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Poets provide accounts of early New Braunfels life

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The late Dr. Robert Govier was a friend of mine and a real friend to the Sophienburg Archives. A native of New Braunfels, he got his Ph.D. in German and translated many documents for the Sophienburg. I considered him a multi-talented genius.

While working on his M.A. degree in 1962, Govier chose earlyNew Braunfels poets as his thesis, including Fritz Goldbeck, Ludwig Vogel, Rev. Gustave Eisenlohr, Hermann Seele, Rev. Louis Ervendberg, Rev. August Schuchard, and Prince Solms-Braunfels. Govier emphasized the poetry of Fritz Goldbeck because he believed that none gave a more complete picture of early life in NB. These translations are invaluable to our Archives.

In one of the 140 poems written by Goldbeck, he wrote of the journey to Texas (1845) on the ship Johann Dethardt with his mother and step-father, Judith and Heinrich Bremer. The poems themselves were written 50 years later in couplets (two- line rhyming pattern). It would be almost impossible to translate the work in the correct literary form and still retain the meaning.

Oscar Haas tells the story in Goldbeck’s poems in his translations for the “Herald-Chronicle” in 1963. The family’s journey from the coast to New Braunfels was at a snail’s pace in heavy, oxen-drawn wagons. Going from one campsite to the next, the emigrants were welcomed along the way with the hospitality of fresh food like eggs, milk, and bread.

Goldbeck saw cattle by the hundreds, herds of wild game, prairie chickens, geese, deer, and ducks – a gamesman’s paradise. At night he heard the mournful concert of the prairie wolves.

Some humorous things occurred along the way. One emigrant shot a skunk, and one shot what he thought was a gobbler, only to discover that it was a buzzard. On the scary side, they met the first savages (Tonkawa) above Victoria and experienced the danger of prairie fire.

Goldbeck goes on to sketch the Zinkenberg encampment after crossing the Guadalupe into NB on March 21, 1845. The first 31 wagonloads of emigrants were housed in tents pitched in a row along the bluff above the Comal Creek. For protection were two bastions with loaded cannon and the armed guard of the Prince. The 22 cavalry men on ponies were dressed in bloused dark grey uniforms, boots above the knees, broad-brimmed feathered hats, glistening spurs, and wearing swords at their sides. Now put yourself in the Indians’ shoes (moccasins) and just imagine what they thought.

Soon a Lipan Chief Castro came to the tent of the Prince and they drank wine together. Chief Castro wanted peace (which was good news to the Prince, I’m sure), so he and Prince Carl smoked a peace pipe together. Nevertheless, the poet says that the settlers were often frightened at night when in the woods they spied the dark form of an Indian with eyes of an eagle and dark black hair. Goldbeck said the Indians merely waved and the settlers smiled, relieved.

Within the Zinkenburg compound was a storehouse with abundant meat but often pea-porridge had to serve for bread (lack of wheat). Once a wagon of corn arrived and was doled out – 40 ears for each family. With only one primitive mill to grind the corn, some families had to stand in line all night for their turn.

In 1845, Heinrich Bremer built a house on Mill St. and Goldbeck relates an incident in which the family was sitting down at a meal when an uninvited Indian entered the room and greedily snatched a piece of meat from his brother’s fork. The family rewarded the Indian’s energetic striving by giving him more.

Poets are good at painting pictures with words, and thanks topoets like Goldbeck, we have first hand descriptions of the early days. Here’s “hats off” to people like Govier and Haas and others who have translated poetry from German to English.

Poet Fritz Goldbeck, circa 1870.