By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Margarethe Schertz was only 12 years old when she came to Texas with her parents in 1844. If she were alive today, she could tell us a story and a half about Texas, Comal County, and especially New Braunfels. It’s a unique story of an apparently strong woman.
Just like the Germans that left their homeland for a better life in Texas, another group from Riedisheim, the Alsatian Providence of France, emigrated. Both groups were looking for opportunities in Texas after facing economic problems. Conditions were even worse in Alsacian France, and allegiance to the monarchy was foremost to any idea of freedom.
A book called Schertz compiled by the Schertz Historical Preservation Committee stated that the Industrial Revolution brought wealth to the French upper class but extreme poverty to farmers. Between 1842 and 1869 thousands left the area and came to Texas. Opening new markets was one of the goals that the immigrants hoped would happen as a result of colonization.
When Texas became a republic in 1836, money and people to settle were scarce. Gen. James Hamilton, land commissioner for the republic, appointed Henri Castro to handle land sales. Castro, a successful French businessman managed a land grant sale. Castro’s ethical business reputation was in question in Texas and France. He recruited all over France but was not successful. Eventually, he signed up the number of colonists to make the trip to Texas from Alsace and Germany. In 1843, the 129 Castro recruits left Antwerp, Belgium on their way to Texas.
Margarethe Schertz, with her father Joseph Schertz and his wife Anna Marie, plus six of her unmarried siblings boarded the ship to Texas. The Schertz family left four of their children in France, to join them later. Margarethe was the youngest child brought along. After a very difficult trip across the seas to Galveston, they were expecting to be met by Henri Castro. He was a no show and they realized they were on their own. They headed for the area of Castro’s land grant west of San Antonio. Many abandoned the group or settled near San Antonio but by spring of 1844, most were living in poverty at the San Antonio mission grounds. Seven members of the group died, including the mother and two children of the Schertz family. They remained camped at the old Alamo site for nearly a year.
Giving up hope of being rescued by Castro, the family decided to return to France. On the way back to the coast, they fatefully ran into Prince Carl, leader of the German Adelsverein group. He had just left San Antonio after purchasing the Comal Tract and he was on his way to the coast to be with the first group of immigrants. The prince was sympathetic to the Castro group and invited two of the families to join him. One of the families was that of Joseph Schertz.
When the Schertz family joined the first group of German immigrants, they were led to the site of New Braunfels by Adelsverein Treasurer Jean Jacques von Coll. He becomes significant in the life of Margarethe Schertz later in the story.
The first founding families that arrived in New Braunfels prompted the drawing of lots. The Schertz family was part of this drawing and the family also bought land in Comal County and at the Cibolo Creek where the creeks separate the county of Bexar from the county of Guadalupe. The word Cibolo means buffalo. The area was a favorite hunting ground of Native American tribes. Eventually the settlement at the Cibolo was called Schertz after the older brother of Margarethe Schertz, Sebastian Schertz. Other family members stayed in NB and the hill country.
How does Jean Jacques von Coll fit into this puzzle? He was chosen to lead the immigrants on their inland trek because he had been trained as a lieutenant in the Duchy of Nassau military before he decided to immigrate to Texas. His military background would help protect the immigrants against Indians. He was singled out by Prince Carl for this leadership role and he was put in charge of the safety of the immigrants. When he crossed the Guadalupe with the founders of the colony, he was considered a founder and given lot #25 on the Main Plaza. Here he built one of only two saloons in the colony. Saloons were very lucrative business. One of the lots he purchased later was an acre lot (30.9 acres) running from San Antonio St. to present Coll St.
I’m guessing that von Coll didn’t pay too much attention to 12-year-old Margarethe Schertz on the trip up from the coast, but five years later he must have noticed her. In 1849, they were married in the German Protestant Church. Two girls were born to the couple, Kathinka and Elizabeth. In 1852, von Coll was elected mayor of NB when tragedy occurred. A disturbed settler came into the saloon complaining about the Adelsverein. In true military fashion, von Coll challenged the man to a dual. When von Coll turned his back to get his weapons, the man grabbed von Coll’s gun and shot him in the back. The settler was tried but not convicted. Margarethe was left with the two girls to raise alone.
A new chapter enters her life in the form of Carl Heinrich Guenther, known as Heinrich Guenther. He was a well-known, established citizen of New Braunfels. Guenther had received a higher education at the University of Halls in Germany. Records say that he came to Texas following some trouble with the church for playing secular music. Heinrich Guenther’s education afforded him the opportunity to teach at the New Braunfels Academy. His love of music prompted him to be one of the early directors of the local singing society, the Germania which was established in 1850. He was very active in the state Saengerbund.
Heinrich Guenther married the widow Margarethe Schertz von Coll. They had six children of their own for a total of eight with her two. The family lived in the house at 624 Coll St. which still stands across the street from Carl Schurz Elementary School.
Heinrich began a brewery at the foot of Bridge St. on the Comal River. Some of the remains are still there today. When he died in 1870, Margarethe took over running the brewery. It is believed that she was the only female brewer in Texas. Both Margarethe and Heinrich are buried in the old New Braunfels Cemetery. On his headstone is a Latin phrase meaning “He was fond of children and a cultivator of the Muses.” A Texas Historical Marker commemorates Carl Heinrich Guenther in the New Braunfels cemetery.
Margarethe Schertz von Coll Guenther was a survivor and a true pioneer woman.