Monday, August 2, 2010

Chapter 5: A little-known fact about James Kerr

James Kerr
I apologize for dragging this out, but the story of Major James Kerr deserves a complete telling. After all, we say his name every day when we say “Kerrville,” or “Kerr County.” When I found out something about James Kerr that would change the way we think of our community’s namesake, I knew I had to tell it in a series of columns.
Yes, there is something about Major James Kerr that few people in Kerrville know. In fact, I think there are only three people in Kerr County (outside my family) that know this fact about Kerr: Clarabelle Snodgrass, Ann Bethel, and myself.
I have used the past several columns trying to get to the new information, though limitations of space have prevented me (so far) from reporting what I’ve learned.
(This series of articles began after 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.”)
So please be patient with me. I’m getting to it. There is some background information I need to share first – the story of James Kerr and his family. In last week’s column, the Kerrs moved to Texas, but tragedy struck. Kerr’s young wife and two of his three children died soon after their arrival in Texas.
“It was the year 1825 when the Kerrs started for Texas,” writes James Kerr Crain, a descendant of James Kerr, in a 1957 biographical sketch. “within a few months after reaching [Texas] only the father and the three year old daughter remained of the happy family of five.
“The little girl, Mary Margaret, was left at San Felipe in the care of Mrs. Pettus [the woman who had cared for the girl after Mrs. Kerr died], and the small party, resumed their march to the site of their new settlement.
“Kerr named it Gonzales in honor of the Governor of Coahuila to which state the province of Texas was attached. Deaf Smith, the famous scout who was later to be sent by General Sam Houston to burn the bridge over Vinces Bayou before the battle of San Jacinto, was a member of the Kerr party.
“The young settlement, the first American settlement on the Guadalupe River, had but a short life. Kerr was absent on a business trip when an Indian was caught in some petty theft. He was given a severe flogging which was a great mistake and was due to a lack of knowledge of Indian psychology. The flogging would not have occurred had Kerr been present for he had had considerable experience with [Indians]. The outraged [Indian] returned with a war party and found the whites dispersed. The majority of the settlers were on their way to a dance on the Colorado to celebrate the Fourth of July, while a few remained at Gonzales. The travelers were attacked at night, and while their casualties were slight their horses were driven off which left them stranded afoot. They returned to Gonzales to find their dwellings partially burned and deserted save for one unfortunate man dead and scalped. The harassed settlers started once more for the Colorado settlement where they arrived safe but weary and destitute.
“When Kerr returned and learned of the raid he decided that his advanced position on the Guadalupe was untenable with the Indians unfriendly. He then withdrew his settlement to a point nearer the seacoast and within closer supporting distance to other settlers. It was in October, 1826, that he moved to the Lavaca River and built a fort long known as the ‘Old Station.’
“Major Kerr remained the Surveyor of DeWitt's colony for several years, but continued to reside on the Lavaca. He became also the Surveyor of DeLeon's colony and surveyed most of its lands, including the city of Victoria. At that time there were in use several ‘varas’ (Spanish unit of length). James Kerr resolved this confusion by establishing one ‘vara’ alone as the proper standard and the vara be established is still the legal vara where that unit of measure appears in deeds and other documents. When DeWitt moved his settlers from the ‘Old Station’ to the re-established Gonzales on the Guadalupe River, Major Kerr was left alone; for some time he had no neighbor within fifty miles. By his knowledge of the Indians and his fair dealings with them he obtained and held their friendship. However, the next few years brought into this neighborhood a number of families. And this enabled Major Kerr to bring his little daughter Mary Margaret to his frontier home.”
Well, at least I’m closer to the surprising new information about Major James Kerr. Hopefully I’ll get it squeezed in my next post.
Until then, all the best.

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  1. I can't find Chapter 6 of the James Kerr articles.

    What was the new information about Major James Kerr?


  2. Visit


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