Texas frontier towns grew up around stores and saloons. Churches, schools and cemeteries came next. But a town wasn’t a town at all until it had a post office with a name approved by the U.S. Postal Service.
The approval process wasn’t as simple as it appeared to be.
When a small community 12 miles north of Mason applied for a post office in 1883, citizens met to choose a name. Because the Cowan family was building a house nearby and there was a lot of hammering going on, someone suggested Hammerville. The Postal Service, the government agency with the last word in such matters, said there were too many “villes” in Texas already and rejected the name.
Another citizen offered the name Tecumseh after the great Shawnee chief. Tecumseh, Texas had a nice alliterative ring to it, but picky postal personnel shot it down. Too hard to spell.
Then someone proposed the name Ketemoczy, the German spelling of a local Comanche chief.
Good luck with that one.
Ketemoczy, a subchief under Santa Anna, is best known as John Meusebach’s Comanche guide. In February 1847, Ketemoczy directed Meusebach to the historic meeting on the San Saba River where Meusebach negotiated a peace treaty with Comanche Chiefs Santa Anna, Old Owl and Buffalo Hump.
Bureaucrats at the Postal Service liked the new name and eventually approved it, but only after deferring to the alphabetically challenged and changing the spelling to Katemcy.
Even with a post office, life was demanding in the new town. The basics were hard to come by.
“Guns and ammunition were not so plentiful,” a reporter for the Mason County News wrote, “and most families had dogs to help them catch the game and keep the varmints chased away from the living quarters. A good squirrel dog was an asset to every family. The men and boys would chunk the squirrels out of the trees and the dogs would catch them.”
Dogs were indispensable on the frontier. In fact, dogs were the heroes in two of Texas’ best novels, “Old Yeller” and “Savage Sam,” written by Fred Gipson. Both stories sprang from the rough country of rural Mason County.
Of course, dogs could occasionally be a nuisance. When Brother Spranger preached at the brush arbor in Katemcy, he always kept a few rocks on the pulpit to throw at dogs that disturbed the service.
The town grew, thanks to its location on the main drag between San Antonio and San Angelo. By 1890, Katemcy had a cotton gin, a grist mill and a saw mill that hewed rawhide lumber out of oak and sycamore trees. Cotton bales were pressed by a lever pulled by a mule named Sis.
By the turn of the 20th century, Katemcy had two blacksmiths shops, two general stores, two drug stores, a cotton gin, a barber shop open on Saturdays, three churches (Baptist, Methodist and Church of Christ) and a twostory school house with three teachers and 100 students.
Katemcy had its own telephone system. D.J. Tinney made brooms. The Woodmen of the World established a granite camp near Katemcy. The camp had a recreation hall and a band.
Actor Dewey Martin was born in Katemcy in 1923. Martin had a supporting role in the movie, “Savage Sam,” and he was married briefly to singer Peggy Lee.
Katemcy thrived until 1925 when the population began to decline. Progress was the culprit. Tractors allowed farmers to cultivate more acreage, eliminating the need for tenants and sharecroppers.
Then the government built Highway 87 between Mason and Brady, bypassing Katemcy by two miles. Businesses in the isolated town could not survive.
Cars and good roads gave Katemcians easy access to bigger towns. By 1960, a quick trip to Mason for a load of groceries and a movie was an afterthought.
The school consolidated with Mason in 1945. The post office the people had worked so hard to get, closed in 1991.
After that, Katemcy faded into the granite hills of northern Mason County, still a community but no longer a town.
Michael Barr is a retired teacher and principal, living in Fredericksburg where he spends