By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
Oscar Haas was well known as the historian and record-keeper of New Braunfels and Comal County. He documented a hundred years of our community’s progress through twenty years of newspaper articles and a published book. Now in its fourth printing, The History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas 1844-1946, a book by Oscar Haas, set the standard for historical documentation about German immigration. It has been the “go-to” for generations of researchers, but there is nothing like hearing his voice as he tells his own story.
“I was born on October 12, 1885, on land which is now at the bottom of Canyon Lake…. We moved to Twin Sisters. My parents decided to move to New Braunfels so that their children could have more education than they would have gotten (in Twin Sisters).” He attended the New Braunfels Academy but dropped out in sixth grade. “I could get a job selling groceries and delivering groceries at $12 a month. That was a lot of money. They taught me to ride a bicycle and go out once a week and ride around town and take up orders from the housewives, then come back and fill those orders and put ’em in baskets and then hitch up a horse and deliver the groceries around town.”
He clerked in another general merchandise store for several years. “We had to have conversations in English and Spanish, and of course, German. They wanted the clerk to speak their language or they wouldn’t buy from you.” Haas opened his own store in the 1920s. “We handled ready-to-wear, men’s and boy’s and children’s ready-to-wears and shoes and hats, millinery, and dress materials, by the yard and all kinds of trinkets. It was in the Richter Building. I had a partner, Walter Wiedner, so we called it Oscar Haas and Company. When the Depression hit, then we lost. It was loss, loss, loss, and finally you lost everything, ja.”
That loss prompted him to run for Comal County Treasurer in the 1934 election. He served as Treasurer for 28 years, unopposed. That is when the history bug bit him. “Yes, I just got stung in 1934, and fortunately, men like Herman Seele, the first schoolteacher” were still around. “He was a tall, pleasant faced, full-bearded man and always interested in greeting the people as he came walking down the street, particularly children. He always stooped down to shake hands with the children.”
“One day, I was in Otto Rohde’s — who was then County Clerk of Comal County’s Office — I saw on the shelf where the first book of the minutes of the Comal County Commissioners Court. I asked Otto, could I look at it? As I opened it up, I saw the recording of the very first session of the Comal County Commissioners Court in 1846. I found it so interesting that I took it down to the editors of the New Braunfels Zeitung, the German-language newspaper, and to the New Braunfels Herald, the English-language newspaper.” They both told him that if he wrote weekly installments from the minutes, they would print it. It took about three years. “After that was finished, I went through the minutes of the first church in New Braunfels, which also took about three years. And then after that, went through the City Council minutes.” All of them were in German and required translation to English to be published in the New Braunfels Herald. In 1961, he and his wife wrote a history series in 144 weekly installments, “Comal County in the Civil War”, translated from Ferdinand Lindheimer’s German-language newspaper articles of the 1860s.
Haas retired from his job of county treasurer in 1962 to devote time to compiling his vast collection of historic materials into the definitive History of New Braunfels and Comal County, 1845-1946 first published in 1968. The knowledge and information gained from all the years of going through official city, county and church minutes was a tremendous foundation for his book. He did further research into translated writings of Carl, Prince of Solms-Braunfels, Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, and others to fill in the earliest parts of New Braunfels’ history.
Other published works include Chronological History of the Singers of German Songs in Texas (1948); The First Protestant Church, Its History and Its People:1845-1855 (1955); and a translation of the Civil War diary of Capt. Julius Giesecke of New Braunfels. He contributed multiple articles to the Handbook of Texas History and received numerous honors for his devotion to history. Not bad for a sixth-grade dropout.
While going about my research for this story, I looked for something different than what others had written about him. I looked for his voice. Among the treasures that are held by the Sophienburg Museum and Archives is a stash of oral histories, the “Reflections” program, professionally recorded since 1976. Oscar Haas was number three. He was 90 at the time of the recording. I pulled the recording from the studio and played it for Don Cooper, the volunteer that has faithfully been cataloging the Oscar Haas Collection for at least two years. It was entrancing. Don’s face lit up as he actually heard the voice of the man that created boxes and boxes of notes written on scraps of paper and backs of old ballots. I could hear the impish demeanor and twinkle in the eye of a man I only saw in photos. His voice took me back to childhood, when my grandparents and many of the store clerks spoke with a little German accent and a “ja” on the end.
“Reflections” is still recorded and airs 9 a.m. Sundays on KGNB. Copies are available for purchase. Is your parent or grandparent recorded as they talk about New Braunfels? Wouldn’t it be great if you could hear their voice again? We also want to record your stories about growing up and living in New Braunfels. Call us at the Sophienburg, 830-629-1572.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Handbook of Texas Online.