Monday, December 4, 2017

Kerr County was a political mess in the 1860s

A page from the 1860 U. S. Census for Kerr County.
This page includes information about the Christian Dietert Family

Kerr County was a political mess in the 1860s.
Here the Civil War was not so much North versus South; in Kerr County the war was between Kerrville and Comfort.
In those days, Comfort was in Kerr County, and before the war the two had been political rivals. Once the American Civil War began, however, the conflict between the two intensified to violence. Kerrville was largely sympathetic to the Confederate cause; the citizens of Comfort were largely true to the Union.
Before the war, the conflict between Kerrville and Comfort was simple. Both wanted to be the county seat.
For a brief time, from 1860 until 1862, Comfort was the county seat of Kerr County, though the election calling for the move may have had some "irregularities."
The 'chief justice' of Kerr County in 1860, an office I assume was similar to today's county judge, seems to have played one faction against the other, going so far as to throw out votes from Kerrville when the election was held to determine which town was to be the seat of government.
But similar "irregularities" in elections had happened here before, sometimes favoring Kerrville, sometimes favoring Comfort.
The 1860 census enumerates the citizens of Comfort, the citizens of Kerrville, and those who lived outside those two communities; the rest of the county is divided into two precincts. The area around Comfort was Precinct 2; the area around Kerrville (and farther upriver) was Precinct 1.
The total population of Kerr County in 1860 was 634, including 49 slaves. Comfort was larger in population than was Kerrville: Comfort had a population of 91; Kerrville, 68.
But often residents of Comfort were not allowed to vote, because they had never become citizens of the United States.
And Comfort was older than Kerrville. Comfort, and the land around it, was settled first, largely by German immigrants from New Braunfels, who began moving into the area in the early 1850s.
Kerrville really didn't have a beginning until 1856, though a small group of settlers lived here. It wasn't until 1856 that Joshua D. Brown offered site for a town at the very first Kerr County commissioners court. Though Brown and others had lived in the area since the late 1840s, it wasn't until 1856 that Brown obtained title to the land on which the oldest part of Kerrville now rests. Brown purchased the land from the heirs of B. F. Cage, who assumed the veteran had died -- although it turns out Mr. Cage was quite alive at the time, living in nearby Blanco.
 The summer of 1860 was a time of turmoil in Kerr County -- this was when the storm clouds of the American Civil War were building in the east.
The census makes clear that conflict was present even here in the newly formed Kerr County. It's true there were 49 slaves in Kerr County, but they were not evenly distributed over the county.
One slaveholder, Dr. Charles de Ganahl, owned 24 of the 49. Dr. Ganahl had just over 4,000 acres near present-day Center Point. In the 1860 census, Ganahl's land was in Precinct 1.
In fact, almost all of the slaves in Kerr County in 1860 were in Precinct 1. There were 9 slaves held in Precinct 2, the area around Comfort; there were 40 in Precinct 1, the area around Kerrville.
In the town Comfort, there was only one slave: a 10-year-old girl, who was owned by a woman. Kerrville counted 2 slaves: a 28-year-old male, and a 10-year-old male. The rest were held on farms and small ranches, but mostly in the area around Kerrville.
19 of the 49 slaves here were 10 years of age or younger. None of the slaves are named in the document; they are only counted.
Precincts 1 and 2 were also divided by language; most of the families in Precinct 2 spoke German in their homes; in Precinct 1, English.
When the vote was taken on whether Texas should secede from the Union, those in favor of secession won, 76 to 57. However, there is some evidence to suggest Kerr County would not have voted to secede had the votes of Precinct 2, the German-speaking area in and around Comfort, been fully counted.
It's hard to realize today how bitter the contest became between the two communities.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is very tired of politics and the divisions politics cause, though it's obvious those divisions have been going on since the start of our community.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 2, 2017.

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

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