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New Braunfels’ first doctor’s life filled with contradictions

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

In the Sophienburg Museum, there is a display of several prominent early civic leaders in New Braunfels. You will see Zink, von Coll, Lindheimer, Seele, Ervendberg, Meusebach and Dr. Theodore Koester.

It seems that Koester was the most controversial of all these early leaders.

Dr. Koester was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1817. While he was in medical school in Germany, family sources say that Koester fathered a child out of wedlock. He gave the baby to his childless brother Ferdinand and wife to raise. Shortly thereafter, he decided to leave Germany and emigrate to Texas. He was hired by the Adelsverein to be the doctor for the emigrants aboard ship and in the settlement.

Koester left on the first ship, the “Johann Dethardt.” Apparently from letters written by emigrants to Prince Carl, he made himself very unpopular. Emigrant Carl Elmendorf wrote that Koester made insulting remarks ridiculing women and even made fun of a feeble-minded man. He said that Koester became drunk when they landed in Galveston although they were all warned about the possibility of strong alcohol in Texas.

Another emigrant, Philipp Luck, wrote that at the camp on the route inland, his pregnant wife had gone into labor and Koester had said that she was “faking it.” Luck finally found a midwife three miles away to deliver the baby. Emigrant Adam Voigt stated that Koester had called his wife insulting names. The Prince temporarily suspended Koester as Adelsverein doctor, but not for long.

Writer Alwin Sörgel’s “A Sojourn in Texas 1846-1847” states this about Koester: “It is difficult to say whether his unscrupulousness comes from his ignorance or vice-versa. At this time, they are waiting to confirm his next poisoning so he can be removed and brought to trial or he will be lynched.”

According to some accounts, Koester ministered to the sick and by other accounts, buried most of his patients. Survivors called the cemetery “Koester’s Plantation.” He purchased a town lot on the corner of Seguin and Garden streets.

Dr. Ferdinand Roemer in his journey through Texas, upon entering New Braunfels for the first time in 1846, took special note of a small house occupied by Dr. Koester. The house had three businesses advertised: Doctor, Pharmacist and Baker. Roemer observed that it wasn’t unusual for doctors to also be pharmacists, but very unusual for them to also be bakers.

In 1846, Koester married emigrant Sophie Tolle. To accommodate a growing family, a large two-story house plus basement (still standing today) was built in 1859 to replace the small one (421 S. Seguin Ave.). It was unusually elaborate for its time. Local architect W. A. Thielepape built the building of cedar, oak and limestone. The kitchen was in the basement and food was carried to the dining room on the first floor by a dumbwaiter. The doctor’s office was also on the first floor and bedrooms were on the second floor. The three floors were connected with a winding stairway plus speaker tubes.

In spite of on and off complaints about Koester’s medical practice, he seemed to enjoy political popularity. Proof of that came when he was chosen City Alderman in 1846.

Later, Comal County citizens were called upon to elect two delegates to represent the county at the convention in Austin to decide whether Texas should secede from the Union. Koester and Walter Preston were elected.

Koester was also a successful businessman, beginning a paper factory, a distillery and a woolen mill.

Koester died at the age of 60 and was buried in the Adelsverein Cemetery. Sophie went to live with her married daughter, Marie Eisenlohr. (Source: “Women in Early Texas” by Evelyn M. Carrington, PhD)

Koester’s medical practices were a common complaint. Then flip the coin and he was obviously a man of political popularity, at least he was politically powerful.

Koester home on Seguin Strasse. Insert is Dr. Theodore Koester as a young man.

Koester home on Seguin Strasse. Insert is Dr. Theodore Koester as a young man.