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Meusebach persevered despite pestilence, poverty

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Baron Ottfried von Meusebach dropped his aristocratic title and became John Meusebach when he came to Texas in May of 1845. He was to be the Adelsverein’s second administrator of the German settlement of New Braunfels succeeding Prince Carl. The prince had departed just two months after the first emigrants arrived on March 21, 1845.

Meusebach was left with the big problem of taking care of thousands of emigrants that were on their way from Germany.

The problem was that funds were depleted. By June 1845, the next group of emigrants arrived followed by thousands more from January 1846 to January 1847. Almost no provisions or lodging was provided in Galveston. There they waited for transportation to Carlshaven (Indianola). There they were stranded again.

On the coast there were only a small number of tents and houses to furnish shelter against an unusually cold, wet winter. Many dug holes in the sand, throwing the dirt around the hole over which they laid poles covered with branches and twigs. On top of this they laid bed sheets and table cloths. A few emigrants had funds and hired transportation to the colony. Under such conditions, malaria, diarrhea, scurvy, dropsy and other unidentified diseases spread, wiping out entire families.

Many emigrants walked to New Braunfels and perished along the way. Those who were sick brought disease to the inhabitants of the town. There the sick were placed under a shed constructed of pilings and roofed over with reeds. “Very few of the deceased could be furnished coffins since boards were not available. Almost each morning during summer as many as three bodies wrapped up in sheeting were carried out to the cemetery by a wagoner hired for the purpose and were buried under instructions given by a Sexton employed by the directors” (Hermann Seele, translated by Oscar Haas). Many deceased could not be brought across the flooding Guadalupe and were buried on the east bank.

Surviving orphaned children were placed under a large tent next to the German Protestant Church under the supervision of the Pastor Ervendberg and his wife who would ultimately take in 19 orphans.

It was under these wretched circumstances that John Meusebach found himself. It would be up to him to solve these immense problems. His family’s coat of arms reading TENEX PROPOSITI (perseverance in purpose) would be a strong reminder in the next year.

Pleading with the Adelsverein for additional funds, Meusebach was sent small amounts. After informing the German newspapers of the situation, he got the attention of the Adelsverein and sixty thousand dollars were sent. Although this was a help, he was not able to pay the emigrant’s promised money that the Adelsverein was holding for them. On December 31, discontent on the part of a group of emigrants appeared on this very spot (Sophienburg) demanding their money and threatening to hang Meusebach. Shortly thereafter he put in his resignation and moved to the hill country.

Meusebach is given credit for founding Fredricksburg before his resignation. He was a friend of the Indian tribes and is most remembered for making a treaty with the Comanche Indians, thereby opening up the Texas frontier.

The Comanches called Meusebach “El Sol Colorado” (the red sun) because of his red hair. There is a legendary story in which some Waco squaws playfully led him to the river where they pushed his head and beard into the water to see if it would wash out. They were delighted when it didn’t.

Both John Meusebach and Prince Carl met the challenge ahead of them as best they could with little funds available for a monstrous task. Although hundreds died, thousands survived and went on to build the community that we call New Braunfels. It has been 164 years since those first emigrants crossed the Guadalupe (March 21, 1845).

John Meusebach

John Meusebach, 1846