GERMANS IN THE TEXAS WILDERNESS

A group of German noblemen known as the Adelsverein, promoted the huge wave of German immigrants that began landing on Matagorda Bay in 1844. Some of the early arrivals remained on that barren strip of shell beach and established a port that became Indianola.

Fisher-Miller Grant

Most of the emigrants moved inland and created settlements such as New Braunfels and then Fredericksburg.

Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig von Herff, 1820-1912

Germans continued to arrive by the shiploads and in early 1847, Dr. Ferdinand von Herff and Hermann Spiess organized a group of idealistic young university students calling themselves Die Vierziger––“The Forty,” who dreamed of a utopian community, a socialistic colony. When one of the founders of the Verein heard of the Forty, he offered $12,000 in cash, tools, livestock, wagons and provision for one year if they agreed to be the first settlers in the remote Fisher-Miller grant north of Fredericksburg.

By the time the cultured and wealthy young men reached Galveston, their numbers had dwindled to thirty-one, plus a young woman named Julie Herf (unrelated to Dr. Herff) whom they hired for her housekeeping skills and her fluent English. When the exuberant party reached Indian Point (it had not yet been named Indianola), they had so much baggage and freight, that they had to wait for additional wagons to carry such things as machinery for constructing a mill, a kennel full of dogs, and many barrels of whiskey. One of the young men wrote that they “lived like gods on Olympus. . .sang, drank, and enjoyed themselves” all the way to New Braunfels. Their trip further north to a site near to a site near present Castell, took longer than expected because they were trying for the first time in their lives to drive a herd of cattle to their new home on the north side of the Llano River.

Immediately they set about transforming the wilderness into Bettina, the idealistic community named for Bettina von Arnim, the writer and muse to the Prussian socialist movement.

Bettina von Arnim, muse to the Prussian socialists movement.

They erected white tents and a barracks made of posts and beams covered with grass. Julie Herf had a lean-to kitchen on the side of the barracks where she provided steaming pots of food to sound of the “vigorous songs of hearty workers.”

Among the happy throng of eager laborers were seven lawyers, two architects, a musical instrument maker, a hotel keeper, a brewer, and a theologian. There was also the necessary miller, blacksmith, butcher and a few mechanics and carpenters.

Dr. Herff began learning the dialect of their Comanche and Apache neighbors who had recently made a lasting peace treaty with the residents of Fredericksburg. He had been treating the Comanches who showed up at Bettina for various ailments for a short time when one of the natives arrived with advanced cataracts. Although Herff had performed cataract surgeries in Germany, operating on eyes in the wilderness was another proposition. Fearful the Comanches would not understand his refusal, he decided to meet the challenge. He had brought the latest in ophthalmologic instruments, but he needed good lighting for the delicate surgery. Ether was the only anesthetic available, but it was highly flammable, which ruled out using candles or kerosene lamps because the flames had to be held close to use his magnifying lenses. Herff solved the problem by performing the surgery outdoors under bright sunshine. He was not concerned about infection because infection was unknown at the time. However, he was a very clean man and he insisted the area be dust free, no wind, and free of bugs. On the prescribed sunny day, a dozen members of the Forty stood around the operating table and kept away insects by waving palm leaf fans.

Aware that free flowing tears kept the eye clean, Herff reasoned that irrigating the eyes with water would serve that purpose. He later wrote that he used his 160-power microscope to view the cistern water and realized it was “infested with numerous small moving bodies which I called animalcules, [so] I decided to clear the substance by boiling it.”

The surgery was a success and the Comanche thanked the doctor profusely, promising to bring him a gift––a woman. Sure enough, three months later, the Indian brought Herff a teenage Mexican girl.  The cook/housekeeper Julie Herf took the girl, named Lena, under her

Hermann and Lena Spiess

wing, and apparently life turned out well, for Lena eventually married Hermann Spiess, one of the founders of the Forty, and they had ten children.

Bettina, however, didn’t fare so well. Herff and another of the leaders, returned to Germany to marry. In their absence, the communal spirit that trusted everyone to work when he felt like it, resulted in most of the Forty not working. The heavy dominance of professional men who saw themselves as directors of others instead of workers, led to the laborers feeling the injustice and refusing to carry the load. By the summer of 1848, the settlement was abandoned.

Some of the young men moved to other German freethinker communities such as Sisterdale and Comfort; other spread out across the Hill Country to establish careers as lawyers, ranchers, merchants, and writers.

Ferdinand Herff returned to San Antonio with his German bride, and because he believed that professional satisfaction was its own reward, he served mostly indigent patients. He continued to perform remarkable medical surgeries such as removal of two large bladder stones from a Texas Ranger. This was Herff”s first time to use chloroform and he operated before a large crowd, including William (Big Foot) Wallace. He continued to perform cataract removals; corrected a depressed skull fracture to alleviate traumatic epilepsy; and opened a young man’s stomach who had swallowed lye. At the age of eighty-four, he operated at a remote ranch on his daughter-in-law for an ectopic (fetus outside the uterus) pregnancy.

He worked to achieve high standards of medical practice, helped organize medical societies and boards across Texas and founded Santa Rosa, San Antonio’s first hospital.

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Immigrants Built a San Antonio Icon

The 159-year-old Menger Hotel is the grand dame of San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza, thanks to the hard work of two young immigrants William and Mary Menger. William was one of those younger sons in Germany who didn’t inherit so he became a cooper, making casks and

William Menger
Courtesy Menger Hotel

barrels for beer and wine. The twenty-year-old sailed for the United States in 1847 and arrived in San Antonio about 1850. He took a room in a boardinghouse run by Mary Guenther because the young widow spoke German and she was a fine cook and housekeeper.

Mary and her mother emigrated from Hanover in 1846. Soon after they reached San Antonio, her mother died, and Mary was robbed of all her money. She worked for an American family until she married Emil Guenther in 1848. Together, they operated a boarding house, but within the first year of marriage, Emil and their infant baby died, leaving Mary alone again.

Mary’s new border, William Menger found that his cooperage skills served him well because barrels were in demand for shipping and storing everything from coffee to crackers, molasses to bacon and flour. The following year, although she was eleven years his senior, William and Mary decided to marry.

William was Lutheran, but in deference to Mary’s Catholic faith, he hired a horse to go thirty miles west to Castroville to bring his friend Rev. Claude Dubuis (future Bishop of the Galveston Diocese) to perform the nuptials. When the priest arrived, William apologized for the horse that was obviously a broken-down old nag. The priest said, “I’m glad you didn’t send a better horse or Indians along the way would have killed me to get my horse.”

William helped with the boardinghouse, continued with his cooperage business, and over the next nine years, they had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood. In 1855, William decided to stop making the barrels and concentrate on filling them. He hired a German master brewer and constructed the Western Brewery east of Alamo Plaza. He selected the site for two reasons: its access to the spring waters of the Alamo Madre Acequia or irrigation ditch. The waters cooled his thick-walled underground cellar and chilled the lager beers. And the locale sat next door to the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Depot, providing a clientele of officers and soldiers.

The Mengers also built a larger boardinghouse nearby. They solved the problem of it being across the San Antonio River from the primary commercial centers of the Main and the Military plazas by offering carriage rides for boarders and diners in the boardinghouse restaurant. Of course, the guests enjoyed the brewery.

1859 Menger Hotel

Apparently, the high-quality beer and fine restaurant grew the business, because within two years the Mengers hired a Prussian born builder J.H. Kampmann to construct a two-story limestone (from the quarry that created the current Sunken Gardens) hotel on the boardinghouse site. The Menger Hotel opened on February 1, 1859, with tours of the rooms, a reception, and positive reviews even in the national press. By the third night, the hotel was fully booked with army officers, their families, and traveling merchants.

Menger Gallery, historic wing.

Almost immediately, plans began to add a forty-room annex with a tunnel connecting to the brewery. Since the railroad would not arrive until 1877, the Menger offered fine stables for the convenience of their guests.

The Menger family and many of their employees who were German immigrants lived in the hotel, along with about twenty-four hotel guests. The restaurant under the direction of Mary took advantage of German farmers for fresh fruits and vegetables that were not common to Anglo-Americans. She broadened the meat selection to include venison, wild turkey, quail, bear meat, buffalo, and turtles from the San Antonio River. William raised and butchered his own hogs for bacon, ham, and sausage. They imported specialty items such as tea, cod fish, seasonal cranberries, sultana raisins, English currents, and stuffed olives. Eager to make the hotel more than a local attraction, Menger brought in champagne, wine, claret, sherry, and whiskey. The hostelry was famous for its ice shipped from Boston through the port at Indianola and hauled to San Antonio on special wagons. It cost extra if a guest wanted ice in their whiskey.

Menger Hotel prospers

The Menger served as a center for social and civic organizations. In the approach to and during the Civil War, the hotel accommodated political groups where speeches were held and parades gathered in front of the building. Despite the Union blockade of the Gulf ports, Confederate officers stayed at the hotel, and Menger acquired food through his connections in the West and South for shipments from the neutral Mexican ports.

By 1867, the city was still ten years away from getting a railroad that would connect with Texas ports, and the Army was looking for a better location. Menger quickly built facilities following Army specifications, which included a large warehouse and two cisterns, next to the hotel. He then leased the buildings to the federal government at a low rate. The Army used the facilities until Fort Sam Houston was opened in 1877.

The Mengers traveled to Germany and Paris in 1867 to purchase furniture for the hotel. Upon their return, William saw a Silsby Rotary Engine used for firefighting in New York. He had founded and led the Alamo Fire Association Number Two before the war. He immediately paid $4,000 for the equipment and had it shipped at a cost of $900 to Indianola and then by ox wagon to San Antonio, giving his city the first steam engine in Texas.

William Menger died unexpectedly at the age of forty-five in 1871, leaving Mary and their eldest son Louis to successfully maintain the high standards of the hotel. Mary bought more land to expand the hotel and added modern gaslights. Illustrious guests continued to frequent the hotel. When President Ulysses Grant visited in 1880 the menu for his reception was printed in French.

With the arrival of the railroad in 1877, national beer companies moved in to compete with the Western Brewery. Mary and Louis Menger closed the brewery the following year and used its space to build a three-story, L-shaped addition, which added one hundred rooms. In 1881 Mary and Louis Menger sold the hotel and property for $228,500 and the furniture for $8,500 (about $2.8 million today) to the original builder, J.H. Kampmann.

The Menger continued to prosper, underwent several major restorations and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

The Menger Hotel today

Indianola Survived and Thrived After the Civil War

STEIN HOUSE, A GERMAN FAMILY SAGA, tells the story of immigrants operating a boarding house in the thriving Indianola seaport. They arrived with hope for a new life and were thrust into the political choice of supporting a land that had welcomed them or standing for their principles that did not include slavery.

The new edition of Stein House.
Cover image of Federal troops leaving Indianola in 1861 is from the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

The Civil War came to Indianola with the federal blockade of the Gulf of Mexico, which halted supplies coming through Pass Cavallo, the narrow channel from the gulf into Matagorda Bay. By October 1862, when a federal fleet made a foray into the bay, the family had already offered their sons to the war. Residents of the Stein House watched from the upstairs porch as Indianola officials refused to sell supplies and beef to the waiting Union ships. Cannons exploded in a brief battle that resulted in the death of one Union and two Confederate soldiers. The Federal troops looted Indianola, sailed up the coast and looted Lavaca, then moved back out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The waiting game began. It was only a matter of time before Federal forces would make another push to invade the middle Texas coast to stop the movement of cotton—the Confederacy’s means of exchange with Great Britain and other European countries.

Efforts to move cotton through the Gulf blockade quickly proved inadequate, promoting dependence on the Cotton Road, a route through the central part of Texas and across the Wild Horse Desert, the untamed and unpoliced land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. At Brownsville, freighters ferried cotton across the Rio Grande and then hauled it along the Mexican side of the river to Bagdad, a port at the mouth of the river. There, hundreds of foreign ships anchored in neutral waters off the Mexican coast to exchange the precious cotton for Winchester rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, and equipment desperately needed by the Confederacy.

News of the war was scarce but word came of Confederate troops putting up little resistance when Federals attacked Galveston. General John Bankhead Magruder, convinced that Texas would be invaded along the coast at Indianola, ordered a scorched earth defense––burn bridges, destroy lighthouses, dismantle the railroad out of Lavaca, and burn the warehouses and wharves at Indianola. He met bitter resistance from the locals who refused to destroy their own infrastructure. In war, they expected the enemy to destroy property, not their own officials. There would be time enough when the Yanks made a move. Then spirits lifted on hearing that Confederates had retaken Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863.

In November Brownsville fell, cutting off the shipment of cotton into Mexico. Confederates moved the cotton crossing on up the river to Laredo and as far west as Eagle Pass.

Indianolans waited as Federals began a relentless march from the Rio Grande up the Texas coast. They captured town after town until they reached Indianola in December 1863. Residents of the Stein House stood again on the upstairs porch to watch the brief battle. Within hours, troops descended on the property, camped in the yard, and took over the upper floors of the boarding house.

The occupants of the Stein House foraged for food, fed families of men who were off fighting, educated the children and waited for word from their men.

On March 14, 1864, less than three months after they arrived, the Federal forces began to depart. As they watched pontoon boats carrying men to the waiting ships, one of the boats took on water and began to sink. People along the shore rowed out to the rescue only to see twenty-one men drown in the shallow water. In gratitude for their help, the commanding office donated military clothing that the women of Indianola dyed and refashioned for children who had become threadbare.

The sudden troop withdrawal led to speculation that an invasion of Texas was imminent. In fact, the Yankees planned to invade from Northwestern Louisiana near Shreveport. When the Red River Campaign failed on April 8, 1864, Union forces made no further effort to control Texas.

With the troops gone, Indianolans started rebuilding their destroyed homes, filled in the rifle pits that scarred the landscape, and replanted gardens that had been stripped bare. The legislature allowed residents who had no money to pay their taxes in goods or articles that were redistributed to destitute families. When the war ended with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, hope returned for a future of peace and prosperity.

The Federal blockade of the Gulf of Mexico ended in June, swinging wide the gates of commerce. The Chihuahua Road reopened and hundreds of wagons and Mexican carts loaded with silver, copper, and lead from the mines in Mexico rumbled into the port. Lumber and manufactured goods, which had been halted by the blockade, flooded through Indianola. Charles Morgan, the shipping tycoon, reclaimed and rebuilt his ships that had been confiscated by both sides in the war. He intended to regain his lost shipping empire, and Indianola benefited.

The arrival of the Army of Occupation that came to maintain order and see that the freedmen were not harmed, sent shivers through Indianola and the wary residents of the Stein House. A young Yankee lieutenant took a room at the Stein House and soon eased the tensions of Reconstruction and tempered the anger generated by the government requirement that citizens sign amnesty oaths, and the denial of the right to vote for anyone who had any political or military association with the Confederacy.

Indianolans continued to look to the sea for their survival. Ships brought in everything from groceries to building materials and exported cotton, wool, hides, and even beeswax. Ice, cut from the ponds of New England, arrived during the warm months. They repaired bridges, constructed roads, and built houses next to the grading for the future railroad that had been stopped by the war.

Indianolans believed that getting their economy and their seaport back in operation and maintaining a working relationship with all the country was in their best interest. The seaport thrived––even rivaled Galveston––until 1875.

Next week: Storms that Created a Ghost Town.

THE RISE AND FALL OF INDIANOLA

Waves lap the sunbaked shell beach of a ghost town that never should have been. Despite its locale at near sea level, the thriving port of Indianola rivaled Galveston after the Civil War as a major shipping point on the Texas coast.

In the 1840s a group of German noblemen heard of the cheap land available in Texas, and they saw an opportunity to make a lot of money by ridding Germany of peasant farmers that had no hope of securing more land, craftsmen who were out of work because of the Industrial Revolution, and intellectuals who were unhappy with the strict political environment. The noblemen organized the Adelsverein or Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas and charged each family $250, which paid for transportation to the new land, 320 acres, seeds, tools, and a food allowance to sustain them until the first harvest.

By December 1844 the poorly organized and ill-fated Adelsverein had sent four shiploads of Germans to the bare shell beach at Indian Point, an empty spit of land jutting into the waters where Matagorda and Lavaca bays converge. It was March 1845, before that first wave of immigrants reached their new home, which they named New Braunfels.

The noblemen, ignoring the lack of any kind of village or port facility on the bay, continued sending ships that dumped a steady flow of immigrants, creating a horror story for over 5,000 men, women, and children who arrived at Indian Point and could not find transportation to move inland. Polluted water and lack of sanitation caused diseases that killed hundreds before they could be moved off the coast.

Disillusionment with the Adelsverein led many of the Germans to refuse to join the trek to the land they had been promised. Instead, they remained on the coast and built docks into the shallow bay to receive the steady stream of ships. By 1849 a community had developed at Indian Point, and the residents changed its name to the more melodious “Indianola.”

The United States War Department built a wharf and opened its Army Supply Depot to serve as the disembarkation point for personnel destined for posts as far away as El Paso del Norte (future Fort Bliss) and along the western edge of Texas settlement. Hundreds of freight wagons and Mexican carts loaded with silver from the mines of Chihuahua, Mexico, rolled into Indianola, where ships transported the silver to the mint in New Orleans.

If anything proved to the citizens of Indianola that their seaport was making a name for itself in Washington D.C., it was the arrival of thirty-three camels in May 1856, followed by a second shipment of forty-one camels the next February. The entire affair was an experiment initiated by the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to test the viability of camels as beasts of burden in the Southwest.

Indianola was a southern town, but it boasted a seaport’s connection to the more cosmopolitan world of commerce, business cooperation, and a diverse blend of residents newly arrived from all over Europe. The soil—gritty shell beaches cut by a crisscross of shallow bayous and lakes—did not lend itself to cotton growing. Thus the vast slave plantations thrived much farther east and north along the rivers and in the rich bottomlands. Planters who came to Indianola to purchase supplies could also buy slaves at auction on the front porch of Indianola’s Casimir House, an elegant hotel and social center that used slaves to serve its guests. Most of the blacks in Indianola were free—having bought their freedom or been freed by previous owners. They worked the docks and they operated pig farms on the huge Powderhorn Lake that sprawled ominously behind the low-lying port city. Unlike most southern towns, the residents of Indianola accepted the presence of free blacks, and they were allowed to go about their business without interference.

During the fall of 1860, talk of Lincoln’s possible election caused little concern and no apparent disruption in the cooperation between northern business people pouring into the port and local shipbuilders producing steamers at a brisk pace. The newspaper editor touted the rosy financial picture, expecting it to continue indefinitely.

Before the first war shots were fired, United States military personnel that had manned the posts along the western edge of Texas settlement to protect colonists from Indian attack, began marching through the streets of Indianola to the docks where federal ships waited to carry them away. The federal blockade of the Gulf of Mexico soon forced the Indianola merchants to close and many residents to flee the city. Despite bombardment by federal troops in October 1862 and a three-month occupation of Indianola in early 1864, residents quickly returned after the war and began rebuilding the destroyed docks and their homes and businesses. The eagerness to return their port to a thriving commercial center and to assist families that had been impoverished by the war played well for an economy that thrived on its maritime commerce.

The problem of high tide washing into the downtown streets was virtually ignored as profits soared, freight wagons by the hundreds clogged the thoroughfares leading to the docks, and ships sat patiently at anchor waiting for access to the busy port. In September 1875, Indianola overflowed with visitors from all over the region who had come to witness the murder trial of participants in the infamous  Sutton-Taylor Feud. Few people noticed the increasingly bad weather until the road out of town became impassable and the railroad tracks washed away. By the time the storm ended, several hundred had died and most of the business houses were destroyed, washed into the huge Powderhorn Lake. Many residents moved inland, but those who remained were determined to rebuild their city.

When railroads were built from rival ports undermining Indianola’s shipping enterprise, businessmen began developing the town as a resort to take advantage of its clear water, excellent fishing, and fine restaurants and hotels.

In August 1886, a West India hurricane moved into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time it reached Indianola it was one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. Structures that had survived the 1875 storm soon gave way to the force of wind and flood. A lamp exploded in a disintegrating building and the wind fanned flames across the entire downtown. At dawn, the port city of Indianola was gone, and the survivors moved, many without ever looking back at the ghost town they left behind.

 

I have told Indianola’s story in The Doctor’s Wife and Stein House.

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The Train to Crystal City

A book written by Jan Jarboe Russell and published in 2015 by Scribner relates a chapter in Texas history that I have just discovered. I believe it deserves special attention at this time when our country is again roiling in fear of immigrants. The arrest and internment of Japanese

The Train to Crystal City, Jan Jarboe Russell

The Train to Crystal City, Jan Jarboe Russell

Ten-foot tall barbed-wire fence with guardhouse and horse patrols.

Ten-foot tall barbed-wire fence with guardhouse and horse patrols.

Americans during World War II has been well-documented, but nothing until now has been published about the program to arrest and repatriate to their country of origin German, Japanese, and Italian families.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the arrest and incarceration of Japanese, Germans, and Italians who were declared “enemy aliens.” Our country also orchestrated and financed the removal of thousands of these same families from thirteen Latin American countries. They were brought to the internment camp in Texas.

In her book, The Train To Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, Jan Russell documents the lives, the fierce patriotism, and the resilience of some of the 6,000 civilians held in the Crystal City Enemy Detention Facility. The vast majority were loyal to America. They were forced out of their homes, lost their businesses, and were never charged with any crime. The men were allowed to have their families join them in prison if they agreed to take part in a repatriation program with Germany and Japan. Although their children were born in this country, they were exchanged for other Americans––soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, missionaries, and physicians––who were being detained behind enemy lines in Germany and Japan.

The wives and children, wearing family ID tags around their necks, were shipped on trains with the curtains drawn to Crystal City, to rejoin their husbands and fathers in the dusty South Texas town that boasted the friendly moniker, “Spinach

Spinach Capital of the World

Spinach Capital of the World

Capital of the World.”

The 290-acre camp was enclosed by a ten-foot high barbed-wire fence, anchored by six towers manned by guards with long rifles. Men on horseback patrolled the perimeter, and the night searchlights were visible thirty miles away across the border in Mexico.

Fear of the foreigners, many of whom were in the process of becoming American citizens, resulted in mob attacks on businesses of Japanese on the West Coast and Germans on the East Coast. Newspaper columnists argued for American’s safety over civil rights. Politicians and military officials pressured FDR to act against these civilians. Finally, in 1944 the Supreme Court in a six to three ruling legalized the detention. Justice Hugo Black wrote for the majority that the need to protect against espionage outweighed individual rights.

Russell conducted interviews with over fifty survivors, used private diaries and journals, obtained access to FBI files and camp administration records to paint a picture of a place where most of the internees did not understand why they were

School with barbed-wire fence in foreground

School with barbed-wire fence in foreground

being held but continued to maintain hope for their release. The camp was organized into ethnic communities with two-family cottages. They could choose to send their children to Japanese, German, or the federal (American) school where the students would learn English. The inmates were allowed to run their own communities, organize churches, a library, a hospital, barber shops and beauty parlors. In the summer of 1943 German internees dredged an existing reservoir to build a combination swimming pool and reservoir for irrigating the camp’s vegetable gardens. Despite the semblance of freedom, each morning they had to line up for roll call and their mail was censored. Even though they were not charged with a crime, the length of their internment was indefinite.

Large swimming pool and reservoir for camp vegetable gardens

Large swimming pool and reservoir for camp vegetable gardens

Russell chronicles the story of two teenage girls––a German and a Japanese––whose families were finally exchanged, sent back to the devastation of Germany right after the Battle of the Bulge and to Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima. She relates the story of their determination to survive and to eventually return to the United States.

Today, all five hundred buildings are gone. The site belongs to the local school district and is noted by a memorial on the foundation of one of the cottages and a nearby Texas Historical Marker.

Texas Historical Marker at the former site of the Internment Camp

Texas Historical Marker at the former site of the Internment Camp

Immigrants Create a Seaport

In 1844, Samuel Addison White saw an opportunity to make some money and develop his barren piece of property that jutted into the waters between Matagorda and Lavaca bays––a protected area along the Central Texas coast. Prince Karl of Solms Braunfels, an aristocratic emissary representing a group of German noblemen, had shown up on the shell beach where White had built his small house. Prince Karl was desperate. He had been sent to Texas by noblemen who had created a grand scheme to make a fortune by shipping thousands of farmers, craftsmen, and intellectuals to cheap land in Texas.

When Prince Karl reached Galveston in July 1844 and discovered that the 9,000 acres his noblemen friends had purchased was unsuitable for settlement, he was overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of a shipload of colonists. He needed a port for disembarkation and a route that offered easy passage into western Texas where he hoped to settle the Germans. White agreed to allow the immigrants to occupy the beach near his home until the prince could make arrangements for their trek inland.

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Prince Karl and White were stunned in late November and December as four more brigs carrying 439 immigrants sailed into Matagorda Bay. Each family had paid the Adelsverein (society of nobility) $240 for transportation to Texas, for 120 acres, and for the necessities until they could bring in their first harvest. Instead, they huddled on the wet gravel shore with only rainwater to drink and no trees for constructing protection from the howling winds of a Texas “norther.”

Prince Karl had secured the services of the Rev. Louis Ervendberg, a German Protestant minister, who conducted Christmas services and offered communion. The group continued their traditional Christmas observances with a small tree—either an oak or a cedar—and the children sang carols. Soon after the New Year, Prince Karl secured fifteen ox-drawn wagons and fifteen two-wheeled carts for the journey into Texas. He rushed ahead searching for a suitable site for a settlement. He found a tract near the fork of the Guadalupe River and the short, spring-fed Comal River that offered excellent waterpower.

The weary settlers arrived at their new home on March 21, 1845, one week after the Prince made the purchase. Despite their disappointment with the Adelsverein and the failure to secure their promised acreage, they named the site New Braunfels in honor of Prince Karl’s home. In less than a month the aristocratic prince abandoned the colony, even before his replacement had arrived.

Meantime, not all the Germans trusted Prince Karl enough to follow him on the inland search for a new settlement. Johann Schwartz (Swartz) and his family were among those who chose to stay at Indian Point. Schwartz purchased property from Samuel Addison White three miles down the bay and built a home on the site that would become the center of the future port city of Indianola.

Neither Prince Karl’s abandonment, nor the Adelsverein’s failure to adequately fund their grand scheme slowed the shipment of more unsuspecting colonists to Texas. Between the fall of 1845 and the following spring, thirty-six ships brought 5,247 men, women, and children to the shore at Indian Point. In the beginning, constant rain made travel impossible and wagons could not reach the coast. Then, the impending war with Mexico over Texas’ annexation to the United States led to the U.S. military troops confiscating all the means of transportation to haul their supplies to the Rio Grande.

Upon hearing from the Adelsverein that more colonists were heading to Texas, Prince Karl’s replacement, Baron Johann Ottfried von Meusebach (who had the good sense to change his name to John before he reached Texas) had tents constructed along the beach for the new arrivals. As the extreme cold of that winter set in, people began dying of respiratory diseases.

The tragedy served as a vehicle to create a community. Dr. Joseph Martin Reuss, who arrived on one of the first ships, began his medical practice by caring for the sick and dying. He also opened an apothecary where he prescribed free medicines. When Heinrich (Henry) Huck, a young German who had settled in New Orleans in 1844, heard about the suffering of those stranded on the Texas coast, he quickly loaded a schooner with lumber and medicine and sailed for Indian Point. Huck opened a lumberyard, helped Dr. Reuss distribute the free medicine, and gave lumber to families for constructing coffins. Henry Runge open the area’s first bank in a tent.

As the summer heat of 1846 descended on the encampment, a steady flow of new arrivals poured in. Rain offered the only supply of drinking water. Sanitation facilities––trenches dug in the gravelly soil––proved inadequate, and a plague of mosquitoes, green stinging flies, and house flies descended on the community. Cholera, typhoid, and cerebro-spinal meningitis swept through the camp. Frau Reuss, Frau Huck, Mrs. White, and some of the other women prepared broth for the sick and cared for children whose mothers were ill.

The number of dead reached such proportions that victims were wrapped in blankets and buried in mass graves. No one knows how many perished; the estimates range from 400 to over 1,200. Many people panicked and began walking to the inland colonies, spreading diseases as they moved along the route. Over 200 died along the way.

Samuel Addison White platted a new town on his land in 1846 and began selling lots to the German families that decided to remain on the coast and begin their new life at Indian Point—a choice that would give them the prosperity and freedom they had imagined when they listened to the false promises of the Adelsverein.

9781491709542_COVER.inddWithin three years, the German village developed into the thriving port of Indianola. The wealth that came from the commerce on the high seas created a seaport that eventually rivaled Galveston. Then fortune changed, and the seas sent a fierce storm and tidal wave in 1875 that crippled the port city. Nine years later, a massive hurricane ripped down the buildings and a downtown fire destroyed the business center edging the port. Indianola was reduced to a ghost town.

I have written two historical fictions that trace the development and eventual demise of Indianola. The Doctor’s Wife chronicles the heartache, betrayal, and business success of German immigrants who play a leading role in the rise of Indian Point from the struggling tent community to the port for U.S. military destined for posts as far west as El Paso. As shipping increases and wharves extend along the beach, commercial interests change the village name to Indianola and welcome hundreds of freight wagons and carretas from the mines in Chihuahua, Mexico, loaded with silver for the mint in New Orleans. Indianola hosts 49ers headed to California and the International Boundary Commission that negotiates the border between the United State and Mexico. By 1853, the German enclave is a cosmopolitan entry-point for people from around the world.

Stein House opens in 1853 as a German widow and her children arrive in the bustling port city of Indianola and face the cruelties of slavery and yellow fever and the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction. While the Indianola seaport reaches commercial levels that rival Galveston, the family and the characters who board at the Stein House struggle with the threats of weather, murder, alcoholism, and finally the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

Lindheimer, Father of Texas Botany

Texas rat snake

Texas rat snake

If you have heard of the Texas prickly pear, the Texas yellow star daisy, milkweed and loco weed, or the Texas rat snake, you may be surprised to know all five derive their scientific name from Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer—a botanist who scoured the wilds of Texas in the 1830s

Frederich Lindheimer, Botanist

Frederich Lindheimer, Botanist

and 40s to discover several hundred new plant species.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

Raised in a wealthy German family and university educated, Lindheimer taught at Frankfurt’s Bunsen Institute where he became affiliated with a group seeking government reforms. Finding himself at risk for his political associations, which alienated him from his family, he fled to the United States. Lindheimer settled first in Illinois where he joined some of his former German colleagues. From there, he went to a German group on a plantation near Vera Cruz, Mexico, where he began his lifelong fascination with collecting plants and insects.

Excited by reports of the Texas Revolution in 1836, Lindheimer joined a company of volunteers heading to Texas. They missed the action, however, arriving the day after the final battle at San Jacinto. For the next year Lindheimer served in the Texas army.

At the invitation of George Engelmann, a botanist and friend from Frankfurt, Lindheimer traveled to St. Louis where he agreed to collect plant specimens in Texas for Engelmann and Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist. Lindheimer roamed the Texas coast and hill country for nine years with his botanical cart and his dogs, collecting plants, which he identified, dried, and shipped to Englemann at the Missouri Botanic Gardens and Asa Gray at Harvard.

When a group of German noblemen organized the Adelsverein in 1844 with a plan to settle immigrants in Texas, Lindheimer helped their leader Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels find the settlement site, which became New Braunfels, at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. Prince Carl awarded Lindheimer with a piece of property high above the Comal River in New Braunfels where Lindheimer built his home.

Lindheimer collected his first specimen of the nonvenomous Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) in New Braunfels. Reaching lengths of more than six feet, the Texas rat snake consumes large quantities of rodents, birds, frogs and lizards.

Because of his years roaming through Texas, Lindheimer held the respect of area Indians and occasionally hosted Santana, war chief of the Comanche, in his home.

After he married and began raising a family of four children, Lindheimer gave up his travels in 1852 and for the next twenty years served as editor and then publisher of the German-language New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. He also ran a private school for gifted children and served as the first justice of the peace for Comal County.

Believing a lack of bees needed to pollinate the fruit in the area accounted for the low fruit production, Lindheimer convinced Wilhelm Brückisch, a scientific beekeeper from Silesia (Prussia) to come to Texas. Brückisch arrived with his wife, three sons, two daughters, and several hives of Italian black bees and settled across the Guadalupe River from New Braunfels. Credited as the first person in Texas to begin the commercialization of bees, Brückisch established an apiary on the river and published numerous books and articles on beekeeping.

As rumblings of secession from the United States grew in intensity, Lindheimer is credited with keeping down much of the discontent felt in other German communities with his editorials admonishing his German readers opposing the Civil War to support the Confederacy as a means of maintaining regional stability. Historians say his postwar writings indicate his true loyalty lay with the Union.

Lindheimer died in 1879 and is buried in New Braunfels. Today, the Lindheimer home on the banks of the Comal River serves as a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors see framed botanical specimens, the sword given to Lindheimer by Prince Carl, the family Bible published in 1701, Lindheimer’s desk, and several pieces of furniture made by some of the New Braunfels cabinet makers.

Frederich Lindheimer House Museum, New Braunfels

Frederich Lindheimer House Museum, New Braunfels

At least twenty institutions hold Lindheimer’s plant collections, including the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the British Museum, the Durand Herbarium and Museum of Natural History in Paris, and the Komarov Botanic Institute in St. Petersburg.