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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Krauskopf's
Gun Cap Factory

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

A scarcity of supplies was a big problem on the Texas frontier, especially during the Civil War when Union gunboats blockaded the gulf coast keeping goods from coming in through normal channels. A shortage of gun caps was a major predicament until Engelbert Krauskopf and his partner Adolf Lungkwitz perfected a process for making gun caps at Krauskopf's workshop in Fredericksburg.

Engelbert Krauskopf was born on August 21, 1820 in Bendorf on the Rhine River near Koblenz. An uncle who was a cabinet maker took him in, taught him the trade and promised that in time he would inherit the business. It was an extraordinary opportunity for a young man.

But Krauskopf wasn't happy in the cabinet shop. He spent every spare minute with another uncle tending the locks and guns at the royal palace.

As he got older, Krauskopf grew disenchanted with the social, religious and economic restrictions of his homeland. Like so many talented Germans in the mid-19th century, Engelbert Krauskopf came to Texas.

One the ship he met Rosa Herbst. Engelbert and Rosa married in Leon Springs; then moved to Gillespie County.

Engelbert Krauskopf
Engelbert Krauskopf
Photo courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

In Fredericksburg, Krauskopf was a hunter for Meusebach. He ran a saw mill. He made cabinets and furniture. He made and repaired guns.

A gun was the most important tool on the Texas frontier. Settlers needed guns to kill game and for protection against outlaws and hostile Comanches. A settler's place on the frontier was unsustainable without guns.

As soon as Fredericksburg grew large enough to support a gunsmith, Krauskopf devoted himself entirely to making and repairing guns.

He made hundreds of guns. He ordered barrels from a factory in the east, but made the gun stocks, metal triggers, hammers and sights himself.

When Col. Robert E. Lee came to Fort Martin Scott, he sometimes stopped at Krauskopf's gun shop on Main Street just east of what is now Hondo's Restaurant. Lee was impressed with the guns Krauskopf made and ordered one for himself.

At the time most guns were of the cap and ball variety. They needed a copper cap to ignite the gunpowder in the barrel.

But gun caps were hard to come by in the 1860s. The blockade stopped most caps from coming in. As far as anyone knew there wasn't a single gun cap factory in Texas.

Engelbert Krauskopf solved the problem with the help of his friend Adolf Lungkwitz. They invented a machine that made gun caps.

The two men had complimentary talents. Krauskopf had the vison and the technical skill. Lungkwitz, a coppersmith, had experience working with copper.

First they made a device for rolling copper into thin sheets. Then they fed the flattened sheets of copper into their new machine. At each turn of the crank the machine stamped out a copper gun cap.

After the caps had been formed, Krauskopf's daughters, Amelia and Minna, loaded the caps with black powder. Krauskopf made the powder from saltpeter mixed with mercury. He gathered saltpeter from bat caves. He bought mercury in Galveston.

Another process made the loaded caps waterproof and pressed a Texas star on each one. The star identified the caps as made by Engelbert Krauskopf of Fredericksburg.

The Krausfopf gun cap factory may have been the only one of its kind in Texas at the time. Customers came from all over to buy caps.

Later Krauskopf was the area agent for Winchester Rifles. He made improvements on the rifles including a dust proof loader and an automatic cartridge and hull extractor. Winchester patented the improvements but Krauskopf got no credit.

Not only was Krauskopf a gunsmith and an inventor, he was an amateur naturalist. Once while hunting in West Texas he noticed a plant with red flowers. He brought some of the plants back to Fredericksburg.

When no one could identify the plant, he sent one to Washington. Botanists declared it a new discovery and named it Hesperaloe var. Engelmanni (Krauskof) Trel. "Red Flowered Yucca."

With his discoveries and inventions, Engelbert Krauskopf made his mark in Texas. His gun cap factory was a godsend to the people of the Hill Country.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" August 1, 2019 Column

Sources:
"Fredericksburg Gun Cap Factory Often Saved the Day in the 60s," San Antonio Express, February 18, 1934.
"Krauskopf Building Now Serves as Restaurant," Fredericksburg Standard, June 4, 1975.
"History of the Krauskopf Family Leaders Since 1846," Fredericksburg Standard, March 18, 1937.


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