By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Hermann Spiess became the third Commissioner General of the Adelsverein, following Prince Carl and John Meusebach. Spiess had a more exciting life than the other two. Why don’t we know a lot about him? Why don’t we have a Spiess Street? For certain, he was on the Adelsverein’s slippery slope downward in Texas. There was only one more Commissioner General after him, L. Bene and then the whole Adelsverein folded.
Meusebach, as second Commissioner General, tried to resign several times to no avail. The Adelsverein wouldn’t let him. Finally, because of many failures of the original plan for Texas, the Adelsverein accepted Meusebach’s resignation and decided to give up on the whole Texas affair. But they still needed someone to close out their business affairs in Texas. Hermann Spiess was born in Offenbach-Hesse Darmstadt, Germany in 1818. The Adelsverein chose Spiess, who was familiar with Texas because he had traveled to Texas earlier in 1845 and ‘46 before returning back to Germany. It was at the time when he returned to Germany that he became acquainted with the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants (Adelsverein). In July of 1847 he traveled to Texas to become the third Commissioner General.
When Spiess arrived in New Braunfels, for the first 20 months, he lived in the boarding houses of Holekamp and Thomae. Soon in 1849 he bought land three miles above New Braunfels in the Waco Springs area on the west bank of the Guadalupe River. Here he set up a sawmill and cypress shingle mill near the area between Slumber Falls Camp and the first crossing. In 1852 he leased these mills to Elijah Hanis and Erwin Braune.
In 1849 Spiess, along with Rev. Louis Ervendberg and L. Bene, established the Western Texas Orphan Asylum near what is now Gruene. At this time his sister, Louise, was staying with him on an extended visit at Waco Springs.
Spiess’ wife Lena had quite an interesting background herself. She was captured by Comanches in Mexico. Dr. Ferdinand Herff supposedly removed a cataract from the eye of an Indian chief and he was given this six-year-old girl as a thank you gift. Spiess adopted the child to take care of her.
A story in the New Braunfels Herald on November 7, 1968, quotes Oscar Haas as finding a paper in the Spiess files noting that a group of settlers meeting with Comanches had two captive children, one being Lena. She was placed in the care of a housekeeper of the Coreth family. Quoting Lena, the article says she earned the love and sympathy of the women of the house. Spiess took Lena to live with him and his sister, Louise.
When Louise left to go back to Germany, Lena was taken to stay at the Ervendberg’s orphanage that was set up as a home for the orphaned children of the colony. The paper said Lena was happy there, improved her German and enjoyed the company of children her age. In 1852 she returned to Spiess’ home at Waco Springs where they married. Several accounts of this story had several different dates and ages for Lena. It’s not definite how old she was as different accounts give different dates.
This next story relating to Spiess upholds the statement “Truth is stranger than fiction”. Spiess was appointed Commissioner General and the brief period before he accepted this position, when there was no Commissioner General in New Braunfels, a man named Dr. Schubert took advantage of the situation and announced that he was now the Commissioner General. He had been appointed by Meusebach as the Colonial Director for Fredericksburg, but due to many complaints, was removed from that position by Meusebach. Schubert now made his way to Nassau Plantation in Fayette County, the farm that belonged to the Adelsverein. This property was purchased with the idea that it would be used to raise crops to sustain the emigrants in the colonies.
Schubert felt that he would become more powerful if he ruled from Nassau Plantation. He surrounded himself with men of questionable character and Spiess heard stories of wild parties and abuse of slaves going on at the farm. He decided to take back the farm that Schubert claimed he had leased. Spiess and several men attacked the occupants at night. They left New Braunfels and hid out on the outskirts of the farm. Schubert got wind of the coming attack and he and his men were prepared for a fight.
In the end, there was a shoot-out, two persons were killed, one on each side. On Spiess’ side, the one killed was the artist Caspar Rohrdorf and on the other was a friend of Dr. Schubert. Spiess and his crew had to leave without the success of taking back Nassau Plantation.
This was not the end of the story. Shortly thereafter, Spiess was accused of murder. He took flight and hid for months in the area of the upper Guadalupe. Finally when things calmed down in Fayette County, Spiess appeared in the court in LaGrange where he was tried and acquitted. Schubert’s true identity was revealed as Frederick Armand Strubberg and he was not a doctor, but a cigar maker instead. Some think that this revelation helped acquit Spiess. The Nassau plantation was eventually claimed by creditors and disposed of by court action. Schubert, or Strubberg, returned to Germany where he wrote novels about Texas and sold the artist Rohrbach’s paintings which he had confiscated.
Because of bad health, Hermann and Lena Spiess and seven children moved to Missouri and then to California. Spiess died in the 1880s and Lena about 1910.
New Braunfelser Margie Hitzfelder was born on the property that at one time belonged to Spiess and now belongs to Bob Pfeuffer. Her father, Hilmar Kraft, worked for Bob Gode who owned the property. Gode was Pfeuffer’s grandfather.
Nothing is left at Waco Springs indicating that Hermann Spiess had ever been there except cypress trees.