KERR COUNTY. Kerr County is fifty miles northwest of San Antonio in the Edwards Plateau region of south central Texas. The irregularly shaped county is bounded on the northeast by Gillespie County, on the east by Kendall County, on the south by Bandera County, on the southwest by Real County, on the west by Edwards County, and on the northwest by Kimble County. The center of the county lies at approximately 30°04' north latitude and 99°20' west longitude. The county was named for James Kerr, an Old Three Hundred colonist and an important figure in the Texas Revolution. Kerrville is the county seat, and Ingram is the only other incorporated community. The county is served by Interstate Highway 10, U.S. highways 83 and 87, and State highways 16, 27, and 39. Kerr County is drained by the Guadalupe River and its tributaries and covers 1,107 square miles of undulating to hilly land with elevations that range from 1,500 to 2,000 feet above sea level. Annual rainfall is thirty inches. January's average minimum temperature is 32° F; July's average maximum is 94° F. The county has a growing season of 216 days, and between 1 and 10 percent of the land is considered prime farmland. In the northwest area of the county soils are dark and loamy over limestone; to the south and east soils are variable with light colored brown to red soils in some areas and dark loamy or loamy soils over clayey subsoils elsewhere. The county is in the Edwards Plateau vegetation area, characterized by buffalograss, wildrye, and switchgrass, and by live oak, shinnery oak, junipers, and mesquite trees.
Kerr County is in a region that has been the site of human habitation for thousands of years. Archeological artifacts found in the area, particularly along the Guadalupe River and its forks, suggest that human inhabitants arrived between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. During historical times Lipan Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas hunted in the region. Spanish military units traversed the area while attempting to defend San Antonio from Apache incursions in the mid-eighteenth century. The first attempt at Anglo settlement in the area of the present Kerr County occurred in 1846 when Joshua D. Brown led a group of ten men to the Guadalupe River and established a shingle-making camp at the site of present Kerrville. They were soon driven off by Indians, only to return to the site, which they named Brownsborough, in 1848. A number of settlers moved into the area in the early 1850s, erecting sawmills on the various streams and establishing farms. Indian raids became increasingly troublesome in the early 1850s, and in response the United States Army established a post at Camp Verde in southern Kerr County on July 8, 1855. This post became the headquarters for the famed experiment with camels as transport, and promoted development in the area as well as providing protection. Settlers faced the dangers of Indian attack for the next twenty years, and the final raid took place in 1878.
On January 26, 1856, Kerr County was formed from Bexar Land District Number 2. Brownsborough changed its name to Kerrville and became the county seat. The county was organized and held its first election in March of that year. For several years the new county seat grew slowly due to its remoteness and exposure to Indian attacks, and in 1860 county residents decided to move the county seat to Comfort, a more well-established community to the east. Two years later, when Comfort became part of the newly established Kendall County, the county seat was returned to Kerrville. By 1860 Kerr County had a population of 634, including 49 black slaves. While one planter owned twenty-one slaves, the remainder of the slaves were scattered among thirteen slaveowners. Many settlers had come to the county from the upper south, particularly from Tennessee, while substantial numbers of German immigrants moved down from the settlements at Fredericksburg and New Braunfels. Cattle and sheep ranching established an early dominance over the county economy; by 1860 there were over 4,000 cattle and 1,100 sheep, while only 2,201 acres of farmland were devoted to crops. A second community, Zanzenberg (later renamed Center Point), was established southeast of Kerrville and received a post office in 1859.
The county was divided over the secession question in 1860, narrowly voting in favor of secession 76 to 57. Most of the sizeable number of German settlers were opposed to leaving the Union, while most of the Anglo settlers favored secession. Unionists from Kerr, Gillespie, and Kendall counties were among those who participated in the formation of the Union League in the summer of 1861, and by the summer of 1862 formed companies to protect the frontier against Indians and their families against local Confederate forces. As tensions increased during July of 1862 Kerr and other counties were declared to be in rebellion against the state of Texas, and Confederate forces were ordered to take measures to suppress the rebellion. In reaction to this a party of unionists, mostly German immigrants from Gillespie, Kendall, and Kerr counties, rendezvoused on Turtle Creek in Kerr County and headed south to seek asylum in Mexico. They were intercepted by Confederate forces and most were killed at the battle of the Nueces in Kinney County or while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. Other Kerr County citizens were arrested and imprisoned or killed during the suppression of Unionism in the county. Men from the county served in the war on both sides, with most serving in state regiments allocated to frontier service. While the divisiveness attendant on the Civil War caused lasting bitterness in the county, the county economy recovered quickly. The number of farms and ranches more than doubled between 1860 and 1870, then doubled again during the 1870s to reach 289 in 1880. At the same time the county's population increased to 1,042 in 1870 and 2,108 in 1880. Cattle and sheep ranching dominated the local economy, and wheat and corn were the most important crops. In the decade of the 1870s sheep ranching developed dramatically as the number of sheep more than tripled to reach 15,504 in 1880.
In 1880 the Y O Ranch was founded by Charles Armand Schreiner, a Kerrville merchant and civic leader. The Y O grew into an immense cattle, sheep, and goat ranch, which at one time contained 600,000 acres. The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway built through Kerrville in 1887, further stimulating the county economy. Kerr County's population more than doubled during the 1880s, reaching 4,462 in 1890, then grew more slowly to just under 5,000 in 1900. County agriculture around the turn of the century was dominated by cattle, sheep, and goat ranching. By 1900 the cattle industry had reached its peak, with some 56,000 head on county ranches. Sheep ranching also expanded during the same period, as the number of sheep in the county increased from 15,504 in 1880 to 37,115 in 1900. In 1910 the number of sheep in the county overtook the number of cattle, and the sheep industry continued to grow as the cattle business declined during the 1920s and 1930s. Goat ranching also became an important Kerr County industry in the early decades of the twentieth century. While there were only 4,653 goats in the county in 1900, that number had increased to 63,508 by 1920. The 1920s were a decade of dramatic growth for both sheep and goat ranchers. Between 1920 and 1930 the number of sheep more than tripled to 154,468 head, and over a million pounds of wool were shipped in 1930. During the same decade the number of goats increased more than 2½ times to reach just under 160,000 in 1930, when over 667,000 pounds of mohair were shipped. Kerrville was called by many the "Mohair Capital of the World." Kerr County's human population grew slowly during the early decades of the century, reaching 5,505 in 1910 and 5,842 in 1920. Just as the 1920s saw dramatic growth in the ranching industry, the population of the county also increased rapidly during the decade, almost doubling to 10,151 inhabitants in 1930. Thereafter the population grew more slowly, reaching 14,022 in 1950 and 19,454 in 1970.
The early twentieth century witnessed the beginnings of the tourist industry in the county. Religious groups found the pleasant climate and beautiful Hill Country landscape congenial for camp meetings. The Westminster Encampment for Presbyterians, the first of these church-run camps, was established in 1906, and the Methodist Kerrville Assembly Grounds were established in 1924. The Country Cowboy Camp Meeting was established in 1940 and was still meeting annually in the 1990s. A related development was the growth of summer camps and dude ranches. By 1950 there were twelve summer camps in the county, and by 1989 that number had grown to over thirty camps serving more than 23,000 children. By the 1920s Kerr County had developed a reputation as one of the healthiest locations in the country, a reputation that led to significant developments in county health care and demographics. Several sanatoriums had cared for patients with pulmonary complaints in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in 1919 the American Legion of Texas established what would eventually be called the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Kerrville. The Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital was completed in 1949, and the Kerrville State Hospital was opened in 1951. The county was attracting increasing numbers of retirees by the 1950s and 1960s, drawn by the available medical facilities as well as by the quality of life. In 1970 24 percent of the county population was over the age of sixty-five, a percentage that had not changed significantly ten years later. By the 1980s a number of senior citizen communities had been developed, particularly in the Kerrville area. The Hill Country setting of the county also attracted wealthy Texans and residents from other states looking for attractive sites for country homes. The county has also attracted numerous visitors with its opportunities for hunting and fishing. In addition to the large number of deer native to the county, Kerr County became an early center of the exotic game industry, and Kerrville is the headquarters of the Exotic Game Association. The Kerr Wildlife Management Area has studied the interaction of domestic, wild, and exotic animals since the 1950s and supervises controlled deer-harvesting through hunting programs. Kerr County also draws visitors for its musical and artistic events. The Hill Country Arts Foundation, founded in 1958 in Ingram, runs a variety of programs for the arts and attracts professional and amateur artists, musicians, and actors to the county every summer. In 1972 two Kerrville festivals were held for the first time. The Texas Arts and Crafts Fair, held annually in May, featured some 250 artists and drew crowds in excess of 30,000 by the 1990s. The Kerrville Folk Festival, a popular showcase for Texas performers, operated independently of the arts and crafts fair after 1972, and was attracting crowds of 25,000 by the 1990s. The Jimmie Rodgers Jubilee is another popular Kerrville musical event (see RODGERS, JAMES CHARLES).
Kerr County has also become a manufacturing center since the 1950s. In 1954 the Mooney Aircraft Corporation began to manufacture small aircraft in Kerrville, and by 1969 they had expanded to become the largest employer in the county, with 549 workers. James Avery Craftsman, a jewelry manufacturer, was also founded in the 1950s and employed 154 workers in 1970. Both firms were still operating in Kerr County in 1994. While some crops are still harvested in the county, livestock raising has continued to be the dominant agricultural activity, and the sale of livestock and livestock products accounted for 97 percent of agricultural receipts in 1980. In the late twentieth century, the county continued to prosper from its mixture of agriculture, tourism, health care, and manufacturing, and as a site for retirement communities and country retreats for the wealthy. During the 1970s the population jumped almost 68 percent to 28,780 in 1980 and then increased another 80 percent to reach 36,304 in 1990.
Politically, the county’s voters supported the Democratic presidential candidates in every election from 1896 (the first year the area participated in a national election) through 1920. The county supported Republican presidential candidates in 1924 and 1928, returned to the Democratic party for the Franklin Roosevelt years, then voted Republican in virtually all presidential elections from 1948 through 2004. The only exception occurred in 1964, when native-son Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried the county.
The U.S. census counted 50,562 people living in Kerr County in 2014. About 70.7 percent were Anglo, 25.2 percent were Hispanic, and 2.1 percent African American. Of residents age twenty-five and older, 81 percent had completed high school and 23 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century tourism, agriculture, hunting leases, and the manufacture of aircraft parts and other goods were important elements of the local economy. In 2002 the county had 977 farms and ranches covering 564,352 acres, 82 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 10 percent to crops, and 5 percent to woodlands. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $11,994,000; livestock sales accounted for $10,870,000 of the total. Cattle, sheep, goats, hay, and pecans were the chief agricultural products.
Kerrville (population, 23,177) is the county seat and the home of Schreiner University. Other towns include Ingram (1,846), Center Point (800), Hunt (708), Mountain Home (96), and Camp Verde (41). The county is served by the Kerrville Airport. Visitors are attracted to the area by the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Kerrville-Schreiner State Park, youth camps and dude ranches, and the Cowboy Artists Museum.
Bob Bennett, Kerr County, Texas, 1856–1956 (San Antonio: Naylor, 1956; bicentennial ed., rev. by Clara Watkins: Kerr County, Texas, 1856–1976, Kerrville, Texas: Hill Country Preservation Society, 1975).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Mark Odintz, "KERR COUNTY," accessed May 24, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hck06.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 12, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.