[reprinted from Grinstead, J.E. “The House of Schreiner,” Grinstead’s Magazine, June 1920, pp. 26-34. Please excuse any grammatical errors, computer generated or otherwise]
“With deep-thatched eaves it stood, Hard by a vernal wood. As falling acorns found great oaks– So did this cottage found a house.”
In the year 1857 a rough ranch cabin, built of logs and covered hand-made shingles, was planted on the banks of Turtle Creek, in the wilds of what is now Kerr County. Texas. From this humble cottage grew an established house—The House of Schreiner. The tiny acorn falls, and from it springs an oak. Ages are required for the acorn to develop into the sturdy giant of the forest. Not so with men. Here and there in the forests of life we find one who, by his own personal efforts, attains eminent position among his fellow men, in the short time allotted to a single life. It matters not that such men fall on stony ground, are buffeted by the adverse winds of misfortune and bent in the gales of time. By their own indomitable strength they win against all odds, and succeed. Such a man is Captain Charles Schreiner.
Captain Schreiner was born in the little <page 29> village of Riguewihr, France, February 22, 1838. Riguewihr is in the province of Alsace, at that time a department of France, later a part of Germany, and now again by the fortunes of war, restored to its mother country.
In the year 1852, when Charles was a lad of fourteen, his parents, Gustave Adolphe Schreiner and Charlotte Schreiner, left their native home to seek broader fields and greater liberties in America. We are often prone to say things happen by chance. Possibly it was chance that stirred the hearts of these two people, and caused them to break away from the customs and traditions of an old world village, and seek a home in the new world. And again, perhaps it was not chance. The Supreme Ruler of the Universe does not cause the earth to stay in its orbit by chance, nor does the humblest plant that grows, bud, blossom and bear fruit by chance. Everything in nature follows a fixed rule, though man cannot always follow that rule and understand it.
So, it may be that some prescience, unknown even to themselves, told Adolphe and Charlotte Schreiner that they had a son for whom the little village in the mountains of France, with its old world habits and customs was too small a field. At any rate, they came to America, and to Texas. They settled near San Antonio, because its sunny skies reminded them of France, perhaps.
At the age of sixteen Charles joined a company of Texas rangers, where he served with credit to himself in this great organization for the protection of life and property on the Texas frontier. He had been thrown into the melting-pot, and was becoming an American, absorbing American ideas, and pledging himself to American ideals.
In 1857, having resigned from the service and married in the meantime, Charles Schreiner, still a boy by the usual standards, but in fact a man and a thinker from childhood, located a ranch and built a cabin on Turtle Creek. Here he began the real battle of life, dividing his time between tending his slowly increasing flocks and herds, and lighting the Indians, who resented this encroachment on their hunting grounds by white men,
Followed four years of toil and struggle against the elements of chance, in a country that was so new there was no precedent to follow. Then in 1861, when America was thrown into civil war, the young ranch- man heard the martial call. He entered the Confederate army, and served four full years under a flag that is now furled forever, though still held in reverence by millions of a reunited people <page 31>that little building with its shed across the front for an awning, its door of rough battened boards, and one tiny window in front. A broncho stands at the door that has been riden there by a ranger, or a cowboy. There is no street, just a wide place in the road, and not a very wide place at that, for the road was but a trail. Across the way, where the Lowry Building now stands, was a grove of post oak trees, and beyond that the great outdoors. Remember it was Christmas Eve. The pioneer mothers were doubtless telling their little ones the age-old, but ever new, story of the Nativity, while they patched and darned stockings to be hung to the rude mantel, in the hope of a visit from Santa Claus.
Such was the founding of the mercantile and financial house of Schreiner. Thus was it planted, and it grew, and grew. The story of Captain Charles Schreiner and his enterprises is the story of Kerrville. Here he amassed a collossal fortune, and here in recent years he has given of it unstintingly for public institutions, and is still giving.
For the first ten years the firm was known as Faltin & Schreiner. At the expiration of that time Schreiner bought his partner’s interest, and continued the business in his own name. He had begun the enterprise without other capital than his own indomitable courage, keen foresight, and energy. Now he was untrammeled and independent, and could use his native ability as a financier unhampered.
From that day the business grew by leaps and bounds. Recently, in reminiscent mood, Captain Schreiner said:
“Yes, it was a small beginning. Just a little cypress shack that stood where my residence now stands. I remember the first sale made. It was a dollar’s worth of coffee, sold to Mr. Hollomon, father of James and George Hollomon. The purchase was made on credit. There was practically no money in the country at that time. Goods were paid for in cypress lumber or shingles. These were hauled by wagon to San Antonio and other points, where ever market could be found for them. The merchandise was hauled from Indianola in ox-wagons, the freighters making two trips a year.
“There was very little if any land in cultivation in Kerr country at that time. Caspar Real had just brought the first flock of sheep to the county. There were not many cattle—that is, not many that anyone claimed. Cattle were so cheap that people would not go to the trouble to brand the calves, and in some parts of Texas the maverick yearlings were killed for their hides, the same as other wild animals. Money could hardly be plentiful in a country where such conditions existed.
“I remember,” continued Captain Schreiner, “that a few days after the store was opened our cash sales ran to two dollars and fifty-five cents one day, and we thought we were doing a fine business. Our first month’s sales ran ten to fifteen dollars a day, practically all trade or credit.
“The business didn’t really begin to grow until about 1870-71. At that time the country was beginning to recover in a measure from the shock of the civil war, and the great movement of Texas cattle to the northwest set in. Kerrville was on the old trail, and became an important point.
“We got mail once a week. It was carried on horseback from San Antonio, and the late Judge Hance Burney was the first postmaster. He was succeeded by Christian Dietert. There were no banks in the country. When cattle were bought they were paid for in gold or silver. From the very first we did banking business. The cattle buyers would bring Spanish doubloons—a gold coin of about the equivalent value of sixteen dollars—and silver dollars, in morrals hung on their saddle horns. They would turn the money over to us for safe keeping, and give orders on us for payment for cattle.
“The first year we had no safe. There was a loose board in the floor of the store. Our vault had no time lock. When darkness came, I simply raised the loose board, deposited the accumulated coin under the floor, replaced the board and rolled a barrel over it.
“The first year our sales, all told, amounted to about five thousand dollars My son tells me that the sales of the Charles Schreiner Company for the year 1919 were approximately six hundred thousand.”
A great record, say you? Indeed, yes. but that is only the beginning of it. That lithe cypress shack, first opened for business on Christmas Eve, 1869, was the mother, or father if you will, of a great diversity of enterprises. From it grew one of the largest landed estates in Texas.
From it grew a wool commission business that has for years borne the distinction of being the largest handler of raw wool direct from the ranch, of any individual concern in America. From it grew a banking business that ranks among the strongest financial institutions in the state. From It also grew the Schreiner Livestock Company, and various other enterprises.
But the store, the mercantile business, was the genesis, the parent stem, the sustaining factor of them all. Did reverse come, and they often did, the mercantile company was the staunch mother ship that always weathered the storm. In another reminiscent strain, Captain Schreiner said:
“Yes, there have been great changes. There were not many people in Kerr county at that time, yet some of the old families are still represented here. I recall the Reeses, Burneys, Starkeys, John and Sim Moore, Steve Ray, Dick Joy, Hope, Hughes, Nelson, Fessenden, Joshua Brown, Henry Schwethelm, Lee Williamson, Christian Dietert, Caspar Real, Parson Goss and his sons, Spencer and Lee, and others who traded at the little store, and whose children and grandchildren, and even great grandchildren are now trading with the company.
The business prospered, but it was not always easy sailing,” continued the aged financier. “I remember very distinctly that in 1886, when the cattle business had become an important feature of my business, myself and some other Texas cattlemen leased the grazing rights on part of the Kiawa and Comanche reservation. We paid the chiefs for the lease, but those copper-colored gentlemen expended the funds for firewater and personal adornment, and forgot to make an accounting to the tribesmen. When the cattle went on the reservation the Indians set up a complaint about the trespassing, and we produced our lease. Then Poor Lo raised a clamor for his share of the proceeds. When it was not forthcoming there was trouble. General Sheridan investigated the trouble, and told
us that the only way an uprising could be prevented was to remove our cattle from the reservation. We had put thirteen thousand beef steers on the land. We gathered one thousand and twenty-seven head. This fiasco broke several of the men who were associated with me, and it bent me pretty badly, but the mercantile business pulled me through that disaster, as it did through many others.”
In 1898 the business had grown to such gigantic proportions that it could no longer be run under one and with primitive methods. In that year the banking, mercantile, and livestock businesses were separated. The Charles Schreiner Company was organized and incorporated, with A. C. Schreiner, the oldest son of the house, as manager, L. A. Schreiner became cashier of the Charles Schreiner Bank, and G. F. Schreiner head of the Schreiner Cattle company.
Notwithstanding all these various enterprises that demanded his attention, Captain Schreiner found time to take an active interest in public affairs. He was always at the front in any movement that would benefit the town and county. Through his efforts, when the railroad was built from San Antonio in 1888, Kerrville was made terminus, after the uphill job of building it had discouraged the promoters. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the esteem and confidence in which he was held by the people than the fact that in 1868 after having served two years as county and district clerk, he was elected county treasurer and held the office for thirty consecutive years, until his business interests compelled him to resign.
In 1917 Captain Schreiner divided among his eight children, property amounting to about six millions in value. The five sons of the house are A. C., G. F., L. A., W. R., and Charles A. Jr. The daughters are Mrs. Hiram Partee, Mrs. W. C. Rigsby, and Mrs. S. L. Jeffers.
To A. C. Schreiner, whose life front childhood had been spent in the store, went the mercantile business. To L. A. Schreiner, trained to banking from his boyhood, went the Charles Schreiner Bank. To G. F. Schreiner, one of the best known and most capable cowmen in southwest Texas, went large ranch interests in Kerr county. W. R. Schreiner, also a stockman, received valuable Kerr county ranch property. Chas. A. Schreiner, Jr., a retired San Antonio merchant, and his sister, Mrs. W. C. Rigsby received the famous Liveoak Ranch, along with other valuable property. Gifts to the other daughters consist of land and other property lying outside of Kerr county.
Long before the partitioning of estate, Captain Schreiner began his work of philanthropy. Aside from unnumbered smaller beneficences, he began ten or a dozen years ago to give each year, two scholarships to graduates of the Tivy High School. These scholarships were for a two years course in any school of the receiver’s choice, with all expenses paid.
In 1916 he set aside a quarter of a million dollars to found a Presbyterian school for boys and young men at Kerrville, to be known as Schreiner Institute. The fund was placed in trust with the proviso that work should not begin on the building until one year after a treaty of peace had been signed. The treaty peace has not yet been formally signed by this country, so the work has not yet started. The funds for the purpose, however, are available, and work will start when the conditions of the gift are met. This gift includes, in addition to the cash fund, a site of 140 acres, lying on they Guadalupe river, just outside the city.
Last year, when the good roads, and Old Spanish Trail movement were on, Captain Schreiner made a gift of $150,000 to the highway maintenance fund of Kerr county,
Early in the present year he offered the citizens of Junction, Kimble county, a donation equal to any amount they would <page 34> raise for the purpose of building and equipping a high school. The gift was accepted, and the result is that neighboring town will have a hundred thousand dollar high school, known as the Schreiner High School.
In March of the present year Captain Schreiner and his sons made a gift of seven hundred acres of land as a site for the new Tuberculosis Hospital for Texas Soldiers, at a cost of forty thousand dollars.
Captain Schreiner’s latest act of philanthropy was the gift of the Secor Hospital to the city of Kerrville. This magnificent property has been placed in trust, and will continue to be operated as it has been for the past several years. The proceeds will go into a fund to provide a free clinic for the poor and unfortunate. Of all his many gifts, Captain Schreiner has made none more touchingly humane than this.
Thus rounding out a long, busy and well- spent life, the venerable financier resides in his beautiful home, which stands on the site of his first store, numbering his friends and admirers throughout the state by scores.
The story of Captain Schreiner’s life would be incomplete without some mention of the late Mrs. Schreiner. She was his help mate indeed, throughout his early struggles. A woman of the same tireless energy that actuated her husband in all things, Wordsworth could have truly said of her:
“She was a woman of stirring life, whose heart was in her house; Two wheels she had, the large for spinning wool, the small for spinning flax; and if one wheel had rest, it was because the other was at work.”
Beyond the portals of her own, M. Schreiner’s good work extended, and all who knew her loved her.
Last year being the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of business, Mr. A, C. Schreiner and his sons, W. Scott Schreiner, and A. C. Schreiner, Jr., decided to set up a milestone to mark the half century. This was done by rebuilding and greatly enlarging the home of the Charles Schreiner Company. It is a far cry from the little cypress board store of 1869, to the magnificent native stone building of 1919, with its front of marble and plate glass. The new building is modern throughout, and is one of the handsomest stores in Texas.
On an eminence overlooking the Guadalupe, a mile south of Kerrville, stands the beautiful modern home of G. F. Schreiner. Cedar Lodge. The building, recently completed, is perfect in appointment, and surrounded by its extensive deer park, and farm, is one of the show places of the Hill Country.
Across the river, on a crest, and looking down upon the city as if it were a scroll unrolled beneath the sky, is the palatial country home of L. A. Schreiner.
princely home also comprises a deer park of several hundred acres, and a farm that has for some years been a pet of the owner- Here Mr. Schreiner has delighted to experiment with modern farming and stork raising.
Thus was transplanted from the vine- clad, terraced hills of Sunny France, to the Hill Country of southwest Texas, the House of Schreiner.