Sunday, February 26, 2017

Immigrants in Kerr County

It's hard to pick up a newspaper these days and not find a story about immigrants and the politics surrounding immigration. While most agree the laws on the books should be enforced -- that illegal immigration is, in fact, illegal -- not as much coverage has been afforded to those who've immigrated to this country legally.
In the war-torn parts of the world today, there are countless families who want and need to flee the danger and strife all around them. Coming to the United States is a dream for many of these families, and thousands spend years attempting to obtain the necessary documents to come here legally.
But that is not new.
Many of the early settlers of New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Boerne were immigrants from Germany, and many of them were escaping the conflicts plaguing Europe at the time.
And many of the early settlers of Kerr County were also German immigrants, but we had settlers from many other parts of the world, too. And those immigrants helped make our community the place it is today.
Let's consider some of the prominent immigrants who settled in Kerr County.
Captain Joseph Tivy was an immigrant; he was born in Canada. Although he spent all of his adult life in the United States, serving in both the California and Texas legislatures, his time in Kerrville is remembered because of his interest in public education. In the late 1880s, when Tivy was the first mayor of the City of Kerrville, he donated the land for a public school, along with other parcels to be sold to help pay for a school building. That original school was named in his honor, and today Kerrville's high school is named for him.
Policarpo Rodriguez was an immigrant, born in Zaragoza, Coahuila, Mexico in 1829. He moved to San Antonio with his family when he was just twelve. His was a life of adventure and faith. He served for many years as a scout, and helped establish the route from San Antonio to El Paso. Later in life he became a Methodist minister, and even built a chapel (which still stands) on Privilege Creek, just across the Kerr County line, in Bandera County.
Captain Charles Schreiner was also an immigrant; he was born in Alsace, grew up speaking French, and moved to Texas as a boy with his parents. Both of his parents died when he was a teenager, and Schreiner joined the Texas Rangers for a while. Later he and his brother-in-law Caspar Real started a small stock farm on Turtle Creek. Later still, after serving in the Confederate Army, Schreiner started a store in downtown Kerrville, while also serving as Kerr county clerk and county treasurer. He was a shrewd businessman, and he shared his success with our community in many ways, including founding what is now Schreiner University.
Christian Dietert and his wife Rosalie were some of the first settlers in Kerrville; both were immigrants from Germany. Christian was a millwright, and he built a mill to harness the power of the Guadalupe River, near where today's One Schreiner Center now stands. Rosalie introduced many firsts in Kerrville, too, including having the first Christmas tree. Although Christian was the appointed postmaster for Kerrville, it was actually Rosalie who did the job; she was the acting postmaster for decades.
A young man from Syria immigrated to Kerr County in 1856; his name was Hadji Ali, though here he was called Hi Jolly. (Born Philip Tedro, he changed his name to Hadji Ali after converting to Islam and going to Mecca to perform the Hajj.) He came to Kerr County along with two others from the Mideast, men called Mico and Greek George. They were all camel experts, and they traveled here with camels as part of the experiment in camel transport at Camp Verde. Hadji Ali lived until 1902 and is buried in Arizona, where a monument was erected in his honor.
Ben Davey, a native of Yorkshire, England, arrived in Kerrville in 1871. He built many of the old stone buildings in the downtown area, including the Masonic Building, now home to Sheftall's Jewelers; the Weston Building, now home to Francisco's Restaurant; and the original Tivy School, now home to the administrative offices of the Kerrville Independent School District.
There are many, many more I could mention. Like James Spicer, who came here from England, who was an accomplished artist. Or Howard Lacey, another Englishman, who was a world-renowned botanist and naturalist. Or Chester Nimitz, the grandson of immigrants, who played such an important role in the Pacific War.
Immigrants have been an important part of our community since before Kerr County was formed, and they continue to make our home a better place.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would not be a very good immigrant.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 25, 2017.

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