Friday, April 8, 2011
The Founding of Fredricksburg
J. Marvin Hunter
Last month's article on German colonization in Texas told of the founding of New Braunfels by Prince Solms. Braunfels, and the departure of Prince Solms, after a short, but hectic stay in Texas. Still quoting from Moritz Tiling's splendid book, "The German Element in Texas," we now give the story of the founding of Fredericksburg.
Prince Solms was in such haste to leave New Braunfels that he did not await the arrival of his successor, Baron Ottfried, Hans von Meusebach, who had been appointed commissioner general for the Adelsverein on February 24, 1845. When von Meusebach arrived he soon saw that the finances of the association were in a hopeless condition. The company's treasurer, being ordered to make out a complete statement of all assets, credits and obligations of the Adelsverein in Texas, could not comply with the order. He explained to Meusebach that the prince, the treasurer, the doctor, the engineer and other officials had issued orders, due bills, drafts and notes promiscuously, and that no proper account of them had been kept in the company's books. Meusebach, a man of great energy, at once decided to follow Prince Solms to Galveston, and obtain from him the desired information as to the financial standing of the Verein in Texas. Of this meeting Meusbach wrote:
"I found Prince Solms there with an attachment against him, taken out by some uneasy creditor of the company. I lifted the attachment by paying the claim out of my credit of $10,000 under the condition that he would urge the directorate in Europe to send immediately, and, without waiting for a report, a credit twice as much as I had along, because the items of indebtedness picked up by me on the road from Carlsshafen (better known as Indianola) to New Braunfels and from there to Galveston showed the association being in debt to that amount. I told him that the welfare of the immigrants depended for the present on the means of the company that had promised to support them in provisions until they could raise a crop and to furnish them with everything necessary to make a crop either for pay or on credit. I have no doubt that the prince did notify the directory in Europe according to promise. But that committee probably had at that time no more available funds on hand. Having failed to get from the prince in Galveston any reliable information in regard to the financial operations of the company and its debts and having been again referred to the treasurer at New Braunfels, who had declared that he could not make a full statement, I had to go to work at it myself. I restored order in the financial department and by close management inspired the creditors with confidence and would have kept both order and confidence but for some new stupendous blunder on the part of the directory in Europe in the shipment of the emigrants in the fall of 1845. In August, 1854, I had sent a complete statement of all amounts, credits and debits of the company in Texas showing that a. debt of $19,460.02 was left by my predecessor in office, besides using up my own credit of $10,000 for provisions for the immigrants at New Braunfels. By the first of November this debt had increased to $24,000 and I requested the directorate in Europe to send immediately this amount as a separate fund irrespective of the amounts necessary for the reception of the new immigrants to be shipped in the fall of 1845, and for further operations.
Tiling says : If the Adelsverein had been true to its public declarations and its pledge it would have remitted the amount asked for, but von Meusebach's urgent request was never complied with. In fact, the association was practically bankrupt there and then and it was only due to the great activity of Meusebach and his astonishing resourcefulness that the sinking ship was kept afloat for some time longer.
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Von Meusebach knew that he had to expect several thousand new immigrants by November of that year and that it was absolutely necessary to establish another station nearer the land grant, if the colony should ever reach it. Therefore, with a small exploring party, he left New Braunfels in the latter part of August, advancing in a northwesterly direction towards the Llano River. About 75 miles from New Braunfels he found the desired location near the banks of the Pedernales river, it being about two-thirds of the distance to the nearest boundary line of the grant. There he bought 10,000 acres of arable land, well watered and timbered, on credit, equipped and sent out a surveying party of 25 men, led by Lieutenant Bene, in December and had a wagon road established from New Braunfels to the new settlement. The whole tract was laid out in 10-acre lots and distributed among immigrants of 1845 and 1846 as preliminary homesteads. This was the beginning of Fredericksburg, today the county seat of Gillespie county, and one of the most flourishing German settlements in Texas. When von Meusebach had left Europe for Texas at the end of February, 1845, he had been informed that the Adelsverein intended to send a considerable number of emigrants to Texas in the fall. And they came. When he returned from his exploring expedition to New Braunfels at the end of October, he found letters awaiting him with the information that 4,000 emigrants were on their way to Texas and that a credit to the amount of $24,000 had been opened for him with a banker in New Orleans, in other words a credit of $6 for each emigrant. For this pittance the emigrants had to be transported from Galveston to the mainland, thence to New Braunfels (later to Fredericksburg), and given provisions until they made their first crop. That the association 's debt in Texas at that time was already more than the new credit opened for Meusebach, the directors in Mainz seemed to have forgotten, or held it beneath their dignity to notice, or were under the impression that, having paid their debt of $24,000 with the amount sent to New Orleans, Meusebach would enjoy an unlimited credit.
This sending of 4,000 immigrants in the fall and winter of 1845 probably was the most inexcusable of the many blunders of the Adelsverein. Through Prince Solms, who had returned t o Germany in August, 1845, Count Cawtell was made fully aware of the precarious condition of the colonists who had come to Texas in December, 1844, and the impossibility of reaching the grant lands for some time. Despite this undisputable fact, he sent over 4,000 more immigrants who had to be housed and supported for an indefinite period. The proper policy would have been to send 'the immigrants in small numbers, to buy from ten to 20,000 acres of lands every 30 miles apart and there establish settlements as relay stations, and thus advance gradually from the coast to the proposed colony in the Fisher and Miller grant. As it was, there were only the two settlements, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, on the entire distance of more than 250 miles from the coast to the grant, New Braunfels being 150 miles from Indianola, and Fredericksburg 75 miles further, with no intermediate resting places.
Robert Penniger's "Golden Jubilee Edition" for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Fredericksburg (May, 1896), contains a detailed and interesting account of the founding of this German colony in the western wilderness of Texas, from which we quote the following: "In the middle of December, 1845, Commissioner General von Meusebach sent out fro m New Braunfels an expedition of 36 men under the command of Lieutenant and Surveyor Bene, with instructions to establish a wagon road from New Braunfels to the north banks of the Pedernales, where he had bought land for a new settlement . This expedition was well equipped with wagons, provisions, weapons, instruments an d tools, and besides Lieutenant Bene, two engineers, Gross and Murcheson , accompanied it . They arrived at their point of destination after a march of three weeks, and at once began the construction of a block house, which was only partly finished, when they were forced to return to New Braunfels for lack of supplies .
On April 24, 1846, the first body of colonists started for the new settlement in 20 ox-carts and some Mexican two-wheeled vehicles, amid the cheers of their countrymen who remained at New Braunfels . When they approached the Pedernales they were met by a number of Indians from the tribe of the Delawares, who, fortunately, were friendly disposed and the colonists passed the Indian camp unmolested. Friday, May 8, the weary immigrants reached the place where the surveying party had begun the erection of the first house in the new colony in an opening of the virgin forest of gigantic trees and dense coppice. The new settlement named Fredericksburg, in honor of Prince Frederick of Prussia, a member of the Adelsverein, was platted by Surveyor Wilke, the fearless pioneers began the construction of their new homes, their number being constantly increased by the arrival of new immigrants, and soon Fredericksburg had 1,000 busy and industrious inhabitants. Through gifts and considerate treatment they succeeded in establishing and maintaining friendly relations with the Indians, who were numerous, and, like New Braunfels, Fredericksburg suffered very little from Indian depredations. With hardly any funds on hand whatever and with thousands of immigrants to be taken care of on their way to Texas, von Meusebach was not in an enviable position. A man with less sense of duty would have resigned at once, while a man with less energy and resourcefulness than Meusebach would have been in a hopeless embarrassment. He knew that the immigrants trusted the Adelsverein implicitly and now he bent all his energies to take care of the coming flood of immigrants in the best manner possible . He went to Galveston to see after their disembarkation and further transportation, first to Carlshafen (Indianola.), and thence to New Braunfels.
From October, 1845, to April, 1846, there arrived at Galveston 5,247 immigrants in 36 ships, 24 of which came from Bremen and 12 from Antwerp . They all, after disembarking, had to be brought by small schooners to Lavaca Bav, and, as most of the immigrants had very heavy and often bulky baggage, and provisions for four months had also to be transferred from the vessels to Carlshafen, this was quite a difficult task, but nothing in comparison with the strenuous exertions to be made for the transportation from Indianola to New Braunfels . Through Meusebach's efforts the immigrants were brought from Galveston to Indianola as speedily as possible and housed in tents and barracks, while he was searching the country for teams to transport the several thousand people to New Branufels and Fredericksburg. After many unsuccessful efforts he finally made a contract with Torrey Brothers of Houston, in March, 1846, for the transportation of the immigrants from Indianola to New Braunfels, who in the meantime had been subjected to great sufferings and diseases. The winter of 1845-46 in Texas unfortunately was exceedingly severe and wet, rain falling almost continuously for months . Many of the immigrants being badly housed and poorly nourished, contracted fever and several hundred of them died at Indianola during the winter. The suffering was intense and everybody hailed with joy the announcement made in March that relief could be expected daily and that the march to the colony would soon begin. Shortly after that 100 teams arrived and the first wagon train started for the interior . Then the war between the United States and Mexico broke out (May, 1846), the American commanders utilizing all available horses in Texas; the United States government paid more for teams than Meusebach could afford, Torrey & Co. repudiated their contract, and the immigrants were left to their own resources. Five hundred enlisted with the American army, while the others started on the road, trying to reach New Braunfels the best way they could . This proved disastrous to many, more than 200 perishing on the way from exposure, hunger and exhaustion; the bleached bones of the dead everywhere marked the road of death the unfortunate people had taken, while those who arrived at New Braunfels and later at Fredericksburg carried with them germs of disease that soon developed into a frightful epidemic, in which more than 1,000 died.
The conditions at New Braunfels and Fredericksburg soon became exasperating. Most of the colonists were dissatisfied and restless, because they felt that they were imposed upon by the association, and when the deadly disease began to spread and the stipulated daily rations of the "Verein” were no longer distributed regularly, the affairs bordered almost on anarchy. Von Meusebach was threatened with bodily harm and he had to employ all his powers of persuasiveness to such an extent that he had been forced to hypothecate his store with all its contents . Then Meusebach resorted to the last expediency—publicity. He advised Klaener to send a correct report of the miserable conditions as they actually existed, to some reputed newspaper in Germany, requesting publication of the article. Klaener followed Meusebach's advice and sent a full statement of the affairs of the Adelsverein in Texas to Mayor Schmidt of Bremen, requesting publication. This was done and had the desired effect. Several of the government took notice of the accusations made in the article and demanded an explanation from the directorate of the Adelsverein, which resulted in the opening of a credit of $60,000 to von Meusebach . Count Casten was very indignant over the action taken by his agent, Klaener, but the tenseness of the situation was relieved. (In a future article we will give an account of the remarkable hand unbroken treaty von Meusebach made with the Indians on the San Saba rive r in 1847, a treaty which insured the security of the colonists at Fredericksburg.)
We have LOTS of information on early Fredricksburg, Texas...
Other articles (by no means exhaustive) include:
An Inn of Frontier Days
Pioneer Life in Fredricksburg
A Bakery of Pioneer Days