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Roemer documented Texas’ geology, flora and fauna

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Twenty-eight-year-old Ferdinand von Roemer came to Texas on a quest for information about the geology, flora, and fauna of the state. Almost no information had been written in German to help the emigrants who would make Texas their home and Roemer’s complete account of his sojourn from 1845 to 1847 would become an important contribution.

Prince Carl had commissioned Roemer to survey the geology and mineral resources of the area of the Adelsverein’s grant. Roemer was recommended by none other than the famous scientist Baron Alexander von Humbolt.

Roemer’s observations were published in 1849 in Germany and widely circulated there. His book named Texas was translated into English in 1935, and finally re-published by the German Texas Heritage Society in 1983 as a commemoration for the celebration of the Texas Centennial.

Roemer believed that Prince Carl’s selection of New Braunfels as the destination spot for German emigration was a most fortunate one and a bright spot among the many  blunders in the German colonization of Texas.

As Roemer described the area of  New Braunfels in 1846 as a small, treeless plain, surrounded by the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. Eighty to one hundred houses were scattered throughout and only the main street (Seguin) was distinguishable as a street and this only because of the fenced- in one half acre lots. The houses were made of long, studding framework filled in with brick, or huts with walls of vertical cedar posts. Roofs were covered with tent canvas or oxhides. All houses had porches for additional space during summer, but at the time, no provision had been made for heating.

One of the more fascinating accounts in the book was of an “eating house” located at the end of the principal street (either north or south Seguin). It was a small, one room log house with a doorway, but no door, no floor, and cracks between the logs, letting in air. In the center of the room was a long table surrounded by rough benches. A fire was burning in the corner and pots and pans were hanging under the roof.

Entering the hut, Roemer encountered a heavy- set, middle-aged woman, nicknamed “Dicke Madam”. She claimed to have been the cook for a Count, but now she owned this establishment and cooked for 10-12 regular customers. They were young, educated Germans, some were former disgruntled lieutenants in the German army and some were students who had failed.  This group assembled three times a day for breakfast, dinner, and supper (most Germans call the three meals these names).

“Dicke Madam” cooked a combo of German and American food, mostly coffee, cornbread, and beef. Beef could be bought cheap for three cents a pound because the Adelsverein bought whole beef and sold it to the colonists at cost. Other food was expensive because it had to be transported from far away.

Roemer describes the clothing of the young men as a combination of Indian, Mexican, American, and German costumes. For example, there was the German cloth cap, the Mexican sombrero, or a fur-lined cap with the long tail of a fox dangling from it. There was a yellow buckskin fringed coat (Indian fashion), blouse with sleeves slit to the shoulders (Prince Carl introduced this), long boots reaching to the knees with spurs, or shoes and boots made of yellow deerskin. A belt held a pistol, stiletto, or bowie knife. Roemer commented, “I noticed a similar irregularity and romanticism in regard to the clothing of the young German colonists… seems they wanted to compensate themselves in the land of the free for the restraint which the manners and customs of the homeland had imposed upon them”.

Don’t you know that there were interesting conversations around that table? Anyway, we can thank Roemer for keeping such a super diary about his wanderings in Texas.

"Dicke Madam" cooks for 10-12 customers. Drawing by Patricia Arnold