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Twist of fate brings von Coll to Texas

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Last month a group from the Nassau Historical Society in Germany came to the Sophienburg. Von Hartmut Heinemann, group historian, handed me a small book in German about the life of Johann Jakob von Coll. You know him as Jean Jacques von Coll, but they were one and the same.Von Coll was the commercial agent for the Adelsverein and one that led the emigrant’s wagon train. Volunteer Rose Emich translated this intriguing book.

Von Coll was born in Wiesbaden in 1814 and groomed for a career in the Nassau Military. In 1841, when he was 27 years old, an incident happened that changed the direction of his life.

Here’s what happened:

Von Coll attended a ball at the casino in Wiesbaden with several other officers. According to reports, all were inebriated and still in that state the next morning. They decided to continue partying and so they went to the neighbor’s party, the postmaster of Wiesbaden named Schlichter.

After a while, von Coll said to his friends, “Let us leave; this celebration is not for us.” Schlichter interpreted these words to mean that his guests were not good enough for von Coll. After an exchange of words, one of von Coll’s friends asked him why he let Schlichter insult him. Von Coll sent Lt. Sterzing back as a “second” to talk to the postmaster about the insult. In those days, the second’s job was to make peace.

After much dispute between Sterzing and Schlichter the latter yelled, “You call them officers?” in an insulting way. Sterzing then asked for a duel in the name of von Coll at 11 o’clock that same day on top of the Giesberg in Wiesbaden.

Von Coll tried to come to an agreement with Schlichter and after the pistols were handed out, they agreed that it was unclear who insulted first. They shook hands and left. The author commented that most duels ended that way. However, that wasn’t the end for von Coll.

Von Coll and Sterzing went to Mainz to recover from the ordeal. Meanwhile, a rumor started that von Coll had left Wiesbaden to get out of the duel. Later in Texas the rumor was that von Coll had refused to fight with a commoner.

Von Coll wanted to know who started the rumor, but unable to determine the culprit, a commission was formed that included the entire officer corps. The whole affair was now in the open. Von Coll was afraid for his honor as an officer.

Duke Adolph of Nassau intervened and advised him to resign from the Nassau Military and then volunteer to serve in the military of a foreign country. Von Coll was afraid of being dishonorably discharged, so he resigned. His choices were: Austria (not at war), Russia (he might disappear in the Caucasus Mountains), Turkey (he would have to become a Muslim), so he chose France.

Duke Adolph gave him 1,000 Gulden and advised him to come home with the Medal of Honor. After touring around Paris several months, he finally joined the French military. He spoke French well and at that point changed his name to Jean Jacques von Coll. But alas, he became sick and was discharged. He arrived home after six months, penniless, jobless, sick, and with no medals.
Duke Adolph said he had found him a new challenge — “Texas”.

In Texas in 1852 von Coll owned a saloon on Marktplatz. A farmer named Völker came in and hollered that the Adelsverein was a criminal organization. Von Coll took exception, and went to get his pistol in the back room. When he returned, Völker attacked him with a knife and then grabbed von Coll’s pistol and shot him.

The Verein Cemetery won that duel.

Next time I’ll fill you in on the rest of von Coll’s story and his connection to William Clemens of the iconic Clemens Dam.

Von Coll’s saloon next to the Guadalupe Hotel, later Plaza Hotel. Von Coll is pictured with his “Texas” clothes.