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CUERO STORIES

INTRODUCTION TO CUERO, TEXAS - By John Ronan Broderick

FOUNDING FATHERS? 

Some of what follows about the early history of Cuero, Texas, was excerpted from an article written by Dr. Craig H. Roell, which was subsequently published by the Texas State Historical Association. Born in nearby Victoria, Texas, Roell earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Texas in Austin. He has published several books on the early history of Texas, so an amateur historian such as myself must be extremely careful in attempting to correct one glaring error in the opening to Dr. Roell’s article, “Cuero, Texas.”

The first post office in DeWitt County was established in May 1846 in former Texas Ranger Daniel Boone Friar’s store, four miles north of the present site of modern-day Cuero, Texas. The post office was initially called Cuero but was later changed to Old Cuero when Cuero proper came into being 26 years later, in November 1872, with the initial construction of homes and businesses. According to Dr. Roell, three of the new town’s first residents were men of some significance in the annals of Texas history and are worthy of more than just a listing of their names with no mention of their accomplishments.

Probably the most famous of the three that he mentioned was Benjamin McCulloch. Roell states: “Among the first residents [of Cuero] were Benjamin McCulloch and Gustav Schleicher. . . . and Robert J. Kleberg.” Being a serious student of Texas history myself, the name Ben McCulloch was a magnet to me, drawing me into a well-intended summary of his life as one of the supposed founders of Cuero. Problem is, it just was not true. Just to be sure that I got all the pertinent data on the gentleman correct, I went to the trouble to read several of his mini-biographies available on the Internet, one of the most informative of the lot being one also published by the Texas State Historical Association, authored by Thomas W. Cutrer.

A personal friend and neighbor of David Crockett’s back in Tennessee, McCulloch and his brother Henry followed Crockett to Texas but were too late to join him at the Alamo. He was not too late, however, to join fellow Tennesseean and family friend Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. There he was given a battlefield commission and promoted to the rank of first lieutenant by Houston for commanding one of the famous “Twin Sisters” cannons during the battle that won Texas its independence from Mexico.

Following that came service as a Texas Ranger, fighting Indians under the command of the legendary Ranger Captain, John Coffee “Jack” Hays. Here McCulloch’s reputation grew even greater as a scout and commander, taking on not only Indians but many desperadoes and cattle rustlers as well. He was elected to the legislature of the Republic of Texas in 1840 but chose not to run for reelection in 1842 so he could join the Republic of Texas Army to fight the Mexican army’s numerous incursions into Texas in the early 1840s, once again distinguishing himself. He apparently preferred enforcing the laws rather than making them.

By the time Texas was annexed by the United States on December 29, 1845, McCulloch had already been elected from Gonzales County (not DeWitt County) to the First Legislature of the new State of Texas. Before he could even roll his sleeves up and begin that job, the Mexican-American War of 1846 began on April 25, 1846. He was appointed Major General of all Texas militia west of the Colorado River. Obviously, he was a little too busy to be a co-founder of Old Cuero in May 1846 with his former Ranger cohort Daniel Boone Friar.

Following his appointment in the Texas militia came service in the U.S. Army during the war, where he was promoted to the rank of major because of his invaluable service as chief of scouts under General Zachary Taylor, particularly at the Battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista. After the war he became one of the thousands of “49ers” who headed to the gold fields of California. While there he was elected sheriff of Sacramento County in 1850. Failing to strike it rich, he returned to Texas in 1852 and was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Texas.

Next came service in the Confederate Army after Texas seceded from the Union. He was given the rank of colonel but soon thereafter was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. McCulloch was shot and killed by a Yankee sniper at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Benton County, Arkansas, on March 7, 1862, more than ten years prior to Cuero’s founding in November 1872.

Benjamin McCulloch was one of the greatest heroes of Texas in its first quarter century of existence: soldier in the Texas Revolutionary Army and key participant at the Battle of San Jacinto; Texas Ranger extraordinaire; officer in the Republic of Texas Army prior to statehood; chief of scouts for General Zachary Taylor in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War of 1846; Sheriff of Sacramento County, California; U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Texas; and finally, Brigadier General in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, where he died gloriously, leading his men into battle. You might say his exploits rivaled, perhaps even surpassed, those of a more contemporary Texas hero, Audie Murphy, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the most highly decorated soldier of World War II.

Though it is possible that McColloch passed through the area of what later became Old Cuero during his Indian-fighting days as a Texas Ranger, he could not have been one of the founders of that settlement either because of his election to the Texas State Legislature in 1846, the same year Old Cuero became the first post office in DeWitt County. And when the Mexican War of 1846 came along, McCulloch did his duty there, so could not have helped found that settlement with his former Texas Ranger compadre, Daniel Boone Friar, the postmaster there. Ben McCulloch was most certainly not one of the founders of Cuero in 1872, as stated by Dr. Roell, nor was he a “settler” anywhere. He was a lawman and soldier, first and foremost. He never married. His one true love was Texas.

In all my hours of exhaustive research to try to somehow prove up Dr. Roell’s claim that Ben McCulloch was one of the early settlers of either of the two Cueros, I could find not a single shred of evidence connecting McCulloch with either town. Personally, I think General Ben McCulloch was too busy fighting Mexican soldiers and banditos, Indians, cattle rustlers, and Yankees to settle down anywhere for long, but especially not in Cuero. Dead men do not resurrect themselves to found towns. The last resurrection from the grave that I am aware of took place 2,000 years ago, and He founded, not a small town in South Central Texas, but the Christian faith, which has changed the world. 

The other two men that Dr. Roell claims to have been among the early residents of Cuero, Gustav Schleicher and Robert J. Kleberg, do appear to have served in capacities that would qualify them as “founding fathers.” 

Schleicher, an immigrant from Germany, was an engineer, surveyor, and entrepreneur. He surveyed for the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway when it decided to extend its reach from Indianola to San Antonio, with Cuero chosen as the halfway point in that stretch of the line. Schleicher stayed in Cuero and platted the new settlement for his Cuero Land and Immigration Company. He had also served briefly in the Texas legislature and in the Confederate Army during the Civil War prior to his involvement in the settling of Cuero.

Robert J. Kleberg also surveyed the site in January 1873, the month finished laying tracks to Cuero. A veteran of the Texas war for Independence, he fought in the Battle of San Jacinto and was one of those selected to guard the captured Mexican General Santa Anna. After the war he volunteered to serve for six months in the Texas Army. During this time he participated in a retaliatory campaign in DeWitt County against Indians at Escondido Creek. 

He was a loyal member of the Democratic party and supported the cause of the Confederacy. Though he raised a company of militia that he hoped to command, he was not allowed to serve because of his advanced age (58). A true patriot of Texas, he died at age 85 at his daughter’s farm near Cuero, where he was buried. A longtime member of the Texas Veterans Association, his grave is marked by a tent-shaped monument that has the words, “Remember the Alamo,” carved at its base. Kleberg County was named in his honor in 1913, and a marker at his homesite near Cuero was erected In 1936. His youngest son, Robert Justus Kleberg, became the head of the King Ranch in 1885.

EARLY HISTORY OF CUERO

DeWitt County was formed in 1846, after Texas had been annexed by the United States. It was named after Green DeWitt, one of the early empresarios of Mexican Texas, who established his colony in 1822. The original county seat was in Clinton, Texas. Cuero took its name from Cuero Creek, which the Spanish had named Arroyo del Cuero, or Creek of the Rawhide, a reference to the Indian practice of killing cattle that got stuck in the mud of the creek bed.

The Cuero city government was organized in the summer of 1873, and by April 23, 1875, the town had incorporated. Cuero had grown as Clinton had declined and in 1876 it had replaced Clinton as the DeWitt County Seat. The growth of Cuero’s population was due in part to the great hurricanes of 1875 and 1886, which devastated Indianola, a city on Matagorda Bay that for a period had rivaled Galveston as a port city. The citizens of Indianola virtually flocked to Cuero which, at 67 miles further inland, offered a safe haven. Indianola now carries the sobriquet, “Queen of Texas Ghost Towns.” Some of the Indianolans even tore down their homes and transported the materials to Cuero, where they reconstructed them. Some of these are extant today.

In September 1873, Professor David W. Nash opened Guadalupe Academy, aka Nash’s School, aka Cuero Institute, a coeducational private school, which operated until about 1910. The Cuero Independent School District was formed in 1892, whites, blacks, and Mexican-Americans attending separate schools, as segregation was still the order of the day.

The first Cuero church congregation to organize was the Episcopalians in 1874. The Catholics established both church and parochial school in 1876, with the Baptists and Presbyterians not far behind them in 1877 and 1878, respectively. The Methodists made their first appearance on the scene in 1884, and the German Lutherans by 1889.

Local newspapers flourished during this same period. There were as many of them as there were churches: the Star, started in June 1873; a German language paper, Deutsche Rundschau, in 1880; the Bulletin in the early 1880s; the Sun in the early 1890s; the Constitution in the 1890s; and the Daily Record in November 1894, which absorbed the Star and the Deutsche Rundschau and is Cuero’s longest-running newspaper.

Cuero prospered despite a period of lawlessness and a disastrous fire in April 1874. The Home Protection Club was a military unit formed to aid law enforcement officers when called upon. There was even a running blood feud between two families, the Suttons and the Taylors. According to Google’s summary of the Sutton-Taylor Feud, it “began as a county law enforcement issue between relatives of Texas state law agent, Creed Taylor, and a local law enforcement officer, William Sutton, in DeWitt County, Texas. The feud cost at least 35 lives and eventually included the outlaw John Wesley Hardin as one of its participants.” It was considered the longest and bloodiest feud in Texas history. Comparatively speaking, the more famous and more well-known feud between the Hatfields and McCoys of Kentucky and West Virginia during the same era claimed a mere 13 lives. Everything is bigger in Texas.

In 1886, shipping of locally produced goods increased when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway connected Cuero to Houston, 140 miles away. Cuero’s major industries at this time were poultry, livestock, truck farming, and cotton. As of 1887, Cuero could boast of an opera house, a fire department, two large schools, and a hotel.

HERITAGE TOURISM

In this series of articles I have written about, primarily, Texas Hill Country towns, only two other towns are in the same league with Cuero when it comes to preservation of historic buildings--Fredericksburg and Blanco. That is not to say there are not others, but thus far I have not been assigned to write about them. Someone--or several someones--in Cuero have taken seriously the task of preserving and restoring the town’s rich historical architecture, which has become one of the, if not the, main tourist attractions in this wonderful South Central Texas community. 

It was a formidable task going through the National Register of Historic Places in Cuero in an attempt to identify all 52 still extant structures, but it is a task I particularly enjoyed, being the history buff that I am. Unfortunately, space does not allow me to describe, or even list, all of them, so I have selected nine based on limited criteria: those that are listed on the National Register as well as the Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks. 

In the process of identifying these structures, I came up with my own classification system for describing their primary usage, which I will break down for you here: residential dwellings—35; churches—4; schools—2; government buildings—3; commercial buildings—2; Residential Historic Districts—2; Commercial Historic District—1; archaeological site—1; monument—1; and bridge—1. 

Those listed on both registers:

1) DeWitt County Courthouse: the only structure also listed as a State Antiquities Landmark. Constructed in 1896 in the architectural style known as Romanesque Revival, this is one of the most magnificent courthouses in the 254 counties of Texas, truly breathtaking;

2) Keller-Grunder House, built in 1851, probably the oldest structure in Cuero;

3) English-German School, date unknown; property condemned;

4) William Frobese, Sr. House, date unknown;

5) Bates-Shepherd House, 1886;

6) Grace Episcopal Church, 1889;

7) Edward Mugge House, circa 1870s;

8) Cuero Commercial District: 1873 to 1936; consisting of 52 contributing structures, 31 non-contributing; and

9) Terrell-Reuss Streets Historic District: 65-acre district; 63 contributing buildings of significance built from 1883 to early 20th century.

MOST NOTABLE PERSON EVER TO HAIL FROM CUERO, TEXAS

Master Sergeant Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez was a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valorous actions on May 2, 1968, in the Vietnam War. Would anyone like to argue with my choice based on my purely subjective criteria? If so, I’ll meet you out back.

DEMOGRAPHICS

According to the World Population Review, the estimated population of Cuero for 2020 is 7,944, an increase of 16.12% since the 2010 U.S. Census. It is the 281st largest city in Texas and has a population density of 1,210 people per square mile. It has an average household income of $62,393 and a poverty rate of 18.08%. The median rental cost is $847 per month and a median house value of $88,600. Median age is 39; 39.4 for males; 38.2 for females. For every 100 females there are 130.7 males. Average family size is 3.23.

The most recent ACS (American Community Survey) has established Cuero’s racial composition as follows:

White 4,735 - 56.71%

Other race 1,943 - 23.27%

Black or African-American 1,581 - 18.94%

Two or more races 76 - 0.91%

Native American & Alaskan 13 - 0.16%

Asian 1 - 0.01%

Those residents who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino in origin number 1,473, or 17.64%. Languages spoken: English only—78.18%; Spanish—21.71%; other—0.11%.

Educationally, 2,497, or 40.34%, are high school graduates; 317, or 5.12%, hold an A.A. degree; 348, or 5.62%, have a Bachelor’s degree; and 155, or 2.5%, finished Graduate School. Of those holding a Bachelor’s degree, males earned an average of $76,250 per year, females earned $40,750. Those males holding a Master’s degree earned $44,107. No numbers were available for females. Average earnings overall was $32,267; males, $40,632; females, $27,447.

Overall marriage rate: 49.0%; widowed, 7.9%; divorced, 14%; separated, 3%; never married, 26.1%.

Place of birth: Texas, 81.4%; native born, 97.09%; foreign born, 2.91%; non-citizen, 1.75%.

Veterans

Source: U.S. Census 2018 ACS 5-year survey. Total, 520; male, 475; female, 45. The breakdown by war is as follows:

Second Gulf 176 41.7%

Vietnam 125 27.6%

First Gulf 90 21.3%

Korea 21 4.0%

WW II 10 1.9%

CHURCHES, HOSPITALS, AND HOTELS

As alluded to previously, there are four churches listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Cuero. The oldest of these is Grace Episcopal Church, built in 1889 and also listed as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. The other three are listed only on the National Register: First Methodist Church, 1886; Macedonia Baptist Church, 1890; and St. Michael’s Catholic Church, 1931. Today there are no less than 32 churches of various Christian denominations in Cuero: 10 Baptist; 3 Catholic; 1 Church of Christ; 1 Episcopal; 3 Lutheran; 3 Methodist; 6 Non-denominational; 3 Pentecostal; 1 Presbyterian; and 1 Spirit-Filled.

There are four area hospitals to serve the community: Cuero Community Hospital; Cuero Medical Clinic Inc,. Bohman; Cuero Regional Hospital; and Cuero Medical Center.

Tripadvisor rates the nine Cuero hotels and motels thusly: TexInn, “Exceptional,” at 9.6; Baymont by Wyndham Cuero, “Good,” at 7.8; Hotel Texas (motel), “Very Good,” at 8.0; Americas Best Value Inn & Suites Cuero (motel), “Good,” at 7.6; Fairfield Inn & Suites Cuero, “Superb,“ at 9.2; Executive Inn Cuero, “Good,” at 6.8; Wildflower Inn & RV Park (motel), no rating, at 4.8; Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cuero, “Good,” at 7.6; and Cuero Oilfield Housing (motel), “Exceptional,” at 9.4. And Los Robles Ranch House Bed & Breakfast, though not listed on Tripadvisor, also enjoys a sterling reputation. I’m just sayin’ . . . .

BARS, RESTAURANTS, AND SHOPPING

In Cuero proper there are four watering holes of some repute: The Hardwood; Eagleford Restaurant; K&N Root Beer Drive In; and the Crossroads Café and Biergarten. If you are willing to drive a little further out of Cuero to do your imbibing, there is the 5D Steakhouse and Lounge 16 miles away in Yorktown and the Broadway Bar & Grill in Nordheim, 24 miles away. In Victoria, however, only 28 miles from Cuero, there are 8 such establishments worthy of your time and trouble: The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant & Bar; the Wellhead Tavern, a karaoke bar; Shooters Bar, for the serious sports fans; Eskimo Hut; Frances Marie’s Restaurant & Cantina; Brown Bag Saloon; Moonshine Drinkery; and that good old dependable franchise, Chili’s.

When it comes to locally owned and operated restaurants, Cuero can hold its own against any other Texas Hill Country town. Tripadvisor recommends the following: La Bella Tavola, Italian and pizza; Maya Mexican Restaurant; Taqueria Jalisco; Rosie’s Mexican Restaurant; Monster Burger Sports & Grill; the Eagleford, steakhouse; and K&N Root Beer Drive In.

According to the yelp website, the 10 best places to shop in Cuero are, in this order: Be—women’s clothing; Friends—antiques; Badda Bling—women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories; La Femme Boutique—accessories; Bloomingdeals (not to be confused with Bloomingdale’s)—thrift store; Leather Creations by Renee Wilke—leather goods; Doc’s Antiques; Walmart—department store and groceries; Tillman’s Antique City; and Beall’s—department store, cosmetics, and shoes.

FUN THINGS TO DO IN CUERO

Whereas the Texas Hill Country is known as the “Tuscany of Texas,” and DeWitt County as the “Wildflower Capital of Texas,” Cuero, too, has a well-deserved and recognized sobriquet as the “Turkey Capital of the World.” I did not know this before I started researching this article. From now on I shall reflect on this fact every Thanksgiving when I sit down to enjoy my holiday dinner. While the raising of turkeys dates back to Cuero’s early days as one of its primary industries, it was in 1908 that things got serious for these big birds. For it was in that year that the first slaughterhouse opened in Cuero (like I said, “serious” for the turkey population). It was then that DeWitt County farmers began raising these birds on a grand scale. There were after all railroads to transport these processed birds to large cities in Texas, e.g., Houston, 140 miles away, and San Antonio, 90 miles away. 

Ever year in the fall, conveniently prior to Thanksgiving, the local farmers would herd their turkeys through the streets of Cuero to the packing house. This became quite an attraction, drawing locals and tourists to watch the event. By 1912 this annual roundup had evolved to the point that the Cuero Chamber of Commerce wisely chose to name the spectacle the “Turkey Trot,” attracting visitors from all over Texas. Now known as the Cuero Turkeyfest, it has become a three-day-long event each October, a truly unique Texan experience. It may only be a one-time event in your life, but you would be well-advised to put it on your Bucket List. “Gobble-Gobble!”

There are two nature trails that intersect in Cuero: the Guadalupe Valley Paddling Trail, a 13.8-mile-long section of the Guadalupe River where those interested in canoeing and kayaking can try their skills; and the Texas Coastal Birding Trail, where many species of birds may be observed along the grasslands of the Guadalupe, especially during migration seasons in the spring and fall. Cuero Municipal Park is also a primo location for birding, with an 8.5-acre lake and creek that runs into the Guadalupe River.

The Cuero Mural Tour includes close to a dozen exquisite murals on mostly exteriors of buildings, all within easy walking distance of one another. Most were painted by Rafael Acosta, Jr., who specializes in such art. One mural in particular should not be missed, and that is the one that runs along the rear of Reuss Pharmacy, the oldest continually run drugstore in Texas. These murals, depicting various aspects of life in Cuero, provide excellent backdrops for photo-ops.

When it comes to museums, Cuero can boast of three truly unique such institutions, each specializing in a different type of heritage: the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum, which celebrates the famous cattle trail that over 9 million head of cattle traveled from South Texas to northern markets between the years 1867 and 1890 (it even features an actual chuck 

wagon of the era); the Pharmacy and Medical Museum of Texas, located in a 19th century building in downtown Cuero that once was an actual pharmacy, has on display a myriad of artifacts that are truly mind-boggling relics of a time gone by; and the Cuero Heritage Museum commemorates in both permanent and rotating exhibits those aspects of Cuero’s unique history dating back to its founding in 1872. On rainy days in Cuero there are no better places to while away your time, but don’t wait for precipitation to justify your visits to these terribly interesting indoor attractions.

LOCATION

Cuero, Texas is located at the center of DeWitt County at the convergence of U.S. Highways 183, 77-A, and 87. It is the largest city in DeWitt County. It is well worth the relatively short drives from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin for a weekend getaway to discover a part of Texas history that you may have overlooked in your meanderings around the Lone Star State. Once again, I would emphasize the preservation and restoration of the many historic buildings and commercial and residential districts as a primary motivation for the serious history buff to visit this South Central Texas oasis. 

Author’s Note: Cuero is not to be confused with Jose Cuervo, though I am sure this gentleman with the similar sounding name can be found in just about any bar in the city.

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