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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Native American Pictographs in Kerr County

A portion of the Native American Pictographs at the
Hatfield Pictograph Shelter, Kerr County.
Click on image to enlarge.
There are faint red, black and yellow marks on a limestone bluff in the western part of Kerr County, markings which have been there, exposed to rain and sun, possibly for hundreds of years. They are at the only recorded archaeological site in Kerr County which includes pictographs, the Hatfield Pictographic Shelter, designated 41KR493. When the pictographs were drawn and painted is not known, but there is evidence from artifacts found at the site that rock shelter was in use from the Late to Transitional Archaic period, roughly between 1,500 to 5,000 years ago.
Pictographs are images or designs which were painted or drawn, usually on stone; petroglyphs were carved or chipped into stone. This site is called a rock shelter because a portion of the bluff above the pictographs extends slightly outward and above the pictographs, like a visor on a cap. It is at best an imperfect ‘shelter,’ but may have served as a place to escape weather and direct sun.
My friend Bryant Saner, Jr., an archeologist, showed me the site more than a decade ago. He’s also published papers on what is found there.
Other pictographs in Kerr County have been reported, most many decades ago. A. T. Jackson, in his book “Picture Writing of the Texas Indians,” first published in the 1930s, notes two sites in Kerr County. His reporting of those two sites does not include illustrations or photographs, and neither site was documented or recorded by archeologists from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Today no one is completely sure where the sites Jackson mentioned might be located, or even if the images reported there over 80 years ago are even visible today. In his reports he notes the pictographs at the two sites were faded and hard to see.
Saner, in a paper published in “La Tierra,” the Journal of the Southern Texas Archaeological Association, in July 1996, suggests the Hatfield Shelter is not one of the two sites mentioned in Jackson’s book, but a third Kerr County site with pictographs. It is the only one to be documented and recorded.
The site was named for the person who discovered and reported it, Vicki Hatfield, in a site survey report on file at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, in 1992.
In the few times I’ve been to the site, I’ve noticed a fading of the images there. Some of the photographs I took on early visits show images much sharper and clearer than more recent photographs.
I’m sad to say the site has suffered from vandalism, mostly in the form of people digging for artifacts and disturbing the archeological record there. This destruction is against the law, and also robs future generations of the knowledge which could be gained from scientific study of the site.
A full-scale study has not been conducted at the Hatfield Shelter, as far as I know, with archeological investigations to determine and record more of the information hidden there. The site still holds a secret or two about life in the Texas hill country many generations ago. I’ve been told a lack of funding prevents that work.
The site itself is quite lovely, a rock shelter just above the river, hidden and protected by trees. It’s easy to imagine how it must have been, an unknown number of years ago, when a pigment, made from materials found in nature, was carefully applied to its rock walls.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who often wonders about those who lived here very long ago.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 30, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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