Sunday, October 22, 2017

A mystery Kerrville photo with a back story

A woman and girl, below the mill dam in downtown Kerrville,
most likely taken in the 1890s
Old Kerrville and Kerr County photographs intrigue me, as you already know.
This week a kind reader brought by a photograph of a woman and a girl standing beside the old mill dam in downtown Kerrville. The image is intriguing for several reasons, not only for its subjects and setting, but also for the story told about the photograph.
The old mill dam once stood just downstream from the current dam in Louise Hays Park, right in the middle of town. You can still see evidence of the old wooden dam in the riverbed, cutting at an angle across the river. A series of square holes in the limestone show where the posts of the dam once stood; some of those holes still contain wooden remnants of the posts.
What's left of this old dam is easiest to trace from a height, conveniently provided by the pavilion downtown at the end of Earl Garrett Street. From there its outline is easier to see, between the current dam and the concrete walkway crossing the river.
Standing: Frances, Caroline
and Emilee.  Seated:
Lena Schreiner
The photograph of the pair standing next to the dam was supposedly from the Captain Charles Schreiner family, and looking closely at the woman pictured, I can see a resemblance to Mary Magdalena 'Lena' Enderle Schreiner, Captain Schreiner's wife, but I cannot be certain. There is no way to tell who the girl was, since her face was hidden by her bonnet.
The woman is wearing a hat and what appears to be a fairly nice blouse and long skirt, but is standing on ground that appears muddy and wet. Dark gloves are on her hands. Her costume doesn't seem to fit her surroundings.
The girl is pointing at something on the ground, and the woman is looking in that direction, with her right arm akimbo. Just getting to the spot where the two are standing would have required crossing the fallen tree in the foreground, since directly behind the two is a channel cut into the limestone, which was filled with rushing water.
It seems the girl had something important to point out, and convinced the woman to descend the rickety stairs that clung to the river bluff.
An umbrella or parasol rests on the fallen tree. There are leaves on most of the trees, and needles on the cypress trees. The shadows are soft, and the sky appears to be overcast. The river is flowing nicely behind the pair, so it wasn't taken during a drought.
If the story about the photograph is true, and it's a photograph of Lena Schreiner, it had to be taken before September, 1905, because that's when Mrs. Schreiner died.
Charles and Lena Schreiner had eight children: three daughters and five sons. If the child is her daughter, I'd guess it was her youngest, Frances Hellen Schreiner Jeffers, who was born in 1881. If the child in the photograph is Frances, and if she was around 10 years old when the photograph was taken, then this photograph was taken around 1891.
That puts the back story in the realm of the possible. Photographs in Kerr County from the 1890s are not impossibly rare, though few exist. Photographs taken in Kerr County before 1890 are extremely rare, so the birth dates of the other two Schreiner daughters, Caroline Marie Schreiner Partee (1873) and Emilie Louise Schreiner Rigsby (1875) would make it unlikely that they're the girl in the photograph.
As the youngest child of eight children, Frances Hellen would have been more likely than her elder siblings to persuade her mother to tromp through the mud to visit the mill dam. (Such a trip would also have been even more likely had the girl been Mrs. Schreiner's granddaughter, which may also be a possibility.)
While I cannot prove the image is of Mrs. Lena Schreiner, I haven't found enough evidence to disprove it, either. The family tradition about the photograph says it's of Mrs. Schreiner, and it may well be.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historic Kerrville and Kerr County photographs. Share yours with him!  He'll scan them and give them back to you. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 21, 2017.

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