Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One Kerrville history myth busted

One of the television shows I enjoy is MythBusters on the Discovery Channel. The hosts spend a lot of time testing premises -- they call them "myths" -- using "scientific" methods. Actually, many of the methods they use are not really scientific, but the show entertains me, appealing to some odd corner of my already odd personality.
I realized this week there are some local history myths, too, and often they could use some scrutiny. This past week one of the regular readers of my history blog (www.joeherringjr.com) noticed something interesting.
John MacCrossan is not a Texan and has never lived here. (His son, Gerard, lived here several years ago, attending Schreiner University and serving as an editor here at the Kerrville Daily Times.)
John MacCrossan and I correspond regularly about Kerrville and Kerr County history, despite the fact John lives in Ireland. With the Internet and email John is as close by as if he lived in Ingram.
That, and he's a clever and perceptive researcher. I'm often surprised by what he finds.
This week he sent over digital images of some very early Kerr County censuses, both the 1860 census (which would have been the first after the creation of Kerr County in 1856), and the 1870 census. He and I enjoyed looking through the old pages, noting the many familiar family names, and also noting the quaint occupations. While "farmer" was frequently the named male occupation, there were a few "merchants," and "stock raisers" mentioned. John even found "photographer," whose work I'd love to see. He also found one very poor soul, a "printer."
Going through these pages Mr. MacCrossan noticed something I'd overlooked, and in so doing knocked over a local history myth.
The original name for Kerrville was actually "Kerrsville," with an "s" in the middle.
When Kerr County was created by the sixth Texas legislature, the name of the county seat was included in the act signed by Governor Elisha M. Pease. "The place receiving a majority of all the votes shall be the county seat and shall be called Kerrsville unless the site selected shall already have a name...."
I have a theory why the spelling changed; given the numerous German immigrants here during the early days of the county, it's possible the pronunciation of the first name could have sounded a bit like "Curse-ville," which, of course, would be a problem. My research suggests the original pronunciation of "Kerrsville" would have been "Carrs- ville," because James Kerr pronounced his last name "Carr," and many of those who founded the town were personally acquainted with James Kerr.
But when did the spelling of Kerrville change?
The first mention in county records of the new name was on January 15, 1866, when the county court held a special session; from that date on the "s" seems to have been dropped. Alonzo Rees was the clerk of the county court at the time.
Gene Hollon, writing in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly back in July 1944, "Kerrville, at that time, was called "Kerrsville," but in the late [18]60s, when Captain Schreiner was county and district clerk, he began to drop the superflous 's.' Others followed the example, until the custom became general..."
So, I suppose, the local history myth is the name "Kerrsville" was changed after the Civil War to Kerrville, and county clerks like Rees and Schreiner were principal among those who made the change.
But something John MacCrossan noticed suggests this myth might not be correct.
The 1860 census, taken when the county seat was in Comfort, instead of in Kerrville, enumerates the citizens of Kerrville -- not "Kerrsville."
Further, the 1870 census, which happened to be attested to by none other than Charles Schreiner, reports a count of the citizens of "Kerrsville," not Kerrville. Not only that, "Kerrsville" is written in Charles Schreiner's own hand.
The myth that Kerrville's name changed in the late 1860s is incorrect; the 1860 census suggests the name was recorded as Kerrville on official documents, even before the war.
Now to other local history "myths," such as the tunnels in downtown Kerrville, the Rockefeller Foundation report suggesting Kerrville has one of the healthiest climates in the United States, and so many others.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who often changes the spelling of words and names. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 18, 2013.
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