If you’re in need of meat, a treat, or a place to rest your feet, everyone’s welcome at Garven Store!
For those of you who haven't heard about Garven Store, there are a few things you ought to know. First off, Garven Store is one of the oldest remaining convenience stores in Texas. This family business has been here since 1932! Secondly, our Barbeque brisket and sausage have locally become known as the “Best BBQ in Texas." Not only is our BBQ out of this world, but our jerky, dried sausage and cheddar cheese is just as legendary.
A little history about Garven Store...
Three Hill Country families are entwined with a tiny store that sits stubbornly like a tough mesquite clinging to the spine of the Texas Divide where two unique highways meet. At the crossroads of the mighty U.S. Highway 83 and its diminutive companion, Texas State Highway 41, Garven’s Store has seen travelers as diverse as retired snowbirds seeking relief from the Midwest’s wintry blasts to free-spirited motorcyclists traveling between Canada and Mexico. Open daily, this modest but enduring “last stop” has survived 75 years of economic upheavals and structural relocation. Gas, food, and beef jerky are available there; greeting dusty travelers inside with friendly welcomes are the people who reflect five generations of family ownership. Its owners say that the store’s future may be in doubt, as U.S. 83 expands into a four-lane highway, which could put the building in jeopardy. If it were to be moved, however, this wouldn’t be the first time.
Billy and Shirley Dowdy keep a close eye on Garven’s Store, which they have run since 1998, and live within a half-mile on his grandfather’s original homestead. Shirley, herself once a city girl, said she had wanted to live out on the Divide from the time she first visited, and she finally got her wish. She has also become involved in helping keep the story of the related families alive. That history includes the tragic murders of four Dowdy children in the 1800s (see West Kerr Current issue, Feb. 9, 2006). However, it is only a small chapter of this longtime West Kerr County family’s history. The following generations managed to forge onward, marry and prosper.
Garven’s Store takes its name from the Scotsman William Burney Garven, who came to America at a relatively young age, “just in time to fight for the Confederacy,” according to Billy, his great-grandson. “He was elected lieutenant by his men,” Billy said. “He was in Company D First Regiment Texas Cavalry, and fought in Sabine Pass in September, 1863, at Mausfield Pleasant Hill in 1864, and at Yellow Bayou.” William eventually moved to Kendall County, and married Emma Reed. One of their children, Edward, “always wanted to be a cowboy,” Billy said. “He was riding his horse on the Rocksprings to Kerrville trail when he stopped his horse, dismounted and looked at the surrounding property. He thought it was a beautiful piece of land and he decided to find out who owned it because he wanted to buy it — which he did.”
Getting water was no easy task in those days. The Divide is a high, dry place, and many a creature has dried out and died in those areas — as the Bone Yard Waterhole attests. Billy Fred Klein lives out there, and he remembers seeing many a large skeleton of buffalo or other animals out there that succumbed to deadly thirst.
Ed had about 1,700 acres and was looking for horses and mules to raise. He met L.D. Bushong, a horse trader, who showed his stock. Along came his daughter, Lettie, a teenager, and Ed fell for her charms and married her. “Lettie always said that she not only got a ranch, but got to keep her horses, too,” Billy said.
This was the first (or last) waterhole, and that’s where Ed hauled his water from. Later, he partnered with a man named Lastikow, but Billy said things didn’t work out well. “They were going to drill wells for each other, but after they drilled the Lastikow well, they had a misunderstanding, and Ed had to drill his own well,” Billy said.
A huge 16-foot windmill still sits on the land as a testament to progress. Electricity did not come to that area until after WWII, and Billy said they still have the old kerosene lamps that he remembers provided light when he was a kid. On their homestead, there are two tall chimneys still standing near the barn, and just a short distance away a white frame house sits, which was built from all the timbers of the first house, Billy said. “Whenever they wanted to settle out here, the men would leave the women in town,” Billy said. “There were lots of rattlesnakes and no doctors or water or anything. The first thing they’d build was a large barn to shelter their animals, and later shearing pens. They’d live in one small part of the barn where the timber is tight to keep out the weather, and work in the other part. Later, after they built a house, the women would come up.”
Ed and Lettie had three children, Myrtle, Talbot and Clarence. They schooled in small community classrooms like the Morriss Ranch and elsewhere, but once grown, went to high school in Rocksprings. “They had a house they lived in and Myrtle did the cooking.” In 1932, Ed built Garven’s Store on his ranch along Hwy. 41 for his son, Billy said, while he continued his ranching interests. Hwy. 41 was built after it was proposed in 1919 as a route from Del Rio to Rocksprings, Kerrville and Boerne. By 1933, it was shortened, originating in Del Rio and ending at Mountain Home (near I-10). In 1951, the western end was incorporated into U.S. 377, and it now boasts only 50.5 miles.
Ed’s dreams for his son operating the store vanished when Clarence left in 1933. Lettie took over and ran it with Gene Roberts, a ranch hand. Ed died nine years later. Clarence moved the old Garven house onto his own property and lived there. It is located down Hwy. 41 heading to Rocksprings. That home was rebuilt from material taken in Rocksprings, where it was first built. “Around 1925, when they had that big tornado that killed a lot of people, the only thing left there was lots of lumber laying around,” Billy said. “The house is made up of lots of different types of wood, and I think they used some of it to build this house.” Myrtle married George “Bill” Dowdy, whose father, also named George, was one of the children who survived the massacre in 1878.
Bill had been operating a store along Hwy. 27 near Mountain Home, which also served as a residence. Myrtle and her family got George to come run the Garven’s Store. In 1948, he and Myrtle took over the store, and they moved their store up near the Garven’s store, so they would have someplace to live. “That’s where I grew up,” Billy said. “Back in the depression, women sold eggs along the side of the road. Many people probably turned their own house into little stores.” Sometimes, Bill would sleep overnight on a cot at the back of the store, Billy said, and wasn’t always up to serving his customers if they showed up late. “He’d ask his customers not to wake him up if they came in,” Billy said. “He didn’t mind if they’d just take what they wanted, write it down and leave their money on the counter. You could do that in those days and trust your neighbors.”
In 1949, local ranchers added another welcome feature to the Divide landscape — the Garven Community Center, built on Garven family land, just across U.S. 83. “All the ranchers would meet here once a month on Friday nights,” Billy said. “I was just a little kid, but I remember we had all kinds of big bands come in and play, including the Texas Top Hands.” Many families had their own tables, Billy added, where they would sit outside and enjoy the evenings. “There were lots of folks from the Divide like the Snodgrasses, Kleins, Lynns, Morrisses and Hatches,” he said. The building and benches are still standing there, and it’s still in the family, but the building has been less frequently used since 1999. “My mother told me that the Border Patrol used to come by in this area catching illegal aliens,” Bill said. “The Border Patrol would come by here and handcuff them to the gas pumps to hold them. Then, they’d go out and catch more, until there was a long line of them. You don’t see them any more, because the illegals have started going a different way, now.”
In 1952, Highway 83 came through. The original site of Garven’s store was on an old wagon road that cut around from the old Auld ranch, across Hwy. 41, and over through the Bushongs’ ranch. “Volney Snodgrass’s wife Lola told me that before the road crews and surveyors came in, they had ‘cedar choppers’ working ahead of them clearing the land.”
U.S. 83 is arguably one of the longest north-south routes in the country, and is very popular with those who love the open road. In the southern portion, it is called the Texas Vietnam Veterans’ Highway, as enacted by the Legislature in 1995. At some points it is alternately called the Texas Tropical Trail and the Great Texas Coast Birding Trail. The route comprises nearly 1,900 miles inside the United States, crossing North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, and enters Texas at the Panhandle. Northward, it ends inside the U.S. border north of Westhope, N.D., and continues up into Canada, where it is named Manitoba provincial highway 83. Southward, its terminus is at Brownsville, Texas.
In “Texas Escapes Online Magazine,” Wes Reeves writes that the U.S. 83 Truss Bridge crossing the Salt Fork of the Red River (in Collingsworth County) was where two famous outlaws and their gang drove off at high speed in June, 1933. The incident became known as “The Red River Plunge of Bonnie & Clyde.” Bonnie Parker was badly burned and was crippled. After U.S. 83 came in, the Garven’s Store building was moved from its Hwy. 41 spot to its present location. It leap-frogged the old Dowdy store, which had moved from Ingram and Hwy. 27, to behind where Garven’s Store now sits. Billy and Shirley’s son, Vincent, lives there now. “He’s really remodeled that place, now. It’s got a big kitchen. He makes movies in our old barn in his spare time.” Their other son, Keith, his wife Jackie and their nine-year-old daughter, Krista, live on the same ranch as Billy and Shirley.
Billy attended schools in Leakey, and later at Southwest Texas, and Shirley went to Harlandale. They met while they were both working at Joske’s in San Antonio, he in management and she as restaurant hostess. After their honeymoon in 1969, Shirley’s first trip to meet Billy’s mother was a vivid eye-opener to the realities of country life, Shirley said. “She grabbed her gun and said ‘Let’s go get some cabrito.’ I had no idea what that was,” Shirley said. “We went out and she just shot a goat out there. It was horrible at first.” “Yeah,” Billy added. “She hadn’t seen the part about how we’d skin and gut and cook it, yet, either.” “I finally learned to love it, but it took a while to get used to all that,” Shirley said.
Pouring gasoline on a rattlesnake was another survival tactic Billy said he remembered his grandmother, Georgia Dowdy, used. Billy and Shirley moved to various cities like Round Rock, Austin and Houston, but when his employer, Ralston-Purina, “downsized,” they packed their goods and headed back home. Neither one says they have regretted the move.
They are currently overseeing the construction of a new “leather room” next to the patio, which they say will carry a full line of clothing and accessories any self-respecting motorcyclist could hope to sport.
Vincent, Keith and Jackie (and even Krista helps) continue to serve barbecue and fresh jerky while offering respite and directions.