Sunday, January 7, 2018

From Kerrville to Junction by Wagon

Freight wagons near Kerrville
Freight Wagons traveling from Kerrville to Junction, around 1900.
Photo courtesy of the Blakely Collection.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Now that most of your holiday guests have headed back home (or you’ve returned from your holiday travels) it might be nice to consider what travel was like in this region at the turn of the last century.
Years ago Herbert E. Oehler wrote a book about growing up in the Mountain Home area called “Hill Country Boy,” which my father printed in the early 1980s. I recently found a copy at Wolfmueller's Books which I quickly purchased.
Leland Richeson C C Butt Grocery Kerrville
Leland Richeson in the
C C Butt Grocery wagon
Travel was different at the turn of the last century, according to Oehler.
“Travelers who skim over the smooth pavement of IH10 from Kerrville to Junction can easily make it in an hour now,” writes Mr. Oehler. “But there was a time early in [the last] century when the same trip consumed most of a day, sometimes even longer when rain made the road a series of water filled ruts except in those places where uneven rocks cropped to the surface.
Surrey Wagon near Kerrville
A Surrey Wagon, around 1910,
near Kerrville
“…During the time I was growing up…Roy Kemp was the operator [of the stage line connecting Kerrville and Junction]. The vehicle Kemp used was nothing like the stage coach depicted in current Western movies. It was a hack with three seats, an oilcloth-covered top, and oilcloth curtains with isinglass windows. In rainy or cold weather these curtains were rolled down and fastened tightly to make the hack more comfortable.”
'Isenglass,' Gentle Reader, is a substance made from the dried swim bladders of fish.
Oehler’s family’s place was one of the stops on the line. “It was not a passenger station in the usual sense but simply a stop where the horses which had brought the hack from Kerrville were unharnessed and a new team hitched up. The stage line hired a man to do this. He had a tent to live in, pitched under a big walnut tree near the creek. Besides hitching and unhitching the teams, it was his duty to see that the horses were fed, watered, shod and given such other care as required.”
Mail Wagon at Kerrville 1933
Tom Tarver getting the mail
at the Kerrville Depot, 1933
Oehler remembered the names of three of those hired to do this job: a Mr. McMickle, a Mr. Rainey, and his aunt, Emma Heimann. “Of course,” he writes, “Aunt Emma lived with us instead of in the tent while she held the job.”
Four horses were used to pull the hack from Kerrville to the Oehler’s place, unless it was rainy; then six were required, just to get the hack through the ruts. “This was particularly true of the Mountain Home to Junction stretch which had not been graveled except in a few places where the mud was especially deep.”
“The fact that this road was also used by freighters who hauled wool and mohair from Junction to Kerrville, and merchandise in the opposite direction, certainly didn’t tend to improve the road since the heavily loaded wagons cut deep ruts into the soft ground.
Wool Wagons on Water Street Kerrville
Wool Wagons on Water Street,
Blakely Collection
“The stage stop at our house supplied no special facilities for the passengers. On cold days they were welcome to come into the house to warm themselves in front of the open fireplace. Some who tried to make the trip more comfortable by warming their feet with a heated brick wrapped in a tow sack or in a strip of blanket, might bring the brick in to reheat it while they were soaking up the warmth.
“They were welcome, too, to seek out the little outhouse back near the barn. This was a two-holer, completely equipped with a bucket of corn cobs and a Sears Roebuck catalog. It is doubtful if every outhouse on the stage line gave the passengers such a choice,” Oehler writes proudly.
Freight Wagons downtown Kerrville
Freight Wagons, Earl Garrett
at Water Street in Kerrville
The road, Oehler speculates, “no doubt followed quite closely the military route surveyed by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston in the 1850s to provide access to the forts established along the western frontier.”
This route crossed Johnson Creek 12 times between Mountain Home and Kerrville (13 crossings if you count the Smith Branch crossing).
Consider that, Gentle Reader. We take for granted the terrain here as we travel in comfort, sealed in our air-conditioned cars, listening to music, and talking on the telephone.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can remember traveling to Junction before IH10 was built, along a route which must have been close to that described by Oehler. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 6, 2018.





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

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