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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

The Haengerbande

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The early German settlers came to the Texas Hill Country to get as far away as possible from the nasty politics in Europe only to find themselves up to their eyeballs in the chaos and anarchy of the American Civil War. The Germans, surrounded by Confederates, tended to be unionists and unfriendly to slavery. They became targets of the haengerbande - the hanging bandits, who rode the mountains, lynching citizens and stealing their property in the name of the Confederacy.

J. P. Waldrip of Gillespie County was a desperado and a bushwhacker once described as "a psychopath with odd colored eyes." He seems to have gotten along fairly well with his German neighbors before the war, but the toxic political atmosphere of the 1860s gave him the liberty to act on his repressed psychopathic tendencies.

Waldrip, wearing his trademark black beaver hat, was a self-styled frontier militia captain. He led an organization of 60 men at the peak of his career.

He and his men claimed to be Confederate soldiers assigned to the Texas frontier as Indian fighters, but they were really rustlers and bandits who committed murder without thought or remorse and stole anything that wasn't tied down.

The Waldrip gang had an excellent system for gathering information. Waldrip had spies all over Gillespie County. Anyone who criticized him was in danger.

Although Waldrip claimed allegiance to the Confederacy, the outlaw and his men showed their true colors when they tried to kill Captain Charles Nimitz, the local Confederate conscription officer and the grandfather of Admiral Chester Nimitz, after Captain Nimitz tried to draft them into the regular army. Nimitz narrowly avoided a deadly dose of lead poisoning.

In 1864 Waldrip and his gang of cutthroats joined up with noted desperados William Banta and J. W. Caldwell and a band of border ruffians reportedly linked to Quantrill's raiders. The group went on a deadly rampage through the hills that culminated in the hanging of four men who lived on Grape Creek.

One of the victims was John Blank. Reports said the outlaws hung Blank from the tree that still stands in what is now Luckenbach Cemetery.

Not long after the Grape Creek lynching a band of outlaws, believed to be Waldrip's gang, surrounded the house of a school teacher and local unionist militia captain named Louis Schuetz. The outlaws ransacked the house, stole $400 cash and lynched Schuetz from a live oak tree.

Authorities arrested J. P. Waldrip on suspicion of the Schuetz robbery and murder and placed him in the Gillespie County Jail. A grand jury indicted Waldrip and 25 other men for crimes committed during the war, but Waldrip was not prosecuted, possibly for fear of retribution.

J. P. Waldrip was long on nerve but short on common sense. He left Gillespie County for a while, but in the spring of 1867 he and J. W. Caldwell rode into Fredericksburg in broad daylight. They spent a carefree day drinking whiskey, intimidating citizens and insulting Unionists.

That afternoon Waldrip and Caldwell left a saloon on the west end of town. As they walked southeast on Main Street, they met Captain Philip Braubach in front of the courthouse, near the corner of Main and Crockett Streets. Braubach was the son-in-law of Louis Schuetz, the man Waldrip was accused of murdering.

In an instant the street in front of the courthouse exploded in gunfire. Braubach jerked his pistol and squeezed off a few rounds. Waldrip responded. The shooting did no damage but drew the attention of Gillespie County Sheriff Frank Jung and a group of armed citizens.

San Antonion TX - Old Nimitz Hotel
Old Nimitz Hotel
Photo courtesy Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio
With the sheriff and his posse closing in, Waldrip took off down Main Street, running like a scared rabbit towards the Nimitz Hotel at the far end of town. At the Nimitz, he busted through the front door and dashed through the lobby.

As the outlaw walked cautiously out the back door of the Nimitz, Philip Braubach waited calmly, guns drawn, as still as a tombstone. As Waldip stepped into the sunlight two shots rang out. Waldrip fell dead near an oak tree by the stable.
Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 1 , 2018 Column

Sources:
"Gillespians Had Many Hardships During War Years," Fredericksburg Standard, May 1, 1946.
Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 241-42. www.CeliaHayes.com/archives/tag/jpwaldrip

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