From "The Germans: Geh Mit Ins Texas"
by Bob Schulz
The Verein Project: The Best of Intentions, a Debacle of Management
Buy an old horse to hitch to your wagon, drive it to Bremen, sell
your horse, disassemble your wagon to take to America. For the boat
trip take a few bottles of syrup and vinegar. Mixed with water this is a
very refreshing drink. Bring your rifle. Do not let anyone persuade
you to go to any other place than Fredericksburg.
- Early Fredericksburg resident Peter Birk, in a letter to friends in Germany,
The most famous, most often misrepresented, but only bona fide German colonization project in Texas and the North American Continent as well began taking infant form in Germany in 1842. At that time, 21 young, proud German aristocrats stood by helplessly and unhappily as the German Confederation arbitrarily mediatized, or annexed, some of their property and holdings. In a fit of pique they banded together into a sort of fraternity (called a "vanity circle" by one source) in which they could fuss collectively and in secret about the state of things in Germany, plot this or that countermeasure, and discuss ways to recoup their losses. The membership included some of Europe’s most recognized and revered family names and a profusion of titles including fuerst (the first in line for accession to ruling a kingdom or principality), prinz (one of the attending princes of the ruling family), herzog (duke), graf (count), and frieherr (baron). That these men were titled does not eclipse the fact that they were also very well educated, resourceful, successful and, above all, young, ambitious, and idealistic. They were members of The Young Germany School, liberal and nationalistic, though not necessarily democratically inclined. They read profusely -- about new philosophies, business, the expanding marketplace – and their reading began to center on the reports coming out of Texas. They, too, were romantics deeply moved by the scenes of life depicted in The Cabin Book and Nathan the Squatter and the drama inherent in the tales of Goliad, The Alamo, and San Jacinto. As they read and discussed the literature, ideas began to germinate within the group’s collective thought process.
Why wouldn’t it be possible, they wondered, to establish a major German colony in the Republic of Texas and, through continued effort and industry, create a second German Fatherland, a Fatherland free of all the social, political, and economic problems of the existing one?
The idea was more than intriguing; it was just plain invigorating! To populate the colony, one could choose from the entire strata of the repressed German working and intellectual classes, people who were hoping and praying for something – anything! -- that would get them out from under harsh German imperial rule and provide an avenue for social, political, religious, and economic improvement. The people given this opportunity would be grateful in the extreme, might even consider themselves beholden, to those who gave it to them. Furthermore, the people of this colony would represent a ready market for good, German-made products which, naturally, would prove superior in this new but still rough, unsophisticated environment. To service this market it would be necessary to create an all-new system of maritime commerce and transport, a source of potentially staggering economic possibilities and rewards in and of itself. Such a maritime system would surely help corner trade with Mexico, since Mexico was already a major consumer of German linen, ironware, and musical instruments and Germany’s key supplier of silver, cochineal (a red dye), vanilla, indigo, and medicinal herbs. As an added value, these German colonizers would most assuredly fight against the further spread of slavery in the new Fatherland, since most Germans strongly opposed slavery, and they might even be able to bring about legislation in this new Republic outlawing slavery altogether. And, in this overall milieu of an infant nation, struggling as it was to define any kind of economic, cultural, and social identity, it might just be possible, and certainly feasible and preferable, that good, German pragmatism, skill, and iron will could bring about German domination of the entire Texas infrastructure and demographic and geo-political biases.
The possibilities seemed limitless and, on April 20, 1842, the group of princes, dukes, counts, and barons convened at Biebrich am Rhein (Biebrich on the Rhine) and incorporated themselves under the title Mainzer Adelsverein (MINE-sur A-duls-vehr-ine), or just Adelsverein – "The Society of Noblemen." They elected Count Karl von Castell as their president, then subscribed as a society to a document that read, in part, "We, the undersigned explain through this [document] that we, having as our aim the purchase of land in the free state of Texas, have constituted ourselves under this date as a society." Note that, at this early date, the society’s objective clearly was direct and private "…purchase of land…" for whatever purposes the society might choose.
At the same April, 1842 meeting of incorporation at Biebrich am Rhein, the Adelsverein voted to send two of their number to Texas to reconnoiter the territory, formulate recommendations and, if possible, purchase land. The delegates chosen were Count Joseph de Boos-Waldeck and Count Victor zu Leiningen, a half-brother of England’s Queen Victoria. Both men were enthusiastic and eager for the task, but neither was sufficiently briefed, trained, or prepared to scout a wild, as-yet-untamed foreign territory not one of the aristocrats had ever seen in person. Nevertheless, Boos-Waldeck and Leiningen arrived in Galveston in September, 1842. They moved on to Washington-on-the-Brazos and were greeted cordially and enthusiastically by representatives of the Republic of Texas, including the Republic’s president at that time, Sam Houston.
At Washington-on-the-Brazos the Republic immediately made a most liberal offer to the two Germans of grants-in-land to be awarded in exchange for immigrants settled on the land, in keeping with its recently-enacted law. Leiningen, intent on his private-purchase objective, arrogantly countered with so many demands for long-term tax exemptions and other favors that President Sam Houston was personally offended, and the Texans backed off and halted negotiations. Leiningen and Boos-Waldeck then struck off on their scouting expedition but traveled no further into the interior than Industry – about ninety miles from Galveston – where they were entertained royally by "Uncle Fritz" and Frau Ernst and other prominent German immigrants living in surrounding communities.
Leiningen returned to Germany in January, 1843 while Boos-Waldeck stayed behind to reconnoiter further. In early June of 1843, and despite his failure to establish a land purchase arrangement with the Republic, Leiningen issued a formal, glowing report to the Verein membership: Texas was, in fact, a tropical paradise of warm winters and multiple growing seasons just ripe for settlement by industrious Germans. Leiningen further reported correctly that, as a new Republic, Texas had not yet had a chance or inclination to institute tariffs and trade protection barriers typical of other emerging countries in North and South America. He warned the Verein, however, that their objective of direct purchase and ownership of the land to be settled would be expensive in the extreme and would represent a huge up-front investment of funds. Leiningen had been thinking about the Texans’ land grant proposition and, although he’d rejected it initially, he now found it more attractive. He told the Verein the land grant approach seemed to be self-perpetuating: if one could assure a certain amount of settlers, one was assured a specific amount of land in return. The more settlers, apparently, the more the land premium awarded.
The brotherhood caucused and pondered this new development. Focusing on Leiningen’s glowing prospectus, and discounting his lone, negative warning about costs, the Adelsverein formed a stock company capitalized at 200,000 gulden, or about $80,000. Either the society was expecting immediate returns on its investment, or it was again merely exhibiting a crushing naiveté; even by nineteenth century monetary standards, $80,000 was a paltry amount for the task the Verein was about to decide to undertake. Nevertheless, the Verein had established a goal, and they had raised funds they felt sufficient to attain that goal. Now, they needed the land that was critical to further action.
Back in Texas, Boos-Waldeck, the more practical of the two Verein scouts, was doing his part, at least, to get some land for his company. Boos-Waldeck had been studying the agricultural situation in Texas and had become impressed by the success of plantation-type operations prevalent in the old Austin Colony area. In January, 1843, just after Leiningen had left for his return to Germany, Boos-Waldeck invested some of the Verein funds in the purchase of a plantation in Fayette County on the W.H. Jack League, against Cummins Creek, about three miles north of current-day Round Top. Graf Boos-Waldeck’s purchase, however, violated one of the most sacred canons of the Verein credo: though the land came with necessary machinery, storage facilities, and out-buildings, it also came with a large number of slaves and a professional overseer. Boos-Waldeck also built a large, fine manor house to serve as lodging for the future waves of Verein executives he envisioned visiting the plantation, bringing the total investment in land, implements, housing, staff, and slaves to about $22,000. Boos-Waldeck named the plantation Nassau, in honor of some of his Verein associates who hailed from that German grand-duchy.
Later in the summer of 1843, a Frenchman who had taken up residence and business in Texas, Alexander Bourgeois, came calling on Count von Castell. To enhance his social appearance with the German aristocracy and officialdom, Bourgeois had awarded himself a regal surname as an alias – Chevalier d’Orvanne. The Frenchman carried with him a contract granted by the Republic of Texas to him and a business partner, Armand Ducos. Under the contract, Texas had set aside a grant of land for their purchase and would award Bourgeois-d’Orvanne and Ducos additional land premiums once the land had been purchased and families were placed on the grant as colonists. The contract assigned a land grant just to the west and southwest of San Antonio along the Medina, Frio, and Sabinal Rivers, not far from the site where Henri de Castro would establish his colony of Alsatians, Swiss, and Germans. The contract was dated June 3, 1842 but allowed only eighteen months for execution, which meant the agreement would be abrogated, or nullified, in about four months, by December, 1843. D’Orvanne soothed Castell’s concerns with a statement that he maintained a close, personal friendship with Sam Houston as well as the vice-president and secretary of state of Texas, and he assured Castell that he was in constant touch with Texas officials and that the contract would be extended before it expired. The Frenchman so impressed von Castell that Castell made d’Orvanne a member of the society, named him its colonial director, and entered into negotiations with d’Orvanne for the purchase of his grant, believing he had found exactly the solution the Verein had been seeking.
Things seemed to be going well. The Verein now had a company, a goal, financing, one purchased plot of land, and another land deal under negotiation. Within a year of its purchase, the Verein farm in Texas, Nassau, was successfully producing cotton. Boos-Waldeck had not been the least bit sly or covert in his actions; his intent was to make money for his company, and from all appearances he was about to achieve that goal beyond all expectations. Instead, the Verein recalled him to Germany. In January, 1844, Boos-Waldeck stood before the brotherhood and frankly reiterated Leiningen’s warning that Texas could never be settled on the Adelsverein’s grand terms and scale because the cost of land, in the amounts the society envisioned, would exceed what the society could realistically afford and budget. Though Boos-Waldeck’s assessment of the situation eventually would prove to be dead on target, he was roundly censured for purchasing the slaves, and his advice was rejected. His honor offended, Boos-Waldeck resigned from the society. The plantation Nassau, however, remained a Verein property and continued to function quite well under the management team Boos-Waldeck had installed. The plantation was an asset the Verein could have used well, and wisely, and for wholly different purposes – primarily, to produce food for the envisioned Verein colonies -- but for the time being the noble brotherhood apparently chose to forget the place existed.
On March 25, 1844, after a series of conferences and discussions with his royal counterparts, von Castell called the society into formal, general assembly at Mayence. The Adelsverein membership had changed somewhat; it now included Crown Prince Frederich of Prussia, a Sachs-Gotha, and one noble-woman. Castell declared that private ownership of land in Texas was no longer the Verein’s primary objective. Instead, von Castell said, the enterprise would now focus its resources on aid to, and protection of, Germans emigrating to Texas. Accordingly, the current group of twenty-one noblemen and one noblewoman now re-incorporated under the title Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (VEHR-ine soom SHOOTS-uh DOITCH-uh INE-vaunderer in Texas), or the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. (It may be a nit-pick, but most historians, and almost all history books, refer to this specific enterprise for German settlement in Texas as an Adelsverein project, and the issue is confusing. The stock that represented project financing was held by the original Adelsverein, whereas the physical execution of the mission was chartered under the auspices of the new Verein zum Schutze…etc. We will beg the question and refer to the entity simply as the Verein.) The objective of the new society was formally presented as "…to guide German emigration into one, and that a favorable, channel, to support the emigrant on his long journey, and in his first struggles to assist him in getting a home." The Verein had now stated its mission publicly, and its mission was defined as philanthropic, altruistic, and humanistic in nature. Von Castell then announced a new slate of officers: Duke Adolph von Nassau was named Protector, Count von Leiningen was named President, Count von Castell would serve as Vice President and Business Director, and Bourgeois-d’Orvanne would remain Colonial Director. On April 7, 1844 Castell, acting for the Society, completed his negotiations with d’Orvanne and formally purchased the Bourgeois-Ducosm grant, even though d’Orvanne’s contract had in fact expired the previous December and the Frenchman had not yet been successful in gaining an extension, despite continued correspondence with Texas government executives. On April 28 the Verein completed their executive roster by choosing one of their most trusted and respected members to physically execute their mission in Texas and to serve as their Commissioner General in America: Karl Frederich Wilhelm Ludwig Georg Alfred Alexander, Prinz zu Solms, Herr zu Braunfels, Greifenstein, Munzenberg, Wiedenfels, und Sonnewalde – Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels, in other words.
There, in the German spring of 1844, Prince Karl was thirty-three years old, handsome, dashing, and well-respected. He had been reared in northern Germany, in the Kingdom of Hannover. Prince Karl was also related to England’s Queen Victoria, as a cousin, and his widowed mother later married the king of Hannover. The Prince was engaged to marry the Lady Sophia, a widowed princess of Salm-Salm and formerly princess of Lowenstein. Prince Karl was sincere, eager, industrious, and dedicated, but he had little business sense. According to several sources he was also something of a self-centered, spoiled, arrogant fop and, perhaps, as later experiences would indicate, something of a fool. The Prince did enjoy music, dancing, good food, and the company of fellow wealthy, titled, well-educated liberals. However, the Prince did have one, overriding flaw that probably was not apparent to his similarly-dispositioned fellows. As a much-titled aristocrat, of course, the Prince had always had money. It came to him from somewhere in his family’s deep, seemingly-bottomless coffers, and he spent it. Accounting for money was beneath an aristocrat, after all; that was the function of, well, accountants, people hired from the bourgeoisie to make sure their noble employers prospered. The Prince would take this attitude and belief with him, wherever he went, and already it spelled big trouble for the Verein venture.
So, the Society had its company, or rather, a new company, a goal … well, now, a new goal, too, some financing, and now two plots of land, the d’Orvanne Grant and the Nassau plantation – or so they thought. Now they needed the emigrants they had chartered themselves to protect. The Verein began moving along several fronts simultaneously. In one of the most effective advertising campaigns of all time, they came up with a slogan, Geh mit ins Texas (gay-MIT-intz Texas), or, "Go with us to Texas." They published and widely distributed a brochure, or handbook, proclaiming their company, stating its mission, and outlining the benefits to be gained from doing business with it. Immediately, they began placing newspaper ads and recruiting prospective emigrants, and the recruitment inducements held out in the handbook and the advertisements were significant and most enticing. For a fee of about $240 from each head of household (or $120 for a single, adult male), and a promise from each applicant to cultivate at least fifteen acres of any lands awarded, the Verein would provide transportation to Texas, 320 acres of land per family (or 160 acres for each single, adult male), a good log house, financing of all settlement, livestock, and planting expenses for the first year, and a complete system of utilities such as gins, mills, hospitals, churches, and (ominously enough), orphanages and asylums within the colonies established. The Verein would further service its customers as a bank; emigrants to Texas could leave their accounts on deposit with the Verein in Germany, then draw on those accounts once they arrived in Texas. The Verein even promised a system of canals, for irrigation and municipal use, along any rivers that might be within the territories colonized. The pamphlet, or Das Handbuch, was quite clear on the maritime accommodations the emigrants could expect. Each ship would contain "…provisions for six months. A physician, surgeon, geometrician, engineer, carpenters, masons, saddlers, bakers, and many apothecaries, accompany the expedition. The ships contain the best kind of surgical instruments, machine parts, etc. Persons are sent to purchase cattle, seeds, etc. in Texas." The Handbuch also promised that "…not more than 150 families will be accepted during the first year…and not until these have established a sure foundation will a more extensive emigration be considered." The literature was just very vague about where the Germans going to Texas might expect to settle. The handbook and ensuing contracts also clearly specified that all travelers were to arrive in their appointed ports of departure no later than ten days before the scheduled sailing, and that they were to be quartered in Verein-provided accommodations until the ships sailed. The warning was worded to show the Verein’s concern that all its charges should be present and accounted for in order not to miss the grand opportunity. However, an underlying concern was that, despite the silent approval of the King of Prussia, the spies of Austria’s Prince Metternich were all around, everywhere. Titled though they might have been, the Verein membership was never wholly satisfied that Metternich’s government would not declare their venture illegal, halt further transactions, confiscate all resources, and throw the entire noble brotherhood into prison. The newspaper ads very carefully stated that "…The Society wishes neither to encourage nor to excuse emigration."
The Verein offerings all sounded wonderful, too good to be true. Verein delegates blanketed the key population centers in west-central Germany, but the recruits, in fact, flocked directly to them by the thousands. By May of 1844 the Verein had signed 10,000 prospective colonists for their Texas adventure. Only three German newspapers correctly assessed the situation in Texas, warning of unsettled political conditions, entrenched slavery, mistreatment of immigrants, and the dangers of Indian attack. One newspaper complained that good German money was being siphoned off to a distant continent and that the slogan, Geh mit ins Texas, was being heard in the German streets and trade centers more than the traditional parting salutation, Auf Wiedersehen, or "good bye." The volume of applicants began to worry Count von Castell somewhat in that he feared the d’Orvanne grant and the Nassau plantation would not be large enough to accommodate all the prospective colonists.
Still, ships were being chartered, belongings were being packed. In haste now, with the American summer just around the corner, the Verein executives sent Prince Karl and d’Orvanne to Texas to make final arrangements for receiving, transporting, situating, and housing the first arrivals to the New Fatherland. The problem of what, after all, to do with all these people, once they actually arrived in Texas, would just have to work itself out. Prince Karl and his entourage traveled to Liverpool, England; from there they boarded a new steamer to America May 19, 1844 and arrived in Boston May 31. They then arranged for transportation down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans.
The Fisher-Miller Grant: A Landmark in Land Swindles
Fortune of some kind, however – good, bad, indifferent -- sometimes smiles on those deserving of such favor whether they desire it or not. At this precise moment in the Verein undertaking, with Prince Karl and d’Orvanne already en route to Texas, an American – another German Texan, actually – suddenly appeared, smiling, on von Castell’s doorstep. His name was Henry Francis Fisher ( Heinrich Franz Fischer, although his name is universally misspelled among sources and even legal documents as "Fisher." We will therefore misspell the name, too.). Today, we would call Fisher a fraud, a con man, a swindler, or just plain crook. Biggers, using a wonderful late-19th-Century colloquialism, refers to Fisher as a "sharper." As we shall see, the words all mean the same thing.
Fisher, a native of Germany and a former real estate broker in Houston, had arrived back in Germany in May, 1844 as the Republic of Texas’ Consul for the port of Bremen, but he had spent the previous fall and winter traveling about Europe, peddling a contract he and an associate, Burchard Miller (Brukart Mueller), had first struck with the Republic of Texas under the banner of the San Saba Colonization Company. (Mueller’s name is also universally misspelled as "Miller," so, as with Fisher, and for the sake of historical consistency, we will further promulgate the error.) The Fisher-Miller contract, which had already required re-negotiation with Texas in May, 1843, outlined a standard land grant arrangement of the type specified by the law of 1842; under the contract terms, Fisher and Miller were granted a bounded plot of land which they agreed to colonize. For every plot of land first purchased within the grant, then settled for a specified period, Fisher and Miller would receive additional land as a premium. Specifically, Texas would rebate ten sections of land for every 100 families settled, or five sections for every 100 single adult males settled. The contract called for Messers Fisher and Miller to settle 6,000 persons on the grant. By any standards, past or current, the Fisher-Miller Grant was huge – between three and four million acres. Though both maps and narrative descriptions of the grant vary widely, and wildly, among the various sources, the most reliable define it as including all the land between the Llano and Colorado Rivers, from their juncture at present-day Kingsland at Lake Lyndon B. Johnson westward and northwestward to a line running (roughly) through current-day Colorado City and southwest to Big Spring, then southwest from Big Spring to the Pecos River just below current-day Grandfalls (south-southwest of Monahans), then southeast for a long distance to a point just above Brackettville, then due north from Brackettville to the South Llano River, and back along the South Llano and Llano Rivers to the Colorado River at Kingsland.
Von Castell’s mouth probably dropped open; certainly, the balance sheets began to fly through his mind, even though balance sheets were tools used by accountants and not noblemen. We can almost visualize the count’s accounting: Let’s see… 6,000 people …at, say, four people in a family…that’s 1,500 families…divided by 100 …is fifteen, times ten sections…that’s 150 sections…at 640 acres per section …that’s 96,000 acres … of pure profit, to sell at top prices! And at 320 acres for each family, we can put…Oh, my goodness! We can put more than 37,000 people on this grant! And, by the count’s final reasoning, the Verein could eventually acquire as much as 2,000,000 acres of land as settlement premiums.
But Fisher went even further; somehow, he convinced von Castell that he already held title to the land under the grant! Fisher didn’t bother to tell Castell that he had already recruited at least one shipload of German emigrants to begin colonizing his grant, and he minimized one more slight detail: the specified term of settlement on his contract was about to expire, too. No matter, the Texans would gladly extend the settlement deadline for him. Von Castell inquired after costs. Fisher told him transport, once in Texas, would cost…oh, about four dollars per person, that good log cabins could be built for…oh, about $24 an item. Building materials and tools, and the tools of the trades, were in excellent supply, Fisher said, and survey costs in that wide-open land of Texas would be "minimal." Fisher had spun these figures off the top of his head but they were, of course, just the numbers the Count wanted to hear. Then Fisher told Castell that he knew about the Verein arrangement with Bourgeois-d’Orvanne, and he counseled Castell strongly that it was highly doubtful, improbable, more than likely impossible, that Bourgeois-d’Orvanne would get his contract extended.
On June 26, 1844, just two-and-a-half months after purchasing the rights to the Bourgeois-d’Orvanne colonization agreement, Castell and his associates apparently decided "to get rid of d’Orvanne" in order to "concentrate all…means for the colonization and improvement" of the Fisher-Miller Grant. Plunging headlong into what Fehrenbach calls "perhaps the greatest but most unheralded land swindle of the Nineteenth Century," Count von Castell embraced Fisher as if he were the prodigal son and officially entered the Verein into partnership with him. Castell agreed to a profit-splitting arrangement with Messers Fisher and Miller and gave Fisher 100 gold Frederichs and $5,600 – about $8,000 total -- as a mere down payment on the Verein share of the Fisher-Miller land grant, with the understanding that Fisher would return to Texas with his cash and begin "preparing the way" – purchasing supplies and transport -- for the Germans. However, Messers Fisher and Miller had already pocketed big money and hadn’t more than twitched a common muscle to do so, and now they understood just how badly informed and gullible the Germans were. That entire arrangement suited Messers Fisher and Miller just fine. (Note that some sources cite the date of the Verein purchase of the Fisher-Miller Grant as May 20, 1844, but Fisher himself wrote a letter to Texas Secretary of State Anson Jones that, as of June 26, 1844, he had associated himself with the Verein.).
It is charitable to say the Germans "just didn’t understand;" it is more likely that they didn’t want to understand. The realities of the arrangement were almost too clear and well-stated; even though the land was granted for settlement, nobody settled anybody, and no land was rebated as a premium – and thus nobody made a profit – until land in the grant was first purchased by the developers, even at the bargain-basement price Texas was offering. The Count and his Verein cohorts, in all evidence sincere and well-meaning persons, wanted to believe in their venture, and they wanted to believe in all these "deals" being thrust at them. The Germans wanted to make a minimum initial investment; therefore, they chose to believe that, as soon as a settler stepped off a boat onto the shores of Texas, that settler represented land, and therefore an instant source of cash, and therefore instant collateral for additional credit. The Germans fully intended to finance their venture through a very intricate pattern of precisely-placed and -falling dominoes: establishing an initial capital base, which they had done, acquiring land sufficient for the first wave of settlers, which they thought they had done, then borrowing against that acquisition to finance the next wave, repeating the process until all emigrants had been settled, then finally selling the land premiums acquired at a price sufficient to both make good on settlement debts and profit in the transaction. The premise was that each domino was placed exactly right, and that each would fall exactly at the time, at the price, and in the direction planned. What the plan failed utterly to address was that the domino board was hardly a flat surface and that the Verein was stacking its dominoes on this uneven board while blindfolded and deaf. Yet, on such flawed and flimsy expectations was founded the entire Verein enterprise.
The gentlemen of the Verein had never known failure and, besides, failure was incomprehensible to persons of title and long-established family honor. Gentlemen of breeding didn’t cheat one another. The Germans of the Noble Society had embarked upon their grand scheme for a Texas Fatherland by first thoroughly under-appraising the conditions, shortages, and dangers that would face them in Texas, then by under-capitalizing their venture, and then by being hoodwinked by Alexander Bourgeois, alias d’Orvanne, and finally by getting horribly flim-flammed by Messers Fisher and Miller. As one German historian would later note, "The folly and short-sightedness that characterized the leaders (of the Verein) was almost puerile. They possessed little business ability and were completely taken in by intriguing adventurers."
Castell had given a shove to the first domino in the pattern. The remaining dominoes went falling sideways, or backward, or not at all. As bad as the Verein’s initial actions and decisions had been, they were mere harbingers of worse things to come.
Thus Cometh the Prince, Riding a Pale Horse
Prince Karl, d’Orvanne, and the small party hand-picked by the Prince arrived in New Orleans, where the Prince opened his line of credit from the Verein, and finally made port in Galveston on July 1, 1844. However, the party barely had time to get its collective land legs back on Texas soil before things began to go haywire. First, the Prince took one look at Galveston and noticed two things: it was "rustic" beyond belief, almost primitive, with few amenities and landing facilities; and it was full of "Americans." The Prince envisioned waves of his German recruits arriving in Galveston, mixing among all these Americans and losing their unique, and obviously superior, German manners and customs. That, simply, would never do, and Prince Karl decided almost immediately that he would require another, more secluded port at which to start his colonists toward the new German Fatherland. No matter that such a port did not exist in Texas at that time. Next, at great expense, he outfitted an "expedition" to inspect d’Orvanne’s land grant, and when the resulting party left Galveston for San Antonio, it resembled a circus train. Prince Karl led out atop a great white stallion and dressed himself, alternately, either in the full regalia of a Prussian aristocrat and military commander, replete with high riding boots, cavalry pants and jacket, shining cuirass, sword, jingling medals and a spiked helmet, or the rather effete garb – riding slippers, knee-length hosiery, extremely tight-fitting breeches, ruffled shirt, cape, and plumed hat – of a French courtier at leisure. He fronted a retinue that included servants, a personal valet, a personal architect, a secretary, a cook, and even a jaeger (professional hunter). As his group passed through early Houston and the settlements west, the high-born Prince took an instant dislike to the rough-hewn characters typical of the early Texas Anglo population. To Prince Karl, these people were subhuman. Their houses had no yards, only bare surroundings dotted with the stumps of the trees they had felled to build the cabins. These Texians ate only corn cakes and bacon or wild game, did not raise vegetables and, in the main, did not keep milk cows, and the Prince treated them with appropriate disdain.
The Prince and his retinue traveled first to Washington-on-the-Brazos to confer with Texas officials, then made for the Verein plantation, Nassau. At Nassau, on July 15, the Prince filed his first report back to Germany. He told Castell that the Texans had been very receptive to the German colonization efforts and that Anson Jones had personally promised him that the Congress of the Republic would "…secure everything for us that we might desire." He expressed his hopes that the d’Orvanne grant would be renewed but noted that the Nassau farm was too far from the d’Orvanne grant to be of use, and he suggested that the farm should be sold. He also requested a large supply of firearms, to comprise "short carbine rifle(s) and side arms." D’Orvanne hastily sent a letter to Jones requesting extension of his colonization deadline; he received no reply.
Meanwhile, in Galveston, on July 8, 1844, a ship, the brigantine Weser, had arrived from Germany. Onboard were about ninety German colonists recruited by Fisher himself, before he had cut his deal with the Verein, to settle his grant. Prince Karl, of course, as yet knew nothing of Fisher, the Fisher-Miller Grant, and Fisher’s business deal with Castell and the Verein. Fisher was still in Germany. Nobody in Texas knew anything about the ninety immigrants – men, women, and children – aboard the Weser. So aboard the Weser Fisher’s colonists were forced to stay, anchored off Galveston in the fierce, sweltering heat of a Texas July.
From Nassau Prince Karl and d’Orvanne moved on to Industry where they paused long enough for a now, among the Germans, obligatory visit with "Uncle Fritz" and Frau Ernst. The Prince and his party, like Leiningen and Boos-Waldeck, were entertained regally by the local German community. The visit is noteworthy in that much of its conversation was recorded by Frau Ernst. At one widely-attended dinner, Ernst coaxed the Prince to tell him the "real" Verein goals. Prince Karl candidly conceded that his objective, at least, was to "concentrate Germans in one locality near enough to the coast to control trade with Mexico" (yet another shocking concession in a Texas that was the sworn enemy of Mexico), and he promised to obtain "…a reduction of all import duties for all ships sailing under the protection of the Verein." He emphasized that good, German nationalism was the foundation of his every motive. At this point d’Orvanne, in what some might consider a typically-French rejoinder, said, in effect, "Pahh! Nationalism! That is only a word." To which Prince Karl answered, "Yes, for you, perhaps, but not for me, nor for the Verein." Ernst then offered a toast to the Verein enterprise but, in a prophetic warning, told Prince Karl, "Very well, good sir, but if you are to be ‘all German’ here, be prepared to defend your nationalism despite the consequences, and gladly bear the consequences, because this Texas makes equals of us all, one way or another."
Prince Karl then led his party toward San Antonio and the Bourgeois-Ducos grant, and as he traveled he managed to commit one social, political, or cultural gaffe after another. At the few rough inns available in Texas at the time, Prince Karl demanded separate eating and sleeping quarters, which some innkeepers were hard-pressed to provide and for which they all charged him small fortunes. (In the few hotels and travelers’ inns that existed in Texas at that time, it was customary for all "guests," acquainted or not, to eat at a common table and sleep at least two to a bed – usually in large, single rooms. Few, if any, inns outside the major population centers were even remotely prepared to deal with female visitors or those with "delicate" sensibilities. Roemer makes repeated note of stopping at so-called "inns" and having to sleep in "community" beds with dirty, odoriferous, snoring travelers who were total strangers.) At one inn the prince again demanded separate dinner seating; the proprietor’s wife attempted to oblige him by seating a table for two, for the Prince and herself as his hostess. The Prince loudly corrected the lady that, no, he had specifically requested a single setting, for him and him alone. The proprietor, offended, then presented the Prince a bill charging him just about triple the price of normal accommodations, and Prince Karl wrote that Texans were, in the main, "inhospitable." At the DeCrowe Point inn owned by "old Texan" Sam Maverick, the prince and his party conducted a roaring, all-night soiree, and the Prince paid an exorbitant price – out of funds provided by the Verein, of course -- for an "authentic" Texas guitar being strummed by an old man, claiming it was a perfect present for his Lady Sophia. Maverick’s wife, Mary, noted that the Prince’s French trousers were so tight that a guest saw "…two attendants dress his Highness, that is, lift him into his pants." Mary Maverick also said of the Prince and his party, "They wore cock feathers in their hats, and did not appear quite fitted to frontier life." Whenever Prince Karl encountered slave holders among the Lower Brazos and Colorado River plantations, he would dismount and angrily lecture them on the evils of involuntary servitude. His sincerity and correctness of belief were offset by his ranting, which made people wary of him, hindered his information-gathering process, and left the settlers in his wake muttering about "that damn-fool German." When the Prince arrived in San Antonio July 25, 1844 and filed his second report to Germany, he in turn noted that "…there is no one among the Americans and Mexicans here that is trustworthy."
Nor was the Prince through with being offensive and extravagant. His first undertaking upon arrival at the d’Orvanne grant in early August was to throw a large and expensive birthday party for his Lady Sophia, complete with catered food, a lively band, and "real" fireworks -- a twenty-one gun salute from two old cannon the Prince managed to acquire. A large number of the brand-new Castroville colony’s residents got word of the party and showed up to enjoy the food and festivities, and the Prince was soon telling them of his mission to establish a German Fatherland and was literally throwing money at them. Some of de Castro’s immigrants wanted to sign up immediately with the Verein; another group volunteered to serve as the Prince’s military escort in the Indian territories. Though Prince Karl at first maintained that he had carefully avoided enticing the Castroville Germans, de Castro himself would later write Texas officials at Washington-on-the-Brazos an angry letter complaining that Prince Karl had attempted to "bribe away" his settlers, and even Prince Karl would finally admit that he needed immigrants badly in order to meet his settlement quotas. Jones was receiving all sorts of correspondence from the Germans, in fact. On August 11, d’Orvanne sent him two more letters, begging for an extension of settlement deadline. D’Orvanne received no replies, and Jones finally let it be known that no extension of the Bourgeois-Ducos grant would be forthcoming. Bourgeois, alias d’Orvanne, had no choice but to concede defeat He experienced an epiphany of sorts and tearfully blurted some (but not all) of his transgressions to Prince Karl. The Prince took the news surprisingly well; he liked d’Orvanne well enough, thinking him to be a nobleman, a "gentleman of breeding," and d’Orvanne’s presence gave the Prince continuing opportunities to practice his French. Even Prince Karl, however, had begun to realize that, though d’Orvanne had bragged extensively of his "close friendship" with Houston and the top officers of the of Texas government, he had formed no such relationships. Furthermore, the Prince, upon his first-hand inspection of d’Orvanne’s grant, had decided he didn’t like it at all, either, considering it to be too close to San Antonio’s "Americans" and de Castro’s Alsatians and Swiss to meet his purpose of maintaining the desired Prussian/Austrian purity and separate German identity of his colony. On August 20 the Prince filed his second report to the Verein and told them that he had inspected the d’Orvanne Grant, but he told his management of d’Orvanne’s failure to get the settlement deadline extended and further expressed his opinion that it was "good fortune the (d’Orvanne) contract had been annulled." Prince Karl then embarked upon a program of letting his reach, as well as his imagination, run wild. He proposed to shop for land at three locations. First, he drew up a plan to acquire property at the confluence of the San Antonio River and Cibolo Creek, where he would settle the "first wave" of Verein-sponsored immigrants. Next, Prince Karl proposed to buy up eight to sixteen leagues of land on the Medina River west of San Antonio, where he would establish a major station on a great trade route between the Verein colonies and Chihuahua, Mexico. Finally, the Prince proposed to purchase Uvalde Canyon, even further west of San Antonio, lock, stock, and barrel to provide the last link in the trade route and establish continuity of the Verein holdings.
At this point in the revelries and extravagances, however, on August 23, 1844, a courier, a Verein agent named von Wrede, caught up with Prince Karl with news of the Verein’s acquisition of the Fisher-Miller territory, the profit-sharing arrangements and financing extended to Fisher, and additional instructions from Castell. D’Orvanne, correctly recognizing Fisher as a deadly competitor for the profits he had earmarked for himself, panicked and fired off one last letter to Anson Jones, again begging the Congress to extend the deadline on his already-expired contract. One last time, d’Orvanne received no response.
To his credit, the Prince quickly ended the frivolities and went into action. He turned his retinue east and went to confer once again with Texas officials at Washington-on-the-Brazos who were again waiting for him, at least, with open arms. Despite the d’Orvanne situation, and despite his own objections, the Prince now believed he held a mighty ace-in-the-hole, the Fisher-Miller contract, which appealed to him as a bargaining tool. With confidence beaming from every glittering medal, the Prince figuratively shoved the Fisher-Miller agreement into his hip pocket and went off to meet the Texans.
We don’t know exactly what the Texas officials did when they inspected Prince Karl’s grant arrangement with Fisher and Miller. They may have coughed politely, in embarrassment, or they may have fallen down in side-splitting laughter. In any case, they began to explain to Prince Karl that what Messers Fisher and Miller had sold the Germans was, simply, a contract, a piece of paper – nothing more, nothing less. Still patiently, the Texans further explained that the Fisher-Miller contract clearly specified that land titles and associated sponsor premiums would be awarded to Messers Fisher and Miller when, and only when, they first purchased land within the grant area from the Republic of Texas, at whatever price might be negotiated, and settled people on it. Messers Fisher and Miller had contracted to settle 6,000 people on land purchased from Texas by a certain date. No land had been purchased, so no land had been settled, and the negotiated period of settlement had expired. Therefore, the Fisher-Miller contract was null and void. Messers Fisher and Miller could not legally sell or transfer nonexistent land rights, for land they did not own, to any person or group, no matter how well-meaning that person or group might be. (To show some charity to the Germans, several histories of Llano County point out that a large number of early Anglo-American settlers also found themselves unable to gain clear title to lands sold to them by Henry Fisher and/or Burchard Miller; and that Fisher, at least, continued to sell land in the Fisher-Miller Grant to Anglos long after the expiration date for grant settlement.)
The Texans paused a moment to let the first bit of information be digested, then delivered a second piece of equally devastating news. The Republic’s delegates pointed out that, even at its southmost point, the Fisher-Miller Grant was more than 300 miles from Galveston (or any seaport capable of handling major passenger traffic) and at least ninety miles west of any existing settlements, and thus far west of the existing frontier. The land above the Llano River, the Texans explained, was hardscrabble in nature, full of granite and limestone outcroppings and altogether rocky in general, with decent topsoil confined to the creeksides and narrow river valleys. Though they were certainly willing to grant the land, they truthfully pointed out that it was not ideally suited to farming. The most critical aspect of the land, the Texans told the Prince, was that it sat smack in the middle of country fiercely defended by the Penateka ("Honey Eaters") Comanche and Jicarilla Apache Indians – not to mention occasional bands of Mescalero Apaches and some rogue Lipans and Tonkawas. Probably, the Texans suggested, all of that was why Messers Fisher and Miller had had never been able to settle anybody on their grant.
During these negotiations the Prince was also introduced to the man who, to this day, is held up to Texans as "the prototypical Texas Ranger" – John Coffee "Cap’n Jack" Hays – and one of Hays’ lieutenants, a German-Texan named Johann ( or Hans) Rahm.
Hays, a surprisingly slight, clean-shaven, well-spoken, reserved, and quiet person, had nonetheless served as the primary executor of the agenda of the second president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar. Lamar, as many historians note, "hated three things – Indians, Mexicans, and Sam Houston – but not necessarily in that order." Upon his successful unseating of Houston, the Republic’s first president, upon the strength of this very platform in 1838, Lamar had immediately set about to rid Texas of all three of his nemeses, though his spending in pursuit of his demons would leave Texas almost bankrupt, lead to his quick exit at the next election, and boost Houston’s eventual re-election. One of Lamar’s first acts had been to establish the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers as a "permanent" force against the Indians and Mexican bandits west of San Antonio and the 98th Meridian, though initially the battalion was nothing more than a paper force. Next, he authorized his youthful secretary of war, Albert Sidney Johnston, to purchase the available issues of Pennsylvanian Samuel Colt’s brand-new invention, a .34-caliber, five-shot, revolving-cylinder handgun. Finally, Lamar named Jack Hays to command the Ranger force. Hays had already distinguished himself as "absolutely fearless" in Indian battles and on patrols along the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers against the marauding Mexicans. Now Hays, given free reign to build his own force, hand-picked one of the toughest, coolest-under-fire, most fearless, and probably most savage groups of white Anglo-Saxons ever assembled. He put all of them on fast horses, and he armed each with a long rifle, a Bowie knife, and a brace of Colt’s five-shot pistols. He trained his men to "live on nothing" and to fight in guerrilla fashion. He let them dress as they pleased and asked only two things of them: that they never run from a fight, and that they subscribe to his orders without question or hesitation. Following a novel and previously unthinkable policy first established by Secretary of War Johnston, Hays hired Tonkawa Indians, blood rivals of both Comanches and Apaches, as his scouts and tactical advisors. Then, in 1841, Hays led his Rangers west, to seek out the Apaches and Penateka Comanches, the southernmost of the seven major Comanche bands. Though his very first patrol was ambushed, it turned the day and pulled off a significant victory. Hays’ "battalion" rarely exceeded fifty men, and individual patrols were often nearer twenty, but Hays’ Rangers routinely defeated and sent into bloody and bitter retreat vastly superior Indian forces. Hays and his Rangers, in fact, changed the whole concept of mounted warfare and established the model for future mounted cavalry. The Comanches, in particular, had always held the advantage of both numbers and fighting technique. Their small, rather scruffy-looking Mustang ponies were almost universally faster than the animals the average settler owned and they could maintain a faster pace, for a longer distance without water, than could their Anglo-owned equine cousins. A Comanche could ride 300 yards and loose ten to twenty arrows in the interval it took to reload a single-shot rifle or pistol. A Comanche’s buffalo-hide shield deflected even musket balls and made its user almost invincible, and the long Comanche spears were lethal in either close-quarter mounted or hand-to-hand combat on the ground against an opponent who had used up his one shot. Hays’ battle plan turned the Comanche’s own strengths against them. When possible, he would begin a fight at long distance, where his sharp-shooting force could take an initial toll with its superior rifles and marksmanship. Then, however, instead of waiting for the Indians to come to him while rifles were reloaded, he’d lead his men, in loose formation and at a gallop, directly into the opposing force, scattering it and nullifying its numbers and where, in individual combat, the Colt revolvers could be thrust under or around the tough hide shields and fired repeatedly. The Penateka Comanches, the original masters and practitioners of this type of close, mounted, mano a mano combat, were the first members of any race to experience the havoc wrought at close quarters by Colt’s invention, and they never became accustomed to this tactic from white men who were, in the main, more likely to either run or dismount and "fort up," where they could be picked off individually and dispatched in all due time. One Comanche chief, Yellow Wolf, had publicly declared, "I will never again fight Jack Hays, who has a shot for every finger on the hand." One of Hays’ most devoted Indian scouts, a Lipan Apache named Chief Flaco, later boasted to a newspaper reporter that he and his fellow scout, Red Wing, were "… not afraid to go to hell together" because, "Captain Jack heap brave, not afraid to go to hell by himself." The five-shot weapon was soon known as "The Texas Colt" but achieved only a limited production. According to pervasive but never-documented legend, it was a Ranger, one of Hays’ lieutenants, Sam Walker, who paid a visit to Colt at his Pennsylvania factory and suggested "improvements" in the original pistol that would give it a bigger whollop at .44 caliber, a sixth bore in the revolving cylinder, a strong trigger guard, and a much-improved configuration for "reloading in the saddle." The improved and heavier "six shooter" would be delivered just in time for the Mexican War and would in fact be labeled the "Walker Colt." Though only 1,200 Walkers were produced, the pistol’s design led to mass production of the Colt "Dragoon" and subsequent models, and Colt’s six-shooters would become the most widely-used handguns, by all nations, in the history of armed combat and self-defense. Colt would gain untold riches; the Rangers quickly became known, among both Indians and an observing United States press, as one of the most brutally-efficient tracking and killing machines ever built. Though Lamar’s tenure was brief and his exit abrupt – and though Hays’ initial Ranger force was dispersed at Lamar’s ouster because the Republic couldn’t meet its payroll -- in this endeavor Lamar rescued a struggling Colt from bankruptcy and immortalized both Colt and Hays.
Even Prince Karl had read and heard of Hays, and his exploits – who hadn’t? Now he was sitting down with the Texas legend and the German-Texan Rahm and discussing settlement in the Fisher-Miller Grant with them. The conversation, however, left the Prince in an even deeper state of gloom. Hays and Rahm pulled no punches; in his quiet way, Hays told Prince Karl that he didn’t believe the grant could be settled at that time because the Comanches and Apaches "out there" were still too strong, too prevalent, and too capable of wreaking havoc among colonists unaccustomed to frontier life, much less fighting an enemy that could be brutal beyond belief and gave no quarter. Hays told the Prince what he’d seen in the settlements, among victims of Indian rage, and the stories turned the Prince’s stomach.
All this news, of course, from the Texas Congress as well as the hallowed Texas Rangers, left the Prince stunned but, on August 26, 1844, he filed a third report back to Germany on the d’Orvanne and Fisher-Miller grant situations. He expressed his opinion that the Fisher-Miller Grant was too far from the coast, and too full of Indians, to serve the Verein purposes in colonization. "It would be impossible," he said, "to establish the first settlement on the grant because the area is too remote for transporting the immigrants and keeping them supplied with provisions." He pleaded strongly that the Verein abandon the Fisher-Miller pretext of the venture and provide him the financial resources to acquire new territories, inside the frontier, to settle. The Prince arrogantly and rather naively noted that if the Fisher-Miller Grant must be settled, he had to be given time to strike some treaties with the Indians or, that failing, raise an army and deliver such a strong blow to the Indians that they would think twice before attacking any German settlers. And, already, in this his third report, he began suggesting that he return to Germany and be replaced as Verein commissioner-general. He would repeat the suggestion in each subsequent letter to Germany. His rationale was that he could better present his vision of a German-colonized Texas directly to the executive council, but perhaps Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels at least had the sense to know that he was in far over his head.
On August 28, 1844, Colonial Director Alexander Bourgeois, alias Chevalier d’Orvanne, finally convinced that the Verein had abandoned any thoughts of colonizing his grant or helping him obtain an extension of his contract, resigned – or was fired from -- his post and the brotherhood of the Verein. He wrote Castell a lengthy, angry letter decrying the Prince’s lack of political savvy, his extravagances, and his business practices. He then made plans to travel to Germany and sue the Verein for breech of contract and $100,000 in damages.
On August 1, 1844, Henry Fisher had finally left Germany for Texas. The Verein subsequently sent a letter after him, informing him that he was to replace Bourgeois-d’Orvanne as Colonial Director.
But then Prince Karl, in his dealings at Washington-on-the-Brazos, got wind that Texas, after being rejected in its first attempt, was again lobbying hard in the Congress of the United States for annexation as a state – which would of course upset a German applecart full of lofty ambitions for special trade concessions and wholly-German homelands in the new territories. In an attempt to head off such an occurrence, and now out of aces, the Prince played a boneheaded joker that interfered with some already dubious cross-dealings Texas was undertaking as a ploy toward statehood and alienated his one Texas friend, now president-elect Anson Jones. Prince Karl wrote Jones a letter in which he volunteered to treat personally with Mexican dictator Lopez de Santa Anna, the blood enemy of all Texans, to honor Texas’ sovereignty if Texas remained a sovereign nation. Since Jones was already threatening his own treaty with Mexico to goad the United States into action on annexation, the Prince’s offer put an unwanted player into the mix. Santa Anna, who certainly would rather have had Texas remain a poor, weak Republic ripe for re-capture, instead of aligning itself with the military might of the United States of America, heard of Prince Karl’s offer to Jones through his still-functioning grapevine and was so impressed with the brash German that he offered the Prince the vice-presidency of Mexico. We don’t know if Prince Karl was tempted to take Santa Anna’s offer, but Jones washed his hands of the Prince, once and for all. Prince Karl thus forfeited a political friendship and alliance that would have served him and the Verein very well, later, during dire times of need.
Though the Prince made at least two contemptuous references in his letters to what he called "unreliable grog-shop gossip," he apparently found time to frequent the rough bars and taverns he found during his travels. Both Biesele and Benjamin note that it was in a bar that Prince Karl encountered Providence of a sort, or perhaps blind good luck, in the form of Jack Hays’ lieutenant, Johann "Hans" Rahm. (Note that Biesele refers to Rahm as "Joseph Rahm.") The Prince and Rahm got re-acquainted and, over their cups, fell into animated conversation. Rahm began to wax almost poetic as he described a place he’d just visited above Seguin, in a little valley snug against a sudden uplift of land near the juncture of the "Little Guadalupe" (Comal) and Guadalupe Rivers, about halfway between San Antonio and Austin. The place, Rahm said, was called Las Fontanas (The Fountains) after the high, liquid domes of water that rose into the air from springs wider than a man’s body. It was, Rahm said, the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. The Prince asked for directions and Rahm obliged, and the Prince filed the data on "The Fountains" into a for-future-reference niche.
Optimistically assuming quick and rewarding replies to his pleas from both Verein management in Germany and from the Texas government, Prince Karl further extended his lines of credit in New Orleans, through Galveston, to finance his remaining travels and expected land acquisitions. Then he set out for Nassau again, arriving September 1. At Nassau another messenger finally caught up with the Prince with some astonishing news: just days after the Prince had left Galveston, almost two months earlier, the sailing brig Weser, out from Bremen, had suddenly appeared with the a load of German immigrants, just under 100 of them. With no leadership or direction, the immigrants were still aboard the ship, bobbing at anchor in the Gulf in conditions that were worsening by the minute. By now, the Weser’s passengers were crawling with vermin. The Weser had been rat-infested, and rats played host to fleas and lice which in turn carried typhus. The first cases of typhus had broken out, children were dying. There was no promised transport inland, no land, no livestock nor log cabins waiting for them, no schools, gins, hospitals, seed for planting, lines of credit. Would the Prince please advise? The Prince’s response was to file his fourth report back to Germany, on September 20, 1944, and ask Castell if immigrants recruited personally by Henry Francis Fisher, before he had made his deal with the Verein, were to be accorded the same services and privileges as Verein-recruited colonists. Prince Karl did at least journey to Galveston and, upon further examination of the situation on board the Weser, made arrangements to debark the unfortunate Germans and put them up in Galveston, at Verein expense, until a final decision could be made about what to do with them.
On September 15, 1844, Henry Francis Fisher had arrived in Texas from Germany. He had begun talking to anyone who would listen about his arrangement with the Verein, his partnership with them, and his office as Colonial Director, but he had done nothing with the money advanced to him to begin "preparing the way." Prince Karl and Fisher, as a matter of fact, did not actually meet, shake hands, and get down to business with one another until October 29, 1844, and even at that late date neither Prince Karl nor Fisher had as yet purchased one wagon, one issue of medical supplies, or any of the food and tools and building materials that would be necessary to settle a large volume of immigrants in a new, strange land. In fact, on October 25, 1844, while impatiently awaiting Fisher’s first greetings in Galveston, Prince Karl had filed his fifth report to Germany. He dourly noted of the Weser’s complement of immigrants, that "…unfortunately, only a few of the families survive, since they arrived during the month of July." He railed against the annexation moves being made by Texas and warned his German fellows that "…the great powers of Europe cannot allow this." And his vision was still far above mere human considerations and was focused on empires. Again, Prince Karl strongly urged his Verein management to acquire land south of the Fisher-Miller Grant. In this report the Prince proposed a Verein acquisition that would stretch from the Colorado River across the Llano and San Saba Rivers westward to the Rio Grande, then southward through Uvalde Canyon to the mouth of the Nueces River at current-day Corpus Christi – as Biesele says, "verily, a kingdom!" The Verein would doggedly instructed their commissioner-general in Texas to continue plans for the settlement of the Fisher-Miller Grant.
While in Galveston, Prince Karl hired a D.H. Klaener to serve as his agent there. Klaener, at least, was capable, motivated, and dedicated to the Verein objectives, and he had established critical working arrangements with key Anglo businessmen.
In November, 1844 Prince Karl directed his retinue southwestward down the Gulf shoreline, intent on finding a harbor nearer the storied Fisher-Miller Grant. On November 22 he arrived at the little village of Port Lavaca on Matagorda Bay; the next day he boarded a small vessel to explore the bay for "…a place where the best harbor could be built" and "…for which the route would be the shortest for transporting the settlers inland over the bad routes on the low prairies." By now The Prince had studied Texas geography and topography in more detail, and he had decided that the best route toward the western-most reaches of the grant was up the Guadalupe River, from its mouth at Matagorda Bay. The river, of course, would provide water, timber, and sheltered campsites, and there were at least a few population centers along the route, first at Victoria, then at Gonzales and Seguin where, hopefully, supplies could be purchased and other needed services could be acquired. He had also decided that his immigrant flock, comprising as it would non-seasoned farmers and tradespersons, could never make the almost-300-mile journey without the benefit of a midway stopping point or staging area which, ideally, would also be located convenient to water and timber. So, for six days The Prince and his group ranged up and down the shore of Matagorda Bay and, finally, stood surveying a point of land where Matagorda and Lavaca Bays join, northeast of where La Salle’s second expedition had foundered and, most importantly, just to the northeast of the mouth of the Guadalupe River. Pass Cavallo through Matagorda Island offered entry to the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. There was one long and dangerous bar out from the point, but it could be marked and avoided, and the water between the bar and the point was deep enough to accommodate the keels of sailing ships of even brigantine and bark class, if passengers and cargo were lightered (brought in small boats or barges) to shore. The point – Prince Karl found out that it was named Indian Point – was actually an island separated from the mainland by a shallow, reedy, brackish swamp, but the island was wide and formed of good, solid shell. The land on and around Indian Point, however, was owned by a Samuel Addison White. White turned out to be a fair man, though he was motivated by thoughts of possibly thousands of immigrants passing across his island at some reasonable price per head. On November 28, 1845, White and Prince Karl entered into a preliminary agreement that allowed the Germans to land and encamp immigrants at Indian Point; Prince Karl, in turn, was to notify the Verein to suspend emigration from Germany indefinitely, until sufficient facilities could be arranged for newly-arrived passengers at Indian Point. If the Prince ever filed this request, it had no effect.
Henry Francis Fisher reacted quickly. Exercising his as-yet-undefined authority as Colonial Director for the first time, he hired an agency, Kauffmann & Co., of which he just happened to be a partner, to oversee the shipment to the immigrants, wherever they landed, of the foodstuffs and supplies he had not purchased. Fisher began paying Kauffmann & Co. for the services they weren’t providing. He formally placed Burchard Miller on the payroll to serve as his liaison with Kauffmann & Co. in coordinating the non-acquisition and non-distribution of the non-existent supplies, and he hired Miller’s brother, Theodore, to serve as an aide to Miller in doing nothing. Of course, he billed the Verein for the entire operation. In Galveston, Agent Klaener raised a valid point: what had he been hired to do? Why had Henry Francis Fisher hired an agent when he was already the Verein agent?
Prince Karl had made his acquisition in a nick of time. Six days before he had struck his agreement with White, the ships began arriving at Galveston from Germany with the first Verein immigrants. First came the Johann Dethart on November 22. That first human cargo was followed by that arriving on the Ferdinand, on December 14; the Herrschel, on December 18; and finally the Apollo, which made Galveston on December 20, 1844. The number of immigrants arriving in the Verein’s first wave in Galveston, including those off the Weser, totaled somewhere between 439 and 700. (Most sources offer the 700 number. Biesele goes out of his way to provide documentation and passenger manifests placing the number at 439, but in a subsequent chapter he inexplicably begins to reference the "700 immigrants.") A sizable complement of the prospective colonists arriving at Galveston took one look at Texas, duly noted the lack of pleasant accommodations and amenities promised by the Verein, and decided to stay where they were and return to Germany at first opportunity. (This may explain part of the difference in Biesele’s 439 number and the 700 number consistently quoted by other sources in sizing the initial immigrant complement.) Prince Karl took a schooner from Port Lavaca to Galveston to begin welcoming the Verein subscribers and to arrange for their transport to Indian Point, but a storm delayed his arrival; Klaener, unaware that Prince Karl had made his arrangement with White at Indian Point, began transshipping the immigrants to Port Lavaca on sloops. Prince Karl finally arrived in Galveston, only to find his charges gone. When he returned to Indian Point, he found them inbound from Port Lavaca and stacking up on the beach at Indian Point. On December 17, the Prince finalized his deal with White for using Indian Point as his stepping-off point for the trip to the Fisher-Miller Grant. Between the end of November and late December, Klaener staged the transshipments from Galveston so that groups of immigrants arrived steadily at Indian Point but not in masses large enough to tax the limited, primitive landing facilities. Nevertheless, the little shell beach would prove more formidable to successive waves of Germans than the entire Comanche nation.
Texas may or may not have been a subtropical paradise, but in 1844 its shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico, with its bayous, brackish backwater lakes, and swamps teeming with mosquitoes and other biting insects, had all the characteristics of a typical, tropical "fever coast." At Indian Point, of course, there were as yet no permanent campsite, no housing, no sanitary facilities. Some of the Weser’s passengers came ashore already suffering from typhus; many had already died. However, once all of the immigrants committed to settling in Texas began making landfall at Indian Point, the first cases of malaria broke out. The Prince did not have sufficient wagons or oxen to transport humans and their gear and, even if he had, there was as yet no place to take them. The island itself soon became a clutter of grandfather clocks, pianos, great chests, furniture of all descriptions – all manner of things that contributed nothing to human survival. Humans and furniture alike sat exposed to the elements as the Texas winter bored in on them, and the Germans soon discovered another of the many truths to be revealed about their "tropical paradise:" the first of the cold, wet, blustery weather fronts the Texans were already calling "northers" swept down upon the unprotected point and dropped the temperature forty degrees Fahrenheit in just four hours. With between 440 and 700 people now shivering on the shell beach, White became highly concerned that his little island might become a death trap.
The prince tried to find the means of first housing, then moving, his charges, and as he looked for help here and there it became more and more apparent to him that Henry Fisher was doing nothing with the money he’d been advanced to purchase supplies, transportation, or surveys. On December 23, 1844, Prince Karl dashed off his sixth report to Castell in Germany. First he complained of the bad food and bad conditions aboard the ships chartered by the Verein executives. He angrily reported Fisher’s lack of personal or financial participation and initiative, noting that to date Fisher had provided only a few wagons, no oxen, and no beef cattle or corn. The Prince told Castell that Fisher’s goal seemed to be to "…have his subordinates everywhere … fill their own pockets; or, in any event, certainly see to it that Mr. Fisher’s pockets are filled." Then he congratulated himself on his acquisition of Indian Point as he noted, "I may be permitted to flatter myself for having solved this task successfully." He noted for the first time his intent to establish his immigrant mid-way stopping and rehabilitation point for his immigrants at either Seguin or at "The Fountains," though he had as yet to even see the area Rahm had described to him in a bar. And, obviously, Prince Karl had grown either despondent, or bored, or perhaps both with his Verein commission in Texas. He stopped suggesting that he should return to Germany and that the Verein replace him; instead, he submitted his formal resignation from the project and shoved it into the return mail pouch to Germany. It was to take effect in February, 1845; by then, Prince Karl reasoned, he’d have the situation in hand, would have settled at least this initial immigrant contingent, and could be done with this whole, sordid mess. He did agree to stay in Texas until replaced, and he continued to think in grandiose terms. Even though he didn’t know where he was going, he suggested elaborate plans for getting there. He proposed the Verein acquire land for numerous way stations – he even suggested calling the first two Castell, and Leiningen – along the Guadalupe River and the line of march proposed for reaching the Fisher-Miller Grant. He suggested that bridges should be built over the less-accommodating fords of the Guadalupe. Though he was writing from near the terminus of the Guadalupe River, he talked about "diverting the Colorado River over a new bed into Wilson Creek" at its mouth to the northeast, in Upper Matagorda Bay, "to make it navigable." And even though Prince Karl had submitted his resignation, he suggested that a rail line be built up the Guadalupe River, from Indian Point to the eventual Verein colonies. The Prince acknowledged that Texas as yet had no railways at all, much less iron rails and locomotives, so he proposed that the line be constructed of wooden rails – with mules brought in to pull light rail cars.
The Prince was at least able to feed this first lot of immigrants, and he tried to make up for the lack of shelter by feeding them very well. He spent lavishly, providing meat three times a day to a generally-peasant populace that had been fortunate to see meat on the table once or twice a week in Germany. And the Prince did at least arrange a Weinachtsfest, or Christmas party, for the German encampment at Indian Point. With immigrants still arriving steadily from Galveston, The Rev. Louis Ervendberg, Texas’ first German Protestant minister, a Lutheran, presided over the Christmas services, held in the open, on the beach, on December 23, 1844. There was a large decorated tree, an oak provided personally by Prince Karl, a German Santa Claus with some candy for the children, and even a Santa’s sidekick who handed out rocks and switches to the children who’d been "bad." In dogged respect for their commissioner general, the Germans named their little beach Karlshafen, or Karl’s Harbor and, to this day, the Texas German descendants of the Verein colonists celebrate a Weinachtsfest in their honor.
(Though Indian Point, or Karlshafen, became known as Indianola by 1849, was incorporated under that name on February 7, 1853, and eventually rivaled Galveston in Texas coastal commerce, Galveston remained the only official immigrant port of entry to Texas. It had been so designated by the Republic of Texas – in absence of any other major port – and the United States further affirmed it as such when it established the Customs Collection District of Texas on December 31, 1845, just prior to the formal transfer of government after Texas’ annexation as the 28th state. Some sources would lead a reader to believe that the ships coming from Germany sailed directly to Indianola. Some individuals argue, and heatedly, that all persons arriving from Germany at Indian Point and, later, Indianola, first made landfall at some official port of entry – if not Galveston, perhaps New Orleans, Charleston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, or New York City – before boarding smaller craft for the final leg of the journey to Indian Point. To paraphrase one source, big ships such as the Weser, the Herrschel, and the Johann Dethart, which are all logged often over the years in the available "ships’ arrivals" documents, were too expensive to operate in inter-coastal "ferrying" situations. They came to Texas, dropped their cargo, and returned to Germany loaded with Texas products, usually cotton, or sailed for larger U.S. or Mexican ports to take on manufactured return trade goods. Those few larger ships that did, in fact, proceed from Galveston to the port on Lavaca Bay did so at great expense and probably against the better judgment of their owners. However, Indianola, in its heyday, did become a major terminal for Texas cotton and other agricultural products.)
The Weinachtsfest raised camp morale to an unexpectedly high level. Prince Karl saw an opportunity to get the group moving, and he took advantage of it. The last of the Verein’s first wave of immigrants arrived at Indian Point from Galveston on December 29, 1844, under the leadership of Lt. Jean J. von Coll – a former Prussian officer and the Verein treasurer in Texas. On January 1, 1845, with fifteen wagons Fisher had provided to date, fourteen two-wheeled carts put together by wheelwrights and smiths among the immigrants, and additional rented wagons and contracted wagoneers, primarily from Victoria, the Prince shepherded about half the immigrants (between 200 and 350 persons) off the island and began moving them toward the Guadalupe River. The other half of the immigrant contingent at Indian Point inexplicably decided that "the winter chill" was not the proper condition or time for travel and remained on the beach. One immigrant, Johann Schwartz, purchased a plot of land from White near Powderhorn Bayou and arranged to have a load of lumber shipped to him from Galveston. Schwartz and his family built the first house on Powderhorn Bayou and thus became recognized as the first "permanent" residents of what would become the port city of Indianola. Schwartz would also gain acclaim as a good Samaritan of sorts to the successive waves of Germans who would soon have to squeeze onto Indian Point’s narrow beach.
By January 5, 1845, Prince Karl’s immigrant convoy had traveled twelve miles north of Matagorda Bay to Agua Dulce (or Chocolate Creek). The Prince paused long enough to issue his seventh report to Germany, which was mainly a diatribe against Henry Francis Fisher. From Agua Dulce, the Prince moved his group twelve miles further up the Guadalupe and purchased land, about 1,100 acres, for one of the "way stations" he had envisioned for the up-river route. The site contained a fine stand of timber, with which the Prince proposed to build warehousing and dockage facilities at Indian Point. At this second stopping point, realizing he was nearing territories sometimes frequented by Indians, Prince Karl established an immigrant "police force" – actually, a personal bodyguard unit -- and, spending some more of the Verein’s limited funds, outfitted them in "...high riding boots (and) gray woolen blouses with black velvet collars and brass buttons...cocked hats with long black feather, with swords strapped on and with a good rifle."
True to its word, at least, on January 20, 1845, the Congress of the Republic of Texas gave the Germans time to work themselves out of their self-imposed morass by extending the settlement deadline on the Fisher-Miller contract to September 1, 1847, decreasing the required settlement quota, and deleting the requirement for settlers to actually work at least fifteen acres of any lands they received.
Prince Karl continued to move the immigrant train northwestward, up the Guadalupe, his only destination the vague Fisher-Miller Grant. According to Benjamin, as the immigrants continued their trek up the river, Prince Karl began casting about, riding this way and that, trying to locate a site for his staging area and leaving management of the settlers to von Coll, his second-in-command, and the Society’s civil engineer, Nicolaus Zink. He could not find a suitable site. He made a quick dash to Galveston where, on February 8, he issued his eighth report to Germany, proudly acknowledging that he had set up his police force (though he called it a "militia") but, for the first time, noting rapidly-rising costs for the Verein undertaking, which he blamed on "falsehoods" presented by Fisher, Miller, and d’Orvanne. By March 5, 1845, the first German convoy had proceeded seventy-eight miles up the Guadalupe, to McCoy Creek, and most of the footsore Einwanderer had been provided with transport. They were moving well, but…to where? As yet, they had no destination. And now supplies were running scarce, and the Prince angrily demanded that Henry Fisher, who was moving back and forth between Victoria and McCoy Creek, use the funds the Verein had given him to support the colonization effort. Fisher responded that it was he, not Prince Karl, who had been made a partner in the Verein enterprise; that he, Fisher, was Colonial Director; and that, if push came to shove, he, Fisher, out-ranked Prince Karl and was neither required, nor inclined, to take orders from him. The Prince dashed off his ninth report to Germany pleading with the Verein executive council to retract Fisher’s authority and to issue him no further funds, and he stated angrily that Fisher himself was not worth "… the cord it would take to hang him and Miller." The Prince closed his letter by noting that he made a decision of sorts: he would definitely settle this first contingent at either Seguin or at "The Fountains" – maybe – and he stated his intent to travel to San Antonio to start the legal process for acquiring the land. Meanwhile, in both Victoria and the camp at McCoy Creek, Fisher began telling citizens, colonists, and any handy newspaper reporters that the Verein was a fraudulent enterprise and went so far as to suggest that the immigrants "mutiny" against Prince Karl. The immigrants remaining at Indian Point, in turn, sent their own letter to Castell in Germany, petitioning the executive council to remove Henry Fisher from office.
By now, Prince Karl’s resignation had been received in Germany and was official, though it was still unknown to his immigrants. His successor, Ottfried Hans, Frieherr (Baron) von Meusebach – or just plain John O. M3eusebach, as he would call himself -- had been named. But the Prince gathered up his entourage and struck out for Las Fontanas. Surely enough, the group found things just as Hans Rahm had described them: the little valley with the sudden uplift of hills (the east-most fringe of the Balcones Escarpment) alongside, the clear, rushing streams of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers, and finally the burbling domes of Comal Springs. A late snow had sprinkled the hills on the west with a white sheen but, to Prince Karl and his party the place did, indeed, look like paradise. Prince Karl was exhilarated and renewed by the beauty of the scenes before him, but he was soon advised that the entire area was owned by a Rafael C. Garza and the relatives of Garza’s wife, Maria Antonia Veramendi – all members of two of Texas’ oldest and most respected Tejano families. On March 10, Prince Karl arrived in San Antonio; on March 11, he sought out the owners of the Las Fontanas plot. On March 15, 1845, after four days of intense bargaining with Rafael Garza and Juan Veramendi, Prince Karl purchased a tract of two leagues (about eighteen square miles) along the shores of the Comal River at a price of $1,100. The Prince made an initial payment of $600, with the remaining $500 not due (under an unusual provision, to say the least) until such time that Garza and Veramendi would file a suit to gain clear title to the land they were selling. Immediately, the prince had his architect devise and draw up a city plat. He sent a galloper south with word of his purchase and, on Good Friday, March 21, 1845, Lt. von Coll arrived at Las Fontanas with the first group of settlers. (The immigrants that had remained behind at Indian Point would finally move up and arrive in April, 1845.) Prince Karl had already started construction of a planned large, fine log house in the very center of the plat, and he had already named the dwelling Die Sophienburg, or "Sophie’s Place," after his fiancee, the Lady Sophia. The Prince held an elaborate ceremony for the laying of Die Sophienburg’s cornerstone: he fired off the two old cannon he had managed to acquire; brazenly, he raised the Austrian flag over his new community in the Republic of Texas. In his honor, the immigrants named the town New Braunfels. (Again, note that Biesele maintains that only 220 immigrants were present at the founding of New Braunfels.) On March 27, 1845, the Prince filed his tenth report to Germany, advising his management of his successful purchase.
Still in his state of exhilaration, Prince Karl now moved quickly and efficiently. He found a translator, made contact with the local Lipans, and signed a treaty with them under which Lipans and Germans alike would honor each other’s customs, boundaries, and possessions. Still, in the interest of security, the Prince placed his "police force" in command of the new settlement, and he bunkered his two cannon at strategic points within the city and ordered construction of a hospital. Prince Karl ceded each head of household among the immigrants a half acre of ground within the city proper and twenty acres of land for cultivation beyond the platte-defined township, in the surrounding countryside. As promised, he extended each head of household a line of credit for dwelling preparation, land clearing, and planting expenses. The Prince did tell his colonists that the twenty-acre awards were only temporary and that the promised 320-acre awards would be forthcoming, but each immigrant could now claim ownership of property. To some of the mostly peasant-class Germans, things were looking just fine; others no sooner took title to their twenty-acre plots than they sold them for what they could get and made plans to return to Germany or settle elsewhere. Some residents immediately began clearing land for crops and started spring planting, while others hunkered down and demanded that the Verein support them. In Prince Karl’s eleventh and last report to Castell from Texas, dated April 30, 1845, he noted that cabins were being built, but that storehouses and other official Verein buildings were not progressing for lack of workers "not looking out after their own interests." The Prince also stated his intent to start his return voyage to Germany, by steamboat from Boston, on June 15.
It quickly became apparent, however, that Prince Karl’s aesthetic preferences had once again far out-balanced practicality. The little city, perched against the edge of the Balcones Escarpment, was undercut by rocky terrain with a thin, only semi-fertile topsoil. Just twenty to thirty miles to the southeast were the deep, fertile, gently-rolling blacklands surrounding Seguin, and Gonzales. Much of that land, in Gonzales and Guadalupe Counties, was still for sale, at cents per acre. Why hadn’t Prince Karl invested in farmland for his farmers, instead of scenery? As goes the old Texas homily, "You can’t eat scenery."
In any case, the Prince’s treasury was now bare, out of money, with credit lines overextended and exhausted. He received a letter from Meusebach, his successor as Commissioner General, posted from New Orleans, informing the Prince that his replacement was on the way and requesting that the Prince remain in New Braunfels to confer with him. However, though he had promised the Verein that he would remain in Texas until formally replaced, the Prince now decided that, to make connection with the steam packet departing Boston June 15, he had to leave immediately. On May 15, 1845, just over a month after he’d finally settled the entire immigrant contingent from Indian Point, and with his replacement not yet onsite, Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels concluded it was time to go home and silently mounted his white horse. He took one last, long look over the little German city in Central Texas and assured himself that his work was done, and that it was good. He then led his retinue east-southeast, back toward Galveston, where he planned to take catch a ride to New Orleans, and from New Orleans to Boston, and finally mount his return passage to Germany.
If Prince Karl left a legacy, it would have to be as the "accidental" founder of New Braunfels and, in reality, the founder of the future port of Indianola.. If Prince Karl had not encountered Hans Rahm, the city of New Braunfels might have been established out on the rolling plains east of San Antonio. The continued traffic of German immigration would bring the small, shell beach of Indian Point, at least for the immediate future, into brighter prominence than the new town at Las Fontanas. Prince Karl can rightly be credited with blunder after blunder, but his sincerity and idealism have never been questioned. After his return to Germany he, too, wrote a book extolling the virtues of Texas, and he remained true to the Verein goals, and the opportunity of Texas, until his death.
In Texas, the Verein project had managed to found New Braunfels and had escaped from tragedy by the skin of its teeth. In Germany, the enterprise was rolling forward with all the force and finesse of a killer avalanche.Next: Crisis at Indian Point.