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Sunday, April 30, 2023

History of Kerr County in Six Objects -- a Parlor Game

What six objects could tell the history of our community?
Click on any image to enlarge.

Years ago, at a dinner hosted by my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller, a publisher asked a question which I’ve been thinking about ever since.

The dinner celebrated that afternoon’s successful book signing event for Stephen Harrigan’s history of Texas: “Big Wonderful Thing.” Among the guests was one of the folks from the University of Texas Press, which had commissioned and published the book.

The question she asked was something like this: “If you were to tell the history of Texas using only six objects, what would they be?”

There was a little bit of discussion about the question, but I was lost from the discussion, because I was wondering what six objects I would select to tell the history of Kerr County?

Not content to select just any object, though, I wondered what six objects I would select from my own collection of Kerr County historical items. And to make the answer even more difficult, I also decided the six items had to be objects other than photographs. I could not use a picture of something – I had to have the actual thing in my collection.

So, for the past several years, I’ve been playing with this question, trying to come up with six things that could tell our community’s story.

Here are the six I selected:

1. Gastropod Fossil, Tylostoma tumidum; embedded fossil is 3” tall by 1.75” wide; from the Cretaceous period, around 100 million years ago. The area now known as Kerr County was once submerged beneath a shallow sea; decaying marine life fell to the sea bottom over millions of years forming limestone, which later eroded and formed ‘hills.’ Fossils from this period are common throughout Kerr County. Life has existed here for an unimaginably long time.

2. Kerrville Knife; 4” by 4”; from the late Archaic period, around 4,000 to 2,500 years ago. Used for butchering animals and cutting plant fibers. Fits remarkably well in one’s hand. Little is known about the people who created and used this tool, who lived here long before historical tribes such as the Apache and Comanche existed. When we think of Native Americans, we tend to think of those who were here when the first European settlers arrived. However, people have been in Kerr County since the end of the last ice age, almost 12,000 years ago.

3. Texas Land Patent; 13.75” tall by 15.75” wide; 1847, signed by the first governor of the State of Texas, J. Pickney Henderson, granting state-owned land to Thornton F. Hollis, who sold the land the same day he qualified for the granted land. The raw land was surveyed by Joseph A. Tivy – well before Kerr County (or Kerrville) existed. The tract is now the site of the Kerrville State Hospital. I picked this government document because it marks the end of ‘wilderness,’ and the start of ‘property,’ an idea introduced here less than 200 years ago.

4. Cypress shingle and drawknife; mid- to late-19th century; shingle is 20” tall and 12.25” wide; drawknife is 6” tall by 12.75” wide. Joshua D. Brown and a group of men established a camp in the late 1840s, in what is now present-day Kerrville, to harvest local cypress trees to produce roofing shingles to market in San Antonio. After the cypress wood was roughly formed into shingles, the drawknife was used to finish the shape and surface of the shingle. Joshua Brown is the founder of Kerrville, and it was the cypress trees along the river which drew him here.

5. Sample of iron rail, from the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad in Kerrville; 4” wide by 4” tall by 12” long; 1887. The railroad arrived in Kerrville on October 6, 1887. The first train to Kerrville included six Pullmans, carrying 502 passengers – or about 200 more people than lived in Kerrville at the time. Nothing transformed Kerrville and Kerr County more than the arrival of the railroad. Goods could be shipped in (such as building materials), and products could be shipped out (such as wool, mohair, and livestock).

6. Kerrville State Sanatorium booklet, 1937, 8” tall by 5” wide, 20 pages. Located on the site of previous sanatoriums, in 1936, the state of Texas purchased the land, hospital, and improvements from Dr. Sam E. Thompson, to create a tuberculosis treatment facility for African-American patients. Today the site is known as the Kerrville State Hospital. No history of Kerrville would be complete without a mention of the tuberculosis sanatoriums which brought so many families to our community.

These six objects make up a ‘pop up museum’ currently on display at Pint & Plow Brewing Company, 332 Clay Street. While the objects themselves stay safely stored in my collection, high-resolution images of each item can be viewed there. I’m thankful to Jeremy and Maia Walther for sharing wall space in their establishment for these history displays.

Now it’s your turn: what six objects would you choose to tell our county’s story?

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who ponders odd questions much more often than he should. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 29, 2023.

You can help by sharing this story with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)


  1. That’s very interesting, Joe. I like the items you selected, but I think I would also include some wool and or mohair.

  2. That is a very interesting article and selection of items, Joe, I think I would add some wool or mohair to your group.


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