Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chapter 2: The surprising fact about James Kerr

Major James Kerr
A chance meeting with Walter Womack, a descendent of Major James Kerr, intrigued me because of one small comment Mr. Womack made: “You know,” he told me, “there is one thing few people know about James Kerr.”
James Kerr, you may remember, is the person for whom our county and Kerrville are named. Joshua D. Brown, the founder of our community, named the small village he’d begun after his friend; the state, in 1856, named our county after him. Yet it’s unlikely he ever visited the community which carries his name, and he never knew of the honor the state had given him, since he’d died years before the county was named.
Little is known about Major James Kerr – it would be hard to fill up several pages with facts about his life – and the few sources of information we have tend to be repeated in only a few older books – so gaining new information about this man is always helpful (and somewhat rare).
In my last post I reported that Mr. Womack had sent me a link to a sketch written in 1957 by Maj. Gen. James Kerr Crain, himself a distinguished Texan from Lavaca and DeWitt counties, a graduate of West Point and an Army veteran of both World Wars. Our Major Kerr was Crain’s great-grandfather.
Major James Kerr was born in Boyle County, Kentucky, on September 24, 1790, one of ten children born to a circuit-riding Baptist preacher and a woman named Patience.
“Despite the fact their father was a minister of the gospel,” writes James Crain, “or perhaps because of that fact, the Kerr boys were not overly observant of his precepts. On one occasion just as the Reverend James Kerr's small congregation was emerging from a Sunday morning service a group of whooping boys came rushing by with one of their number astride an astonished and cavorting cow, The scandalized preacher recognized the equally horrified rider as his son James. Thus James junior gave early indication of a fondness for the unconventional. Perhaps he had inherited it from that part of his father's character that had led the latter to elope to the wilderness with little more than a charming bride and a single horse.”
Our Major James Kerr served in the War of 1812.
“The Adjutant General of the Army wrote … that one James Kerr served in the War of l812 as a sergeant in a company designated at various times as Captain Daniel M. Boone's [the son of the famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone] and Captain James Callaway's Company of Mounted Rangers, United States Volunteers. His Federal service began 19 May 1813; was reduced to private 14 January 1814, and his service ended 19 May 1814. The Adjutant General of Missouri sent me a copy of the receipt roll signed by James Kerr for his pay and allowances for the period April 29-May 18th 1813, while in the service of the Territory. The amounts covered by the receipt are interesting because of their size. It is startling to note that for twenty days service his pay was $5.17; and his subsistence allowance was twenty-eight cents! Not quite a cent and a half a day. His travel pay was fifty cents. But his allowance for his horses was $48.00 which was more than his pay plus all other allowances.”
The sketch includes an account of Kerr’s actions as a soldier:
“In 1813 he was second in command to Captain Boone in Boone's defeat on the Illinois River, and Kerr received great praise for his conduct during the retreat. During that same summer he and two others were ambushed by seventeen Indians at the mouth of the Salt River in Missouri. in the ensuing fight his horse was wounded three times and finally killed under him. The party escaped because of his cool daring and a well contrived ruse. My mother told me the ruse consisted in securing a camp kettle to the end of a log to represent a cannon, and the Indians were unwilling to close in on what they thought to be that much feared weapon.”
Clever, indeed.
Well, I’ve done it again: I’ve run out of space before coming to the new information I’ve found about Major James Kerr. I hope I’ll be able to get it all my next post.
Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thinking about writing a book on the history of our area.  You can connect with Joe on Facebook at or on Twitter at  You can also get email updates when new articles are posted by clicking here.

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