last German colonists brought to Texas by the Adelsverin, a group
of German counts and dukes intent on promoting immigration to and
settlement of the state, were a brainy and idealistic group of young
men known collectively as Die Viergzer, or the Forty, who formed
a short-lived commune named Bettina on the banks of the Llano
Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who had already founded the colony
Braunfels as part of the Fisher-Miller land grant, returned to
Germany in 1846 to fire up further interest in his Texas enterprise
with a series of lectures targeting German professionals and intellectuals.
His message was that Germany was well on its way to becoming a country
where their services would no longer be needed. Texas, he said, was
the place they ought to be. He described the state "a land of milk
and honey, of perennial flowers, of crystal streams, rich and fruitful
beyond measures, where roamed myriads of deer and buffalo
while the primeval forests abounded in wild fowl of every kind."
The Adelsverin, in exchange for settlement of the most remote part
of the Fisher-Miller land grant, offered to arrange for an ample number
of oxen and mules to be picked up once the group got to Texas, along
with all the machinery needed to build a mill. The group also received
$12,000 to see them through the first year. After that they would
be on their own.
The three-dozen-plus Germans who signed up to ship out to Texas in
1847 included doctors, lawyers seven of them architects
and scientists along with a butcher, blacksmith, artillery officer,
shipbuilder, brewer, botanist, theologian, a maker of musical instruments
and an agriculturist. The cook, a woman named Julie Herf, was one
of the few among them who spoke English.
The Germans laid out their community near the confluence of Elm Creek
and the Llano
River. Louis Reinhardt, 13, was the youngest member of the group.
Half a century later, he still retained pleasant memories of the site.
"The Llano then was a beautiful stream, as clear as crystal, and known
in our party as the Silvery Llano," he recalled in 1898. "One could
see the bottom of the deepest places. The whole country was covered
with mesquite grass as high as the knee, and abounded in buffalo
In addition to the livestock and machinery, the group took along several
barrels of whiskey and a number of their favorite dogs. Reinhardt
noted that the 31 or so members who made it to Texas completed the
final leg of the journey, from the Texas
coast to the Hill
Country, in high spirits.
"We camped on the prairie and sang, drank, and enjoyed ourselves the
whole way as only the German student knows how to do," he said. He
described Bettina as a communistic society "with no regular scheme
of government, so far as I know."
The experiment lasted about a year, or as long as it took them to
spend the $12,000. A year after they started the grand social experiment
in communal living, reality intruded.
"Since everybody was to work if he pleased and when he pleased, the
result was that less and less work was done as time progressed," Reinhardt
said. "Most of the professional men wanted to do the directing and
ordering, while the mechanics and laborers were to carry out their
plans. Of course, the latter failed to see the justice of this ruling,
so no one did anything."
Gustav Schleicher, an engineer and a member of the Forty, commented
that "the bigger the men, the more they talked, the less they worked
and the more they ate."
For his part, Schleicher was no slacker. He left Bettina to help found
railroads, build toll bridges and serve terms as a State Representative
and Senator. He was one of several of the Forty who left Bettina for
more secure futures.
A doctor, Ferdinand Ludwig Herff (no relation to Julia Herf, the cook,
who later married Forty co-founder Herman Spiess) moved to San
Antonio in 1850. He performed the first successful cataract operation
in Texas (on a Comanche chief) and was among the first surgeons in
the United States to perform a hysterectomy. Though he was King Ranch
founder Richard King's personal physician, he mostly worked for free
on indigent patients out of a belief that healing others is its own
reward. He died in 1912 at the age of 91.
All that's left of the Bettina commune today is a historical marker
across the Llano
River from Castell,
a German settlement that did survive, and the legacy of several members
who founded large and prominent Hill Country families.