Hill Country History
The Hill Country was rich with thousands of natural springs, providing cool, fresh water. archaeologists have found evidence of humans occupying parts of the Hill Country for 10,000 years!
Native Americans hunted deer and turkey in the hills for thousands of years. They gathered pecans and mesquite beans from the trees that grew along the river. They dug up mussels and fished in the clear streams. But many Native Americans were drawn to the Hill Country because of the special stone they used to make their tools. This stone, called Edwards Chert, is also called flint by some people. Sometimes Native Americans traveled for miles to collect it from rocky outcrops and river gravel.
Arrow points and dart points, scrapers, knives, and other tools made out of Edwards Chert lasted a very long time and were easy to repair if they became damaged. The Spanish called this stone pedernales, which means flint, and named the Pedernales River after it. You can visit this beautiful river at Pedernales Falls State Park. In more recent history, Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg was considered a sacred (holy) place for the Native Americans that lived there.
The Spanish wanted to build a mission in the Hill Country for the Apaches. In the 1700s, soldiers and missionaries from San Antonio and Mexico built a stone fort, or presidio, and a wooden church near what is now the town of Menard. At the same time, some of the Spanish soldiers explored the area, thinking they might find silver and be able to open up a mine. They didn’t have any luck with the mine or the mission. The Apaches liked their own way of life too much to give it up and live at the mission. Apaches and other Native Americans from tribes as far away as Louisiana attacked the mission not long after it was built. Some of the soldiers and missionaries, and some of the Native Americans, were killed, and the wooden church was burned down. And although many people have searched for the “lost San Saba mine,” no silver has ever been found in the Texas Hill Country.
The 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was born on a ranch on the Pedernales River. The ranch is near the town of Stonewall. Johnson was president in the 1960’s during the Vietnam War and civil rights movement. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, is known for her love of Texas wildflowers.
German immigrants started coming to Texas in the 1800s, and many of them settled in the Hill Country. In towns like Fredericksburg, many people still speak German. One very famous Texan, Chester Nimitz, was born in Fredericksburg.
Nimitz was an important Commander in Chief in the military during World War II. You can still see the boat-shaped Steamboat Hotel built in Fredericksburg by his grandfather in the 1880s. The hotel’s guests included important historical figures such as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and the outlaw Jesse James. Now the hotel has been converted into the Admiral Nimitz S.H.S. and the Museum of the Pacific War, where exhibits tell the story of World War II in the Pacific and the life of Chester Nimitz.
Like other parts of Texas, Native Americans lived in the Hill Country for thousands of years before Europeans came. The Spanish looked for silver in the hills, and German immigrants ranched and grew crops. Today, the traditions and lifestyles of Hispanics, African Americans, Europeans, and others have come together to create the unique character of the Hill Country.