A Hill Country road trip following John Coffee Hays, Ira Aten and other top Texas Rangers.
- Written by David George
- Published March 13, 2012
You’re Riding Shotgun With…
David George, who orchestrated the turnaround of the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum in San Antonio, further enhancing this historic museum with a new addition, the Texas Ranger Museum. The Ranger museum houses hundreds of Ranger firearms, badges and photographs. George embarked on that project as the owner of Destination Entertainment, a management consulting company that specializes in the tourist attraction industry.
His interest in the frontier West has encouraged George to become members of history organizations that include the Texas Gun Collectors Association, Wild West History Association and the Former Texas Rangers Association. He tells us, “Few road trips are more spectacular than a jaunt through the Texas Hill Country during the spring Bluebonnet season.” For frontier West enthusiasts like him, George has outlined an excursion that will take you past a number of Hill Country locations with historical significance for those interested in the story of the Texas Rangers.
SAN ANTONIO, TX
The experience begins in the number one tourist destination in Texas, San Antonio. The Alamo is, of course, the focal point of today’s daytime activity. However, before your visit to this famous mission, you should go to the IMAX Theater at Rivercenter Mall adjacent to the Alamo grounds and view Alamo: Price of Freedom. This 45-minute presentation provides a great prelude covering the 13 days leading up to the fall of the Alamo. As you watch the film, you will realize that the Texas Rangers and volunteers totaling 32 men from the Texas town of Gonzales were the only response to Lt. Col. William Travis’s famous “Victory or Death” letter.
Within walking distance of the Alamo are several additional attractions for the Frontier West historical traveler. The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and the Texas Ranger Museum are two blocks away on Houston Street. The Texas Ranger Museum, in San Antonio since 1936, covers many aspects of Ranger history beginning with the settlement of Austin’s colony and the hiring of the first 10 Rangers in 1823.
For gifts for the history enthusiast, look for the History Shop on Houston Street, across from the Alamo, and explore the shops at La Villita Historic Arts Village. The area is only a short walk along the RiverWalk next to the Hilton Palacio del Rio hotel. Famous Texas Ranger Col. John Coffee “Jack” Hays once lived at what is now called the Louis Gresser Complex at 225 S. Presa Street across from La Villita.
There are a number of famous Rangers buried in San Antonio, including Samuel Walker of the Walker Colt fame, Robert A. Gillespie, John Salmon “RIP” Ford and Capt. Jesse Lee Hall. For details on their grave sites, go to FindAGrave.com.
THE OLD TEXAS RANGER TRAIL
Although Company D of the Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion was based in San Antonio, Rangers did not spend a lot of time working in the big city. Their mandate, at the time, was frontier defense, so they often traveled for many days far from San Antonio. One of the more frequent journeys was from San Antonio to Kerrville and beyond via the “Old Texas Ranger Trail.” Our tour will now take us in that direction to Boerne, Bandera, Camp Verde, Center Point and on to Kerrville.
Take Interstate 10 northwest from San Antonio about 30 miles to the Boerne exit. Boerne was settled primarily by German immigrants, and fine examples of Hill Country limestone buildings can be seen in and around town. An interesting stop is Texas Treasures Fine Art, where quality paintings and sculptures by well-known Western artists are on display. A life-size sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok by artist Erik Christianson is currently in process in the gallery. There are numerous galleries, shops, antique stores and restaurants in town. For a stay over in Boerne consider Ye Kendall Inn right on the plaza in town. The 1859 stagecoach stop is a state and national landmark, and offers 36 rooms, a top restaurant and bar, and easy walking access to all the shops on Main Street.
While in the Boerne area do not miss a visit to Enchanted Springs Ranch. The 86-acre Western movie set, working ranch and animal park offers a unique opportunity to step back in time. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays.
When in Boerne you will be only about 15 miles from the site of a famous battle between Rangers and Comanche warriors at Walker’s Creek. Take Sisterdale Road north from Boerne to the town of Sisterdale. On June 8, 1844, the Battle of Walker’s Creek took place near here. Ranger Capt. Hays and a group of 14 men, including Samuel Walker, encountered a band of Comanches led by Yellow Wolf and a battle ensued. This was the first time a Ranger company used revolving pistols, Colt Patersons, in a battle with Indians. Up until this time, a mounted Indian brave with a quiver full of arrows had a distinct advantage in firepower over settlers using muzzle loaded arms. While in Sisterdale take time to visit the Sister Creek Vineyards store, housed in an 1885 cotton mill, and the Sisterdale Trading Company & Saloon.
After touring Boerne and Sisterdale, take Highway 46 toward Bandera. You are now entering serious dude ranch territory. Bandera is considered the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” with numerous guest ranches, events, entertainment and shopping making it a great place to slow down and smell the bluebonnets. Guest Ranches include the Running-R, Flying L and 2E Twin Elm. Visit the Frontier Times Museum and look for several historical markers involving Ranger history in and around town. April offers the annual Chuckwagon Races, plus the commencement of Cowboys on Main every Saturday. Look for great nighttime entertainment at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon.
Camp Verde, the Army post established in 1855 to experiment using camels on the frontier, is just north of Bandera about 14 miles. On the way, 10 miles out of Bandera, look for the historical marker at Bandera Pass.
The well-traveled Indian pass was a choke point for attacks on the Spanish and all who later followed. Capt. Hays, along with 40 men, confronted the Comanche here in 1841 and engaged in a fierce battle. Stop at the Camp Verde General Store for lunch and an impressive selection of gift items. Charles Schreiner, a French immigrant and former Texas Ranger, purchased
the store in 1858 and from there grew his activities into larger mercantile, banking and ranching activities in and around Kerrville.
Six miles to the northeast of Camp Verde is Center Point. The cemetery in this small community is the final resting place of more than 30 Texas Rangers who served in the late 1800s. There is no other cemetery that contains the grave sites of so many Texas Rangers. Famous names include Capt. Neal Coldwell, Lt. N.O. Reynolds and Andrew J. Sowell.
A short ride from Center Point brings us to Kerrville and the home of the Museum of Western Art, the Kerrville Folk Festival (May 24 to June 10) and the Schreiner Mansion Museum. The Kerrville Folk Festival is a major event dating back to 1972 and attracting more than 30,000 guests annually. The Schreiner Mansion Museum, housed in the former residence of Texas Ranger Charles Schreiner, takes the guest back to turn-of-the-20th-century Kerrville, re-creating the décor of the period.
ON TO FREDERICKSBURG
Fredericksburg offers the traveler a treasure chest of amenities, historic sites, museums, restaurants and shopping. With more than 350 bed and breakfast inns, 20 hotel and motel properties, 150 shops, 20 art galleries, 30 wineries and numerous historic sites, there is never a lack of things to do. Those with an interest in Texas Rangers will enjoy a ride to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area where Capt. Hays single-handedly fought a skirmish with Comanche Indians and lived to tell about it. A historical marker commemorating the event is in the visitor center at the base of this incredible huge pink granite dome that rises 425 feet above the surrounding area.
Unique lodging can be found at the Trois Estate at Enchanted Rock, where you can relive the Old West in a Spanish Colonial village environment. The property also houses the largest cap gun museum in the world with an example of almost every sidearm a kid ever dreamed of. The Tin Star Ranch B&B north of town is a favorite of single action shooters and Frontier West fans. Don’t forget, the town of Luckenbach is just 13 miles southeast of Fredericksburg and offers daily entertainment, weekly dances and an aggressive schedule of nationally known acts.
NORTH TO WACO
No visitor to central Texas with an interest in Frontier West history should miss the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco.
For a scenic route with Bluebonnet landscape opportunities, take Highway 16 from Fredericksburg to Llano. Llano, as the county seat, has an interesting past with spillover from the Mason County Hoodoo Wars involving Johnny Ringo and the Texas Rangers. Visit the historic Llano County Courthouse and Red Top Jail. Cooper’s BBQ is a favorite stop for food and refreshments.
After passing through San Saba, Lampasas, Copperas Cove and Killeen, connect with Interstate 35 going north to Waco. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum’s comprehensive assemblage of artifacts, photographs, documents and displays combine to convey the Ranger story of dedication to the people of Texas.
BACK TO SAN ANTONIO
Traveling back to San Antonio will take you by a number of sites of interest.
Edwin Aten ended up joining the same Texas Ranger company as his older brother, Ira, who had, by 1892, retired and was serving as an XIT Ranch foreman. Two years later, Edwin helped break up the railroad strike in Temple, after workers joined a national strike by refusing to run trains pulling Pullman cars. The Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum is a good place to find out more about the strike and to see its collection of rolling stock.
The Texas Ranger most recently associated with Granger came in the form of actor Matt Damon, as the Ranger LaBoeuf, when the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit was filmed here. This town of about 1,400 dates back to 1882, when the Houston and San Antonio branches of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad intersected here.
Texas Rangers battled it out on the streets of Round Rock in 1878 with Sam Bass and his gang of train and bank robbers.
The Texas State Cemetery in Austin is the site of a number of Ranger graves, including Big Foot Wallace’s. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas offer added options for Western history enthusiasts.
In 1846, William W. Moon became one of the first settlers of San Marcos, and he convinced other former members of John C. Hays’s company of Texas Rangers to join him. But San Marcos is probably more well known for a collection tied to fictional Texas Rangers, from the popular Lonesome Dove miniseries. The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University has complete outfits, “making of” materials, production notes and photographs of Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones playing former Texas Rangers.
Johann Jacob Rahm was among Hays’s Texas Rangers who came to the aid of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels’s party to locate a settlement site in 1845 at what would become New Braunfels. Yet his good deed didn’t keep him from dying in a duel in the town the next year. But you can think of the Ranger if you ever get the chance to book the John Coffee Hays room at the Prince Solms Inn B&B.
German heritage is also preserved at the Gruene Homestead Inn, with its collection of historic farm houses located on eight acres of the original homestead.
The 1872 town of Gruene re-creates the touch and feel of turn-of-the-20th-century Texas with numerous options for food, gifts and entertainment.
By the time you return to San Antonio, you will have realized that the Texas Rangers have done a lot to make the state what it is today. There are many more stories yet to be uncovered. It’s a big state with a dynamic heritage and reason for another journey or two, while the spring Bluebonnets are still in bloom.
Within Striking Distance
THE LEXINGTON OF TEXAS
The town of Gonzales offers the historic traveler an abundance of opportunities throughout the entire year.
The first shot of the War for Texas Independence was fired at Gonzales in October of 1835. The “Come and Take It” incident, or Battle of Gonzales, occurred as the Spanish attempted to retrieve a small cannon loaned to the settlers for defense against Indians (pictured here).
The 32 men from Gonzales would be the only aid to the defenders of the Alamo in several months later, as Santa Anna’s army encircled the San Antonio mission.
The Old Jail Museum and the Gonzales Memorial Museum are great places to start your visit. The jail, dating to 1887, contains many artifacts and takes the guest back to a time when prisoners might go from jail cell to the gallows in the same building. The jail now houses a visitors center. The Gonzales Memorial Museum is dedicated to the Immortal 32 and has a cannon on display that many believe is the “Come and Take It” piece. Don’t miss the museum’s impressive Buck Winn mural outlining the pivotal role of Gonzales in the Texas Revolution.
The Pioneer Village Living History Center is an authentic representation of 1800s Gonzales, with events throughout the year.
It was in Gonzales that John Wesley Hardin met his wife and attempted to settle down, only to become involved in the Sutton-Taylor feud. Hardin would briefly return to Gonzales and start a law practice after being released from prison. Look for the Peck & Fly Building; Hardin’s office was on the second floor.
Gonzales is home to many impressive historic buildings and residences dating back to the cattle and cotton days in the late 1800s. The Old Jail visitors center offers a walking tour map, as well as a calendar of events sharing local history.