Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 6: Margaret Williams Dotson

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Tony Maples Photography


Kingsland has had a longer and more interesting history than most of the towns around Lake LBJ. And while today the lake shapes and defines the community, Kingsland (first called Kingsville) was a genuine wild west settlement almost 70 years before the lake (first called Granite Shoals Lake) was formed in 1951. Kingsville was big enough to need a two-story schoolhouse as far back as 1885, and the first teacher there was a 16-year-old Kingsville girl who had earned a teaching certificate by passing a state exam; her name was Mary Margaret “Peggie” Loe. Peggie Loe later married Albert Williams, and the couple was blessed with nine children and 44 grandchildren, several of whom grew up to be prominent citizens in Kingsland.

The two-story schoolhouse was not very well built, and would sway dangerously in a strong wind (causing school to be canceled those days). In 1917, it was torn down and replaced by a one-story, four-room schoolhouse which served Kingsland until the district was consolidated with Llano in 1948. Many of Albert and Peggie Williams’ grandchildren attended this fine new school, including Margaret Williams Dotson, who donated several historic photos and a brief history to Packsaddle Elementary School a few years back. You can see the results of her research proudly displayed on the walls of the new school.

There were no “concrete roads” anywhere around Kingsland when Margaret was born in 1929, and not much of a downtown. The heady days of the railroad (which made Kingsland a popular resort around the turn of the century) had passed with the ascendancy of the automobile, and the rough and narrow dirt roads provided only a tenuous link to the outside world. There was a wooden “wagon bridge” across the Colorado River (Mrs. Dotson recalls that it shook and made frightening noises when a car crossed over) and a “viaduct” across the Llano River which (sometimes) allowed a car or wagon to cross, but most of the roads (east to Marble Falls, north to Hoover’s Valley or west to Llano) were one-lane dirt tracks with several gates to open and close along the way.

The huge flood that washed away the bridges in Llano and Marble Falls in 1935 also washed away the viaduct near Kingsland, and County Commissioner Shirley Williams (Margaret’s uncle) built the first “slab” across the Llano River shortly thereafter.

Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 6: Margaret Williams Dotson

Photo: The pride of Kingsland: this “bungalow-style” Kingsland High School served the little town from 1918 to 1948.

The biggest building in “town” was the Antlers Hotel, but it had been closed for quite a few years before Margaret started school. She recalled (in a 2012 interview) one church, a small store and filling station, and a connected “shack,” which served as the post office. A cotton gin and a blacksmith’s shop were still in operation until the ’30s. Those buildings and the school comprised the whole downtown of Kingsland, and there were only about a dozen houses nearby. Margaret herself lived about four or five miles west, where her father raised “cows and cotton.” There were no school buses (“a lot of people were still riding horses,” and some children would ride horses to school), but Margaret’s grandmother would take the grandkids to school in her car.

Margaret’s family grew most of their own food; their occasional shopping trips were for sacks of flour, corn meal and sugar (they didn’t drink coffee). They had a vegetable garden, a few chickens, two milk cows, three horses and about 50 or 60 Black Angus beef cattle. Some years, they raised goats in a separate pasture. Margaret and her sister, Claire Nell, would have to milk the cows before school.

The school didn’t have indoor plumbing, but there were two outhouses (equipped with Sears catalogs; Charmin was not available at the time) behind the building, and schoolboys were sent to bring drinking water from a neighbor’s well. They would fill a bucket, and all of the students would drink from a common dipper. Students could bring a lunch from home or buy food (white bread, lunch meat and maybe an apple) from the store. Margaret always brought a home-made lunch (usually a biscuit with fried eggs and sausage) in a metal lunchbox, but she would often trade lunches with her “town” cousin, Montie Jane Barnett. Her father tried to discourage the practice, telling Margaret that the bologna she liked so much was made from “old bulls that aren’t any good for anything else,” but Margaret still preferred the store-bought food (and Montie Jane was happy to trade for the home-made lunches).

Much of Kingsland’s social life was centered around the little church (located near the present-day Kingsland Community Church, but moved over to Chamberlain street in the 1960s, where it now forms the midsection of the Highland Lakes Senior Center). There was no full-time preacher, and the church was served by a rotation of area preachers from several different denominations. Regular revivals were held, attracting people from miles around. The Williams family would travel to revivals in surrounding towns, as well. Mrs. Dotson recalls that the little children were allowed to play outside while their elders attended the services.

Christmas in Kingsland was quite a bit different 75 years ago. Mrs. Dotson told how her father would hitch up the horses just before Christmas, and go out into the pasture to find a good-sized cedar tree. He would cut it down, bring it back to the house and stand it up in a bucket of water. There the children would decorate it with a variety of hand-made ornaments. Other families did much the same; those who lived “in town” were allowed to cut a tree from the property of a friend.

Kingsland’s school system benefited greatly by the arrival of Mrs. Myrtle Wood, who taught there from 1914 to 1939, and served as principal of the school from 1923 to 1925. She mostly taught 7th and 8th grades, but she also brought utensils and tools to the school to teach home economics to the girls and “Manual Training” to the boys. She made sure that students in the Kingsland school system got a real education. At different times, Kingsland High School had a baseball team and a basketball team; there was also a dirt tennis court at the school.

The population of Kingsland increased dramatically in 1936, when dozens of itinerant workers came to the area to help build Buchanan Dam. Their children nearly doubled the size of Margaret’s class in school, but she remembers, with some remorse, that the newcomers were not treated very well at Kingsland High School. There were “ten or twelve” strange little kids from the dam,” she recalls. “I’m sorry to say that we didn’t treat them very nice.”

She was on the receiving end of that cliquish treatment a few years later, when her family moved far enough out on the slab road (on the other side of the river) to be in the Llano school district. She recalls that at first some of the Llano kids wouldn’t hold hands with the kids from Kingsland during a game of Ring Around the Rosie, but she was able to make some friends, and eventually graduated from Llano High School. There were no buses back then, so she got special permission (at around age 14) to drive her family’s old Chevy along the one-lane dirt road to Llano. Her “speed limit” was 25 mph, but with the rough and winding road, she wasn’t even tempted to break it. She took her brother, her sister and three neighbor kids (who each paid $1 per month to help with the gas). They had to stop to open and close 5 gates along the way to Llano.

Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 6: Margaret Williams Dotson

Photo:  Margaret Dotson (at right), with her husband JT at a community dinner in Kingsland’s Highland Lakes Senior Center in 2013.

Margaret graduated from LHS in 1947, then from UT just three years later. She married an Aggie named JT Dotson, whom she had met on a blind date arranged by a friend. He served in the military for 20 years (during which time they moved 23 times!), and every time he was sent overseas, she came home to Kingsland. “Every time I came back, Kingsland was bigger,” she recalls. “People were selling ranches and building houses; there were a lot more people here. The new bridge was fascinating!”

Margaret eventually earned her Master’s degree in teaching, and became an educational diagnostician in 1974. Even though (or perhaps because) he had grown up in the big city of San Antonio, JT picked Kingsland as his home when he retired from the military. He loved the country atmosphere, with the opportunity for hunting and fishing. They bought a rundown corporate retreat on River Oaks Drive (it had been the last house on the street during the late ’60s), and turned it into a comfortable home overlooking the Llano River. JT even ran for county commissioner, serving in that office from 1988 to 1991; they also owned land across the river. They had four children (each of whom now owns a part of their ranch) and fifteen grandchildren; they were married for 61 years.

Margaret Dotson witnessed some dramatic changes from the isolated backwoods settlement to the bustling tourist town. She was always very interested in letting people know of Kingsland’s rich history, and researched the history of the Kingsland Schools for a pictorial display in today’s modern Packsaddle Elementary.  As time goes on, such documentation will become even more important and even more interesting; we are all indebted to her.

Read chapter one here.