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History of Fredericksburg, Texas

FREDERICKSBURG TEXAS History B&B 830-997-2205


Fredericksburg Texas & John Meusebach

Settling Fredericksburg Texas History can be credited to one man whose vision, tenacity and courage made it possible. That man was John Meusebach who founded Fredericksburg and opened up the Texas frontier to settlement.

There have been times when desperate people in hopeless situations were rescued by someone who arrives on the scene with the perfect combination of character, ability, and dedication. Such was the fortune of the German immigrants in Texas during the 1840’s.

Baron Otfried Han Freiherr von Meusebach relinquished his hereditary title when he left Germany en route to Texas. When he arrived in his new homeland in May 1845 he insisted on being known simply as John O. Meusebach. At the age of thirty three, having left family, friend, and title behind, he was to assume the almost impossible responsibility of commissioner general for the Manizer Adelverein for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.

Before leaving Germany Meusebach had devoted several years of study to the possibility of immigration, particularly to Texas. Of all materials written about the area, Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas (1841), by William Kennedy, British consul in Galveston was the most influential on Meusebach and the Society as well. Of particular interest to the Society was Kennedy’s remarks on the existence of abandoned Spanish silver mines along the Texas frontier. Remarking on the book, Irene Marschall King, granddaughter of Meusebach, wrote in John O. Meusebach: German Colonizer in Texas (1967): “As an official Kennedy described places with exactitude and authority. The very name of one landmark, Enchanted Rock, added to fascination the beckoning land. Meusebach hoped to probe for a scientific explanation of the mysterious sounds that were said to issue at times from the 640 acres of solid granite. He marveled that such an immense outcropping of mountainous rock was located in an area bearing the name “Llano” the Spanish word for “plain”. He wanted to know the reason for this contradiction.”

The Society was founded in March of the previous year by a group of German noblemen advocating immigration to Texas as a solution to the problems of political unrest and overpopulation facing Germany. The organization soon fell victim to the unscrupulous Texan, Henry Francis Fischer, when it purchased, sight unseen, an interest in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant. Located between the Llano and San Saba Rivers, the four million acre grant was in the very heartland of the legendary lost Spanish mines.

Fisher knew that the grant was too far from the coast and inhabited by too many Comanches to be suitable for a settlement. Furthermore, in order to make himself and his partner, Burchard Miller, seem important, he claimed they had already put $60,000 into the project. But as Price Carl zu Solms-Braunfels, the first commissioner general, wrote in his report of the February 8, 1845 to the Society: “Yet every person here, from the President of Texas to the smallest Negro lad, knows that if Messrs. Fisher and Miller both were put under a cotton press, not one dollar, let alone $60,000 could be pressed out of them both.” In a letter dated June 11, 1845, to his successor, Meusebach, the prince stated that Fisher was not worth “the cord it would take to hang him and Miller.”

As if the swindle were not complete, Fisher obtained, in addition to the $11,000 for an interest in the grant, another $2,360 from the German’s to purchase supplies for the settlers. Virtually all of the money was “misappropriated”.

The Society’s attempt to settle the grant was stalled in New Braunfels with 439 people waiting and, for the most part living at the expense of the Society. Almost immediately upon assuming his responsibilities as commissioner general, Meusebach discovered, to his dismay, the Society was virtually bankrupt due to the financial mismanagement of the prince; and that the settlers, after a year of waiting to relocate to the grant, were understandably impatient. Added to those pressures was the fact that, according to the contract with the Republic of Texas, the grant had to be settled by August 1847. If not, all efforts and investments would have been in vain.

The fabled silver mines were the “ace-in-the-hole” for the Immigration Company. Solms-Braunfels mentions them in his book Texas, 1844-1845: “As to the knowledge of the mountains [the Fisher Miller Grant], most of it is obtained from the Mexicans, who in turn received it from the nomadic Indians. They describe the mountains as rich in ore, especially copper and silver. This statement is also confirmed by the old documents drawn up for the leasing of land. It is likewise well known that Texas as a territory had opened several silver mines, directed by the Spanish government; but these immeiately after the outbreak of the mexican Revolution, due partly to the order of the government and partly to the inimical Indian tribes, were destroyed. In spite of the many efforts, they have not as yet been found, nor are they likely to be, except by the establishing of colonies in the mountains. This can be done in time, provided there is sufficient protection against the Indians. Sojourns in the mountains up till now have been limited to four weeks because of the difficulty of carrying supplies such as biscuits, cornmeal, coffee, and bacon for approximately twenty men besides fodder for the beasts of burden.”

Perhaps the Prince, viewed by many Texans as an effite primp, lacked the fortitude necessary for the task. Fortunately for the immigrants his replacement Meusebach was equal to the challenge.

With the deadline looming on the horizon, Meusebach pressed forward on the obligation to settle the frontier. In May 1846 he founded the community of Fredericksburg. In November Meusebach was informed in a letter from Germany written by the Executive Secretary of the Society that 4,304 immigrants were on their way to Texas.

If the prospect of even more immigrants wasn’t enough to trouble Meusebach, Dr. Shubert, who was appointed by Meusebach as director of the settlement in Fredericksburg heaped on more problems. In Meusebach’s own words from Answer to Interrogatories (1894) he wrote: “Without my knowledge and authorization the so-called “Doctor Schubert” had raised a company in the latter months of 1846 at Fredericksburg, and with his men and a cannon! had started out to be the first one inside of the limits of the grant. He never dared to cross the Llano River, and cowardly returned without a shot fired, making now a report to me that it was impossible to get into the colony, because it was full of hostile Indians. That report could not be allowed to go abroad unrebuked. It would have created despondency amongst the emigrants and the Company…”

Meusebach began making plans to do the impossible—enter the land grant and attempt to treaty for peace with the Comanche. His assessment of the entire situation was clear: “With the buying of that grant the doom of the [immigration] company was sealed,” Meusebach wrote. “They did not know what they bought. They undertook to fulfill what was impossible to fulfill. They did not have the means nor the time to fulfill it. Neither of the contracting parties nor their agents has ever seen a particle of the land in question. The territory set aside for settlement was more than three hundred miles from the coast, more than one hundred and fifty miles outside of all settlements, and in the undisturbed possession of hostile Indians. The government had promised no aid to take it out of the hands of the Indians. It had to be conquered,” Meusebach concluded, “by force or by treaty.”

That same year, Prince Solms-Braunfels published his own book, Texas: 1844-1845, in which he noted that “between the Pedernales and the Llano Rivers is the enchanted rock, which can be seen from a great distance…

“As to knowledge of the mountain,” he wrote, “most of it is obtained from the Mexicans, who in turn received it from the nomadic Indians. They describe the mountains as rich in ore, especially copper and silver. This statement is confirmed by the old documents drawn up for the leasing of land… In spite of the many efforts, they have not as yet been found, nor are they likely to be, except by establishing colonies in the mountains. This can be done in time, provided there is sufficient protection against the Indians.”

At the request of the prince, the Berlin Academy of Sciences send Dr. Ferdinand von Roemer to Texas in 1845 to evaluate the mineral assets of the grant. Upon his arrival in Galveston, Roemer met with William Kennedy before heading inland. Undoubtedly, the unusual geologic formation of Enchanted Rock, and the rumors of gold and silver mines Kennedy had included in his book were discussed with the geologist, particularly the Lost San Saba Mine which many believed to be located within the grant.

Roemer found the settlement in New Braunfels at the peak of insurrection. One the last day of December, 1846, “a mob numbering about one hundred fifty persons,” Roemer wrote, “armed with clubs and pistols came up the hill on which the buildings of the Verein stood. A deputation, composed of several individuals not enjoying the best reputation, went to the home of Herr von Meusebach. The rest contented themselves at first to wait for an answer from the delegation. When it was not forthcoming immediately, they crowded into the house and committed a number of excesses in the anteroom and uttered loud threats against the life of Herr von Meusebach. In the meantime, the negotiations were carried on in the adjoining room. Mr. H. Fischer [sic.], who had arrived from Houston a few days prior to this and from whom the Verein had bought the land, led the negotiations on the part of the deputation…The immediate motive for this insurrection was, however the machinations of a man, [Fisher] who to further his own selfish interests, was greatly concerned in getting rid of Herr von Meusebach…”

Meusebach pacified the rebels agreeing to several demands, on of which included his resignation as soon as a replacement could be found.

On January 14, 1847, a company of men led by Meusebach embarked on their journey to treaty for peace with the Comanche. Suffering ill health, Roemer had to wait to depart of Fredericksburg on January 20, arriving in Fredericksburg five days later.

On February 5, Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors arrived with an urgent message for Meusebach from the Texas Governor Pickney Henderson. The belated message urged Meusebach not to venture into Comanche territory for fear he would further arouse the already hostile Indians. Seizing the opportunity, Roemer joined neighbors in pursuit of the Meusebach expedition.

“As my condition had improved in the meantime,” Roemer wrote, “I resolved to make use of this opportunity to see the unknown Indian land on the Llano and San Saba rivers. My preparations were of the simplest kind and were completed within a few hours.” With those somewhat offhand remarks, Roemer embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Almost four million acres was opened up for settlement after John Meusebach traveled from Fredericksburg Texas to San Saba to secure a treaty of peace with The Comanche Nation on March 1847. Concho, Kimble, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, Menard, Sansaba, Schleicher, Sutton, and Tom Green counties were created as a result of the treaty.

The Meusebach expedition left Fredericksburg, Texas on January 22, 1847 to the Fisher-Miller grant which lay deep in the heart of Comanche territory. The group consisted of three wagons and forty men including Lorenzo de Rozas. As a child Rozas had been kidnapped by the Comanche. By virtue of his knowledge of the Comanche language and the territory, Rozas was appointed guide and interpreter. The German Immigration Company was virtually bankrupt and the desire to locate the Spanish silver mines was a faint ray of hope. The pragmatic Meusebach commented, “I do not really count the silver mines until we have them.”

The expedition got off to an inauspicious start. On their second day, one of their men was seriously injured when his rifle exploded while on a buffalo hunt, so he had to return to Fredericksburg. Also, while building a campfire it began to burn out of control. In futility, Meusebach’s men fought the prairie fire for thirty-six hours. The earth was burned for miles around and the event most certainly alerted any Indians in the area as to their presence.

Seventeen days after their departure Meusebach and his men encountered a hunting party of Shawnee in the immediate vicinity of the Llano River. After communicating to the Indians in broken English they hired three Shawnee as hunters who told Meusebach that his expedition was under constant surveillance by the Comanche whose tracks they had detected.

Finally, on February 5, the expedition encountered a party of Comanche advancing in their direction carrying a white flag. After assuring their leader, Ketemoczy, of the peaceful intent of the expedition the two parties joined in a meal. The next day, accompanied by even more Comanche, the Meusebach party was led to the main camp on the San Saba River.

The following account is from an anonymous report taken from the files of two officers of the expedition who later returned to Germany. Entitled “Meusebach’s Expedition into the Territory of the Comanche Indians in January, 1847.” It originally appeared in an early number of Magazine of Literature From Abroad: “The first day’s journey beyond the Llano took us across large layers of granite, which could hold deposits of precious metals. The following day we crossed a quartz regiion where we found rock crystals the size of a fist… On February 7 we finally approached their wigwams on the San Saba River and here we were given a ceremonious reception. From the distance we saw a large number of Indians in their colorful array coming down the hill in formation. As we came nearer they entered the valley, all mounted, and formed a long front. In the center was the flag; on the right wing were the warriors, divided in sections and each section had a chief, the left wing was formed by the women and children, also mounted. The entire spectacle presented a rich and colorful picture because the garb of the Comanche on festive occasions is indeed beautiful and in good taste. The neck and ears are decorated with pearls and shells and the arms with heavy brass rings. The long hair of the men is braided into long plaits, which, when interlaced with buffalo hair, reaches from head to foot and is decorated with many silver ornaments.”

To complete this description of the Comanche, Jean Louis Berlandier wrote in his book, The Indians of Texas in 1830: “their skin is a fine copper-brown, heightened with cinnabar, of which they use a great deal. Some of them smear their bodies with powdered charcoal, others chalk, and many of them have three lines tattooed from the lower eyelid over the cheeks. The thing that makes the Comanche and several other natives look so different is the absence of beards, and the way they completely pluck out their eyebrows and lashes.”

“As we approached the formation of the Comanche,” the anonymous report continues, “it was requested of Mr. Meusebach that only he and few companions come nearer, and that was arranged. When our four or five men were within 100 paces, Lorenzo told us that if we fired our guns [into the air] as an indication of our confidence, that it would make a very favorable impression. This we did and the Comanche responded in a like manner. We were greeted with elaborate handshakes and then led into their village.”

The Meusebach expedition of forty men discharged their guns in salute, thereby disarming themselves, while surrounded by two to six thousand Comanche [sources vary on the actual number]. That may have been a foolhardy act. However, in the face of such overwhelming numbers Meusebach’s decision was not only the wisest, but possibly the only rational course of action.

Meanwhile, near Fredericksburg, Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors, and geologist Dr. Ferdinand von Roemer were enroute to overtake the Meusebach expedition. Neighbors carried an urgent message from Texas governor Henderson to call off the meeting for fear it would further incite the Comanche. Roemer’s mission, however, was to inspect the mineral potential of the Fisher-Miller grant.

“We arose at sunup,” Roemer recounted, ” and after a short delay, caused by the preparation of our breakfast consisting of coffee, fried bacon and bread, our little company was on its way. Jim Shaw, a six foot tall, strong Delaware chief, led the way on a beautiful American horse. Viewed from the rear, he looked quite civilized, since he wore a dark, stylish cloth coat which he had bought in Austin in a haberdashery, and a black semi-military oil cloth cap. Viewed from in front, his brown features, however, betrayed his Indian origin immediately; and upon closer examination one found that his European dress was by no means as complete as it appeared, for it lacked what is generally assumed to be a very essential part of a gentleman’s dress, namely the trousers. Instead of these he wore deerskin leggins, similar to our riding leggins, which reached half way up his thigh. Then followed Mr. Neighbors and I, with a young American whom Mr. Neighbors had engaged for the duration of the expedition, and a common Shawnee Indian. Each of the two latter drove two pack mules which belonged to Mr. Neighbors and Jim Shaw.”

On February 10 the group came upon the Meusebach expedition. “The three covered wagons which had been drawn into the center of the camp,” Roemer wrote, “were an arresting sight in this pathless wilderness, in which up till now no wagon very likely had entered. Around these, the tents had been erected and in front of them whites and Indians mingled in a motley crowd. Even the whites were of diverse appearance and of mixed origin. In addition to a number of unaffected Germans with genuine peasant features, one noticed in the immediate vicinity a group of Mexican muleteers with the unmistakable southern facial expression; then there were a number of American surveyors, equally peculiar representatives of a third nationality, which von Meusebach carried with him in order to point out to them the land to be surveyed.”

While waiting for the Comanche chiefs to assemble at the camp on the San Saba River, Meusebach and Roemer received permission to lead an expedition to visit the old Spanish fort. In his accounts Roemer mentioned several times a “persistent rumor among the Texas settlers that the Spaniards had worked some silver mines in the vicinity of the fort.” Upon arriving there, Roemer noted the names of previous visitors who had inscribed their names on the main portals: Padillo 1810, Cos 1829, Bowie 1829, Moore 1840.

After examining the area, Roemer concluded, “One may make the claim without hesitation, that at least in the vicinity of the fort no deposits of precious metals are present.” Although Meusebach had hoped that the existence of silver mines would alleviate the financial straits of the Society, he wrote before his departure, “I do not really count the silver mines until we have them.” Meusebach’s courage and his habit of walking among the Comanche unarmed earned the respect of the Indians. They even honored him with the name El Sol Colorado, or The Red Sun. Considering that the sun was the principal deity among the Comanche, the name had special significance.

Among the assembled chiefs were their three most prominent leaders: Santa Anna, Old Owl, and Buffalo Hump. Roemer, in his account of the meeting offered this description of the chiefs: “The three chiefs, who were at the head of all the bands of the Comanches roaming the frontiers of the settlements in Texas looked very dignified and grave. They differed much in appearance. [Old Owl] the political chief, was a small old man who in his dirty cotton jacket looked undistinguished and only his diplomatic crafty face marked him. The war chief, Santa Anna, presented an altogether different appearance. He was a powerfully built man with a benevolent and lively countenance. The third, Buffalo Hump, was the genuine, unadulterated picture of a North American Indian. Unlike the majority of his tribe, he scorned all European dress. The upper part of his body was naked. A buffalo hide was wound around his hips. Yellow copper rings decorated his arms and a string of beads hung from his neck. With his long, straight black hair hanging down, he sat there with the earnest (to the European almost apathetic) expression of countenance of the North American savage. He drew special attention to himself because in previous years he had distinguished himself for daring and bravery in many engagements with the Texans.”

Meusebach’s total lack of prejudice toward the Indians was in sharp contrast to that of Neighbors who believed all Indians were untrustworthy savages. After concluding a successful treaty of peace Neighbors attempted to take full credit for the agreement he had intended to prevent. In point of fact, had it been left to Neighbors, Meusebach would have been induced to turn back before attempting a treaty.

During the treaty Meusebach told the Comanche: “When my people have lived with you for some time, and when we know each other better, then it may happen that some wish to marry. Soon our warriors will learn your language. If they then wish to wed a girl of your tribe, I do not see any obstacle, and our people will be so much better friends… I do not disdain my red brethren because their skin is darker, and I do not think more of the white people because their complexion is lighter.”:

Most treaties between the whites and Indians usually amounted to articles of surrender on the part of the latter. This was not the case with Meusebach’s treaty. The whites and Indians were given equal recognition and dignity. The agreement was as if between two allies rather than two formerly warring factions. In exchange for three thousand dollars worth of presents, the Comanche agreed to allow the surveyors and settlers into the region without molestation. Also, the Indians could be allowed into German settlements and would “have no cause to fear, but shall go wherever they please.” In exchange for Comanche protection from “bad Indians”, it was agreed that “the Germans likewise promise to aid the Comanches against their enemies, should they be in danger of having their horses stolen or in any way to be injured.”

Years later, Meusebach passed along the comments of Texas Ranger, Jack Hays as to the effectiveness of the treaty: “[Hays] was never molested nor lost any animals during his travel within the limits of our colony, but as soon as he passed the line he had losses.”

“On March 3, we began our return trip to Fredericksburg,” the anonymous report notes. “Scarcely had we completed a day’s journey when a company of Comanches under Santana [Santa Anna] with their families joined us quite unceremoniously and informed us that they wished to accompany us all the way to Fredericksburg.

“Their company proved to be of some advantage to us, since they shot several wild horses. The meat was very appetizing. On March 5 we arrived at the Llano and on the 6th we camped on Sandy Creek near the noted Enchanted Rock. This mass of granite, so named because of its formation which have the appearance of monstrous giants and wild beasts, reminded us the castles along the Rhein. The Sandy Creek has a beautiful bed of granite, it’s crystal clear water dashes from one shelf to another, forming many basins which are accessible by means of natural steps and offer an invitation for a bath. We found some bass in this beautiful water.

“On the following day, after a thirty five mile ride, we rejoiced when we reached Fredericksburg. It appeared to us even more cheerful because it happened to be Sunday and the settlers, arrayed in their colorful dress from the various districts of Germany, greeted us. They too, rejoiced when they saw us return at the head of and in peaceful association with a troop of Comanche Indians.”

Although the Fisher-Miller grant contained 1,735,200 acres, the treaty included a total of 3,878,000 acres. In one day, Meusebach opened up for settlement what would become part of all of ten Texas counties. To call John Meusebach a man of intelligence, courage, tenacity, and vision would be an understatement.

In 1847, the Texas Rangers established a camp fourteen miles north of Enchanted Rock, under the leadership of Captain Samuel Highsmith. In Recollections of Early Texas Memoirs of John Holland Jenkins, the author, a member of the Highsmith company, wrote that Enchanted Rock was “a very remarkable freak of nature, being solid granite and covering an area of six hundred and forty acres of land.” He went on describe the landmark: “It is studded here and there with a kind of glittering material that resembles diamonds.”

Written by Ira Kennedy

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