Devil’s Backbone leads you to Fischer’s Store

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Ranch Road 32 West is worth a drive into a scenic part of Comal County. From New Braunfels, drive out FM 306, right on Purgatory Road, then left at RR 32 over a section called Devil’s Backbone. Probably named for the spine of the devil, it winds and winds and you are sure to get car-sick if you are prone to such an affliction.

At the intersection of RR32 and FM484 you come to a settlement called Fischer. Just to tell you how long this settlement has been there, the area (Hermann Fischer Ranch) received the Texas Department of Agriculture Family Land Heritage 150 year designation in 2004, which is given for continuous agricultural operation in the same family beginning at 100 years.

Hermann Fischer and his wife Anna were the first to settle in the valley on 160 acres where they built the first log cabin in the area. They came to Texas in 1846. Otto Fischer bought land next to Hermann’s, and both brothers were in the cattle business. Otto married Adolfina Schlameus. Other Germans that settled in the area were– Schlameus, Spangenberg, Linnartz, Luehlfing, Sachtleben, Pantermuehl, Kaderli, Haas, Schubert, Wersterfer, Krause and Wiechman. With this many families in the valley, Hermann decided to build a store in 1866 at one end of his log cabin. The store became the center of the community. With a large assortment of merchandise, Hermann soon expanded the store to three buildings selling groceries, farm machinery and household goods.

When the settlement received a post office named Fischer’s Store in 1876, it became well known over Texas. Then the name changed to Fischer Store and then in 1950 to Fischer.

A dance hall, bowling alley, school, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, gristmill, rodeo grounds, grist mill and last, but certainly not least, a cemetery was added.

Not far from the settlement on Ranch Road 32 is a large cemetery that has the earmarks of a caring group of people. This cemetery already is an HISTORIC TEXAS CEMETERY. Many Fischers are buried in that cemetery. Of the almost 500 graves there are other prominent family names.

In 1886 Otto Fischer gave 30 acres of his land to the Fischer’s Store Community for the purpose of building a school for their children. It was on the highest point of this land that the cemetery informally got started. It was appropriately called Fischer’s School Graveyard at Fischer’s Store. The Fischer Cemetery Association was later organized in 1976.

The first burial was the infant son of Monroe and Nettie Smith, nearby landowners and also the cemetery caretaker. Besides family members interred, there are also 21 graves of people whose remains were moved from the area that would become covered by Canyon Lake. Throughout the years, four graves were also moved from the Pantermuehl Ranch and single graves from Dripping Springs, Pleasant Valley, Schlameus Ranch and Suche Ranch.

So what happened to the rest of the 30 acres that was to be used for education? A school was built on this property and still stands. It is now the Fischer Community Center. All the one-room county school houses were consolidated under the Comal County Rural School which led to the current Comal Independent School District. Under this consolidation, the district claimed ownership of the land given by Otto Fischer. In 1976 the CISD transferred 3.851 acres of the original 30 acres to the Fischer Cemetery Association. The association divided the land into 1170 burial plots.

Leaving the cemetery, turn right on RR32 which leads you into the Fischer settlement. Located in the old Fischer Store is the Fischer Store Museum. There is so much history in that museum and so many genuine old things that tell the history of the Fischer community. One relict of interest to me was the old telephone booth that was located inside the store. It is beautifully constructed of wood. Inside the booth was a phone and at one time there were 16 parties on this one line. I even remember when there were two party lines in the city of New Braunfels. But 16?

The old cotton gin ledgers are there and their liquor license #84. The shelving and tables are all authentic to the store. Another interesting relic was a large cabbage slicer. Guess what that was used for. Right. It was used to make sauerkraut. Many people that live in the country still make sauerkraut.

Just down the road from the museum is the old dance hall. Private dances and receptions are still held and a public dance once a year. Next to the dance hall is the bowling alley where, to this day, nine pin bowling takes place.

Did you know that Fischer Store had a polo team? In the museum are homemade mallets made of a type of bamboo and wood. The open grass field measuring 300 feet long and 160 yards wide is still there across from the dance hall. The game was played with four players. One game lasted six chukkers or periods of 7 ½ minutes each. Cecil Smith who died in 1999 is given credit for starting the polo team at Fischer Store. Smith bought horses from the ranchers and trained them to be polo ponies. Polo ponies cannot be used as ranch horses once they are trained to be polo ponies. These trained ponies were temperamental and had a mind of their own. Part of the sport was the pony trying to throw off the rider.

The Comal County Fair will be this next week, Sept 24 to 28. There won’t be a polo game, but there once was. Back in 1932, the fair was reeling from the Depression, trying to stay afloat. They asked for local talent and the Fischer Store polo team challenged the New Braunfels team. The Fischer Store team was made up of Bill Fischer, Raymond Fischer, J.W. Bode, Bubie Vollmering, Reagan Calhoun and —Pape. The New Braunfels team was E.A. Maier, Hilmar Staats, Clifford Startz, Tommie Specht, Dickie Tausch, Roy Meredith, R.R. Coreth, Jackie Bergfeld, and Herbert Marion.

Between chukkers, a burlesque polo team from New Braunfels put on a comedy act. That team was made up of Ernst Stein, Charles Scruggs, Paul Jahn, Pete Nuhn, Coach Rode, “Red” Babel, Barney Koepp, Dr. Rennie Wright and Jack Eiband. What a sight that must have been!

Even without a polo game, see you at the Fair!

Charlene Fischer shows a homemade cabbage slicer in the Fischer Store Museum.

Charlene Fischer shows a homemade cabbage slicer in the Fischer Store Museum.

Polo Team

Fischer Polo Team

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Felipe Delgado’s West End Park

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Felipe Delgado had a dream. It was during WWII when he was in the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed in India. He dreamed of home in New Braunfels and of creating a place of entertainment for the Hispanic people. He and his wife Elisa fulfilled that dream by building the West End Hall and West End Baseball Park.

Elisa Saenz (Delgado) was born in Seguin after her parents had come from Mexico in 1926 to find work. At age 7, Elisa and her family moved to Dittlinger or as it was called, “La Calera” meaning “the limestone”. That’s what it was, a community for employees at the Dittlinger limekiln. It was one of the businesses owned by Hippolyt Dittlinger. In 1931, he formed the Servtex Material Company.

A community grew up around the lime and rock-crushing company. Houses were provided for the workers and a building that housed both a church and a school, called the Rosa Mystica School. The teachers of the school were brought in from Our Lady of the Lake Convent. Elisa did not finish school because she, like many other children at Dittlinger, took off to be migrant workers with their families, traveling on the back of big trucks to other states to pick fruit. Those who became migrant workers were gone about three months every year during the school year.

Elisa looks back to those days at Dittlinger with fond memories. There were lots of children to play with. Her father would often make barbeque, skinning a pig with every bit of the pig used for something. Elisa also remembers how hard her mother worked washing her father’s lime-covered clothes outside in a big pot over a fire. Every day the clothes had to be washed twice to remove the lime.

Felipe Delgado and Elisa Saenz met at a baseball game being played at Carl Schurz School here in New Braunfels. As a young man, Felipe joined the U.S. Army Air Corps where he became a radio and Morse Code operator. Elisa joined him when he was on furlough in 1944 and they were married. When Felipe got out of the service, the couple remained in New Braunfels. Here they would fulfill Felipe’s dream.

Elisa had a talent that provided her with a good job. She could sew. She worked at Cater Frock, sewing top-quality children’s clothes. That business was located in the present Recreation Center in Landa Park. When that business closed, Elisa kept on sewing for other people. She sewed the ornate Mexican Folk Dresses for the Ballet Folklorico that her granddaughter was in.

After WWII, Felipe came home to New Braunfels determined to build an entertainment center for the Hispanic people in the West End. He felt that there was a need for such a business. He worked at various jobs, finally ending up with a Civil Service job. But he devoted his spare time to working on the West End Park.

The property in the West End Subdivision #2 was owned by Charles and Laura Wallace and the Delgados bought the large piece of land, about four acres, in 1947. The City gave permission for parts of Katy and Michigan Sts. to be closed to traffic because Felipe needed that property to complete his plans for his West End Park.

First, a large concrete slab was poured by the light of lanterns because there was no electricity. The park eventually contained not only the large hall, but a ballpark, a large field for outdoor activities and carnivals, and a cantina. The park became popular very quickly with its dances and special events like weddings, anniversaries, birthday celebrations, Diez y Seis celebrations, boxing matches, and the Quinceanera celebrations for girls. At times the hall with its concrete floor became a skating rink. There was a rink outside as well. Elisa cooked hamburgers inside a small area next to the stage in the hall and in the cantina.

The baseball field with its grandstand encouraged the love of baseball and many games were played with other New Braunfels teams. The West End team was called the Cardinals and later the Lions. Many teams from Mexico played on that field as well.

A tragedy almost closed the hall in 1962 when the hall burned down on New Year’s Eve. All the band instruments burned. The Delgados had two daughters, Estella and Rosalinda, and that year Estella was to celebrate her 15th birthday with a Quinceanera. The hall was rebuilt by May and the celebration went on as planned.

The Quinceanera is a Hispanic tradition celebrating the 15th birthday of a young girl’s coming of age. It recognizes her journey from childhood to maturity. The custom highlights God, family, friends, music, food and dance. Naturally when Estella’s Quinceanera was finally held, it was in the new West End Hall. It is a very formal affair with elaborate dresses, tiaras and flowers. Fourteen girlfriends are chosen by the honoree. They are dressed alike and become part of the ceremony. It begins with a religious ceremony followed by a reception and then a dance. The honoree dances the first dance with her father.

Another very important celebration at West End Hall and all over Texas, for that matter, was the Diez y Seis de Septiembre. This event celebrates Mexico’s Independence from Spain in 1810. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla launched the Mexican War of Independence from Spain on September 16th. Hidalgo set out to spread the word, carrying a staff affixed with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It became a symbol of the Mexican liberation movement. The struggle against Spain had to do with the rights of the “Creoles”, those who were born in the new world with Spanish ancestry, but not given the same privileges as those born in Spain. After the war, those Spanish born Europeans were expelled from Mexico. Locally this celebration includes a queen and her court for the evening.

The Delgados leased the complex in the 1970s and the hall was torn down and sold in the 1980s. West End Park and Baseball Field fist the old saying, “Gone but not forgotten.”


West End Park with the hall and cantina. Inset is Elisa and Felipe Delgado, 1944 wedding photo.


Elisa, Felipe, Linda and Estella Delgado

Felipe Delgado

Felipe Delgado

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Karbach family responsible for Methodism in New Braunfels

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Methodism is a Protestant religion whose roots can be traced way back to a preacher named John Wesley in England. John Wesley and his brother Charles, while at Oxford University in 1739, began a movement devoted to helping the underprivileged. Fellow students called them “Methodists” for the methods they used to carry out their evangelistic religion. Evangelism is the process of preaching to spread the word of Christianity.

Wesley did not have in mind to start a new religion. Both brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England but because of their evangelistic methods, they were barred from speaking in most public places. They then resorted to preaching in homes or anywhere they could find an audience.

Another leader of Methodism was George Whitefield, also a minister of the Church of England. Eventually there was a parting of ways between the Wesley brothers and Whitefield over the subject of predestination. Whitefield was an advocate of predestination and the Wesley brothers were not.

In time, several branches of Methodism developed with these in particular: Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church South. In its long history, by 1930 these three branches united and then merged with another group called the Evangelistic United Brethren. This union eventually led to the formation of the United Methodist Church.

Locally, a man named David Karbach, and a circuit riding Methodist preacher, John Wesley DeVilbiss, are given credit for starting Methodism in New Braunfels. David Karbach had heard the glowing reports about Texas given to newspapers by Prince Carl after he visited Texas in 1844. Due to bad conditions in Germany, Karbach believed his family would have a better life in Texas. So in December of 1845, Karbach with his second wife and their children, set sail on the ship Johann Dethardt and landed in Indianola. With all their worldly goods they had boarded the ship just before Christmas and arrived in Texas in March, 1846.

In New Braunfels, each settler was given one lot in town and a ten acre plot to grow vegetables and feed. It is believed that this 10 acre plot was in the vicinity of the later Locke Nursery near the Comal Springs. A need for expansion led Karbach to buy ranch land on the Hancock Road (present FM 306), about five miles from town. They kept the house in New Braunfels so that the children could go to school and they would join him on weekends. Three of the Karbach children, Fritz, John, and Emilie (later Klingemann) bought land in the area that became known as the Karbach Settlement. With time, this settlement encompassed over 2,400 acres.

While he was still in Germany, David Karbach had affiliated with the Lutheran Church, as many other Protestants did at that time. After arriving in Texas, the family began attending meetings held by the circuit riding Methodist minister, John Wesley DeVilbiss. Due to the lack of ministers in early Texas, circuit riding ministers were those who became ministers on horseback, traveling from one town to another. The New Braunfels Methodists were in a circuit that included Castroville, Cibolo Settlement, Solms, the area above Landa Park hill called Geberge and finally, Schumannsville. DeVilbiss divided his time between these four settlements.

Initially the first Methodist Church held their services in New Braunfels at the home of J. Hirschleben located in the Comaltown area.

By 1858 the group had built a small wooden church on the corner of now Union and Common Streets. Abram Gentry and Conrad Seabaugh, owners and developers of Braunfels Subdivision in Comaltown conveyed two lots to the trustees of the German Methodist Society of New Braunfels.

David Karbach and his family, particularly his son Fritz, became very active in this little church. Sunday School was held frequently in homes in the Karbach Settlement and at the church. Fritz in particular was instrumental in starting the Sunday School. Family tradition has a delightful story about Fritz and his marriage to Emilie Erck. It seems that when Fritz returned from the Civil War, he and Emilie were married in the Comaltown Church. The army band of occupation heard there was to be a wedding and they came and played the Wedding March. Fritz was the superintendent of the Sunday School for 25 years.

By 1890, the Comaltown Church was no longer used and the Karbach Settlement became the center of church activities. A new pastor, Rev. Merkel and his wife, then opened a Sunday School in the unused church and it was very successful, so the church building was once again used. This building served the Methodists for over fifty years until 1913.

Then in 1928, the old first church building was dismantled. Currently a SAC-N-PAC is located on the site with only an oak tree remaining, reminding people of the past.

In 1913 the Karbach Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South was built at its present site on San Antonio St. The Karbach name was included, indicating that family’s involvement in this church. In 1940 another name change took place to Karbach Memorial First Methodist Church. The last renovation took place in 1952 and the church took its present name: First United Methodist Church.

Sixty pastors have served the Methodist church, 45 of which were circuit-riding ministers. The present minister is Rev. Jason Adams. As one of the oldest mainline churches in New Braunfels, it has been a congregation of Christian service to others, no doubt fulfilling the vision of John Wesley. Records show needs being met in the community, all the while tending to the needs of their own members. The church responded to times of tragedy in the community and was very active during the Great Depression and the two World Wars.

Aware of their historical role in New Braunfels history, the church has preserved its records from the start. Although they were written in German, they are being translated.

The first Methodist Church located on the corner of Union and Common Sts. in Comaltown. It was used more than 50 years. Job well done, John Wesley!

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Depression years affected everyone

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The fall and failure of the Stock Market in 1929 was the beginning of an era in American history called the Great Depression. The statistics of this period are staggering. Almost half of the people in the United States had no jobs, homes or food.

Leading up to this period after WWI was a time of tremendous social change and all the turmoil that accompanies change. It was the 1920s. Women were demanding voting rights and ethnic groups were demanding equal rights.

Then the banks failed, the Stock Market fell and those who had saved or borrowed money, lost everything. Big cities seemed to be hit the hardest for that was where the factories were.

By 1931, the Great Depression was in full swing. Texas governor Ross Sterling declared a “Smile Day” in November of that year supporting the American Legion’s effort to alleviate the suffering that first winter. As if smiling could solve all the problems!

Records show that locally there were approximately 400 people affected known to be unemployed and in desperate condition. Jobs were mainly for men so there were many more people affected.

An organization calling itself the Associated Charities Group was organized to help those in need. This organization included a group of organizations that could easily be applied to today’s world, for these civic-minded groups have always been active: American Legion and Auxiliary, Concordia Singing Society, First Protestant Church and Sunday School, Jacob Schmidt Store, Women’s Civic Improvement Club, Comal County, Christian Science Church, Masonic Lodge A.F.A.M., St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Business and Professional Women’s Club, NB Fire Department, A.J. Rabe, Child Welfare Club, Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Eastern Star, First Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Retail Merchants Association, and Lions Club. During that first year, 45 families were regularly helped.

Clothing drives were instigated by the Associated Christian Charities of America. Well known humorist Will Rogers performed in San Antonio and the proceeds were shared locally.

The local Lions Club was particularly busy. They distributed 1,400 pounds of beans that they had raised on their own experimental farm at the Comal County Fair Grounds. In addition, the club pledged a minimum of six full grown and fattened hogs a month. These hogs would be slaughtered and ready to be delivered to needy families.

Individuals and businesses had their own ways of helping out. For example, Kneuper Bros. Music Store next to the old Post Office did not repossess merchandise but allowed customers to pay what and when they could, sometimes as little as 25 cents a week. The brothers had added appliances to their merchandise so it was very important that customers could retain stoves, ice boxes and washers.

By the way, the Kneuper Bros. Store was the first business in town to have a television set in the early ‘50s. At night people would sit in front of the store window and watch the test pattern and a 5 minute film over and over.

Back to the 1930s. In my dad’s family there was a Depression story. Louis Adams, my grandfather, owned a butcher shop. During this terrible financial time, people would come in to buy meat without money. My grandfather told them that he would just write it on a slip of paper and they could pay when they could. I think he was able to do this because his source of meat was from his brother Bill Adams and the Adams Ranch. The Adams family helped a lot of people that way.

In 1931 Louis Adams died suddenly. My dad, who was left with the care of his mother plus his own family, was left penniless. Before Louis Adams died he had bought a three bedroom house on Comal St. which my grandmother then turned into a boarding house, mostly for her nieces. Their country school did not have a complete high school education, so they had to come to New Braunfels to finish school. The parents of these nieces brought ample produce from the farm to feed everyone at the house. Like my grandmother used to say, “You do what you have to do”. During this terrible time, President Herbert Hoover kept a message of resourcefulness as a way to solve problems. I think my family did that, but it wasn’t that easy for everyone.

One group of people that were affected were the farmers. Those who relied on crops and livestock were dealt another blow, the Dust Bowl and the boll weevil. The Dust Bowl was preceded by a long-lasting drought. Pictures of areas affected by this dust are hard to comprehend with clouds of dust moving across the land, pulling up plants by the roots leaving nothing but scorched earth.

Many of these farmers who had lost everything attempted to move towards the cities where they thought they had an opportunity to work and feed their families. When they got to the cities, there was no work and no transportation to return home. They survived on bread and soup lines supplied by various organizations, mainly the Red Cross. At the first opportunity they hopped on open train cars and moved from one place to another. These Hobos set up camps along the tracks, built fires to keep warm or cook whatever they were handed out in the cities.

Every big city had make-shift communities right outside of the city limits. They were called Hoovervilles because most Americans blamed the whole Great Depression on Pres. Herbert Hoover.

Here in New Braunfels, much of what we knew about the Depression came from newspapers and movies. Subtle little hints of the times can be found if you look hard enough at photographs of NB children at school during the 30s. No “store bought” clothes but dresses made of material from flour sacks. NB was fortunate to have the textile mill and Dittlinger Roller Mills. My generation even today sometimes suffer from what we call “Depression thinking”. We spent a long time appreciating handmade clothing articles. There’s a long way in between Homemade and Handmade.

Boys were lucky if they had cut-off pants from an older brother. None of the boys wore shoes and the girls went barefooted in the summer. I always wondered why, when we were constantly stepping on glass, sticker beds and rusty nails. We could have solved that problem by wearing shoes.

At the end of the 1930s the Great Depression was over, but taking its place in history was a period of much more magnitude when the US entered WWII.

Louis Adams Butcher Shop

Louis Adams Butcher Shop

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Phoenix Saloon applies for historical designation

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Another downtown building, the Phoenix Saloon owners Ross and Debbie Fortune, are applying for a Texas Historical Marker. The Phoenix Saloon history really does live up to the story of the Phoenix, a legendary bird that builds its own funeral pyre, throws itself into the fire, lays an egg in the ashes and hatches a new Phoenix bird. This legend has been used often as a metaphor for rebirth or resurrection. The metaphor fits the local Phoenix Saloon.

The property at the corner of east Castell and west San Antonio Sts., according to the late Roberta Mueller, was owned by Valentine Sippel, her great grandfather. Valentine married Anna Ossman and they had three children: Kaytrina, who was crippled, Henry, who was killed in the Civil War, and finally son John, who lived to be 50 years old by his own choice, when he committed suicide.

John Sippel married into the successful Gruene family by marrying Johanna Gruene. After six children, the marriage ended in a bitter divorce, according to family members. Sippel had built the Phoenix Saloon in 1871 and moved into the second floor. Christian Hohmann and Henry Meier operated a bar and billiard room on the first floor of the two-story building. H.R. Schumacker operated a brewery in the basement from 1872 to 1875, selling a keg of beer for $2.25 and a glass for 5 cents, the going rate at the time.

About 40 different persons are associated with the proprietorship, bartending of the saloon, and sometimes restaurant, too many names to put in this column. The building was also called by several names until 1895 when it was finally called the Phoenix Saloon and Restaurant.


An unfortunate incident occurred in 1885 when proprietor Walter Krause fought with a customer named James Alexander. Testimonies of two men in the saloon that day (Harry Mergele and Emil Schertz), stated that Alexander asked Krause how much he owed and Krause told him a quarter. Alexander said that he would pay him after pay day. Krause took exception to this and called him ugly names. Alexander left the building to go to Naegelin’s Bakery (apparently he worked there) and returned with one dollar, put it on the bar and retaliated with more ugly names. Krause jumped him from behind the bar and they exchanged blows. Alexander then left the bar as Krause was bleeding near the eye. Twelve days later Krause died as a result of the wounds.

Beer garden and chili

One of the attractions of the Phoenix was its beer garden facing San Antonio St. Women were welcome out there, but not inside. Women never went inside a saloon. The beer garden was between the saloon and the old Comal County Courthouse facing San Antonio St. The garden was also accessible from Castell St. at the back of the building next to the Ludwig Hotel which was located in what is now the parking lot of Chase Bank. Sippel had built a small pool with a fountain in the garden containing gold fish, a large catfish, and even a baby alligator. It was a popular gathering place downtown. Bells hanging from the trees summoned waiters from inside.

Another big attraction was William Gebhardt’s cafe at the back of the saloon. Gebhardt developed a sort of stew using ground up ancho peppers that he called Tampico Dust. This extremely popular concoction caused Gebhardt in 1892 to move to San Antonio where his brother-in-law, Albert Kronkosky, Sr. helped him organize the Gebhardt Chili Powder Co. Gebhardt’s wife was Rosa Kronkosky, sister of Albert. Incidentally Albert Kronkosky, Jr. was a very successful businessman who eventually owned the San Antonio Drug Co. as well as being a major stockholder in Merck & Co. Thus the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation was founded.


In 1895 a fire caused damage to the saloon as well as Fritz Maier’s “German Advocate” newspaper on the second floor, but the Phoenix rose again. After the reopening of the saloon there were many proprietors and “when everything was going right, up popped the devil – PROHIBITION”. The advent of prohibition dealt a blow to the saloon world. In NB as early as 1887 the second floor of the Phoenix had become the headquarters of the Anti-Prohibition movement for Comal County. Prohibition was a national issue so each state was to vote either for or against. New Braunfels held rallies around the Plaza and when the vote came up, Comal County voted 100% against prohibition. ”Gambrinus”, the legendary inventor of beer, had many followers in Comal County. At that time there were four breweries in New Braunfels: Rennert Brewery, Dampmann Brewery, Guenther Brewery and New Braunfels Brewing Co. This last one managed to stay open by producing a “near beer” called Busto.

During WWI, prohibition had linked itself with patriotism. First saloons were closed to soldiers and then in a burst of wartime feeling in 1918 the state of Texas voted in favor of prohibition. Rumors of an illicit brewery have circulated in NB but there is no proof. In the basement of the Phoenix there is a hole in the wall that some have speculated was an underground tunnel, but it turns out that it was probably a storage place for coal for the heating system.

Prohibition went into effect January of 1920, but the Phoenix Saloon closed down from 1918 to 1922. Then came two financial blows to the country, especially the government – the Great Depression and the fall of the stock market. One solution to these problems for the government was to repeal Prohibition so that taxes could be collected from the sale of liquor. Prohibition was repealed by 1933.

Building expansion

In 1922 the building was bought by Albert Ludwig, who expanded the building and added a third floor for the Masonic Lodge #1109. Jacob Schmidt bought the building in 1927 and operated a clothing store for 60 years. Several other businesses followed from 1996.

The latest rise of the Phoenix occurred when the Fortunes bought the property and brought it back to its original purpose, a saloon that has music and even serves chili. The Phoenix has risen again and remains a historic site!

Phoenix Saloon (on the right) in 1905.

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Controversial letters to Germany

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

A letter written on May 2, 1845, two months after the first settlers arrived in New Braunfels, gives us details of those first two months in NB. The letter was written by Lt. Oscar von Claren to his sister in Germany. The end of von Claren’s life overshadows the optimism conveyed by him, as you will see.

When Prince Carl left to go back to Germany, amid festivities and cannon fire at the site of the Sophienburg, he offered to take 69 letters back to Germany. Mail at that time took three months or longer. According to author Everett Fey, writer of “First Founders”, there are 14 letters preserved and transcribed “and it is uncertain whether the rest of the letters were delivered to families. There is a good possibility that these 14 letters were used as advertising by the Adelsverein to promote their immigration project.”

The preserved letters are mostly positive about the project, so what happened to the other letters that were perhaps not so positive? Were only the letters of satisfied customers published?

Letters alleging that the Adelsverein was irresponsible in caring for the immigrants were also published in the newspapers. The Adelsverein fought back with replies by one of their own, Count Carl of Castell. He demanded publication of letters giving the “voice of truth” or the positive view.

One of those 14 letters was Oscar von Claren’s sent to his sister, Augusta, and she, in turn sent it to the Adelsverein. It was, no doubt, of value to them.

Oscar von Claren from Hanover arrived on the ship Apollo and came inland with the first group of emigrants. As a young single man, von Claren was chosen by Prince Carl for the responsible position of being in charge of artillery in Prince Carl’s Militia. He organized them to protect the emigrants, both on the way and in the settlement.

In his letter to his sister, von Claren described his arrival in New Braunfels in April 1845 and then of the celebration that took place in early May when Prince Carl was getting ready to leave for Germany. He said that at the Sophienburg (fortress), festive speeches were made and the cannons fired.

At the time of year of his arrival, it was too late to put in a garden on the lot that had been given to him. He put in a cow pen out of logs where the calves stayed while the cows roamed freely. It was not necessary to feed them. In the evening, the cows would automatically roam back to their calves in the pen. Even people that had no houses had pens with cows. Anyone who had more than 25 cows had to pay a fee to the state of Texas. Von Claren was waiting to get chickens; “four hens for $1.00 and a rooster for a third of a dollar”. “He who has cattle, chickens and a livable house has everything” he told his sister. Milk, eggs and butter were the main diet.

Von Claren was aware of unfamiliar noises, like the cutting of trees, plowing and the building of huts. He arose at five in the morning, lit a fire, dressed, cooked tea, baked bread and ate breakfast. After 11 o’clock in the morning the heat was unbearable so everyone stopped working. At this time he cooked dinner and then at three o’clock went to work again. After working, the evening meal was prepared and took a long time because corn meal bread had to be baked every day. It tasted bad when it was not fresh. It got dark around seven o’clock. Twilight, like in Germany, was not known in Texas and it got much darker. Von Claren told his sister that what he needed more than anything was tools, carpenter tools and tools for gardening. Also he needed seeds, fruit seeds of all kinds, lentils, and grape vines. He wished he had brought more with him. An immigrant only paid for the transportation from Bremen and the Adelsverein provided everything else to the colony.

He told his sister that during the land trip in from the coast, many of his clothes and part of his weapons were damaged due to not having them packed in boxes encased in tin. He now sleeps on animal hides and covers with a woolen cover instead of the linens he is used to.

About 300 Tonkawa Indians visit the settlement daily. They are at peace with the Germans and come into town to trade. Von Claren traded animal skins, hides and leopard fur. He traded gun powder, colorful chinz and calico, red and white beads, but not yellow or green (curious), and all kinds of toys made of tin or German nickel silver. Turtles and snakes demand high prices and he intended to sell them.

Their clothing was very thick and long boots were indispensable, but very expensive. He praised the beauty of the area, pretty forests next to the Guadalupe River, hills and prairies covered with wild flowers. Wood like cypress and cedar trees emit a magnificent odor and remind him of pencils. The beautiful blooms of the cactus would be greatly admired in Germany. At night, the air is filled with lightning bugs.

(Here’s the catch:) One must become accustomed to the great heat and large unpleasant animals that inflict deadly wounds, and the numerous rattlesnakes, some ten feet long and probably 15 years old. There are also a large number of alligators, so bathing in rivers is dangerous. He shot a 14 foot alligator. Tarantulas, large spiders that “runs around with the snakes and scorpions” in the woods, have a disagreeable stinger. Finally there is a caterpillar that crawls over the skin.

In May of 1845, there are 400 people living in the settlement. He would like to have friends and family with him “with whom he could cultivate a companionable relationship”.

By the time his sister received his letter, von Claren had been brutally killed and scalped near Live Oak Springs. He and two companions were returning to NB from Austin and while camping, a band of natives attacked the three. Wessle got away and led the Rangers to the site of the massacre. Von Claren and von Wrede were buried there.

Count Carl of Castell as a young man.  As a member of the Adelsverein, he was responsible for promoting immigration.

Count Carl of Castell as a young man. As a member of the Adelsverein, he was responsible for promoting immigration.

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