Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 2: The Banks Family

By  | 
Tony Maples Photography


Read chapter one of John Hallowell’s Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland at this link.

Several members of the Banks family played a large role in the history of early Kingsland, and although the family name apparently disappeared from Kingsland with a fatal gunshot in 1958, there are still many relatives here, and tantalizing traces of their influence remain today.

The Banks family (John Franklin Banks and Mary Jane Roper Banks, both born in Georgia) arrived in Kingsland with their two sons, Albert and Ballard, around 1890; twin daughters (Maud and Mamie), were born in November of 1890, and three more sons (Carter, John and Bill) were born later that decade. John Franklin Banks was a good-natured giant of a man (6’ 6” and 300 pounds, according to his grandson), very athletic and hard-working, with excellent business sense and big ideas.

When the W.K. Murchison store burned down shortly after his arrival in Kingsland, J.F. Banks bought the property and rebuilt the store around the surviving rock walls. When the Houston and Texas Central Railroad began to plan the line from Granite Mountain to Llano, Banks purchased the cotton gin and blacksmith shop at Packsaddle (also known as Gainesville), Kingsland’s competitor for the track, and brought them to Kingsland. That move is credited with bringing the railroad to Kingsland, an event which dramatically changed the fortunes of the little frontier town.

Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 2: The Banks Family

Photo: @JByrd via Twenty20

John Franklin Banks died around 1898 (apparently just 42 years old) leaving Mary Jane with 7 children, 800 acres and several business properties in Kingsland. She raised her children well and was recognized as one of Kingsland’s leading citizens for several decades. Her home was well-known for the beautiful flowers which surrounded it, and her well was a public source of drinking water for those in the community who didn’t have a well of their own. She even had a Methodist church built on her property.

The children all did well. Albert moved to Teich, just east of Llano, and then to the Babyhead community a few miles north. For several years he ran a meat market across from the Badu House in Llano, and also served for a time as the town’s night watchman. Ballard became a successful entrepreneur in Kingsland, raising crops and livestock before installing a telephone switchboard in his home (operated by his daughter, Frances). Mamie married railroad man Sam Barnett, and lived all her life in the Kingsland area. Maud served as postmistress in Kingsland from 1921 to 1926 before marrying and moving to California.

Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 2: The Banks Family

Photo:  Donald Banks, grandson of the original Banks family settlers in Kingsland, pictured in Llano in 2013.

Albert Banks, the oldest of the seven children, had seven children himself. Donald was the sixth; he was born in Teich in 1928, and raised in Babyhead, but he remembered well (in a 2013 interview) how he would take the train from Llano to Kingsland each summer during the late 1930s to stay with his grandmother for two weeks. “My parents would give me 50 cents,” he recalled. “A quarter for the train fare, and a quarter to spend on myself.” “I didn’t spend it all at once,” he emphasized, “A nickel could buy a lot of candy back in those days.

Donald recalled spending a lot of time reading books in the branches of a large mulberry tree at his grandmother’s home. He also recalls collecting minnows at the Kingsland Slab to sell to fishermen for bait. He remembers a rock quarry on his grandmother’s land (now under the lake) which had filled up with water and served as a sort of catfish farm for his uncle, Ballard. “They caught some big catfish there,” he reported, “Anywhere from 30 to 70 pounds.”

Neal Wood leased most of his grandmother’s property for ranching, and also did chores around the house, even bringing groceries from Fred Wood’s store. It was a time of isolation and economic decline for the tiny town, but a time of neighborliness and security for those who lived there.

Donald’s uncle, John Rufus Banks (born in 1896) was the most public face of the Banks family through the middle of the 20th century. He was honest and kind most of the time, but along with the Southern manners and strict code of honor there was a bit of a dark side. “Uncle John” hadn’t spent his whole life in Kingsland; he had served in the military in France during World War I, and again in India in World War II. When he came home, he was one of Kingsland’s leading citizens, carrying on the family’s business interests after the death of his mother in 1948. By then he had a serious drinking problem, and sometimes would suffer from hallucinations, shooting at imagined enemies wherever he happened to be. On October 9, 1958, he got into an argument with his good friend and drinking companion, A.J. “Erie” Nobles, who eventually shot him. He died a week later at McKloskey Hospital in Temple. Nobles was charged with murder, but old-timers report that he never went to prison. As Donald’s aunt explained, “They were both drunk. It could have gone either way.”

It was the end of an era in Kingsland. By 1958, the dam was built, the lake had filled up, and realtor Odie Ainsworth was promoting Kingsland all around the state of Texas as a vacation and retirement paradise. Neal Wood had purchased the old Banks property, some of which would later become the Highland Lakes Shopping Center and Nob Hill. Kingsland had changed, and life there would never be the same.

Read chapter 3 here.