By Tara Voigt Kohlenberg —
Fourth of July. Just those three little words bring to mind a myriad of thoughts: Independence Day. Red, White & Blue. Patriotic Music. Stars & Stripes. Parades. Fireworks. Kings and Queens. Wait, What? There are no Kings and Queens on Independence Day, are there? Oh, but in New Braunfels, there are.
Our founding families first landed on the coast of the Republic of Texas in the fall of 1844, pushing on to finally cross the Guadalupe and set up camp here March 21, 1845. Texas was accepted as the 28th state of the Union on December 29, 1845, with Texas formally joining the union on February 19, 1846. In the course of little more than a year, the immigrants were Germans, then Texans and finally Americans. Come July 4, 1846, the residents of New Braunfels celebrated with cannon fire and much jubilation. They were overjoyed at being Americans.
Texas was less hospitable than back home, so almost all of the pioneers had guns for hunting and protection from Indian attack. So why not gather for a little friendly shooting rivalry? As interest grew, so did the number of members and clubs. The Neu Braunfels Schuetzen Verein was organized on July 4, 1849. It was recognized by the National Rifle Association in a 1948 article as the “oldest organization of its kind in America”. That likely has not changed. At one time, there were at least sixty-five established clubs within a twenty-five-mile radius of New Braunfels, all coming together for competition. In 1890, they organized themselves into the Texanishen Schuetzen Bundes (Texas Rifle Association). Most all have since disappeared.
The New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein has survived many trying times, including wars, droughts and epidemics when shooting activities were severely limited, but shooting continued. During the Civil War, most of the men went off to war and powder was scarce. In both 1862 and 1863, only three members mustered out to the range to celebrate the anniversary, firing only 2-3 shots each, with the best being named the winner. During the Spanish American War and World War I, activities were heavily curtailed. The club conducted “rifle training school” for boys and young men during WWII and were provided ample ammo by the local War Production Board.
The original Schuetzen Verein met in the open air shaded by trees. The New Braunfels Club range has been located at least five places, having to move each time to be further out from town. They include properties near the Comal Springs, at the base of the Balcones Escarpment, further out FM 1863 and out Highway 46. Club members began shooting with muzzleloaders, then going to breech loading firearms and then fixed ammo. After WWI, members shot standard centerfire cartridges at 200 yards. Shooting .22 caliber Rimfire at 100 yards became more popular and the 200-yard matches were phased out. With all of the changes over the years, one thing remains the same: the importance of the Fourth of July Anniversary Celebration.
Newspaper accounts of the 1850s thru the 1890s tell of three-day Grosse Schuetzenfeste (Big Shooting Festivals), which would begin with cannon fire at dawn on the Fourth, meeting in the city to listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence, followed by marching behind a band to the Schiesplatze (shooting range). There were also concerts, fireworks, grand balls and decorations on every house in the city. In 1890, there were forty-three clubs that participated (and you thought New Braunfels was new to the convention/tourist industry). The best part by far, is still the crowning of the Schuetzen-Koenig (Shooting King). Each shooter fires ten shots at a 25-ring target 100 yards down range. The silver dollar size target with a shot most at center is proclaimed King. It is believed the very first Schuetzen-Koenig was Carl Dosch in 1850. Women were not allowed to shoot early on. Later, women could shoot as “associate members” in their own category to become Schuetzen-Koenigen (Shooting Queen). The first Schuetzen-Koenigen was Hilda Rahe in 1949. It was not until sometime in the mid 1970s that women would become full members with voting rights.
This year, after enjoying the 2019 Old Fashion Fourth of July Parade & Patriotic Program, the New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein will honor our heritage on July 7, celebrating 170 years of food, fellowship and sportsmanship using the same type guns and the same type targets that our members have used for years. And we will crown New Braunfels’ Fourth of July Royalty – Schuetzen-Koenig und Schuetzen-Koenigen. Happy Birthday, America!
If you have an interest in German-style target competition, check out http://www.nbsv.org/.
(Sources: Centennial History of New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein; Sophienburg Museum and Archives; Gay Wimberley; Jimmy Meckel.)