TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map


Texas Counties

Texas Towns
A - Z
Books by
Michael Barr
Order Here:
Texas | Columns


Looking back at:

Healthy Harper

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr
Harper TX - Pioneer Museum
Harper Pioneer Museum
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020
Located on the high divide in far western Gillespie County, Harper, Texas is out there on the edge; connected to the German Hill Country in some ways and separated from it in others.

Harper is famous for its healthy climate. A whimsical reporter once compared Harper to a similar town in Oklahoma where, "the town graveyard was a measly little patch in which only 3 lots had been taken and the occupants of those were 3 doctors who had tried to make a living there and starved to death because the people were so healthy."

A Spanish army officer named Francisco Amangual was one of the first Europeans to see the area we now call Harper. On March 30, 1808 Amangual and 200 Spanish soldiers left San Antonio for Santa Fe. The mission was to map a road between 2 of the most important towns on the northern Spanish frontier.

The soldiers trekked northwest from San Antonio following the Pinta Trail. In early April they reached the Pedernales River near present-day Fredericksburg. They followed the meandering river west through the area we now call Tivydale, reaching the Pedernales headwaters on April 8, 1808 near the spot where the town of Harper now stands.

"We traveled over terrain covered with flattened hills," Amangual wrote in his diary, "which were rocky and thickly wooded with no view. We traveled in this manner until about 10 o'clock in the morning when we came to open country where there were some promontories and some clumps of trees. We killed a bear and sighted a herd of buffalo off in the distance."

The quality of the Pedernales country was apparent as the soldiers moved farther west into what is today Kimble County and found a coarser country with less water, more brush and fewer live oaks.

After reaching Santa Fe in June, Amangual returned to San Antonio, bringing word that the upper Pedernales Valley was peerless stock-raising country.

Over 50 years later pioneer preacher Matthew Taylor and his extended family moved to the area. Taylor built a cabin near what is today the intersection of U. S. Highway 290 and the Kerrville Road.

In 1865 a band of Kiowas attacked the Taylor place, killing Matthew Taylor's daughter-in-law Gill Taylor and son-in-law Eli McDonald. The Kiowas took 6 hostages, later ransomed in Oklahoma.

Matthew Taylor's wife Hannah survived the ordeal by hiding in a cave in what is now Harper Community Park.
Harper TX - McDonald Cabin,  Harper Community Park
McDonald Cabin now in Harper Community Park
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020
Harper TX - Site of The McDonald Massacre Historical Marker
Site of McDonald Massacre
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020
Harper TX - The 1901 Presbyterian Church
The 1901 Presbyterian Church
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020
Harper TX - St. James Lutheran Church Built in 1914
The 1914 St. James Lutheran Church
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020
Harper TX - Site of The McDonald Massacre Historical Marker
McDonald Massacre Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020

The town is named for George Franklin Harper, born in Sangamon County, Illinois in1828. Abraham Lincoln was Frank Harper's neighbor. Abe split rails for Frank's father and borrowed books from Frank's grandmother.

Frank Harper came to Texas in 1848. He settled in Floresville but needed more space for his growing herd of horses. In 1863 he moved his herd to the open range straight west of Fredericksburg. He built his home near the headwaters of the Pedernales River.

Frank Harper helped establish the school and the bank at Harper. His house served as the town's first post office.

When the town of Harper had no doctor, Frank Harper bandaged wounds and set bones. He made caskets. He organized dances and community events.

On April 1, 1909 J. Marvin Hunter began publishing a 4-page weekly called the Harper Herald. Hunter printed the newspaper on an old Washington hand press he found half buried in a sand bank. He became a well-known writer, historian and publisher of Frontier Times Magazine.

The bank began with a meeting in Captain Schreiner's office in Kerrville. It opened for business after teamsters hauled in a 4,000 lb. safe from a bank in Junction and installed it in the back of Mr. Barker's store.

In the early 20th century Harper gained a reputation as a kind of health resort. San Antonio newspapers touted Harper as having "the best climate in Texas." City folks crammed the Harper Hotel every summer to relax and breathe the pure invigorating air.

To this day the folks at Harper still brag about the climate.

"Except for that darned summer heat," an old-timer at the Longhorn Café told me, "our weather is pretty close to perfect."

© Michael Barr
"Hindsights" April 1, 2020 Column

"Harper and the Harper Country," Kerrville Mountain Sun, November 6, 1909.
"First Written Record of Harper came in 1808," Kerrville Daily Times, May 2, 1993.
Here's Harper, Centennial Committee, 1863-1963.
"Harper founded in the 1880s," Kerrville Daily Times, April 24, 1994.

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • Coke Stevenson, LBJ and Box 13 3-15-20
  • The Mud Daubers Return to Luckenbach 3-1-20
  • Gillespie County Goat Becomes Navy Mascot 2-15-20
  • The Hypnotic Power of Television 2-1-20
  • The Magic of Radio 1-15-20

    See More »

  • See Harper, Texas

    Related Topics:

    Texas Towns A to Z












































    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Rooms with a Past

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Pitted Dates
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    Texas Centennial

    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Contact Us

    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved