The Horn Palace and the
Billie Keilman (The Horn
Wenzel Friedrich & Albert Friedrich (The Buckhorn)
by Alan W. Rogers
According to recent
statistics, there are approximately 16,000 museums in America, which are visited yearly by
more than 850 million people. The subject matter of these varies greatly and many seem to
be of a general nature, having displays relating to all aspects of life. Over the years,
San Antonio has been privileged to have two museums devoted to horns -- the Horn Palace
(founded by Billie Keilman) and the Buckhorn (founded by Albert Friedrich).
The Horn Palace
and the Buckhorn
Saloonkeeper Billie Keilman had a strong interest in horns and antlers, and he amassed
what would be come a magnificent collection of such items. Originally called the Horn
Palace Bar and Cafe, it opened in 1912 and, a few years later, was commonly referred to as
The Horn Palace. Toward the end, it was located at 312 East Houston in San Antonio. Housed
in a rather large building, Billie's collection of steer horns, deer antlers and mounted
specimens from the world over was gigantic and became widely known. Painted in a large
letters across the front of the building, the Horn Palace declared to have the largest
collection of horns in the world. Often referred to as a roadhouse, Billie's establishment
featured live bands and dancing, and it became a point of attraction for up-and-coming
musicians. Chicken dinners were a specialty and customers could dine while sitting in horn
chairs made from Texas cattle and, if they chose, could buy a horn chair or horn rocker
and take it home. Large numbers of tourists and patrons came in early-day open-sided buses
to have a part in the excitement.
Elsewhere at this time
in San Antonio, another horn collector, Albert Friedrich (son of famed horn furniture
maker Wenzel Friedrich), was busy gathering his own collection of horns and antlers. He,
too, was a saloon keeper, having begun in 1881 when he opened the Buckhorn Saloon on
Dolorosa Street. The Buckhorn would continue as a saloon until the Prohibition era, at
which time it became a curio store, selling steer horns, chair and clocks made of horns,
mounted armadillos, pottery and a dozen other varieties of items relating to the
It seems reasonable to
assume Billie and Albert would have a competition of sorts for the steer horns and antlers
available in south Texas, as it was widely known that both were collectors and buyers.
But, in the end, tragedy would favor the Buckhorn.
One night in 1921, a
gangland-style shooting occurred at the Horn Palace. Band members were rolling under the
piano and diving out windows for cover.Billie Keilman was shot and nearly killed. The
event was later brought up for trial. But another twist was yet to come. Just before the
trial, the Great Flood of 1921 left 15 feet of water in downtown San Antonio. For reasons
not fully understood but related to the flood, the shooting case was dismissed. This would
mark the end of the Billie Keilman collection. He decided to sell the Horn Palace to the
Buckhorn and, by 1922, the Buckhorn became the undisputed Horn King of San Antonio.
The Buckhorn has
undergone several changes over the years, and it may be still seen today. The collection
is smaller now than in the past, as much of it has been sold off. Other displays of old
cattle horns are scattered around the country, some of which have a number of African
imports displayed, although they are advertised as Texas Longhorns. Some museum curators
don't know the difference.
With the current
widespread hunting pressures and restrictions on wildlife that may be taken, along with
the cost of taxidermy and labor, we may never again see another horn collection the size
and variety of the Horn Palace. Sadly, neither Billie Keilman nor his Horn Palace had a
very long life. He died in November 1925 at age 50. He lived to see his collection
combined with the Buckhorn to form a Texas landmark that, in its heyday, had no equal.
Fortunately for those of us who enjoy horns and history, many photos of the Horn Palace
were taken and sold as postcards and, because of these, we are able to look back in time
and revisit this once grand old horn collection.
Billie Keilman was born in Bexar County, Texas about 1875, and what he and his family did
in his early years isn't known to me. In the Texas Census of 1910, he is listed as a
saloon keeper. In addition to his obvious business ventures, it appears Billie had another
strong interest -- horns and antlers -- and he amassed what would be come a magnificent
collection of such items, housed in his Texas roadhouse -- the Horn Palace. Billie died
November 1925 at age 50. (Click on link at end of page for photo of Horn Palace chair and
photos of the Horn Palace.)
Wenzel Friedrich was born in Gruenthai, Bohemia July 2, 1827 and came to America at age
26. He arrived at Indianola, TX in 1853 and from there made his journey to San Antonio,
which at the time was just a small village and a trading post. After being employed for a
short time in the grocery business, he became a skilled cabinet maker. A trade he was
familiar with in his homeland. He married his childhood sweetheart, Agnes Urbaneck, from
his native country December 8, 1854. They lived at 211 E. Crockett and had seven children.
In 1880, Wenzel began the manufacture of horn furniture and did so until about 1890. He
made some of the most beautiful chairs, tables and hatracks in the United States and is
one of only three known makers of horn veneered furniture. He received gold medals as
awards in competition at the New Orleans Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of
1884-85, the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition of 1883, and the Southern Exposition of
Louisville, KY in 1886. His furniture was sold as far way as Siberia, to Kaiser Wilhelm I
of Bismarck, Queen Victoria of England and the President of France. Wenzel Friedrich died
November 7, 1902 in San Antonio. (Click on link below for photos of Friedrich furniture.)
In 1881, 26 year old Albert was working behind the bar at the Southern Hotel in SA, a
headquarters for cattlemen of the day. Soon he opened his own small saloon across the
street from the hotel where he had been working, and it is here that his collection began.
Albert was fond of deer antlers and cattle horns and began to decorate his saloon with
such items. Cowboys, trappers and traders and the public in general became aware of
this. Soon Albert offered to trade a drink of whiskey or beer for horn specimens. The
collection began to grow. As his dad Wenzel was a maker of horn furniture, horn chairs
were made for, and added to, the Buckhorn. Over the years, the collection grew and grew.
and expanded beyond deer and cattle and added to the collection were specimens of horns
and mounted heads from American big game animals as well as those from foreign countries.
In 1921 with the closing of Billie Keilman's Horn Palace, San Antonio's other massive horn
collection, and its purchase by Albert Friedrich, the Buckhorn became the undisputed Horn
King of San Antonio. Albert died in 1928. (Click on link below for photos of Buckhorn
Copyright Alan Rogers
View Buckhorn, Friedrich and Horn Palace