By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The history of every area reveals that there are many individuals who live lives that help their community without fanfare. They don’t have schools or streets named after them, but they make an impact, nevertheless. People and places come and go, and their significance often is only recorded in books, buildings, photographs and gravestones, but their stories endure. Two of these individuals were brothers, Hermann and Louis (or Ludwig) Willke. They were leaders on the coast, founders of New Braunfels, founders of Fredericksburg, and important to Spring Branch, Kendall County and the State of Texas.
Louis and Hermann Willke probably came to Texas for the same reasons that most other immigrants did. The bottom line was a search for freedom in a land that offered great opportunity. They were born in Collberg on the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany. Louis was born in 1818 and Hermann was born in 1822. Both had been trained as officers in the Prussian Military. Louis was called Lieutenant Willke I and Hermann was called Lieutenant Willke II. They must have had a good education, for both spoke several languages.
Hermann arrived on the coast at Galveston and traveled from there to Carlshaven. He traveled as a single man on the ship Ferdinand. It was one of the first three ships to arrive with the Adelsverein in Texas. He transferred by schooner to the Adelsverein’s meeting place at Carlshaven to wait to begin the trek inland.
Louis and his wife, child and mother-in-law must have met Hermann at the coast. There is some evidence that Louis and family arrived in Texas “by land” on October 1, 1843. He worked at the Adelsverein’s Nassau Farm in Fayette County, but by 1844, he was at Matagorda Bay. Both brothers were at the coast together and they made a favorable impression on Prince Carl. At the first meeting of the Colonial Council, the prince announced that he was appointing Hermann Willke as an assistant to Nicholas Zink with the plotting out of the community of New Braunfels. Hermann was a surveyor and well qualified for the job. This skill would aid him in the future. He was also put in charge of supplies in the warehouse at Carlshaven. The supplies had to be protected so that a fair distribution would be made with the immigrants.
Louis too was given a responsible position at Carlshaven by the prince. He was put in charge of the powder magazine (guns and ammunition). With his military background he was selected to be commander of the station of Carlshaven.
You ask, “Where is Carlshaven?” In 1846, the area on Matagorda Bay was known as Indian Point and near this area was Carlshaven, named partly for Prince Carl. In 1849, the site was named Indianola. The area was the second main port in Texas and most immigrants to Texas from Europe and America came through this port city. It grew rapidly with a population of 5,000 until the hurricane of 1875. Up until that time, it had hotels, large homes, businesses and a steamship line terminal. The city rebuilt after the 1875 hurricane only to be nearly wiped off of the coast by another hurricane in 1886. If you visit the area today, it is much different than the bustling port city of the 1800s. Hermann Willke is also credited with making an accurate map of Indianola.
After the trek inland, the immigrants arrived at the Guadalupe crossing on March 21, 1845. At that time Hermann Willke was 22 years old and Louis Willke was 26 years old with a wife and children. Hermann drew lot 128 on Comal Avenue between Coll and Garden Streets. Hermann also bought lot 161, paying only $14 for the whole lot. Louis was granted lot 135 next to his brother’s where he built a house for his family.
When John Meusebach decided to move some of the immigrants to the Fredericksburg area, he asked Hermann to plot the trail. With the help of Louis, Hermann followed the El Camino Real from New Braunfels toward San Antonio, over the Cibolo and then followed an old Indian trail, the Pinto Trail, to what would become Fredericksburg. On the arrival at the site of Fredericksburg, Hermann laid out the lots of that future city.
Meusebach wanted to claim the Fisher-Miller grant that the immigrants had been originally promised and never received. He asked Hermann go with him because, as he said, “he was one of five educated men to accompany him to sign a treaty with the Comanche.” The Fisher-Miller grant could not be inhabited until this treaty was signed. Hermann surveyed the San Saba and stayed there for eight years at a salary of $100 a year paid by the Adelsverein. He made a map of the route from New Braunfels to Fredericksburg including the land grant. The map is in the Texas Archives in Austin. When the Adelsverein ran out of money, Hermann lost his salary. He was offered a job by the Texas General Land Office at a salary of $1,000 a year.
Now to Louis Willke and family. Louis built a fachwerk house on his town lot in New Braunfels (on Comal Avenue) for his family. By 1849, the family moved and was living on 40 acres, six miles outside of town. They had left town, as many did, to escape the epidemics. The 1850 census lists Louis as a farmer and a wagoner. This was a lucrative business that transferred goods from the coast to the inland settlements. Then in 1858, Louis moved his family to the Hill Country. He was a farmer and worked part-time in the Porter Store in Spring Branch. He is responsible for applying for the post office under the name of Spring Branch and by doing so, put the name of Spring Branch on the map. He became the first postmaster of Spring Branch from 1858 until 1860. The family then moved to Kendall County. Louis and wife, Elizabeth had seven children all born in Texas with the first being born in 1843 at Port Lavaca.
Not surprising, both brothers became officers in the Civil War. Capt. Hermann Willke served on the Texas coast in Galveston and Lt. Louis Willke was an officer in Julius Bose’s campaign in Arkansas. After the Civil War, Hermann left the Hill Country and settled in Galveston where he went into the surveying business. He lived there until he died.
Louis is listed in the Kendall County history as a surveyor. The family had moved to Kendall County and settled there on 160 acres. The 1880 Kendall County census lists him as a merchant and farmer. He died on the ranch and he and his wife are buried in a Willke family cemetery located on the Willard Dierks property.
In all of the references found on the Willke brothers (Fey’s New Braunfels, The First Founders and Anderson-Lindemann’s Bridging Spring Branch and Western Comal County, Texas), all of the descriptions of their work and character were complimentary.
Leo Scherer describes the house on Comal Street as actually four separate structures. It was a common practice to add on to a home as more space was needed by a family. Visible from the road, is the Victorian-style home built after 1881. Attached to the back of this home are structures built in the mid-to-late 1800s. The oldest fachwerk home originally built by Louis Willke when he arrived in New Braunfels, was attached to these structures but no longer stands.