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Sunday, May 23, 2021

That time a bear got loose in downtown Kerrville -- 1898

Interior view, Henke Brothers Meat Market,
which was in the 800 block of Water Street.
Click on any image to enlarge.

This week, while researching a different mystery, I ran across a twice-told tale, a story told by two different storytellers.
The tale involves a bear roaming downtown Kerrville at the turn of the last century. This caused a general excitement among those present for the event, and none who were there that day forgot the story.
Henke's, probably early 1960s
Many people have very fond memories of Henke Brothers Meat Market, which was located in the 800 block of Water Street. People especially remember the good barbecue you could buy there, and eat behind the store. 
In 1898, the Henke Brothers purchased the City Meat Market from the Karger Brothers, who were ‘great bear hunters,’ and who kept a pet bear chained up behind the butcher shop. The sale of the butcher shop included the poor bear.
On the very day the Henkes took possession of the enterprise, according to the Kerr County Album, the bear “broke loose and started roaming up the alleyway and entered Schreiner’s store, causing much excitement. Store employees took ammunition and guns from the hardware department and the bear was killed….”
For years this was all I knew about the excitement caused by a bear lumbering along in downtown Kerrville. This week, however, I found an article which fills in a few more details.
Louis A. Schreiner was the third child of Charles and Magdalena Schreiner, and he was born in downtown Kerrville on New Year’s Eve, 1870. He was a banker, and worked at his father’s Schreiner Bank from the age of 19.
Louis A. Schreiner, and guests, around 1968
In early 1969, after “Mr. Louie” celebrated his 98th birthday a few months before, the imitable Nina Harwood interviewed him for this newspaper. Ms. Harwood certainly got several good stories from him, including the story of the rambling bear.
Mr. Schreiner describes the path the roaming bear took after it escaped its chains: from the meat market, which stood between Water Street Antiques and Francisco’s Restaurant in the 800 block of Water Street, the bear escaped down an alley which still exists today. The old Masonic Building, which today holds Turtle Creek Olives and Vines, has a little sidewalk between it and the Baehre Building, home today of Rita’s Famous Tacos and Pax Coffee and Goods. The bear walked down that little sidewalk and entered the Masonic Building.
Louis Schreiner remembered it this way:
After leaving the Masonic Building, the bear crossed the street – to the Schreiner Mansion.
“I was [around] 25 years old at the time, and was slowly recovering from typhoid fever.
“My brothers, Walter and Charlie, who were nursing me at the time, since my parents and two sisters were in Europe, had placed me in a bed on the front porch. When the bear came into the yard, I was unable to move. But fortunately, he went around the house and to the rear of my father’s store.”
Work was being done on the mansion at the time, with Italian stonemasons “installing some fancy rockwork on our fence.”
When the bear suddenly appeared in the backyard, the stonemasons climbed trees as fast as they could, not knowing bears are excellent climbers of trees.
Fortunately for the stonemasons, the bear decided to go shopping at Schreiner’s store.
John Grider, of Grona & Grider ‘Blackmiths and Wheelwrights,’ which stood roughly opposite Water Street from Francisco’s Restaurant, “grabbed a gun and took after the bear. Upon entering the store, Grider shot holes in a half-dozen pairs of shoes before he finally killed the animal,” Louis Schreiner told Nina Harwood with a chuckle.
The Kerr County Album tells what happened next.
“That being opening day for the market,” the Henkes offered “bear meat for 12 cents a pound.”
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has seen bears in the wild in Colorado, though his lovely wife, Ms. Carolyn, once saw a bear at the H. E. Butt Foundation Camps, near Leakey. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 22, 2021.

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