Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chapter 3: Something you didn't know about James Kerr

Maj. James Kerr
It’s true. There is something about Major James Kerr that few people in Kerrville know. I have used the past two columns trying to get to the new information, though limitations of space have prevented me (so far) from reporting what I’ve learned.
And it’s also true, if we followed the historical fact I’ve learned, it would change the way we think about our community’s name.
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 Kerr ever visited the community which carries his name, and he never knew of the honor the state had given him when it named the county for him, since he’d died years before the frontier county was named.
But before I get into the Kerr story, I noticed what has become a community-wide scavenger hunt for special rabbit hats, each of which can be traded for a pair of free tickets to the Point Theater production of “Harvey.” The hats, hidden around town, come in several colors and are all “modified” to accommodate a six-foot-tall rabbit. If you find one, simply take it to the Point Theater’s box office for a pair of free tickets to the show.
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).
Last week I reported that Mr. Womack sent me a link to a sketch written in 1957 by Maj. Gen. James Kerr Crain, a descendent of Major James Kerr.
“After the war [of 1812] ended,” writes Gen. Crain, “James Kerr was elected Sheriff of St. Charles County [Missouri], then extending to Boone's Lick. He held the position of sheriff for four years. On July 23, 1818, James married Angeline Caldwell of Ste. Genevieve County. She was the daughter of Major James Caldwell.” 
This marriage, and an odd conflict Kerr had with his father-in-law, are the reason Kerr and his family decided to move to Texas. If it weren’t for a Missouri state senate election, who knows what our community would be named today.
“In 1819 or 1820 the young couple moved to Ste. Genevieve County to live,” writes Crain. “Kerr’s father in law, Major Caldwell, was one of the most popular men in Missouri. He had lived in Kentucky before removing to Missouri and had represented Harrison County in the lower branch of the Kentucky Legislature in the years 1800, 1807, and 1808. Angeline Caldwell was born in Kentucky on February 8. 1802.
“James Kerr was very popular with the young man of the community, and in 1822 he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. Major Caldwell was at that time a member of the State Senate, and then occurred on of those unfortunate events which change the lives and destinies of men. In 1824, against the wishes of James Kerr, he was elected to the State Senate defeating his father-in-law Major Caldwell. The old gentleman was so indignant at his first political defeat, and this at the hands of his son-in-law, from that time he refused to speak to him. 
“Because of this unpleasant situation and because of his wife's health, James Kerr that same year resigned his seat in the State Senate which had been thrust upon him, and made plans to move to Texas. Green DeWitt of Ralls County, Missouri, was interested in organizing a colony to go to Texas, and James Kerr agreed to assist DeWitt and to become surveyor of the colony.”
Well, I’ve done it again. I haven’t made it to the one new thing I’ve learned about Major James Kerr. I hope you’ll bear with me; I’ll try to get it all squeezed in next week.
Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would make a lousy radio announcer.
 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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