Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chapter 7: James Kerr: Mystery Revealed, Mystery Solved

James Kerr
Ms. Carolyn told me to stop it. “You’ve stretched out this story on Major James Kerr long enough,” she said. “Tell them what you’ve learned about him with this post, the one thing few people know about him.”
And so I will.
Major James Kerr, for whom our city and county were named, was quite an interesting fellow. I’ve used the last few columns telling you some of his story. This series of articles began after a chance meeting with Walter Womack, a descendent of Major James Kerr. He intrigued me with one comment: “You know, there is one thing few people know about James Kerr.”
It’s true. One thing few people know about the man whose name we say almost every day.
Some might think the fact that James Kerr spent the last few years of his life practicing medicine would be the one surprising thing I’ve learned. On the frontier medical knowledge was in great demand, and James Kerr, after the tragic loss of his first wife and three of his children, knew firsthand the tragedies that pioneer families faced when disease or misfortune struck. According to an excellent oral history prepared by Ann Bethel, of the Kerr County Historical Commission, on New Year’s Day, 1846, Dr. James B. P. January a physician of Jackson County granted Kerr a license to practice medicine. Kerr charged $2 for a regular call, $5 for a night call, and an extra $5 if he had to sit up all night with a patient.
One particular patient’s account tells a lot about the practice of medicine on the frontier, the account of his visit with the wife of Samuel McCullouch, Locola. “In a 2-day struggle for her life, Kerr bled her three times, administered medicine costing $6 and ran a bill totaling $30 before she died at one-half past 4 pm. Kerr then sold McCulloch ‘forty feet of planks’ for her coffin.”
But Kerr’s medical practice is not the one surprising thing I learned about James Kerr.
Nor would it be Jack Auld’s relating how his forebear, Joshua Brown (who founded Kerrville) served in the Texas Revolutionary War alongside James Kerr. According to Auld, the pair were a part of a group tasked with disrupting Mexican military supply lines. They would find a freight wagon train, wait for an opportune moment, steal up quietly, and remove the ‘lug nuts’ which held the wagon wheel onto the axle, then ride away like the wind, leaving the wagon stranded with its load of vital military supplies. It was an effective way to cripple the advancing Mexican army, but it was a highly dangerous mission. I’m hoping Mr. Auld will tell me more stories about Joshua Brown soon.
No, the one thing I learned about James Kerr – the one thing I’ve been keeping back from these pages for more than a month – has been corroborated by two different members of the James Kerr family. Both Walter Womack and Ruth Simons (Kerr) Ray, who was interviewed by Ann Bethel and Clarabelle Snodgrass for the useful oral history I mentioned above – both members of the family say the same thing. This new piece information solves an old mystery for me: why on Earth did Joshua Brown originally name our community “Kerrsville?”
I can see why the ‘s’ was dropped in the 1860s; while most people would probably pronounce the name ‘Kerrzville,’ a few might pronounce it where it sounded like ‘Curse-ville.’ The ‘s’ had to go.
Both Walter Womack and Ruth Simons Ray say that Major James Kerr pronounced his name as if it were spelled “Karr.” They both say the family pronounces the name as if it rhymes with the word “Car.”
“It’s always been ‘Karr’ and they even call it ‘Karr’ in Gonzales,” Ms. Ray told Bethel and Snodgrass.
Joshua Brown, who had served in the Texas Revolution with James Kerr, who was a great friend of James Kerr, would have pronounced his Kerr’s name as Kerr himself pronounced it. When Joshua Brown named our community, when he said the name himself, I’m almost positive he pronounced it “Karrzville.” As newcomers came to town they changed the pronunciation to reflect how the name is spelled. I’m sure some of the original settlers tried to correct the pronunciation for several decades and then finally gave up.
There. I hope it’s been worth the wait, reading about the life of Major James Kerr for these many posts, and I hope you agree with me. This one new piece of information does change the way one thinks about the name of our community and county.
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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this story about James Kerr.

    Thank you for this posting.


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