Republic of Texas emerged from the Revolution buried in debt and
with practically no assets, save for its vigorous population and
vast, unsettled public lands. However, a heavy burden of debt was
not the only problem facing the new Republic. The western frontier
was constantly ablaze from savage attacks by hostile Indians, and
the border along the Rio Grande suffered from the need to fend off
worrisome incursions by Mexican troops and occasional raids by Mexican
bandits. Yet in spite of these problems, a wave of optimism swept
the new country. The people of Texas were suddenly free to establish
their own institutions and make the most of every opportunity that
presented itself, and free to form their own government based on
American, not Mexican ideals and traditions. Moreover, with an end
to Mexican immigration barriers, a rising tide of new settlers would
soon pour into the Lone Star Republic to assist in the task of building
a new nation.
Map of the
Republic of Texas
problem facing the citizens of the Republic was how to finance the
new government they had just created, let alone pay off the debts
that had accrued during the Revolution. Unfortunately, most citizens
were so cash-poor they had to get by chiefly on barter, and paying
taxes was out of the question. Customs duties on imported goods
brought in some hard cash, but so little that the Texas army had
to be disbanded in favor of an inexpensive militia system. Like
the Congress of the United States, the Texas Congress hoped to eventually
finance the Texas government by selling public land to homesteaders,
but before the Republic could hope to compete with their wealthy
northern neighbor in the sale of land, potential settlers would
have to be lured with a much better deal.
The bargain that the Republic of Texas eventually offered to newcomers
was practically irresistible: a huge grant of absolutely free land.
Every family was given an incredible 1,280 acres and each unmarried
man received 640 acres. Though the amount of free land was gradually
reduced over the next few years, after 1844 new settlers still received
320 acres, whether married or single, which was twice the land a
settler could hope for in the United States. With the advent of
the land giveaway, the population boomed. In 1838, the Houston
Telegraph and Texas Register reported, “A gentleman who lately
arrived from Bastrop County states that immense numbers of immigrants
are constantly arriving in the section,” and the Matagorda Bulletin
related that, “The Colorado River, up to the base of the mountains,
is alive with the opening of new plantations, and towns and villages
seem to be springing up spontaneously along its banks.”
Most newcomers who poured into the Republic were southerners from
the United States. Included in their ranks were well-to-do land
speculators, slave owning planters, and merchants whose sound American
dollars would stretch a lot further in Texas.
They were joined by much-needed blacksmiths, carpenters, millers
and other craftsmen eager to take up the offer of free town lots
in addition to their land grants. However, the majority of the new
settlers were frontier farmers; hardy, restless, stubborn, and independent
men whose only answer to being crowded in by new neighbors was to
continually move west.
Packing only the possessions they deemed necessary or too precious
to jettison into a wagon, or two if they were fortunate, the land-hungry
immigrants plodded southwest over roads that were no more than deep
wagon ruts; swampy quagmires during the spring rains and buried
in choking clouds of dust in deep summer. Usually armed with a letter
from a friend or relative who came to Texas
before them, the majority of settlers arrived with a general idea
of where they intended to settle. The first step upon reaching their
destination was to appear before a board of county commissioners.
From the board, the settler received a certificate authorizing him
to select his land entitlement from anywhere in the public domain.
With so many prime locations available, many newcomers found the
choice difficult, but once a site was selected, the settler only
had to get the land surveyed and send a description of the boundaries
and his land certificate to the capital. The General Land Office
would then issue a title.
The simplicity of the entire process led to an ongoing market in
transferable land certificates. Some settlers sold their certificates
to speculators as soon as they were issued and then squatted on
public land. Some were unable to work their entire grant, so they
filed on only a portion of the land and received a title and a remainder
certificate, which could then be used to claim the remaining land
at a later date or immediately sold to a speculator. As a consequence
of the Republic’s desperate money policy, much of the land passed
through the hands of at least one speculator before it was finally
settled. In addition, since there was no gold or silver to guarantee
the currency, the Texas government issued paper scrip backed by
public land. The currency could then be redeemed upon demand at
the rate of one acre for each 50 cents of face value.
all settlers immigrated to Texas from
the United States or followed the same familiar path to land ownership.
Many newcomers were European, most of them German, but smaller groups
also emigrated from France, England, Ireland and other countries.
Substantial, well-educated Germans, who were seeking personal freedom
and business opportunities, dominated this migration. The old empresarial
system was adopted in 1841 to attract foreign immigrants to Texas.
Among the new empresarios were Frenchman Henri Castro and the German
partnership of Henry Fisher and Burchard Miller.
Henri Castro, a man of scholarship and exceedingly great energy,
was granted a contract in February 1842 to settle 600 families or
single men on 1.25 million acres of land west of San
Antonio near the Medina River. Between 1843 and 1847, Castro
chartered 27 ships to bring a total of 2,134 German-speaking Alsatian
farmers and fruit growers from France, establishing his first colony
in September 1844. Subsequently, Castro founded the village of Quihi
in 1845, the town of Vandenberg in 1846, and the village of D’Hanis
in 1847. Much like Stephen F. Austin, the original Texas empresario,
Castro established a successful colony without significant financial
gain for himself. Investing $200,000 of his own money for the good
of his people, he furnished them with livestock, tools, planting
seed, medicines and whatever else they needed that he was able to
was a generous, learned man, with unbounded faith in the capacity
of intelligent men for self-government and fairness, his faith was
not returned in kind by his colonists. Though the new immigrants
had agreed to cede Castro half their land grants in payment for
the funds he had expended in establishing the colony, when a land
commissioner arrived in 1850 to issue titles, the colonists refused
to give Castro the land they had earlier promised. Ultimately, Castro’s
colonists were issued 299,846 acres of land, less than ten percent
of the amount his empresarial contract had authorized him to settle.
After a long and fruitful life dedicated to Texas
and his colonists, Henri Castro died in Monterrey, Mexico in 1865
on his way to visit France.
Henry Fisher and Burchard Miller were also granted an empresarial
contract in 1842 to settle 600 German, Swiss, Norwegian, Swedish
and Danish families on three million acres located between the Llano
and San Saba Rivers. The contract was modified in 1844 to permit
6,000 families or single men to apply for grants. That same year,
Fisher arrived in Germany and met with officials of the Society
for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.
The Society, founded by twenty-five German nobleman and headed by
Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, planned to channel German immigration
to Texas into one cohesive colony. The noblemen raised $80,000 for
the project and believed their efforts would provide homes for deserving
German workers, establish markets for German manufactured goods,
and develop a trade network between Germany and Texas.
Carl of Solms-Braunfels
planned to charge each family $240 in exchange for 320 acres, ship
passage to Texas, a house, farm tools
and enough supplies to last until the first harvest. In June 1844,
the noblemen of the Society purchased a four million acre tract
from Henry Fisher for $9,000 that Fisher described as “ideal for
their purposes.” Unfortunately, when Prince Carl arrived in Texas
to ease the path for the initial migration of German colonists,
he discovered that Fisher had misrepresented his empresarial grant.
Instead of lying near the Gulf coast, the grant was 250 miles inland.
Not only was the grant too isolated for convenient trade or easy
colonization, it was also situated on land that was controlled by
the fierce, war-like Comanches. The first wave of 439 German immigrants
arrived at Matagorda Bay in December without a destination.
Not a man to be daunted by such hardship, Prince Carl left the settlers
well taken care of, with unlimited credit to draw against the Society’s
funds, and set off to locate a tract of land suitable for colonization
that could serve as a halfway station between the coast and the
original proposed colony. By the time the Prince purchased a 9,000
acre tract for $1,111 in March 1845 that was located twenty-nine
miles northeast of San
Antonio, the Society’s funds were nearly depleted. Prince Carl
named the site New
Braunfels after his German estate and settled the colonists
in late April. The land was rich and promising, and the settlers
immediately set to work building homes and a protective fort, however,
by the time they were finished, they deemed it too late in the season
to plant crops. Prince Carl, unconcerned that the colonists expected
to be fed for another year, regarded his mission as accomplished
and returned to Germany.
John O. Meusebach,
the former Baron von Meusebach, had the unfortunate responsibility
of stepping into Prince Carl’s shoes. Meusebach was shocked when
he learned that the Society’s funds were exhausted, with another
4,000 more colonists due to arrive in December. In response to Meusebach’s
urgent request, the Society provided an additional $60,000, and
the former Baron managed to settle not only the 4,000 newcomers,
but also 3,000 more. Pushing eighty miles northwest, Meusebach founded
the town of Fredericksburg
in 1845 and the village of Castell
on the original Fisher grant in 1847. The Society eventually declared
bankruptcy, but Meusebach remained in Texas
to live out his life as a respected farmer and legislator. Though
Prince Carl may not have been totally successful, his efforts began
a floodtide of immigration that ultimately brought 35,000 German
settlers to Texas, making them second
in population only to the Anglo-Americans.
John O. Meusebach
In spite of
the hardships endured by the new settlers, the Texas frontier continued
to march west toward the dangers of the Comancheria in an uncharted
but logical pattern. Behind the westward movement, towns and settlements
increased in size and number and changed in character as well, from
simple supply centers established to support the farmers, to commercial
centers that developed the excitement and variety of city life.
The Texans may well have shaped the land, but the land also helped
to shape the Texans. The steady advance west left considerable distances
between settlements, and the size of the land holdings left expansive
distances between neighbors. These conditions forged the Texas character.
Isolation built self-reliance and an appreciation for neighbors
that were seldom seen, and braving solitude as well as the constant
threat of Indian attack made most Texans self-willed in the extreme,
impatient with unnecessary laws, and resistant to any restraints
on their freedom.
September 1, 2013 Column
"A Glimpse of Texas
for "Land Policy and Foreign Settlement in the Republic of
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(Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930; rpt 1964).
L. “FISHER-MILLER LAND GRANT,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mnf01,
accessed July 15, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical
M., John O. Meusebach, German Colonizer in Texas, (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1967.
A Political History of the Texas Republic, (Austin: University
of Texas Press, 1956).
W., “CASTRO, HENRI,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fca93,
accessed July 16, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical
Karl of Solms,
Prince, Voyage to North America, 1844-45: Prince Karl of Solms’
Texas Diary of People, Places, and Events, (Denton: University of
North Texas Press, 2000).
Texas Public Lands, www.glo.Texas.gov/what-we-do/history-and-archives/-documents/history-of-texas-public-lands.