Monday, June 27, 2011

A rare photo of a bygone time in Kerrville

Amazing historic items come across my desk every week, but a few weeks ago a very special photograph was given to me by two kind readers of this column.
Click on any image to enlarge
The photo -- around 1900, Kerrville, at the West Texas Fair Grounds.
It is a photograph taken at the West Texas Fairgrounds, of several "camps" of the Woodmen of the World, taken sometime around the turn of the last century. The West Texas Fairgrounds were in Kerrville, to the west of Town Creek, somewhere in the neighborhood of Hugo and Starkey Streets. The photo includes around 100 people, grouped for a portrait, in period dress.
Kerrville Camp
It is a wonderful image of a time and place, showing a crowd of folks looking solemnly at the camera. Smiles are few. These folks were serious. Most of the women are wearing straw hats -- most of the men are wearing felt hats, so I'm not exactly sure what time of year it is.
Centre Point Camp
The banners of two camps can be plainly seen; one from Kerrville and one from "Centre" Point.
The Woodmen of the World, as far as I can tell, was founded 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska by Joseph Cullen Root, as a fraternal and life insurance organization. It was designed to help protect families from the financial distress of the loss of a loved one.
It didn't take long for the organization to reach Kerrville; the "Cypress Camp No. 58" is mentioned in a front-page story in the "Kerrville Paper" on January 26, 1895.
Child on goat.
"The Woodmen held a meeting one night this week and the manner of gaining admittance into and the ceremony of opening the lodge or camp was overheard and witnessed by a 'profane,' who afterward to us the story.
"He says that each member of the camp carried a stick of stove wood to the meeting. Ascending the outside stairway, he gave three raps on the door, which alarm was answered in the manner from within, and the following conversation ensued:
"Inside Guard -- 'Who comes here?'
"Member outside responds in a low voice -- 'Wood.'
"Inside Guard adds -- 'Up.'
". . . throwing open the door the Inside Guard says: 'My brother, seeing you come prepared to wood up, you have my permission to enter.'
"This ceremony is called 'working his way into the camp.'
The story goes into great detail about the actions of the members once inside, noting that upon command from the presiding officer to "Wood Up!" the members place their wood upon a grate in the center of the room, which is later lit into a roaring fire.

Bored baseball players waiting to play
I noted at once, as did the writer in 1895, that it was unusual to build a bonfire in the second story of a downtown frame structure, and further noted that building described no longer exists -- perhaps it burned down long ago.
"Suppose the house should catch fire," the story asks, "and all the men inside, finding the only door of egress closely guarded by an officer having a sharp tomahawk in his hand, should be roasted alive?"
The writer, who seems also to have been an agent, answers like this:
"His untimely death would make his family rich . . . Each Woodman, having a death benefit certificate safely deposited with his wife at home, can take the risk of being burned alive, killed by a runaway horse, or shot to death on his way home by someone giving an alarm of fire by reckless shooting in the streets."

Race results that day
The true humor of the short piece comes at the end, when the writer noted that the lodge meeting took place in the building next to the post office, that no member of the Cypress Camp had ever been known to purchase stove wood, that Postmaster Enderle's woodpile is close to the fence, and although the postmaster kept his bucksaw busy, his woodpile never grew higher, even though he had surrounded it with barbed wire, and had recently lost two watch dogs to poison.
I have noticed, while visiting the Glen Rest cemetery next to Schreiner College grave markers that look like stumps, with the Woodmen of the World seal and the latin motto reading Dum Tacet Clamat, which I'm told roughly translates to "though silent he speaks," although I'm not sure.
Some of those buried there were no doubt in that upper room, their faces aglow in the bright fire before them, uttering in a low voice, "Wood Up."

I'm fairly certain the photo I have was taken between July 4, 1896 and July 3, 1908, because of the 45-star U. S. flag one of the gentleman is holding. The photo is black and white and measures 7 inches tall by 26 inches wide.

Some of the women.  Note their sashes.
I'm thankful for the gift of the photo -- and I've really enjoyed studying it. I'll post the photo, as well as some images of its detail, on my blog Monday morning. To see the photo, visit
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville historic items.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 25, 2011.
For more information about Joe's book, which has over 200 historic photographs
 of Kerrville, please click here.


  1. Very interesting photos!

  2. Joe - fascinating! Quite a bit of research you did there! Who knew?? Thank you for sharing!


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