The Texas Hill Country is a special, almost mystical, place. Cactus paddles dot the landscape and green hills covered with trees—called cedar but more likely juniper—roll along its horizons under ample blue skies.
The area, located southwest of Austin and northwest of San Antonio, is made up of several small towns—Kerrville, Ingram, Boerne, Stonewall, and Luckenbach (which inspired a song by Willie Nelson), to name just a few. Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson made their home on a ranch just outside Johnson City. Each town has its own distinct history and story.
Castroville is the destination of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and the young German girl Johanna raised by the Kiowa in Paulette Jiles’ excellent novel, News of the World. Castroville was founded and populated by immigrants from the Alsace region in France.
The influence of the Germans who settled in Fredericksburg is still apparent in the Sunday houses that line its main street. They are called that because families left the farm to stay in them in order to be in town for church on Sundays. Those Sunday houses are now occupied by shops selling everything from clothing to cookware to boutique dog items. A neighbor in Austin once told me about growing up near Fredericksburg speaking German and learning English as a second language.
Reading News of the World reminded me of how recently (only 150 or so years ago) that Comanche and Kiowa still found themselves embroiled in a constant conflict with Texas settlers. Camp Verde—near the town of Center Point—was the site of a failed experiment in the use of camels to fight them, the brain child of Secretary of War and later President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. Further west near Bandera, the Comanche, which had successful held and even expanded their territory against the Spanish, experienced their first defeat in the Battle of Bandera pass.
In one of my ‘bottom drawer’ novels*—Guadalupe of the Angels—I set many scenes in the hill country and felt the narrative of that book bubble up from that landscape every time I journeyed through it. Stories seem to embed themselves in the scenery there and it’s easy to let them settle into the brain for inspiration.
The best way to experience them is to find yourself at dusk on a front porch in the countryside, watching deer run across the landscape, hearing the low drones of insects in the evening and solitude. In the state of Texas, there are few better places to be, especially to stoke the mind to go off into peaceful journeys of creativity.
* Any finished novel which may or may not see the light of day–if it’s in the process of being revised or on its way to the recycling bin.