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Looking back at:

Sheriff Klaerner,
Dan Hoerster's Hat
and the Blind Horse

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Gillespie County Sheriff Alfred Klaerner was making a turn on one of those crazy streets in downtown San Antonio when an excited policeman came running towards the car, waving his arms and shouting "Hey mister, you can't make a left turn here." The sheriff, not wanting to contradict a fellow peace officer but considering himself a pretty fair judge of distance, calmly leaned out the window and said "Yeah, I believe I can make it all right."

Alfred Klaerner was Gillespie County sheriff from 1918 to 1920 and from 1924 to 1942. He is not to be confused with his brother John Klaerner who was sheriff from 1900 to 1910 or son Hugo Klaerner who was sheriff from 1950 to 1980. Add that up and you'll see that a Klaerner was sheriff of Gillespie County for 3/5ths of the 20th century.

Sheriff Alfred Klaerner, Gillespie County, TX
The image of Sheriff Klaerner standing by the buggy was taken at an Old Teamster's Reunion at Klaerner Park outside Fredericksburg. The men in the buggy are Albert Kott, age 88,and John Stehling, age 86.
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society, Dietel Collection.

Central casting could not have turned up a more fitting symbol of law and order than Alfred Klaerner. He wore boots and wide-brimmed hat with his badge pinned prominently to the lapel of his coat.

He was colorful and eccentric, and he played his role to the hilt. He rode his horse at the head of the 4th of July Parade in Fredericksburg with a shotgun across his lap. Every so often along the parade route he would raise his weapon in the air and blast away, providing his own fireworks.

Fredericksburg TX 4th of July, Sheriff Alfred Klaerner
Alfred Klaerner in his younger days, at the head of the 4th of July Parade in Fredericksburg, shotgun across his lap.
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard.

Bill Petmecky described his friend Sheriff Klaerner as tough, fearless, practical and folksy. His quaint logic, mannerisms and speech were legendary all over South and West Texas.

He operated in a different time and in ways that are no longer possible. As Bill Petmecky explained "It may not have been legal to administer a few hard slaps to a wayward youngster, but it brought home some good lessons and saved the family from paying a fine for which the money might have to be deducted from the food bill."

More than once Sheriff Klaerner poured out bootleg liquor rather than send a man to prison which would have been hard on the family.

The 1920s and 30s were precarious times for law enforcement. I could write of Sheriff Klaerner's wild car chases and shootouts, of which there were plenty, but I offer instead the story of Dan Hoerster's hat.

One day while Dan Hoerster had lunch at the Ostrow Hotel in Fredericksburg (today the Fredericksburg Winery parking lot - the old Knopp and Metzgers), someone stole his new Stetson. Hoerster marched straight to the sheriff's office where an APB went out for the thief, believed to be headed east in a maroon car.

When Blanco County Sheriff J. S. Casparis (another legendary character) stopped the car in Johnson City, Sheriff Klaerner hurried to Blanco County, searched the car, found the hat and brought the thief back to Fredericksburg where Justice of the Peace Adolf Mergenthaler set the price for Stetson swiping at $23. The thief paid the fine and left town, a poorer but wiser man.

In his off duty hours, Sheriff Klaerner ran a store and a bar at Klaerner's Park, 4 miles out the Harper Road on Live Oak Creek (today the Lone Star Bar and Grill). He was a good singer. He played the fiddle and the cornet. He conducted the Bunkusville Band.

Sheriff Klaerner was one of the founders of the Gillespie County Old Teamsters Reunion. He hosted many of their gatherings at Klaerner's Park.

He was tough as grandpa's toenails, but he had a sneaky sense of humor. His friend Ernst Zenner claimed Sheriff Klaerner originated the famous "blind horse" story.

The sheriff loved horses. He was especially fond of a dappled blue animal raised on his Live Oak Creek farm.

A man who fancied himself an expert horse trader wanted to buy the animal, but Sheriff Klaerner refused, saying the horse "didn't look so good."

The man was confused. "He looks all right to me," he said, but Sheriff Klaerner insisted again the horse "didn't look so good."

The man, growing impatient, said he wanted that horse no matter how he looked and offered $80.

He bought himself a blind horse.

© Michael Barr
"Hindsights" April 15, 2021 Column

"Alfred Klaerner Rites Held Sunday Afternoon," Fredericksburg Standard, November 23, 1966.
"Sheriff Recovers Stolen Hat," Burnet Bulletin, November 4, 1937.
"July 4th Always Gala Day in City, First Race Meet in 1948," Fredericksburg Standard, July 3, 1974.
"Houston Post Columnist Tells of Ernst Zenner's Experiences," Fredericksburg Standard, July 2, 1975.

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • In and Out of the Old Gillespie County Jail 4-1-21
  • Hardin Ranch Rodeo - Early Rodeos Were Thrilling and Dangerous 3-15-21
  • Kerrville Bus Company: Moving People Across the Hill Country 3-1-21
  • Hal and Charlie Peterson - Big Dreams 2-15-21
  • The World Needs Gemütlichkeit 2-1-21

    See More »

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