By Myra Lee Adams Goff
There is one historian’s name in New Braunfels that is mentioned over and over. After writing this column for the last nine years, and writing a few books, I can’t begin to tell you how many times his name is mentioned as a writer or a translator. Somehow the name slips in there before you know it. The person to whom I refer, is Oscar Haas.
Haas’ material is widely used and the Sophienburg has a vast collection of his papers, published and unpublished. As far as historical writers, the same can be said for Hermann Seele and Jacob Lindheimer but not to the extent of Oscar Haas’ contribution.
Sophienburg volunteer, Ralph Koch, is presently going through and organizing material from the Oscar Haas collection.
Oscar Haas was born on October 12, 1885, on a farm in Cranes Mill in Comal County. He was the oldest child of Ernst Georg Haas and Ottilie Rochau Haas. Both families were German immigrants. The families had moved to the Cranes Mill “mountains” soon after the Civil War. The farm is 16 miles west of New Braunfels and now is under the water of Canyon Lake.
Haas spent much of his early childhood on the Little Blanco River in Blanco County. He attended a little country school called the Twin Sisters School.
In 1897, the family moved to New Braunfels and he started the third grade at the New Braunfels Academy on Mill St. Right after finishing the sixth grade at this school, he began working for druggist August Forke. Forke owned the pharmacy and this building is the famous Forke Store now located at Conservation Plaza. I say famous because so many NB events have been held in this building with its old floors that retain its old atmosphere.
Obviously Oscar Haas was a bright, curious boy. Riding his bicycle along country roads, he would sketch buildings and people. The Sophienburg Museum has a large collection of Native American arrowheads that he gathered mostly in the Landa Park area. It is a beautiful mounted collection hanging in the Native American exhibit and contains spear points, flint knives, scrapers as well as the arrowheads.
In 1918 Oscar married Clara Amelia Conring and eventually she became a partner with him in his search for the history that both of them came to love.
As a young man he worked for the large mercantile store of Pfeuffer and Holm as a salesman of men’s clothing. This led to a brief partnership in the retail clothing and dry goods business. His store was directly across from the First Protestant Church and the building was eventually moved to Gruene.
A real break in Haas’ life occurred when he was elected county treasurer in 1934, a position he held for 28 years. By 1940 he had begun the discovery, collection and translation of old county records in the courthouse. Around that time, courthouses all over the state began getting rid of old records because of crowded conditions. There was a feeling that these records had no value, but Haas knew better. He saved the county records and had them recorded in the Texas State Archives. It was from these records that he began writing articles for publication in the New Braunfels Zeitung and the New Braunfels Herald. He wrote a column called “Know Comal County” in which he translated the old Commissioners Court records from German to English. Starting with the year 1846, he revealed to the current population of the county what had happened 100 years earlier. This series ran for three years in both newspapers. Following this series was another series called “99 and 100 Years Ago in New Braunfels.”
Hermann Seele was an early writer who wrote history and stories about New Braunfels. Seele arrived in the settlement in May of 1845. His recollections gave us complete descriptions of those early years. Of course, they were written in German, but Haas could translate them. An important literary work that Haas translated was Seele’s “Die Cypress”, a collection of non-fictional and fictional stories. This book makes excellent reading and can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg.
Another translation by Haas was Fritz Goldbeck’s historic poems describing New Braunfels. This to me was a very difficult translation, as it is hard to translate poetry from one language to another. Next came the translation of Prince Carl’s papers in which he recorded everything about the colonization project. Now just imagine this project. He translated the German “Fraktur”, the German equivalent of English script. Most of the German letters don’t even look like the English letters. I will say this, however, he probably learned this script at the country school at Twin Sisters. My dad learned this Fraktur going to school in the country, but my mother did not. She went to school in NB where she was taught English and German was a second language.
In 1961 Clara Haas joined her husband in his next venture, a series of 144 installments for the New Braunfels Zeitung. It was “Comal County in the Civil War” translated from the writings of Ferdinand Lindheimer. These translations were in the newspapers in the 1960s.
Retiring from the position of county treasurer in order to work on his large collection of historic materials, he began work on producing the history book “History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas; 1844-1946.” This book, published in 1968, is for sale at Sophie’s Shop and has become the #1 aid to historians researching history of the area.
Other publications were: “The First Protestant Church, Its History and its People 1845-1955”; also a translation of the Civil War Diary of Capt. Julius Giesecke and “History of the Singers and German Songs of Texas.”
All of this activity in writing did not go without reward. Early on, Haas was honored with several awards. The Historical Society of the Evangelical and Reformed Church honored him for historic church writing and the San Antonio Conservation Society History Award was given to him in 1966. Last, the Comal County Chamber of Commerce honored him with their annual Besserung Award for Outstanding Community Service.
Much of the information for this article was gathered from writings by Brenda Anderson Lindemann, Crystal Sasse Ragsdale and the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History, the University of Texas, Austin.
Oscar Haas died in 1981, but his accomplishments will live on for as long as there is a need for history.