830-629-1572 | Open Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m., archives by appointment.

For the love of antlers

Photo caption: Forester, saloonkeeper, hunter and antler collector Ernst Dosch in 1900. [3020D]

Photo caption: Forester, saloonkeeper, hunter and antler collector Ernst Dosch in 1900. [3020D]

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

This is the story of a boy born in Erbach, Hessen, Germany. It is about a boy who was fascinated with antlers. It is about that boy growing up and emigrating to Texas and creating his own future.

Ernst Dosch was born in 1822. He grew up hunting in the forests of Odenwald, the property of the Count of Erbach. The Count’s father had spent a lifetime collecting antiquities and antlers; the palace has one of the largest and oldest deer and roebuck antler collections in Europe. Young Ernst often walked through the Hirschgalerie at the palace, drawn to the variety and strangeness of the many abnormal antlers — antlers that displayed unusual arrangements and number of prongs.

Dosch graduated from the University of Giesen in Forestry and in 1848, he followed other students to the fabled land of “Texas”. He met young men on board the vessel “Louis” who became lifelong friends and business partners: Julius Dressel, Ludwig von Lichtenberg, G. Theissen, the Dittmar brothers and Ulrich Rische.

Ernst’s Texas story began when he settled with his new friends and some of the Vierziger at the Darmstaedter Farm (present day Danville area in Comal County). The Vierziger or “The Forty” or the Darmstaedters, were a group of about 40 young men from the Darmstadt area who were recruited by Prince Carl and the Adelsverein to set up a utopian socialistic colony in Texas (see https://sophienburg.com/?s=Darmstadt for more information). Almost immediately, the marvelous hunting possibilities in Texas took hold of him and he began to collect his own antler specimens.

Socialism was not for Ernst, and he joined up with the local Texas Rangers for a brief stint. He is later often referred to as Capt. Dosch because of this. In 1851, Dosch and his shipmate von Lichtenberg bought Lot #55 (202 S. Seguin) in New Braunfels. After Dosch constructed a building on it, he, with partner Rudolph Nauendorf, opened a store/saloon. This little building became the Star Exchange Saloon and now sits at Old Town at Conservation Plaza.

The newspaper says that times were tough and Dosch moved his business to San Antonio. His friend Ulrich Rische took over the saloon. Buying a lot on Commerce Street, Dosch and a Mr. Wiener opened a saloon and soon built up a nice clientele. In 1861, the outbreak of the Civil War sent Dosch off to Mexico where he lived in Piedras Negras and Monterrey where it seems he made a great deal of money. Dosch then travelled back to Germany in 1863.

On his return to San Antonio in 1866, Dosch got Ulrich Rische to sell the New Braunfels saloon and join him on Commerce Street. Their saloon was advertised as Dosch and Rische in the newspapers, but was commonly known as “The Deer Horn Bar”. Décor of the bar was an eclectic mix of German gingerbread woodwork and the ever-increasing collection of Dosch’s abnormal antlers. Folks visiting the city made a point of stopping to gawk at the more than 600 antler specimens on view. They had to pay attention to the unusual closing times though: 8 pm on weekdays and closed all day Sunday.

Dosch was respected by both the Anglo and German communities in San Antonio. He worked on the elections of friends, petitioned the city council for changes in statutes and advocated for new state laws to change deer season to August thru December (for some reason, the law said you could shoot deer from January to July!). Dosch was a charter member of the San Antonio Texanische Schuetzenverein and its president in 1857. He was a frequent prize winner at shooting meets and festivals across the Texas Hill Country. He presented an old rifle to the New Braunfels Schuetzenverein that he had used in the very first German-Texan Shooting festival on July 4, 1849, in New Braunfels.

Ernst was 81 years old when the Deer Horn Bar closed its doors in 1905. The saloon had had a good run, 36 years, and was known as the oldest, continuously owned and open bar in San Antonio at that time. His fantastic antler collection was moved to storage.

Ernst Dosch died in 1906, but his legacy does not end then. In a wonderful quirk of history, Albert and Emile Friederich open a bar in 1896. They, too, love antlers; Emile even makes furniture out of the horns. Their “Buckhorn Saloon” acquired the Dosch antler collection prior to 1920 and added it to its own. The Buckhorn Saloon (and I hope some of Ernst Dosch’s abnormal antlers) lives on and amazes and entertains San Antonio visitors today.

There is one more memorial to Ernst Dosch. When Carl J. Iwonski drew his view of New Braunfels in 1856, he included the figures of Dosch, Dr. Wilhelm Remer and Viktor Bracht. Ernst Dosch is on horseback, looking over the new town of New Braunfels, with his trusty rifle casually laying across his right shoulder. Don’t you just know he is thinking of his next set of antlers?

By the way, you can purchase a great reproduction of Iwonski’s 1856 view of New Braunfels at Sophie’s Shop in the Sophienburg Museum & Archives.

Sources: Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung Collection; Freie Presse für Texas, San Antonio 1880-1906; Galveston Daily News, 1870-1890; “German Businesses of San Antonio”, Dana Pomykal; Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas, p495; Archives collections: 0009 Haas and 1020 Dressel; Old Town at Conservation Plaza; https://www.americanrifleman.org/content/archives-1892-shooting-fishing-abnormalantlers/; https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook.