A few years back I received a short article written by Mark McCurley for the Cordillera Ranch Nature Club. He wrote about moving to Cordillera Ranch and wanting to learn more about the history of the area. The Clubs has been using what we call the “Stagecoach House” for our Outfitter Center since the summer of 2006, and the summer of 2015 will see our departure into a new Outfitter Center on the east end of the ranch.
Mark found an interesting history book on the area titled “The German Settlement of the Texas Hill Country” by Jefferson Morganthaler. It is a great little book that tells why, when, where and how the Germans settled this part of Texas. Cordillera Ranch, although not mentioned by name in this book, does have a connection that some of you may not have realized.
Page 107 of the book says “Charcoal City was an extended string of charcoal-burner camps along the Guadalupe River between Sisterdale and New Braunfels. Lasting from about 1880 to 1919, it had a post office in the Sueltenfuss home, called first the Guadalupe Post Office, then the Schiller Post Office.”
The Sueltenfuss home and Schiler Post Office is what we refer to as the “Stagecoach House”, or Outfitter Center, and is located at the end of Swede Springs Road. If you have never stopped by, you should contact me to see the place prior to us moving out in late spring of 2015. The Outfitter Center has been a wonderful place for our members and their guest to gather prior to going on a river trip over the years and provides a glimpse of what homes looked like in the area in the 19th century.
As the name Charcoal City suggest there was a pretty successful enterprise working in this area at that time. The Germans found a practical use for the Ashe Juniper (Cedar) that covered so much of the land in this area. They began to turn the wood into charcoal for their own settlements use but also as a trade or cash source from the larger San Antonio market. As commercial charcoal production rose, they needed more hands to work the business and so Anglos and Tejanos were hired to clear land on a sharecrop basis.
If you are like most Texans, charcoal comes in a Kingsford bag, is the little crumbly stuff that works in the aquarium filter or in its finest forms is used by budding artist for their sketches. As Mark researched his article he learned that charcoal also has a medicinal use, a common treatment for gastric issues like indigestion. Mark was clueless however on how charcoal was made by the settlers who inhabited this area.
If you have cut any Ashe Junipers on your property, you know how hard that work is. Obviously that was the start of the process for the settlers. The downed trees would then be cut into relatively equal size pieces for the billets. The next step takes a bit more skill and experience to pile billets of wood on their ends so as to form a conical pile, openings being left at the bottom to admit air, with a central shaft to serve as a flue. The whole pile is covered with turf or moistened clay. The firing is begun at the bottom of the flue, and gradually spreads outwards and upwards. The success of the operation depends upon the rate of the combustion. Under average conditions, 100 parts of wood yield about 60 parts by volume, or 25 parts by weight, of charcoal; small scale production on the spot often yields only about 50%, large scale was efficient to about 90% even by the seventeenth century. The operation is so delicate that it was generally left to colliers (professional charcoal burners).
Thanks to Mark’s article, we know a little bit more about the first neighborhood in this area. I really hope that reading this story will encourage you to learn more about the Texas Hill Country and also that it will entice you to visit our Cordillera Ranch Outfitter Center. Who knows that might just lead to a day with your family and friends on a kayak trip down the Guadalupe, an afternoon of fishing or a nature walk to make your own fossil or Indian artifact discovery? Have fun outdoors and enjoy the wonders of nature in this amazing place.
Thanks to Mark McCurley who put together most of this information!
Outdoor Recreation Director
The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch