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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Life & Times of
a Goliad Survivor

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
Not long ago, we included in this column the account of the Goliad massacre as told by Hermann Ehrenberg - he was one of the survivors.

I became interested in Ehrenberg's story and decided to see what I could find out about this immigrant from Prussia. As I often do when searching for information on Texas history, I turned to The Handbook of Texas to find the answers to my curiosity about Ehrenberg's life. What I found out about this man and his exploits truly amazed me.

Herman Ehrenberg immigrated to New York in 1834 and by October of 1835, he had joined up with the New Orleans Greys and was on his way to Texas. It is quite possible that he was in Gonzales at the time that "first shot" was fired at Mexican soldiers and sparked the Texas Revolution. We do know that he participated in the siege of Bexar in December of 1835.

After spending the winter of 1835 inside the Alamo, Ehrenberg and a group of the "Greys" struck out for Matamoros, but after arriving at Goliad they decided to join Fannin's command. That decision proved fatal for most of the men, as they were murdered by Mexican troops on March 27, 1836. But the 20 year-old Ehrenberg made a run for it and although a Mexican soldier slashed him across the head with a sword, he still made it to the San Antonio River and short-lived freedom.

After escaping from Goliad, Ehrenberg wandered around seeking shelter in abandoned homes in the area. It is interesting to note that the young man could have avoided all the misery he endured at Goliad because the Mexicans offered all captured Germans the opportunity to join their cause - Ehrenberg refused the offer saying that he considered himself a Texan.

Ehrenberg was free from the Mexicans but without food, in a hostile country, he decided to try another plan. He posed as a Prussian traveler seeking protection and turned himself over to the Mexican army. General Urrea took a liking to the boy and allowed him to accompany the troops to Matagorda. It was here that word came of the battle at San Jacinto and the capture of Santa Anna. As Urrea's army began its retreat to Mexico, Ehrenberg escaped again and this time for good.

And now for the rest of the story

Ehrenberg was discharged from the Texas army on June 2, 1836. He returned to Germany and studied mining at Freiburg University. The 1840s found him teaching English at Halle University and returning to the United States in 1844 in time to join up with a group of fur trappers who were headed to Oregon from St. Louis.

In 1845, Ehrenberg left Oregon and sailed to Hawaii. The government there hired him to survey their streets and draw a map of Honolulu. During this venture he visited many Polynesian islands, including Tahiti. By 1846, he was in California and participated in the Mexican War where he helped rescue some captured Americans.

Ehrenberg's adventures continued, as he participated in the California gold rush in 1848-1849. He was involved in the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 and is said to have made the first map of the purchase. This was the United States' acquisition of part of southern New Mexico and Arizona. In 1855 he was hired to survey the town of Colorado City, Arizona, and in 1856 he, along with Charles Poston, established the headquarters of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company at Tubac, Arizona.

From 1863 to 1866, Ehrenberg was an Indian agent for the Mojaves on the Colorado River Reservation. Ehrenberg Peak in the Grand Canyon National Park is named after him. During his lifetime he compiled many important and historic maps. He wrote articles for Mining Magazine, Journal of Geology, and Arizona Weekly. He also published articles about his experiences in Texas during the battle of Coleto and the Goliad massacre. Mineral City, Arizona, was renamed Ehrenberg in his honor. And Senator Barry Goldwater called him, "one of the greatest surveyors and map makers ever to visit the Western United States." Hermann Ehrenberg was an extraordinary man who survived the horrors of Goliad to go on to leave his mark on his adopted country. He spent his life as a bachelor and although he survived several wars, fate turned against him on October 9, 1866, when he was robbed and murdered near the site of present-day Palm Springs, California.

© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary March, 2001 Column

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