Western Travis County is known for its hills, creeks, springs, and caves. The rugged terrain is in stark contrast to the flat agricultural lands to the east; it remained rather isolated from the rest of the county until well after the turn of the century. Before the Civil War, the area was a hiding place for Indians and outlaws. John Wesley Hardin and Ben Thompson took to the hills to hide out when things got hot for them back in town. Bandit's Cave, located in what is now Rollingwood, was reputed to have been the hideout of a gang who robbed the state treasury of $17,000 in 1860.
During the Civil War, Union sympathizers known as "mountain eagles" escaped from Confederate conscription by hiding out in the isolated hills. The Confederacy also used the area by manufacturing gunpowder with both lead mined from iron ore along Barton Creek and nitrate leached from bat guano in the many area caves. Barton Creek Mall is located where the volatile mixture was processed.
After the war, permanent settlers--attracted by the abundance of wood, water, and game--began to move into the area. Many of these settlers came from Appalachia and brought their mountain culture with them. They scraped a living from the rugged hill country by cutting cedar, building stone walls and fences, and making charcoal and moonshine. Derisively called "cedar choppers" or "charcoal burners," they were a proud, independent, reclusive people who moved from place to place wherever there was work. From 1870 to 1940, the cedar brakes provided work because cedar logs were in high demand for railroad ties, foundation piers, stove wood, charcoal, and fence posts. In 1875 alone, over 30,000 cedar logs were shipped from Austin. Competition for the wood became so intense that
between 1870 and 1890 several confrontations called the "Cedar Wars" occurred in the hill country over conflicting territorial claims of cedar brakes.
This photograph shows Bull Creek as it appeared in the mid-1920s.
Built in 1871, the old bridge across Barton Creek just above the present-day pool was one of the few single span rock bridges in the country at the time. It washed away in the 1900 flood. There were no bridges over the Colorado until 1886. Travelers to the Westbank used the old bridge over Barton Creek and either forded at low water crossings like Bull Creek, Taylor's Slough, and Lohman's Crossing, or used ferries such as the one at McGill's Crossing. Bad roads and few bridges kept the Westbank isolated as late as the 1930s.
"In 1931 there was no low water bridge on Red Bud Trail, and no Red Bud Trail. Almost none of the roads in the Westbank existed then and only a few old families lived in the area. Bee Cave Road was an unpaved gravel track. There were two ways to get to the area near the west end of the dam that creates Lake Austin. One way was by automobile across the Congress Avenue Bridge, thence out Barton Springs Road and Bee Cave Road, and finally by meandering [through brush] to wherever you wanted to go ...The other more practical way was to rent a row boat from Mr. Burns who kept a lot of small row boats just below the old wreck of the earlier dam [built in 1915]. With a Burns row boat it was simple--and at night a little scary and sometimes a little romantic--to row across the river from the east side to the west side."
Hugh Yantis, quoted in Eanes: Portrait of a Community
In the 1930s several events brought major changes to the Westbank. The building of the dams along the Colorado River ended the devastating floods in the area, provided cheap electricity, and created lakes that attracted new residents and visitors. Electric and phone lines were strung across the river in 1933. And, best of all to some, perilous Bee Cave Road was finally widened, straightened, and paved with WPA funds in 1936. The Marshall Ford Dam, now known as the Mansfield Dam, is shown here during construction in 1937.
"Thirteen families got together and decided we'd put up the money and our know how and build us a light line and telephone line out here. So we went to the City of Austin to see if they'd give us a hook-up if we'd build our own lines. Then we went to the telephone company and asked if they'd give us a hook-up...[both] gave us that authority. At this time they were wrecking an interurban [railway system] between Cleburne and Fort Worth. We bought 100 forty-five foot poles with cross bars attached for only $4.00 apiece, delivered. The city gave us the power wire to put on the poles. It was junk wire in 10 and 200 foot lengths which we had to straighten out and solder together. Everyone gave the right-away across his land...This was before winch lines and back-hoe diggers...so we contracted the holes out to set those poles for $1.00 per piece. Then we strung the light and telephone lines on them ourselves. We got lines all the way up Bee Cave Road to the school [Eanes School]...This made the community real popular with the people in town and they commenced to move out."
Benton Beard quoted in Eanes: Portrait of a Community
The Bee Cave community was founded in 1870 on the convergence of two cattle trails between Austin and the ranching center of Llano. At the time, it was a full day's journey from Austin on a rocky, winding road. Here German immigrant Carl Beck established a mill, gin, cigar factory, and store which later became the post office with Beck serving as postmaster for 45 years. There has long been confusion over whether the proper spelling is Bee Cave or Bee Caves.
Hunting was a major source of food for people on the Westbank up until the 1930s and the men of the area were known to be crack shots. Local boy Alfred "Buck" Simpson was the second most decorated soldier of World War I in recognition of his proficiency with a rifle.
Hunters from all over Travis County came to the Westbank bringing with them dogs to run the deer. In the winter of 1898-99, local residents began shooting the dogs that often chased their cattle and other livestock as well as the deer. Known as the Travis County Dog War, the hard feelings that erupted between the city hunters and the local residents led to the indictment of one Eanes area man. The case was set aside when no one would testify against him. The practice of running deer with dogs was outlawed by the legislature in 1923, but by then deer had virtually disappeared from the area. Today, fortunately, the deer population has returned.
Proud Bee Cave area hunters pose with their guns and trophies in 1901. From the left, standing are: Tony Blomeke, Jack Bohls, unidentified, Theo Bohls, unidentified. The seated hunters are also unidentified.
Herbert Bohls is pictured here at the Bohls ranch, circa 1930. The ranch, located off Highway 71, across from the Johnson Trading Post, was one of several goat ranches in the area. In 1872, goats were introduced by early settler Robert Eanes and they adapted well to the area. Local resident H.B. Marshall served as president of the American Goat Association and became one of the first suppliers of mohair for Henry Ford's Model T cars.
The rocky terrain of the Westbank was not as easy to farm as the flat land in eastern Travis County. Residents did, however, raise corn and produce on a small scale. The Bohls family operated a roadside stand to sell the produce grown on their ranch. Pictured, circa 1915, are (left to right) Quintus Cato, Herbert Bohls, and Betty Bohls.
The Eanes School started in 1872 as a one-room log cabin built on the Robert Eanes Ranch near Dry Creek. In 1874, William and Sophie Teague donated two acres of land "for the purpose of erecting a house to be used as a church house and also a school house...in consideration of the interest they [felt] in the education and moral training of the youths of the community." The 1874 structure burned in 1892. From 1892 to 1896, classes were held in a log cabin nearby. In 1896, a new frame building (interior shown in photograph) was raised and served as the school until 1937. The building now serves as the Eanes History Center.