THE HISTORY OF BLANCO COUNTY

PART TWO OF TWO PARTS

BY JEAN COX STANLEY

 

The first school in Blanco County was a log house in Pittsburg, near the present town of  Blanco. Shortly after this, a number of other schools were opened in the county. One student described her early schooling in this way; "I sat on a split log with my feet on a dirt floor. The windows were constructed so that when the tops were opened they could be used as desks. When the windows were closed, logs the length of the building held the shutters in place as a protection against the Indians."

Some of the early schools had ten month terms. Others were open for a full year with a tuition for each student. The Blanco High School charter was granted in 1874. By 1880 there were four teachers living in Blanco.

I attended the Mountain View School as well as my brothers and sisters from grades one through seven. One year we had no teacher for the Mountain View School and the students went out to the Flat Creek School, some three miles from our home. I was allowed to skip school that year since the distance was too great for me to walk. I attended part time if it was convenient for someone to take me.

Newspapers were important to the pioneers. The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville marveled that "Every frontiersman seemed to live with an axe in on hand and a newspaper in the other." He said; "Many of the early pioneers lived worse than peasants but did not think as one."

One of the earliest news sources was a Blanco County weekly, The Stinging Bee. It was hand printed between the years 1860 and 1870 by a man named Harrison. In it he told "…the truth and nothing but the truth." He read this paper to a crowd who gathered on the square on Saturday mornings. After the reading, some men were afraid to go home because their excesses were exposed.

In 1857, eleven Masons living in the Blanco area met and organized Twin Sisters Lodge #216 and named it Ancient True and Accepted Masons. It met at Hodges Mill on Curry’s Creek in Comal County. In those days, the meetings were held on or near a full moon. Without headlights on their buggies, the members had to make use of the available light on their return home.

Blanco County has a unique settlement several miles east of the town of Blanco. Peyton Colony is off Ranch Road 2325. It was founded about 1870 for former slaves. Many of the people living in the colony came from the Luling-Lockhart cotton area. In 1996, a number of families continue to live in this colony.

Our family had friendly ties with several of these families. Isadore Upshaw, a woman living in the colony, was working for my parents when my father died. She continued to be thoughtful and caring of my mother for many years. Isadore visited with mother when she was in the rest home in New Braunfels.

The first automobile came to Blanco around 1912. My mother told of seeing her first one as a high school student in Blanco. She said people ran out of their business’ to take a look. One article I found about the first car is told by a car owner’s daughter. She said her father had to spank her to make her go to see the car. She probably felt about the car as we would now if a space ship was landing in our area.

What I remember about the early cars is that they had running boards that you stepped on to get into the car. The open cars were very cold in the winter months. We had an aunt and uncle and their family who visited us from San Marcos. When they prepared to leave we heated bricks for them to put their feet on so they would not get too cold.

Flat tires were a common thing. Car owners had to carry a cold patch kit along in order to fix the tires. The cars had to be cranked to start them. This meant getting in front of the car, putting the crank into the crankshaft end and turning the crank until the motor started.

Another thing remembered is that cars had no direction indicators. To let another driver know what you were going to do, it was necessary to hold your hand and arm out the window. Then you put your arm up, down or straight to give your signal. This was a common practice up through the early or middle 1950’s.

The horse and wagon or buggy were still being used in our area as a means of transportation until about 1935. As children, we used a wagon team or walked to the places which we might go. We did have a car but were not old enough to drive. Our mother never learned to drive.

World War I began for our country in 1917. Men from Blanco County came to its aid. For some, it would be the adventure of a lifetime. For others, their last adventure.

My father had recently married and was not one of the first to be called. He was in defense work. I have heard him tell of a very bad flu epidemic at that time. Many people died. He felt lucky that he survived. He would have been next to be called when the war ended.

One story that I was told recently is that he was called up, issued a uniform and turned in the uniform the next day. The war had ended without him.

People who had telephones in the early part of the 20th century found these devices useful in getting messages to family and friends. They were also the perfect tool for eavesdropping on gossip. Everyone was on a party line. There was a crank box on the wall. Every ring could be heard and that was the time to lift the receiver off the hook to find out who called and what they had to say. Everyone had a different ring. This was a "code".

I remember a time when we had no phone, but our neighbor across the field did. When someone wanted to get a message to us, he would ring our neighbor. The neighbor then called us to the phone or to come for the message.

Molasses making may not seem a very important development in the Hill Country. It is a memory that stays with me very vividly. We had a molasses mill and vat on our place. We used it for our own purpose and for neighbors who did not have the equipment. These neighbors brought their cane to be pressed and the juice cooked and made into molasses.

Some farms had tractors to power their mills. At our place we had a horse that was hitched to a pole and driven round and round to keep the mill going so that the juice could be pressed out of the cane.

Electricity did not come to the rural Hill Country until 1939, and later than that in remote areas of Blanco and Comal Counties. It is hard to describe what a difference it made in the average person’s life. Now people had electric pumps for water wells and power for washing machines and radios. On the radio you could get hooked on Maw Perkins, an early day soap opera. They advertised soap—hence the name "soap opera".

Now, the women could have electric irons. No more "sad irons". Ironing was one of the chores my mother did which took time and hard work. The irons had to be heated on a wood stove. Often the irons got soot on them and this could be transferred to the clothes. In turn the clothes had to be rewashed. My mother kept several heavy irons on the stove so that one would always be hot. She had the habit of putting her finger to her tongue and then putting her finger on the iron to test its heat. My oldest sister saw her do this, misunderstood the procedure and stuck her tongue on the iron. Ouch!

Mother and my brother Curtis were interviewed by Robert Caro, who wrote the book The Years Of Lyndon Johnson: The Path To Power. An excerpt appeared in Readers Digest. One of the last paragraphs in the excerpt tells something about the "Three Hundred Men" who brought the Hill Country into the 20th century. My brother Curtis could tell stories about this development. Many men and boys lined up to apply for the jobs of extending electric lines, about one third of them were hired.

Many of the jobs were given to men who had wanted electricity but had been unable to raise the $5 deposit for connection. They paid this out of their wages. I do not know if this deposit was taken out of my brother’s wages or not. At any rate, he applied for a job, even though he was only seventeen and the minimum age for employment was eighteen. The employer said, "Let me feel your muscles." After doing so said, "You’ll do.’

Brown and Root, the well known contractors in Texas were given the contract to construct the electric lines. They had to hire men who were known to be hard workers. The poles that carried the lines had to be sunk in rock. Brown and Root’s mechanical hole digger failed in the hard Hill Country rock. Men had to do it with manual labor. For this work, they were paid forty cents per hour, which was a good wage at that time. Franklin Roosevelt’s "New Deal" public projects helped to pull the nation out of the great economic depression.

More can be found about electricity and its benefits as well as other public projects in the full edition of Caro’s book.

Electricity brought easier times to the people of Blanco County. The depression years were coming to a close and electricity eased the work load a great deal, at least for the women. But just as the Hill Country people thought they were in for easier times, a catastrophic event took place—World War II started for the United States with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

This event made a big difference in Blanco County, as it did in the whole nation. Many young men, including my brother Curtis enlisted in the military. Once again, it was hard times and happy times for the families at home as they waited for news of their loved ones. No news was often good news. Telegrams of missing in action or death were the greatest anxieties. Many basics of life were rationed. Stamps or coupons were needed to get tires, gas, sugar and shoes.

War and the aftermath of it changed our world in such a way that it would never again be the same. The girls and women in the service and defense work were experiencing a new lift. They felt independent, perhaps for the first time. More women were working outside of the home than ever before. They became accustomed to having their own income and not dependent on husbands and fathers. Many would not be satisfied with being "just a housewife" after this. The war liberated women more than electricity had.

I was in high school at this time. Several of the girls in my class were dating local boys who were in the service. Four of these girls married while still in school or shortly after graduating, but before their boyfriends were shipped out. I have had contact with several of these classmates since graduating. They have good marriages, in spite of their early age of marriage.

I never considered marriage at such an early age, but the war probably affected my destiny in life. Most of the young people were in the war or in defense work. In our family, my sister Margiery (Parge) and my future sister-in-law, Lillian Weber, as well as Frank Weber, my brother-in-law, were in defense work.

Since so many were involved, it created a real shortage of help for other jobs. Just out of high school, I was invited to teach at a small country school. This I did for two years before attending Southwest Texas University at San Marcos. After some college, I returned to teach at the same school I had taught in earlier. Here I met my future husband, Bruce. He had just returned from the war and was living with his parents on their ranch.

After marriage, I turned the job of teaching over to Bruce and we started our family. He taught for thirty years in Comal County, the county from which Blanco County evolved.

At the present time, Blanco County is increasing in population, as is all of Texas. This is not necessarily for the better. People do not know their neighbors, nor have the concern for them that they once did. To quote Sam Johnson, President Lyndon Johnson’s father, "The Hill Country was a place where people knew when you were sick and cared when you died." This previous concern could have resulted from necessity. The early families had to depend on each other in times of illness or childbirth, as well as for a social life.

This was the situation when the first Coxes came to the area. Soon after came the Hudsons and the Wagners, all from my father’s side of the family. My mother’s family, the Prices, lived in or near the Blanco area a number of years. My family was well represented in the area.

My father, A. M. Cox, divided his ranch among his children. On our acreage we have a small cabin. Bruce and I enjoy spending time there as do our children and grandchildren. Two of our grandchildren are hunters and had the experience of shooting their first buck while hunting with their Grandfather Bruce.

We continue to receive pleasure from the land that belonged to the Indians and the Spanish before it became the home of the white pioneers.

Reading about it might make the pioneer life sound romantic. But it was hard, and only the determined stayed and survived.