Pronghorn, Chapter 3: Local History (I)

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

Pronghorn is, officially, the seat of Pronghorn County, which might be found in the Texas Hill Country if anyone were to look for it in just the right way. It is named for the animal otherwise known as the American antelope, which ranges into the area where the town sits and still attracts no few hunters during the appropriate season. The county is named after its seat, and the largish creek that runs through the town and supplied its early water is, as well. So are the local high school, the community college, their mascots, and no few of the businesses in town.

Why the pronghorn figures so prominently for the town, county, schools, and businesses has to do with one of the three families that helped found the town. The Zapatas had, of course, been on land near where Pronghorn would rise since the 1600s, holding it under the Spanish government, then the Mexican, the Texian, and the American Texan in succession. The Hochstedlers took a land grant from Stephen F. Austin–the original document is displayed prominently in what is still the main family house–and built a small compound on their land. But the Smithersons, coming in after the Republic of Texas formed but before the annexation by the United States, were led into the area by one Meriwether Smitherson, the son of an English immigrant who had settled in Illinois but been killed in a raid during the Black Hawk War.

Meriwether and his family–his wife, Elizabeth; his sons, Reginald, Samuel, and Thomas; his daughters, Ruth and Esther; and his brother, Henry George–staggered into the area in poor shape. The land they had crossed coming south had not been kind to them, and the last days before they reached what would become Pronghorn were dry and hungry for the lot of them. But the creek, being spring-fed, had water in it, and a herd of pronghorn was watering at it when the Smithersons arrived. Soon after, the herd was a fair bit smaller, and the Smithersons had no small amount to eat. With water ready to hand and a bit of arable land, they soon found themselves able to set about what they were really about, the continuation of a family tradition they had held to for centuries back in Merry Olde England.

They were apiarists, and Henry George Smitherson had carefully preserved the nucleus of a beehive–a queen and a few workers–during the relocation from Illinois to the Hill Country. Soon enough, the Smithersons had built up a thriving little compound of their own, and the Zapatas and Hochstedlers often came to them to trade for honey and wax. The Zapatas, who did a fair bit of farming of their own, would also hire Smitherson beehives to help their crops along. Business relations between the two families turned to romantic relations in due time, with George Henry marrying Teresa Zapata and Ruth later marrying Rodrigo Guerrero, a cousin of the Zapatas.

With continued trade and intercourse between the Smitherson and Zapata families, more people came into the area–some through birth, some through further settling. The Hochstedlers were perhaps a bit displeased to have more people come into the region–the original settler, Erhart, was well known to be something of a misanthrope, taking his land claim where he did in part because it was so far removed from others–but they could not deny the salutary effects of the increased population on the sales of their livestock. Some members of the family moved in closer to the growing population center to better capitalize on the increasing numbers of people in the market, adding another element to the town’s prototypically Hill Country mixture of people.

A span of a scant few years saw the town reach a population of more than 250, and it was decided that some form of order had to be put into place if things were to continue in an orderly fashion. Quiet petitions saw the city incorporated, and mechanisms of government deemed necessary–a mayor, a town constabulary that also served as a fire brigade, and the like–were put into place. Thomas Meriwether was elected the first mayor, with Rolf Hochstedler being chosen to head the constabulary and Guerrero finding himself in the position of presiding over the municipal court. A formal school was set up, as well, the town hiring Guy LeBeaux to teach students what it was deemed needful for them to know of books and the world beyond the Hill Country. Guy, as would be expected, brought his family with him, too, and, at his pointed question about what the town would be called to which he was moving, was told “Pronghorn.” It was the first recorded instance of the name being applied to the town, and Thomas Meriwether would note in his journals that the name came to him in memory of his family’s salvation years before.

Even with increasing numbers of people coming into the area from outside it, though, Pronghorn remained dominated by the interests of the three early families: the Zapatas, the Hochstedlers, and the Smithersons. As the Civil War was won and Reconstruction followed close behind, as the country lurched into the Great War and through the Depression into the Second World War, as Korea and Vietnam changed the way wars were viewed, the city offices in Pronghorn–and the county offices that had to be built when Austin, for whatever reason, split off a new Pronghorn County–were held mostly by members of one of those families or another. A LeBeaux had a good chance at one of the more reader-friendly civic jobs, and the occasional other person might get lucky on Election Day, but the town remained–and still remains–largely the shared demesne of three families that, over time, became all but indistinguishable from one another. Only in the core lines of each, and only tenuously, are the three families distinct from one another, and that through familial tradition as much as anything else–but even they recognize they have a lot of cousins in the others’ houses, and keeping those cousins happy takes up a fair bit of time.

Not all of them receive the attention they think they deserve.

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