Monday, August 8, 2011

This Week's Column: The definition of distance has changed.

Driving back from Fort Davis this week with Ms. Carolyn, I had plenty of time to think about the great distances between communities in our state, and about how we take distance for granted.
We traveled in comfort from Fort Davis to Kerrville in a few hours, stopping for a pleasant lunch in Fort Stockton.
When the Fort Davis was built, though, to protect the San Antonio to El Paso road, a few hours' drive would have gotten you about ten miles down the road. But that road was vital to the communities it served.
Consider the problem of filling merchants' shelves if your only way to transport goods to a store involved a wagon and mules or oxen. The trip would have been terribly hot in the summer, and frighteningly cold in the winter. And there were dangers along the way, from natural hazards to roving bands of armed men intent on diverting goods to their own use.
“It was a real accomplishment for a freighter to haul a load of several thousand pounds on two or three wagons trailing one behind the other for a distance of a hundred miles or more,” writes Bob Bennett in his excellent history of our county. “During rainy seasons it was a real problem to keep Junction, Rocksprings and other towns supplied with the necessities of life. These inland communities often ran short of flour and other staple food items because the freight caravan was marooned somewhere on a muddy road en route from Kerrville.”
Kerrville, because it was connected to markets by a railroad in 1887, became the supplier of most of the outlying towns nearby, a role it continues to play even now that the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad is long gone. When the interstate highway came through town in the 1970s it helped our community retain this niche.
Before the railroad came to Kerrville, freighters hauled goods to Kerrville from San Antonio and even from “old Indianola” on the Texas coast.
Again, from Bennett: “In the early days the wagons were pulled by ox teams, often several yokes to the wagon. Later mules and horses supplanted the plodding oxen. Teams of horses and mules ranged from two to twelve. That was before the day of highways and it required expert teamsters to handle a team over the rough and steep hill roads.
“L. F. Pope was a colorful teamster of the pre-railroad era. He started in the days of freighting from San Antonio and continued westward when the railway terminus reached Kerrville. Old timers said Pope could hitch a team of several horses by the time others less versed in the vocation could hitch two horses.
Ox Team, Kerrville,
turn of the last century
“Bells were often used on the lead horses in the teams and the wheel horse – the one that knew his business – helped to hold back the heavy load on steep downgrades. The team, or the gentle animals in the team, were hobbled out to graze on the countryside at night.”
Many familiar names were involved in the early days of freighting goods to our community.
“J. D. Leavell began freighting in the 1870s for August Faltin from San Antonio to Comfort, and on to Kerrville for Capt. Charles Schreiner. When the rail line reached Kerrville he switched his operations westward.
“Robert C. Saner began freighting with ox teams, going sometimes to old Indianola on the coast. He continued freighting with ox teams in the later years of his business, frequently making the long haul to San Angelo.
“Other early freighters were Wade Richardson, Lee Williamson, Wiley Wyatt, Bill and Alfred Stone, Jim, Walter, and Sanford Dickey, Tom Hearn, Matt Tomberlin, Creed Taylor, Jr., Landy and Bill Howell, Louis Leinweber, John Kountz, John F. Nichols, Theo Hyde, Mark Caddell, Simon Ayala, Jim and George Holloman, John Billings, John Crane, and E. J. Rose.
“The old-time freighter braved all kinds of weather and other obstacles, but he overcame them all. He was a picturesque character who served his day and generation well.”
I cannot even imagine the hardships they endured, but it was through their efforts Kerrville and towns west were able to grow and thrive.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who, as of last Sunday, has been married 29 years to the lovely Ms. Carolyn.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 6, 2011


  1. Wade Richardson was my great-grandfather. Our family has many colorful stories, as well as a tasty chili recipe, that came from him. One story that I recall my dad telling me was that one time he was hauling several kegs of nails from San Antonio for Capt. Schreiner. When he arrived in Kerrville, Capt. Schreiner came out and examined all of the kegs of nails. One keg had an X drawn on it. He opened that one up and it was filled with gold coins instead of nails. He was hauling a fortune without even knowing it!

  2. I love the Steven D story about the gold coins.

  3. Joe,
    Congratulations to you and Ms. Carolyn on your 29th Anniversary.


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