Monday, May 11, 2015

Trying to remember the past

Replica of Native American artifact
photograph by Rudi Winzinger
I remember my mother’s maternal grandmother quite well because we spent a lot of time together. I remember meeting my mother’s paternal grandfather once when I was very young. Although I met my father’s maternal grandmother, I do not remember it, because she died when I was so young. Of my eight great-grandparents, I have extensive memories of only one, ever met just three, and never knew the remaining five.
I write this because I suspect my experience is not unique. I imagine most people do not have many memories of their great-grandparents, folks in their families which precede them by only three generations.
It is the same with our local history: our community has few 'memories' of its founders, because of the work of a few local historians, and almost none of the people who came before them.
Most people think the history of our community starts with Joshua Brown, who settled here in the mid-1840s. He was a shingle maker. His first settlement here, with 12 other hardy souls from Gonzales, ended quickly.
That was because there were others in the neighborhood, who were not shingle makers, and who considered this land their own. They were Comanches.
Often, I've shared this passage from Jefferson Morgenthaler’s book “The German Settlement of the Texas Hill Country:
“The Comanches approached, riding in formation. In the center was a white flag; on the right wing were warriors divided into sections, each section headed by a chief; on the left were the native women and children, mounted on Indian ponies."
A witness reported:
‘The entire spectacle presented a rich and colorful picture because the garb of the Comanches on festive occasions is indeed beautiful and in good taste. The neck and ears are decorated with pearls and shells and the arms with heavy brass rings. The long hair of the men is braided into long plaits which, when interlaced with buffalo hair, reach from head to foot and are decorated with many silver ornaments. For shoes they wear the so-called moccasins made from deer skins which, like the leggings – a kind of leg dress made of cloth or leather – are richly decorated with pearls. In addition they wrap a piece of red or blue cloth around their shoulders in a most charming manner which reminds one of the Roman toga. Their skin is painted in a most distinctive manner with a variety of colors, mostly red. Their principal weapons are the bow and arrow; however, most of them also used the long-barreled American rifle. Added to this equipment is a long spear decorated with feathers, the point of which is as effective as the best Toledo blade. The shield is made of buffalo hide.”
And yet this first-hand account of an encounter with a group of Comanche by a party of Germans led by John O. Meusebach near the San Saba River may present an inaccurate picture of the tribes that were here when people like us first settled the region.
Another writer, Victor J. Smith, writing in Marvin Hunter’s “Frontier Times,” paints an image that might be more accurate:
“In most of our thinking relating to the Indians of Texas, we hold almost as many popular fallacies, as did the Spanish conquistadors, who pushed north across the deserts of Mexico in search of mythical cities where precious metals abounded. It is almost as great an error if we think of the Indian as a dashing warrior, mounted upon a speed pony, well supplied with firearms and ammunition, moving his tribal group at will in the search of pleasing pastures and plentiful game; well clothed, fed and physically perfect, as a result from his life in the open; little labor; life a joyous picnic of hunting and fishing; Giants here, and pygmies there; and finally believing himself elaborately cared for in the future world by a Great Spirit in a Happy Hunting Ground. Such an idea of primitive life in Texas is far from the truth.
“The horse was not in general use until well after 1650, a mere drop in the measure of time since he came to the New World. Weapons were primitive and required much of his time for manufacture, repair, and replacement. Dangers from all sides assailed him: enemies among other tribes; danger in the chase; passage from the fangs and claws of wild animals; disease; discomfort from rain and cold; the lack of adequate shelter; and most frequent of all, the constant threat of hunger and starvation.
And these were the relatively modern tribes. Others lived here well before them; this part of Texas is littered with artifacts, some dating as old as 13,000 years.
The history of our area is a long one, and we often approach it with a lot of misconceptions. It wasn't like the movies. Life here was hard, brutal, and likely very short.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys walks in the woods with his sweet Ms.Carolyn.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 9, 2015.

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