Day Events Given by Kerr Pioneer
by W. S. Adair
"I HAVE LIVED IN Texas almost 70 years, that is, all my life” said J. J. Denton of Center Point, Kerr County, who is visiting his son, Howard Denton, 4339 Cole Avenue.
"My father, B. F. Denton, who was waterbound in Arkansas for some time, came to Texas from Montgomery County, that State, in 1859 and settled in Burleson County. But before he had time to look well about him the Civil War came on and, shouldering a musket, he went to the front and was gone four years. He underwent all the privations and hardships Confederate soldiers were exposed to and took part in many of the biggest battles, but came home with health unimpaired.
"At the end of the war settlers began to move into. Kerr County, then beyond the frontier. In that region free lands were open to all comers; the head of a family could file on a tract of 160 acres and a single man 80 acres. Father 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.
"The Indians were still stalking abroad in the light of the moon. We often heard of their forays at a distance and the settlers constantly were 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 until the marauder s should attack the house. But luckily for us, they contented themselves with the horse, with which they hurried away.
"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 as the more fertile valleys. 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, hoofs and horns of them, which the cattle chewed for the sake of salt they yielded, and which, getting lodged between their teeth, or in their throats, often killed them. Many times we removed pieces of bones that had lodged in the mouths of our milch cows and thus saved their lives.
"But the bullfights were what interested us boys. These wild cattle had a place on the creek near us where they mustered in the evening to get water and to bed. We went in advance of the time for them to come and climbed trees a short distance from their bedding grounds, whence in safety we could observe the war. When the cattle had drunk their fill of water the bulls went at it to determine who was who and to keep themselves in practice. Sometimes there were a score or more fights in progress at once and the cattle of the herd seemed to enjoy it as much as we boys did. The exciting moment of the battles came when a fighter realized he was beaten, for he knew that when he turned to run the victor would cut him in the flank with his horn. He dreaded this final stroke so much that he never failed to fetch a despairing moan or bellow when lie unlocked to run. This thrust in the flank seldom proved fatal, hut it almost always inflicted a deep wound.
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"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 father got lumber enough to build him a house. The first year we had to pay $2.50 a bushel for meal, but father fenced a tract of 10 acres and planted, or rather, sodded it, in corn and made 40 bushels to the acre. We hauled the corn to Fredericksburg, a distance of 35 miles, in order to get it ground. We had no flour. The first biscuit I ever saw my grandmother sent me as a present and curiosity when I was 9 years old. We could buy coffee from Charles Schreiner, merchant at Kerrville. We practically did without sugar, using honey in place of it. The women made the clothing for the family, spinning and weaving on the old-time wheel and the hand-loom, and we wore moccasins in default of shoes. I was 11 years old when I pulled on my first pair of leather shoes. All the men and boys wore buckskin leggings.
"But we were never short of meat or honey. The woods were full of bee trees. Bogs were scarce and wild at first, but the settlers soon stocked the woods and then everybody had a wild hog claim. It was no trouble to kill a deer or a turkey, but the staple was bear meat, which the pioneers salted and dried, just as they did hog 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. A smokehouse in those days was as likely t o be stocked with bear meat as with bacon and hams. 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.
"The first mill established at Kerrville was a small steel affair, owned and operated by Christian Dietert. That was in 1868. In the following year M. A. Lowrance built a water mill at Kerrville. It was equipped to grind corn, saw lumber and cut shingle. Then it was that the settler s abandoned their tents, log cabins and Jogouts and moved into frame houses. For some years my father freighted gut of San Antonio. I made my first trip to San Antonio when I was 15 years old. We had raised a bale of °otton and, loading it on an ox wagon, mother and I took it to the Alamo City, a distance of 75 miles. We were many days going and as many coming. When the oxen would get hot and hang their tongues out that was the signal to stop and rest them.
“On that trip I found out two things about oxen. One is that they do not perspire in the daytime, at least, not hewn they are at work, but do their sweating at night. The proof of this is that when you unyoke oxen in the evening after a hard day 's work, skin is perfectly dry, but when they feed and lie down they soon become soaking wet with perspiration. The other is that when you turn work oxen out to graze at night they will hide to keep you from finding them in the morning. In view of this fact, I conclude that the ox is not so stupid as he is proverbially supposed to be.
“When the men were at the front during the Civil War the cattle went wild. There was nobody to bran d them and, in the absence of marks, after the war, they belonged to the first man who could crap a hot iron to them and, of course, there was a wild scramble to see who could brand the greatest number. But cattle were almost worthless until a market was opened for them in Kansas. In 1872 or 1873 the first trail herds of South Texas cattle were gathered up. Reports that settlers could get actual money for cattle for the mere trouble of driving them to Kansas at first found little credence among us and many refused to believe until men who were known to have started North with cattle came back and showed the gold pieces. From that time on the movement of cattle North increased every year. They went by tens of thousands, making people along the route wonder where they all came from and why, after so heavy a movement, there appeared to be as many of them as there ever were still on the range.
"I was a farmer and cattle raiser for many years and then embarked in the mercantile business at Ingram, eight miles west of Kerrville. In the meantime I served six years as County Commissioner of Kerr County. On account of failing health I have been out of business for some time. As a youngster I learned to play the fiddle after the country fashion and since I am unable to get about and my eyes have failed me so I cannot read, I beguile the time by playing the old tunes. Two years ago I began to attend the old fiddlers ' contests and I have already won three prizes."
We have LOTS of information on early Kerr County, Texas...
Other articles (by no means exhaustive) include:
Disastrous Battle with Indians in Kerr County
James Kerr, First Settler on the Guadalupe
Recalls Early Days in Kerrville County