Monday, July 15, 2013

The Pioneer Naturalist on Turtle Creek

Although I do not know much about natural history, and cannot identify many plants or animals, I certainly admire those who do.
Last week I wrote a piece about Emerson Stringham, a Kerrville resident who wrote a small booklet entitled "Kerrville, Texas and its Birds" in 1948. I wrote the column because I thought the story about the man was interesting: here was an expert on birds (and patents) who came to Kerrville seeking health. He wrote this little booklet on birds, hoping, I suppose, to sell them, though in the last few months of his life he gave 500 copies of the booklet to the local library for free distribution to anyone interested. His front-page obituary suggested he kept to himself and was not well known in the community.
After the column was published, several readers responded: they each had childhood memories of their neighbor, "Uncle" Emerson Stringham. One wrote: "We lived next door to "Uncle Stringham" when I was a very small child. Some of my very first memories are of him patiently talking to me and my brothers about bugs, birds, and plants."
So, like of most stories I report here, this one had another dimension. My impression, from reading the old newspapers, was completely different from those who remembered Mr. Stringham, and their memories added depth to the story.
Stringham, in his little booklet mentions a local naturalist, Howard Lacey, an Englishman who lived on a ranch on Turtle Creek, south of Kerrville, from 1882 until 1919. I think Lacey was an inspiration to Stringham, and also Lacey's having lived here a deciding factor in Stringham making Kerrville his home.
Howard George Lacey was born in Wareham, Dorset, England, on April 15, 1856, very close, coincidentally, to the time Kerr County was created by the Texas Legislature. He was a member of an aristocratic family and went to the best schools; he graduated from Caius College, Cambridge, and intended to enter the ministry.
He gave up that career, however, and came to Texas at the age of 26, where, considering his background, he embarked on an unlikely career, ranching, in an unlikely place. He gained a reputation locally as a breeder of Angora goats, and I see his name mentioned frequently in the trophy reports of the various fairs held in Kerr County during that period.
If Angora goats were the extent of his reputation, his story would still be interesting. He arrived on Turtle Creek about the same time as several other English immigrants came to the county, and as a group, these English colonists left an indelible impression upon the course of our community.
Lacey's occupation as a rancher gave him an opportunity. "Being always in the woods and fields," he wrote in 1911, in an article for an ornithological journal, the 'Auk', "I have had a good chance to get acquainted with the natural history of the county."
In the article, Lacey lists 202 species of birds observed in our area. I recently read through the article while using the Internet to look for images of the birds he mentions. Most were unfamiliar to me, and I wondered how many changes in the types of birds visiting our area have occurred here in the past century.
Some of his entries are quite specific: "ENGLISH SPARROW.- In 1882 we saw the English Sparrows at Galveston and Houston. They came to Kerrville on December 12, 1897, and came to stay. They nested at the ranch for the first time in 1909, but were often here in the winter long before then." He is similarly precise on the arrival of
Others, like his entries on an all-white Red Tailed Hawk, and a Golden Eagle include the remark that both were "kept as a pet in a saloon at Kerrville."
And still others, like his entry on Aiken's Screech Owl, tell a story: "In May, 1908, a pair nested in the martin box at the ranch. Finding a dead martin under the box, I got a shotgun and sent a friend up the pole to investigate: an owl flew out and was promptly shot and then my friend found three young owls in the box, and brought them down, and put them under a live-oak tree in the yard. The remaining parent fed the young for a night or two on the ground, bringing them, among other things, two or three sphinx moths and a crawfish, and then persuaded them to climb into the tree. The next evening my friend was smoking after supper and the owl knocked his pipe out of his mouth. The owl next attacked the lady of the house as she was bringing in the milk, and as a final exploit struck me full in the face as I was standing near the tree, using force enough to draw blood. The next morning the whole owl family was put to death."
In addition to his knowledge of birds, Lacey added to the scientific knowledge of mammals and trees as well; in fact, he has three mammals and a tree named in his honor.
The tree, now called the Lacey Oak, originally had a local name which could not be printed in a family newspaper. A Lacey Oak was included in the landscaping of Peterson Plaza, in front of the new Kerrville City Hall.
Howard Lacy returned to his native England in 1919, and died there in 1929.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is constantly amazed at the variety of people who find their way to Kerrville. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 13, 2013.
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1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting.

    Thank you for posting it - very interesting.


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