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A look at the legacy of ‘Polly’ Rodriguez

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Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2019 10:16 am | Updated: 10:19 am, Sat Mar 16, 2019.

Next week, the Kerrville Genealogical Society is hosting a talk about a true Texas Hill Country hero: Policarpo Rodriguez.

The talk, “A Hill Country Tejano: J.P. “Polly” Rodriguez,” will be given at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at 125 Lehmann Drive, Kerrville.

I’ve written several columns about “Polly” Rodriguez. Here’s a favorite from my files, because it shows some of his skills as a scout for the U.S. Army:

We do not appreciate distance anymore.

In reading the memoir of Jose Policarpo “Polly” Rodriguez, a true Texas pioneer, I have come to appreciate what distance once meant.

A decade ago, Ed Wallace gave me a copy of a great book, “A Tejano Son of Texas,” edited by Rudi R. Rodriguez. The book is available at Wolfmueller’s Book Store on Earl Garrett Street.

In reading the book, it seems to me Policarpo’s story can be divided into three parts: his early career as a scout for the U.S. Army; his religious conversion; and his career as a minister of the gospel. He was a man of integrity who helped shape the history of our area. Many of his descendants live in our community.

I learned a lot about scouting from the book. In one memorable passage, Col. Joseph E. Johnston was preparing to lead a mission to open a road from San Antonio to the head of the Llano, and his commander, Brig. Gen. Persifer Smith, needed guides for the mission. He called in “Polly” and asked him many questions.

Smith: “Can you tell the signs of water when you are out on the plains?”

Rodriguez: “Yes, sir, I can.”

Smith: “What are they?”

Rodriguez: “Well, sir, there are a great many signs of water: the trees, the trails, the doves, the butterflies and the wild animals.”

Smith: “Well, that’s pretty good, but how do you tell by these things?”

Rodriguez: “Well, sir, wherever there are willow trees or pecan trees, there is most sure to be water. The trails of the wild animals, like deer and antelope, lead to water. The doves are never very far from water.”

Smith: “How far?”

Rodriguez: “Well, sir, 4 or 5 miles maybe. Sometimes, they might get 6 miles from water.”

Smith: “How can you tell when a dove is going to the water or coming from it?”

Rodriguez: “When a dove is going to the water, it flies above the tops of the bushes and trees and goes as straight as a bee to its hive and, when it gets to the water, it drops right down at the place. When it is going away, it flies zigzag and stops carelessly along.”

Smith: “Very well. And the butterflies?”

Rodriguez: “Wherever there are large numbers of yellow or whitish butterflies and they rise in the air and dance up and down, as they sometimes do, they are near water, and they can be seen quite a long distance.”

Smith: “If you found a trail of the wild animals, how could you tell which direction to take to go to the water?”

Rodriguez: “You have to follow a trail only a little way to know which way the water is. If you are going from the water, the trail gets dimmer and dimmer and other trails branch out from it until it fades out. If you are going to the water, the trail gets plainer and plainer all the time, and you will see other trails coming into it.”

After this interview, the general hired “Polly,” saying “I want you to go with me. I am going to the headwaters of all the rivers to the north of us as far as to the Trinity, and you are to be one of my guides.”

My point about distance is this: Today, we sit in a car and measure distance by time. From here to Fredericksburg is about 30 minutes; from here to Junction, a little under an hour.

We rely on our smartphones to provide directions and to tell us where we are.

When “Polly” was guiding troops as they opened roads, the distance was measured in months and days, and

the requirements to move all of the equipment,

men and animals in-

cluded safe places to camp and nearby sources of water.

Imagine planning a trip today to the headwaters of the Llano: You only need to make sure your car has gasoline and is safe to drive. You aren’t concerned about having water to drink or a place to sleep.

I don’t think I could make it from here to Junction on foot or horseback, but if I had to go, I’d want “Polly” to guide me!

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoyed a nice visit from his daughter this past week.

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