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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

The Nimitz:
Hotel with a History

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The list of famous people who stayed at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg has long been a topic of lively beer hall debate. After participating in quite a few of these seminars myself I have come to the conclusion that some famous and near famous people really stayed at the Nimitz, some may have stayed there and some rumored to have stayed there didn't.

Verification of the true Nimitz guest list is difficult and in some cases impossible. In the early years the hotel kept no permanent records. The old hotel register dates only from the 1870s.

Even then the list of names is problematic. Some handwriting is not easy to read.

Hotels back then weren't as "ID" conscious as they are today. A guest could sign any name he wanted, and no one questioned it.

A reporter who perused the old hotel register wrote that it was "crammed with signatures of folk from far and near, of notables from civic and private life, of generals who fought in great wars and of ranchers and stage drivers and others who entered the portals of the stately Nimitz Hotel at the crossroads in Fredericksburg."

Fredericksburg TX -  Nimitz Hotel
Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg
Photo courtesy Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio

Penmanship ran the gamut from elegant cursive to chicken scratching. One reporter wrote of the Nimitz register, "There are bold signatures, and delicate ones, scrawls and Spencerian flourishes."

It appears that Col. Robert E. Lee stayed at the Nimitz as he made the rounds of Texas frontier forts including Fort Martin Scott and Fort Mason.

A San Antonio Light reporter wrote of seeing the signature of General Phil Sheridan, "signed boldly and authentic beyond the shadow of a doubt." The general checked in on May 31, 1875, while on an inspection tour.

Another signature believed to be authentic is Rutherford B. Hayes. The congressman and former Union general reportedly stayed at the Nimitz on June 30, 1875. Sixteen months later Rutherford B. Hayes would be elected the 19th President of the United States.

Others rumored to have stayed at the Nimitz include James Longstreet, Fitzhugh Lee and Edmond Kirby Smith. All 3 men would become Confederate generals.

The Victoria Advocate insisted that Horace Greely once stayed at the Nimitz - going west no doubt.

The artist Elisabet Ney very likely stayed at the Nimitz. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate she checked into the hotel in 1906 to see the headstone she carved for Emma Schnerr at City Cemetery.

The outlaw Johnny Ringo traveled through Fredericksburg, coming and going, and could have stayed at the Nimitz. Same for the outlaw Scott Cooley.

The Kerrville Daily Times stated that Jesse James registered at the Nimitz on June 15, 1875 using the alias "C. H. Howard."

Not sure about that one.

On the subject of outlaws, the San Antonio Light reported that on March 18, 1879, Little John Straus of the Missouri State Penitentiary checked into the Nimitz for a brief stay.

Next to the entry in the register someone added "Had bracelets on. Escaped. $20,000 Reward."

In addition to the names and aliases of guests, the register often indicated their mode of travel. On November 6, 1873 "Moses K. Kossborough and horse" registered at the Nimitz. The next day "Chas. Christophel, San Antonio with 4 horses" checked in.

On October 23, 1873 "W. O. Hutchinson, boss of the El Paso Mail Line, 6 employees and horses" stayed at the Nimitz.

Some entries in the Nimitz register were never meant to be taken seriously.

On December 24, 1876 "Gen. A. O. Cooley, Eureka; Major C. C. Callan, Dictator of America and Ulysses S. Grant" scrawled their monikers across the page of the Nimitz register.

According to the Fredericksburg Standard, the general, the dictator and the president were full of Christmas cheer and "were well on their way to a jolly evening by the time they affixed their signatures."

The short story writer William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry, reportedly sat around the bar in the Nimitz Hotel for days drinking beer and "absorbing the colloquialisms and atmosphere." His stay at the Nimitz may have inspired his story "The Chaparral Prince."

Wish I could have been there for that one.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 1, 2019 Column

Sources:
"Nimitz Museum was home to famous as a hotel," Kerrville Daily Times, January 9, 1991.
"The Hill Country Admiral," Harper Herald, August 14, 1942.
"Historic Hotel in Bad Shape," Victoria Advocate, January 5, 1964.
"A Hotel With A History," San Antonio Light, November 6, 1921.
"Names, Names, Names, Here's The Book That's Full Of Them," Fredericksburg Standard, September 24, 1936.


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