Driving from Kerrville to Comfort takes about 25 minutes — even if you hit a red light or two leaving Kerrville — and both major routes, taking either Interstate 10 or Texas Highway 27, are smooth and easy drives.
It’s hard to imagine, then, how far apart the two communities were in the early 1860s, during the Civil War era. Neither community has moved locations since those days, but the gap between them then was not measured in miles; the gap between them was measured by politics.
Recently, I found a copy of an 1865 petition in my files, where the leaders of Comfort asked the provisional governor of Texas for help. The original petition is in the state archives in Austin.
When Kerr County was created by the Texas legislature in 1856, Comfort was in Kerr County. According to the 1860 census, there were actually more people living in Comfort than in Kerrville, although both communities were small. Comfort had a population of 91; Kerrville had 68. There also were more voters in Comfort than in Kerrville: In Comfort, there were 37 men of voting age, and in Kerrville, there were 15.
The two communities were very different from each other. Comfort was settled by German immigrants; Kerrville, by other groups, but mainly by folks born in the United States. Most Comfort citizens spoke German; most Kerrville citizens spoke English.
On the big political question of 1860, the two communities were polar opposites: Kerrville mostly supported secession from the United States; Comfort mostly supported staying in the Union.
When Kerr County voted whether Texas should secede, the vote was 76 to 57 in favor of secession. However, there is some evidence to suggest Kerr County would have voted not to secede had the votes of Precinct 2 (near Comfort, in the German-speaking portion of the county) been counted fully.
The other local political contest asked which community should be the county seat. Kerrville was initially chosen, because it met the requirements of the 1856 legislation creating Kerr County: It was in the center of the new county. Comfort, however, had more people; was an older, more established community; and it had the votes.
In 1860, the voters of Kerr County voted to move the county seat from Kerrville to Comfort, although not all of the votes of the county were counted; in this election, some of the votes in Kerrville were thrown out on a technicality.
Comfort might yet be the county seat of Kerr County except for another act of the Texas legislature: In 1862, when Kendall County was created, Comfort found itself just over the Kendall County line. At that moment, the county seat moved back to Kerrville, since Comfort was no longer in Kerr County.
Kendall County was created during the Civil War, and there were bigger problems for Comfort during those years. The county was created in January 1862; in August 1862, at the Battle of the Nueces, Confederate forces defeated a group of Unionists who were heading to the Mexican border. Many of the Unionists were German-speaking men from local communities, including Comfort, who did not want to join the Confederate army.
After the Civil War ended, the leaders of Comfort made a new attempt to change the history of Kerr County when they petitioned the provisional governor of Texas, Andrew Jackson Hamilton. They wanted the legislation that created Kendall County altered where Comfort once again was part of Kerr County. If the old boundary lines of Kerr County would be valid, Comfort would have a chance to once again reclaim the county seat of Kerr County.
“After a rebellious Convention and a party of men styling themselves a Legislature of this State had torn asunder our connections with the national Government, the said so-called Legislature in the year 1862 then in rebellion against and hostile to the only legitimate Goverment, made and created another County, ‘the county of Kendall,’ for no other purpose than to hold and keep down a strong Union sentiment prevailing in Kerr County. …”
The new county line cutting Comfort from Kerr County ridded “Kerr of a strong but troublesome Union party.”
The act creating Kendall County “was done by a rebel legislature … an act to serve their rebel purposes.”
The petition is signed by the prominent men of Comfort, with names still found in that community: Faltin, Schellhase, Schwethelm, Wiedenfeld, Heinen, Herbst.
A few signatures appear in pencil, and among them is a name I was surprised to find among the other petitioners: Charles Schreiner.
Andrew Jackson Hamilton was provisional governor of Texas from the summer of 1865 until the summer of 1866. During the Civil War he had been appointed military governor of Texas by Lincoln, although he never was able to enter Texas and govern; he spent most of the war in New Orleans.
Hamilton may have been sympathetic to the arguments of the petitioners from Comfort, but there is no evidence he ever acted upon their request.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks local politics is a lot less divisive than it once was.