early spring of 1847, a remarkable treaty between German settlers and Native Americans
was negotiated on the banks of the San Saba River in the hill country north of
The unlikely parties to the long-standing agreement, that was to eventually open
up nearly four million acres for settlement, were a former German baron and the
representatives of the fierce Penateka Comanche tribe.
Seeking to solve
the problems of political unrest and overpopulation facing mid-nineteenth century
Germany by advocating immigration to the Republic of Texas, an organization of
German noblemen known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants purchased
a large tract of land in Texas. The land in question was part of the Fisher-Miller
Land Grant that stretched between the Llano and San Saba rivers. Unfortunately,
the Society purchased the land with little knowledge of the Texas frontier and
fell victim to a disreputable businessman, Henry Francis Fisher. Fisher knew well
that the land in question was inhabited by far too many war-like Comanches to
be suitable for settlement.
Enduring much hardship
on their journey from the Gulf Coast, 439 German immigrants eventually made their
way to central Texas. However, the Society’s first attempt to populate the Fisher-Miller
Land Grant stalled at the settlement of New
Braunfels due in part to the financial mismanagement of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels,
the first commissioner general of the enterprise, and the refusal of surveyors
to enter a land grant infested by the much feared Penateka Comanches. To make
matters worse, 4000 new immigrants were on the way to the new colony from Germany.
The burden of untangling
this web of deceit and mismanagement fell on Prince Carl’s successor, Baron Otfried
Hans von Meusebach. Upon his arrival in Galveston
in May 1845, Meusebach put aside his title of German nobility, adopted the name
John O. Meusebach, and rode to New
Braunfels. There Meusebach learned that in addition to the Society’s wretched
financial condition, and the Comanche problem, according to the original contract
with the Republic of Texas, the Fisher-Miller Land Grant was subject to forfeit
if the land was not settled by August 1847.
In May 1846, Meusebach moved
closer to satisfying the Society’s obligation to settle the land grant by founding
the community of Fredericksburg.
However, in November the former baron received word of the 4000 new immigrants
who were on their way from Germany. There was only one possible solution to the
problem of settling so many people. Somehow Meusebach had to accomplish the seemingly
impossible by reaching an agreement with the Comanches to open the vast tract
of land to settlement that lay between the Llano and San Saba rivers.
January 22, 1847, Meusebach rode out of Fredericksburg
with a company of forty men and three wagons and headed for the heart of the Comancheria.
Included in the company was interpreter Lorenzo de Rojas who had been kidnapped
by the Comanches as a child. The expedition’s ultimate goal was to secure a treaty
of peace with the Comanches.
Soon after the expedition’s departure, Indian
agent Robert S. Neighbors arrived in Fredericksburg
with a message from Texas Governor
Pinckney Henderson, urging Meusebach not to venture into Comanche territory
for fear that the act would further arouse the already hostile Indians. Accompanied
by Dr. Ferdinand von Roemer, who had been sent to Texas
by the Berlin Academy of Sciences to evaluate the mineral assets of the land grant,
Neighbors set off in pursuit of Meusebach’s party.
On February 5, Meusebach’s
expedition was met by a party of Comanches carrying a white flag, and after mutual
assurances of their peaceful intent, the parties shared a meal. The following
day the Comanches led Meusebach and his men to their main camp on the San Saba.
The entire camp rode out to greet the German settlers, everyone mounted including
the women and children.
At the urging of his interpreter, de Rojas, Meusebach
ordered all forty of his men to raise their rifles and discharge them into the
air, thereby disarming themselves as the huge party of Comanches neared. Some
of the men thought the act foolhardy, but it served to build the Comanches’ trust,
and in light of the overwhelming numbers of warriors present, was most likely
the only rational course of action to follow.
Neighbors and Roemer arrived
at the San Saba campsite on February 10, while Meusebach was waiting for the remainder
of the Comanche chiefs to assemble for the peace council. In his carefully written
accounts, Roemer noted Meusebach’s courage in walking among the Comanches unarmed,
a habit that earned the German the respect of the Indians. They even honored him
with the name El Sol Colorado or the Red Sun, in part because of his flowing red
beard. Among the more prominent Comanche leaders who gathered at the assembly
were the political chief Old Owl, short and frail in stature, the tall muscular
war chief, Santa Anna, and the dour Buffalo Hump, famed warrior and leader of
the Great Comanche
Raid of 1840.
During the negotiations which began on March 1, and
ended on the following day, Meusebach’s lack of prejudice toward the Indians,
a view seldom shared by most whites, was reflected in his opening words to the
assembled chiefs. “I do not disdain my red brethren because their skin is darker,
and I do not think more of the white people because their complexion is lighter.”
Meusebach also stressed that his people were neither Texan nor Mexican, two peoples
the Comanches hated the most. Even more important than his words, however, were
the terms of peace offered by the former German baron.
| Unlike most Indian
treaties which were usually no more than articles of surrender, heavily weighted
in behalf of the whites, the treaty offered by Meusebach provided for an equal
balance of recognition and dignity as between good friends and allies. First,
the Comanches agreed to share their hunting grounds with los Alemanes and
grant the German settlers and the Society’s surveyors free access to the land
between the Llano and the San Saba Rivers in exchange for $3000 in presents and
supplies. The Germans also granted the Comanches free access to their settlements
to “go wherever they please,” and finally, both sides agreed there would be mutual
reports of any wrong doing.|
On March 3, the Germans loaded their wagons
and began the return trip to the settlements. The company was soon joined by a
large band of Comanches, including women and children, under the leadership of
Santa Anna. After crossing the Llano River on March 5, the Germans and Comanches
shared a camp near Enchanted Rock the following evening, and reached Fredericksburg
the next afternoon. The company’s arrival happened to fall on a Sunday, and Meusebach
and his men were greeted by a festive crowd dressed in their colorful best who,
according to Roemer, “rejoiced when they saw us return at the head of and in peaceful
association with a troop of Comanche Indians.”
Treaty opened up a vast stretch of land for settlement that would one day become
all or part of ten Texas counties; a total of nearly four million acres. Other
than the presence of Indian Agent Robert Neighbors at the negotiations, the United
States played no part in the treaty except to later recognize it. The agreement
reached on the banks of the San Saba River remains the sole treaty negotiated
between a Plains Tribe and settlers as private parties, and is believed to be
the only pact between whites and Native Americans that was never broken. The Meusebach-Comanche
treaty was truly an achievement of note by John O. Meusebach, a man of determination,
courage, and vision.
"A Glimpse of Texas
August 1, 2012 Column
by Jeffery Robenalt - Order Here >|
for "The Meusebach-Comanche Treaty"
|Davis, Joe Tom
(1982), Legendary Texans, Eakin Press, Austin, TX, ISBN 0-89015-336-1.
T.R. (1968), Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, Macmillan Publishing
Company, New York, NY, ISBN 0-02-032-170-8. Jefferson,
Morgenthaler (2007), The German Settlement of the Texas Hill Country, Mockingbird
Books, ISBN 978-1-932801-09-5. King,
Irene Marschall (1987), John O. Meusebach, University of Texas Press, Austin,
TX, ISBN 978-0292740198.
Smith, Cornelia Marschall; Tetzlaff, Otto W. "Meusebach, John O." Handbook
of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fme33), accessed
May 3, 2012, Published by the Texas State Historical Association.|
|Book Hotel Here
by Jeffery Robenalt