Monday, February 11, 2013

What's in a name?

I've been thinking about names this week -- place names.
Consider this: there is archeological evidence people have lived in what we now call Kerrville for a very long time. Finding artifacts, even in the "downtown" area, is not that hard to do because the artifacts are  numerous and widespread.
While the oldest "arrowheads" found in Kerrville's business district don't come near in age to Clovis points found nearby, which are thought to date from the last Ice Age, or more than 13,000 years ago, I have seen a few points found downtown which date from about the same time as the building of Egypt's pyramids, or about 3500 years ago. The dart points I've seen include a Pedernales point, and what's left of an Andice point.
Outside of the downtown area much older artifacts have been found, including two reported finds of Clovis points, one near the south fork of the Guadalupe River.
On the North Fork, past Mo-Ranch, at a place called the Boneyard, Native American tribes once met. One such meeting was recorded by the Spanish who explored our area; other earlier meetings probably were held there long before records were kept with pen and paper.
I have not heard of any evidence Native Americans built permanent settlements here;  they were nomads, following game and other opportunities. But there is evidence early peoples came here many, many times, over many thousands of years, often camping near the Guadalupe River, and, perhaps more frequently, near places where a stream joined the river.
I wonder what they called our place here, with its gentle bend of the river surrounded by flint-rich hills. Did our neck of the woods have a name to these ancient peoples?
The name we call this place has its own story.
Joshua Brown, our community's founder, arrived here in the late 1840s, leading a group of ten men to build a shingle makers' camp beside the Guadalupe. Their idea was to cut down the cypress trees, slice the trunks into disk-shaped slabs, then carefully spit those disks into rough shingles which could be further shaped by hand.
It sounds like a lot of work to me, and for little reward. To bring their hand-hewn shingles to market meant hauling the product by wagon over rough roads frequented by hostile tribes. A wagon-load of  shingles would net less than what you or I would spend on a nice pizza.
Still, what did those early settlers call this place?
I'm guessing the first site was just called "camp."  Or, if one was feeling talkative, the "shingle camp."  And, if one was feeling verbose and descriptive, "Brown's shingle camp."
Some say the site of that camp was about where One Schreiner Center is today, in the 800 block of Water Street, near its intersection with Washington Street.
Neither Brown or those with him owned the land where they camped. The ground beneath them had been awarded by the State of Texas to Benjamin F. Cage. The deed read “the grant is made in consideration of Benjamin F. Cage having fought in the Battle of San Jacinto the 21st of April 1836.”
Joshua Brown bought the land which became Kerrville in 1856 from the stepsons of Cage's mother -- Cage was thought to be dead at the time of the sale, though there is some evidence he was quite alive and well and living near Blanco. And Brown bought the land at about the exact same time Kerr County was being organized.
Given the confusion about Benjamin F. Cage being dead (or not), and the close timing of Brown's purchase of the land, his offer of a portion of his newly-acquired real estate as a county seat to the first Kerr County Commissioners Court shows a bit of chutzpah.
It seems he'd lived in the area for some time, though on land he did not own. This was likely common in those days. Precise deeds and records came along later.
But what to call the new town?  Lore suggests those early settlers called the site some variant which included Brown's name -- though a settlement named Brownsborough existed near today's Comfort, Texas. And the stories also say Joshua Brown asked that the town be named for James Kerr, his friend. Given that the county had been named for Kerr, this made sense.
They initially named the town "Kerrsville," which was probably pronounced "KARRsville," since James Kerr pronounced his own name "Karr."  Later, after the Civil War, the "s" was dropped, and "Kerrsville" became "Kerrville."  Over time the pronunciation also changed to its present form.
So, in a little more than 150 years, the name of our place here has undergone several changes.
I wonder what those earliest people, thousands of years ago, called the place, if indeed it was important enough to them to earn a name of its own.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was born in "Quixtl-si-latoki," or "Bend in river where cypress [flock]."  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 8, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I had always heard of a place named Boneyard which was the scene of an Indian ambush on some early settlers, including Spence Goss. It was named this because it was the last place that water dried up during droughts and animals would gather there for water. If the water at Boneyard dried up the animals died there. It would make sense to me that Native Americans would also gather there as water became scarce and that artifacts would be found there.


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