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Sunday, July 8, 2018

A surprising twist: How Kerrville really got its name

Major James Kerr of Texas for whom Kerr County was named.
Major James Kerr, for whom Kerr County and Kerrville were named.
Incidentally, he pronounced his name "Karr," rhyming with "star."

One of the items I've reported here in years past may have a new twist which, frankly, surprised me. It involves the naming of Kerrville, which was originally called Kerrsville, back in 1856, when Kerr County was organized.
In previous columns, I've written variations of the following:
"Joshua Brown, the founder of Kerrville, convinced the very first Kerr County commissioners court to make the land he'd only recently purchased the county seat; Brown wanted the town to be called Kerrsville (with an 's') after his friend (and brother of his maternal aunt) Major James Kerr. It is unlikely Kerr ever saw the land which now bears his name; by the time Kerr County was formed by the Texas legislature, Kerr had been dead more than five years."
Parts of that are very accurate: Joshua Brown did convince the very first Kerr County commissioners, at their very first meeting, to place the county seat on 640 acres of land he'd only recently purchased from the heirs of Benjamin F. Cage, for $2 per acre.
Joshua Brown, our community's founder, arrived here in the late 1840s, leading a group of ten men to build a shingle makers' camp beside the Guadalupe. Their idea was to cut down the cypress trees, slice the trunks into disk-shaped slabs, then carefully spit those disks into rough shingles which could be further shaped by hand. The finished shingles were then hauled to market, most likely in San Antonio. It was hard work for little pay.
Neither Brown or those with him owned the land where they camped. The ground beneath them had been awarded by the State of Texas to Benjamin F. Cage. The deed read “the grant is made in consideration of Benjamin F. Cage having fought in the Battle of San Jacinto the 21st of April 1836.”
Joshua, Sarah, and young Potter Brown of Kerrville, 1873
Joshua Brown, his wife Sarah,
and their youngest child, Potter, in 1873.
I like the fact that they're holding hands.
Joshua Brown bought the land which became Kerrville in 1856 from the stepsons of Cage's mother -- Cage was thought to be dead at the time of the sale, though there is some evidence he was quite alive and well and living near Blanco. And Brown bought the land at about the exact same time Kerr County was being organized.
The creation of Kerr County in early 1856 by the Sixth Texas Legislature presented an opportunity for Joshua Brown. If he could have the county seat located on land he owned it would allow him to sell parcels and lots to new townsfolk.
Here's how it happened:
On November 12, 1855, "Sundry citizens from the 70th district of Bexar county" petitioned the state to create a new county.
"We, the undersigned citizens residing on the Guadalupe River and its tributaries in the counties of Comal, Bexar, Gillespie, laboring under great embarrassment, owing to the remoteness from their respective county seats, and having a sufficient population to justify it, we respectfully petition for the formation of a new county so that the Guadalupe River may be central in passing through it, to include such limits and territory as your honorable body's wisdom may seem proper and reasonable."
Below were affixed over 85 names, including Joshua Brown's. I recognize quite a few of the names, like J. M. Starkey, who was an early millwright, or Fritz Tegener, who was a leader of the Unionists during the Civil War, and who barely escaped the Battle of the Nueces. There are some Burneys, some Ridleys, a Stieler, and even the first head of Kerr County government, Jonathan Scott. Doubtless descendents of many of the original petitioners still live in our county.
Nowhere in the petition does it request the county be named for James Kerr.
As the bill progressed through the legislature, a provision was made that the county seat be selected by the inhabitants. The final bill called for the county to be named for James Kerr, "the first settler on the Guadalupe." James Kerr had settled on the Guadalupe near the Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s.
However, the bill also specified the county seat "shall be called Kerrsville unless the site selected shall already have a name."
The site was not selected by the original county commissioners court; it was selected by a vote of the people, who chose the center of county surveys Nos. 116, 117, 118, and 119 by a whopping 26 votes. The commissioners accepted Joshua Brown's offer of a donated four-acre county square, a parcel for a school, a parcel for a church, and a parcel suitable for a public jail. Brown, at the time the commissioners accepted the site, had owned the land for four days.
Likewise, the county commissioners did not chose the name, despite Joshua Brown's friendship with James Kerr; the Texas legislature named the community. Whether Joshua Brown had influence over the naming of the county or county seat I cannot determine.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks this summer is already too hot. This column was originally published in the Kerrville Daily Times July 7, 2018.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This column was written on Thursday, July 5, and published on July 7.  All day Sunday, July 8, I've been thinking about how Joshua Brown could have insisted the town be named for his friend, James Kerr.  
Here's one plausible scenario:
The legislature directed the county seat to be named "Kerrsville" unless the place selected by the voters of the county already had a name.
What if Joshua Brown's shingle camp already had a place name?  Brownsborough has been mentioned elsewhere, though there's evidence that place existed beside the Guadalupe River, downstream from Comfort.
So, if the settlement already had a name, some variation of "Brown's Camp" or "Brownville" or "Brown-whatever,"  it makes sense the new owner of the land, Joshua Brown, could recommend it be named for James Kerr, his friend.
Just a theory....

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting article. Why was Joshua Brown interested in having the county and county seat named after Kerr? Was it just out of great respect for his friend?

    As I read and re-read the article, trying to get all the timing straight, it seems likely Joshua Brown purchased the land knowing it would reside within the newly created county. It makes me wonder if the creation of the new county presented him an opportunity to make money by selling parcels of land or did he create the opportunity from the start. It all seems a bit coincidental.


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