Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Celebrating July Fourth in Kerr County since 1856

Kerrville: Rodeo Days Parade on July 4th, 1950s.
Kerrville: Rodeo Days Parade on July 4th, 1950s.
Click on any image to enlarge
A poster of this image is available HERE
In 1856, when Kerr County was formed, the United States celebrated its 80th Independence Day. The country was still new when our county was formed.
There is no record of how our community celebrated its first July 4th, but one should remember there were very few people in the county at the time. The largest town in the county was Comfort (which was in the county at the time, before Kendall County was created). Center Point had more folks than Kerrville, too.
Kerrville only had four or five houses in 1856, and was at the edge of the Texas frontier. Center Point and Comfort were more established, but had small populations. If the communities in the county celebrated that first year, the details have been lost to time.
The earliest record I found of Independence Day celebrations came from a 1902 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun.
“Good time had at Ingram,” the headline read. “The picnic and barbecue at this place yesterday was a pronounced success. Plenty of everything to eat was in evidence. Candidates were on the grounds in greatest profusion, bragging on pretty babies, predicting abundant rains, and otherwise acting pleasant. The people were all happy, handshaking and good cheer was the order of the day, and all considered it one well spent.”
In the same issue, events marking the Fourth of July in Kerrville were reported.
“Great Success. The Fire Boys done Themselves Proud Yesterday,” the headline reads.
A Kerr County July Fourth picnic, around 1900
A Kerr County July Fourth picnic, around 1900
“Kerrville’s big barbecue goes into history as one of the most successful entertainments the town has ever given — 2,500 people stood at the big tables — Prince and Nabob, Peasant and Plebeian elbow to elbow eating barbecue and drinking black coffee, joking and laughing and enjoying the dinner in the fullest sense.”
The event was a fundraiser for “Kerrville Hose Company No. 1.” The firemen were described as “Brau and Bonnie laddies as ever reared a ladder, or held a nozzle.”
2,500 is a large number of people to feed, and if accurate, would have been greater than the population of Kerrville in 1900, which was around 1,400.
“All had an abundance of barbecued meats, bread, pickles and black coffee, and half as many more could have been fed on what was left from the feast. The entertainment was good, in every way, and all passed off without fiction. Hon. Jno. Coleman of Houston delivered an address at 2 p.m. That was short, timely, and befitting the occasion.”
That evening the ‘Kerrville Dramatic Company’ presented ‘Rip Van Winkle’ as a benefit for the Kerrville Hose Company at Pampell’s Opera House. “Mr. Morrison, as ‘Rip’ was a pronounced success. The other members of the company were supposed by show goers…to be professionals rather than amateurs.”
Community barbecues continued for decades. In 1905, the Sun reported a Fourth of July picnic “near Frank Moore’s crossing of the Guadalupe, 3 1/2 miles above Kerrville. The picnic will be under the auspices of the Farmer’s Union…Let everybody turn out and make this entertainment break the picnic record of Texas.”
In 1925, under the leadership of the Kerrville chamber of commerce, a picnic was organized to celebrate Independence Day at the ‘U. S. Veterans Hospital at Legion.’ That celebration was only 6 1/2 years after the end of World War I.
A rodeo in Ingram, Texas 1930s
A rodeo in Ingram, 1930s
“There will be no dull moments during the afternoon and evening and every citizen of Kerrville to come out and mingle with the former service men at Legion, participate with them in the games, mingle with them, show them that we are interested in their welfare and are proud of them for the sacrifices they have made for their country’s sake.”
Music for the occasion was provided by the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce band. There was a baseball game during the event, between the ladies and the men attending. The ladies won.
In 1930, there were no festivities planned, other than a baseball game between Kerrville and Boerne. The “Modern Air Travel Corporation of San Antonio” sent an airplane to Kerrville and took paying guests on a quick trip over the city. Several of the summer camps put on special July 4th programs, including a water carnival and puppet show at Camp Mystic, a Texas history pageant at Camp Rio Vista, and athletics exhibitions at Camp Stewart.
In 1935, a new July 4th tradition began in the county: a big rodeo, produced the Kerrville Jaycees. These rodeos included parades, beauty contests, dances, and a big rodeo, which was held at “Antler Field.”
That meant the rodeo was held on the football field.
In 1936, the holiday was celebrated in Kerrville with speeches by politicians, the dedication of the new post office at the corner of Earl Garrett and Main streets, and the dedication of the recently completed ‘Charles Schreiner Bridge,’ which extended Sidney Baker Street across the Guadalupe River as part of what is now Highway 16. The community ended the day with a big barbecue at the state park, “opposite the Legion hospital.” Today we know the park as the Kerrville-Schreiner municipal park.
The 1940 rodeo was held after a series of rainstorms and there was some concern whether the show would go on. “Pierce Hoggett, rodeo director, stated Tuesday night after making an inspection of the Tivy Field. The thick turf covering the gridiron will give the animals ample footing, it was explained.”
For many its first seven years, the rodeo was held on the football field at the intersection of Tivy and Third streets. When present-day Antler Stadium was completed in 1941, the rodeo moved to the new location.
I wondered if the rodeo would continue during World War II, so I checked the 1943 newspapers reporting the event. The event was as large, if not larger, than the years previous, and included a horse show, trick riding, and a parade. Governor Coke Stevenson attended one of the rodeo performances.
In tandem with the 1943 event, money was raised for building an aircraft carrier “which will be used in the bombing of Tokyo. Overall the nationwide effort hoped to raise about $132 million; Kerr County’s share was about $12 thousand. The mystery ship had a name in the campaign: the Shangri-La. The ship was built, commissioned in 1944, and saw action in the Pacific, including sending planes to attack Tokyo.
Kerrville: Pampell's, July 4, 1952
Pampell's, July 4, 1952
A poster of this image is available HERE
The rodeo continued. In 1950 an airshow was added, sponsored by the Kerrville Aeronautics Association, and included 100 visiting planes. The airshow included an air race, and the crowds enjoyed a holiday barbecue. There was also a race between a Piper Cub and a ‘hot-rod automobile;’ the plane won.
In 1955, a square dance jamboree was added to the annual rodeo, which included a performance by ‘the nationally famous Texas Starlets of San Antonio.’
By 1961 it appears the Jaycees dropped the rodeo in favor of a bigger air show. To entice Kerr county residents to attend, it was reported “a quarter of a million S&H Green Stamps will be given away as door prizes.” The square dance festival also was presented that year, in the Kerrville Municipal Auditorium.
The Jaycees offered the following festivities in 1970: a parade, a decorated bike contest, a barbecue to be held in Louise Hays Park, a dunking booth, and, for the first time reported, a big fireworks display.
“Richard Ferris is in charge [of the fireworks]. The Jaycees said they ‘blew their budget’ on fireworks this year, with more than an half-hour of entertainment planned.”
July 4th, 1980 had canoe races sponsored by the V.F.W.; a barbecue held by the Jaycees; and political stumping by candidates.
I liked this item reported in 1990: “anyone attends can help the parade by bringing a boom box or radio, because KERV/KRVL will be broadcasting marching music for the parade.” I’m guessing they couldn’t get a marching band to perform in the summer, when school was not in session.
Also in 1990: “from 7:30 to ‘dark thirty’ the Kerr Pops will hold a concert which will be the last scheduled event before the fireworks display, which is set to begin at exactly 9:37 pm.” Fireworks that year were sponsored by the Tipton-Carson Distributing Company and the Women’s Division of the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.
This format continued for many years, with a pops concert followed by a fireworks display at dark thirty. Parades were rare.
In 2012 a new format was introduced for the community celebrations: "Kerrville's 4th on the River." This new idea has taken several forms, including making the event one where admission was charged. One year the celebration was not actually on July 4. Another year faced the obstacle of having Louis Hays Park closed for renovations.
In 2012 the performers were John Wolfe, Monte Montgomery, JB & the Moonshine Band, Stoney LaRue, and the New Buddy Holly Band.
In 2013, Robert Earl Keen joined the line up, and for several years has been the headline act for the celebration.
This year's celebration will be held at Louise Hays Park, and will feature performances by Brent Ryan, Fred Eaglesmith, Bruce Robison, and Robert Earl Keen. The event is free and open to the public, and performances start at 4 pm. There will also be a fireworks display at 9:30 pm, sponsored again by Mamacita's Restaurant.
Kerr County has celebrated the Fourth of July in many different ways, during times of economic hardship, war, and political division. Coming together as a community has been a line one can trace all of the way back to the very first days of Kerr County.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys community celebrations. This story originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Hill Country Culture magazine.

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