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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Pedernales, Texas

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr
Pedernales, Texas was a tiny scattered village 7 miles southwest of Fredericksburg. Dr. Victor Keidel founded the settlement and gave it a jump start by offering free medical care to any family that would join him.

The village took its name from the lazy river that zigzags, loops and u-turns through this part of the Texas Hill Country. Spanish explorers and missionaries in the 18th century named that river Pedernales after the Spanish word for flint rocks. Fredericksburg, settled in 1846, has a close association with the river.

The early settlers in Fredericksburg came from Germany with the help of the Adelsverein, an association of German noblemen. The Adelsverein promised medical care to the Fredericksburg settlers and sent Dr. Wilhelm Victor Keidel, from Hildesheim, Hanover, to fulfill that part of the contract.

In his early days in the Texas Hill Country, Dr. Keidel mixed medicine with politics. He signed the petition to create Gillespie County on December 15, 1847, and he served as county judge from 1848 to 1851.

Gillespie  County TX 1920s Map
Gillespie County 1920s map showing the Pedernales River
From Texas state map #10749
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

But Dr. Keidel longed for the quiet life of a country doctor, and soon after hanging out his shingle in Fredericksburg, he relocated to a farm on the Pedernales River not far from the mouth of Bear Creek in southern Gillespie County. He called the settlement Pedernales. Other settlers followed him there, drawn by the beauty, the solitude and the promise of free healthcare.

Dr. Keidel touted the physical and mental benefits of life in a quiet farming community like Pedernales. When asked his formula for healthy living, he always said "Gute Nahrung und Ruhepause" (good food and rest).

Among the Germans who followed Dr. Keidel to Pedernales were photographer and landscape artist Hermann Lungkwitz and his brother-in-law and fellow painter Richard Petri. Jacob Kuechler and his wife Mari Petri Kuechler (another sister to Richard Petri) came to Pedernales after the Bettina Colony on the Llano River fizzled. Jacob Kuechler was a surveyor, a Union officer and a survivor of the Battle of the Nueces. In the 1870s he served as Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

As the village of Pedernales grew, Dr. Keidel and some of his neighbors organized the Live Oak School. The doctor served on the first board of trustees. He also founded a political and cultural club called the Society for Good Fellowship and Promotion of General Information.

When he wasn't seeing patients or at school board meetings, Dr. Keidel planted trees along the road leading into Pedernales. He did everything he could to promote his community and make it grow.

Then in 1865 Dr. Keidel moved back to Fredericksburg. He died in 1870.



He left behind a village with 2 stores, a cotton gin, a school and just shy of 50 scattered residents. The community built a native limestone schoolhouse sometime prior to 1875 to house grades 1 through 7. State funds and private tuition paid for the teacher's salary and some school supplies.

The school was the center of community life. The Texas Historical Marker at the site reads "Picnics on 'schulpruefung' (final exam day), Christmas programs and music practices became traditional activities at the school." Those programs were the glue that held Pedernales together.

For the next 70 years, time stood still in Pedernales. It was a community, but it never really gathered enough steam to become a town. It never made much noise or attracted much outside attention. It was never more than a wide spot in the road.

Then after WWII, Pedernales and other small communities all over Gillespie County were undercut by automobiles, supermarkets and school consolidations. Economic and social forces caused a decisive turn away from small town life. Hard roads bypassed Pedernales and other small villages, leaving them lost in time - cut off with the modern world. Young people left for good jobs in the city leaving aging rural communities stranded and demoralized.

In 1949 Live Oak School consolidated with Wrede School. When the school closed, Pedernales slowly died.

Today the old school house is a private residence. It is the only visible trace of Pedernales, Texas that remains.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" January 15, 2023 Column


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