Bigger than many states and several countries, the Hill Country is marked on most highway maps as a big brown patch in the center of a state best known for prairies and flatland. It was here that some of Texas' most unique and overlooked history was made.
One of the stories often left out of history books is the tale of the missionaries from the Church of Latter-Day Saints who tried to build a new country free from religious persecution on the Texas frontier.
This year, Mormons celebrate the 150th anniversary of their migration to Salt Lake City, Utah. But if events had turned out differently, they might be celebrating in Zodiac, Texas, instead. "Texas has been attracting dreamers and schemers for centuries," Zelade writes. "Few Texans know anything of these men and their dreams, perhaps because most of them failed."
In 1848, Lyman Wight, one of the Latter-Day Saints' original Quorum of Twelve, split from the main group of Mormons following Brigham Young to Utah from Missouri and Illinois and instead came to Texas.
Wight and his small group of Mormons first arrived in Webberville, east of Austin, where they were welcomed by white settlers as reinforcements against the Native Americans. They soon moved on to Austin, where they built a mill and the city's first jail.
During the colony's 12 years in Texas, the Mormons wandered about the Hill Country trying to find financial success. One of nine driving tours of the Hill Country outlined in the book, Zelade's description of the Mormon Trail gives life to the back roads that you will not find in historical markers.
The Mormons' first settlement, Zodiac, was four miles east of Fredericksburg near where US290 crosses the Pedernales River. The religious community did a good business selling furniture to the Germans and corn to the Army at Fort Martin Scott, but debts and politics sent them packing.
They tried to start the town of Mormon Mills on the Colorado River near Marble Falls, but it, too, failed. The group wandered through the frontier towns of Bandera, Center Point, and Cherry Springs, and Zelade follows the trail relating other tales of local history and current interest.
Finally the group arrived in a valley along the Medina River where they obtained their greatest success in Texas. After a couple of years, Wight once again got the wanderlust and told his flock that he had a vision to move back to Missouri. This time, most of the group rebelled. Wight died two days into the trek and was buried back in Zodiac.
The Mormons' story in Texas is only one of hundreds that Zelade tells in this grand collection of tales about the Hill Country. If your home library contains only one book about Texas, Hill Country ($18.95) should be it.
And while you're exploring the Hill Country or other parts of Texas, a useful handbook to have along is Texas Bed & Breakfast ($16.95). The book, which first appeared in 1985, contains necessary revisions as establishments appear and fade.
Not only does the guide book contain lively descriptions of historic, romantic, and the best B&Bs in the state, but it also gives a brief summary of things to do in the areas. This is an invaluable reference book for anyone who travels around Texas.
Wild About Austin, by Janie Fox, sprang from a mother's desire to find fun activities for her four sons. From Sega City to the Elizabet Ney Museum, this guidebook is the perfect reference book for exploring Austin. Newcomers will find a welcome wagon-load of information about the cultural mecca of Texas, and long-time residents will find some new haunts.
Fox breaks the city down into eight chapters like "Uniquely Austin," "Birthday Parties Plus," and the always popular "Swimming Holes." Each of the 80 entries includes a brief description, address, phone number, hours, prices, and directions. Give this book ($12.95) to visiting parents or children who whine, "There's nothing to do."
All three books are available at local bookstores.
Coming up this weekend...
Crazy About Big Bands presents free concerts every Friday 6-8pm in September at Rivercenter's lagoon on San Antonio's River Walk. 210/225-0000.
Texas Heritage Music Festival in Kerrville celebrates one-time resident Jimmie Rodgers' 100th birthday with an all-star cast of Texas musicians, Sept. 5-7. 210/367-3750.
Cactus Jazz and Blues Festival brings national and regional artists to San Angelo, Sept. 4-5. 915/653-6793.
Hummer/Bird Celebration in Rockport welcomes hummingbirds to the Gulf Coast on the migration to Mexico, Sept. 11-14. 512/729-6445.
Texas Gatorfest in Anahuac features the Gator Bait Ski Team Show, alligator meat, and other events, Sept. 12-14. 409/267-3907.