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"Hindsights"


Looking back at:

July 4 in Fredericksburg

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The thunder of cannon fire at 6 in the morning shook plaster from the walls and rattled windows from Kraus Corner to the Nimitz Hotel. When the shooting stopped the concert band played "Dies ist der Tag des Herrn" (This is the Day of the Lord) before beginning its march down Main Street, pausing at every corner to play a military tune or some John Philip Sousa.

Independence Day has always been celebrated with a little more gusto in Fredericksburg than a lot of other places. I think it's because the people here understand what the old freedom-loving settlers went through just for the opportunity to build a town on the wild Texas frontier.

Those celebrations have always been loud and brassy, and they often included gunfire of some sort. The firing of the cannon at the crack of dawn goes back until at least 1890.

Rubin Bernhard and Harry Land assumed command of the cannon after WWI. They fired the opening salvo from Marketplatz at 5:45am. Then for good measure, in case anyone in a 3-mile radius was still in bed, they burned a little more gunpowder from several locations along Main Street.

Young people answered the early morning cannon barrage by shooting anvils. There were dances at Klaerner's Hall (where the Palace Theater is today) and at Klaerner's Park on the Harper Road. The dances started at 3 in the afternoon and lasted until daylight the next morning. People didn't get together very often back then, and a lot of traveling was involved, so when they did get together they made the most of it.

The 1922 July 4 parade included 3 horseless carriages carrying Civil War veterans.

The 1923 celebration featured a baseball game, a rooster catch and a 5-mile automobile race. Kelly Field in San Antonio sent a military band and a squadron of airplanes. Radio experts from Fort Sam Houston brought their "powerful receiving apparatus" so sports fans could listen to the Jack Dempsey/Tommy Gibbons heavyweight title bout live from Shelby, Montana.

Nobody gave Gibbons a prayer, but the fight went the distance. Dempsey dodged a bullet with a 15-round decision.

The highlight of the July 4, 1924 celebration was what the Fredericksburg Standard billed as a "battle royal," between 5 or 6 "rugged individuals" who crawled into the ring in front of the fairground grandstands and wailed on each other until only 1 was left standing.

The Fourth of July crowd could get a little rowdy. The July 7, 1938 edition of the Fredericksburg Standard happily reported that in the course of the most recent celebration, "no one was incarcerated in the county bastille and the peace officers, with the exception of those who directed traffic, enjoyed as much of a holiday as did the celebrants."

The parade down Main Street, which dates to at least 1891, had grown to a mile long by 1940. And there was more gunfire. Sheriff Alfred Klaerner rode his roan horse at the front of the parade, occasionally cutting loose with the double-barreled shotgun he carried across his lap.


Pecos Kid
Pecos Kid
Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

Calvin Sageser from Harper, known in rodeo circles as the Pecos Kid, rode a wild buffalo at the rodeo on July 4, 1941. Less than a year later Sageser joined the Marines. On December 15, 1943 Pfc. Calvin Ode Sageser died going ashore in New Guinea.

Former president Lyndon Johnson watched the horse races from the grandstands on July 4, 1970. Six days later Congressman George H. W. Bush, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, held a fundraiser in those same grandstands, giving Fredericksburg the distinction of hosting a former president and a future president in less than a week.

If you think about it, modern Independence Day celebrations in Fredericksburg really haven't changed all that much. There are still parades, horse races, music, dancing, plenty of food and drink, aircraft flying overhead and thunderous explosions accompanied by the smell of burning gunpowder at the fireworks show.

There's nothing subtle about July 4 in Fredericksburg.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" July 1, 2021 Column



"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • A Hidden Message in Fredericksburg Street Names 6-15-21
  • Making Leather at Itz Tannery 6-1-21
  • Lyndon's Little Brother 5-15-21
  • Another Slow Night at the Blanco County Jail 5-1-21
  • Sheriff Klaerner, Dan Hoerster's Hat and the Blind Horse 4-15-21

    See More »



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