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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Squirrel and Chicken Barbecue

The St. Charles Hotel, Kerrville, in the late 1920s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
On Christmas Eve, my new friend Louis Amestoy, who is managing editor of this newspaper, wrote a column on several topics, including well-deserved praise for Bob Waller, a compelling photograph taken by Tom Holden of this year's last full moon, and, well, squirrels. He'd found a clip from an old issue of this newspaper which talked about a "squirrel barbecue."
Mattie Morris
I was intrigued. Although a recipe for preparing squirrel, complete with instructions on how to clean and skin the game, can be found in our 1980s-era copy of "The Joy of Cooking," it's not an entree I have ever enjoyed. Or, more accurately: I don't remember ever having squirrel on my plate. I do remember a few wild game dinners at the Ag Barn in the 1990s where it's quite possible squirrel was among the various smoked proteins I happily consumed.
I dug further on the particular clipping mentioned by Amestoy and found this, from the March 27, 1930 Kerrville Times:
"Mrs. Geo. Morris gave a squirrel and chicken barbecue at Camp Rest, five miles below Kerrville Monday at noon. Sixteen guests of the St. Charles Hotel attended the feast. Mrs. Morris gives these barbecues frequently and they are certainly enjoyed by all those who attend them."
George Morris
Well, then. I might choose the chicken, with just a taste of the squirrel.
In 1930, Mattie Morris was a widow. Her popular husband, George, had been dead five years. He is buried in Gillespie County, at the Hill Crest Cemetery, which was then a part of the giant Morris Ranch.
George Morris was born in Burr Oak, Michigan, which is near the Indiana state line. His family's ranch between Kerrville and Fredericksburg was famous for the racehorses it raised and trained there.
George and Mattie (Gowan) Morris were married in 1891 at the Morris Ranch.
St. Charles Hotel, 1907
In 1907 they moved to Kerrville and purchased the St. Charles Hotel from the Lee Mason family. The St. Charles was on the eastern corner of Water and Sidney Baker Streets, and was probably the best hotel on the long road between San Antonio and El Paso. It was built in 1883, a two-story frame structure facing Water Street. Over the years it was grew like a tomato vine, sprouting a third floor, and additional wings and guest rooms. When the Morris family owned the hotel it even had an on-site dairy herd, with cows housed in a little barn about where today's Kerrville city council meets.
George Morris served as mayor of Kerrville from 1916-1917. Mattie Morris was active in the community as well, in the Eastern Star, and serving on various committees, hosting countless banquets and dinners, from the very first meeting of the Kerrville Rotary Club to graduation dinners for several decades' worth of Tivy graduates.
St. Charles dairy herd, around 1915
Including, it seems, a squirrel and chicken barbecue in March, 1930.
In 1930 the St. Charles Hotel was in peril: only a few years earlier a much nicer hotel had been built in Kerrville: the Blue Bonnet Hotel, just down Water Street at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett Streets. It was taking business away from the much older St. Charles, which had been built for a much different traveler in a much different time.
Mattie Morris had been the sole owner of the St. Charles Hotel since her husband's death in 1925. She knew her hotel was facing difficult days.
Only a few days after the squirrel and chicken barbecue, the Kerrville Mountain Sun announced Mrs. Morris had sold the old St. Charles Hotel to the owners of the Blue Bonnet Hotel -- for a whopping $75,000. It was front page news on April 10, 1930.
So, that squirrel and chicken barbecue at Camp Rest was likely the last one she held for guests of her hotel. Undoubtedly the deal to sell her hotel was already in the works while her guests "feasted" in the countryside near the river between Kerrville and the airport.
Mattie Morris lived another 8 years, passing away in September, 1938. She is buried here in Kerrville, at the Garden of Memories.
I have some of the personal papers of Mattie Morris in my collection, mostly about the various business opportunities she pursued. I need to see if there happens to be a good recipe for squirrel among her files.
Until next year, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has harbored murderous thoughts toward the squirrels who visit his garden each spring, taking only one bite from a beautiful tomato, and leaving the rest of the tomato to molder. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 28, 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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