By Myra Lee Adams Goff
You, no doubt, have heard of Baron John O. Meusebach’s treaty with the Comanche Indians to promote peace between the Comanches and the German settlers. There was one person, Baron Emil Kriewitz, who played an important part in the success of this treaty. Here is his story:
Kriewitz was a German aristocrat immigrant who left Germany in 1845. He had become aware of the economic conditions in Germany and the political unrest prompted him to join the Adelsverein. Kriewitz saw no future for himself in Germany.
The Adelsverein, organized in 1842 for all the right reasons to settle Texas, possessed inadequate knowledge of survival in Texas. Prince Carl, one of the Adelsverein members, was the one chosen to buy land in Texas. The Prince has been described as a visionary but a poor business man, a dangerous combination. Upon arrival in Texas the Prince discovered that the Adelsverein had already been swindled by one speculator. The Prince decided to purchase a large piece of land in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant composed of all land north of the Llano River to the Colorado River. Not only did he discover that this land was far inland from the coast where the immigrants would land, but it was also right in the middle of the Penetaka Comanche hunting grounds. Disturbed by these facts, Prince Carl purchased the Comal Tract land instead from Juan Veramendi. Before the Prince left Texas three months later, the settlement was named New Braunfels. While in Germany, Prince Carl began his sales pitch to come to Texas by making speeches about the beauty of the land. Probably Kriewitz heard the speaches and was sold. He joined the Adelsverein to go to the Republic of Texas.
Sailing on the Franzeska, it took almost four months on the stormy seas to arrive in Galveston. From there he traveled on to Carlshaven where the Prince had purchased land for the arriving immigrants. Krietwitz found that he was not in the Republic of Texas, but the State of Texas because this land had been annexed to the United States in December of 1845. He also learned that Prince Carl had been replaced after three months by Baron John Meusebach.
Kriewitz was horrified by what he saw on the Texas coast. By February, 1846, hundreds of immigrants had been stranded on the muddy, sandy beach with no food or clean water. Some made dugouts with mud walls and cloth tops to shelter themselves from the winter storms. Disease was rampant and hundreds had already died.
Meusebach tried to help the situation by purchasing oxcarts and wagons. The annexation of Texas had infuriated Mexico and Mexico declared war on the United States. All wagons and supplies purchased by Meusebach to help the colonists were seized by the United States Army in their war against Mexico.
A group of desperate, young German immigrants formed a group to join the United States Army. Kriewitz was one of them. They were led by August Buchel and he made Kriewitz first sergeant of the group that was mustered in as the First Texas Rifle Volunteer Regiment.
During this time Meusebach was busy trying to move settlers to the Llano. In 1846 he led a group to establish Fredericksburg. Meusebach knew that no one was safe in that area of the hill country and he was determined to locate the Comanche chiefs and negotiate a treaty. Meusebach asked for a company of men to accompany him to the Llano grant and Kriewitz was selected to organize this company. He immediately returned to the coast to gather soldiers, many of whom were Mexican-U.S. War veterans.
They left the coast for New Braunfels in January 1847, but upon arriving, they found that the Meusebach group had already left for Fredericksburg and the Llano. Kriewitz’s company left for the Llano and encountered Meusebach’s group on their return from a successful treaty with the Comanches. Kriewitz’s group was told to stay at the site of the treaty and help guard the surveyors of the land. “Without the survey the contract with the government of Texas would have lapsed and the colonists would not have received their allotments of land.” (John O. Meusebach by Irene King) The treaty opened up 3,878,000 acres of land.
The treaty called for the Comanches and Germans to live in harmony and form an alliance against other tribes. The Germans would give the Comanches $3,000 in gifts. The head chief, Santana, requested that one of the Germans live with them. Many were interested in the position, but none came forward, as is often the case. Kriewitz said that for the security of the settlers, he would “risk his scalp.” He was assigned to Santana and the main tribe on the San Saba. Kriewitz was to be the guarantee of the peaceable intentions of the Germans. He went with them and adopted their dress and behavior.
In about six months, the tribe began to feel that they needed more gifts from the Germans. Santana and his tribe, including Kriewitz. came to New Braunfels and met with Meusebach and Herman Spiess who had recently taken Meusebach’s place as the Adelsverein representative. All went well but the Germans did not recognize Kriewetz. They stayed in New Braunfels for two more days. This was the only time that the Comanches came to New Braunfels.
On the way back from New Braunfels to Fredericksburg, Kriewitz asked to visit a friend in town. He stayed a little too long and when he came back to the campsite, the tribe was gone. Kriewitz never rejoined the party.
After this, still in the employment of the Adelsverein, Kriewitz was given many assignments. He built a road and led the first colonists into the Fisher-Mill Land Grant. This group was the one who founded the communal colony of Bettina. Then he led three more parties to establish Castell, Leiningen, and Schoenburg. He eventually returned to Castell, opened a store, was elected justice of the peace for Llano County, served as a judge and finally postmaster of Castell. He died in 1902 and was buried in the Llano County Cemetery.
A celebration in Fredericksburg called “Easter Fires” commemorates the Comanche- German treaty and the safe return of the colonists. While the treaty was going on, the Comanches transmitted messages by smoke. When the fires burned high, other tribes knew that all was going well. The story goes that the fires frightened the children in Fredericksburg. Mothers told their children that the Easter Rabbit placed eggs in kettles that were boiling over the fires on the hilltops and then colored them with flowers. On Easter morning the eggs were laid in nests. As so often happens, an actual historical event leads to a colorful tradition.