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A One-legged Court Clerk Turns to Sheep Ranching

Stone building known locally as "Holman's Store" may have served as a focal point for the small Barton Creek community near the turn of the twentieth century. The well-constructed shotgun style structure had a door and a window at each gabled end and was partitioned across the center of the interior. Photo by Tom Hester.
Stone building known locally as "Holman's Store" may have served as a focal point for the small Barton Creek community near the turn of the twentieth century. The well-constructed shotgun style structure had a door and a window at each gabled end and was partitioned across the center of the interior. Photo by Tom Hester.
Former Travis County district clerk Ernst Hallman moved to his hill country lands in 1882 to raise sheep. Photo circa 1875, courtesy Travis County Bar Association and Senator Ralph Yarborough.
Former Travis County district clerk Ernst Hallman moved to his hill country lands in 1882 to raise sheep. Photo circa 1875, courtesy Travis County Bar Association and Senator Ralph Yarborough.

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Section of Map of Texas circa 1888, showing location of Colberg, where Hallman served as postmaster for two years. Colberg was also the name of his birthplace in Prussia. Map courtesy of Center for American History, Swante Palm Collection.
Section of Map of Texas circa 1888, showing location of Colberg, where Hallman served as postmaster for two years. Colberg was also the name of his birthplace in Prussia. Map courtesy of Center for American History, Swante Palm Collection.
The southeast side of the building was the more ornamented, with lintels over the door and window. During the 1880s, this side was likely the front door. Although the road has now been moved, an aerial map from the 1930s shows the faint traces of an old road winding past this side of the building and on throughout the Barton Creek community. Photo by Tom Hester.
The southeast side of the building was the more ornamented, with lintels over the door and window. During the 1880s, this side was likely the front door. Although the road has now been moved, an aerial map from the 1930s shows the faint traces of an old road winding past this side of the building and on throughout the Barton Creek community. Photo by Tom Hester.

In 1882, prominent Austin businessman Ernst Hallman determined to make a dramatic change in his life. Ten years previously, the native of Colberg, Prussia, had been terribly injured in a train accident in Manor, Texas. As a result, both his left leg and right foot had to be amputated. Although he continued working as a district clerk for Travis County for several years afterward, he apparently was ready to leave city life behind. Having purchased more than 2400 acres of raw land west of the city, Hallman and his wife, Johanna Schenck Hallman moved to the Hill Country to raise sheep.

Little is known of the outcome of his venture. For even the toughest and most able bodied of men, the tasks of establishing a ranching operation must have been daunting. Even today, the rocky roads traversing the property Hallman once owned are rough and, during bad weather, treacherous. And yet postal records tell us that from 1883 to 1885, he also served as the postmaster of the community of Colberg in the "Hays/Travis area." Did the native of Colberg, Prussia, give this small enclave the name of his birthplace?

Today, all that is left on the land he once owned is a well-constructed stone building on a high ridge overlooking a tree-lined hollow. The 16-x-35-foot building is coursed masonry: hand-cut limestone laid with a mortar of burned lime and sand. The interior is dirt-floored and one-room wide, although a frame partition divides the interior into two sections.

In the fields surrounding the building, patterns of rock are aligned in large rectangular patterns, perhaps the remnants of corrals or pens. Piles of cut wood, nails, and other building materials indicate that other structures, some say bunkhouses, once stood in the area as well.

Based on the artifacts, the stone structure and outbuildings were used chiefly as a residence and for farm or ranch purposes. As a group, the artifacts date the site from the 1870s to the early 1900s: fragments of heavy white tableware popular in the 1880s and 1890s, sherds of stoneware crocks and churns; bits of bitters, Schnapps and beer bottles from the 1870s to early twentieth century. Parts of a cast iron stove, horseshoes, a metal pail, baling wire, and other objects were found in the adjacent fields.

Yet, ranchers in the area today clearly recall their grandparents' stories describing the stone building not only as a store but also as containing wooden post office boxes, a combination of services typical in rural communities. Small country stores chiefly carried basic items required for everyday life such as flour, sugar, coffee, and salt as well as a limited supply of dry goods and such non-staple items as snuff, bitters, medicine, liquor, and candy. The storeowner and his family often lived in one end of the store partitioned off from the commercial side. Because the objects sold in the store were intended largely for household use, they would be largely indistinguishable from artifacts found in a rural dwelling. For archeologists sorting through these remains, the problem of the building's function was frustrating, and is, as yet, not fully resolved.

Whatever his role—rancher, storekeeper, postal clerk, or all three—Hallman remained at the scenic hilltop compound for only a decade, moving back to Austin with his family shortly before his death in 1892. His widow and two daughters retained ownership of the property until 1907. Today, the small hollow at the base of the hill still carries his name, although the spelling has changed over time.


For even the toughest and most able bodied of men, the tasks of establishing a ranching operation must have been daunting.

Strong springs sustain fern-lined pools and a small stream in the tree-lined hollow below the stone building. In the creek, investigators found cut limestone blocks which are thought to be the remains of a springhouse, where foods and dairy products could be kept cooled. Photo by Susan Dial.
Strong springs sustain fern-lined pools and a small stream in the tree-lined hollow below the stone building. In the creek, investigators found cut limestone blocks which are thought to be the remains of a springhouse, where foods and dairy products could be kept cool. Photo by Susan Dial.
Fields adjacent to the stone building contained alignments of stone and small piles of building debris. Photo by Susan Dial.
Fields adjacent to the stone building contained alignments of stone and small piles of building debris. Photo by Susan Dial.
Rectangular patterning in the lines of stone suggest they are the remnants of stone walls, perhaps corrals or pens for sheep or other animals. Photo by Susan Dial
Rectangular patterning in the lines of stone suggest they are the remnants of stone walls, perhaps corrals or pens for sheep or other animals. Photo by Susan Dial