A Kerr County Settler’s Story


Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects items of historic interest from Kerrville and Kerr County, Texas. If you have something you’d care to share with him, he’d appreciate it.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 14, 2012

Can you imagine life here in Kerr County as a settler in the latter half of the 1800s?  Fortunately some of the settlers’ stories were written down, and I recently found one I’d never seen before, about a Kerr county man and his family.

The story comes from an old issue of Frontier TimesMagazine, published in Bandera by J. Marvin Hunter, and features J. J. Denton of Center Point.
“My father, B. F. Denton,” the younger Denton remembered, “was waterbound in Arkansas for some time…and came to Texas in 1859.”
The elder Denton “took a survey in the fertile valley of Turtle Creek, a crystal clear stream fed by pure mountain springs and tumbling into the Guadalupe River.”  Taking a survey meant Denton claimed land; “the head of a family could file on a tract of 160 acres and a single man, 80 acres.”
When the family moved to Turtle Creek, “the Indians were still stalking abroad in the light of the moon. We often heard of their forays at a distance and the settlers were constantly on the alert for them, but to our immediate locality they made but a single visit.
“One night, when father was away and mother was looking out for herself and children, her attention was attracted by a commotion at the barn. She saw the Indians lead the family mare out and one of them mount her. She stood in the door of the house, gun in hand, but recoiled from the thought of starting a battle, thinking it better to reserve her fire should the marauders attack the house. But luckily for us, they contented themselves with the horse, with which they hurried away.”
Many are the stories of a woman and children facing a band of Indians alone. Those stories were often remembered, in crystal detail by the children in the family, even after decades had passed.
Denton recalls something else I’ve heard in other places:
“When we went to Kerr County all that part of the country was covered with the most luxuriant native grass, three to four feet in height, and as thick as it could stand, over the mountains, as well into the fertile valleys.”
In other accounts I’ve heard the grass described as “coming up to my horse’s belly.” By coincidence many of the earliest settlers arrived in our area during a wet year — when everything is green and alive. How beautiful it must have looked.
“Unbranded cattle that had no owners peopled the country in incredible numbers. Deer, bear and turkeys, which had not as yet learned to fear man, abounded. The buffaloes, however, had moved farther west, but the ground was still white with the bones, hooves and horns of them, which the cattle chewed for the sake of the salt they yielded.” 
“For some time after our arrival in Kerr County we lived in a tent after the manner of the Indians, but a year or so later a settler set up a sawmill on the creek near us and there [my] father got lumber enough to build him a house.
His father planted corn and they hauled it to Fredericksburg to be ground into meal. The family had no flour. “The first biscuit I ever saw my grandmother sent me as a present and curiosity when I was 9 years old.”
The rarely used sugar, replacing it with honey. The women of the family made clothing using a wheel and hand-loom, and they wore moccasins “in default of shoes. All the men and boys wore buckskin leggings.”
The family was never short of meat or honey. Though hogs and deer, Denton preferred bear meat. “You can eat bear meat every day in the year and never tire of it, and, when cured, you can eat it raw as well as cooked. Everybody used bear oil as a substitute for lard; it made the best shortening in the world. My uncle, John Lowrance, was a mighty bear hunter and often had 1,000 pounds of bear meat in his smokehouse. He considered it the most wholesome of meats and believed that a diet of it would cure any sort of stomach trouble.”
Bears are few now, though my wife, the brave Ms. Carolyn, spied one in neighboring Real County a few years ago. Many old-timers here (like me) can remember when there was a bear cub spotted in the cottonwood tree behind Mosty’s Garage on Water Street.
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