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