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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Take the Quiz: What did that Kerr County pioneer say?

Mountain Street (now called Earl Garrett Street), 1890s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Forgive me, but I’ve been thinking a lot about time travel, especially over the past few weeks. I suppose this focus was nurtured by my work on a show of historic Kerr County photographs from my collection, currently on display at the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center, which demonstrate the changes in downtown Kerrville from the 1880s through the 1950s.
If one was able to travel back in time, one would find things both familiar and foreign at the same time. Walking in downtown Kerrville in the 1880s, the streets would follow their familiar paths, though they’d be unpaved and decorated by the passing livestock. It’s likely only one or two buildings would be familiar. It would be easy to get lost in a place we think we know well.
This week I realized another part of life here in the 1880s would also be very confusing. Linda Stone, a long-time friend with whom I serve on the museum board, sent over a document I’d never seen before: “A Vocabulary Study of Kerr County, Texas.” The 157-page document is a master’s thesis written by the late Zelma Hardy in 1950.
Zelma Hardy
Zelma Boyd Hardy was an important character in Kerrville’s history. Many remember her as an English teacher at Tivy High School; she was a life-long educator.
However, she was also a pioneer: Zelma Hardy was the first woman to serve as mayor of Kerrville, from 1973 to 1974. (Only one other woman has been mayor of Kerrville in the city’s 131-year history: Bonnie White.)
Downtown Kerrville,
around 1900
Ms. Hardy, in her thesis, studied the pioneer vocabulary of Kerr County by asking several ‘old-timers’ about the words their families used for various common things. Her ‘informants’ were Gus Schreiner, a son of Charles Schreiner; Mrs. D. Knox, who lived on a ranch in northwest Kerr County; Mack Henderson, who came to Kerr County from Tennessee; John Leinweber, who was born about where Wolfmueller’s Books stands today; Felix Real, whose family spoke German at home; Warren Rees, a descendant of the founder of Kerrville, Joshua Brown; Mrs. Alfred Ellebracht, whose family ranched in the Sunset Community of Kerr County; and one teenager, Fayrene Dietert, whose ancestors first moved to Kerr County in 1857.
Mrs. Hardy asked each to answer a series of questions about words used at their homes when they were young. The questions ranged from the word they used for “Time when the sun comes up” to “a very heavy rain that doesn’t last long.”
In reading the document I realized this new thing which would confuse a time traveler: language.
While passerby on 1880s Kerrville streets would, for the most part, speak English, some of the words they used would be very confusing.
For fun, I thought I’d give you a little vocabulary test. Answers provided next week; try not to use a dictionary or the Internet for answers! For the following, provide a simple definition of the key word.

1. Antigodlin: (as in) “He took an antigodlin route because he was in a hurry.”
2. Battercake: “The smell of battercakes made his mouth water.”
3. Blinky: “His nose told him the milk was blinky.”
4. Button Willow: “They argued whether the tree was a button willow or an alamo.”
5. Clumb: “Yesterday’s clumb left him very tired.”
6. Counterpin: “Grandma gave a counterpin to each of her grandchildren.”
7. Hant: “The full moon and the fog filled his imagination with dancing hants.”
8. Light a shuck: “The very thought of hants made him light a shuck.”
9. Near horse: “Hitch the near horse to the singletree first.”
10. Pallet: “At grandma’s, pallets covered the parlor whenever the cousins came to visit.”
11. Plunder: “Before they could paint the cabinets and closets, they piled the plunder on the porch.”
12. Racket Store: “Desperate to find a gift, he raced to the racket store.”
13. Resit: “Grandma gave me this resit, and I’ll copy it for you.”
14. Rinch: “This pail could use a rinch.”
15. Shivaree: “The happy noise from the shivaree could be heard all over town.”
16. Snake doctor: “The snake doctor hovered near the pond.”
17. Sook: “You could hear him sook from the house to the meadow.”
18. Surly: “Stay away from that surly unless you want to get hurt.”
19. Waddie: “Can’t you tell by my clothes I’m a real waddie?”
20. Worm fence: “Turn left at the worm fence past the tank.”

Ms. Hardy’s thesis is a delight to read, and I’m sorry I never knew her. She takes a serious survey of everyday vocabulary here, and notes the regions from which the words and phrases originated. There are hundreds of words listed in the document, some of which are still in use, and many which would be impolite and insensitive to use today.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would not like to time travel, but wouldn’t mind reading the journal of your adventures from your time-traveling journeys. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 18, 2020.

I have two books available -- each is full of historic photographs and stories about Kerr County.  For more information, click HERE.


  1. That was great... I grew up using (still do) about half of those words and never thought much of it.... Thanks for all your articles......

  2. I reckon I either know or can make a good guess at 13 of these words and terms. I'll note 'em down and let you know next week. Fun! Dana Lowe


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