Prehistoric people occupied the Canyon 10-12 thousand years ago. You can even see petroglyphs and rock art from prehistoric and historic peoples as close as 150 miles from here.
The Native Americans who inhabited these lands were the Comanche and the Lipan Apache. The Comanche were the horse master people, and the Lipan Apache were known as warriors. The Lipan Apache were involved in the last raid in the Texas Hill Country just a little north of Leakey. Why did the Native Americans settle here? The protection of the Hills, the lush land, the abundance of animals, and the river. The same reasons we all love it today!
In the 1850’s Anglo immigrants came to Texas from many European countries, including Germany and Ireland, among others. John Leakey settled ten miles north of here, immigrating from England. He, like many other settlers in the area, milled cypress for a living.
One of the first known landowners in this area was Henry Streib.
Henry Streib was born in Germany. He stowed away on a ship sailing to the US, after he heard stories of Texas. He landed in Galveston and walked to San Antonio. He had no money and only spoke German. People in San Antonio spoke English or Spanish. He found a job at a stable. A Mr. Diedert was in town on business and could speak German. He offered Henry a job on his ranch herding sheep on the Divide. (Area near Kerrville) Henry took the job even though he did not know anything about sheep. Mr. Diedert sent him out with two hundred ewes and told him to bring them in each evening. A day and night passed and no Henry and no ewes. Mr. Diedert went out to see what the problem was. There he found Henry and the ewes. Henry explained that he could not get the lambs to come in. Mr. Diedert said “I don’t have any lambs”. Henry pointed out over the hills and said, “There goes one, they are all over there”. Mr. Diedert saw Jack Rabbits Henry had been trying to herd.
The park was built by a government organization called the Civilian Conservation Corps or the CCC. The government would pay the young men $1 a day. They would live in camps and food and clothing would be furnished. $25 a month would be sent home to their families and the worker could keep $5 a month. Many families survived the depression on money their sons made working in these CCC Camps.
Back during the depression John Nance Gamer was Vice President of the United States, and he hailed from Uvalde, Texas. Some of the county Commissioners, led by Pinkney Spangler went to Mr. Gamer and ask for permission to fill out an application to get one of these parks in Uvalde County. Mr. Garner bit down on his cigar and harrumphed and said “As long as I’m VP of these United States I’ll never ask for funds for my home county!! Fortunately, Mrs. Gamer was out on the lawn where this conversation was going on. She said, “Now John this would put a lot of your young men to work and also give our county a beautiful place for recreation.” She turned to Pink Spangler and said, “Get the necessary paperwork filled out and I’ll see that John signs it”. We would like to call this Mariette Garner State Park or at least Cactus Jack and Ettie Garner State Park.
The land for the park was purchased from the Streib and Magers Families. 620 acres. The Civilian Conservation Corps built a camp on the acreage. CCC Company 879 as it was built their camp, campsites, hiking trails, cabins, roads, the pavilion, and other structures. Highway 83 was only a proposed highway at that time, but the camp built a road along the mountain to join up with the new highway when it was completed. This was the first entrance to the park. Lumber was made with its own sawmill, as were shingles for roofs, heavy beams, doors, and windows. A blacksmith shop made lanterns, door hinges, etc. Stone was quarried from the Frio River. Everything was done in the park.
May of 1935 the Garner Project started. It was also the year of the great floods. One day as they were eating in the mess hall, they looked out to see their boxing arena floating down the river. The mess sergeant had to go over the pass to Uvalde to get food and supplies because the roads were all under water. Highway 83 now divides the pass.
Their entertainment was boxing, wrestling, baseball, volleyball, and dancing. They began to have dances as soon as the dance floor was completed. It froze the night after they poured part of the dance floor and it all had to be chipped out.
The park was completed in 1941 and dedicated. Fifty people attended the dedication!!
To learn more and see pictures of the history, read the book “Garner State Park - The Music Plays ON” by MaryAnn Abbott, our present secretary of FOG and a Hondo, Tx resident.
Also see the TWPD Garner website, Garner State Park History — Texas Parks & Wildlife Department .
The original park entrance was built by the CCC for the parks' opening in 1941. Compared to today's standards, the road was narrow and steep. I recall in the sixties for safety reasons, people were walking down the steeper parts as the brakes on cars with trailers weren't as good back then as they are now. Since then, two more entrances have been built.
The entrance road where the visitors center now stands was opened in 1968. At first, this new entrance was primarily an exit road. The older entrance was made a one-way road where cars were allowed to only enter the park.
The newest entrance off Texas Ranch Road 1050 was opened in 1997.
Did you know at one time the rangers used to come by your campsite each morning and collect camping fees?
During the Fourth of July in the summer of 1968, they packed the visitors in. There must have been over sixty thousand people in the then, smaller park. Tents and cars were everywhere, and the park roads were jammed. It was a dangerous situation if emergency vehicles needed to reach someone in need. The grass surrounding the campsites was destroyed and didn't recover from that fall. The following year, with the help of New York architects, campsites were redistributed, and driveways and rocks were added to keep vehicles under control. This was a substantial change for those used to camping and parking where they chose to.
The original park that was built by the CCC that opened in 1941 was 620 acres.
The dam was built around 1955. A park store existed inside a small road loop at the base of Old Baldy and a hamburger stand was located near the dam. There were restrooms and a trampoline area across the road from the old store. A flood in the sixties destroyed the old store, restrooms and hamburger stand and they were removed. The trampoline area became a football field. A new park store was built on higher ground up the road towards the pavilion and a new concession stand was built at the at the dam. It also has been since washed away by another flood.
The area containing Shady Meadows and River Crossing campgrounds was opened in 1968. Prior to its opening, the area had first been used as the CCC camp headquarters, shops, stables, dorms, and mess hall. Later it was used for horse riding stables, and as football recreation fields. The Shady Meadows Cowboy Theater was added in ???. The park's newest restroom and shower facilities were completed in 2022 and a few drive-through RV sites added in the Shady Meadows campground.
In early 1964 an area across the river from the River Crossing area was opened with the completion of a new low water bridge. There were less than fifty campsites with only water provided for them. A flood in late 1964 washed out the lower water bridge and the new area and campsites were abandoned.
In ???, ??? acres were procured at the north end of the current park. It provided a new park entrance, new headquarters, three new campground areas, maintenance area, water and sewage facilities, a group area outside the park across the 1050 high bridge, and three miles of river frontage. In 2022 a new water well was completed, increasing the capacity available. The faucet water quality, although meeting Texas fresh water supply quality standards, has not improved due to the well depths that provides the water.
The park purchased what is affectionately called Mt. Baldy in 2010. Before that time, thousands of visitors trespassed on a rancher’s land, but the family was gracious enough not to prosecute. The new area added more hiking trails and a small pond.
Today, the park has about 1700 acres and about six hundred "nodes" (campsites, RV sites, cabins, shelters, picnic tables) to reserve.