By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Hermann Seele gave us a good description of the Texas Hill Country. I’m paraphrasing what he said and you can observe as you drive between Austin and San Antonio on Highway 35. In the distance, take notice of a low, dark green line of cedar-covered hills. This line indicates the location of the Edwards Escarpment. Along this line, the earth split long ago and the coastal plain on which you are traveling fell away several hundred feet. This falling exposed a limestone strata. Subterranean waters gushed forth to the surface by pressure and found themselves exposed to the surface. Barton Springs, San Marcos Springs, San Antonio Springs (Brackenridge Park) and Comal Springs are examples. The springs fed streams causing an abundance of water below the fault.
Now go above the fault and you see the beautiful hill country where so many small communities were established soon after New Braunfels was settled. In the hill country, surface water is scarce and wells are essential. Most of the land is used for ranching and small farms. The Guadalupe River and small creeks were important sources of water in the hill country. The settlements outside of the city limits of New Braunfels were created where water was available. One of the areas about 25 miles Northwest of New Braunfels was settled in 1850 and called Honey Creek.
Back in the early 1840s, a man named Andrew Bechtold heard stories from friends and relatives in Germany that Texas was indeed the “promised land” found along the Guadalupe River. With that thought in mind, Bechtold, along with his wife Christina and their five sons, made the 32 day trip across the seas, arriving on the coast just about when the cholera epidemic broke out. Many immigrants died and the tragedy for Christina was that her husband and four of her five children perished.
Christina who was 27 years old at the time and her one surviving son, Michael, had no choice but to make the difficult trip inland by ox wagon. These immigrants were looking for unclaimed land. Christina was Roman Catholic so she joined others of that same faith.
Among those immigrants was a single man named George Friedrich Kunz and it was on this trip that Mrs. Bechtold met and married Mr. Kunz. Together they came to an area of unclaimed land outside New Braunfels belonging to the State of Texas where a stream emptied into the Guadalupe River. They chose a spot where a small spring bubbled from under a rock. They applied for a homestead and within two years the 160 acres would be theirs.
The land was mostly caliche and so they constructed a shelter until they could construct a cedar log house. Buildings of cedar were very strong. Cedar logs were an important resource. Do you know why chests were made of cedar? Bugs don’t like it. While the couple was busy building their house, her son Michael was sent to the creek to get drinking water. On the banks he came upon a large number of swarming bees hanging from a tree forming a large clump. Michael ran back to the parents to tell them of his find and they decided to return to the place and look for honey that they knew must be there because of the bees. The name of the place became Honey Creek.
Of course, there are more than one story of the origin of the name Honey Creek. Another version is that early settlers found swarms of bees along the Guadalupe River. The creek bank would become a source of honey, a welcome addition to the meager diet of the settlers. Some even connect the name with the unusual honeycomb rock found in abundance in the area.
George Kunz was a resourceful man. He chopped cedar for his house. The cedar that he didn’t use for construction, he burned. He noticed that the burned cedar produced a coal that lasted for several hours. These coals could be used for heating an iron for ironing clothes. You may wonder why anyone would bother to iron clothes used in the outdoors. If you wash the stiff material that work clothes were made of, hang them out to dry, they are extremely stiff. Ironing the garment makes it more comfortable. This charcoal was George’s first cash crop and he hauled charcoal to sell in surrounding towns such as San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Boerne.
On one of these excursions, George Kunz met Rev. John Kosspiel, a Catholic missionary priest stationed at a parish in Boerne. He was actually a circuit-riding priest covering several counties. Kunz invited the priest to spend the night and say mass in his home. Other catholic families invited were Kneupper, Acker, Lux, Moos, Scheel, and Kaiser.
From that initial meeting, Kunz’s house became the site of services, even weddings. In 1876 a small log chapel was built near the Kunz home. It burned in 1877 and was replaced by a second log chapel. A larger frame church was built in 1892 on the site of what is now St. Joseph’s Educational Building.
After years of struggle, St. Joseph’s of Honey Creek received its first resident priest, Rev. Virgillus Draessel. Parishioner Barbara Wehe states that Draessel was in poor health and spoke almost no English, which was all right with his parishioners. He supposedly made a promise to the Blessed Virgin Mary that if he was made well, he would build a chapel on the hill and then a church. Land for this big church was purchased from Hermann Scheel. Rev. Draessel started the construction in 1908 and soon there was conflict between the priest and the parishioners who were building the structure.
Discouraged, Draessel returned to Germany for a couple of years at which time no progress was made in the church construction. He returned from Germany and completed the St. Joseph’s building. Rev. Draessel died after serving the church 34 years and was buried inside the church beneath the floor near the altar.
The Honey Creek State Natural Area, across the highway from St. Joseph’s Church is now open by guided tours only. It had its beginning as the Jacob Doeppenschmidt Ranch. The Doeppenschmidts were members of St. Joseph’s Church. As members of the family added parcels of land, the area eventually became the Honey Creek Ranch. This well-preserved wildlife area has become the showcase of the Texas Hill Country.