By JAMES WEAR
With spring finally arrived and the wildflowers out, many of us are taking weekend drives to view the landscapes the Texas Hill Country has to offer.
For those new to the area, may we suggest that jaunt include a drive through the community of Oatmeal, located just a few miles west of Bertram off Hwy. 29 on FM 243.
Historians say Oatmeal is the second oldest community in Burnet County and, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “A German family reportedly named Habermill came into the area in 1849 and spent a season or two in the vicinity of the headspring of the stream now known as Oatmeal Creek. The town name is either an alteration of the name of a Mr. Othneil, who owned the first gristmill in the area, or a supposed translation of the name Habermill (Haber is a German dialect word for Hafer, “oats”).”
That account slightly differs from an uncredited article I came across in the Aug. 12, 1976, issue of The Libertarian that claimed a family by the name of Oatmeal settled in the area for a couple of years before leaving for parts unknown. Some years later, the article noted that heirs returned to the area and attempted to lay claim to the land.
Historians say John R. Scott, who would later become Burnet County’s first county judge, was among the first permanent settlers in the area.
Judge Scott is said to have set out the first orchard in Burnet County, and his grandson, George, is said to have been the first white child born in the county. Judge Scott is also among those to have served as postmaster for the Oatmeal Post Office, which was established on Dec. 13, 1853; and is also credited with having the first, and perhaps only, cheese factory to ever operate in Burnet County. It is said to have been located in the rear of his home.
But Judge Scott, who had become wealthy in the California gold rush before coming to Texas, would meet an untimely death at the hands of what historians describe as Confederate bushwhackers.
Scott, who had been born in New York and raised in New Jersey, had pro-Union sentiments during the Civil War, even though it is said he had four sons serving with the Confederate Army and he himself was providing the Confederates with supplies. His life was threatened, and friends suggested he flee to Mexico.
Saying farewell to his family, he headed out and was joined by another Union sympathizer identified as Mr. McMasters. The two were ambushed between Smithwick and Marble Falls with McMasters robbed and hung while Judge Scott was shot and relieved of the $2,000 he was carrying. The men’s bodies were thrown into Dead Man’s Hole and remained there until a few years after the Civil War ended.
The Civil War also impacted the Oatmeal community in other ways.
After the war ended, it is said a group of former slaves settled the area on the eastern side of the settlement with each family having a small farm. A building was erected that served both as a church and school and the only all Black cemetery in Burnet County, was established. The settlement has long since disappeared.
Historians say the first Oatmeal school was built in 1858. The one-room schoolhouse was located in a lush pasture, and legend has it that a few patrons found it necessary to tie a heavy wash pot to an ox and create trails so children could find their way to the door.
By 1869, growth in the community led to the building of another school.
Tom Woodward, said to be a master stone mason, was hired to build it and was paid $65 and a shotgun for his efforts. The building remains today, having been marked with a State Historical Marker back in 1968. It is said that between 1858 and 1948, the year that Oatmeal consolidated its school district with Bertram, that more than 100 teachers had taught in Oatmeal schools.
Oatmeal was also given some consideration as being the location of the Burnet County courthouse seat, and it is said after the county was created in 1852 a fierce political battle raged over the location…with Hamilton, now known as Burnet, emerging as the choice.
Also located in Oatmeal is the Oatmeal Cemetery, with Judge Scott’s married daughter, Mary Holland, being the first person buried there.
By 1978, Oatmeal had been forgotten by many, including the state of Texas, which failed to include the community on its official state map.
Legend has it that the omission angered many, and led to the creation of the Oatmeal Festival, which has since grown to be among the most popular small-town festivals in the state.
Held annually on Labor Day weekend, the event draws thousands to the Bertram-Oatmeal area with proceeds benefiting many civic projects over the years.