Roemer’s book notes that settlers’ hard times could be overcome by ‘German industry and frugality’
By Linda Langerhans
Dr. Ferdinand Roemer’s book “Texas” is an excellent book (published in 1849) to catch a glimpse of the earliest days of Fredericksburg. Considered the “father of Texas geology,” his description of the landscape adds much to the early history of our region.
With the prospect of vast acres of land available for immigration, Roemer was sent to Texas to get a first-hand look. He describes early New Braunfels, San Antonio and then Fredericksburg. He was also fortunate to join John O. Meusebach’s journey to the San Saba to forge a peace treaty with the Penateka (pronounced Pen ah took uh) Comanche.
Roemer headed to Texas after boarding a steamboat on Nov. 20, 1845 at New Orleans. He began his observations on the mouth of the Mississippi River and upon his arrival in Galveston, noted the rapid growth of that port city. “In the year 1838, only one or two houses stood in the place, where today (1845) a city has expanded to include five thousand inhabitants,” he wrote.
He later arrived at Houston where nearly every house on Main Street was a store. Merchants, he wrote, would leave their business for a few minutes to indulge in a fiery drink in the nearest saloon. When led into his sleeping chamber, two additional beds had been added and were occupied by snoring individuals.
Germans in the city at this time intended to leave for the interior from here. Immigrants were housed in buildings and the preparations to leave for New Braunfels were expected within a few days. Since Roemer saw it inadvisable to travel alone, he joined this party of immigrants traveling in a slow-moving train starting Jan. 15.
Roemer arrived at New Braunfels and described it as “very pleasing, and in all of Western Texas no more beautiful and suitable spot could have been chosen for a settlement.” New Braunfels was laid out with a plan where all streets cross at right angles and the principal streets converge at the market square.
Accompanied by the botanist Ferdinand Lindheimer, Roemer traveled to San Antonio de Bexar, on Feb. 19. The city gave Roemer “the impression of decay, and apparently at one time had seen better and more brilliant days.”
Roemer did not accompany the wagon train in April of 1846 when the first settlers arrived in Fredericksburg. However, he watched the caravan leave “with a feeling of heartfelt sympathy for the many people who were de-parting for a destination wholly unknown to them and who, in all probability, were to face a difficult and dangerous future.”
Roemer did travel to Fredericksburg in January of 1847. Roemer’s arrival in Fredericksburg was expected to coincide with Meusebach’s meeting with the Comanches. But having left, “the men of the expedition were already encamped nine miles in the direction of the Llano.” Roemer remained in Fredericksburg for several days viewing the town and the environment in the surrounding area, then left Fredericksburg to catch up with his companions.
Following is the narrative from Roemer’s first impression of Fredericksburg: “The Vereins building where we halted was one of the first buildings of this street. It was a rather rough, one-story log house which served as living quarters for the agents. An adjoining room was used as a warehouse. A palisade constructed of strong posts driven into the ground enclosed the yard in which horses and mules could be kept preventing them from straying or being stolen.
“Fredericksburg is situated on a gently rising plain about six miles north of the Pedernales Creek, between two small creeks which form a juncture immediately below the city. The western one, Meusebach Creek, is the larger of the two. A dense, uniform oak forest covered the area on which the houses were now being erected. This forest extended over almost the entire surrounding country, with the exception, of a small strip of open prairie, which ran parallel with the larger creek. The stumps in the streets were by no means all removed.
“The main street, however, did not consist of a continuous row of houses, but of about fifty houses and huts, spaced long distances apart on both sides of the street. Most of the houses were log houses for which the straight trunks of the oak trees growing round about furnished excellent building material. The city lies southeast by northwest which is also the direction of the principal street about two miles in length.
“Most of the settlers, however, were not in possession of such homes, since they required so much labor, but they lived in huts, consisting of poles rammed into the ground. The crevices between the poles were filled with clay and moss, while the roof was covered with dry grass. Some even lived in linen tents which proved very inadequate during these winter months.
“When following the main street, one comes to the market square which appears to be large enough to accommodate a city of ten to twelve thousand inhabitants, but which at this time was still covered with trees. On the other side of the square, a little log house was being erected which was a humble beginning of the beautiful public and private buildings which the founders of the city visualized.”
On Feb. 5, Roemer left Fredericksburg with Major Neighbors, agent of the U.S. Government of Indian Affairs, with orders from the Governor of Texas to overtake Meusebach following his route of heavily laden wagons and numerous horses.
“Roemer and Neighbors soon arrived at the southern boundary of the Land Grant belonging to the Verein.” Once crossing the boundary into the Valley of the San Saba they found themselves in the midst of the members of the expedition where a delegation of Comanche Indians had met Meusebach and inquired the purpose of their coming into San Saba valley.
“After selecting our camping ground, we were still engaged in erecting our tents, when three chiefs, Mopetshokope (Old Owl), Buffalo Hump, and Santa Anna came to welcome us.” Santa Anna had recently returned from a visit to Washington as the government of the United States had invited him.
The camp, or tent village was much larger than the one that had been seen previously. “About one hundred fifty tents of various sized were scattered about in irregular order. While inspecting the village, articles were offered us in trade, particularly skins,” Roemer wrote.
“The council agreed upon with the chiefs took place at noon. A number of buffalo hides were spread out in a circle in front of our tents. The chiefs and the most renowned warriors sat down on one side, while opposite them sat Herr von Meusebach, our interpreter, Jim Shaw, Mr. Neighbors and several others of our company.” After negotiations began, women and children withdrew to a respectful distance.
Herr von Meusebach made the proposals through the interpreter. For the concessions made, the Comanches “should receive presents to the value of one thousand Spanish dollars two months hence in Fredericksburg where a meeting was to be held.”
On March 3 Meusebach, Neighbors, Roemer and the numerous men, that had managed the horses, wagons, food and gifts for the Comanche, prepared to return home.
“Diverse reasons compelled us not to extend our journey, and to return to Fredericksburg with all possible speed.”
Roemer stayed only a short while in Fredericksburg after the expedition’s return. Leaving on April 13, he did notice the faces of the people as he was “passing through the long, principal street of Fredericksburg” and “(they) looked after me with longing, since all knew that I was hurrying home to the German fatherland.
“It is my earnest desire, but I scarcely dare hope it, that the prospects for this settlement will prove less unfavorable that I view them, or German industry and German Frugality conquer these obstacles.”
Langerhans was a bookstore owner, the former mayor and a multi-generational resident of Fredericksburg.