Local historian shines light on Hill Country
LAKEWAY — When it comes to the history of western Travis County, not much is known. But local historian Elaine Perkins made it her task to collect existing stories, memories and records and to make a book, capturing what life was like in the Texas Hill Country in the late 1800s.
“A Hill Country Paradise? Travis County and Its Early Settlers” contains 20 years’ worth of Perkins’ research.
“My husband’s family was one of the first families that came up here, and we were interested in where different people came from,” Perkins said. “I started out with cemeteries, and he wanted to know where Lizzie Nolan was buried — she was the mail carrier. We said this needs to be put down, because there were so many stories people told me.”
The book chronicles the 1800s all the way to the 1930s, Perkins said, and covers the area west of Austin bordered by the Colorado River between Hays and Burnet county lines. Written accounts of the early settlers in western Travis County are scarce, so most of Perkins’ research entailed talking to families of original settlers.
“There was a 1937 schoolbook they put out in small schools in Travis County, and I talked to older settlers that were still here or their family was,” Perkins said. “I talked to them (and) got stories, and it took about 20 years. In the meantime, I catalogued cemeteries and put that out, too.”
The original settlers in the area, Perkins said, are mostly German. They came to the area because they heard it was a paradise, easily arable and full of animals to hunt. When they got there, as her book details, they found soil was tough and life was hard.
“They fished and farmed what they could and hunted mostly,” Perkins said. “They hunted bear and deer and things to eat, and they used rocks to build houses. There was no school or anything here either. There were still Indians here. They had to fight off Indians trying to build their homes, and the Indians would take their cattle.”
The book is filled with sto- ries of tragedy and triumph, of violent death and hardy survival.
There were fights between families who sympathized with different sides during the Civil War, and during times of lawlessness, the book details how justice was often served at the hands of the Texas Rangers.
The book also tells the tales of historical buildings in the area, such as the old school house near the Bee Cave police station.
“I just like history and genealogy,” said Perkins, a retired nurse.
In the acknowledgements at the beginning of her book, Perkins wrote: “If this slice of history is passed on to generations to come, I will have accomplished my objective.”