Hill Country and Central Texas are my unique guides to the Texas Hill Country and Central Texas. Hill Country was first published by Texas Monthly Press in 1983 and covered both the Hill Country and Central Texas.
Because of all the new stories and other content that I have collected since the last edition of Hill Country, the content has now been split into two books, Hill Country and Central Texas.
The trips follow the same routes, but as usual, I have been finding new stories, places, and characters along the way. Some places and people, unfortunately, have disappeared.
I have been collecting vintage Texas postcards for years, especially from the Hill Country and Central Texas. Unfortunately, I was never able to talk my publishers into including any of them in Hill Country. But thanks to the Internet, every one who wishes may now enjoy them. If you would like to see some of my favorite postcards, plus a variety of other Central Texas views dating as far back as the 1840s, click here.
The Hill Country and Central Texas are richly varied regions, so each chapter of Hill Country tells many fascinating tales. Here are some of the stories and remembrances in the new books, dating to the 1880s and organized by chapter. They make for fascinating reading. I have credited the author where ever possible. The stories come from the newspaper collections of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin History Center.
Chapter 1, Take a Ride on the Fredericksburg & Northern Railroad, traces the route of this short (and short-lived) line from Fredericksburg to just east of Comfort. The F&N's passengers continued into San Antonio on the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad (SAAP), through Boerne and Leon Springs. The San Antonio-to-Boerne stretch of the SAAP opened in 1887, effectively opening the Texas Hill Country to tourists for the first time. This account from the March 15, 1887, San Antonio Daily Express describes that first, historic public train trip from San Antonio to Boerne.
Here's a lengthy excerpt from Chapter 3, Mormon Trails. It chronicles the wanderings of the Lyman Wight colony, which broke away from the Mormon Church after Joseph Smith's death and came to Central Texas. No Civil War battles were fought in the region, but there were violent war-related shootings and lynchings. Everyone has heard of the Nueces River massacre of German men from Comfort, but few know about the Bandera Hills lynching, as related by J. Marvin Hunter in the San Antonio Express from January 29, 1922.
Chapter 4, Hill Country Rivers, explores the importance and beauty of the Hill Country's rivers. Christian Dietert liked the Guadalupe River at Kerrville so much that he built -- and rebuilt -- three mills here, despite flood and fire. His daughter, Augusta, spilled the details to the Boerne Star in 1933.
Chapter 5, Enchanted Rock, leaves Austin via Bee Caves Road. Bee Caves Road is now a commuter corridor to and from Austin, but not too long ago, this was one of the Austin area's most scenic drives. It could be said that the modern, motor-tourism era in the Hill Country began in 1917 with the publication of this driving tour to Oak Hill and Bee Caves. By 1930, most all of the Hill Country's Anglo-American pioneers had passed on to their eternal rest. One of the last survivors in Blanco County was "Uncle" Dave Wonsley, eulogized in 1929.
Chapter 6, Riding the Fault, teeters along the ragged cliffs and balconies of the Balcones Fault. This was until recently a cultural divide, setting off prairie people from the mountain folk, as this ghost story about the Cross House near Kyle also reveals. Miss Fannie Manlove also recounts a Cross House tragedy in her 1929 history of Mountain City.
Luling was once one of the baddest little towns in America. Alexander Sweet, Texas' foremost writer of the day, described his visit to Luling in his 1883 book, On a Mexican Mustang Through Texas. From Chapter 8, Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage.
Chapter 9 is titled The Wild West and covers parts of Travis, Bastrop, and Lee counties. Life in this country was certainly wild at times, but the same can be said of most Texas counties at one time or another. But the Christmas Eve lynchings and Christmas Day shootout of 1883 at McDade are truly the stuff of legend and generate controversy to this day. Read the Houston Post's on-the-spot coverage from December 1883, and Jeptha Billingsley's recollections of what really happened, 50 years later, in the Elgin Courier. Meanwhile, just west of Bastrop, whites and blacks were fighting a bloody battle for political power in the village of Cedar Creek.
Chapter 10, Central Texas Stew, explores the rich ethnic and religious diversity of the region's 19th and early 20th century settlers, such as the citizens of Columbus and Colorado County. Sample Colorado County's colorful, complicated (and sometimes violent) history in this excerpt.
I regularly travel through the Hill Country and Central Texas in search of new stories and sites. Click here to read my field notes from past forays.