New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Back when it took most of a day to travel from Kerrville to Junction

Freight wagons leaving Kerrville, heading west -- 1905.
Click on any image to enlarge.

These days, driving from Kerrville to Junction takes less than an hour on Interstate 10. There was a time, not that long ago, when the same journey would take most of a day – but only if the weather was good.

Years ago, Herbert Oehler wrote a history column for this newspaper, and some of those columns were collected into a book called “Hill Country Boy,” which my father printed in the early 1980s. I purchased my copy of the book from my friends Jon and Sandy Wolfmueller, back when they had their wonderful bookstore.

A wagon similar to the one
described by Oehler
“There was a time,” Oehler wrote, “early in [the last] century when the same trip consumed most of a day, sometimes even longer when rain made the road a series of water filled ruts except in those places where uneven rocks cropped to the surface.

“…During the time I was growing up…Roy Kemp was the operator [of the stage line connecting Kerrville and Junction]. The vehicle Kemp used was nothing like the stage coach depicted in current Western movies. It was a hack with three seats, an oilcloth-covered top, and oilcloth curtains with isinglass windows. In rainy or cold weather these curtains were rolled down and fastened tightly to make the hack more comfortable.”

'Isenglass,' Gentle Reader, is a substance made from the dried swim bladders of fish.

Oehler’s family’s place was one of the stops on the line. “It was not a passenger station in the usual sense but simply a stop where the horses which had brought the hack from Kerrville were unharnessed and a new team hitched up. The stage line hired a man to do this. He had a tent to live in, pitched under a big walnut tree near the creek. Besides hitching and unhitching the teams, it was his duty to see that the horses were fed, watered, shod and given such other care as required.”

Freight wagons crossing river, 1900.
From the Blakely family collection.
Oehler remembered the names of three of those hired to do this job: a Mr. McMickle, a Mr. Rainey, and his aunt, Emma Heimann. “Of course,” he writes, “Aunt Emma lived with us instead of in the tent while she held the job.”

Four horses were used to pull the hack from Kerrville to the Oehler’s place, unless it was rainy; then six were required, just to get the hack through the ruts. “This was particularly true of the Mountain Home to Junction stretch which had not been graveled except in a few places where the mud was especially deep.”

“The fact that this road was also used by freighters who hauled wool and mohair from Junction to Kerrville, and merchandise in the opposite direction, certainly didn’t tend to improve the road since the heavily loaded wagons cut deep ruts into the soft ground.

Surrey wagon near Kerrville.
“The stage stop at our house supplied no special facilities for the passengers. On cold days they were welcome to come into the house to warm themselves in front of the open fireplace. Some who tried to make the trip more comfortable by warming their feet with a heated brick wrapped in a tow sack or in a strip of blanket, might bring the brick in to reheat it while they were soaking up the warmth.

“They were welcome, too, to seek out the little outhouse back near the barn. This was a two-holer, completely equipped with a bucket of corn cobs and a Sears Roebuck catalog. It is doubtful if every outhouse on the stage line gave the passengers such a choice,” Oehler writes proudly.

The road, Oehler speculates, “no doubt followed quite closely the military route surveyed by Col. Albert Sidney Johnston in the 1850s to provide access to the forts established along the western frontier.”

This route crossed Johnson Creek 12 times between Mountain Home and Kerrville (13 crossings if you count the Smith Branch crossing).

Consider that, Gentle Reader. We take for granted the terrain here as we travel in comfort, sealed in our air-conditioned cars, listening to music, and talking on the telephone.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who appreciates modern highways. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 5, 2022.

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  1. Loved this story! I have a couple of photos of Matthew Tomberlin who also ran a freight line from Junction to Kerrville hauling wool and mohair!

  2. I think it is important to note the similarities or dissimilarities between the pass and future. This is awesome.

  3. I knew Roy Kemp well. He was often a customer & sometimes just a visitor at my family's gas & grocery store across Hwy 27 from the Sunset Baptist Church. He always bought his favorite cigar brand there also.

  4. I would like to read (find out more) about Roy Kemp please. My Great great Grandmother, Margaret Emmaline Kemp Dowdy, came through our area with her daughter Patsy Ellen Dowdy McConnell, and maybe a couple of her sons named Dowdy. Patsy is buried in Jourdanton, TX. My great grandparents (Thomas Garner & Margaret Dowdy Garner) were with them when they left Tenn after the Civil War, traveling through Ark and on into Texas. Some of the Dowdys stayed in the Hill Country.


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