A current project of the Llano County Historical Society is updating the exhibits in the Llano County Historical Museum so they are more user-friendly to visitors. Museum specialists from the State Historical Commission have provided suggestions and guidelines to improve ways to display historical items. Visits to other recently renovated museums have resulted in better usage of signage to tell the story of Llano County. It has always been the Society’s goal to make a tour of our museum as chronologically based as possible, so our county’s history can logically unfold as the visitor tours the building. What has resulted is the division of Llano County’s history into specific time periods or eras that describe major events that occurred over the years.
Eras have been divided into the following categories thus far: Archaeological Period or PREHISTORIC ERA (The geology and archaeology of the Llano Basin, including artifacts left by early inhabitants); Era of SPANISH EXPLORATIONS (Expeditions into our area to discover and recover various ores, especially gold and silver); REPUBLIC OF TEXAS ERA (Opening of land west of the Colorado River through the Fisher-Miller Grants); COMING OF THE GERMANS (John O. Meusebach signed a treaty with Comanche assuring safe passage; first settlements are established at Bettina, Leiningen, and Castell); COMING OF THE ANGLOS (The Salt Works in northeastern Llano County led to Colorado River communities of Saline (Tow Valley) and Bluffton; Anglos also settled around Honey Creek and Packsaddle Mountain in southeastern Llano County); Llano County was created in 1856 with plans for a county seat, also named Llano); THE GROWTH YEARS (A major road from Bluffton across the upper part of Llano County resulted in settlements along Johnson, San Fernando, and Cold Creeks in northwestern section; Other Anglos settled around Sandy and Legion Creek; by 1870, named communities included: Llano, Castell, Tow Valley, Bluffton and Colorado River, Honey Creek Cove, Sandy Mountain, Sandy, San Fernando, and House Mountain.); THE TUMULTUOUS YEARS, divided into 3 eras—THE CIVIL WAR ERA, THE INDIAN ERA, and THE OUTLAW ERA (With the coming of the Civil War, closing of frontier forts resulted in hostile Indians to raid, plunder, and occasionally kill settlers; after the war, Reconstruction government brought an influx of outlaws and rustlers).
The time frame involved for the historical eras of Llano County just described ranges from 1756 to 1880. By the late 1870’s, the Texas Rangers had removed the outlaw element from Llano County. However, there were still some lingering elements of lawlessness. In June, 1882, fifteen Llano County men confronted each other east of the courthouse square in what became known as the Carter-Coggin Feud. At the end of a fairly lengthy shoot-out, two men lay dead, and members of both parties were wounded. The incident was the final blow to the Outlaw Era.
Beginning around 1875, newcomers began taking advantage of pre-emption land grants that had no previous owner. After the Carter-Coggin Feud, Llano County was considered a safe environment. Increased population brought on THE RISE OF COMMUNITIES as areas of Llano County that had few residents by 1870 now had enough citizens to form additional communities. The Census in 1870 showed only a few families lived in the vicinity of Little Llano Creek, but by early 1880, the population thrived, resulting in the development of McNutt’s Precinct, which included a store, post office, and a school. These facilities then moved to a new location known as Lone Grove. At the same time Lone Grove was developing, another community came into existence a few miles northwest at Babyhead. A new community was formed between the Fort Mason Crossing on the Colorado River at Long Mountain and Honey Creek known as Gainesville, located on present CR307. Further down the Colorado south of Long Mountain, a man named Martin D. King took up land which became Kingsland. A few years later, a man purchased the Gainesville store and moved it to Kingsland.
Perhaps the greatest increase in population developed along the main road across the top of the county from Bluffton into Mason County. The route passed directly by the home/store/post office of O.C.J. Phillips in northwestern Llano County. A map in 1875 shows the Phillips home as a major landmark, around which developed a community known as Bugscuffle, which had a mill. Nearby was another community called Whistleville, which also had a mill. Eventually, these two communities were replaced slightly west by Valley Spring. Continuing further west along the main road was Field Creek, located only one mile from Pontotoc, just across the Mason County line. The area due south of the town of Llano also saw an increase in population, and the community of Oxford was established. What was known as House Mountain in 1870 now gave way to Prairie Mountain in southwestern Llano County. In the meantime, other smaller communities sprang up, which were large enough to receive a name, but which never grew enough to be thought of as a small town.
By the end of the 1880’s decade, Llano County was in good shape. Little did anyone know that the current era was nothing compared to the era that began to unfold around 1888. Llano County has always been rich with many varieties of minerals and ores. One of these is iron. There’s as much iron in Llano County as anywhere else in Texas. When wealthy financiers realized the economic potential of extracting this metal, they pounced on the notion that Llano County could become one of the nation’s greatest producers of iron and that the town of Llano could become the “Pittsburg of the West.” The result was the IRON BOOM of BOOM ERA. Almost overnight the town of Llano and the county, especially the northwestern area, found itself in a spotlight of grandeur and opulence unlike anything one could imagine at the time. The north side of Llano, heretofore never developed, suddenly had huge two and three-story buildings that served as businesses, banks, and hotels. Swarms of people rushed into the county to take advantage of the new found wealth and industry, resulting in over 500 tents having to be set up along the banks of the Llano River on the town’s north side. Construction projects were going on everywhere, and what was being constructed was massive. Llano got its first iron bridge across the river, a new courthouse, and a new jail. To ensure continued success, the railroad arrived in 1892, anxious to carry loads of iron wherever needed.
The success of the BOOM ERA was great, but like most things that come on with such sensationalism, it was not to be long-lasting. It was soon evident that the quality of the iron was not top grade. The lack of coal in the area to smelt the iron made the production too costly if it had to be freighted in. The coming of the railroad was a great help, but it only connected to Austin, and a second railroad was needed that connected to San Antonio. A southern railroad line did get close to Llano, but there was never any success at getting a track that crossed the Llano River. In short, by 1890, the boom had come to its end, and once again, Llano County was pushed into a new era as the 20th Century made its entrance.
The Llano County Historical Museum is in the process of putting together displays and signage telling the history of the eras discussed so far. Some exhibits are completed, but some are still in the developmental stages. As previously stated, Ned Woodall has done a great job with the Archaeological/Prehistoric Era, located in the museum’s front foyer. In the main room of the building, the ramp leading to the upper section begins the chronological tour of the county’s history. The eras of SPANISH EXPLORATION, REPUBLIC OF TEXAS-FISHER-MILLER GRANT, COMING OF THE GERMANS with MEUSEBACH TREATY and EARLY COMMUNITIES of Bettina, Leiningen, and Castell are located on the wall next to the ramp. They are fairly well complete, and most of it will be on display in the near future. The story of COMING OF THE ANGLOS is partially completed, but there have been problems with this display due to a shortage of donated items representative of this era, other than photographs. This part of the exhibit includes the development of Tow Valley and the Salt Works along with Bluffton. Also included are the communities of Southeastern Llano County, which are Honey Creek, Riley Mountain, Sandy Mountain, Click or Sandy as well as those in Northwestern and Southwestern Llano County. New communities like Lone Grove, Kingsland, Gainesville, Babyhead, and Prairie Mountain were beginning to emerge.
The small room at the east end of the upper room in the museum has been reserved to tell the story of the TUMULTUOUS YEARS, which will include Llano County’s involvement in the CIVIL WAR ERA, INDIAN ERA, and OUTLAW ERA. This section will also feature a tribute to the Llano County men who served as TEXAS RANGERS. Marilyn Hale is overseeing the BOOM ERA, and Roger Pinckney is doing the RAILROAD and GRANITE INDUSTRY. Bill Stewart’s completed AGRICULTURAL exhibit on ranching and farming is located in the upper level’s southeastern corner. John Moran has also completed an exhibit on the MILITARY ERA. Other board members are currently working to complete exhibits on other eras.
A great deal of effort will be necessary to complete this museum project. The museum’s interior has undergone numerous repairs, including fresh paint, improved overhead lighting, and upstairs tiled flooring. The museum’s exterior is currently under some renovation, including better signage. It is the intent of the Historical Society to make our museum a pleasing and comfortable place for visitors of all ages to come and learn about the history of Llano County in a logical, easily understood manner that is both educational and an enjoyable experience.
SOURCES: Minutes of Llano County Historical Society; FAMILIES OF EARLY KINGSLAND, TEXAS (Muriel Barnett Jackson, pp. 20, 21, 93); COBWEBS & CORNERSTONES (Almond & Franklin, pp. 77, 78. 80); GEM OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Oatman, pp. 21-32,72, 74, 76, 78)