Early Gillespie County, TX History - Heroines of the Hills
From January, 1941 Hunter's FRONTIER TIMES MAGAZINE article "Heroines of the Hills" by T.U. Taylor
Gillespie county has a unique history in comparison with the other counties of the state. All the other counties were settled from older states —Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and others. They brought the pioneer customs of the South into the frontier state of Texas. They spoke the same language wherever they went . They came by the same conveyances—'oxteams, horses, or mule teams . They brought the same utensils, rifles, an d many brought the old fiddle . A few brought fire all the way from East Tennessee and kept it going for the thirty days on the trip . But into Gillespie county came a new people , speaking a new language ; and when they met the people in Blanco and Llano counties they found, to them, a strange language. The customs were also different, as were the cooking and the costumes.
An old freighter relates that in the eighties he drove two freight wagon s from Austin to Fredericksburg through the hills by way of Cedar Valley, Dripping Springs and Blanco . When he arrived at Fredericksburg there was only one person there, the sheriff, who could act as interpreter because he could speak German and broken English. Since that date, over fifty years ago, the mixing with other counties and travel have brought the English language into universal use in Fredericksburg, but for thirty years German was practically the only language spoken. A traveler from the fatherland would have felt at home i n the homes in Gillespie county. The German settler was a home-loving body, and his wife was moreso . They had their festivities and reunions but of the German kind of entertainment. A tourist visiting the museum in Fredericksburg will be struck when he views the implements, utensils, and household effects used by the ancestors of the present inhabitants . Practically all the inhabitants speak English and German fluently, but occasionally some old Grandma has to have her children translate English for her . This article is entirely too short to do justice to this yoeman people. Practically the whole population can be described in one sentence. They were all frugal, honest, industrious; there were no loafers among these people ; they were good neighbors in sickness and health and in times of trouble; the German-Americans of Gillespie county have been an asset to the commonwealth of Texas.
THE 94th YEAR JUBILEE
In the spring of 1940 the writer at- tended the 94th year Jubilee at Fredericksburg held in the high school building. Here came people from Kerrville, San Antonio, Austin, Mason, and Llano, to witness a portrayal by ing actors the scenes in the history of Gillespie county. We sat entranced at the dramatic skill of old and young. Grey-headed men and women threw their souls into their parts. The writer felt that he was paying a visit on a Sunday afternoon to the "Hermit of the Hills," who was a unique character if there ever was one. Here he saw four couples of elderly people come out on the stage and with pure delight and gusto re-dance the old dances that their grandfathers enjoyed nearly a century ago . They did not call the same dances that you will see and hear at the breakdowns in Bandera, but there was only a slight difference. They swung their "corners," "promenaded," and " balanced all" like the old time settlers along the Brazos, Trinity, and in the piney woods of East Texas . What amazed the writer was the agility these housewives displayed in tripping an d swinging as easy as girls of sixteen, and they seemed to revel in the dance. The men looked solemn, but the old girls handled their feet with the skill of professionals.
To cap a show that was already replete with good acts, several couple s of young boys and girls still in their teens walked out on the stage an d without a single " call " or "prompt" went through the "lancers" while a young lady behind the screen played the music without a flaw. The dancers threw bodies in the mad whirl o f this old-time dance that had nearly disappeared from festivities . The writer thought, as he watched this Jubilee, that from this town an d county came Louis Jordan, a German- American, who was the first ex-student of the University of Texas to give his life in France for his native country of the good old USA.
In the early days of the Fredericksburg settlement, the leader of the Germans was very active in developing friendship with the Indians. They expected the white brother and the white sister to feed them when they were hungry and give them horses to ride. It was a common sight in the early days to see a long string of Indians coming into town . The inhabitants soon learned that these Indians all expected the white brother to cook them a hot dinner, and often they unhesitatingly walked right into the kitchen and proceeded to help them- selves to anything in sight. Their desires were not restricted to food and horses, but on one occasion Grandma Klingelhoefer got up early one morning about daylight in the west room of the double-log cabin and started out into the hallway between the two rooms. To her consternation, she saw sleeping quietly on a cot in the hall a big buck Indian, snoring peacefully away, undisturbed and happy. He had applied the peaceful efforts of the German colonists literally, and he had concluded that the white brother really loved the red brother and that the latter was conferring a favor on the Klingelhoefer household by honoring them by sleeping on the cot in the hall. Even to this day, the last klingelhoefer can point out the spot where the big Indian slept and dreamed of the happy hunting grounds . It was not long after this to the time when both ends of that hall between the two big rooms were boarded up and doors secured at night . That same hall exists today, but it has doors and has had for many generations. The spot where the Indian buck took a long quiet sleep can be seen. The efforts of the leader in behalf of peace was too drastic and the red man became too peaceful. In fact, to such an extent that he felt that he had a right to stalk into a white settler's kitchen and take a loaf of hot bread right out of the baker and sit down and eat it as a token of peace .
The Klingelhoefers were among the first German settlers who came t o Texas and settled at New Braunfels . Shortly afterwards other immigrants came and new locations were sought . The Klingelhoefers came with the second crowd of immigrants . They left Germany and spent several months on the ocean in a sailing vessel, and some of them reported that the ship bucked like a Texas bronco . But the German women and the German men had set their hearts on a new land and a new liberty . They arrived on the Texas coast, and by ox-wagon wended their way to New Braunfels and on up through the hills to the magic valley surrounding what was later to be called Fredericksburg . Into this valley came John O. Meusebach, the advance agent and a trail-blazer. He found a valley of oval shape, some twenty-five miles long east and west, and some twenty miles north and south, wellwatered, and of good soil . Here he led his band of followers, to build a home in the wilderness against the objections of the red warrior.
The Klingelhoefers came with the caravan and settled in what is now the western limits of Fredericksburg. Here they built a double log house , with a hall some seven feet wide be- tween the two rooms . In the early days the end of this hall was open, Here the father and mother settled and raised their family. On the northeast corner of the left side of the road to Harper, on the main street, the traveler will notice a low-setting house wit h a huge grapevine twining along the eaves of the front porch . This is the spot where the Klingelhoefers located ninety-four years ago, and here their children and grandchildren were born . Some of the Klingelhoefer descendants are still occupying the house. The rooms, about sixteen feet square, were built of logs, accurately notched to the corner and fitted into the log below. The roof ran parallel to the road , covering both rooms and the hall. The front porch was built parallel to the road, and the rafters and all the braces were cut out of native timber with the broadaxe, and were fitted to the joints and to the plates by the sturdy work - men. This house will rival any in the state for housing one family for ninety- four years.
The wayfarer will notice some quaint furniture . In the east room a hugh wardrobe is about double the size of the ordinary 1940 wardrobe . It was constructed by hand, and not a machine of any kind touched a piece of the lumber. It has a history like the Klingelhoefer family. Other pieces of furniture will demand the attention of the visitor. Near one corner of the front porch many years ago was planted a grapevine. It climbed to the eaves, twined itself along the rafters and plates, and covered the whole length of the porch. It ordinarily bears a very heavy crop of grapes. The vine was planted by Klingelhoefers, had been cultivated by Klingelhoefer, and Klingelhoefer now plucks the clusters of grapes when they are ripe. Then they extract the juice and convert it into a delightful concoction, that, when poured into a glass, looks like the ripe sun and tastes like the elixir of life, and sends a glow through the human frame that makes a person conclude that Texas is a fine old state.
All around the house is evidence of thrift. The kitchen is on the southeast side, and there are cans and cans of preserves, canned fruit, canned vegetables, dried sausage, bottles of grape elixir, dried pumpkin cut into strips, and many other things. You walk out of the back door through a gate into a large garden that grows prolific vegetables. Even the chickens in the yard seemed to be proud of their ancestry, because they were started generations ago—from hen to egg to chick, and then another generation of chickens. These hens were lazily resting under some fruit trees, wearing an expression that said they were proud of the Klingelhoefers.
Many years ago the house showed decay, and they were forced to plaster the outside and inside walls. The visitor can see no trace of the old logs that formed the bodywork of the ancient structure. But on the front porch , one can look up and see the trace of the axe that nearly one hundred years ago felled the trees that were fashioned into an abode for Klingelhoefers. Recently the writer visited this place for the third time and took with him Dave Dillingham, who at the age of twelve years hauled a load of freight to Fredericksburg in the dead of winter when the road ran by Dripping Springs and Blanco . Here the two old pioneers, the writer and Dave Dillingham, sat in the east room that was ninety-four years old and gazed at the ancient relics and that huge wardrobe. Mrs. Robert Lewis, nee Klingelhoefer, the present houseowner and housewife, brought out the delicious kucen and a bottle of that grape elixir, and the mother, now verging on to three score and ten years, also came in. Fortunately the visitors had with them the old Ben Thompson banjo . The writer ascertained the old settler tunes as played in Fredericksburg seventy years ago, and after finding out what tunes they had heard, Dave Dillingham made the old Ben Thompson banjo wail its story of the derelictions of Cotton-eyed Joe and the beauty of the Buffalo Gals . They were told that the banjo, which had once been owned by President Diaz of the Republic of Mexico, was paying tribute to the Klan of the Klingelhoefers. The visitors left, promising to return later and partake of a square meal, bred in a square house by some women who had always acted on the square, because the blood of the Klingelhoefers flows in their veins.
MRS. CLARA FELLER
Mrs: Clara Resseman Feller was one of the original pioneers of Gillespie county, and went through untold hardships, sacrifices, Indian raids, witnessing the murder of her husband . She was born in Germany, December 12, 1832 ; and arrived at old Indianola in 1845, where they remained some 18 months. Her family reached Fredericksburg in the latter part of 1846, the year of the great epidemic . Their first home was in the western part of Fredericksburg, and they found many huts, shacks, tents, and shelters had been erected . The father, John Peter Resseman, became a freighter and hauled goods with two mule teams to Bastrop and went to Indianola and other points. After they had been in Fredericksburg about a year, in the latter part of 1847, the father started to Bastrop after a load of corn, and died on the road.
About this time, 1848, due to the Meusebach treaty, the Indians became very friendly, and would come into town by the droves and hundreds, and expected to walk into any house and be fed. They felt free to take anything. Clara Resseman was a first class cook and bread maker. Flour was very scarce, and once Clara had baked some extraordinary loaves of bread when a big buck Indian walked in, saw the hot bread, and walked off with it.
Clara was married to William Feller in 1850 when she was 18 years old, and they bought a farm of 200 acres 15 miles west of Fredericksburg . They moved on the place, cleared their 200 acres, paid for it, and had lived on it about 13 years . In 1863 the war was having a distinct effect on Gillespie county. Mr. Pellet' was a bitter opponent of slavery and expressed his views openly. One night a mob appeared at his house, took him an d others by force, shot Peter Burg through the back, and William Feller and Mr. Kirchner and Mr. Blank were hanged not far from their home. It was nothing but mob vengeance. Not long after this it was ascertained that William Feller had bought his land from a rascal who did not own it, and had no title to it, with the result that the Feller family and others lost their land for which they had already paid . After losing the land Mrs. Feller returned to Fredericksburg with a family of children, the oldest only 13 years old . All she possessed was a few household goods and an overdue note due her husband . The note was bought by a friend who paid par value for it, more than it was worth. With this hundred dollars she bought the little place where she lived until she was over 90 years old . This little pioneer home at first had a dirt floor, and it brings to the mind of the writer the dirt floor on which he was born in Parker county.
MRS. MARTIN DITTMAR
In 1845 Martin Dittmar, Sr. left his ancient home in the fatherland and with his wife and four children took sail for the United States . After many days and weeks on the ocean, they finally arrived at old Indianola. Mr. Dittmar was taken sick, but he was very anxious to leave Indianola and make the trip to New Braunfels. In a few days several of the teams were started for New Braunfels in the country and Mr . Dittmar made arrangements for his family of six t o make the trip from Indianola to New Braunfels. The laborious and slow trip finally ended, but it was the year of the great epidemic of cholera, and it raged throughout the hill country and other parts of Texas, and Martin Dittmar, Sr ., soon succumbed to the plague, and the widow Dittmar was left with four children, the oldest child, Martin Dittmar, being seven years old. The children were Martin, Annie Elizabeth, John George, and baby Elizabeth. Mrs. Dittmar made arrangements after the burial of her husband to take her family to Fredericksburg. After her arrival, she was assigned the usual allotment of ten acres of land arranged for the German emigrants . Here, the brave woman in 1846 faced frontier conditions where Indian raids were likely to occur. Fortunately, just before, Meusebach, the manager of the colony, had arranged a peace treaty with the Indians, and each side agreed to be very friendly with the other side. They had hardly settled in the new home when the youngest child, Elisabeth, contracted the plague and soon joined her father, and the widow Dittmar was left with a boy nearly eight years old and two daughters . She faced conditions with a brave heart, grit, and determination to make he r home, in the new land. They moved into the suburbs of Fredericksburg. It was a weekly habit for several hundred Comanche Indians to visit the town, and they construed the agreement of friendliness in a very drastic way. They considered that they were welcome to stalk into any woman's kitchen, take her bread and meat, and walk out majestically with all the food in the larder . They had a habit of smelling the bread cooking about noon time and they often timed their visits to fit the taking of the bread from the oven. On many occasions they appropriated the bread while it was hot or warm, and out they walked with the air that they were conferring a favor on the pioneer housewife by deigning to eat her bread . In some cases it was about all the housewife had to eat. The widow Dittmar met these friendly advances of the Comanches with grit and self-denial. Young Martin Dittmar had a chance to go to school b y joining the family of Reverend Rode , a minister of the Methodist church . It was a great opportunity for young Martin, and the widow made every sacrifice to let her son remain in the home of the pious and well educated minister. The widow Dittmar lived her life of usefulness and became a true pioneer of the west.
While in Mason county young Martin met a beautiful young lady by the name of Eckert and within a short while married her, and the young couple turned to it with a will . Martin at one time moved to Beaver Creek in Mason county, and here he started his home . He took his cattle from Gillespie county to their new range, but - the cattle proved very patriotic and did not stay in Mason county, but would beat it back to the old home. Young Martin decided that he would let the cattle have their way and they moved back with the cattle, and he made the remark : "The cattle just wouldn't stay on Beaver Creek, so I decided we had better move back with them ." The young couple bought 110 acres of land, started to grubbing and clearing the land. First, they erected a small one-room cabin and this expanded into other rooms, and by the time the widow Dittmar passed away, she saw that her son was well fixed an d well established as one of the pioneer citizens of the Hill Country.
MRS. W. A. PERIL
Mary,. Ollie Lock was born and raised in Bexar county, and in the early seventies Billy Peril, known as William A. Peril, succeeded in persuading her that the Hill Country between Kerrville and Harper was an ideal place for a home and he assured her mother that he would build his house "by the side of the spring. " They were finally married, and the y made their 110 mile honeymoon trip on horseback up the Guadalupe river to the new home where she lives today, over ninety years old, robust in mind and body and resourcefulness. When they settled in their home eleven miles north of the present town of Kerrville, there was not a single house or town between there and the Rio Grande. They could travel in a bee line from their house to the Rio Grande and never strike a house. The house was built at the head of a branch that drains into the Guadalupe and the chimney was built on a solid rock that proved to be honey comb. After they erected the chimney, it was discovered that friendly rattle snakes made their home in the caverns under the chimney, and on warm days the snakes would come out and bask in the sunlight. One day two of them sunned themselves on the front porch which had a southern exposure, and when noticed, they were peacefully stretched out on the floor taking a sunbath.
Here Aunt Ollie milked fourteen cows, slopped 39 hogs, and sometimes carried her drinking water 3434 feet from the spring to the house that Billy Peril built " by the side of the spring ." Billy Peril soon acquired the reputation of having the best cured meat in the western part of Gillespie county . The Billy Peril meat was a standard of excellence in the Hill Country, and he had orders long in advance of hog killing-time. Few of the families who bought the Peril meat realized that the hogs were raised, slopped, cared for , and fattened by the hands of Aunt Ollie, wife of William A. Peril . Recently the writer with Dave Dillingham, an old pioneer freighter , 'visited the Peril home and went to the Peril spring, about two-thirds of a mile from the house . Aunt Ollie to this day relates the stories of hog killing time—how they erected the scaffold in the branch below the spring and here wood was collected and the hogshead was placed in an inclined position. On a bitterly cold day the hogs were killed at the ranch house, hauled two-thirds of a mile in a wagon , jerked out and dumped into the hogs - head full of hot water, pulled out onto a table where the hair was scraped off . Strong arms lifted the porker to the scaffold which raised it off the ground . A stick was inserted between the fetlocks and there the carcass swung with the nose several inches off the ground. The hands of skilled pioneer s soon divested with sharp knives the porker from all internal machinery and he was left overnight for the animal heat to be frozen out. All night long guards sat by a roaring fire end guarded the 39 hogs from the coyotes After a few days the carcass was carved into hams, shoulders, jowls, side meat, lard, and all the trimmings were saved for the sausage mill . The writer has participated in several hog killings and one day h e had to shoot 64 hogs and see them carted away half a mile to be strung up. There was no stop for dinner an d every Texas pioneer boy will recall that each claimed the " melt" of certain hogs . Around the big fire this "melt" was roasted to a finish, sometimes salted and sometimes not, but everyone enjoyed hog killing-time . The weather was bitterly cold but a roaring fire would thaw out the thumbs of all hands except the shooter who was over half a mile away and he had to thaw out his hands in his pockets.
Aunt Ollie Peril was often left alone and one night the Indians came, determined to find the fine blooded mar e that was out in the pasture . They chased her over the pasture, and finally hemmed her in the corner by the house in which Mrs. Peril stood alone with her baby. From the darkened house she saw the favorite mare shot with an arrow that ripped her side and caused her death . At one time she drew a bead on the Indian with a shotgun ; but finally concluded that if she killed the chief, the whole tribe would be down on her, burn the house, kill her and her baby. Here she displayed pioneer headwork when she traded a dead horse for a live Indian.