Sunday, August 8, 2010

It Could Have Been Beckville. Really.

As part of the history series I’m offering here over the next few weeks, I thought I’d include the story of the Beck family because it leads nicely to another story I’d like to tell next week. So, from my dusty history files, I offer you their story: the story of Rebecca E. Beck and her two sons, Alfred and Paleman.
Rebecca E. Beck, through a tragedy, once owned all of Old Town Kerrville, and although she never set foot on the land that would someday be our county seat, it was a place that touched her emotions.
Rebecca Beck, you say. Never heard of her, I guess. How about her husband, Abraham?
Well, I guess it would be hard to remember them since they never came here. But to think that all of Old Town Kerrville was once owned by this lady that lived in Indiana – a tract of 640 acres, owned by a woman that lived that far away, in the snow country. They lived up in Boone County, Indiana, coming there from Wilson County, Tennessee.
The land had been owned by her son, Benjamin, a son from her first marriage. He never saw the land either, although it had been given him by the State of Texas in a deed signed by its governor, J. Pinckney Henderson. 640 acres “lying in the Bexar District on the Guadalupe River, fifty-five miles northwest of San Antonio.”
Benjamin had died in 1839, probably near San Antonio, and was buried there. The circumstances of his death are a mystery. When he died, the land went to his mother, his sole heir.
Joshua D. Brown
He had moved to Texas in 1832. By 1836 he found himself a part of a ragged group of 400 volunteers facing a well-equipped army of 1600 at a place called San Jacinto. The deed read “the grant is made in consideration of Benjamin F. Cage having fought in the Battle of San Jacinto the 21st of April 1836.” Another veteran of this same battle would buy the tract – but more on that later.
So Mrs. Beck owned Kerrville, and it wasn’t going to do her a bit of good in Indiana. In fact, at the time, it wouldn’t have done her any good if she had moved down here: at the time of her son’s death, in 1839, it was just raw land where Indian tribes roamed. What she inherited was the land that would become Kerrville; she did the sensible thing and used it to help her other sons.
Those sons, Alfred D. Beck and Paleman A. Beck, were given the land by their mother, and Alfred would sell the land to a fellow resident of Gonzales, Texas, one Joshua D. Brown.
Joshua D. Brown, another hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, had explored the upper reaches of the Guadalupe River and decided that profitable shingle making could be made there. Born in Kentucky in 1816, he came to Texas at the age of 14, coming to DeWitt’s colony at Gonzales, where James Kerr was an official. Brown was 20 when he fought at San Jacinto. In 1844 he moved up the Guadalupe River to a site called Curry’s Creek, in what is now Kendall County. Shingle making was making a strong showing at Curry’s Creek, and soon all of the nearby cypress trees were felled. Following a rumor that giant cypress trees were further upriver, Brown explored the area now known as Kerrville in 1846. He was thirty.
Soon he organized a group of ten men to start a shingle camp, which they built near today’s Old Town district. Within a few months the Indians of the region had run them out. Two years later, in 1848, they returned and built a more permanent (and more easily defended) camp roughly where One Schreiner Center is today, in the 800 block of Water Street.
On May 15th, 1856, Joshua Brown bought 640 acres from Alfred D. Beck (Rebecca’s son), for $2 an acre. Four days later the first commissioner’s court meeting of Kerr County was held. The next day, May 20th, the court accepted Mr. Brown’s proposal to “locate the county site of Kerr County on Survey 116, owned by said Brown and that said Brown shall make a good and satisfactory warranty deed to said county to at least four acres of land for a public square; and all the streets that may be laid out in the town plat, said streets leading out from the public square for county use to be eighty feet wide, and all cross streets to be sixty feet wide; one choice good sized lot fronting on the public square for county use, one lot suitable for public church, one lot suitable for public school house, one lot suitable for public jail, and that the above be received on the above named conditions.”
Such a deed was drawn up by October of that year.
Had the brothers Beck not sold the land to Brown, who knows how the story of Kerrville would have unfolded. One thing is for sure, had a town been formed here by the Becks it almost certainly would not have been named for Brown’s friend, James Kerr. James Kerr, according to all the evidence I’ve seen, never once visited the town or county named for him.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was born and works daily in the B. F. Cage grant.
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