Texas: Myths, Legends, and the Real Deal
Part 10, Contigo Ranch and Crabapple
Memorial Day Weekend --- Road trip south with my son Zach to attend a family wedding. It was to be held on a secluded, hill country ranch located on a narrow and curvy road about a mile and a half off a little-used, ranch-to-market road, fifteen miles north of Fredericksburg.
Zach’s GPS lady --- he calls her Helga --- sent us from Dallas onto back roads. A few were well-traveled state highways, but most were the obscure, ranch-to-market variety. On these, we encountered almost no other cars, saw hardly a house or barn. But we did clap eyes on several flocks of sheep grazing close by. Thankfully, there were fences.
Twice, groups of two and three deer leaped across the pavement in front of us, never mind that it was the middle of the day. And once, we came around another of the many bends and a squirrel was ahead, just sitting calmly, maybe resting, smack in the middle of the road. He caught sight of us and --- Yikes! He jumped straight up, then dashed to the right. Zach was startled, too, and swerved the car to the left. Happily, the squirrel reached the prairie grasses unharmed and would live to tell his buddies of his narrow escape. Who knows? Our truck could've been the only motorized vehicle he’d seen all day.
After five hours of driving, Helga’s last instruction was to turn left on Lower Crabapple Road. (Was there an Upper Crabapple Road?) Along this stretch, more winding and curving, we passed a small herd of longhorns and two obviously old, stone structures, and eventually arrived at the entrance to Contigo Ranch.
Our weekend stay was in a two-story cabin. It appeared to be an authentic log house moved to the property, with one bedroom on the ground floor and a second upstairs, the stairs being on the outside in the traditional German fashion. It was furnished with old-timey stuff, but gratefully, the rule of antique-ness was broken when it came to air-conditioning.
Cabin in early morning
Ranch cat who came to say Hi
She was very talkative!
In this far-off location, my phone wouldn’t work except for giving me internet access through the wi-fi. This allowed me to satisfy my curiosity about Lower Crabapple Road and the stone structures we’d passed.
During the time of the Republic of Texas, the hill country was partly in Travis County (Austin) and Bexar County (San Antonio.) Original settlers along Crabapple Creek were German immigrants, men named Friedrich Wehgehausen, Jacob Land, Adam Pehl, Mathias Schmidt, among others. They started a community named Crabapple, after the creek that meanders through the hills. Like their counterparts in Fredericksburg, they were farmers and had to deal with rocky terrain and a dry climate. Even so, they apparently managed well enough.
In 1847, these settlers, plus more from distant towns, submitted a petition to the state legislature to create a new county. By then, Crabapple’s population had grown to include additional ethnicities and therefore, the petition also demonstrated such names as Castillo, Pena, and Munoz, besides several non-German, Anglo names. The legislature agreed and cut land from the adjoining counties of Bexar and Travis to form Gillespie County.
Crabapple wasn’t a boom town. It grew quite slowly. Finally, by the late 1870s, people figured that a schoolhouse was needed. Both Mathias Schmidt and Crockett Riley wished to donate land for the proposed school. To determine whose offer to accept, a race between the two farmers was held and Schmidt was the winner. Then the local menfolk set to work and the structure was built of native limestone. It had one classroom, with a room at the back to serve as the teacher’s quarters. In that era, it was probably considered a great employment benefit.
Don't know if this is the first or second school building
Four years later, another schoolhouse was built, perhaps due to an increase in students. This building was also used for church services until 1887, when the Lutherans put up their own church, complete with steeple.
St. John's Lutheran Church
The school was the Post Office, too, from 1887 to 1910, when the U.S. Postal Service decided to re-route the mail to Willow City, a more prosperous community a number of miles to the east.
Twenty-eight schoolmarms/teachers taught at Crabapple School from 1878 to 1957, when it was consolidated with Fredericksburg School District. Then the few children living in Crabapple rode the bus to the big town.
St. John’s Lutheran Church is still in operation today and one of the former school buildings is used for a community center. But without a post office or a school, Crabapple truly lost its status as town in 1957. Only the shadow of it remains in the names of Crabapple Creek and Lower Crabapple Road.
Longhorns on Contigo Ranch
Deer off by his lonesome on Contigo Ranch