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The year 1846 was a dark year for the German immigrants

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The year was 1846, a year after Hermann Seele arrived in Texas. It was the time of year that we, in Texas, understand – July and August. The heat continued to increase and thunder storms made the Guadalupe River rise. A ferry boat at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers had washed away. It was again repaired.

Horrifying scene

Seele crossed the river to the place where the immigrants had been held up from crossing over the flooding Guadalupe. A most horrible scene was observed. Some chests and boxes of the immigrants had been brought over with great effort. Baggage and household goods were laying everywhere waiting with the immigrants to cross the swollen water. Wash was laid out on bushes to dry.

An old farmer lying on a feather bed had a raging fever. Not far away the corpse of a woman was wrapped in a bedspread. Small children were sitting around weeping for their dear, dead mother. The father in vain, tried to understand a discussion with the American wagon owner. What was he telling him to do? He couldn’t understand English.

Walking by the gruesome area, Seele noticed a man leaning against a tree with his hat fallen over off of his head. He wanted to warn him about the danger of sun. Seele went up to the man, shook him, and raised his head “which had sunk to his chest when his wide-opened eyes became fixed on me, motionless and unseeing. The man was dead.” He was buried there on the banks of the Guadalupe.

He passed a tent with nine people lying begging for water. No one would bring them any. Seele brought them water from the river in pails. A long-ago song sung by his mother passed through his mind:

Beyond the island and rocks
We have vanished for eternity.
I feel as though I must weep
Must weep like a child.

From The Cypress by Hermann Seele

Many immigrants camped across the Guadalupe River from Seele’s farm. Many were buried there and years later when the railroad came to New Braunfels, workers discovered the bones of the 29 humans recorded by Ervendberg. The workers scraped them up and reburied them. Today trains roll over the site.

Immigrants planned to settle the San Saba

The real original destination of the Adelsverein German immigrants was the land around the San Saba and Llano Rivers. The Adelsverein had a contract with the Republic of Texas to settle up to 6,000 families and single men in this area. They should have known better, but they didn’t. They knew nothing about Texas.

When Prince Carl arrived in the summer of 1844 to make arrangements for the immigrants to travel from the coast to the land grant, this inland trek from the coast was the biggest challenge he had. He made a trip by horseback to the San Saba and decided that the settlers had to have a half-way destination to stop for supplies.

Unplanned destination became New Braunfels

And so, on March 15, 1845 in San Antonio, Prince Carl purchased the land situated on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. This land became the inadvertent final destination of the Adelsverein immigrants. Immediately Prince Carl had Lt. Nicholas Zink plot out a town-site. At the west end of this plotted land was a four-acre cemetery named the New Braunfels Cemetery.

Ervendberg records

When the first immigrants arrived, Rev. Louis Ervendberg recorded some 400 deaths, most of which were buried in the New Braunfels Cemetery in 1845 and 1846. An unnumbered amount of burials took place at the coast and on the side of the road of the trek up from the coast. There are no records to show the exact number or who died at the coast and on the way to New Braunfels. Rev. Ervendberg began his recordings by word of mouth from arriving settlers and it is estimated that 300 or so died at the coast and along the way. He recorded 21 deaths in 1845 and 373 in 1846.

New Braunfels Cemetery

This city cemetery was the first provided for immigrants and dedicated June 25, 1845. The first person buried there was Elise Catherine Reh Peter. Her husband, Gerlach Peter, died a month later. It is presumed that they were victims of a cholera epidemic that was just beginning at this time. Records show that many were buried in nameless graves on the southwest section of the cemetery. Over two hundred deaths recorded by Ervendberg were buried in the New Braunfels Cemetery.

The First Protestant Church is the custodian of those death records. The church has allowed the Sophienburg Archives to copy the records. The records show the name, date of death, age, birthplace, place of burial and cause of death of each of the 348 recorded deaths in 1845 and ’46. The causes of death are so varied that it is impossible to draw any conclusions. So many died of convulsions and something called mucus fever, bilious fever, dysentery, blood poisoning and yellow fever. Most of these sound like symptoms rather than the disease itself. Only two concrete diseases have been identified, cholera and spinal meningitis. Towards the heights of the epidemic with several deaths a day, there were no longer coffins available and many were just buried in a mass grave. The area is marked on the grounds of the cemetery.

Whole families of parents and children sometimes died all at once. All age brackets were victims from the very young to the very old. Several women died of childbirth.

By 1847, the numbers of recorded deaths dropped to 71. One may conclude that this particular epidemic was over.

The rest of the story

When John O. Meusebach accepted the responsibility of taking the place of Prince Carl as Executive Director of the Adelsverein, he was full of optimism. After all, the newspapers in Germany had painted a beautiful picture of Texas. But when Meusebach arrived in Texas, he quickly assessed the misery of the immigrants on the coast. He realized the financial disaster and there was no money to help the immigrants survive on the coast or even to help them get to New Braunfels. He was informed that 5,000 more people were on the way.

What was he to do? He appealed to the Adelsverein who sent a meager amount of money. He then explored the land promised the immigrants around the San Saba and Llano Rivers, the original destination.

In April 25, 1846, Meusebach guided 16 wagons and 180 settlers to colonize Fredericksburg. He then made a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians. This opened up the Texas frontier for settlement.

Meusebach remained a popular personality with the immigrants and in 1851 he was elected State Senator. Two years later, he was appointed commissioner for the German Emigration Co. to issue land certificates to the immigrants brought to Texas by the Adelsverein.

The rest of the story is good, thanks to John O. Meusebach.

Pencil drawing of Reverend Ervendberg and his wife Luisa who cared for the orphans left from the epidemic.

Pencil drawing of Reverend Ervendberg and his wife Luisa who cared for the orphans left from the epidemic.