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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Early Kerr County Texas History

Day Events Given by Kerr Pioneer
by W. S. Adair

"I HAVE LIVED IN Texas almost 70 years, that is, all my life” said J. J. Denton of Center Point, Kerr County, who is visiting his son, Howard Denton, 4339 Cole Avenue.

"My father, B. F. Denton, who was waterbound in Arkansas for some time, came to Texas from Montgomery County, that State, in 1859 and settled in Burleson County. But before he had time to look well about him the Civil War came on and, shouldering a musket, he went to the front and was gone four years. He underwent all the privations and hardships Confederate soldiers were exposed to and took part in many of the biggest battles, but came home with health unimpaired.

"At the end of the war settlers began to move into. Kerr County, then beyond the frontier. In that region free lands were open to all comers; the head of a family could file on a tract of 160 acres and a single man 80 acres. Father took a survey in the fertile valley of Turtle Creek, a crystal clear stream fed by pure mountain springs and tumbling into the Guadalupe River.

"The Indians were still stalking abroad in the light of the moon. We often heard of their forays at a distance and the settlers constantly were on the alert for them, but to our immediate locality they made but a single visit.

"One night, when father was away and mother was looking out for herself and children, her attention was attracted by a commotion at the barn. She saw the Indians lead the family mare out and one of them mount her. She stood in the door of the house, gun in hand, but recoiled from the thought of starting a battle, thinking it better to reserve her fire until the marauder s should attack the house. But luckily for us, they contented themselves with the horse, with which they hurried away.

"When we went to Kerr County all that part of the country was covered with the most luxuriant native grass, three to four feet in height, and as thick as it could stand, over the mountains, as well as the more fertile valleys. Unbranded cattle that had no owners peopled the country in incredible numbers. Deer, bear and turkeys, which had not as yet learned to fear man, abounded. The buffaloes, however, had moved farther west, but the ground was still white with the bones, hoofs and horns of them, which the cattle chewed for the sake of salt they yielded, and which, getting lodged between their teeth, or in their throats, often killed them. Many times we removed pieces of bones that had lodged in the mouths of our milch cows and thus saved their lives.

"But the bullfights were what interested us boys. These wild cattle had a place on the creek near us where they mustered in the evening to get water and to bed. We went in advance of the time for them to come and climbed trees a short distance from their bedding grounds, whence in safety we could observe the war. When the cattle had drunk their fill of water the bulls went at it to determine who was who and to keep themselves in practice. Sometimes there were a score or more fights in progress at once and the cattle of the herd seemed to enjoy it as much as we boys did. The exciting moment of the battles came when a fighter realized he was beaten, for he knew that when he turned to run the victor would cut him in the flank with his horn. He dreaded this final stroke so much that he never failed to fetch a despairing moan or bellow when lie unlocked to run. This thrust in the flank seldom proved fatal, hut it almost always inflicted a deep wound.

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"For some time after our arrival in Kerr County we lived in a tent after the manner of the Indians, but a year or so later a settler set up a sawmill on the creek near us and there father got lumber enough to build him a house. The first year we had to pay $2.50 a bushel for meal, but father fenced a tract of 10 acres and planted, or rather, sodded it, in corn and made 40 bushels to the acre. We hauled the corn to Fredericksburg, a distance of 35 miles, in order to get it ground. We had no flour. The first biscuit I ever saw my grandmother sent me as a present and curiosity when I was 9 years old. We could buy coffee from Charles Schreiner, merchant at Kerrville. We practically did without sugar, using honey in place of it. The women made the clothing for the family, spinning and weaving on the old-time wheel and the hand-loom, and we wore moccasins in default of shoes. I was 11 years old when I pulled on my first pair of leather shoes. All the men and boys wore buckskin leggings.

"But we were never short of meat or honey. The woods were full of bee trees. Bogs were scarce and wild at first, but the settlers soon stocked the woods and then everybody had a wild hog claim. It was no trouble to kill a deer or a turkey, but the staple was bear meat, which the pioneers salted and dried, just as they did hog meat.

You can eat bear meat every day in the year and never tire of it and, when cured, you can eat it raw as well as cooked. Everybody used bear oil as a substitute for lard; it made the best shortening in the world. A smokehouse in those days was as likely t o be stocked with bear meat as with bacon and hams. My uncle, John Lowrance was a mighty bear hunter and often had 1,000 pounds of bear meat in his smokehouse. He considered it the most wholesome of meats and believed that a diet of it would cure any sort of stomach trouble.

"The first mill established at Kerrville was a small steel affair, owned and operated by Christian Dietert. That was in 1868. In the following year M. A. Lowrance built a water mill at Kerrville. It was equipped to grind corn, saw lumber and cut shingle. Then it was that the settler s abandoned their tents, log cabins and Jogouts and moved into frame houses. For some years my father freighted gut of San Antonio. I made my first trip to San Antonio when I was 15 years old. We had raised a bale of °otton and, loading it on an ox wagon, mother and I took it to the Alamo City, a distance of 75 miles. We were many days going and as many coming. When the oxen would get hot and hang their tongues out that was the signal to stop and rest them.

“On that trip I found out two things about oxen. One is that they do not perspire in the daytime, at least, not hewn they are at work, but do their sweating at night. The proof of this is that when you unyoke oxen in the evening after a hard day 's work, skin is perfectly dry, but when they feed and lie down they soon become soaking wet with perspiration. The other is that when you turn work oxen out to graze at night they will hide to keep you from finding them in the morning. In view of this fact, I conclude that the ox is not so stupid as he is proverbially supposed to be.

“When the men were at the front during the Civil War the cattle went wild. There was nobody to bran d them and, in the absence of marks, after the war, they belonged to the first man who could crap a hot iron to them and, of course, there was a wild scramble to see who could brand the greatest number. But cattle were almost worthless until a market was opened for them in Kansas. In 1872 or 1873 the first trail herds of South Texas cattle were gathered up. Reports that settlers could get actual money for cattle for the mere trouble of driving them to Kansas at first found little credence among us and many refused to believe until men who were known to have started North with cattle came back and showed the gold pieces. From that time on the movement of cattle North increased every year. They went by tens of thousands, making people along the route wonder where they all came from and why, after so heavy a movement, there appeared to be as many of them as there ever were still on the range.

"I was a farmer and cattle raiser for many years and then embarked in the mercantile business at Ingram, eight miles west of Kerrville. In the meantime I served six years as County Commissioner of Kerr County. On account of failing health I have been out of business for some time. As a youngster I learned to play the fiddle after the country fashion and since I am unable to get about and my eyes have failed me so I cannot read, I beguile the time by playing the old tunes. Two years ago I began to attend the old fiddlers ' contests and I have already won three prizes."

We have LOTS of information on early Kerr County, Texas...
Other articles (by no means exhaustive) include:
Disastrous Battle with Indians in Kerr County
James Kerr, First Settler on the Guadalupe
Recalls Early Days in Kerrville County

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pioneer Days in Williamson County Texas

During conference of the Methodist Church in Platteville, Wisconsin, in August, 1841, the Reverend Josiah Whipple volunteered to go to Texas as a missionary. At the time, the Reverend John Clark was appointed to the sonic mission. Both went as regular transfers from the Rock River, Wisconsin, Conference to Texas Conference "for the sole object of preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God in that new and interesting Republic."

By agreement, Reverend Whipple met Reverend Clark, wife and nine year-old son (also Reverend Thomas A. Morris who accompanied them), at St. Louis, October 19, 1841. Reverend Morris wrote an interesting account of the trip to Texas in a series of fourteen letters to a friend in which he depicts the adventures of the journey day by day until they reached Texas, in January of 1842. On arrival at Bastrop. Rev. Whipple was entertained in the home one Mrs. McGee, a widow, whom he soon afterward married.

For many years Reverend Whipple was one of the leading ministers of the Methodist Church, South, and his ministry took him over a large part of the state. During that time he kept a diary which recorded the events of his travels and which I am told was a fascinating story of the customs and times Unfortunately, this diary was lost. Reverend Josiah Whipple was one of the five sons of Angell Whipple, all Methodist ministers. They were gifted men, having inherited zeal and strength of purpose from a long line of New England ancestors headed by Captain John Whipple who arrived soon after the landing of the Mayflower. and who was a warm friend and co-worker with Roger Williams, whose families intermarried.

It was through the influence of Reverend Whipple that his widowed mother and her family, including my father's family (the Babcocks), were induced to leave northern Illinois and come to Texas. Reverend Josiah Whipple was a brother of my father s mother.
In 1929 my father was called upon to write a story, of early days in Bagdad, to be embodied in a history of Williamson County. The history was being prepared for publication by the Old Settlers' Organization of that county. Old Bagdad was about twenty-five miles north of Austin. For some reason this history was never completed.

But later, my father's story appeared in part in the Temple Telegram.
Believing that this story of early days might interest readers of Frontier Times, I am submitting it just as my father dictated it to me in the summer of 1929. My family now has in it possession several old deeds describing lands in that section of country. They are yellow with age and some are hardly decipherable. Among the names are those of the Hornsbys and Fisks. My father died October 3, 1934, and was buried beside his wife in Fort Worth. Had he lived until his next birthday he would leave been ninety-three years old. His article is given below:

By James E. Babcock

My father, Merles Babcock, moved to Bagdad Prairie the day after Christ mas in 1851. He was orginally from the northern part of Illinois. I was then a boy nine years old and I little thought that after seventy-nine years I Would be called upon to write a history of the early settlement of Bagdad Prairie. I may be slightly in error as to the time of the events given, but the outline is correct.

At The coming of my father, there were then living on all that prairie only four settlers: a man named Rice, whom my father bought out; a German named Smeltzer, and his two sons-in-laws, Harris and Dawson, all located in the. west end of the postoak grove where. about in 1854, my father surveyed out the town of Bagdad.

The earliest settlement ever made of Bagdad Prairie was a log cabin built by one of the Hornsbys, famous in Texas history, on the southwest corner of the prairie near the present home of the Hon, James H. Faubion. This must have been as early as 1845, as the building was old and deserted when I first saw it. Three miles southeast of Bagdad Prairie a block house fort had been built by the government at a big spring. I have been told that this was the first settlement in Williamson county.

Mr. Smeltzer and his sons-in-law must have settled on the prairie as early as 1845, though I never knew the exact date. To illustrate the primitive conditions of that time I will mention the fact that very few log cabins had any floors. Mr. Smeltzer's cabin had puncheon. floors, that is, split hewn logs. There was not a nail nor a piece of sawed lumber in his house. He and his sons-in-law moved there in one wagon, and when that Was broken down, they built what they called a Bulger wagon. The wheels were sawed from a huge liveoak tree. There was not a piece of iron in that wagon and it took six yoke of steers to haul fifty fence rails from the cedar brakes west of the prairie.

The military road from Austin to Fort Crogan (now Burnet) passed through the grove where Bagdad was afterwards located and being halfway, or a day's march, between the two places, it became a favorite camping ground for the United States Army stationed' at Croghan. My father kept a "wayside inn" and many of the officers of the army stopped there. Robert E. Lee, Lieut. Givens and other officers were guests in our home.

A few miles east of Bagdad Prairie, on Brushy Creek, was the scene of the Webster Massacre (1838), and here the Bowmer and Davis settlements were made, but I do not know whether or not they were earlier than the settlements on the prairie.

In 1853 Thomas Huddleston, his son-in-law, James Williamson, George Craven, and Robert Marley came to the Prairie. These men were all from Tennessee except Craven, who was from Indiana. Huddleston bought a large survey in the northeast corner of the Prairie. He had a considerable family and a number of slaves. Williamson bought cut Mr. Smeltzer. Craven also had a large family, and he lived in and around Bagdad until his death soon after the Civil War. Marley, after a few months, move to the Bend section of Lampasas county, where afterwards his son, R. N. Marley, became a large land owner and prominent stockman.

Next came Nicholas and James Branch. James Branch had a family Nicholas had no family, but several slaves. They bought a large survey joining Huddleston on the south.

About 1854 John Faubion came to the Prairie from Tennessee. He had a large family and several slaves. He bought 1.100 acres of land on the north side of the Prairie. He was a man of tireless industry and boundless ambition. He put in a very- large farm. He was a first class blacksmith and a ready worker in any line. A few years later Mr. Faubion built a two-story stone house with cut stone trimmings which, at the time, was said to be the best private residence in Williamson county.

The next settlers of importance were Robert Hanna and Col. C. C. Mason. who came from South Carolina. Both had families and slaves. Col. Mason bought the entire south aide of the Prairie and put in a large farm. Both men were of high character, honored and respected by all who knew them. After one or two years Hanna moved a few miles east of Running Brushy.

The first school house built on the Prairie was about 1859 on the north bank of Brushy Creek, on land afterward owned by John Faubion. It was a low log house without windows and had a dirt floor. The benches were split logs without backs. The first school taught there was a short summer session by an Irishman who said his name was Willis, but that probably was not his name. We heard two or three years later that he had joined a squad at horse thieves out west. They were arrested, tried and convicted, sentenced and hanged, all in one day, by Judge Lynch. One other school was taught hi the house, but I have forgotten the name of the teacher.

The first school that I attended was taught in a vacant house on the farm of Judge Greenleaf Fisk who, I understand, was the first County Judge of Williamson County. This house was on We San Gabriel, about four miles north of old Bagdad. I remember one evening coming home from school we children got lost. The sage grass at that time grew in the valleys as high as a man's shoulders. We had with us a little flee dog, and when th'e wolves began howling, this little dog kept up an incessant barking. This enabled our parents to find us, which was about midnight The next day my father, Abe Smaltzer and Fielding Dawson hitched four yoke of steers to a large log, which they dragged straight away across the brakes of the Gabriel in sight of the school house. This became a beaten trail for all kinds of animals and cattle. Forty years afterward I saw a section of this trail still plainly visible. About this time my father laid out the town of Bagdad and the school house was moved over there. I believe the first school taught in it was by James Whipple.

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In 1855 my father raised the first crop of wheat grown on the Prairie
It was threshed by John and Tom Snyder on a little treadmill thresher. The yield was so large that wheat-growing soon became the principal crop on the Prairie. A few years later John Faubion threshed 1100 bushels of wheat one year.

John E. Heinatz built the first blacksmith shop in Bagdad. He was a splendid workman and became one of the leading citizens of the community. He was first postmaster, and later merchant.
The first store house was built by one Schaffer who moved a stock of goods from Georgetown and placed James B. Knight in charge. It was a small box house and the stock consisted of a few pieces of calico and domestic, coffee and sugar, tobacco and snuff, and shoes. This was about 1860.
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At the beginning of the Civil War, Bagdad Prairie sent a large number of soldiers. There were in and around Bagdad Prairie several men, some of them slave owners, who did not believe that secession was wise or right, but their sons volunteered in the Confederate service the same as the others. Several of these men joined the company organized at Georgetown in March, 1862, which was commanded by Judge Von Trees, and served through the war as mounted men.
After the war, Bagdad Prairie developed rapidly and became one of the best farming districts in Williamson county. By 1868 quite a village had grown up at Bagdad. A large two-story stone building was erected, the lower story for school and the upper story for Masonic Lodge. Dan Emmett was the first Worshipful Master and Prof. William H. Russell taught the first school in the building.

About this time the first cotton gin was built across Brushy Creek from the present site of Leander. This gin burned down before it did any work, and another was built on the south of the creek by one A. E. Walker. It was afterwards operated by Wesley Craven. At this time cotton-growing supplanted the raising of wheat on the Prairie.

Up to 1860, dancing parties and play parties, spelling matches, horseback excursions for pecan hunting and berry picking were among the amusements of the young people. Spanish ponies were the means of conveyance. The girls rode on side-saddles and their dresses reached from their throats to the ground. Sometimes we went in squads to campmeeting At that time the old-time campmeeting was an annual event. We attended these meetings at the springs a few miles above Round Rock, and there were sometimes as many as two or three hundred conversions. At these meetings many old time Methodist circuit riders, including Reverend J. W. Whipple, came and preached. The people camped in tents and services were held under a great brush arbor. It was the custom each day to send men into the woods west of Round Rock and the fattest beef found, ho matter whose brand or mark was on it, was brought in and hung up for the use of the meeting.

On the 22nd of next April, (1930) I shall have reached eighty-eight years. Memories of these early years of my life are recalled as a pleasant dream.

For more early Williamson County History see:
Williamson County: Interesting Bits of History
History of Kenney's Fort
Some Early History of Williamson County

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Early Texas Railroad History

We are pleased to offer articles pertaining to the great history of the early development of the railroad history in frontier Texas. We know that there are many railroad enthusiasts who will find these articles informative and intriguing.

This article by C. M. Hammond is entitled "How the Railroads Peopled Texas". See the links below for more articles on early railroading days in Texas.

BECAUSE OF its "detached and remote situation," President Houston urged the Sixth Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1842 to remove the State Capital from Austin to some point on the seaboard, giving as his reason, in addition to the constant danger from Mexican and Indian raiders, the fact that "during the last year, the expense of the Government for transportation to the City of Austin; over and above what is would have been to any point on the ace board, exceeded seventy thousand dollar." Austin, he considered, was entirely too deep in the interior and too far removed from the center of population to be the capital of the State, or to become anything but a small village. Yet, less than fifty years after President Houston made that statement, two rifles larger than Austin had sprung up in the wilderness almost two hundred miles farther from the seaboard. And less than sixty 'years afterwards, 43 per cent of all the people in the State were living within a radius of a hundred miles from •Dallas. Even such a dreamer as Sam Houston could not foresee the tremendous development That took place during those sixty years.
The History of those sixty years is a stirring epic of empire building, for it was during that period that the vast interior of the State was settled. and became one of the most productive and prosperous agricultural regions in the world There were, of course, other factors which played part in this magnificent drama of empire building, but by far the most important and the predominant role was played by the railroads. Other factors, such as the great. westward urge then sweeping the country and the fertility of the new lands, were all secondary and never exerted their influence until after the building of the railroads into each new section of the State.
In order to get an idea of the situation in Texas before the building of the railroads, let us go back to the year 1850. At that time practically all of the state's population was to be found in the counties along the Gulf coast re along the navigable portions of the Brazos, Trinity, Neches, Sabine, and Red Rivers. A few hardy pioneers had pushed farther into the interior, but their efforts to settle those sections met with discouragement, due to the lack of communications with the older sections and with the Gulf parts, Ox wagon trains offered the only means of transportation, and rates were so high that surplus crops could not be moved out nor needed supplies brought in except at exorbitailt. prices. These high casts of land transportation practically confined trade to those sections along tidewater and navigable, streams, and as a result most of the wealth of the State was concentrated along the Gulf Coast. Sixteen of the South Texas counties with access of water transportation had a combined assessed valuation in 1850 of $26,353,000, which was 51 per cent of the total for the State, while sixteen representative North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, had only $2,324,000 assessed valuation, or 4 per cent of the total.

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The first railroad built in Texas was the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado, on which construction started in 1851. The moving spirit behind this venture was General Sidney Sherman, and its object was to connect Harrisburg, at the head of navigation on. Buffalo Bayou, with Austin. According to C. S. Potts, Dean of the Southern Methodist School of Law, in his "Railroad Transportation in Texas," ten other railway building projects were started between 1851 and the outbreak of the Civil War. Most of these early lines had for their objects the connection of points along or near the seaboard, but one of them was the beginning of the Houston and Texas Central, the State's first great north- and-south artery, while two of them were later extended and merged to form the Texas & Pacific, the first connected line across the State from east to west. Up to the Civil War, 492 miles of railroads had been built, but only two lines extended as far as eighty miles from the seaboard—the H.&T.C. which terminated at Milbean, and the B.B.B.&C. which stopped at Alley-ton.
All railway building in the State stopped with the outbreak of hostilities between the States and remained dormant for about five years after the close of the war. Then, in 1870 the greatest period of railroad building in history of the State began, and during the two decades between 1870 and 1890 something like 8,000 miles, or almost half our present milage, was built. It was during that period of twenty years that the railroads pushed far into the interior and crossed the
State from both directions, and, significantly, it was also during those two decades that the tremendous development of the northern and central sections of the State took place.
The connection between this growth and the building of the railroads is graphically illustrated in the steady onward march from the Gulf to the Red River of the Houston and Texas Central, the first of the roads from the seaboard to reach the center of the State and to cross to its northern boundary.
Construction on the extension of that road from Millican, its northern terminal at the time, began in 1870, and in 1871 the line was completed to Corsicana. The census of 1870 shows the population of Corsicana was then only 80 people, but ten years after the railroad came the population had grown to 3,370, and by 1890 there were 6,285 people living in that city.
Pushing on, the road reached Dallas the following year and found there a village of considerably less than 5,000 inhabitants. The Texas & Pacific reached the town in 1873, and during the decade following the coming of the two roads, Dallas became a city of 10,358 inhabitants. During the next decade the M.K.&T. gave the city another ncrth-and-south line, and by 1890 Dallas had grown to 38,067 inhabitants to become the largest city in the State that year.
Fermi Dallas the H.&T.C. continued northward to reach Sherman and Denison in 1873, the year following the entry of the M.K.&T into Denison. As a result, Sherman grew from 1,439 population in 1870 to 6,093 in 1880 and to 7,335 in 1890, while Denison rose from practically nothing in 1870 to 3,975 in 1880 and to 10,958 in 1890, In the meantime, Waco was connected with the main line of the H.&T.C. by a branch line in 1871, and grew from a town of less than 4,000 in 1870 into o city of 7,296 people in 1880. The M.K.&T. reached the city in 1884, and Waco reported a population of 14,445 by 1890.
The Texas & Pacific also exerted a magic influence on the country through which it passed on its march across the State from east to west. The northern branch of the road from Texar: liana to Sherman connected Paris with those two points in 1876, and from a village of less than a hundred inhabitants Paris reached a population of 3,980 in 1880 and 8,254 in 1890.
The main line of the Texas & Pacific through Dallas was built into Fort Worth in 1876 and connected with El Paso six years later, in 1882. Fort Worth grew from nothing in 1870 to 6,663 in 1880 and to 23,076 in 1890. El Paso increased in population from 736 in 1880 to 10,338 in 1890.

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By 1877 the seven North Texas cities of DaIlas, Fort. Worth, Waco, Corsicana, Sherman, Denison, and Paris were connected by rail andlutd rail outlets to St. Louis on the north and to the Guff ports. As a consequence those seven cities which had a combined population of around 12,000 in, 1.870 reached a total of 41,734 by 1880, an increase of 247 per cent, and by 1890 the combined population had grown to 108,420, an iiierease for the decade of 170 per cent and by coming of the railroads those cities increased 800 per cent in population, while the increase for the State as a whole was only 173 per cent for the Same period.
The rate of growth of Dallas and Fort Worth by decades since 1880 shows a striking similarity to the com parative amount of railroad building during each decade. The decade between 1880 and 1890 was the most active decade of railway building in the history of the State, 5,895 miles have been constructed during the period. The increase in population of Dallas during that time amounted to 267 per cent and that of Fort Worth to 246 per cent. The next decade was a period of little activity in railway building, only 1,215 miles being built, and Dallas grew only 12 per cent and Fort Worth only 15 per cent during that period. The ten years between 1900 and 1910 was another decade of great activity in new railroad construction, 3,575 miles of new line being added, and during that period Dallas increased by 116 per cent, while Fort Worth increased by 174 per cent.
The growth and development of the territory surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth is an equally striking example of what the building of the railroads has meant to the State. In 1850- the territory within a radius of a hun.- cared miles of the sites of the two cities was little more than a dreary waste of wind-swept prairie inhabited by buffalos and wild Indians, while today, some sixty years after the coming of the railroads, one-third of all the inhabitants of Texas live within that area. And within that area is concentrate more than fifty-two per cent of the total wealth of the State. But that remarkable increase in wealth and population has not been at the expense of the older region along the seaboard, for there also the increase since 1870 has been enormous. And it is doubtful if there would have been any increase in that section to speak of had not the railroads opened up and provided connections with the vast interior of the State.
Since 1910, most of the new railroad construction in the State has been in the western and northwestern sections. The development through which those sections have passed and are passing due to the activities of the Santa Fe, the Texas & Pacific, and the Fort Worth and Denver, is equally as remarkable as that. which came to the central section in the closing decades of the last century.
Thus it is that the railroads have built a great empire in Texas—an empire undreamed of by President Hous ton as he addressed the Congress of Texas less than a century ago. The marvelous development which the state will celebrate on the centennial of its year of independence might have been brought about without the railroads although it is extremely doubtful, but the facts remain that. no other agency exerted so powerful an influence on that development, and that the growth of Texas in wealth and population is too closely intertivined and related to railway building in the State to admit of any doubt as to that being the prime and moving cause.

For more articles on this subject, see:
Early Railroading in Texas
The Race of the Railroads
First Railroads in Texas

Friday, March 11, 2011

German Immigrants to Early Texas

The importance of German Immigrants to early Texas cannot be overstated.  The existence of many thriving frontier communities especially in the Hill Country such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg are directly the result of the hard working, resourceful and sturdy settlers who arrived on Texas soil from Germany in the mid-1800s.

We are offering the first in a series of articles that will describe the early development of these German communities.

This article, written by J. Marvin Hunter is from Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, October, 1944.



The great global war now in progress seems to be approaching its climax, with victory for the Allies in sight. Germany and Hitlerism seems doomed to utter destruction, and well may it be done, for upon the outcome depends the future peace of the whole world.
It has been my intention for some time to give Frontier Times readers some history concerning the German colonists who came early to Texas and became an integral part of the citizenship of the Republic, later the State of Texas. Simultaneously with the in dependence of Mexico, won from Spain in 1821 began the immigration into and colonization of Texas by the Americans that was destined to wrest this great domain from the decadent Latin race in 1836, and build up the greatest commonwealth of the United States. The policy of the Mexican government in respect to immigration was the opposite of that of the former Spanish authorities. It was comparatively easy for "empresarios" (contractors or promoters) to, receive large grants from Mexico., The only condition under which these empresarios received their grants were that, they pay the cost of survey and recording fees, to bring a certain number of families to Texas within a specified time, and to see that none but Catholics should settle in Texas. After the abdication of Emperor Iturbide in 1H23, the Mexican colonization law was adopted by the Mexican ootigress with the proviso that not more illi:1:1 "sitios" (one sitio-4428 acres) should ever be granted to ont7 person; viz : One league (sitio) of irrigable band, four leagues of dry, but enitivabll land and six leagues of grazing hind. This provision was made to prevent land monopolies and on it were based the socalled "eleven league claims" in Texas. The first American empresario securing a claim under this law was Moses Austin, who was born in Durham, Conn., but had spent many years in Missouri, at that time part of the Louisiana Territory. In December, 1820, he arrived in San Antonio, and, with the assistance of Baron de Bastrop, he sent his application for a land grant to Governor General Arredondo at Monterey. His request was granted in January, 1821, but Austin died soon afterward, transferring his grant to his son, Stephen P. Austin, who ably and conscientiously carried out the intentions of his father.
Among the empresarios of this time were two Germans, Joseph Vehlein and Robert Leftwich. It seems that Vehlein never made use of his grant and no records exist relating to any land transactions by him. Leftviens grant dates from the year 1822 and his extensive lands were situated near the old San Antonio road, leading from New Orleans to Texas, between the Colorado and San Marcos rivers. He built a small fort and settled a few families on his land in 182a, but aeon afterward went to Tennessee, where he had formerly lived, and died there. After his death a company was formed at Nashville in 1830 toacarry out the conditions of his contract, but the Mexican government did not recognize the transfer of Leftvich's claiin to this company and gave the land to Austin and S. M. Williams. Four years later the Mexican goverment reversed its decision and permitted the Nashville company to succeed as owners of the original Lreftvich grant. Thereupon, Sterling C. !Robertson brought 500 families from Tennessee and South Carolina as settlers on this land.
According to Moritz Tiling's book, "The German Element in Texas," pubs lielled in 1913, Texas was first brought to notice of the German people through the publication, in Berlin in 1821, of a book by J. V. Hecke, under the title of "Travels 'Through' the United States." Hecke a former Prussian army officer, had traveled extensively through the western parts of the United States, and hi 1818 came to Texas, then part of Mexico. He remained in Texas for about a year and after his return to Germany published a glowing report about the beautiful climate, the rich, productive soil and the highly favorable conditions for immigration to Texas. He advised the purchasing and colonizing of Texas by Prussia in the following words:
''If there is a land on the traits-Atlantic continent favorable as a colonial possession for Prussia it is the province of Texas, the acquisition of which by purchase from Spain, to which it is -neither of use nor of political advantage, might be very easily made- Cer. Mainly very important results in agricultural, political and mercantile respects would accrue from the pasees. sion of a country which is greater than Germany. At'hough at present there is no, or very little, civilized popular lion in that country, in a short time it would become a flourishing colony, if Prussia. would make use of the emigrants from Germany, who, having become beggars, through the expense of their voyage and lack of employment, suffer wretchedly in the United States. The Prussian government should furnish them free transportation to Texas on Prussian ships and give them land either gratuitously or grant them support, if only by advanced payments."

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He continues that fifty acres of fertile land would not only be sufficient to support the colonist and his family, but also enable him to repay in five or ten years all sums advanced to him with good interest, thus becoming an. independent land owner. He continued by saying that Prussia. could send. over 10,000 former soldiers, who could be given land as rt gift. With these the colonists could form an effective militia. Prussia's navy would be built up through this colonial possession and Prussia become rich and powerful through its trans-Atlantic commerce.
What would be our status today, if Hecke's dream had been realized? When we remember that the Monroe doctrine was at that time not yet promulgated, and that Tturbide, who had just then proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico, might have been quite willing to part with the province of Texas for a monetary consideration, Heek&a plan of a New Prussia on this side of the Atlantic does not look like an iridescent dream, and leaves n wide field of speculation of what might have oceurred, had his ideas been carried out. Who knows? The plan of creating one or more German States in the immense territory west of the Mississippi river, then almost an unknown wilderness, was revived several times in.Germany, and several unsuccessful efforts were made to realize this idea, that may seem preposterous to its, but seemed very probable to many German idealists.
Quoting again from Mr. Tiling's "The German Element in Texas:" "In the fall of the same year in which Linke’s book was published, 53 adventurers of different nationalities landed on Texas soil. This was in the month of October, 1821, the party coining from New Orleans. A report of this expedition in the State archives at Austin contains the following German names. Joseph Dirksen, Eduard Hanstein, Wilhelm Miller, Ernst von Rosenberg, Carl Cauns (7) and Caspar. Porton. Nothing definite is known about any of these adventurers except Ernst von Rosenberg. The expedition landed at Indianport (Indianola) and went. to La Bahia (CloHad), where it seems its members were made prisoners by Mexican soldiers. AU participants in this expedition were heavily armed, and the Mexicans, fearing a hostile invasion of Texas, held the adventurers in custody until they received further instructions. Rosenberg was escorted to San Antonio. He had been lieutenant of artillery in Prussia, and when he declared his willingness to join the Mexican army his services were gladly accepted. He received a commission as colonel of a regiment of artillery, and, according to some unconfirmed statements, was shot after the abdication of Iturbide, while, according to others, he fell, during the political fights that followed, in battle. A brother of this Ernst von Rosenberg came to Texas in 1849, and his descendants belong to the most prominent. German families of the present time.
"The first German colony in Texas, was established on the Colorado river, about 30 miles east of the city of Austin. Baron von Bastrop, having received a land grant westward of Stephen Austin's grant, induced a number of German families in the year 1823 to settle on his land on the beautiful banks of the Colorado. Nearly all of these pioneer settlers came from the County of Elmenhorst, Grand-duchy of Oldenburg, For 16 years, until the founding of the city of Austin in 1839, this was the farthest northeastern settlement in Texas. Here the sturdy German pioneers, surrounded by ferocious and barbarous Indian tribes, in a wilderness a . hundred miles away from civilization, toiled faithfully and undaunted, plowing their fields with guns on their shoulders and performing all the hazardous work incident to pioneer life. When in 1836 Bastrop county was or ganized, this county comprised all of the present Travis county, and the five commissioners, appointed by the Texas Congress in 1839 to select. a suitable site for a capital of the Republic of Texas, bought 7735 acres in the township of Waterloo, on the banks of the Colorado river, where the city. of Austin now stands, for $20,000, the deed for this property being executed by the sheriff of Bastrop county. It may be of interest to note that when the State agent, John Edwin Waller, and surveyor, W. Sandusky, appointed by President. Lamar to survey and plot the grounds purchased for the future capital, arrived at their destination, they found two families, Becker and Harrel, the only inhabitants of Waterloo. Two miles south of Waterloo was another city with the proud name of Montopolis, the rival of Waterloo, also inhabited by two families, On August 1, 1839, Judge Waller sold the first town lots, substantial houses were quickly built, and on October 17 President Lamar with part of his cabinet arrived at. the new capitol of the Republic of Texas, received by General Sidney Johnston, Colonel Edward Burleson and Judge Waller, the latter delivering the address of welcome.
"The capital of the young Republic grew rapidly, quite a number of Germas taking an active part in the building of the city. Many highly educated men, who had first adopted the strenuous life of the pioneer farmer when they came to Texas from the Fatherland, gradually left their farms for the more congenial life and employment in the city, and the Germans of Austin have forever been a prominent social , political and industrial factor of the capital of Texas."
Kr. Tiling further says:
"The first real and productive German immigration to Texas was practically caused by the French July revolution of MK This Paris convulsion shook many of the thrones of the petty German princes and threatened for a moment to topple into ruins the whole fabric of absolutism carefully constructed by Prince Metternich at the Vienna Congress. When the storm had subsided and quiet again restored by the liberal use of bayonets and gendarmes, a detestable system of espionage became rampant in many of the German States and principalities. Hundreds of men in all walks of life were put under rigid police surveillance, while many were even imprisoned. for expressing or merely holding different political views from those of their governments. The reactionary element was triumphant, while the progressive, liberal minded men were harassed everywhere. Men of education and science, university professors and teachers, jurists and physicians, suffered most from this political persecution. The press was gagged and literary productions subjected to merciless censure. This deplorable state of affairs naturally created in the hearts of many men of intellect and energy the desire to free themselves in some way from these intolerable political fetters. The revolution, or rather insurrection, having failed, these men were anxious to emigrate to some country with free institutions and a liberal government, and to found and establish there new homes for them' selves and their families under more favorable conditions. Naturally their eyes and thoughts turned westward, where the rising young republic of the United States guaranteed to everybody that freedom of thought and action that had been banished from Europe and especially so from the German States.
"During the ten years from 18201830 many highly educated Germans, and men of means, had made extensive travels in the United States, west of the Allegheny Mountains, and their letters and reports about that new country proved a considerable revelation to their friends. Many books of travels were published, of which those of Browne, Gerke, Arends and Duden were the most prominent. The kat named, Gottfried. Duden , came to America in 1824 and lived for four years in Missouri, then still a wilderness and the most western part of the United States. He returned to Germany in 1628, filled with unbounded admiration for the country he had visited and unlimited enthusiasm for its liberal institutions and government, His book, 'Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America, and a Sojourn of Several Years on the Banks of the Missouri River, was published in 1829 at St. Gallen, Switzerland. The strict censure practiced throughout Germany would have either eliminated much of its valuable information, thus rendering the book lees interesting and useful, or, what is even more probable, might have entirely forbidden its publication.
"Duden gives a. graphic description of the wonderful country he had visited, of the fertility of the soil, of its vast forests, its extensive prairies, its abundance of fish and game of all kinds, and dwells with great stress on the political, social and religious freedom granted to every settler. He proclaims the land of the Mississippi Valley the new Canaan, the land where millions of poor and oppressed would find peaceful homes and a comfortable living. In the preface to his book, Duden makes the following caustic but true remarks about the conditions prevailing at that time in Germany:
" 'The poverty, the administrative coercion, the oppressive financial systems, the tolls and excises, form with us invisibly, and therefore more dangerous, a kind of serfdom for the common people, which, in some instances, is worse than legally recognized slavery. The purile idea that one could fill his pockets with gold on the very shores of America has ceased; but one thing is unquestionably guaranteed to the immigrant: a high degree of personal liberty and ,assurance of comfortable living to an extent that we cannot think of in Europe. Millions can find room on the magnificent prairies and valleys of the Mississippi and Missouri and a nature that has long been waiting for the settler and farmer!
"Driden's words fell on open ears and ready minds, The book was read eagerly by thousands of interested men in Switzerlaud, Baderi, Wuertternberg, flessen. Rhenish Prussia, Hanover and Oldenburg and had a far reaching influence. The protracted stagnation of industrial life after the ware of liberation, the unsatisfactory social conditions and, above ,all, the intensely unpopular system of political reaction, bud created among thousands of the higher classes the so-called feeling of being CRuropaniude' (tired of Europe). The time for emigration was ripe and Duden's book was the mariner's compass pointing to the proper direction for the burdened and distressed, To the former emigration for economic reasons wad now added the emigration influenced by political and romantic ideas. University professors and students alike were fascinated by the plans of creating one or more German States in America with genuine free and popular life, and societies were formed to bring these plans to maturity. Ernest Brnneken in his German Political Refugees from 1815-1860' state that the German immigrants, of the early '30s came in more or less organized groups. They had more or less definite ideas about establishing States in the United States. These States might or might not be members of the Union, but were to be predominantly German in character, 'They would have the government of the United States itself bilingual, and if the Americans would not grant this—why, then. the German States would secede and set up. a National Government of their own.'
"For the purpose of furthering this wholesale emigration, societies were formed in different cities of Western Germany, the Emigration Society of Giessen being the most prominent.. G. 0. Benjamin in his excellent study, 'Germans in Texas,' makes the following mention of the objects of this society:
"11t was organized originally by a. number of university men, Ong
whom Carl Fallen was the leading spirit. Its aims, as stated in a pamphlet, issued in 1833, were: The founding of a German. State, which would of course have to be a member of the United States, but with. maintenance of a form of government which will assure the continuance of German customs, German language, and create a genuine and free popular life. The intention was to occupy an unsettled and unorganized territory 'in order that a German republic, a rejuvenated Germany may arise in America! The members were men of means. Some held high official and professional positions• They sailed in two vessels from Bremen to New Orleans in 1&34. After the arrive in this country dis-sensions arose and the company was broken up. An account of thin undertaking is given in Niles' Register and shows clearly what vague ideas existed at that time,' (Benjamins 'Germans in Texas,' page 6,) While these Utopian plans were never and could never be accomplished, still the western part of the United States gained ranch by this immigration, and so did Texas, then still part of Mexico, It brought to this country a great number of highly educated and energetic men who not only assimilated themselves readily to existing condi. tions, but who became the basic element of these embryonic &Rates. It was their hard and persevering labor that opened a vast territory to civilization and made millions of acres pro-dilative."
Among the first Germans who came to Texas may be mentioned Friedrich Ernst and Charles Fordtran, and it is generally assumed that the history of the Germans. in Texas begins with the coming of these two pioneers. This was in 1831_ Ernst was from °Ulanharg, and was a bookkeeper by profession. He, like many others, became dissatisfied with the prevailing conditions in fannen, and emigrated with his family to America in 1829, landing in New York, where for more than a year he kept a boarding house. There he became acquainted with Charles Fordtran, a tanner, who was born at Minden, Westphalia, in 1801. In the spring of 18.31 both decided to etalg)ate to the new State of Missouri. At that time the voyage from New York tc.) the upper Mississippi by water fives greatly preferred to the slow and dangerous overland route of 1500 miles. Ernst, with his family, and Fordtran therefore took passage on as a ship sailing from New York to New Orleans, where they arrived in March, 1831, There they heard of the favorable laud propositions in Texas, where each married settler was to receive one league and one labor of land, 4606 acres, free of oharge, so they decided to locate in 'texas instead of going to Missouri. They arrived in Harrisburg, on Buffalo Bayou, April 3, 1831, and after a stay of five weeks at Harrisburg, which then boasted of five or six log houses, they set out to their future new bonne, a Mane of land selected by Ernst, where the town of Industry, Austin county, Wrir stands. Ernst gave Fordtran one-fourth of the land ail Fordtran also received one league from S. M. Williams for the surveying of the two. leagues.
Rrlist and Fordtran were not the ars.t Germans coming to Tomas, they established the first permanent German settlement there, and Mrs. Ernst is unedited with having been the first. German woinan in Texas- Ernst and li'ordtran built. rude log houses on their hind bevenal miles apart, hot the b4irmony between them soon eeased. Ernst called his place Industry, while Fordtraii's farm received the less inviting.name of "Indolence," or "Lazy-town,' as it was generally called.
Ernst -svrQte a letter to a friend in Oldenburg by the name of Schwarz, informing hire about the favorable land• conditions in Texas. This letter was published in some newspaper and through this report several German Litanies were induced to emigrate. to Texas. Ernst died in 1858, but. his widow, who hater married a Mr. Stoehr, lined for 57 years at the place were they had settled in 1831. She dierl at Industry in 1888, at the age of 88 years. At the age of 84 she gave the following graphic description of her family's first years of hardship and privation on their Texas farm:
"In New York we had became a- quainted with the rich old Mr. J. J. Astor, a staunch and honest German, who advised my husband to start a dairy if he wished to make money. Ile offered him a 10-acre lot on the East River, where Pearl Street now is, for a few •thousand dollars on deferred payments, but although I urged my husband to .accept that offer, he refused it, and in April, 1831, we came to Texas, landing at Harrisburg. Houston was then not even known by name, and no ship dared to land at Galveston from fear of the Karankawee Indians, who infested the island, On ox-carts we traveled fifty miles westward to the town of San Felipe de Austin, where we found one German named Wortaner, among the 300 inhabitants of the place. . There we were • on the border of civilization. Westward and northward roamed the Indians, and no white man had yet risked to cross Mill Creek. My husband soon set out on an exploring expedition, and coming to the forks of Mill Creek, where Industry now stands, he selected a league of land for us, being attracted by the romantic scenery, the pure water, and fine forests around. After having lived in the most primitive style for several months on our new homestead; we sold about one-fourth of our grant for 10 3017a. Now we had at least milk and butter, which was a real Godsend, for the con-slant monotony of venison and dry cornbread had almost become nauseate- ing, We lived in a miserable little hut, covered with thatch that was not waterproof. We suffered a great deal in winter, as we had no heating stove, Our shoes gave out, and not knowing how to make moccasins, we had to go barefooted, For nearly two years we lived alone in this wilderness, but fortunately we were not troubled by the iii discs, who were quiet and friendly, In the fail of 1833 some Germane settled in our neighborhood. among them the families of Bartels, ZimmerseIrreit and Juergena. We naturally hailed their coming With great. joy. In 1834 the following German families arrived here: Amaler, Wolters, Kieberg, von Roeder, l+ refs, Siebel, Grassrneyer, Biegel, and some others whose names .1 have forgotten, The first settler being killed by Indians was Mr. J. Robinson, the father of Colonel J. Robinson, who lived near Warrentown. fry the fall of 1834 the Indians kidnaped and abducted the wife and two children of Mr.. Juergens, who had just settled at Post Oak Point, four miles from here. Through the effmts of Father Muldoon, a Catholic missionary, Mrs. Juergens was returned to her husband, but of the two children no tidings ever came."
Mr. Tilings contiuea
"The courage and perseverance of these early German pioneers is worthy of the highest praise. Here they were thousands of tulles from their native country, not only in a foreign laud, but in the solitude of a wilderness, with dangers of all kinds lurking around them, but unflinchingly did they bear all the numerous inconveniences and hardships incident to pioneer Ufa. Their unreserved love of freedom was the bright star shining above them and guiding them through all the dark hours troubles of the first years of frontier life, .and assisted these intrepid men and women to battle against and finally conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Ernst'S settlement, 'Industry,' grew rapidly, and for years was one of the most prosperous places in Austin county, It has remained a strictly German town up to the present day, with a. thriving and progressive population.
"Some. Germans, who came to Texras and settled on land received from the Mexican government several years before the arrival of Ernst and F'ordtran are mentioned by F, Lafrentz in Texiiische Momatshefte, Vol. 11, No. 2, n06, but nothing is known of most of them except the recording of their land patents in the archives of the general land office at Austin,"
In a future issue of Frontier Times we will give other information concerning German immigration to Texas between 1836 and 1845, and the establishment of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.


Read other articles about this subject here:
German Pioneers in Texas
Idealism of the German Pioneers of Comfort, TX
German Pioneers Built a Solid Country
German Societies in Texas