Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A piece written for Kerr County's Sesquicentennial (2006)

I found this short piece in my files today, while working on my next Kerrville book.  I liked it (if it's ok to say that about something I've written), and I hope you find it enjoyable, too.  Joshua Brown was so young when he came here that first time.
* * *
Joshua and Sarah Brown, with their youngest
child, Potter Brown, around 1873
One hundred and fifty years ago a group of people living in this place petitioned the state to create the county we now call home. The county created has changed boundaries several times since its inception, but the idea of this place as special, as blessed, has not changed from the moment a solitary shingle maker on horseback first scouted the area in the mid-1840s.
I have tried to imagine that ride and the rider.
 Joshua D. Brown, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, explored the upper reaches of the Guadalupe River and decided shingle making could be profitable 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 going strong at Curry's Creek, and soon many of the nearby cypress trees were felled. Following a rumor that giant cypress trees were farther upriver, Brown explored the area now known as Kerrville in 1846. He was 30.
What did he see here?
From my collection of Kerr County photographs, I know our river valley has changed in the past 100 years. The earliest photos in my collection show a place with far fewer trees than we have today; I don't see a lot of juniper trees in the photos, and the giant trees we have in our yards and along our older streets were not yet planted. There still were trees along the river (Brown and his shingle makers didn't cut them all), but the area that would soon hold the grid of streets of which we're familiar is oddly barren of trees.
Photos of our area, taken earlier than 1900, are scarce because cameras were scarce. So there's no accurate way to guess what Joshua Brown saw when he first visited on horseback. It was a valley absent of the landmarks with which we're so familiar. There were no limestone buildings, no traffic lights, no courthouse, no stores, no bridges. It was a face lacking the creases of expression. The web of tales we hold to this place had yet to be written. The lives had yet to be lived.
It would be tempting to take a romantic view of the place as you imagine what Joshua Brown saw when he came here. The pristine beauty of this place, from our present-day point of view, must have been breathtaking.
But to Brown all of the land he'd traveled was pristine. It was all untouched, unspoiled.
Traveling in 1846 in any direction from Curry's Creek, it would have been harder to find developed, populated land than to find what today we might consider a Hill Countiy Garden of Eden. It was all Eden.
Why then did he pick this place? Partly for the cypress trees. Brown's solitary expedition was economically motivated. The availability of water might have been another factor. The nearness of German settlements might have played a role. The apparent absence of Native American activity also might have influenced the choice.
History records Brown's response to the area. He was excited by what he found.
He returned to Goliad and recruited a band of 10 men to join him in establishing a shingle-making camp here.
They weren't prepared for life here. In their excitement, they neglected to prepare for one of the constant factors of the Hill Country frontier. In the history I've read, the quote says "the Indians proved troublesome," and Brown and his companions were forced to leave the valley within a few months.
But the idea of the place stuck with Brown, and he returned two years later in 1848. This time he was better prepared and chose as the site of his camp a bluff which was more easily defended, where the 800 block of Water Street is today. And this time, the community took hold.
Only eight years after this shaky beginning, Kerr County was created. It was named for a friend of Joshua Brown, James Kerr, a leader in the early affairs of Texas.
So this year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the creation of a county. Really, in the long story of man, 150 years is less than a blink.
Recently, I found near Old Town Kerrville relics of an earlier community that lived in our river valley about the time of the Egyptians were building the pyramids.
The stone tools they left scattered in the dirt remind us we're not the first tribe to see these hills, to drink from this river, to live and die here.
We may not be the first tribe to live here, but since Joshua Brown first passed this way on horseback, we've known this place, nestled in the curving arm of a green river, is a great place to call our home.


  1. Joe,

    I like this article, too.

    You write very well.

    What part of Kerrville is called "Old Town?"

    Is it what we refer to as downtown, or originally, was Kerrville located in a different area?

    1. "Old Town" was a term for the 600-800 blocks of Water and the 100-300 blocks of Earl Garrett plus about the 100-300 blocks of Sidney Baker. The commercial area around the courthouse, which is the earliest platted part of town. Downtown, basically. Hope this helps.

  2. Thank you so much for the informative article on Joshua Brown. My family shares the Goss-Brown Cemetery and I always appreciate learning more of my family history.
    Rebecca Goss Collins

  3. My friend has a Ranch in Kendall County on the Guadalupe River and it has an old farm house built in 1861 by the Koepke family. There is an older shed they lived in before building the l861 house. I retrieved a shingle from the roof and it had the name Van Etten stamped on it along with some other printing I can't read. I was wondering if it might have been from the company Joshua Brown worked with on Curry's Creek. Can you shed any light on the subject?
    Rebecca Goss Collins

    1. Can you email me a photo of the Van Etten stamp? Can you send me a photo of the Koepke house? I would sure like to see them.

  4. Mary Grace Ketner (Mother was Virginia Goss Klingemann)June 26, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Joe, a funny thing happened when I went to Gonzales, TX in the 1980s to look up some Goss/Brown ancestors. I found all the land, marriage, and will information I was looking for and more, and when I dropped back by the county archivist's office to thank her, she had a visitor who asked whose information I had been researching.
    I told her Joshua D. Brown, figuring he was the best-known name of the bunch, and she said, "Oh, do you know anything about his second wife?"

    At first I thought, "Theirs was a lifelong marriage! There was no second wife!"

    Then she said, "He and his second wife named their first daughter 'Eleanor.'"

    Well, Sarah's first child was a daughter named Eleanor! Sarah *was* the second wife!

    Turns out, Brown had been married to an Ellen Stuckey, one of two Stuckey sisters whose father had gotten into some legal trouble (involving a murder, actually) in Georgia, so moved west. Ellen died in childbirth, and the visitor lady, a descendent of the other Stuckey daughter, thought the second wife's baby's given name might have been a memorial to her great-great Aunt Ellen, the first wife. Could be!

    1. Thanks for this wonderful information. Any of your notes you'd care to share, I'd love to see.
      We were next door neighbors to the Klingemanns on Meadow Ridge.

  5. Hello, I am researching my Kolodzey family roots. From family letters from 1893 - 1904, I have learned that I had a great great aunt named Isabel Hencerling who married John Kolodzey. They moved to Kerrville (1920 - 1935) due to his illness (believe TB) and opened saddlery business. Do you have photos of businesses from this time period that might include Kolodzey Saddlery in Kerrville? Thank you for your time!


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