“Bandera County comprises an area of 793 square miles, with elevations that range from 1,200 to 2,300 feet. The western part of the county is drained by the Sabinal River and the eastern part by the Medina River. The alkaline and generally shallow soils overlie limy subsoils. The vegetation consists primarily of grasses such as bluestems, grama, buffalo grass, winter grass, and wild ryes. Along the many streams of the county grow cedar, post oak, Spanish oak, live oak, pecan, and cypress trees. Deer and turkey are plentiful, but there are no large predators.”
“The first Europeans to set foot in what is now Bandera County were the Spanish, who probably explored the region in the early eighteenth century. Bandera is Spanish for “flag,” and there are a number of colorful accounts as to how the county was named. One has it that a Spanish general named Bandera led a punitive expedition in the area against the Apaches after the Indians raided San Antonio de Béxar. Another relates that after pursuing the Indians to Bandera Pass the Spanish left a flag or flags to warn them against future raids. And a third legend claims that in 1752 (or 1732) a council was held between Spanish and Indian leaders, during which the Spanish pledged never to go north of the pass if the Indians agreed to cease their raids in the south, and a red flag was placed on the pass as a symbol of the treaty.”
“In 1852 John James, Charles S. DeMontel, and John J. Herndon entered into a partnership to acquire land “in and above the mountains, commencing ten or fifteen miles above Castroville.” Their purpose was to establish a town on the Medina River with a sawmill in order to cut the huge cypress trees that grew there for shingles. In 1853, James and DeMontel surveyed and platted the town of Bandera, and in early 1853 A. M. Milstead, Thomas Odem, P. D. Saner, and their families camped along the river and began making cypress shingles. By the fall of the same year the firm of James, Montel and Company built a horse-powered sawmill and opened a commissary store.”
“On January 25, 1856, the legislature marked off Bandera County from portions of Bexar County; the new county was formally organized on March 10, 1856.”
“Because of its distance from the battlefields and the fact that there were so few slaves in the county, Bandera County was spared much of the trauma of the [Civil] war and Reconstruction. The population continued to grow slowly, and by 1870 the number of residents in the county was still only 649, most of whom lived in or near the settlement of Bandera. The decade of the 1870s, however, brought signs that Bandera County was slowly losing its frontier character. Indian attacks became less and less frequent, new stores opened, and stone increasingly replaced cedar logs as a building material.”
“Much of the economy in the early postwar period was dependent on cattle ranching. In 1870 the county had 4,740 cattle, and Bandera County was a staging area for cattle drives up the Western Trail. Local farm boys became cowboys, ranchers built holding pens and signed on as trail bosses, storekeepers contracted as outfitters, and the town of Bandera briefly boomed.”
“In 1880, the county produced 296,578 pounds of wool, which accounted for its most important export product. Angora goats also began to raised in large numbers in this period, and mohair began to be shipped in significant quantities during the late 1880s. The lack of good roads, however, kept the county relatively isolated. Because of the county’s hilly terrain, the railroads bypassed it to the north or south, and ranchers were forced to use the arduous overland road to ship their products to market in San Antonio.”
“During the late 1880s attempts were made to introduce large-scale farming in Bandera County; for a time cotton was grown as a commercial crop. The amount of cropland harvested, however, remained small, and most landowners found it more profitable to raise sheep and goats on the thin limestone soils. Angora goats in particular proved to be well-adapted to the climate and terrain. By 1910 there were 73,853 goats in the county, nearly twice the number of sheep (42,247) and almost five times the number of cattle (15,308).”
“With the cattle drives over and much of the best land worn out from farming and overgrazing, however, the economy declined. The county population peaked in 1900 at 5,332, and then began to fall as more and more residents moved on to seek their fortunes elsewhere. By 1920 the residents numbered 4,001, and by 1930, 3,784. The onset of the Great Depression brought a marked downturn in prices for wool and mohair, and by the early 1930s many ranchers and residents found themselves economically strapped. Road building and other government-funded projects helped to employ some locals, but the economy did not completely recover until the onset of World War II, when wool and mohair were in demand for the defense industries.”
“The tourist trade has also become a major source of the county’s income. In 1920 Cora and Ed Buck began taking summer boarders at their ranch on Julian Creek. Other families soon advertised for guests, and Bandera, despite its relative isolation, became well known as a resort, with numerous restaurants, dance halls, and dude ranches.”
“In 1982, 82 percent of the land in the county was in farms and ranches, with 4 percent of the farmland under cultivation. Sheep, goat, cattle, and poultry raising are the chief occupations. Only 11 to 20 percent of the land in the county is considered prime farmland. Crops include corn, oats, hay, pecans, and some grain sorghums. Bandera County ranked 238th among Texas counties in agricultural receipts, with 95 percent coming from livestock and livestock products. During the 1980s Baxter Adams, a former petroleum geologist, introduced commercial apple growing at his Love Creek Ranch, and subsequently the area around Medina became an important apple-growing region, with more than 30,000 bushels picked annually in the late 1980s.”
“Bandera (population, 833) is the county’s seat of government. Other communities include Lakehills (5,285), Medina (850), Tarpley (30), and Vanderpool (20). Such attractions as the Frontier Times Museum, Bandera Pass, and the site of Camp Montel also bring in thousands of tourists and vacationers annually. Lost Maples State Natural Area, near Vanderpool in the west end of the county, is a birder’s paradise known for its fall foliage display; Hill Country State Natural Area is a 4,253-acre primitive camping area with trails for hiking and horseback riding. Numerous hunters are also drawn to the county because of its large deer and turkey population.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Christopher Long, “Bandera County“
I was the guest of Bandera and Bandera County on July 25, 2015.
Bandera County Courthouse – 1869
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
“Built in 1869, the two-story, coursed rubble limestone building was used as the Bandera County Courthouse from 1877 to 1891. The simple vernacular structure is covered by a gabled roof surmounted by a single end chimney. The roof, which was originally lined with cypress shingles, is now constructed of corrugated metal. The building has retained the original six-over-six sash windows in the upper floor of the east and west facades, but windows and doors have been replaced with newer models on the ground floor and second story south wall. A hooded brick flue for a stove was added to the west elevation, probably in the late 19th century. Local historians differ on the original use of the building, which is perched on a hill above the former location of an old cypress mill on the Medina River below and once belonged to the mill’s owner. It is believed to have been built as a residence by one source and as a store with a Masonic lodge meeting hall on the second floor by another. The historic building currently serves as a library.” – Texas Historical Commission
“Georgia stonemason Henry White is credited with building this structure in 1868. In 1877, a store occupied the first floor and the Masonic Lodge met on the top floor. County commissioners bought the building that year to provide space for county offices, then housed in rented quarters. The county retained ownership of the structure after a larger courthouse was erected in 1890.” - Texas Historical Marker
The building still stands in downtown Bandera, but I unfortunately didn’t know that at the time of my visit.
Bandera County Courthouse – 1890
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
B.F. Trester, Jr provided the architectural design for this courthouse, modeled in a local take on the Renaissance Revival style known as the Spanish Renaissance Revival. It’s also said that he drew up those plans for a whopping five dollars. Ed Braden & Sons of San Antonio and local contractor, E. Huffmeyer of Bandera aided in its construction.
This ornate courthouse is made of limestone quarried from the Bandera County hills, and while it stands as proud and tall as any of those works of J. Riely Gordon or Wesley C. Dodson, it doesn’t come from a firm that practiced state-wide. Trester provided the plans for only one Texas courthouse, and this was it.
1961 saw the addition of a one-story office space addition around the back of the building, and the roof was renovated from 1979-1980.
(Photo Courtesy: Richard and Judy Berger)
Over the years, like many courthouses, this one fell into a state of semi-disrepair. At some point in its history, perhaps during the repairs of ’79-’80, the original roof, tower, dome, and cupola were painted over and “metal-lized” in a drastic change from its original 1890 look. You can see this above.
In 2006, Bandera County received an emergency grant from the Texas Historical Commission that provided help for its failing tower. Their summary of renovations is listed as:
“Bandera County received an emergency Round IV grant for structural repair of the tower. An engineer’s assessment of failures in both the load-bearing masonry arch above the judge’s bench and the heavy timber trusses supporting the tower led to the installation of “temporary” shoring in the district courtroom in 1998. The remedial work of this project included reinforcing the tower structure, replacing the metal roof, and removal of the shoring, which was completed in March 2006.” - Texas Historical Commission
The rest of the building has of yet, not been touched by the historical commission. There has not yet been a rededication ceremony (as of the THC’s 2015 data).
Entering Bandera from the west, on Highway 16
“Bandera” means flag, in Spanish.
The courthouse green encompasses a small rise just northeast of the highway.
The northwest façade, facing Pecan Street
The north corner
1961 & 1890, respectively
The small addition from the sixties can’t even compete with the majesty of the larger structure.
The rear entrance of the courthouse, positioned in between buildings both old and new
12th Street, as seen from the back entrance
There is also this second set of rear doors, built solely into the original courthouse.
The front entrance is much more grand.
Here’s Main Street from the front doors.
Several memorials to the city’s legacy as “the Cowboy Capital of the World” grace the southwestern side of the courthouse lawn.
Bandera & Bandera County
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