By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Safety and protection of citizens and property have always been foremost in the minds of anyone involved in law enforcement in New Braunfels and Comal County and it goes way back.
Law enforcement began with Prince Carl who was responsible for the safety of the German emigrants as they made their way inland from the coast. He organized a group of 20 young men to protect them against hostile Indians. This unknown land had been the home of the Indian tribes and Solms knew nothing about them. While in San Antonio Ranger Jack Hays told Solms that it would not be safe to move in the direction of the Llano and challenge the Comanches so New Braunfels was chosen. See Sophienburg.com web-site for more info. (1-26-2010)
The Prince chose only Germans to form this group of 20 (some say 22) to protect the colonists on their journey to the colonization site and after they arrived. They received a salary and there were strict behavior rules – no drinking or gambling. Punishment was inflicted by thrashing, exile and shame in the colony. Prince Carl also organized another group of volunteers able to bear arms. The third group consisted of the rest of the men in camp, inexperienced in shooting, but trainable.
Prince Carl received criticism from Americans and Germans alike: from Americans for enlisting only German men in the military, and from Germans for promoting aristocracy. (One of the issues that made many emigrate to begin with)
Prince Carl returned to Germany in May 1845 and the Troop of 20 no longer had a commander. When Comal County was created on July 13, 1846, the election of county officials was held and Henry Gerwin was elected sheriff.
The state of Texas had been organized into three departments – Bexar, Brazos, and Nacogdoches. The battle of San Jacinto in 1836 culminated the revolution against Mexico and Texas became a Republic for the next ten years. Comal County had originally been part of Bexar County so in 1845 before Texas became a state, the Texas Congress created new counties and Comal County was formed.
Local retired Texas Ranger and author, Ray Martinez, in his latest book, “Creating the Professional Lawman”, has quite a bit of information about law enforcement in New Braunfels and Texas. (Book available at the Sophienburg) He says that from 1900 to 1930, the sheriff was the only paid member on staff. That changed in 1932. Here’s an example: Sheriff August Knetsch was paid $150 a month, Chief Deputy Ed Schleyer Jr. was paid $90 a month and jailor Charles Marion got $50 a month and 50 cents a day for two meals for each prisoner. They used their own cars, and paid their own expenses.
The advent of the automobile brought big changes to law enforcement. In 1907 the State of Texas passed its first traffic laws. Here are a few: the speed limit on the highway was 18 mph and no more than 8 mph in cities. Horses had the right-of-way, the car had to have a sound device that could be heard 300 feet away and had to have headlights. A problem existed with this in that actual light bulbs were used and bumpy roads caused the bulbs to loosen and lights go out. The Comal County Commissioners Court authorized a headlight inspection station, probably a forerunner to car inspection.
According to the City of New Braunfels web-site, the city is comprised of over 42 square miles. The Police Department is under the jurisdiction of the City government with the early law enforcers being city marshals. In 1930 Bruno Merz was elected the first chief of police.
In 165 years much has changed in law enforcement, but the basic principle of “serve and protect” is still the same.