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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

The Location of Fredericksburg
a Twist of Fate

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The early settlement of the German Hill Country was no orderly process but was often confused, arbitrary and disorganized. The accomplishment was as much a product of spur-of-the-moment decisions and seat-of-the-pants improvisation as forethought, coordination and long-term strategic planning. That Fredericksburg is on Barons Creek, and not someplace on the San Saba River, is as much a twist of fate as anything else.

After Texas became an independent country in 1836, there were millions of acres of unoccupied public land west of the Colorado. That land was of little use to Texas as a wilderness. It needed to be occupied, owned and taxed. The taxing part was especially important since Texas had maybe 50 bucks in the treasury.

So the Texas government, following the pattern of the Spanish and Mexican governments, granted huge tracts of unclaimed land to agents called empresarios for colonization purposes.

0n 1842 the Texas government granted Henry Francis Fisher and Burchard Miller, representing the San Saba Colonization Company, more than 3 million acres of wild, unoccupied territory between the Llano and the Colorado Rivers. In their contract with the Republic of Texas, Fisher and Miller agreed to bring in 1,000 families or single men. Each family would get 320 acres, and each single man would get 160 acres. The empresarios would get title to thousands of additional acres once the contract was completed.

Fisher and Miller then went to work signing up settlers. The process was slow, so the empresarios and their agents ramped up the advertising process. Some agents made claims that stretched the truth from here to San Antone. Colorful stories and splashy newspaper ads made western Texas sound like a Mediterranean paradise where fish jumped into the boat, hunters killed all the game they could eat without leaving the front porch and "grain leaped from the ground in floods of golden manna."

But Western Texas was no paradise. It was hot, dry and desolate. The Fisher-Miller grant was 300 miles from the coast and 150 miles beyond the frontier line. It was the hunting ground of the Comanches.

Then in 1844 the San Saba Colonization Company got a boost when the Republic of Texas appointed Henry Fisher as consul to Bremen in the German States. It was an opportunity for Fisher to serve the interest or Texas and help himself at the same time.

It was also about this time that a revolt broke out in Germany. The revolt was in response to, among other things, authoritarianism, heavy taxation and political censorship. But the revolution failed, and many Germans on the losing side wanted to start a new life in America.

Henry Fisher could spot economic opportunity in a dark closet. He formed a partnership with the Adelsverein - the German immigration company, to bring German settlers to his land grant north of the Llano River.

Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels came to Texas to represent the Adelsverein, and it wasn't long before the Prince learned the cold, hard truth - that the land promised to the Germans for settlement was a remote and dangerous region, with no roads and already claimed by the Comanches. The immediate problem was that several thousand German immigrants had already set sail for the Promised Land.

So Prince Carl improvised. He bought a strip of land closer to civilization on the Comal River - enough land to give each settler a few acres and a city lot. But Prince Carl also saw a storm coming. He went back to Europe, leaving the colony in the capable hands of John Meusebach.

By this time everyone was pretty disillusioned with the whole idea of Texas immigration, but that ship had sailed. Thousands more German immigrants would be in Texas by 1846. Something had to be done and soon.

So Meusebach bought another strip of land in the Hill Country northwest of New Braunfels. He called it the "most beautiful section of the entire land." The new arrivals made their way to the Pedernales River Valley and founded the town of Fredericksburg on Baron's Creek.

A lucky twist of fate as it turned out.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" September 1, 2020 Column

Sources:
Ray A. Billington, America's Frontier Culture, Three Essays (College Station: Texas A&M University Press), 89.
"The Story of Mason," The Mason County News, August 19, 1971.
"Landa Park: A treaty reached with the Comanches that made a difference," New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, December 4, 2016.
The Handbook of Texas, Fisher-Miller Land Grant.
"Why Menard isn't Called Fredericksburg or New Braunfels," Fredericksburg Standard, March 18, 1937.


"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • A Traffic Jam in Bankersmith 8-15-20
  • Vereins Kirche: The Symbol of Fredericksburg 8-1-20
  • Celebrating the Vereins Kirche 7-15-20
  • 70 Miles of Bad Road 7-1-20
  • Armadillo Shell Baskets were Big Business in Comfort 6-15-20

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