Sunday, August 1, 2010

An Overlooked Overlook

Joshua D. Brown
Years ago, my friend Darrell Lochte took me over to the site so I could picture it better, and although I had heard the story a hundred times growing up here, finally the tale took on life.
The late Mr. Lochte was a Kerrville native with a keen sense of history. He served his country in the armed forces, flying in Europe during World War II; his community as County Attorney and as a director of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority. He was also an avid fly-fisherman. I was lucky that he shared a few stories with me.
The site we visited was Joshua Brown’s shingle camp – where the first folks of European descent settled in what would later become Kerrville.

Joshua Brown and his band came here to cut shingles from the cypress trees that were abundant along the banks of the Guadalupe. I’ve seen demonstrations of the work: a block of cypress would be ‘shaved’ with a drawknife into rough shingles. If I were to work all day at this, I’d probably get about 3 shingles made, and they would be rejects. The shingles would be bundled and put on a wagon to be hauled to market; the nearest market was San Antonio, and it was a long ride away, through country that wasn’t easy for hauling. Not exactly your basic ‘get-rich-quick-scheme,’ but at the time it offered hard cash to Brown & Company in a land that had plenty of resources but little money.
And then there were the Indians.
They ran Brown and his group back to Gonzales shortly after their arrival here. Not only was our town in the middle of the Comanche’s territory, it was a major exit on the Comanche Trace, a trail frequented by the roving bands of the fierce Indians.
But the lure of industry and land was strong, and the settlers returned – to the site we visited earlier this year, on a warm and windy winter day.
Now, the site isn’t hidden away from view, out some country road past the third cattle guard: it’s right in the middle of Old Town, at the intersection of Water and Washington Streets, where the parking lot for the One Schreiner Center is today. The shingle camp was there – between today’s fountain that sports the young liveoak trees and the weed covered “Spring Street,” that's marked only by a single street sign.
Standing there with the wind blowing full and the sun shining down on us, Mr. Lochte and I looked out over the river below from atop what’s left of the old ice plant. Through the chain link fence we saw the tops of surviving cypress trees, the hills of Kerrville South with their random dots of houses. Up there you can hear the sound of the water as it breaks over a little fall at the base of the bluff. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to see what the Brown group saw when they first came here.
It was a good defendable position, Mr. Lochte pointed out. On the high bluff, the shingle-makers could overlook the Trace below; just downstream was a deep gully, and upstream was town creek. Behind them was the flat basin of the river valley, to the hills of the Myrta/ Wheless region. They could see a long way from that point, and given the weapons of the time, a clear line of sight was an important advantage.
No marker points out the spot where Kerrville started, but you can visit it today and see for yourself the hills and river that brought a determined band of shingle-makers into this valley. Descendents of Mr. Brown still live here.

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