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The museum’s Mormon mystery

Mormon dough trough as seen on display in the Waissenhaus exhibit at the Sophienburg Museum and Archives.

Mormon dough trough as seen on display in the Waissenhaus exhibit at the Sophienburg Museum and Archives.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman –

I just finished an exhibit on the Waissenhaus or Orphan’s Home. Organized in 1848 near Gruene, it was the first orphanage in Texas. I perused the Sophienburg’s collections to find original artifacts to use in the exhibit, and knew that of two large dough troughs, one was used at Waissenhaus. The other simply has a note, “used by the Mormons” and no donor name or other provenance. Hmmmmm …

Looks like it’s time to get out all the old standard research materials.

In a nutshell, the history of Mormonism in Texas began in 1844 with a plan by its founder, Joseph Smith. When Smith was killed, Brigham Young was made the new leader. Young decided to move the group to Utah; however, there were a few who wanted to continue Joseph Smith’s plan to settle in Texas (negotiations had already been made with Sam Houston). A group broke away from Young and moved to Texas with 200 settlers. They were led by Lyman Wight. Wight guided the group across the Red River in November 1845 and wintered in an abandoned fort in Grayson County until April. On June 6, 1846, the group settled at what is now called Mormon Springs, on the Colorado River, just under Mount Bonnell in Austin. They built the first water powered mill in the area.

Here is where they get tied in with the German colonists.

For some reason, Lyman Wight did not feel like his people were at their “Eden”. In 1847, he sent a team of four scouts into the Texas hill country. They found a site on the Pedernales River, four miles southeast of Fredericksburg — they reported, “a land with plenty of water and timber and abounding in good game and honey.” The colonists began to construct a 35-mile road leading north to the Pedernales which became known as the Old Mormon Road.

Three elders from a Mormon Colony who had settled near Austin, came to Herr Meusebach. They asked permission to settle a company of 46 families on the grant of the Verein…the group had come to Texas and settled…with great foresight and remarkable speed they had erected a mill … this mill now produces most of the cornmeal used at Austin and New Braunfels. … The three elders were not given an unqualified promise to their petition; however, a contract was signed with them whereby they agreed to build a mill at Fredericksburg.” — Ferdinand Roemer, Roemer’s Texas

I have visited Austin … the well-equipped mill, that supplies Austin and Fredericksburg in part with corn meal is located near a spring on the Colorado … This mill is at present operated by Mormons, of whom about a hundred will settle in the grant of the Verein.” — Felix Bracht, Texas in 1848

The Wight colony packed up and moved to their new Fredericksburg location. Within six weeks, they constructed and opened a gristmill and saw mill. Wight named the colony ZODIAK. About 20 families built homes on regularly spaced plots of land all with river frontage. They helped with the construction of Fort Martin Scott and even took in new German settlers arriving to the town.

The Mormons built convenient houses, a large school, and a temple … They engaged in agriculture, producing mostly corn. They were on friendly terms with their German neighbors, furnished them with meal and lumber, and instructed them how to cultivate their fields advantageously.” — R.L. Biesele, History of the German Settlements in Texas

Much of the lumber that they [the Germans] used came from the saw mill on the Pedernales in the Mormon community of Zodiak … Meusebach had welcomed the Mormons when they had established the settlement in 1847. Their technical skill in the building and operation of a saw mill as well as a gristmill, was a useful addition to this pioneer region … Meusebach and his wife enjoyed the wheat flour ground at the Mormon mill, where the first wheat flour of the entire region was made.” — Irene Marshall King, John O. Meusebach

It seemed peaceful enough. The Germans and the Mormons were much alike in regards to social interaction and business ethics. In 1850, Lyman Wight was elected Chief Justice (County Judge) of Gillespie County. The trouble began when disputes arose between the German colonists and Wight’s congregation. He invariably sided with the Mormons. It was also said that the Mormon grain was always ground first. Wight became offended by the comments of the members of the commissioner’s court and then refused to show up for court sessions. The commissioner’s court finally declared his position vacant and voted in a new justice.

Wight was ready to move his people again, even before the Pedernales flooded and washed away the Zodiak mills in 1851. The colony moved to Burnet County, then wandered through Llano, Gillespie, Kerr and Bandera counties before settling 12 miles outside of Bandera at a site called Mountain Valley (now under Medina Lake) in 1854. Incidently, I found out from my mom that the Mormons had camped on the creek below my great great grandfather’s home at Cherry Springs! In 1858, with only a few of his followers still in tow, he moved from Mountain Valley and headed towards San Antonio. He died unexpectedly in Dexter and was taken back to Zodiak. He was buried in the colony’s cemetery, now on private land. A Texas Historical Marker was placed nearby.

All that is to say, that New Braunfelsers did have contact with the Mormons. I looked in the old records and found that the two donations above the dough trough were from Mrs. Fridolin Hanz, and seem to have been recorded the same day. Mrs. Faust, the first Sophienburg Museum director, kept great records and I can only assume that so much was coming in for the Museum’s opening in October 1933, that this enigmatic artifact, the 60th recorded item, got lost in the shuffle. Did she forget to add the Hanz name?

The Hanz family ranch was located near the Anhalt area near where US 281 intersects Hwy 46. Fridolin Hanz was the mail carrier between New Braunfels, Spring Branch, Bulverde and Blanco. The early Hanz family could definitely have encountered the Mormons, maybe even several times. But, that’s just an educated guess.

For now, it looks like the story of the Mormon dough trough will remain a mystery.

Sources: The Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register, Jul 8, 1846 and Sep 7, 1848; The Dallas Morning News, Jan 23, 1928, Ted Thompson, “Texas History 101: Texas is Morman country”, Susan Currie, October 2001; The Lyman Wight Colony in Texas, Came to Bandera in 1854, J. Marvin Hunter; “The Southwestern Historical Quarterly”, Vol 49, Jul 1945-Apr 1946; The History of the German Settlements in Texas, R.L. Biesele, 1930; Texas in 1848, Felix Bracht, 1931; John O. Meusebach, Irene Marshall King, 1967; Roemer’s Texas, Ferdinand Roemer, 1935