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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Bettina

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

There was once a community called Bettina that sat on the north bank of the Llano River one mile south of Castell in what would become Llano County. Like Sisterdale in Kendall County, Bettina was a Latin Colony established by members of the lesser German nobility, and founded on the idealistic philosophies of German freethinkers.

Bettina grew out of the Adelsverein, a society of young nobles, headed by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. By January 1847 the Prince had already founded the colony of New Braunfels and was back in Germany promoting his Texas enterprise. He wrote enthusiastically about Texas, and he went on a lecture tour of the college circuit.

Prince Carl was a persuasive man and a talented motivational speaker. He described Texas as a wonderful land of unlimited resources where skills not always recognized in Germany would be richly rewarded.

His words hit home with a group of idealistic young men from Heidelberg, Giessen and Darmstadt. In January 1847, they met in Darmstadt and founded an organization called "The Forty," because they were roughly 40 in number.

The goal of the organization was to establish a Utopian colony in Texas. Its motto was "Friendship, Freedom, Equality."


On January 11, 1847 "The Forty" entered into an agreement with the Adelsverein to settle on what was then called the Fisher and Miller Grant in the Texas Hill Country. The Adelsverein agreed to provide $12,000 or its equivalent in livestock, tools, farm implements, wagons and provisions for one year. After that the "The Forty" were on their own.

With high hopes, the young men sailed from Hamburg in April 1847 and reached Galveston in July. They remained in Galveston for several weeks; then sailed down the coast to Indianola, the point of entry for Germans coming into Texas.

At Indianola the Adelsverein gave the group $10,000 in gold and 24 wagons to transport their mountain of personal baggage - much of it useless on the Texas frontier. In addition to food and clothes, the group traveled with a large number of exotic dogs, books of literature and philosophy, an assortment of expensive musical instruments and a large supply of whiskey.

Each night on their journey to the Llano River they camped under the stars, sang songs, drank whiskey and enjoyed themselves as only care-free college students can. Every night was a frat party. It was like "Animal House" on a road trip.

Four weeks after leaving Indianola the young men arrived in New Braunfels. They rested awhile on the Guadalupe; then traveled to Fredericksburg and on to the Llano. They arrived at their destination, at the mouth of Elm Creek, in September 1847. After fording the Llano River they circled the wagons, planted their cannon, put out the guard, opened a barrel of whiskey and partied until morning.

The young men were infatuated with the Romanticism of Bettina von Arnim - a popular German artist, writer and friend of Goethe and Beethoven. They named their little community Bettina in her honor.


Bettina was the first communal society in Texas. It had no formal social structure and no government. In fact, any kind of institutionalized leadership was associated with tyranny.

Despite the lack of structure, things went well - at first. Propelled by a surge of youthful enthusiasm, the men built a large communal house, and then went to work planting crops.

But by winter, Bettina was in trouble. While some of the men continued to work hard, others slacked off. Those men who worked argued with those who didn't.

One group of men, lonely and tired of their crude existence, stopped working entirely. They sat on the banks of Llano, fished and dreamed of their girlfriends back in Heidelberg.

A few of the young men moved away and began farming for themselves. The rest drifted back to Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, San Antonio and Europe.

By the summer of 1848, less than a year after it began, Bettina was abandoned.



Michael Barr
"Hindsights"March 15 , 2017 Column

Sources:
"Texas and Texans In Early Days," The Llano News, March 26, 1970
"'Freedom, Friendship, Equality,' Watchword of Students Who Founded Colony in Llano," The Llano News, July 27, 1933.
"Early German Settlements Have Interesting Origins," The Llano News, May 31, 1956.
Louis Reinhardt, "The Communistic Society of Bettina," The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, vol. 3, July 1899 - April 1900.


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