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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Kerr History 101: What’s the link between Kerrville and Hummingbird Feeders?

W. R. (Robert) Sullivan, a patient at 
Kerrville's Veterans Administration Hospital in the 1930s.

Many of us have hummingbird feeders hanging somewhere on our houses – ours is above the little slab ‘patio’ in our backyard, hanging under an eave of the roof, where it’s protected from sun and rain. Whenever someone posts on social media the arrival of hummingbirds locally, I concoct the mixture of sugar and water as recommended, and hang our feeder out, and within a few days we have our first customer.

Unlike others, we only get a few hummingbirds each year. I’ve seen photos of swarms of hummingbirds on others’ feeders, but ours are never crowded. Even though we only have a few visitors, they often disagree with each other, fighting and fussing over an ample supply of sweetened water – enough to feed a much larger charm of hummingbirds.

Here’s something you might not know: In 1932, W. R. (Robert) Sullivan invented an early hummingbird feeder, made from vinegar bottles, or I. V. bottles, along with Scotch tape tins, right here in Kerrville. 

Here’s a summary of the Wikipedia entry on Sullivan:

Our feeder, back when we used
red food coloring, long ago.
By 1936, Sullivan had installed a hummingbird feeder outside his patient room at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Legion, Texas, near Kerrville. Over time, he placed approximately 25 feeders around the hospital grounds. In 1939, Sullivan observed that hummingbirds consumed one US quart (950 ml) of the sweetened water solution in his feeder daily. His feeder design was adopted by fellow patients at the hospital and residents of Kerrville. His design prevented other birds or insects from drinking from the feeder.

Sullivan was a patient at the VA Hospital, recovering from tuberculosis. His interest in hummingbirds was more than just as a hobbyist – he wanted to band the birds for study, though at the time bands designed for birds were much too heavy for the little hummingbirds to support. He also shipped hummingbirds to several zoos around the country, with mixed success.

The Kerrville Times published a brief story about Sullivan on July 23, 1936:

“Legion Hospital Is Humming-Bird Sanctuary Without Equal in State,” declared the headline.

“Among summer visitors here are none so distinguished as the estimated group of 500 hummingbirds who come to Veterans Administration Hospital at Legion each season. There are probably few, if any, other places in Texas where so many of the birds gather.

“Patients there have placed 25 feeders about the grounds; everything is done to provide for the welfare of the birds. The little visitors come all the way from the south part of Mexico, below Mexico City. Males begin arriving about March 15 and the females tag along about three days later. Last stragglers have left for their home by the middle of September.

“Lying in his bed in a second story room of Ward 2, W. R. Sullivan, a patient there, has been observing the birds for several seasons. He has a feeder, containing sugar-saturated water, outside his window, and at times opens the window, places the feeder inside, and tempts the birds to the interior.

“They dart in, not shyly, but with an assurance that bespeaks ownership. Sometimes as many as 40 come into the room at one time. Wings whirring and humming, they make as much noise as 40 small electric fans. Perching for a moment on a light cord or tie rack, inspecting a curtain sash or zooming around the ceiling, they are everywhere at the same time.

“The humming-birds are not as afraid of human beings as they are of each other. They will alight on Sullivan's hand but are continually quarreling among themselves.

Later, another Kerrville man, Prentiss Swayze, who worked at the Kerrville post office, produced hummingbird feeders in Kerrville. Like Sullivan’s design, Swayze’s was made from an inverted glass bottle attached to a round metal tin.

For materials, he used Scotch tape tins and empty I.V. bottles from Kerrville's Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital. This was convenient: the hospital was in the same block as the post office in those days, with the post office where the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center is today, and the hospital on the western corner of what is now called Peterson Plaza.

According to his brother, the late Francis “Fuzzy” Swayze, producing the hummingbird feeders "started out a hobby but with intent of college funds for Jim, his adopted son. Used Scotch tape cans and bottles from Sid Peterson and later with arrangements with maintenance people at a San Antonio hospital for greater supply."

I'm sure you're familiar with the design Prentiss Swayze produced: I've seen these feeders hanging from people's porches my entire life, but I had no idea they were invented and produced here in Kerrville. Their bright red metal base, the red metal ring looping the glass bottle, seem as familiar as a bend in our Guadalupe River.

Prentiss Swayze eventually got out of the hummingbird feeder business.

"Finally sold his equipment and mailing list, 1600 names throughout U.S. to somebody around Vanderpool. Can’t think of the Ingram machinist who rigged up the setup for mass-production but it was a neat operation, strictly one man," Fuzzy told me, years ago.

Starting about a decade ago, hummingbird feeders were again being produced here in Kerrville by the Tejas Hummingbird Feeder company; their website says the brand was retired in July, 2023.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose sweetheart, Carolyn, calls the hummingbirds who visit our feeder “Joe’s pets.” This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead May 30, 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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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Kerr History 101: A group of Kerr County paintings at a prehistoric site

Pictographs in Kerr County -- at the 41KR493 site.
Access is restricted to the site.
There are faint red, black and yellow marks on a limestone bluff in the western part of Kerr County, markings which have been there, exposed to rain and sun, possibly for hundreds of years. They are at the only recorded archaeological site in Kerr County which includes pictographs, the Hatfield Pictographic Shelter, designated 41KR493. When the pictographs were drawn and painted is not known, but there is evidence from older artifacts found at the site that rock shelter was in use from the Late to Transitional Archaic period, roughly between 1,500 to 5,000 years ago. 

Pictographs are images or designs which were painted or drawn, usually on stone; petroglyphs were carved or chipped into stone. This site is called a rock shelter because a portion of the bluff above the pictographs extends slightly outward and above the pictographs, like a visor on a cap. It is at best an imperfect ‘shelter,’ but may have served as a place to escape weather and direct sun.

My friend Bryant Saner, Jr., an archeologist, showed me the site more than a decade ago. He’s also published papers on what is found there.

Other pictographs in Kerr County have been reported, most many decades ago. A. T. Jackson, in his book “Picture Writing of the Texas Indians,” first published in the 1930s, notes two sites in Kerr County. His reporting of those two sites does not include illustrations or photographs, and neither site was documented or recorded by archeologists from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Today no one is completely sure where the sites Jackson mentioned might be located, or even if the images reported there over 80 years ago are even visible today. In his reports he notes the pictographs at the two sites were faded and hard to see.

Saner, in a paper published in “La Tierra,” the Journal of the Southern Texas Archaeological Association, in July 1996, suggests the Hatfield Shelter is not one of the two sites mentioned in Jackson’s book, but a third Kerr County site with pictographs. It is the only one to be documented and recorded.

The site was named for the person who discovered and reported it, Vicki Hatfield, in a site survey report on file at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, in 1992.

In the few times I’ve been to the site, I’ve noticed a fading of the images there. Some of the photographs I took on early visits show images much sharper and clearer than more recent photographs.

I’m sad to say the site has suffered from vandalism, mostly in the form of people digging for artifacts and disturbing the archeological record there. This destruction is against the law, and also robs future generations of the knowledge which could be gained from scientific study of the site.

A full-scale study has not been conducted at the Hatfield Shelter, as far as I know, with archeological investigations to determine and record more of the information hidden there. The site still holds a secret or two about life in the Texas hill country many generations ago. I’ve been told a lack of funding prevents that work.

The site itself is quite lovely, a rock shelter just above the river, hidden and protected by trees. It’s easy to imagine how it must have been, an unknown number of years ago, when a pigment, made from materials found in nature, was carefully applied to its rock walls.

Until next week, all the best. 

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who often wonders about those who lived here very long ago. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead May 23, 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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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Kerr History 101: By wagon, cart, on horseback, or by foot

Freight wagons crossing a stream.
Click on any images to enlarge.

In the earliest days of our community, all freight came here by wagon, pulled by oxen, mules, donkeys, or horses. From the photographs in my collection, I can see there were many different types of wagons hauling freight. Some were attached together in trains, with two wagons or even three joined together. 

Every bolt of cloth, every piece of glass, every sheet of paper was carried here over dusty roads, either by hand, or in a saddlebag, or on a wagon pulled by animals -- until 1887, when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway brought the railroad to Kerrville.

Consider the problem of filling merchants' shelves if your only way to transport goods to a store involved a wagon and mules or oxen. The trip would have been terribly hot in the summer, and frighteningly cold in the winter. And there were dangers along the way, from natural hazards to roving bands of armed men intent on diverting goods to their own use.

“It was a real accomplishment for a freighter to haul a load of several thousand pounds on two or three wagons trailing one behind the other for a distance of a hundred miles or more,” writes Bob Bennett in his excellent history of our county. “During rainy seasons it was a real problem to keep Junction, Rocksprings and other towns supplied with the necessities of life. These inland communities often ran short of flour and other staple food items because the freight caravan was marooned somewhere on a muddy road en route from Kerrville.”

Freight wagons at the Earl Garrett/ 
Water Street intersection.
Kerrville, because it was connected to markets by a railroad in 1887, became the supplier of most of the outlying towns nearby, a role it continues to play even now that the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad is long gone. When the interstate highway came through town in the 1970s it helped our community retain this niche.

Before the railroad came to Kerrville, freighters hauled goods to Kerrville from San Antonio and even from “old Indianola” on the Texas coast.

Again, from Bennett: “In the early days the wagons were pulled by ox teams, often several yokes to the wagon. Later mules and horses supplanted the plodding oxen. Teams of horses and mules ranged from two to twelve. That was before the day of highways and it required expert teamsters to handle a team over the rough and steep hill roads.

“L. F. Pope was a colorful teamster of the pre-railroad era. He started in the days of freighting from San Antonio and continued westward when the railway terminus reached Kerrville. Old timers said Pope could hitch a team of several horses by the time others less versed in the vocation could hitch two horses. 

“Bells were often used on the lead horses in the teams and the wheel horse – the one that knew his business – helped to hold back the heavy load on steep downgrades. The team, or the gentle animals in the team, were hobbled out to graze on the countryside at night.”

Many familiar names were involved in the early days of freighting goods to our community.

“J. D. Leavell began freighting in the 1870s for August Faltin from San Antonio to Comfort, and on to Kerrville for Capt. Charles Schreiner. When the rail line reached Kerrville, he switched his operations westward.

Wool wagons in the 700 block of
Water Street
“Robert C. Saner began freighting with ox teams, going sometimes to old Indianola on the coast. He continued freighting with ox teams in the later years of his business, frequently making the long haul to San Angelo.

“Other early freighters were Wade Richardson, Lee Williamson, Wiley Wyatt, Bill and Alfred Stone, Jim, Walter, and Sanford Dickey, Tom Hearn, Matt Tomberlin, Creed Taylor, Jr., Landy and Bill Howell, Louis Leinweber, John Kountz, John F. Nichols, Theo Hyde, Mark Caddell, Simon Ayala, Jim and George Holloman, John Billings, John Crane, and E. J. Rose.

“The old-time freighter braved all kinds of weather and other obstacles, but he overcame them all. He was a picturesque character who served his day and generation well.”

I cannot even imagine the hardships they endured, but it was through their efforts Kerrville and towns west were able to grow and thrive.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who started a new gig at city hall this week. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead May 16, 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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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Kerr History 101: How Kerrville really got its name

Our part of Texas before Kerr County was created.
Click on any image to enlarge.

There is a persistent story about how Kerrville got its name – but is it true?

"Joshua Brown, the founder of Kerrville, convinced the very first Kerr County commissioners court to make the county seat; Brown wanted the town to be called ‘Kerrsville’ after his friend Major James Kerr.” 

James Kerr
Parts of that are accurate: Joshua Brown did convince the very first Kerr County commissioners, at their very first meeting, to place the county seat on 640 acres of land he'd only recently purchased from the heirs of Benjamin F. Cage, for $2 per acre.

Yet the other part, about how Brown wanted the town to be named for his friend – that part might be lore.

Joshua Brown arrived here in the late 1840s, leading a group of ten men to build a shingle makers' camp beside the Guadalupe. Their plan was to cut down cypress trees, slice the trunks into disk-shaped slabs, then carefully spit those disks into rough shingles which could be further shaped by hand. The finished shingles were then hauled to market, most likely in San Antonio. It was hard work for little pay.

Neither Brown or those with him owned the land where they camped. The ground beneath them had been awarded by the State of Texas to Benjamin F. Cage. The grant read “the grant is made in consideration of Benjamin F. Cage having fought in the Battle of San Jacinto the 21st of April 1836.”

Joshua Brown bought the land which became Kerrville in 1856 from the stepsons of Cage's mother -- Cage was thought to be dead at the time of the sale, though there is some evidence he was quite alive and well and living near Blanco. And Brown bought the land at about the exact same time Kerr County was being organized. 

So – how did Kerrville get its name? Turns out there is a paper trail.

Potter, Joshua and
Sarah Brown
The creation of Kerr County in early 1856 by the Sixth Texas Legislature presented an opportunity for Joshua Brown. If he could have the county seat located on land he owned, it would allow him to sell parcels and lots to new townsfolk.

Here's how it happened:

On November 12, 1855, "Sundry citizens from the 70th district of Bexar County" petitioned the state to create a new county.

"We, the undersigned citizens residing on the Guadalupe River and its tributaries in the counties of Comal, Bexar, Gillespie, laboring under great embarrassment, owing to the remoteness from their respective county seats, and having a sufficient population to justify it, we respectfully petition for the formation of a new county so that the Guadalupe River may be central in passing through it, to include such limits and territory as your honorable body's wisdom may seem proper and reasonable."

Below were affixed over 85 names, including Joshua Brown's. I recognize quite a few of the names, like J. M. Starkey, who was an early millwright, or Fritz Tegener, who was a leader of the Unionists during the Civil War, and who barely escaped the Battle of the Nueces. There are some Burneys, some Ridleys, a Stieler, and even the first head of Kerr County government, ‘Chief Justice’ Jonathan Scott. Descendants of many of the original petitioners still live in our county.

Nowhere in the petition does it request the county be named for James Kerr.

As the bill progressed through the legislature, a provision was made that the county seat be selected by the inhabitants. The final bill called for the county to be named for James Kerr, "the first settler on the Guadalupe." James Kerr had settled on the Guadalupe near the Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s.

However, the bill also specified the county seat "shall be called ‘Kerrsville’ unless the site selected shall already have a name."

Kerr County, around 1869
The actual site of the county seat was not selected by the original county commissioners court; it was selected by a vote of the people, who chose the center of county surveys Nos. 116, 117, 118, and 119 by a whopping 26 votes. The commissioners accepted Joshua Brown's offer of a donated four-acre county square, a parcel for a school, a parcel for a church, and a parcel suitable for a public jail. Brown, at the time the commissioners accepted the site, had owned the land for only four days.

Likewise, the county commissioners did not choose the name, despite Joshua Brown's friendship with James Kerr; the Texas legislature named the community. Whether Joshua Brown had influence over the naming of the county or county seat I cannot determine, though it is possible, during the legislative process, Joshua Brown made the request to his state representative.

Some sources say Joshua Brown and James Kerr were related, through the marriage of one of Brown’s aunts. Other sources suggest Brown and Kerr knew each other from their time living in Gonzales, Texas. Both sources seem plausible.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thankful for the recent rains. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead May 9, 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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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Kerr County History 101: what's the oldest settler-made structure in Kerrville?

Searching for the oldest settler-made structure in Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Consider the old buildings in downtown Kerrville. Since Kerr County was created in 1856, what is the oldest man-made structure in downtown Kerrville?

The answer might surprise you.

It rests at the bottom of a bluff littered with debris from other, newer structures, and is hidden within a wild tangle of branches, vines, and weeds. Trash is piled in drifts at the site: food wrappers, clothes, broken glass; it's filthy.

Christian Dietert
The oldest man-made structure in Kerrville, since 1856, in my opinion, is what's left of the Christian Dietert mill, found on the bluff along the river below the 800 block of Water Street.

Most who pass by would not recognize it. It looks like a pile of stones, though parts still look very similar to their appearance at least a century ago.

To see the old mill, you have two options. You can visit One Schreiner Center, and walk out on the remains of the old ice plant and look down. Or, if you have extra energy, you can go to the pavilion at the end of Earl Garrett Street, and take the stairs down. The ruins of the old mill are just past the foot bridge that crosses the Guadalupe River below the dam in Louise Hays Park.

The remaining mill structure is older than the oldest commercial building in town, the Favorite Saloon building, at 709 Water Street. That building was built in 1874, three years before the railroad arrived in Kerrville, meaning every bit of material used in its construction was either sourced locally, or hauled here in a wagon.

The original mill on the site was built by Christian Dietert with help from Balthasar Lich around 1857. Of course that original structure was altered and improved over the years, and destroyed more than once by flood waters, and it's possible there is not an original stone left on the site from the original construction. It's my belief at least some of the old original mill remains, even if it's only the cuts in the limestone where water discharged from the water wheel.

I found a nice story about the Dieterts in an old issue of Hunter's "Frontier Times Magazine" written by T. U. Taylor in 1941.

Christian Dietert was a millwright born in Tesen, Germany, in 1827. In 1854 he voyaged to Texas with his brother William on a 4-masted sailing vessel; the trip took five months, and the pair arrived in New Braunfels in July.

The very next month Christian joined a company of 13 men who journeyed to the confluence of the Guadalupe River and Cypress Creek to survey a tract of land and help lay out the town of Comfort.

In 1855 Christian Dietert built a mill on Cypress Creek, but only two months after completion, the little mill had to be abandoned: Cypress Creek ran dry, and the mill was discarded for lack of water power.

That same year he married Miss Rosalie Hess, who had only recently arrived from Jena, Germany. She was nineteen years old, five foot two, and weighed an even 100 pounds. She was tiny.

In 1856 Christian Dietert's parents, two brothers, and a sister joined him in Comfort. Perhaps not surprisingly, Christian Dietert and his new wife moved to Fredericksburg early the next year. Perhaps there was just "too much family" in the little town of Comfort.

While in Fredericksburg, Dietert helped construct the Van der Stucken mill, and toward the end of the year, Christian Dietert and his bride moved to Kerrville.

It was 1857, and the town of "Kerrsville" was still a rough frontier place. The article suggests there were only five one-roomed huts in the entire village.

The Dieterts bought a tract along the river in Kerville -- a tract which stretched from today's Earl Garrett Street to A Street. (What a nice little stretch of the river!)

There he built a shingle mill, using horse power until he could construct a water wheel, "with which he later sawed lumber from the Cypress trees growing along the banks of the river." The mill stood about where One Schreiner Center is today.

A flood a year or so later washed the first Kerrville mill away. Lacking funds to build anew, the couple moved back to Fredericksburg, where Dietert helped build a grist and saw mill on Live Oak Creek for a Mr. C. H. Guenther.

After only a few months of operation a flood washed away the mill and even the waterwheel.

So back to Kerrville the Dieterts came, building a new mill on the site of the old. No flood destroyed this new Dietert mill, though. It burned down instead.

Offered work building a mill in Comfort, and seeking a school for his children, the Dieterts moved again. During this same time he built a mill for his brother William, who lived in Boerne.

Finally, in 1866, the Dieterts moved back to Kerrville, this time to stay. Although another mill he built washed away in a flood, in 1868 he came up with an "under water iron turbine," and a "old type of flour mill consisting of two large stones, the lower a flat stational stone with a somewhat conical shaped stone above it, which in revolving crushed and ground the grain into flour."

The mill was successful and ground wheat, corn, and also operated a sawmill.

Though Dietert would build more mills, and even freighted for the Confederate government during the Civil War, Kerrville remained his home, even after he sold his mill to Captain Charles Schreiner.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has clambered over the ruins of Christian Dietert's mill since he was a boy. It was easier back then. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead May 2, 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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