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Texas | Columns | "Cannonball's Tales"


By W. T. Block, Jr
Perhaps New Braunfels was to play a role in frontier Texas history only because of the reactionary conditions that existed in post-Napoleonic Europe. Following the French Revolution, Prince Metternich of Austria ruled the German Confederation with an iron fist, at a time when Germany was greatly overpopulated. Metternich feared that the same conditions which spawned the guillotines of Paris might also bring rebellion to the Germanies.

Being also Cognizant of the post-Napoleonic oppression in Germany, 21 German noblemen, including the princes of Solms-Braunfels, Boos-Waldeck, Nassau, Leiningen, and Castell, met at Bieberich-am-Rhein in April, 1841, and organized the Nainzer Adelsverein, with intention to buy a substantial tract of land in the Texas Republic and resettle thousands of peasant German families upon it. When Prince Braunfels arrived in Texas, he was able to conclude agreements to by the 5,000-square mile Fisher-Miller grant near San Angelo; a coastal site in the Comal country for use as a rest stop. In Nov. 1844, the princes chartered the first ships, the Johan Detthart, Herschel, and Ferdinand, to transport contingents of settlers from Bremen to Galveston.

In the late winter of 1845, the story of the first 6,000 immigrants to land at Carlshafen, which was still a prairie, makes the first year's History of the Plymouth Pilgrims mild by comparison {Galveston Weekly News, Nov. 12, 1877}. Baron Ottfried von Meusebach soon took control of the immigration company, and conditions became substantially improved. While Meusebach was at New Braunfels, he also founded the outlying settlements of Fredericksburg and Castell. It was a Texas Revolutionary veteran name Johan Rahm, who led Braunfels to the Comal-Guadalupe basin, where they arrived on March 1, 1845.

After liberal revolution of 1848, the character of the German immigrants changed somewhat when enough German nobility, sufficient to stock Buckingham Palace, fled to Texas, some only one jump ahead of the hangman. Other than Meusebach, one nobleman was Baron Kriewitz of Potsdam, who lived for years with the Comanche Indians, and he kept the latter from raiding the German settlements. After 2 years Baron Meusebach dropped his noble title and was known thereafter only as John Meusebach.

One report {Galv. Daily News, Apr. 10, 1904} observed that the earliest settlers built a log house "cattle" for Prince Braunfels, which they dedicated on April 27, 1845 and named Sophienberg, for Braunfels' sweetheart, the widowed Princess Sophia von Loewenstein-Wertheim. When New Braunfels was surveyed, the first colonists were given town lots and a 10-acre plot for a farm, on which they built huts or log cabins of cedar logs, limestone, sandstone, mud, grass, thatched roofs, or whatever building material was available.

The account in Galveston Weekly News of 1877 was written by an old settler who claimed to have been one of the original 6,000 who landed in Carlshafen, with no provision having been made for their food and shelter after arrival. He also claimed to have been one of the original 1,500 persons to reach New Braunfels, whereas the other 4,5000 had died either at Carlshafen or enroute of flux or dysentery, cholera, swamp or yellow fever, and even starvation, because none of them had brought guns of sufficient caliber to kill deer, wild cattle, or buffaloes.

Other small settlements were established elsewhere in Comal County, namely, Fischer, Solms, Spring Branch, Gruene, Sisterdale, Anhalt, Freiheit, Schoental, and Wenzel.

H. W. Meriwether built the first grist and sawmill in New Braunfels in 1846, on a channel dug from the Comal River. John F. Torrey built the second grist and sawmill, which later became the Torrey Dam and Power Co., which harnessed the water power of the river, and by "those improvements rendered a part of the immense water power of the stream useful and beneficial to the colony..." {Galv. Daily News, May 31, 1904}. The same writer added that many of the earliest settlers "...were of the highest education and culture, in comfortable circumstances at home, but could not stand the suffocating despotism of the Old World."

When Torrey's mill and sash and door factory burned in 1862, a new stone building was erected on the same site, and a cotton factory was established in it. On June 8-9th, 1872, a thunderstorm and tornado flooded the Comal River and washed away the cotton factory as well as a new iron bridge that had cost $15,000 to build. The factory was rebuilt, but it was destroyed again in 1889 by a tornado, which left cotton goods draped over the tree tops in its path. The factory was never rebuilt following the second disaster.

By 1860 there were 38,000 Germans in Texas, 7,600 of them having arrived by way of the Deutsche Gesellschaft of New Orleans. How sad that we do not have an accurate count of the thousands who died at sea on German immigrant ships; or who died of illness or starved at Carlshafen or in route to New Braunfels; or died of yellow fever at Galveston or Indianola after they arrived. During the perennial yellow fever epidemics at both New Orleans and Galveston, half or more of the count were always German immigrants.

Not a single passenger or crewman survived from one German Immigrant plague ship quarantined in Galveston harbor. Over 300 Germans died in a yellow fever epidemic at Carlshafen (Indianola). When the town was destroyed for a second time by a hurricane in Aug. 1886, another 300 Germans drowned there. While the immigrant ship Ben Nevis was at sea in 1854, 76 persons died of cholera and were buried at sea. It was alleged that the only thing that smelled worse than a German immigrant ship at Galveston was an African slave ship.

In 1846 the first log house church and school was built in New Braunfels. The first building solely for a school was built in 1853, becoming a school district in 1856, and was incorporated as the New Braunfels Academy in 1858. It is believed that the school district was authorized to assess and collect school taxes years before any other Texas school district was so authorized.

In 1860 Comal County was 95% German, there being 3,627 Germans, 94 others were of Anglo-American descent, and 193 slaves in the county. Only 10 Germans there were slaveholders, said to have averaged only 1 slave each, assigned to domestic duties.

In 1850 one German immigrant of French-Huegenot extraction was driven out of New Braunfels because he became a despised resident of the town. Dr. Adolf Douai was a Free-Thinking atheist, abolitionist, and Marxist, who later published the San Antonio Zeitung. Because of his abolitionist and anti-secession views published in his newspaper, non-Germans were quick to associate or superimpose Douai's views upon all German immigrants. At one time Douai was one of the 40 Marxist who founded the communist colony of Bettina. Douai even advocated forming a new free state in West Texas, where escaped slaves could find asylum.

Another German immigrant lived a short time at the Bettina settlement before he came to New Braunfels, where he also lived only briefly while he owned a mill. Gustav Schleicher was born in Darmstadt in 1823 before he took degrees in engineering and architecture from the University of Giessen. About 1850 he set up a law practice in San Antonio, from whence he served as representative in the 5th State Legislature and as senator in the 8th Legislature. From 1861 to 1865 he was a Confederate captain of engineering, who built may forts at Brazoria, Galveston and Sabine Pass. After the war he built the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad from Cuero to Indianola. Schleicher was three times elected as U. S. Congressman from West Texas and he died in Washington D. C. in 1879. Schleicher County is named after him.

Although many German immigrants expressed pro-Union and anti-slavery views, and many went north to fight in the Texas Regiments of the Union Army, there were 3,600 Comal County Germans who voted against secession, and many of them fought in the Confederate Army. One of the greatest blemishes on Confederate history in Texas was the Confederate massacre of German Union sympathizers from Comfort, Tx. at the Battle of Nueces near Fort Clark. Nineteen Unionists were killed in battle, and nine others who were wounded were summarily executed, and only 20 of the original 65 reached Mexico.

In 1852 a German immigrant named Dr. Thos. Koester operated a distillery, bakery, and window sash factory on the banks of Comal River. In 1856 a stock company bought out the site and installed machinery to weave woolen cloth. Later that factory was bought by the Gieseke Brothers, whose mills profited for about two decades. They were eventually forced into Bankruptcy because of New England and New York woolen factories, which utilized Russian Jewish and other immigrant labor, paid at slave wage rates, and who sold cheap woolen goods falsely labeled as "New Braunfels cashmere."

Around 1890, about 25,000 cubic feet of water per second rushed through the Torrey masonry dam, with a fall of 9 feet. One water turbine furnished the New Braunfels city water supply. Another turbine furnished power to the Dittlinger Flouring Mill, formerly the Faust Milling Co., built at a $55,000 cost, and with a daily output of 1,400 barrels. The mills ran day and night, turning out the finest quality of flour.

At a short distance north of the city in 1901, the main spring of the Comal flowed south, aided by countless other springs, before a dam turned a part of the river into the canal of the Landa mills. Mr. Landa had a successful operation of about 600 horsepower in his water turbines. The turbines turned the machinery of his flouring mill, with a daily capacity of 300 barrels of flour and 250 barrels of corn meal. His cotton seed mill had a daily capacity of 100 tons. His ice plant was of the Barber-Plate system, and his power plant furnished electricity throughout the city. It was believed that the Landa industries used only one-third of the available horsepower, and that as much as 1,800 horsepower could probably be developed through use of the water turbines.

Mr. Landa who owned much of the property along the headwaters of Comal River, had opened up to tourists much of his property that in 1904 was known as Landa Park. Lots of people on pleasure trips flocked to the park, many of them arriving on excursion trains over the International and Great Northern, as well as the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas rails.

The population of New Braunfels was estimated at about 3,000 persons in 1904, and most were supported by the products of their farms, their cattle, and the textile and other mill industries. It was thought that the gins and cotton exporters would handle up to 20,000 bales that year. The city owned its own waterworks, but electricity was furnished by the Landa Light and Power Co. Other industries in town included a tannery, noted for its "lace leather"; one machine shop, 2 cotton gins with very large capacity; a wagon maker, farm implement maker, saddlery, and furniture and shoe makers.

The most important business firms operating in New Braunfels in 1905 included, namely: Faust and Co., Louis Lenne and Son, H. V. Schumann, Henne and Tolle; Anna Sklennar, B. E. Voelker, L. A. Hoffman, Pfeuffer and Hillman, successor to George Pfeuffer and Co.; William Tays, Knocke and Eiband, F. Hampe, A. Homan, O. Klappenbach, A. J. Zipp and Co., F. Hoffman, A. Tolle, J. L. Forke, Theo. Eggeling, A. Stein; James Roth, William Schmidt, C. A. Cahn, B. Schulze and Co., E. Waldschmidt, and Hugo Wetzel.

In 1904 the First National Bank had a $50,000 capital stock with another $25,000 in surplus and undivided profits. Bank officers included Joseph Faust, president; William Clemmens, vice president; and Herman Clemmens, cashier.

Alex Sweet, editor of the Texas Siftings, wrote of New Braunfels in 1903, as follows: "...It is an acknowledged fact that our Texas Germans are the most law abiding citizens in the entire state. Although they never let beer grow old in their possession, and they drink vast quantities, they seldom get drunk and rarely quarrel. During the most Deutsche Saengerfest, the only names seen on the police blotter were those of other nationalities. It is a fact that New Braunfels has the reputation of being the most peaceful and law abiding community in the state."

"We have a courthouse, erected at a cost of $40,000, and built of stones taken from the quarries in our vicinity. At many sessions of the Grand Jury, one finds no indictments for crimes issued, and the court sessions seldom last over 2 weeks. We also have a jail, but as a general thing, no one is confined in it except for dust on the keys and door locks. We have only 1 peace officer in town, and he is seldom called upon to arrest anyone. People pay their taxes promptly, and delinquent taxes are unknown here."

"The record for New Braunfels business interest show no bankruptcies for a number of years. The business men are all careful, diligent, and attend to their own affairs. And no town of its size boasts of a greater number of wealthy men, all of whom started with almost nothing and earned a fortune. We have got good schools here, and the influence of churches and a moral society are felt everywhere."

"The prospect for the city for continued prosperity is promising. The great water power of the Comal and Guadalupe rivers is only now being harnessed, and once that becomes known, and the necessary capital is raised, it will be driving any quantity of machinery. In other words, with cotton direct from the fields and into mills, people with money will see the advantages this locality presents...."

Another case in point was the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, founded in 1853, which never missed publication a single day for over a century. The New Braunfels Herald was founded in 1890. The two publications are now combined into the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, owned by Herald-Zeitung, Incorporated.

Indeed what we know today as the good life, the pioneers of New Braunfels knew only as dawn to dusk backbreak labor and a candlelight, scrub board, and outdoor plumbing existence. Where the average frontiersman of the West was illiterate or could barely read and write, the pioneer German settlers of New Braunfels brought with them the best educations and craftsmen, blacksmiths and machinists, European stone architecture, brewers and millers, journalists, weavers, music and saengerfests, brass bands, doctors, teachers, and schools and libraries.

The hatreds generated by two World Wars were certainly devastating for all Texas German communities, and particularly for New Braunfels. As with the writer's own family history, it was not uncommon for a German speaking Texan to be called a "Hun" in 1918, even though born in Texas before the Civil War, and never having visited in Germany. Such hatreds in World War II were transposed primarily upon Japan and the 150,000 Japanese speaking American Nisei of California, who were carted away to concentration camps. New Braunfels could certainly empathize with the Nisei in that instance.

Sitting comfortably astride Highway 35 today, New Braunfels is now a city of about 30,000 people - a city which blends both the new and the old. Its annual Wurzfest, honoring the German heritage of old, steps back to the time when newcomers marched overland to the city. The fest attracts thousands of people every year from all over the United States.

W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales"
January 1, 2007 column

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