Sunday, June 4, 2017

Every H-E-B employee in a single photograph

Original employees of HEB store in Kerrville Texas
C. C. Butt Grocery Company employees and the Florence Butt family,
a selfie, taken around 1915 in downtown Kerrville
An interesting photo returned to Kerrville this week. It was taken in the 800 block of Main Street, roughly behind where Wolfmueller's Books stands today on Earl Garrett Street. A parking lot is on the site now, but when the photo was taken, around 1915, a family's home was there, and the photograph was taken on the porch of their house. There are eight people in the photograph; six men and two women.
On the front row are Johnnie Hamilton, Nita Butt, Florence Butt, and Howard Butt; standing behind them are Claude Richerson, Leland Richeson, Charles Butt, and Gene Butt. Charles, Gene and Howard are Florence's sons; Nita is the wife of Charles Butt. Johnny Hamilton is the brother in law of Leland Richeson. The one person who is not connected to the others is Claude Richerson, but I have a theory to explain why he is in the photograph, which I'll explain in a bit.
Florence Butt opened a grocery store on Main Street in Kerrville in 1905 in a two-story building which was across the street from the house where this photograph was taken. That little grocery store grew into what is today's H-E-B Grocery Company.
I'm thankful to a kind friend who sent me an original print of the photograph; I had a nice scan in my collection (also from him), but having an original will allow me to study the details much easier. (That scan was used in my first book, "Home," which was published in 2010.)
Studying the original photo, I can now tell the photo was a selfie. You can see the shutter cable snaking from the camera to the bench on which four of the people are resting. I can't determine whether Florence or her son Gene took the photograph; Florence's hand looks as if it might be pushing the plunger on the cable, but Gene had an interest in photography at the time, and the cable looks as if it's heading toward him.
What's interesting about the photo, at least to me, is who is in the picture, and who is not in the picture.
Leland Richeson was the first employee of the grocery store, and was later a business partner with Howard Butt for many years. Later still, he became the first retiree from the company. If this photo was taken in 1915, Richeson was around 26 years old.
Leland's brother in law, Johnnie Hamilton worked at the store and roomed with the Butt family. I have a scan of a postcard he wrote home on April 3, 1915, where he writes "Am in Kerrville now. Guess will spend Easter here. Am feeling very well." Johnnie came to Kerrville because he had tuberculosis; he passed away from the disease in 1918.
Florence Butt home in Kerrville Texas around 1915
The Butt family home in Kerrville around 1915.
Back of Masonic Building (now Sheftall's Jewelers)
can be seen to right of home.
I can guess why Florence, her sons, and her daughter in law were in the photo. All were active in the grocery business. Charles, according to a sketch by J. E. Grinstead, was taking a leadership role in the company; in this photo, Charles would have been around 25. Howard had just graduated from Tivy in 1914; he would serve in World War I in 1918. Gene offered film processing at the store, and would later leave the grocery store to work at the post office. Sadly, Charles would later die of tuberculosis.
Missing from the photo was Florence's husband, Charles Sr., who passed away in March of 1915, also a victim of tuberculosis. Missing, too, was Florence's stepson Kearney Butt, who ran a second-hand furniture store in Kerrville.
Which brings us back to Claude Richerson. In early October, 1915, this item appeared in the Kerrville Mountain Sun: "Claude Richardson [sic] of the C. C. Grocery Store has accepted a position with Guggenheim-Goldsmith in San Antonio."
Based on all of this, I have this theory: this photograph was a picture of people who worked together. I think this was a photo of the employees and family of Florence's little grocery company.
According to H-E-B's website, the company now has over 76,000 employees. But on a cold day in Kerrville, sometime around 1915, the entire company could crowd around a rocking chair built for two, and have their photograph taken.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historic Kerrville and Kerr County photographs and historical items. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 3, 2017.

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