of a formation known as the Riley Mountains, Dancer Peak rises about 600 feet
above nearby State Highway 71 eight miles southeast of Llano.|
a topographic map, the prominence is shown as being 1,714 feet above sea level.
But the map does not tell the story behind the name.
Born in Tennessee
on Dec. 11, 1803, Jonas Franklin Dancer came to Texas with his wife and three
children at some point in the 1840s. The 1850 U.S. Census shows him living in
Travis County, running a mill on Bull Creek, a stream which fed into the Colorado
Around 1852, after a flood destroyed his mill, Dancer took his
family to the northwest of Austin into what was then the far northern corner of
Gillespie County. He settled on Honey Creek, a stream that began at the base of
the peak that would one day bear his name.
“The spot selected by Mr. Dancer
was one of the most picturesque in the county,” one 19th century writer later
observed. “Here game of all kinds and wild honey abounded in the greatest quantity.”
Dancer trusted that the land had other gifts to give. Sustained by legends that
Spaniards had once mined silver somewhere in the Hill Country, he believed that
the rocky landscape concealed veins of silver and perhaps gold. Dancer spent several
years prospecting in the area, but never found any precious metals.
a seeker of nature’s riches, as a Methodist preacher, he also believed in giving.
As other settlers began to arrive, he built the area’s first church.
had chosen a fine place to settle, but it had one serious drawback. Being on the
edge of settlement, it lay exposed to raids from hostile Indians, particularly
the Comanches. Two years after homesteading on Honey Creek, Dancer added his name
to a petition signed by 106 other area residents asking the governor for Texas
Ranger companies did periodically go after the Indians, but
not with enough regularity to do much good. Essentially, the settlers on the frontier
were on their own.
In 1856, legislators carved a chunk of land from Gillespie
County for a new county named Llano. Its heart lay only 75 miles from the capital
city, but back then that distance amounted to a two- or three-day horseback ride,
even longer in a wagon.
The better the roads, of course, the easier the
journey. With that in mind, in 1859 the more civic-minded men of Llano County
took it upon themselves to build a road to Austin,
probably the ancestor of the present State Highway 29.
In the days before
heavy equipment, road building involved moving big rocks, cutting brush and trees,
burning out stumps and filling low spots and washes. Spreading gravel or building
a road bed and covering it with concrete or asphalt would not come until the 20th
Dancer and other members of the community agreed to meet on May
23, 1859, to work on the Austin road. When Dancer arrived at the gathering place,
no one else was there. He hobbled his horse and a pack horse, unloaded his tools,
rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
“While thus engaged,” chronicler
Josiah Wilbarger later wrote in his classic “Indian Depredations of Texas,” a
party of Indians attacked Dancer.
“Being unarmed,” Wilbarger continued,
“Dancer fled to a deep ravine, closely pursued by the savages, who…attempted to
rope him, but failed.”
From a bluff overlooking the ravine, the Indians
showered the preacher with arrows. “Finally overcome with loss of blood,” Wilbarger
went on, “he walked around in front of a projecting rock in the bluff, deliberately
sat down on a rock bench and there expired.”
A search party found Dancer’s
body the next day.
But not until June 5 did newspaper readers in Austin
learn of the preacher’s violent demise. In that day’s edition of the Texas State
Gazette, editor John Marshall published a letter from Thomas Moore in Burnet.
“Dear Sir – I send you a brief statement of the facts in regard to the killing
of the Rev. Mr. Dancer, by the Indians about 25 miles S.W. of [Llano]…. (He) frequently
preached here, and was quite an acceptable preacher in the Methodist church.”
same day Dancer died, Moore continued, a Mr. Gallagher “was shot and dangerously
wounded by the Indians, though I learn he will probably recover. Mr. G lives in
the same neighborhood where the Rev. Mr. Dancer was killed. About twenty-five
Indians were seen by others the same day driving some 30 or 40 head of horses.”
concluded his letter to the newspaper with a familiar refrain: “How much longer
must our bleeding frontier suffer these fiendish forays?”
In the case
of the Comanches, it would be almost another 20 years.
But it would be
even longer before road building would become a function of government, not a
task undertaken purely for community good by men like the Rev. Mr. Dancer, a literal
Texas trail blazer.