, Bertram served in the Christian Methodist Episcopal church as a pastor, and later, as a bishop; and like his mother, he was an educator, as a professor of sociology at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and at several other colleges.

In the early 1940s, B. T. and Itasco Wilson arrived in Kerrville. B. T. was to be the new principal at the school, and Itasco one of the teachers. One of the first things they did was rename the school in memory of Anna Doyle, and thus the name Doyle School was born.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys researching the history of our community. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 11, 2023.

Though this newsletter is free, it isn't cheap. You can help by sharing it with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)



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