Lone Star State


Life of German Pioneers in Early Texas


Caroline Von Hinueber (Born Ernst.)

[This narrative has been prepared for publication in The Quarterly by Rudolph Kleberg, Jr. See Quarterly for April, 1898, p. 297, and for October, 1898, p. 170. Editor Quarterly.]

When my father came to Texas, I was a child of eleven or twelve years. My father's name was Friedrich Ernst. He was by profession a book-keeper, and emigrated from the duchy of Oldenburg. Shortly after landing in New York he fell in with Mr. Fordtran, a tanner and a countryman of his. A book by a Mr. Duhde, setting forth the advantages of the new State of Missouri, had come into their hands, and they determined to settle in that State. While in New Orleans, they heard that every settler who came to Texas with his family would receive a league and labor of land from the Mexican government. This information induced them to abandon their first intention.

We set sail for Texas in the schooner Saltillo, Captain Haskins. Just as we were ready to start, a flatboat with a party of Kentuckians and their dogs was hitched on to our vessel, the Kentuckians coming aboard and leaving their dogs behind on the flatboat. The poor animals met a grievous fate. Whenever the wind arose and the waves swept over the boat, they would howl and whine most piteously. One night the line parted, and we never saw them again.

We were almost as uncomfortable as the dogs. The boat was jammed with passengers and their luggage so that you could hardly find a place on the floor to lie down at night. I firmly believe that a strong wind would have drowned us all. In the bayou, the schooner often grounded, and the men had to take the anchor on shore and pull her off. We landed at Harrisburg, which consisted at that time of about five or six log houses, on the 3rd of April, 1831. Captain Harris had a sawmill, and there was a store or two, I believe. Here we remained five weeks, while Fordtran went ahead of us and entered a league, where now stands the town of Industry.

"While on our way to our new home, we stayed in San Felipe for several days at Whiteside Tavern. The courthouse was about a Kile out of town, and here R. M. Williamson, who was the alcalde, had his office. I saw him several times while I was here, and remember how I wondered at his crutch and wooden leg. S. F. Austin was in Mexico at the time, and Sam Williams, his private secretary, gave my father a title to land which he had originally picked out for himself. My father had to kiss the Bible and promise, as soon as the priest should arrive, to become a Catholic. People were married by the alcalde, also, on the promise that they would have themselves reunited on the arrival of the priest. But no one ever became Catholic, though the priest, Father Muldoon, arrived promptly. The people of San Felipe made him drunk and sent him back home.

My father was the first German to come to Texas with his family. Hertzner, a tailor, and Grossmeyer, a young German, at Matagorda, both unmarried, were in Texas when my father came. There was also a Pennsylvanian, whom they called Dutch Henry, and a Dr. Adolph v. Zornow, had traveled through Texas, but did not stay long. My father wrote a letter to a friend, a Mr. Schwarz, in Oldenburg, which was published in the local newspaper. This brought a number of Oldenburgers and Münsterländers, with their families, to Texas in 1834.1

After we had lived on Fordtran's place for six months, we moved into our own house. This was a miserable little hut, covered with straw and having six sides, which were made out of moss. The roof was by no means water-proof, and we often held an umbrella over our bed when it rained at night, while the cows came and ate the moss. Of course, we suffered a great deal in the winter. My father had tried to build a chimney and fireplace out of logs and clay, but we were afraid to light a fire because of the extreme combustibility of our dwelling. So we had to shiver. Our shoes gave out, and we had to go barefoot in winter, for we did not know how to make moccasins. Our supply of clothes was also insufficient, and we had no spinning wheel, nor did we know how to spin and weave like the Americans. It was twenty-eight miles to San Felipe, and, besides, we had no money. When we could buy things, my first calico dress cost 50 cents per yard. No one can imagine what a degree of want there was of the merest necessities of life, and it is difficult for me now to understand how we managed to live and get along under the circumstances. Yet we did so in some way. We were really better supplied than our neighbors with household and farm utensils, but they knew better how to help themselves. Sutherland 2 used his razor for cutting kindling, killing pigs, and cutting leather for moccasins. My mother was once called to a neighbor's house, five miles from us, because one of the little children was very sick. My mother slept on a deer skin, without a pillow, on the floor. In the morning, the lady of the house poured water over my mother's hands and told her to dry her face on her bonnet. At first we had very little to eat. We ate nothing but corn bread at first. Later, we began to raise cow peas, and afterwards my father made a fine vegetable garden. My father always was a poor huntsman. At first, we grated our corn until my father hollowed out a log and we ground it, as in a mortar. We had no cooking-stove, of course, and baked our bread in the only skillet we possessed. The ripe corn was boiled until it was soft, then grated and baked. The nearest mill was thirty miles off.

As I have already said, the country was very thinly settled. Our three neighbors, Burnett, Dougherty, and Sutherland, lived in a radius of seven miles. San Felipe was twenty-eight miles off, and there were about two houses on the road thither. In consequence, there was no market for anything you could raise, except for cigars and tobacco, which my father was the first in Texas to put on the market. He sold them in San Felipe to a Frenchman, D'Orvanne,3 who had a store there, but this was several years afterwards. We raised barely what we needed, and we kept it. Around San Felipe certainly it was different, and there were some beautiful farms in the vicinity.

Before the war, there was a school in Washington, taught by a Miss Trest, where the Daughertys sent their daughter, boarding her in the city. Of course, we did not patronize it. We lived in our doorless and windowless six-cornered pavilion about three years.

When the war broke out, my father at first intended quietly to remain at his home. But the Mexicans had induced the Kickapoo Indians to revolt, and he was warned by Captains Lester, York, and Pettus against the savages. We then set out with the intention of crossing the Sabine and seeking safety in the States. When we arrived at the Brazos, we found so many people assembled at the ferry that it would have been three days before the one small ferry-boat could have carried us over the stream. The roads were almost impassable. So my father pitched his camp in the middle of the Brazos bottom near Brenham. Here we remained until after the Battle of San Jacinto.

Thirteen men with their families, mostly Münsterländers and Oldenburgers from Cummins Creek, were in our party. They were Amsler, Weppler, Captain Vrels, Bartels, Damke, Wolters, Piefer, Boehmen, Schneider, Kleekemp, Kasper, Heimann, Gründer, and Witte.

Some of the Germans fared ill on account of their tardy flight. Mrs. Goegens and her children were captured by the Indians and taken to the border of Texas, where American traders ransomed the lady, hut had not sufficient money to purchase the children. These remained with the Indians. The Mexicans captured Stoehlke and intended to hang him. Upon his using the name of Jesus Christ, they released him. Kaspar Simon was also made a prisoner, but released upon exhibiting his ignorance of the whereabouts of the Texan army.

After the war, times were hard. However, my father had buried a good many things and had in this way succeeded in keeping them from the Mexicans. He had placed two posts a considerable distance apart, and had buried his treasures just midway between them. The posts had both been pulled out and holes dug near them, but our things had not been found. Our house and garden had been left unharmed, though those of our neighbors had been destroyed. The explanation of this is probably to be found in the fact that the Münsterländers, who were Catholics, had brought all their holy relics to our place and had set up several crosses in our garden.

Just as we had returned from the "runaway scrape," and had scarcely unhitched our horses, Vrels came running up and told us that a party of Mexicans had taken his horse. Ellison, York, and John Pettus, who had just returned from the army, galloped after the robbers, and, after York had killed one of them, recovered the horse.

We had plenty of corn and bacon. My brother and John Pettus brought back a few of our cattle from Gonzales. Before the war, there had been very little trouble; but afterwards, there was a good deal of fighting in our neighborhood, especially about election time.

A short time afterwards, my father began keeping a boardinghouse and had a large building constructed for that purpose. He tore down the six-cornered pavilion, over the protest of my mother, who wanted to keep it as a sort of memento of former days. Many German immigrants accordingly came to our house. Nearly all managed very badly at first, using all their money before they had learned to accommodate themselves to their new surroundings.

Industry was founded about this time and named by Benninghoffer after a lively dispute. My father was justice of the peace for quite a time, and later was engaged in general merchandising.

I remember very well the coming of the German colonists who founded New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. My brother Fritz accompanied Solms in the capacity of interpreter and guide. The prince had a considerable retinue of horsemen, dressed mostly like himself, after the fashion of German officers. Among the company were an architect, a cook, and a professional hunter (jaeger). Whenever they came to a good niece of road, the prince would say, "Now let us gallop," and then the whole party would charge down the prairie. The hunter was commanded to kill a deer, but did not succeed, and my brother rode out and killed one, causing much pleasure to the prince.

While on the same journey, the party stopped at a farmer's, who brought out watermelons and told them to help themselves. My brother cut a watermelon in two, took a piece, and went out into the yard to eat, whereupon one of the officers rebuked him severely, asking him how he could dare to eat when His Highness had not yet tasted.

When the prince was endeavoring to establish the Karlshafen (Indianola), and he and his party were making soundings, the boat grounded. The prince was in great distress and insisted that the only thing to do was to wait for the tide. My brother then took off his clothes, got out, and pushed the boat off the sandbank. I also remember that the prince's cook came to my mother for information in regard to Texas dishes.

I lived in Industry until I married Louis von Roeder.' Nearly all my time was spent in attending to our household, and I had little opportunity for traveling about. I was not in San Felipe after the war.

1. Robt. J. Kleberg, ST., writes: "We had accidentally got hold of a letter written by a gentleman, who had emigrated some time before us from the Duchy of Oldenburg and who lived where now is Industry, Texas, Fritz Ernst, by name. In this letter he had described Texas, then a province of Mexico, in very glowing colors, mentioning also the advantages offered to immigrants by the Mexican government, namely, a league and labor for every man with a family and ½ league for every single man. This letter caused us to change our first intention to go to one of the northern states and to choose Texas for our future home. At the time we left, hardly anything was known of Texas, except that my ideas and those of my party were formed by the above mentioned letter, in which Texas was described as a beautiful country, with enchanting scenery and delightful climate, similar to that of Italy, the most fruitful soil and republican government, with unbounded personal and political liberty, free from so many disadvantages and evils of old countries. Prussia, our former home, smarted at the time we left under a military despotism. We were enthusiastic lovers of republican institutions, full of romantic notions, and believed to find in Texas, before all other countries, the blessed land of our hopes." This is taken from notes written by him in 1876. R. K., Jr.

2. See next paragraph.

3. [This man's full name was Alexander Bourgeois D'Orvanne. He afterwards played a prominent part in the founding of the German colonies of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg in 1843-46 by the Mainzer Adelsverein. See Entwickelungsgeschichte der Deutschen Kolonie Friedrichsburg by Robert Penniger, Fredericksburg, Texas, 1896. Mrs. Rosa Kleberg tells me that her party was very hospitably entertained by him when they were on their way from Harrisburg to their farm at Cat Spring in 1835. He had a fine general mercantile business. He impressed her as a very estimable gentleman. R. K., Jr.]

Source: The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume I, July 1897 to April 1898, Published by the Association, 1898.