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
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
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 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
| Pecos Kid
Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard
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
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.