A form of a cash crop has been implemented by the development of the sheep and wool markets and the requirement for cash in trading was becoming a necessity as the methods of the row cropping and the raising of livestock was making a change as more cropland was being placed into cultivation in the Leon Valley Flats area which was mostly sandy loam to a tight, bottom rich soil and post oak timber, which, in order to clear, the trees had to be hand-power grubbed and then cut up into firewood.
Most of the pioneers who migrated to the Leon Valley in the 1870’s were stock farmers from the mid west, southeast and mid south and I am thinking that the grief caused by the Civil War, regardless of loyalty, caused most to seek new land and beginnings. I know that in the case of my great grandparents, the Andy Andrews family left a much more desirable farming country than Erna could offer but I guess the search for a new life was the driving force, as most of the pioneers took from three to five years to finally arrive here as they had to stop and make a crop or two on the way in order to have enough supplies to get to the Land of Milk and Honey.
Around 1900, much land had been cleared and since most of the pioneers had grown cotton in the past, the land not needed for corn and other essentials was thus devoted to cotton production and this caused a new industry to come into being. Amos and Leli ,the J. A. Brewers, built a store in Erna in what is now the wye of Erna Road and Hwy. 377. Amos was the son of John Brewer who I portrayed as a trapper with my Uncle Cripple Jim Andrews and Leli (mother of Eunice Brewer Dayton) was the daughter of Frank and Alice Mogford, who owned a half section just north of the wye. The south half of the property contained a magnificent grove of post oak and still has a beautiful stand of post oak, now owned by Frank and Alice Mogford’s great grand-daughter, Alice Dayton Cardwell.
Brewer’s Store became the activity center for Erna as it sold staple items, coal oil and devoted the south wall for mail collection, however, Erna never became a formal post office. My Uncle Charley Andrews delivered the mail to a box at the wye but when the store opened, he continued to carry the mail from Streeter to Erna, probably one day a week. By 1915, the horseless carriage began to appear and a gasoline hand pump was installed selling Good Gulf products. At an early date, the road system sort of came to Erna and then spread out as fingers as wagon roads were developed. The wagon roads were maintained on a volunteer basis and as the auto appeared, it had to travel the same roads and the repairs remained by the volunteers and it was about 1915 to 1920 before any county roads began to appear and the road from Mason to Junction became a state highway.
Amos and Leli operated the store for several years until they moved to near London to a stock farm and turned the operations over to their son, Cotton and his wife, Mildred Brewer. Cotton and Mildred had a son, Ricks(he still owns the property where the store stood) and a daughter, Diane, and they operated the store until the mid to late l940’s when they closed it and moved West, way west. Ricks is alive and well and has retired near Chicago after his tenure with American Airlines as a pilot. There were other operations in Erna, which I will cover in later issues, watch so as not to miss on the development of Erna.
I remember an event that was a gathering for the community when in about 1940, Harry and Herman Spaeth caught a yellow catfish(I had better say fish as some might think otherwise) on the Llano River near the mouth of Little Saline and brought it to the Brewer Store to display and was hung in the still standing post oak tree near the gas pump east of the store front. I guess it was kept alive for a time with wet tow sacks until most of the community had a chance to view. The fish weighed 69 pounds according to a pair of reliable cotton scales from the gin and after the viewing and story-telling, as catching a large fish was an event to celebrate, the fish was skinned, cut up and made ready to fry. Everybody chipped in and brought a wash pot, wood for fire, good ole hog lard for frying, corn meal, salt, pepper and Cotton and Mildred furnished good ole store bought light bread. I am sure that Cotton was able to sell some “suds” and nickel soda pop along with the meal of fried fish but we could not drink milk with fish it would KILL us. The fish was fried and served straight from the pot because, then, no one wanted all the extras, only bread and maybe onion with the late evening meal. Oh, for the good ole simpler times. I don’t necessarily look back on them as being the Better Ole Days but those days did have merit, as morality was commonplace.