Monday, January 28, 2013

Kerr County's First Courthouse and First Trial

This past week I served as a juror in the Kerr County courthouse, and during my time there I realized I have never written much about the history of the juries or trials of the early days of Kerr County.
With the aid of the Internet, I looked up some of the old columns J. J. Starkey wrote about the history of our community when he was editor and publisher of the Kerrville Times. The series he wrote about the courthouses was published in the summer of 1931.
(These columns by Starkey were the basis of Bob Bennett's book of Kerr County history, probably the best history book of our community, which I also consulted.)
The very first session of the Kerr County Commissioners Court was not held in Kerrville, but at Commissioner George M. Ridley's farm opposite Center Point, either in Mr. Ridley's home or in a brush arbor on his place.
The first problem for the new court was to provide a place for the new county to conduct its business. On May 20, 1856 the commissioners accepted land from Joshua D. Brown, a site located in Survey No. 116, where the beginnings of Kerrville "had probably already begun."
According to that morning's proceedings, the commissioners directed the Brown "shall make a good and satisfactory warrantee deed to said county to at least four acres of land for a public square, all the streets that may be laid out in the town plat, said streets leading out from the public square to be eighty feet wide and the cross streets to be sixty feet wide; one choice good lt fronting on the public square for county use, one lot in suitable place for public church, one lot in suitable place for public school house, one lot in suitable place for jail."
It was a busy meeting for the first commissioners court; they also authorized a contract for the first courthouse, ordering "that there be a contract made by the County Court for the building of a temporary Court House in Kerrville, to be built as follows: Of logs sixteen feet long, skelped down and to be eight feet high, the cracks to be boarded up, sawed rafters and good shingle roof with gable ends well done up, good batten door strongly hung and corners sawed down."
'Skelped,' by the way, may be a word which time has rendered difficult to define. In this case it might mean 'struck with a sharp blow.'
That same afternoon they accepted a bid from Wm. D. Hendrix to build the temporary courthouse for $100.00, and stipulated the structure be completed by August 11th. From specifying the particulars of the first courthouse to the completion of the building would take 83 days; the building was accepted by the court on August 18, 1856.
Mr. Hendrix, who built the temporary court house, was also a member of Kerr County's first commissioners court.
The log courthouse was on Jefferson Street, across from today's courthouse square, on Block 4, Lot 31, of the J. D. Brown addition; I've looked up the lot on an old map in my collection and think it was mid-way between Sidney Baker and Earl Garrett Streets, about where the Grimes family now has a parking lot for their funeral home, the one just next to the large chapel there.
The log courthouse faced the "Public Square," and "the door was in the end facing the street and a board window was on the south-east side, according to those who remember the building. School and church were held in the building and the first terms of the district court in the county were held there. The county clerk probably had his office there also. I see a building about the same size on one of my maps of Kerrville from 1898.
The first district court sessions were held scheduled to be held here on September 8, 1856, but District Judge Thomas J. Devine, didn't arrive from San Antonio until September 10th. Those attending were District Attorney Frank Eagan, District Clerk S. B. Rees, Deputy District Clerk P. M. Nelson, and Kerr County Sheriff W. D. C. Burney.
The first grand jurors to serve in district court here were selected from a panel of eighteen names: E. A. McFadin, R. H. Davis, William Kelso, C. Hadder, Adam Vogt, J. D. Brown, Daniel S. Cook, Thomas A. Saner, R. E. Brown, F. H. Schladoer, William B. Hendrix, Daniel Arnold, Theodore Wiedenfeld, William Heuermann, James J. Boyd, C. F. Cole, and G. M. Ridley.
The very first grand jury indictment in Kerr County was returned against William Fowler, who was charged with stealing a mule. After a trial on the day after the return of the indictment, Fowler was found guilty and sentenced to a year of hard labor at the state penitentiary at Huntsville.
Petit jurors who served in that first trial were William A. Williams, Richard White, William T. Harbour, G. H. Nichols, J. J. McAdams, D. C. Murph, C. F. Scott, Cdmus Willborn, J. M. Fish, Newton Price, Volney Ridley, and Benjamin Starkey, who were each paid $1.50 per day for their services. In today's money, that 1856 $1.50 would be worth about $40 today.
You'll probably notice several of the men served on both the grand and  petit juries -- which was not uncommon in a land where few settlers lived.
Until then, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has served on several juries here. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 26, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. That was very interesting, Joe.
    Thank you.

    We miss not seeing your many photographs that you used to post on a regular basis.

    Is there any hope that you will start posting photos again?


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