By Myra Lee Adams Goff
In 1998, the late Dr. Robert Govier, native New Braunfelser and volunteer at the Sophienburg, translated the 1898 Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, one hundred years later. The weekly newspaper is on microfilm at the Archives and had to be translated from German script to English.
Govier was looking for outstanding national and local events that might give clues as to how people lived in the very late 1800s. In additional other notable events, two events stood out, one being the Spanish-American War and the local big event which was the building of our present Comal County Courthouse. Stories about the shortest war in American history that began and ended in 1898 took up more space in the paper than all the other stories put together.
Here’s the Spanish-American War history in a nutshell:
Cuba was one of many colonies of Spain. Revolts broke out in 1895 in Cuba. Spain sent an army to crush the revolution. In the US, people were shocked by what was happening to the Cubans. This conflict in Cuba was a threat to American property owners who had invested vastly in Cuban sugar plantations. When the battleship, Maine, was blown up in Havana Harbor, the US Congress declared war against Spain on April 25, 1898. Spain ultimately lost the war plus all its other colonies in North America. The US took temporary control of Cuba as a protectorate.
New Braunfelsers were well aware of this war through the newspaper. The paper asked for volunteers to fight in the war and there was a list of items needed in Cuba. Most of the items I can understand, but not all of them. The list included summer dresses, quinine, lard, and various dried foods. Texas Gov. Hogg says he intended to enlist in the army. “One surmises he was rejected by being overweight” (Editor Kaiser). Hogg was known for his large size.
During this time, Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt trained his Rough Riders in San Antonio and the Zeitung congratulated him for their performance when they charged unswervingly toward the hidden enemy, forcing them into open combat and finally to flee. After training in San Antonio, the Rough Riders were sent to Florida and then taken to Cuba. Author James Adams from his book, “The March of Democracy” said: “The most noted minor engagement was at San Juan Hill where Roosevelt under C. Leonard Wood led the Rough Riders on foot (their horses were still in Florida) against the enemy.” Roosevelt made a name for himself as a rough and tumble leader with this battle which no doubt led to his being elected president later.
Roosevelt’s reputation was really enhanced in New Braunfels in 1905, five years after the end of the war, when he made a train stop here on his way from Austin to San Antonio. When State Senator Joseph Faust found out that Roosevelt was coming to San Antonio for a reunion of his former Rough Riders, he invited him to stop in NB to hear a song in his honor sung by 1,000 children. The president accepted the invitation and said he had always been interested in NB because of its unique history. The song by the children was written by Prof Baumann of the NB Academy. All Academy students plus students from Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, plus all area school children were invited to sing to the president.
In addition, a group of young girls in Rough Rider costumes greeted the president. This was really a big thing because the girls had to sew their own costumes and history shows that these costumes showed up at many dances and parades at later times. For more information on this event, log on the Sophienburg.com and look for the column on June 30, 2009.
Comal County Courthouse
From beginning to end of the year, the war was covered in detail in the Zeitung. The other well-covered event was the building of our present courthouse. Every decision that was made about the contracts made headline news. The Commissioners Court had the responsibility of choosing an architect and a plan. This led to a spirited debate which was really big news. The conflict was finally settled but not until one of the commissioners refused to have his name on the cornerstone.
The cornerstone laying was May 19th and the paper reported that the event was like a folk festival. Two bands, Schuz’s and Waldschmidt’s accompanied a long procession of flag-waving children to the old courthouse and then on to the new courthouse. The contractor was given all the items that were to be placed in a metal box and fitted into the cornerstone. This cornerstone was opened 100 years later. After this, all went to Gottleib Oberkamp’s Garden for lemonade and beer.
As far as recreation was concerned, NB was a hopping place in 1898. Dances were held every weekend in dance halls all over town and in the country. A masked ball sponsored by the Fire Dept. #3 advertised an evening of “folly and tom foolery” at Matzdorf’s Hall, or how about a Children’s Masked Ball sponsored by the Women’s Support League, offering free coffee for children and adults paying 10 cents a cup. Possibly this dance, since it was on May 5, was the Kindermaskenball which in the past was traditionally held the first Saturday in May. Also at Matzdorf’s was a performance of all children, the purpose being to pay for starting a library. A surprise to me was the holding of at least six dances on Easter Sunday and two more on the Monday after Easter.
If dances were not your thing, you could take a train trip from NB to Austin to attend a Baseball game for $1.25 for the round trip.
If none of this entertainment appeals to you, I’ll bet the last one will. At the Gottlied Oberkamp’s Garden (Next to the Phoenix), a famous diver, Fenton, performed by diving from the roof of the high building into a basin of water only 3 ½ feet deep.
Then you could attend the Comal County Fair which organized this year.
Newspaper articles reflect the prejudice against minority groups, Native Americans, and particularly against women. All public offices were held by men, and women were not permitted to vote. That brought on some street demonstrations later on. Notice the subtle insult in this advertisement:
“B.E. Voelcker advertises Electric Bitters for the woman of the future who visits her clubs while her husband stays home taking care of the kiddies, as well as the woman who stays at home cooking and cleaning. A miraculous cure.” By the way, birth announcements were in the father’s name only.
Gold had been discovered in the Klondike and there were mentions of local farmers finding gold when they were digging water wells. Petrified mammoth were found in a gravel pit. “Circa Trova” or “Seek and you will find”.
These are just the highlights that stand out to me for the year 1898. If you want to read the rest of the story, the book, Neu Braunfelser Zeitung 1898 is for sale at Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg. You will definitely be entertained.