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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BORDER CRISIS

As this country wrestles with the devastating turmoil that has been created by our confused and cruel immigration policies, I have looked at Texas history in search of past leaders who have made hard choices in the face of serious challenges. This post recounts three leaders who had the courage to step forward when our country needed people with strength and character. As you will see, not all of them got what they worked to achieve. But they tried.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston, the hero of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto became the first president of the Republic of Texas. He worked tirelessly to get Texas into the Union, and when it happened in 1846, Houston was appointed to the U.S. Senate. (Those were the days before senators were elected. They were appointed by legislators.) Despite being a slave-owner, Houston voted in the U.S. Senate against the expansion of slavery. As secession talk reached fever pitch, his political views brought defeat in his 1857 bid for governor. Two years later, he won the governorship despite traveling the state to warn that a war of secession would bring devastation to the South. Houston was a not an Abolitionist who wanted to end slavery. He was a Unionist, one who was opposed to secession.

After Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, Houston refused to swear allegiance to the new government. The legislature removed him from the governorship.  He returned to his home in Huntsville and died there in 1863 before the end of the Civil War proved his warnings to be correct.

Another politician who stood up to power––Daniel James Moody, Jr.––was a twenty-nine-year-old district attorney in Williamson County when the Ku Klux Klan made its resurgence across the country. Preaching white supremacy and hatred

Dan Moody

of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law, the Klan at its peak reached a membership in Texas in the tens of thousands. Klansmen became very powerful by winning the election of a U.S. Senator from Texas, legislators, sheriffs, and judges. It also gained control of city governments in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls.

Lulu Belle Madison White

In 1923, the Klan sent a letter to a traveling salesman warning him to stop staying at the home of a young widow when he came through Williamson County. When he ignored their demand, Klansmen waylaid his car, wrapped a trace chain around his neck, tied him naked to a tree and flogged him fifty lashes with a leather strap. After dark, they hooked his chain to a tree on the Taylor City Hall lawn, poured tar or creosote over his head and body and left him. Since the Klan had been getting away with floggings all over the country, it was assumed that they would continue to exert their power. At the trial, the constable testified that it was the worst beating he had ever seen––“raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places, the skin had been split and the flesh was gaping open.”

Klans across the state collected funds to retain the best legal team, including a Texas state senator and his brother. Reporters and spectators filled the Williamson County Courthouse. When the trial ended, five men had been sentenced to prison and District Attorney Dan Moody became the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan.

Lulu Belle Madison White was not a politician, but she influenced them. She graduated in 1928 from Prairie View College (present Prairie View A &M University) with a degree in English. As a member of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), she taught school for nine years and then quit to devote her life to bringing justice to the black community. She organized chapters of NAACP all over Texas and even before 1944 when the Supreme Court found that the white primary was unconstitutional, White had started organizing a “Pay your poll tax and get out to vote” campaign. She was a strong advocate for using the black vote to force social change. She argued, “We cannot sit idly by and expect things to come to us. We must go out and get them.”

She led voter registration seminars, urged black churches to speak up about public issues without endorsing specific candidates. She pressed white businesses to hire blacks, using boycotts, protest demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to influence change.

In 1946, the University of Texas was segregated. Prairie View A&M was the only state-support black college in Texas, and it did not offer training for professional degrees. White not only persuaded Herman Marion Sweatt, a black mail carrier, to act as the plaintiff against the University of Texas to demand integration, she raised money to pay his legal expenses. Years later Sweatt claimed that it was White’s encouragement that helped him maintain his resolve.

The victory of Sweatt v. Painter before the Supreme Court in June 1951 opened the door for Brown v. Board of Education and the march toward dissolving the color line in education.

Texas and the United States have had bold leaders. It is time once again to remember that we are a decent people who care for our young––all our young. And we are going to stand up to power when it tries to change who we are.

Even though he was not a Texan, John Denver’s song says it well:

“There’s a man who is my brother,
I just don’t know his name,
But I know his home and family,
Because I know we feel the same,
And it hurts me when he’s hungry,
Or when his children cry,
I too am a father,
That little one is mine

It’s about time we begin it,
To turn the world around,
It’s about time we start to make it,
The dream we’ve always known,
It’s about time we start to live it,
The family of man,
It’s about time,
It’s about changes,
And it’s about time,

It’s about you and me together,
And it’s about time”

Yes, it’s about time. Let’s stand tall and demand that our elected officials do the same.

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.

https-//goo.gl/wMjbVf.webloc

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.

Immigrant Creates a Food Tradition

In 1892 when Adelaida and Macario Cuellar left their impoverished home, crossed the Rio Grande, and were married in Laredo, they had dreams of working hard and finding success. They did not imagine that their family would eventually head a multi-million dollar food business.

Adelaida Cuellar and the first of her dozen children.

Adelaida Cuellar and the first of her dozen children.

The Cuellars spoke very little English and worked on farms in South Texas as they moved north, eventually settling as sharecroppers on a farm outside Kaufman, a town southeast of Dallas. By 1926 Macario worked as a ranch foreman at Star Brand Ranch and the family had grown to twelve children. Mama Cuellar, as Adelaida was known, decided to add to the family income. She set up a stand at the Kaufmann County Fair to sell her homemade chili and tamales while her five sons, known as Mama’s Boys, played guitars. She not only won a prize for her cooking, she sold out. The tamale stand made $300, the family claims that was more than Macario Cuellar made in a year. Thus began the family’s annual trek to the county fair.

Two of her sons soon opened a Mexican restaurant in Kaufman with Mama Cuellar doing the cooking, but the Great Depression forced them to close after a couple of years. Over the next few years her five sons tried unsuccessfully to operate restaurants in several East Texas towns, until 1940 when sons Macario and Gilbert, using Mama Cuellar’s recipes, opened El Charro in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas. As the restaurant became more profitable, all five sons pooled their resources and expanded to other locations under El Chico Corporation.

In 1961 Angus G. Wynne, Jr. owner of the Star Brand Ranch that had employed Macario Cuellar in the early days, planned to open an amusement park in Arlington to be called “Six Flags Over Texas.” Wynne wanted to serve food representing all the cultures in Texas, and he invited the Cuellars to open a restaurant in the Mexico section of the park. El Chico proved so popular at the opening that it ran out of food and even paper plates and cups.

Mama Cuellar

Mama Cuellar

By the time Mama Cuellar died in 1969, El Chico had expanded into twenty different businesses from canning to restaurant franchising. Over the years the business went public and then returned to the family’s hands several times, each time at considerable profit. Many of the El Chico employees, realizing the growing popularity of Mexican food, opened their own Mexican restaurants. Some facilities were white tablecloth and fine dining establishments, while others served Mexican seafood, and some catered to the post-college boomer crowd.

In 1974 Mariano Martinez, one of Mama Cuellar’s grandsons who owned Mariono’s in Old Town, hit on the idea of refitting a soft-serve ice cream machine to serve frozen margaritas. His invention opened a whole new line of Mexican restaurants and bars and a whole new way to enjoy Mexican food. That original machine is now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Original frozen margarita machine on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Original frozen margarita machine on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Today the tiny Mexican immigrant’s dream of using hard work to be successful has expanded into almost one hundred El Chico restaurants in Texas and the surrounding states and twenty-seven El Chico Restaurant franchises.

Father of German Immigrants

Many early Texas settlers escaped a past that they preferred forgetting.  Johann Friedrich Ernst not only turned his back on his past, he changed his name and became such an outstanding German Texan that he earned the title of “Father of the Immigrants.”

Born in 1796 as Christian Friedrich Dirks (or Dierks), the future Texan began a five-year service in 1814 in the Duke of Oldenburg’s regiment, rising to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and earning a medallion for participating in the campaign against Napoleon. After five years of military service, the duke made Dirks clerk at the post office. (Some accounts claim he served as head gardener for the Duke of Oldenburg.)  In September 1829, apparently aware he was about to be charged by the duke with embezzling a large sum of money from the post office, Dirks took the name Ernst and fled Germany with his wife and five children.

The family settled first in New York where they operated a boarding house and became friends with Charles Fordtran a tanner from Westphalia, Germany.  Fordtran and the Ernst family made plans to settle in Missouri but as they sailed up the Mississippi River they heard of the free land available in Texas and changed their destination.  Arriving in Galveston on March 9, 1831, Ernst applied as a family man for a league of land (4,428 acres) from the Mexican government in the fertile rolling hills between present Houston and Austin.  Fordtran, as a single man received an adjoining quarter league.

Ernst did not reach Texas prepared for a pioneer life.  He did not know how to build a cabin, hated guns, and owned so little farming equipment that he was forced to use a hoe to break the soil for planting.  Still, he was so pleased with his new life of political freedom, good climate, and limitless opportunities that he wrote a glowing letter to his friend in Oldenburg describing the wonderful life that Texas offered.  The account received wide publicity throughout Germany, prompting many Germans to follow him to the new land.  Ernst and family welcomed the newcomers to their home, even loaning money to help many of the immigrants get started.

Apparently overwhelmed by the size of his land holdings, Ernst traded 1,000 acres for a dozen milk cows.  As Germans settled in the area around Ernst, they followed his lead and began growing corn, a crop and diet source totally unfamiliar to the immigrants.  Ernst also introduced tobacco growing and made cigars, which he marketed in Houston, Galveston, and nearby San Felipe.  He even kept records of the rainfall and temperature at his farm.

He sold pieces of his land as town-size lots to establish in 1838 the community of Industry, the first German town in Texas.  The source of the town’s name came from either the industriousness of its citizens or Ernst’s cigar industry.

Despite efforts of German noblemen in the mid-1840s that brought thousands of German settlers to Texas, Industry still carries the title of “Cradle of German Settlement in Texas.”  The 2010 census lists a population of 304.

Canary Islanders, Texas’ First Settlers

After years of little success in Christianizing the Texas Indians and turning them into good Spanish citizens, the colonial authorities realized that securing control of the vast area required more than missions and a military presence—civilians were needed to populate the province of Texas. By 1718 Mission San Antonio de Valero (present Alamo) and its presidio still lacked a civilian presence.

Originally the Spanish crown planned to move 400 families from the economically distressed Canary Islands, which lay off the northwest coast of Africa, to establish a civilian community near the Mission San Antonio de Valero and its presidio. The King of Spain intended to completely fund the move through Havana and on to Vera Cruz, including all the necessities for the journey. However, after six years of planning, the original numbers were deemed too large and the transportation too expensive. By the time the Islanders actually sailed for America in 1730, there were only twenty-five families, fifteen of whom stopped in Cuba and only ten traveled all the way to Vera Cruz on the Mexican Gulf coast. As they followed the route laid out for them by the Spanish government up through the center of Mexico, they stopped at places like San Luis Potosi and Saltillo where they received food and clothing. At Presidio San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande they left their worn-out horses and continued their trek on foot to the banks of the San Antonio River. The journey of almost a year brought heartache, including deaths that left two widows as heads of large households and the three Cabrera children–Ana, José, and Marcos—whose parents died on the trip. Marriages along the way increased the entourage to fifteen families—fifty-six people—reaching their new home on March 9, 1731.

Each family received generous land grants, including the three Cabrera orphans. They named their town “Villa de San Fernando” in honor of the prince, Don Fernando, who became King Ferdinand in 1746. By August the Islanders, “Isleños,” had finished plowing and planting and had elected civilian officials to legally establish the first chartered civil government in Texas. Because of their position as the first civilian settlers, the Isleños had permission from the crown to carry the title of “hidalgo,” or son of noble lineage. For years they represented the political and socioeconomic elite of the community.

Tensions arose between the three communities—the Isleños, the military in the presidio, and the Franciscans in the nearby missions—over access to water, which had to be delivered by acequias or irrigation canals, the use of the land, and the management of livestock.

Indian attacks—Comanche, Apache, and other roving tribes—caused the lines of differences between the groups to begin blurring and a cohesive community emerged as they were forced to band together against the outside threat that made it difficult for farmers to work in their fields and sometimes even cut off communication with authorities in New Spain.

The Isleños laid the cornerstone in 1738 for the Church of San Fernando–the first parish church in Texas–and completed its construction in 1750. Over the years the church was enlarged and in 1874 Pope Pius IX named San Antonio a diocese with San Fernando as its cathedral.

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s Wikipedia

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s
Wikipedia

The first formal census, dated December 31, 1788, refers to the “Villa of San Fernando” and the mission and its presidio as “San Antonio de Béxar.” After Mexico won independence from Spain, San Antonio de Béxar served as the capital of the province and when Texas finally won independence from Mexico in 1836, the city became known as San Antonio.

Sarcophagus or marble coffin holding ashes of Travis, Bowie and Crockett. Wikipedia

Sarcophagus or marble coffin holding ashes of Travis, Bowie and Crockett.
Wikipedia

The dome of the original San Fernando Church served as the geographic center of the city and the point from which all mileage was measured to San Antonio. When Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) was secularized in 1793, its congregation became members of San Fernando. Finally in 1824, after missions Concepcíon, San José, and Espada were all secularized, their members joined the San Fernando parish. Jim Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi, daughter of the Governor of the State of Coahuila y Tejas at San Fernando in 1831. The Battle of the Alamo began when General Santa Anna raised the flag of “no quarter” from the tower of the San Fernando church. It is claimed that a sarcophagus or marble coffin at the back of the sanctuary holds the ashes of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, and Jim Bowie who died at the Alamo. Today, the cathedral plays a major role in San Antonio as it continues to function as a religious institution while hosting symphonies, concerts, television specials, and the constant arrival of tour buses carrying visitors eager to see one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States that began as a parish church for Canary Islanders.

San Fernando Cathedral Wikipedia

San Fernando Cathedral
Wikipedia

Stein House is Published

For several weeks I have been blogging about the central coast of Texas where the first huge wave of German settlers landed in

Texas Historical Fiction

Texas Historical Fiction

December 1844 on a bare shell beach that developed into the thriving seaport of Indianola. The blog posts have been an introduction to the exciting history of the place where Stein House, my latest historical novel, opens in 1853 as Helga Heinrich and her four children sail into Indianola to begin their new life.  They are determined to overcome the memory and haunting legacy of Max, her husband and their papa, who drowned in a drunken leap from the dock as their ship pulled away from the German port.

Helga is anxious to be reunited with her sister Amelia, and she’s grateful her wealthy brother-in-law, Dr. Joseph Stein, fulfills his part of the bargain that brought the family to the new world, even without Max to run Dr. Stein’s mercantile store.  Helga takes charge of Stein’s massive boarding house overlooking the road to Texas’ interior and the fickle waves of Matagorda Bay.

A woman of strong passions, Helga operates Stein House for boarders of all stripes whose involvement in the rigors of a town on the edge of frontier influences and molds all their lives: the cruelties of yellow fever and slavery, the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction, murder, alcoholism, and the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

The following is an excerpt taken from the first chapter as Helga and her children walk with Amelia to their new home:

A crowd had gathered in front of an impressive white two-story building.  A sign over the door read Casimir House.

Amelia whispered, “Let’s cross to the other side.  It’s a slave auction.”

Helga’s breath caught, and she stood transfixed, staring at a black boy, not more than ten, chained by his ankle and wrist to a giant black man.  Both slaves had been oiled until their flesh shined like polished ebony, outlining every detail of their muscles.

“They look so strong.” Hermie spoke barely above a whisper. “Have you ever seen such muscles on a boy?’

Helga had not.  The child’s massive shoulders bulged under the faded, sleeveless shirt, his powerful arms hanging loosely at his sides, seemingly waiting for the next command.  She looked down at the round softness of Hermie and Paul.  How could she think their life was hard?  Yet in this new land she intended to see their lives improve.

Suddenly the crowd parted, and Helga recognized the top of Anna’s blonde head as the child stepped onto the porch and very lightly stroked the black, manacled hand of the boy.  The contact made the boy jump—the only indication of his fright.  The crowd burst into merry laughter as Anna examined her fingertip for color.

Helga pushed her way into the throng and took Anna firmly by the hand. “Please forgive her,” she whispered, her eyes riveted to the black child’s steady gaze.

The amused spectators patted Anna’s head and made comments about the lovely little German lass until the auctioneer began chanting excitedly.  Almost immediately, the bidding reached a fever pitch.

Gretchen said, “Is that man selling those people?”

“It’s legal.  A few locals use slaves as domestics.  Mostly, they’re sold to planters who take them upriver.”  Amelia kept her voice low.

Helga couldn’t speak.  She clutched Anna’s hand and stared at the boy, who continued to look into her stricken face, his eyes bold and defiant, so little remaining of the child within that fully developed body.

We must go.  You don’t want to see them taken away.” Amelia tugged at Helga’s arm.

“I’ve got to see where he goes,” Helga whispered.

A planter stepped forward wearing a big, broad-brimmed hat and a green satin vest that made his stomach bulge like he was about to strut at the head of a parade.  He paid an amazing $900 for the boy and $1,200 for the man.  The auctioneer nodded dismissively at the slaves, who trotted behind the planter in a rhythm that kept them from entangling their jangling chains.  With one smooth motion, both black bodies heaved themselves into the back of a wagon.  It creaked slowly away, the older slave glaring sullenly into the upturned faces, the boy continuing to stare over the crowd at Helga.

Amelia pulled at Helga’s arm.  “Come.  You can make yourself sick over something you can’t change.”

Anna tucked her finger protectively into the fold of her skirt.

You may order Stein House here to read the rest of the story of this family as they settle into the life of this bustling seaport that rivaled Galveston until two hurricanes finally created a ghost town.

Next week, I will return to my regular Texas history tales.