Hermit of the Hills
story of Peter Berg and his sweetheart ranks right up there with
Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra and Brad and Jenn on the
list of the most timeless and tragic love stories ever told.
Peter Berg came to Gillespie
County, Texas from Prussia in 1857. At 20 years old he was an
accomplished coppersmith and stonemason.
Berg did some of the earliest rock work in Gillespie
County. Some of it still stands. He may have built the rock
basement of the Dr. Albert Keidel House at 252 E Main in Fredericksburg.
When he came to Texas Berg left his sweetheart behind with a promise
to send for her as soon as he saved enough money. She pledged her
love to him and looked forward to the day they would be together
But the course of love never runs smooth. It often runs more like
an old lawn mower than a Swiss watch. Love can lift you up or crush
you like a runaway beer wagon.
One day a teamster brought bad news from Indianola.
Peter Berg's sweetheart was in Texas, but she wasn't coming to Fredericksburg.
When she heard about the hardships on the Texas frontier, she jilted
Berg and married another man.
Peter Berg's life changed in an instant. He withdrew from the world
to shield his broken heart from the pain of close relationships.
He became a hermit.
built a 2 story rock house in a ravine 7 miles northwest of Fredericksburg
near Cave Creek on what came to be called the William Kiehne Ranch.
Whatever Berg needed, he made with his own hands. He made a chair
and a bed. He made his own tools and sewed his own clothes. He built
a stone tower and a Dutch windmill to pump water and grind cornmeal.
| Peter Berg
and his organ
Fredericksburg Standard, May 1, 1946, centennial edition
| Berg loved music.
He built a pipe organ from an old box and spare parts. The pipes were
rolled up newspapers pasted together. Hunters passing through Cave
Creek could sometimes hear him playing his organ and singing German
He studied nature and the habits of wild animals. He sat in his rock
tower at night and studied the movement of the stars. People who knew
him say he could predict the weather.
He had no clock or calendar. For Peter Berg, the day of the week was
an approximation. He measured time in passing seasons, not in hours
Berg made wine from mustang grapes, colored with the bark from a Blackjack
tree. He made some of the finest whiskey in the Hill
Country and the oak barrels to store it in.
When he needed money he hauled his whiskey to Fredericksburg.
He set up shop on the shady side the Vereins
Kirche on Sunday afternoons. He sold whiskey for 30 to 50 cents
Berg had a reputation as a mechanical genius. After someone stole
a keg of whiskey from his cellar, he rigged an alarm system. If the
door to the cellar opened while he was sleeping, a weight suspended
over his bed would fall and wake him up.
His desire to make better whiskey almost sent him to jail. He wrote
to a distillery describing his process and asking for suggestions
to improve his product. The distillery notified the government. Revenuers
raided his still, but the government refused to prosecute.
As Berg got older he found it harder to take care of himself. He had
bad knees. He couldn't see or hear very well. A number of people in
offered financial help, but Berg turned them down. He was a proud
man. He didn't want charity.
Then in his last years he accepted a pension of $8 a month. He saved
half of it. After he died friends found quite a bit of money stashed
in an old trunk and hidden behind a loose stone in the wall.
One morning some hunters called to him, but Peter Berg didn't answer.
The hunters went inside and found Berg lying on his bed. The Hermit
of the Hills had taken his own life.
| © Michael
June 15, 2018 Column
"Berg the Hermit, A Legendary Figure," Fredericksburg Standard,
May 1, 1946.
"The Hermit of the Hills," Burnet County Bulletin, December 28, 1977.
"Interesting Story Strange Life Hermit in Fredericksburg," The Victoria
Daily Advocate, March 8, 1917