Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Last in the Series: Kerrville 150 years ago

For the past several weeks I've enjoyed presenting an experiment on this page: to research newspapers from years ago to learn what was happening here in Kerrville during that time. The first in the series reported what was happening here 50 years ago (Kerrville schools were being desegregated); then 75 years ago (a renovated building for Tivy High School and Junior High School was about to be opened, though classes were delayed for a week because the building wasn't ready); then 100 years ago (the train depot burned down); and finally, last week, 126 years ago (the first train arrived in Kerrville).
So -- can we continue the experiment, seeing what was happening here 150 years ago, in 1863?
The answer is yes, and no.
In 1863, Kerrville did not have a newspaper. The "Frontiersman" was likely the first newspaper published here, and it began its run in early January 1876; it lasted almost five years, until 1880. The "Kerrville Eye" began publication in 1884, and continues, in an odd way, even to this day: its name changed from the "Eye" to the "Kerrville Paper" to the "Kerrville Mountain Sun."  A faint shadow of a newspaper by the same name shows up on people's driveways in Kerrville once a week. The "Kerrville Times," itself a newspaper which had other names previously, began in 1926.
So, to know more about local news in Kerrville in 1863, we're forced to cast our gaze a tad farther from home, to regional newspapers which might have news from Kerrville.
The problem, of course, is this: in 1863, Texas was embroiled in the Civil War. While newspapers were published in Texas during the war, they faced many limitations and hardships, as paper, inks, type, and workers grew more scarce as the national conflict continued. Finding mention of Kerrville (or, as it was then known, "Kerrsville") is difficult.
There is a mention of Kerrville in the "Houston Weekly Telegraph" in its issue of November 26, 1856, which tells of a great battle between citizens of Kerrsville and "a large body of Indians" near Camp Verde. Four Kerrville men were killed, and three wounded, when their camp was attacked at night. The three "managed to get to Kerrsville, where...we learn that one or two of them have since died from their wounds."
In 1858, again in the "Houston Weekly Telegraph," a one-sentence report from the "San Antonio Ledger" is repeated: "The Ledger says that Kerrsville, Kerr County, is improving. It has a good school."
Kerrsville is mentioned in several papers in 1862, as the Confederate States government sought bids on mail routes, as a hub between a route connecting Castroville to Kerrsville, through Bandera, and a separate route from Sisterdale to Kerrsville, through Comfort and "Zanzenburg," now called Center Point. Each route, from Castroville to Kerrsville, and from Kerrsville to Sisterdale, was expected to be a day's journey by horseback.
I do find one mention from 1863, or 150 years ago, from March 7, 1863, in the "Austin 'Texas Almanac."  In that issue a letter from George Wilkins Kendall was published. Kendall is the person for whom Kendall County, one of our neighboring counties, is named. (Boerne is the county seat of Kendall County.)
He wrote, to the editor of the Almanac, "As you desired me, in case the Indians committed any depredations in this neighborhood, to give you the particulars, I will hastily offer you an account of the recent murders in the neighboring county of Gillespie, at the same time expressing my fears that our time might come next."
Kendall reported on several attacks on settlers, including an attack in Bandera County, along with the remark "I also learn that Judge [James Monroe] Starkey's horses, in Kerr County, were driven off a few nights since. So it goes. We are in a sad situation, here in the mountains, and probably have not seen the worst of it.
"One of the rangers, stationed at one of the frontier camps, told me openly that his company had not been supplied ammunition enough, of good quality, to shoot a rabbit -- I use his own words -- and I am fearful the handful of men still left on the frontier are not much better off."
James M. Starkey was county judge of Kerr County during the Civil War.
During the American Civil War many (if not most) men of fighting age and ability were conscripted into military service, leaving the frontier (of which Kerrsville was a part) largely unguarded. Kendall makes an appeal to an enrolling officer to leave behind a few fighting men to protect the communities from the "prospective or threatened invasion" of the Union Army, but more importantly from the very "real and positive" threat from local Native American tribes.
Kendall mentions the rumors of a Union invasion, but discounts these as a ruse to reduce the number of Texas soldiers available for distant fields, being forced, by the rumors, to stay here in Texas in defense of Texas' borders.
Kendall closed his letter by "reiterating the hope that the [Confederate] authorities will permit the few men still left on the frontier to remain for its protection, or at least until such time as the danger is more pressing below us than it is at present, and while peril is knocking at our own doors in the shape of Indian massacres."
So, Gentle Reader, the news from 150 years ago in Kerrville was grim: in the midst of the Civil War the dangers from bands of Native American warriors were great, and those dangers seemed to be increasing. At the same time, the settlers' ability to respond to the threat was limited because so many able-bodied men had been conscripted into service in the Confederate Army.
I hope you've enjoyed this series. It has certainly taught me some new history, and I've made some surprising discoveries I hope to share with you here in future columns.
This concludes the series: 175 years ago, in 1838, there was no Kerrville or Kerr County.  Texas was still a republic, though the next year, in the Third Congress of the Republic of Texas, a representative named James Kerr introduced two bills: one to outlaw dueling; the other to move the capital of the republic to a site to be named "Austin."
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thankful to have missed the chapter of Kerrville's history which happened 150 years ago. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 5, 2013.
You can download a high-resolution PDF of the September 29, 1887 issue of the Kerrville Eye for a suggested donation of $1.99 -- if you don't want to make a donation, just change the 'price' to zero. This issue of the Kerrville Eye is historically significant because it was published to celebrate the arrival of the first train to Kerrville.  PDF is 4 pages (the entire newspaper), and scanned at a very high resolution for highest quality.
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1 comment:

  1. Joe, this series was wonderful; thank you.

    I look forward to your next article.


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