Morales Funeral Home early business in Comaltown

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Dr. Ferdinand Roemer in his book “Roemer’s Texas,” when he arrived in the village of New Braunfels in 1846, wrote that a speculative American had laid out a new city in between the fork of the Comal and the Guadalupe within view of the city of New Braunfels and it was called Comaltown. This American citizen was Daniel Murchison, a land agent for Maria Antonia Veramendi and her husband Rafael Garza. Maria Veramendi Garza was the daughter of Juan Veramendi, governor of Texas under the Mexican regime who had received this land grant.

When Prince Carl laid out the city of New Braunfels on the west bank of the Comal, the Garzas laid out their inheritance on the east side of the Comal. Although Comaltown was separated from New Braunfels by water, it was soon annexed to the city of NB.

There has been very little history written about this thriving community so David Hartmann and I have begun a research project about Comaltown. We are collecting information on people, businesses, schools, churches, recreational activities and much more. David and I have a lot in common, including sharing a common ancestor here in Comaltown, Johann Georg Moeller (1844). We both grew up in this area and attended Lamar School. But when David went to Lamar, I was teaching there. David was in my music class at Lamar and so was Angie Morales, the daughter of Charlie and Francisca Morales who owned Morales Funeral Home on Common St. The funeral home was the first business that we researched in our new project.

The Morales Funeral Home, which was located at 171 Common St., was a thriving business until it was closed. Angie Morales (Kieny) was its last director and mortician. Her parents were Charlie and Francisca Sanchez Morales. Charlie was born in 1897 in Gruene and Francisca in Laredo in 1903. Together the couple had seven children. Angie, who was born in 1945, was the youngest. The other children are Carlota, Alfonso, Virginia, Francis, Martha, and Henry.

In 1921, Charlie Morales bought the property on which the Morales Funeral Home would be located. On the property was a small Sunday House and next to that was a two-story structure which, over the years, had served as a saloon downstairs and a small hotel with rooms for rent upstairs. There was a full basement for making wine and beer. Attached to this two-story building was another one-story addition probably used as a residence for the innkeeper. The buildings were constructed in the true German fachwerk style of clay bricks and cross timber. The clay used was plentiful in the Comaltown area, as many buildings were made of this easy-to-get material.

There is no information on the early owners, however, on the 1881 bird’s-eye view map of New Braunfels, the buildings can clearly be seen. They probably date back to the mid-1800s. They were at one time considered the oldest surviving buildings in Comaltown.

When Charlie Morales purchased the property, he removed the second story of the two- story building, probably due to the fragility of the clay. Other buildings in the area were converted to one-story due to the same situation. The basement became a cellar for can goods and vegetables. The Morales family lived in the remodeled structure and the other side became a funeral home in 1922. All of the Morales children were born at home.

Before buying the funeral home property, Charlie had worked for local contractors along with Rich Moeller. David Hartmann speculates that they worked for the Moeller Brothers Contracting firm consisting of Adolph and Alvin C. Moeller. All lived in the Comaltown area and Rich Moeller was a relative of the brothers.

Charlie Morales had several brothers who owned funeral homes in San Antonio, Austin, and Houston and so the mortician occupation was not new to him. Over the years over 30 family members were involved in the funeral business.

Angie grew up helping her dad and learning from him. She graduated from New Braunfels High School in 1965 and received her mortician’s license from the Commonwealth College of Science in Houston, doing an apprenticeship at Earthman’s Funeral Homes in Houston. Then in 1969 Angie returned to her hometown, New Braunfels, to help her father who retired, but remained active in the business. She became the first female funeral director and mortician in New Braunfels. She remembers some interesting times and she remembers hard times. Many families, due to lack of money, paid Charlie by bringing eggs, chickens, and even a goat. Some could not pay but received the funeral service anyway. Charlie Morales died in 1975.

To Angie, being a full time mortician and raising a family was no easy job. She remembers driving the hearse that the family named “Nellie Belle” hauling around young children that she helped raise.

Angie Morales maintained the funeral director position until 2006 when she closed the funeral home and turned the property over to her son. The buildings were subsequently torn down to make room for condominiums.

Most of the funeral records have been retained by Angie. Her former classmate at NBHS, Estella Delgado Farias, asked to make copies of the funeral home records. Estella was the person who did the research on the West End Hall and Baseball Parks. Angie agreed and Estella said that most of the 7,000 people in the records were buried in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Panteon Hidalgo Cemeteries. She also related that most of the funerals were conducted by the Morales Funeral Home. Estella and her husband, Robert Farias, are now working on the information which they are entering into a database. They are also searching for missing information and eventually will make all of this information available to the public at the Sophienburg Museum and Archives.

David and I are off to a running start. Well, maybe not exactly running, but we’re getting there. If you have information and pictures of Comaltown, we would love to use them.

The old Morales Funeral Home hearse along with Charlie and Francisca Morales on their wedding day.

The old Morales Funeral Home hearse along with Charlie and Francisca Morales on their wedding day.

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It’s Fair Time

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

A week of fun at the Comal County Fair really started off yesterday with the B-B-Cook-off and the Queen’s Contest today.

There is something for everybody at the fair. A giant carnival is the highlight for the kids. Even watching the crew set up the rides is a treat. The carnival literally rolled into town and began it’s set-up. With eager anticipation, kids watch the rides assembled like giant puzzles.

Did you know that the Ferris wheel was introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition of 1893? George Ferris built the 280-foot-high structure having 36 cars. Each car could hold 40 passengers. The Ferris wheel became the standard for every carnival thereafter.

By the way, New Braunfels had a connection with this Chicago Exposition. The City of New Braunfels entered into a contract with the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. to build two high water bridges in NB in 1894.The company would use the steel from the dismantled Chicago World’s Fair. One of these two bridges was built at the foot of San Antonio St. over the Comal River, and the other at the north end of Seguin Ave. over Comal Creek. The total cost of the bridges was $9,895. These bridges are no more. The San Antonio St. Bridge was replaced in 1923 by the present concrete bridge and the Seguin Ave. Bridge was replaced with the concrete bridge that is the railroad underpass.

The State Fair of Texas was held in Dallas in 1886 and just a few years later the Comal County Fair organized in much the same way as the state fair. In Dallas, five businessmen organized the Dallas State Fair. Arguments over the location caused the group to be split and form two state fairs. One was the Dallas State Fair and the other was the Texas State Fair and Exposition. Both claimed crowds of 100,000 but both failed to meet expenses. In 1887 these two fairs merged and agreed to hold the fair at Fair Park in Dallas. They bought additional 37 acres. A series of problems forced them to sell the land to the City of Dallas in 1904. In 1930, the racetrack was removed to build a stadium later called the Cotton Bowl.

“Meanwhile back at the ranch” in New Braunfels in 1892, a hospital was being dedicated here and a small fair was held on the front grounds to raise money. People liked the idea and so a Fair Association was formed after the editor of the Zeitung, Anselm Eiband, asked why we didn’t have a fair in NB when Fredericksburg and Lockhart had one.

Right after this Krankenhaus Fair, the Comal County Fair Assosciation was organized. They elected Harry Landa as president and the fair was planned for 1893 on Landa’s pasture. Because of drought conditions, this fair was postponed until the next year. The amount of dust that would be stirred up by the horse races would be unbearable. Horse races were a big part of the early fairs. For that matter, horse races were big gambling activities in early Texas.

Four successful fair years passed and then the Fair Association bought their own land. In 1898 the organization purchased 11 acres in Comaltown on the Guadalupe River. Six hundred shares were sold at $20 a share. The land was cleared for a race track and a dancehall was built. For a few years the fair was financially successful but the situation turned around in 1905. Look back at what was happening in Dallas at the same time. Like Dallas, the CCFA decided to sell the property to the City of New Braunfels with generous lease options.

The fair was revitalized in 1908 and in 1923 the Fair Association was incorporated. Three more blocks in the Braunfels subdivision were purchased adjacent to the fair property. That same year the newly constructed grandstand burned to the ground, but the loss was covered by insurance. This helped the financial situation for a short time until the Great Depression of 1931. During this financially difficult time, the fair struggled to keep going but made some significant changes; prices for admission were reduced, no money for prizes was awarded, and most entertainment was voluntary. Local football and baseball teams put on games in front of the grandstand. For a few years the New Braunfels Unicorns held their first game of the season at the fairgrounds.

If I were asked to come up with a description of the fair, I would have to say “tradition and addition”. So many elements of the fair are as they have always been. The parade, the carnival, the exhibits, the rodeo, the queen’s contest, all are traditional.

I would have to say that the biggest change in the fair is the elimination of horse racing. One of the main events became the expanded rodeo. Some changes reflect society’s changes as well. The fair had a German flavor at the beginning and so German culture was emphasized. Then right after WWII the atmosphere of the fair changed and it became more of a western-style fair. The old Beer Garden became the Comal Corral and the music changed from oom-pah to “Cotton Eyed Joe”. The traditional Night in Old New Braunfels previously held on Thursday night has been moved to the last day of the fair on Sunday. Jeremy Richards will play music and the dance contests will still be held. The final Grand March will signal the closing of the Fair.

One big addition to this year’s fair is the unveiling of the Comal County Fair Historical Marker awarded by the Texas Historical Commission. The marker will be on display in the Comal Corral as it waits for its permanent location at the new front gate to be built soon. Being a marker sponsor shows the recognition of the historic value of the Comal County Fair and the Association’s interest in its history.

Another big additional change is the Cowboy Breakfast. It will be held at the Farmer’s Market downtown from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. the day of the parade. Donations will be accepted and are for the Comal County Fair Association’s Scholarship Fund and also the Sally Kingsbury Foundation. There will also be music.

At 10:00 o’clock when the parade begins, there will be a WWII Air Force Flyover. Leading the parade this year will be Parade Marshal Arlon Hermes, longtime volunteer and supporter of the fair.

The changes that have been made over the years still make the Comal County Fair the “biggest and bestes” Fair in Texas.

The American Legion parade entry won the $50 prize in 1929.

The American Legion parade entry won the $50 prize in 1929.

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Location of Altgelt Pond revealed

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Recently I had an opportunity to practice my investigative reporting skills. I’m not adventurous enough to be a real investigative reporter but every once in a while something piques my curiosity and I’m off on an adventure. Reading a newspaper article by Oscar Haas that he wrote 45 years ago about Altgelt Pond got me started.

Never having heard of the pond before, I started looking and found very little. The story was very interesting but gave me sketchy clues about where this pond was located. Clue #1 was that it was four miles west of New Braunfels on the Dry Comal Creek. After several dry runs, my husband and I started over at the Plaza, went out Landa St., turned right before the overpass, turned left on Loop 337, heading toward the Dry Comal Creek area. Sure enough, large patches of trees on the right side of the loop led us to a little turn-in right after McCoys Lumber and Holiday Marine Boat Supplies. There was the River City Range and right there as you drive in on the left side of the short drive is Altgelt Pond. The pond has a chain-link fence around it but it is visible.

Johnny Rodriguez, a native of New Braunfels, owns the River City Range, a seven acre miniature golf course, two driving ranges, practice facility, batting cages, and sanded and lighted volleyball courts. There is a bar with several television sets, pool table, and ping pong table. Rodriguez bought the property five years ago.

Stories handed down by old-timers in the area tell of very big fish and that the pond was a favorite fishing spot. The pond has never dried up. Stories of the pond go back to the beginning of the settlement. Occasionally alligators were sighted in the Comal River and thought to be from the Dry Comal. Rodriguez said that even through the last drought in Comal County, the pool remained full. Other pools and tanks in the area dried up. It is estimated that the pool is at least 60 feet deep but was impossible to measure. Imagine the difficulty of measuring the depth of a spring-fed pool.

No one knows what name the pond had in the past. If it was named after the owners, it could have been Veramendi Pond, Prince Carl Pond, Meusebach Pond, Ernst Coreth Pond and finally Altgelt Pond. Probably the Native Americans had a name for it. According to Haas, there were several different names given to the pond, such as “Blue Hole” and “Bottomless Hole”. Early settlers called it “Der Teich”, meaning The Pond in German. This pond may be bottomless but it is not blue. It’s hard to imagine it as ever being described as blue. It’s green with algae and looks like it could be a great setting for one of the swamp movies. I imagine the snakes love it.

One of the first owners of the land on which the pond was located was John O. Meusebach, successor to Prince Carl as head of the Adelsverein in Texas. When Meusebach came to New Braunfels to take the place of Prince Carl, he came with a contract signed by Count Castell, president of the German Emigration Company. The contract stated that Meusebach would receive 500 acres of the company’s land of his choosing. In June, 1847, Meusebach chose a 280 acre plot where the pond was located.

Six months later he sold the tract to Count Ernst Coreth for $3,266 including a house, two cedar log cabins, farm implements, garden seeds, ploughed land, ditches and fences.

Meusebach married Miss Agnes Coreth, oldest daughter of Count Ernst and Countess Agnes Coreth on Sept. 26, 1852. For a brief time the Meusebachs lived at Hueco Springs and later founded Loyal Valley. Agnes Meusebach’s parents, Count and Countess Coreth, came with their six children to Texas in the fall of 1846 on the ship York, an emigrant sailing ship out of Antwerp. Five more children were born in Texas. The last child, Otilie, was born in 1858 and married Hermann Altgelt in 1879. The obituary of Mrs. Agnes Coreth states that the family after its arrival in Texas “went on to Fredericksburg, returned to NB and lived on a farm later known as the Altgelt Farm, which has the famous Altgelt Pond on it.” (Oscar Haas said that the pond was owned by E.R. Teinert in 1970.) It now belongs to Johnny Rodriguez.

Rochette Coreth, son of Franz Coreth and the grandson of Ernst and Agnes Coreth, told Oscar Haas a story about Altgelt Pond. He said that when his grandfather owned the land on which the pond was located, he used the pond for irrigation. There was a certain special kind of clay that he had hauled in by mule carts and placed the clay around the outside of the pond to build it up. He was able to use the flow of the pond for irrigation purposes. The water was then above the level of the surrounding fields and it was possible to use gravity flow to irrigate. The pond became the object of a riparian (water) rights suit. Haas said that a mill owner farther down the Comal Creek had been using the overflow of the pond to turn a waterwheel for his mill. When Coreth dammed it up, water no longer flowed to his mill. The mill owner, and Haas did not name the person, filed suit against Coreth and the suit eventually went to the Texas Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of Coreth’s rights.

The whole area on which Altgelt Pond is located has its unusual features whether for agricultural purposes or industry. Some old prominent names connected with this land were Meusebach, Altgelt, Coreth, Ogden, Eikel and especially Dittlinger who was the founder of the settlement of Dittlinger in the early 1900s. He and I.A. Ogden began a rock-crushing business on a large scale that has grown to what it is today. Dittlinger created a settlement of houses,a school, a church, stores, and a dance hall for workers at “Las Calera”, or The Lime as it was called by the inhabitants.

The settlement of Dittlinger is no more, agriculture in the area is sparse, but Der Teich refuses to go away. Come to think of it, I might be able to start a new career in investigative journalism.

Early photo of Altgelt pond with Count Ernst Coreth inset.

Early photo of Altgelt pond with Count Ernst Coreth inset.

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Oscar Haas’ research used by many for over 75 years

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

There is one historian’s name in New Braunfels that is mentioned over and over. After writing this column for the last nine years, and writing a few books, I can’t begin to tell you how many times his name is mentioned as a writer or a translator. Somehow the name slips in there before you know it. The person to whom I refer, is Oscar Haas.

Haas’ material is widely used and the Sophienburg has a vast collection of his papers, published and unpublished. As far as historical writers, the same can be said for Hermann Seele and Jacob Lindheimer but not to the extent of Oscar Haas’ contribution.

Sophienburg volunteer, Ralph Koch, is presently going through and organizing material from the Oscar Haas collection.

Oscar Haas was born on October 12, 1885, on a farm in Cranes Mill in Comal County. He was the oldest child of Ernst Georg Haas and Ottilie Rochau Haas. Both families were German immigrants. The families had moved to the Cranes Mill “mountains” soon after the Civil War. The farm is 16 miles west of New Braunfels and now is under the water of Canyon Lake.

Haas spent much of his early childhood on the Little Blanco River in Blanco County. He attended a little country school called the Twin Sisters School.

In 1897, the family moved to New Braunfels and he started the third grade at the New Braunfels Academy on Mill St. Right after finishing the sixth grade at this school, he began working for druggist August Forke. Forke owned the pharmacy and this building is the famous Forke Store now located at Conservation Plaza. I say famous because so many NB events have been held in this building with its old floors that retain its old atmosphere.

Obviously Oscar Haas was a bright, curious boy. Riding his bicycle along country roads, he would sketch buildings and people. The Sophienburg Museum has a large collection of Native American arrowheads that he gathered mostly in the Landa Park area. It is a beautiful mounted collection hanging in the Native American exhibit and contains spear points, flint knives, scrapers as well as the arrowheads.

In 1918 Oscar married Clara Amelia Conring and eventually she became a partner with him in his search for the history that both of them came to love.

As a young man he worked for the large mercantile store of Pfeuffer and Holm as a salesman of men’s clothing. This led to a brief partnership in the retail clothing and dry goods business. His store was directly across from the First Protestant Church and the building was eventually moved to Gruene.

A real break in Haas’ life occurred when he was elected county treasurer in 1934, a position he held for 28 years. By 1940 he had begun the discovery, collection and translation of old county records in the courthouse. Around that time, courthouses all over the state began getting rid of old records because of crowded conditions. There was a feeling that these records had no value, but Haas knew better. He saved the county records and had them recorded in the Texas State Archives. It was from these records that he began writing articles for publication in the New Braunfels Zeitung and the New Braunfels Herald. He wrote a column called “Know Comal County” in which he translated the old Commissioners Court records from German to English. Starting with the year 1846, he revealed to the current population of the county what had happened 100 years earlier. This series ran for three years in both newspapers. Following this series was another series called “99 and 100 Years Ago in New Braunfels.”

Hermann Seele was an early writer who wrote history and stories about New Braunfels. Seele arrived in the settlement in May of 1845. His recollections gave us complete descriptions of those early years. Of course, they were written in German, but Haas could translate them. An important literary work that Haas translated was Seele’s “Die Cypress”, a collection of non-fictional and fictional stories. This book makes excellent reading and can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg.

Another translation by Haas was Fritz Goldbeck’s historic poems describing New Braunfels. This to me was a very difficult translation, as it is hard to translate poetry from one language to another. Next came the translation of Prince Carl’s papers in which he recorded everything about the colonization project. Now just imagine this project. He translated the German “Fraktur”, the German equivalent of English script. Most of the German letters don’t even look like the English letters. I will say this, however, he probably learned this script at the country school at Twin Sisters. My dad learned this Fraktur going to school in the country, but my mother did not. She went to school in NB where she was taught English and German was a second language.

In 1961 Clara Haas joined her husband in his next venture, a series of 144 installments for the New Braunfels Zeitung. It was “Comal County in the Civil War” translated from the writings of Ferdinand Lindheimer. These translations were in the newspapers in the 1960s.

Retiring from the position of county treasurer in order to work on his large collection of historic materials, he began work on producing the history book “History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas; 1844-1946.” This book, published in 1968, is for sale at Sophie’s Shop and has become the #1 aid to historians researching history of the area.

Other publications were: “The First Protestant Church, Its History and its People 1845-1955”; also a translation of the Civil War Diary of Capt. Julius Giesecke and “History of the Singers and German Songs of Texas.”

All of this activity in writing did not go without reward. Early on, Haas was honored with several awards. The Historical Society of the Evangelical and Reformed Church honored him for historic church writing and the San Antonio Conservation Society History Award was given to him in 1966. Last, the Comal County Chamber of Commerce honored him with their annual Besserung Award for Outstanding Community Service.

Much of the information for this article was gathered from writings by Brenda Anderson Lindemann, Crystal Sasse Ragsdale and the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History, the University of Texas, Austin.

Oscar Haas died in 1981, but his accomplishments will live on for as long as there is a need for history.

Oscar Haas stands beside one of his collections of Native American relics in 1960. It can be viewed at the Sophienburg Museum.

Oscar Haas stands beside one of his collections of Native American relics in 1960. It can be viewed at the Sophienburg Museum.

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Local family learns lessons under adverse conditions

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Sophienburg Reflections program is in its 39th year recording local people talking about various aspects of New Braunfels life. Herb Skoog began the program at radio station KGNB in 1976 as a bi-centennial project. For the first time in this program, we have first-hand information about the activities of an unusual New Braunfels family. The Gilberto and Benita Martinez family shared some of their experiences growing up as migrant workers. What’s unusual about the Martinez family, with nine children, is that they all grew up in New Braunfels and all but one still live here.

Gilberto was born in Santa Monica, Mexico, about 50 miles from Piedras Negras. Benita Lagunas was born in Guadalupe County. Gilberto and Benita met in fields when both families were migrant workers. In case you don’t know, migrant workers traveled around picking fruits and vegetables that were ripe. Certain crops had certain times that had to be harvested. If that didn’t happen, the crops were ruined. The work force had to come from areas all over the country. It wasn’t a full time job, so most migrant workers had another job back in their hometown. In this case, the Martinez family called NB home and still is. Before mechanized picking machines, the migrant worker was absolutely essential to the agricultural scene.

The nine Martinez children are: Yolanda Martinez, Ignacio Martinez, Sylvia M. Moreno, Teresa M. Lopez, Roland Martinez, Rafael Martinez, Alicia M. Crespo, Armando Martinez, and Gilberto Martinez, Jr. To this day, every Saturday evening the family meets at their parent’s house for fellowship and remembrances about old times. They cook together, which is something they all learned from their mother. Love of cooking is important to Ignacio who has run the Knights of Columbus fish fry every Friday night. And Teresa has been with the Landa Street Dairy Queen for 38 years. She now manages it and is well known to “regulars” at this establishment.

Most of the migrant worker stories are about their times traveling and about the lessons of life that they learned from their father. The Martinez family would usually leave in May heading for Indiana, Michigan or Florida. They returned to NB just after the Comal County Fair was over at the end of September. Being a Catholic family, they would carry a large picture of the Virgin Mary in the truck everywhere they went. That picture is still at the Martinez home.

To get to their destination, they would drive around the clock for 24 hours. They would pull over at a gas station and sleep in the car or truck. The whole family worked in the fields picking tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and picked cherries in Traverse City, Michigan. They picked bell peppers in West Palm Beach, Florida. Snakes in the fields were a big problem in Florida.

Individual pickers, or in this case, families were paid by how many boxes or buckets they could pick. Gilberto had as a goal for his family – 1000 boxes and sometimes more a day. When the Martinezs reached their destination, they were given a one-room house, sometimes as big as 20 feet by 20 feet for all eleven to stay in. The dad would get the whole family up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning. They had to go to bed early around 5:30. The children complained that they had no time to play with the other children in the camp. They said that it was too light outside to go to sleep. Gilberto fixed that problem by painting the windows black.

A favorite family story took place on the road when their dad stopped at a gas station to fill up. He went in the station and ordered 11 hamburgers. When they were on the road again, the hamburgers were passed out. When everyone had a hamburger, there was one left. To their horror, they discovered that they had left behind the youngest, Gilberto, Jr. at the gas station. They turned around and thankfully found him patiently waiting for them.

All of the Martinez children started their elementary schooling at Lone Star Elementary and finished high school here at New Braunfels High School. School was often difficult because during the picking season, they would lose about two months at the beginning of the year. They managed to overcome the loss of time.

Doing research on migrant workers, led me to believe that the Martinez family did exceptionally well despite the hardships suffered by most migrant workers. Or was it their attitude about it that gave them strength? Generally migrant worker’s children do not go any further than 6th grade in school. Poor housing conditions and high rates of pesticide exposure, poor health treatment, eye injuries were just a few of the conditions that went along with the job. Being aware of the dangers of pesticides didn’t come along until the 1960s.

A farm worker’s income was mostly paid by the bucket, earning as little as 40 cents a bucket. At that rate, farm workers had to pick two tons or 125 buckets to earn $50. Minimum wage laws apply only to workers on large farms.

After the Civil War, migrant farm labor began when agriculture became a dominant business. Before that time, most people farmed their own land, no matter how small.

Conditions of migrant farmers came to the attention of the general population with the writing of the book “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. It was also made into a movie. In 1960 a documentary called “Harvest of Shame” on CBS by Edward R. Murrow had a big impact by making people aware of a bad situation. This documentary put conditions of the migrant worker on the political scene and some improvements were made.

In the 1960s and 70s Cesar Chavez organized migrant workers using nonviolent tactics learned from the Civil Rights Movement. This movement is called “United Farm Workers Union” and was organized in 1972.

The year that Chavez organized the migrant workers was the last year that the Martinez family picked fields. While traveling on the road they heard of the 1972 flood in NB and headed for home to help family members left behind.

The lessons learned at home from their parents have made this family successful. They learned love of family, loyalty and happiness under adverse conditions.

The Martinez Family L-R   Roland, Rafael, Sylvia (Moreno), Alicia (Crespo), Armando, Yolanda, Teresa (Lopez), Ignacio, Benita, Gilberto and Gilberto, Jr.

The Martinez Family L-R Roland, Rafael, Sylvia (Moreno), Alicia (Crespo), Armando, Yolanda, Teresa (Lopez), Ignacio, Benita, Gilberto and Gilberto, Jr.

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James Ferguson, early pioneer from Scotland

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

If you believe that all of the earliest settlers of New Braunfels were of German descent, then you will be surprised to learn how many European natives were represented. One of those Ausländers (a person not originally from New Braunfels with a German heritage) was James Ferguson from Scotland, about whom I will tell you in this article.

No list, I don’t care for what purpose, is entirely accurate, and in the case of New Braunfels, the first official list we have of inhabitants came from the 1850 census. According to the census, those of German descent far outnumbered inhabitants of other countries. There were people from Ireland, England and Scotland and there were people from other states who settled here also of Irish, English, Polish and Scottish ancestry. These transplants came to Texas from New York, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and then many from other areas of Texas. These non-Germanic people engaged in businesses, merchandizing, ranching, farming, milling and real estate. Most were given land grants and many bought land. They must have had funds to invest. Also on the census were two children native of Mexico and several children born “at sea.”

James Ferguson of Pershire, Scotland is listed on the 1850 Census as being 30 years old. Also in his household was Marie Hessler Ferguson, 32, native of Germany and wife of James; Alexander Ferguson, 24, native of Scotland, brother of James; Margaret Ferguson, 22, native of Scotland and sister of James; and Euphemie, three- months-old born in Texas, daughter of James.

James, as head of the household, not only acquired a vast amount of real estate, but was a successful merchant, and also involved in civic affairs. Scotsman James and his brother-in-law, Heinrich Hessler, from Stuttgart, Germany, were early merchants in New Braunfels. They purchased lots #3 and #4 fronting on San Antonio St. where the Red Stag store is located, and also the lot immediately behind this business, fronting on Castell Ave. Here they put up a two-story building for a mercantile store with their residence upstairs.

Writer Victor Bracht said in his book, “Texas 1848”, that caravans from Mexico stopped at Ferguson & Hessler Store to make purchases and that the brothers had transferred their business from the islands of St. Thomas. Ferdinand Roemer in his book, “Roemer’s Texas”, described the store as containing articles of food, ready-made clothing, shoes, saddles and harnesses, cotton and silk goods, and implements of all kinds.

Heinrich Hessler died in 1849 at the age of 28 as a result of being struck by lightning. His death brought about a partnership between James and his brother, Alexander, and the store then became Ferguson & Brother. Both became naturalized citizens in 1849. The meaning of this is that they did not come directly from St. Thomas to New Braunfels, but that they were in the U.S. or Texas before coming to New Braunfels.

James Ferguson took an active part in civic affairs. He became a city alderman from 1851 to 1854 and a Comal County Commissioner from 1854 to 1856. In 1853 he headed a committee of five men appointed to circulate lists for voluntary contributions to establish a municipal school. He was very successful at collecting these funds which were to augment money appropriated by the city council for the purpose of establishing a city school. This was the beginning of the New Braunfels Academy.

As a county commissioner, Ferguson worked for the building of a courthouse. Heretofore court business had been transacted in various rented buildings, including houses. Abandoning the idea of building a courthouse on the city-owned Comal River, and the other idea of a courthouse in the middle of the Plaza, the Commissioners Court decided to purchase half a lot from James Ferguson located where the Chase Bank is now for the courthouse. Later, on the steps of this old courthouse, Sam Houston made his pitch to Comal County citizens to vote against secession. This courthouse was built in 1860.

James Ferguson died June 11, 1858 and at the time of his death, he was the owner of vast real estate in New Braunfels and the counties of Comal, Gillespie, and Bexar. He not only owned the property on San Antonio St. and Castell Ave. but the lot where McAdoo’s Restaurant is located. He owned 2,046 acres of Potters Survey north of New Braunfels.

James and his brother-in-law purchased 305 ½ acres in Sattler from Jacob de Cordova in 1847. James named the property Marienthal after his wife, Marie, and “thal” in German meaning valley. This property is located on Farm Road 306 about ten miles north of New Braunfels. In those early days this road was just a dirt trail for wagons.

In 1857 the Ferguson brothers deeded Marienthal to Theodore Koester who, acting as agent, sold this farm to Carl Baetge. Carl built a two-story home on the property. This Carl Baetge is the same person whose previous home on Demi John Bend was dismantled and rebuilt at Conservation Plaza. If you haven’t seen the Baetge Home, it’s worth the visit. It is maintained by the Conservation Society. Carl Baetge from Uelzen, Germany, was certified as a civil engineer and went to work for a privately owned engineering company specializing in railroad building. In 1840 he was in Russia as chief civil engineer of the construction of a 420 mile railroad line between St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian government. Czar Nicholas I was eager to have the line because it would connect the summer and winter palaces of the royal family. The line was completed in 1846. The Czar awarded Baetge an honorary title for his railroad construction. The plans for this railroad are preserved in the Baetge Home.

Back to other pieces of property owned by Ferguson, there were two lots on Seguin Ave. near the old depot. This property was sold and became the location of the “Orphan Mother Felecites von Fitz” who conducted a Roman Catholic female school, according to historian Oscar Haas.

In Comaltown, he owned 12 lots and a 13 acres tract called “Amistad” farm. The location of this property was along the Comal River. He owned two lots in Fredericksburg, two lots in San Antonio plus 15,860 acres in head-right lands grants in Texas.

Ferguson leaves behind a block-long street or alley called Ferguson Avenue connecting Mill and San Antonio Streets. In 1856 Ferguson owned a 9 ½ acre tract of land outside the city limits that the county needed to construct part of a road. This little road became Ferguson Avenue. His name remains prominent in two places, the name of the street and his name on his tombstone in the Old New Braunfels Cemetery.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.

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