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Waggoners important to early New Braunfels transportation

George Ullrich, wagon master for the Adelsverein. Sophienburg Photo Collection

George Ullrich, wagon master for the Adelsverein. Sophienburg Photo Collection

Margaretha (nee Decker) Ullrich. Sophienburg Photo Collection

Margaretha (nee Decker) Ullrich. Sophienburg Photo Collection

(Encore presentation — Originally appeared February 8, 2011)

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Waggoners or Teamsters were important to early New Braunfels. They not only led the wagon trains of the early German settlers but they hauled freight to and from the frontier, especially the Gulf coast.

G. Fred Oheim, editor of the Zeitung’s Jahrbuch in 1943, named 340 teamsters who “transported merchandise to New Braunfels from Indianola, Lavaca, Victoria, Cuero, Kingsbury, Luling, Marion, Austin and San Antonio from 1860 to1877 for Ernst Sherff alone.”

Sherff was owner of a large merchandise business in New Braunfels that he purchased from Ferguson and Hessler in 1858. By that time, Waggoners were using mules to pull wagons. Sherff’s store later became Eiband and Fischer.

Oheim related that when there were no factories in Texas providing necessities of life and the state’s wealth consisted solely of produce off the land, transportation was an indispensable part of daily living.

Early Texas transportation consisted of ox-drawn wagons, then stagecoaches and finally railroads. One group started to build a railroad from San Antonio to Lavaca but the tracks were destroyed at Victoria during the Civil War.

In 1865-66, the U.S. Army placed that stretch in operation again. Before and after the Civil War and up until a hurricane wiped out Indianola in 1886, oxen and mule wagons hauled imported wares and food up to New Braunfels from the coast.

From the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1955: The wagons had bodies shaped like sled runners drawn by four, five, or six oxen. “The Germans west of the Colorado had a better wagon and drove better mules. Like the desert caravans of old, they wound in long lines over the rolling plains.”

Poets like Fritz Goldbeck glamorized the Waggoner’s life. Mrs. Ernst Kapp in a letter written in 1850 and translated by Oscar Haas described the trip from Indianola to New Braunfels in glowing terms, like “green undulating prairies shimmering in the bright sun” and “from out of the distance slowly papering into view, long rows of heavy laden prairie schooners come rolling on”.

She describes wonderful food, and the men smoking short pipes engaged in conversation around the campfires. “Someone strikes up a song”. Then finally there is the sound of the whippoorwill.

Mrs. Kapp’s description sounds a lot more appealing than the other stories that I have read relating to the trek inland just five years earlier.

The first Waggoner of note in New Braunfels was George Ullrich who accompanied the first group of emigrants to New Braunfels and was named wagonmaster by Prince Carl. The Ullrich family was one of the few families that was already in Texas by the time the emigrants arrived.

Ullrich was born in Lindenau Meiningen in 1813. Family sources say he and Margaretha nee Decker were married in 1839 in New York City. Their first child was born in Frelsberg, Texas in 1842 and this is where they were living when Prince Carl was making arrangements to move the emigrants inland.

George Ullrich was consequently hired by the Adelsverein as the wagon master. He, along with his wife and 3-year-old child, guided the first group of emigrants from the coast to the interior. He subsequently guided the second group as well.

Oscar Haas has an interesting story in his History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas, 1844-1946. He states that “The story has it” that the first two women to cross the Guadalupe were Mrs. George Ullrich and Mrs. Frederick George Holekamp. Mrs. Ullrich crossed on the first wagon with her husband and Mrs. Holekamp crossed on horseback with Prince Carl.

The Ullrich family stayed in NB where he was elected a city alderman and sometime after 1850 was elected sheriff. Ullrich and his wife are both buried in the Adelsverein Cemetery.