Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

PEDERNALES RIVER. The Pedernales River (pronounced "Perdenales" by native Texans) rises from springs in the southeastern corner of Kimble County (at 30°16' N, 99°20' W) and flows northeast for 106 miles, crossing Gillespie, Blanco, and Hays counties, to its mouth on Lake Travis, near Briarcliff in western Travis County (at 30°26' N, 98°04' W). The terrain near the river is flat to rolling with local escarpments, and its fine sandy loams support the juniper, bald cypress, mesquite, and grasses characteristic of the Hill Country. The name Pedernales, which is the Spanish term for the flint rocks that characterize the riverbed, was first used by explorers and missionaries in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1750 Fray Benito Fernández de Santa Ana proposed a plan to the Spanish government to establish a new mission site among the Lipan Apache Indians who lived along the Pedernales. José Mares and Pedro Vial crossed the river in 1788 and 1789, respectively. Also in 1789 the river was the site of a skirmish between Col. Francisco Xavier Ugalde and a party of Lipan and Mescalero Indians. Fredericksburg, established in 1846 by German immigrants, was the earliest permanent settlement on the Pedernales. Some settlers moved as far west as the site of present Harper in the 1860s, but the threat of Indian raids prevented development of the town until 1883. Johnson City in Blanco County was founded in the late 1870s. The upper reaches of the Pedernales River are generally too shallow for recreational use, but the middle and lower reaches of the river provide good white water, especially during periods of high runoff. Two parks have been established along the Pedernales: Pedernales Falls State Park and Lyndon B. Johnson State Historical Park. The Pedernales has been dammed near Johnson City to form Johnson City Lake.

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). An Analysis of Texas Waterways (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1974).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, "PEDERNALES RIVER," accessed April 23, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox