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Die Neunköder and the castor bean

Mr. and Mrs. George Weber and castor beans.

Mr. and Mrs. George Weber and castor beans.

Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

When nine young men from Frankfort emigrated to Texas in 1849, they were given the nickname of “Die Neunköder” or “the Nine Lures” or “the Niners.” One of them, George Weber, described the group of adventurers:

Taking a sailship at Antwerpen, we finally landed at Indianola after a 57-days voyage…after a four-weeks trip reached our destination New Braunfels shortly before Christmas 1849. We were a group of nine who in jest were called “die Neunköder”. After a number of trips into the surrounding country in its yet primitive state, we bought 400 acres of raw land on the left bank of the Guadalupe between New Braunfels and Seguin and began early 1850 to put it into cultivation. It soon proved that our plan “one for all and all for one” was a miserable failure. Ability, views, skills, etc…, are so dissimilar apportioned. And so after 4-months of labor it was decided to sell the land and each go his own way…”

Tradition has it that the nine bachelors first worked for Jacob de Cordova at his home, Wanderer’s Retreat (south of present day Clear Springs), before they bought 400 acres from him and named their new community Neu Frankfort. Hermann Seele named all but one of them in his Gesammelte Schriften: J. August and Ferdinand Michael Dietz, J. Halm, Rudorf, Behr (or Boer), Buss, Heinrich Bauer, and George Weber. Oscar Haas thought possible names for the ninth “lure” might be Fertsch, Deisler, Grossmann or Meimoro.

After the collapse of their communal farm project, the Dietz brothers bought out Bauer, Behr, and Buss and by 1853, the community was known as Dietz. Oddly enough, two of my dad’s ancestors, Johahn Phillip and Jacob Stautzenberger, bought some of August Dietz’s land in 1861 and 1871.

I started following up on George Weber and found out that in 1869 he invented a machine to clean castor beans. He then set up the first castor oil mill in our area in 1870. He sold the oil as a medicine and a lubricant. Ok, now I have to know more about castor oil. I remember my mom saying they had to take spoonfuls of castor oil as kids. Just what is it and why did they have to take it?

Humans have harvested and used the castor plant for 7000 years. Castor oil (known as kiki by the ancient Greeks) was an early commercial product used by many ancient cultures as a medicine, lamp fuel, in wick-making, leather lubrication, fabrics, and varnish. Egyptians used castor oil to prevent eye irritations. It was used in India as a laxative. The Chinese used it both internally and externally in medical treatments. You can find it mentioned in the Book of Jonah in the Bible. Folks in the middle ages used the oil for its skin healing properties. Travelling salesman of the 19th C hawked castor oil mixed with as much as 40% alcohol as a cure for many things including heartburn, constipation and to induce labor.

The castor plant (Ricinus communis) is a perennial shrub which grows between 6’-8’. Dorothy Kypfer Constable, a staff member at the Sophienburg, brought me some seed pods from a wild castor plant growing on the Kypfer Farm out past the NB Airport and in the area of the old Dietz community. The seeds or beans, encased in spiny pods, are silky smooth and shiny grey to brown in color with intricate mottled designs. They actually look a little like cow ticks.

The plant contains three poisons so it is classified as a toxic plant. You think? The seeds contain about 50% oil by weight. The poison lectin is extracted from the seeds during the oil-making process. We’ve all heard of terrorists using ricin, right? Well, this is where it comes from!

There is science behind the use of the castor bean oil. Castor oil contains a high amount of ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid that is the source of its healing properties. It prevents bacteria and virus growth by increasing white blood cells and antibodies. Rub it on arthritic joints and it increases blood circulation to those areas. Castor oil also contains salts and ethers which act as skin conditioners and it can assist the body in expelling toxins.

Grandmas and moms don’t sound so mean now for making kids take the oil, do they? The seemingly cruel doling out of castor oil, was really doing a lot of good. If you were constipated, it was a laxative. If you had PMS, it helped absorb hormones. It also strengthened your body’s viral and bacterial resistance by increasing the production of lymphocytes.

Today, people are using this ancient homeopathic medicine to treat skin infections — – its antifungal, antibacterial properties remove toxins and reduce swelling. It fights acne — – it kills bacteria that causes breakouts and hydrates the skin. It relieves arthritis — – used as a massage oil, its anti-inflammatory properties ease pain in joints and muscles. And it promotes healthy hair growth — – its omega-6 acids help hair grow and give it shine.

Castor oil also has the ability to “cling” to very hot moving parts so it is utilized in high performance engines (Castrol-R). It was used extensively in WWI, WWII and Korea in hydraulic fluids, greases and lubricants for military equipment. Castor oil is added to paints and varnishes to help them dry faster, and it is a basic ingredient in the making of nylon and other synthetic resins and fibers. The castor plant is currently being researched as a product plant to use in rotation with cotton and studies are testing its use as a biofuel.

Cool beans, right? Just be aware that It grows wild in our area and remember, the castor bean plant is poisonous.

Sources: Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and New Braunfels Herald newspaper collections – Sophienburg Museum & Archives; The New Braunfels Sesquicentennial Minutes, ed. Roger Nuhn, 1995; Edna Faust and Oscar Haas collections — Sophienburg Museum & Archives; www.tshaonline.org; www.dovebiotech.com; The Agriculturist, “The Perfect Storm”, Fall 2011; FarmProgress, “Castor an oilseed crop that can cure, kill you”, Oct 9, 2012.