Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why did people settle in Kerr County?

The Holloman cabin.  This one is pretty fancy: it's made from sawn lumber

Some who write about local history may harbor a desire to travel back in time, but I do not. I think living here a century ago would have been very difficult, and living here 150 years ago almost impossible. So no time-travel for me, thanks.
Were such travel possible one might be able answer some questions, since you could simply ask the folks involved what they were thinking, why they made some of the choices they made.
I'd be interested in asking people why they came here in the 1850s, when Kerr County was the extreme frontier of settlement. Why would families move here? Why would they so willingly endure such hardships, suffer such isolation, and shoulder the terrors of this region?
I suppose those questions would be met with blank stares, since those early settlers would lack anything from our time to compare with the situations in which they found themselves. If anything they might consider their decision to place themselves and their families in such danger an improvement over their former circumstances.
The Florence Wootton Hadden
They would express, in varying degrees of kindness, the daftness of the question and the obviousness of the answer. Since they were given a set of conditions prevalent in that time period they made a set of choices which seemed best to them.
They'd look at their rough-hewn cabins and see shelter and safety in a land of extreme weather -- a land which also happened to be peopled with hostile native tribes. Many of those early cabins were as much small forts as family homes.
They might look at their opportunities here, with so much available land and other resources, as a boon of unbelievable fortune.
They weren't careless in the choices they made. They had no need of air-conditioning or iPhones because they had no concept of either. The conveniences of our modern life were not missing from their lives since such conveniences didn't exist.
Real family cabin
Though it's true as settlers they faced hardships some of their contemporaries in cities did not have to tolerate, their plight here was not as disadvantageous as one might think. There was violence in cities, too. There was disease and poor sanitation in cities. In fact, the conditions in most cities 150 years ago would have been dismal.
Toss politics into the equation and even more 1850s folks would be motivated to move to Kerr County. Many of the earliest settlers here immigrated from Germany, escaping the social disruptions there. Others came from Great Britain, escaping customs and traditions which stifled any hope of opportunity.
Many came here from other states in the Union, often escaping political and legal pressures at home.
Cabin of Joshua Brown,
founder of Kerrville
Few settlers' cabins survive here Kerr County. I know the Starkey family restored an family cabin which once stood near today's Walmart in Kerrville. The Warren Klein family, too, have restored a small family cabin up on the Divide. Some of the buildings out at the Y. O. Ranch are restored cabins (and schools), and a few examples can be found on the Lyndon Johnson parks in Stonewall and Johnson City.
In my files I have photographs of several early homes here, of the Holloman, Real, Brown, and Wooten family cabins.
Looking at them today one sees tiny little structures roughly assembled. One cannot imagine how families with many children lived in such a small spaces, or, frankly, how families had any quantity of children in the first place, given the absolute lack of privacy in the homes.
The cabins look like they would be very uncomfortable for any time traveler visiting from our time to theirs.
But to those who built them they represented opportunity, freedom, hope. They were like vessels built at the edge of the earth, capsules of exploration and discovery. From them our community began.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes his daughter Elizabeth a very happy birthday today. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 25, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

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