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There have been times when desperate people in hopeless situations were rescued by someone who arrives on the scene with the perfect combination of character, ability, and dedication.  Such was the fortune of the German immigrants in Texas during the 1840’s.


Meusebach2.jpg (86417 bytes)Baron Otfried Han Freiherr von Meusebach relin-quished his hereditary title when he left Germany en route to Texas. When he arrived in his new homeland in May 1845 he insisted on being known simply as John O. Meusebach. At the age of thirty three, having left family, friend, and title behind, he was to assume the almost impossible responsibility of commissioner general for the Manizer Adelverein for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.

Before leaving Germany Meusebach had devoted several years of study to the possibility of immigration, particularly to Texas. Of all materials written about the area, Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas (1841), by William Kennedy, British consul in Galveston was the most influential on Meusebach and the Society as well. Of particular interest to the Society was Kennedy’s remarks on the existence of abandoned Spanish silver mines along the Texas frontier. Remarking on the book, Irene Marschall King, granddaughter of Meusebach, wrote in John O. Meusebach: German Colonizer in Texas (1967): "As an official Kennedy described places with exactitude and authority. The very name of one landmark, Enchanted Rock, added to fascination the beckoning land. Meusebach hoped to probe for a scientific explanation of the mysterious sounds that were said to issue at times from the 640 acres of solid granite. He marveled that such an immense outcropping of mountainous rock was located in an area bearing the name "Llano" the Spanish word for "plain". He wanted to know the reason for this contradiction."

The Society was founded in March of the previous year by a group of German noblemen advocating immigration to Texas as a solution to the problems of political unrest and overpopulation facing Germany. The organization soon fell victim to the unscrupulous Texan, Henry Francis Fischer, when it purchased, sight unseen, an interest in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant. Located between the Llano and San Saba Rivers, the four million acre grant was in the very heartland of the legendary lost Spanish mines.

Fisher knew that the grant was too far from the coast and inhabited by too many Comanches to be suitable for a settlement. Furthermore, in order to make himself and his partner, Burchard Miller, seem important, he claimed they had already put $60,000 into the project. But as Price Carl zu Solms-Braunfels, the first commissioner general, wrote in his report of the February 8, 1845 to the Society: "Yet every person here, from the President of Texas to the smallest Negro lad, knows that if Messrs. Fisher and Miller both were put under a cotton press, not one dollar, let alone $60,000 could be pressed out of them both." In a letter dated June 11, 1845, to his successor, Meusebach, the prince stated that Fisher was not worth "the cord it would take to hang him and Miller."

As if the swindle were not complete, Fisher obtained, in addition to the $11,000 for an interest in the grant, another $2,360 from the German's to purchase supplies for the settlers. Virtually all of the money was "misappropriated".

The Society's attempt to settle the grant was stalled in New Braunfels with 439 people waiting and, for the most part living at the expense of the Society. Almost immediately upon assuming his responsibilities as commissioner general, Meusebach discovered, to his dismay, the Society was virtually bankrupt due to the financial mismanagement of the prince; and that the settlers, after a year of waiting to relocate to the grant, were understandably impatient. Added to those pressures was the fact that, according to the contract with the Republic of Texas, the grant had to be settled by August 1847. If not, all efforts and investments would have been in vain.

The fabled silver mines were the "ace-in-the-hole" for the Immigration Company. Solms-Braunfels mentions them in his book Texas, 1844-1845: "As to the knowledge of the mountains [the Fisher Miller Grant], most of it is obtained from the Mexicans, who in turn received it from the nomadic Indians. They describe the mountains as rich in ore, especially copper and silver. This statement is also confirmed by the old documents drawn up for the leasing of land. It is likewise well known that Texas as a territory had opened several silver mines, directed by the Spanish government; but these immeiately after the outbreak of the mexican Revolution, due partly to the order of the government and partly to the inimical Indian tribes, were destroyed. In spite of the many efforts, they have not as yet been found, nor are they likely to be, except by the establishing of colonies in the mountains. This can be done in time, provided there is sufficient protection against the Indians. Sojourns in the mountains up till now have been limited to four weeks because of the difficulty of carrying supplies such as biscuits, cornmeal, coffee, and bacon for approximately twenty men besides fodder for the beasts of burden."

Perhaps the Prince, viewed by many Texans as an effite primp, lacked the fortitude necessary for the task. Fortunately for the immigrants his replacement Meusebach was equal to the challenge.

With the deadline looming on the horizon, Meusebach pressed forward on the obligation to settle the frontier. In May 1846 he founded the community of Fredericksburg. In November Meusebach was informed in a letter from Germany written by the Executive Secretary of the Society that 4,304 immigrants were on their way to Texas.

If the prospect of even more immigrants wasn’t enough to trouble Meusebach, Dr. Shubert, who was appointed by Meusebach as director of the settlement in Fredericksburg heaped on more problems. In Meusebach’s own words from Answer to Interrogatories (1894) he wrote: "Without my knowledge and authorization the so-called "Doctor Schubert" had raised a company in the latter months of 1846 at Fredericksburg, and with his men and a cannon! had started out to be the first one inside of the limits of the grant. He never dared to cross the Llano River, and cowardly returned without a shot fired, making now a report to me that it was impossible to get into the colony, because it was full of hostile Indians. That report could not be allowed to go abroad unrebuked. It would have created despondency amongst the emigrants and the Company…"

Meusebach began making plans to do the impossible—enter the land grant and attempt to treaty for peace with the Comanche. His assessment of the entire situation was clear: "With the buying of that grant the doom of the [immigration] company was sealed," Meusebach wrote. "They did not know what they bought. They undertook to fulfill what was impossible to fulfill. They did not have the means nor the time to fulfill it. Neither of the contracting parties nor their agents has ever seen a particle of the land in question. The territory set aside for settlement was more than three hundred miles from the coast, more than one hundred and fifty miles outside of all settlements, and in the undisturbed possession of hostile Indians. The government had promised no aid to take it out of the hands of the Indians. It had to be conquered," Meusebach concluded, "by force or by treaty."

That same year, Prince Solms-Braunfels published his own book, Texas: 1844-1845, in which he noted that "between the Pedernales and the Llano Rivers is the enchanted rock, which can be seen from a great distance…

"As to knowledge of the mountain," he wrote, "most of it is obtained from the Mexicans, who in turn received it from the nomadic Indians. They describe the mountains as rich in ore, especially copper and silver. This statement is confirmed by the old documents drawn up for the leasing of land… In spite of the many efforts, they have not as yet been found, nor are they likely to be, except by establishing colonies in the mountains. This can be done in time, provided there is sufficient protection against the Indians."

At the request of the prince, the Berlin Academy of Sciences send Dr. Ferdinand von Roemer to Texas in 1845 to evaluate the mineral assets of the grant. Upon his arrival in Galveston, Roemer met with William Kennedy before heading inland. Undoubtedly, the unusual geologic formation of Enchanted Rock, and the rumors of gold and silver mines Kennedy had included in his book were discussed with the geologist, particularly the Lost San Saba Mine which many believed to be located within the grant.

Roemer found the settlement in New Braunfels at the peak of insurrection. One the last day of December, 1846, "a mob numbering about one hundred fifty persons," Roemer wrote, "armed with clubs and pistols came up the hill on which the buildings of the Verein stood. A deputation, composed of several individuals not enjoying the best reputation, went to the home of Herr von Meusebach. The rest contented themselves at first to wait for an answer from the delegation. When it was not forthcoming immediately, they crowded into the house and committed a number of excesses in the anteroom and uttered loud threats against the life of Herr von Meusebach. In the meantime, the negotiations were carried on in the adjoining room. Mr. H. Fischer [sic.], who had arrived from Houston a few days prior to this and from whom the Verein had bought the land, led the negotiations on the part of the deputation…The immediate motive for this insurrection was, however the machinations of a man, [Fisher] who to further his own selfish interests, was greatly concerned in getting rid of Herr von Meusebach…"

Meusebach pacified the rebels agreeing to several demands, on of which included his resignation as soon as a replacement could be found.

On January 14, 1847, a company of men led by Meusebach embarked on their journey to treaty for peace with the Comanche. Suffering ill health, Roemer had to wait to depart of Fredericksburg on January 20, arriving in Fredericksburg five days later.

On February 5, Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors arrived with an urgent message for Meusebach from the Texas Governor Pickney Henderson. The belated message urged Meusebach not to venture into Comanche territory for fear he would further arouse the already hostile Indians. Seizing the opportunity, Roemer joined neighbors in pursuit of the Meusebach expedition.

"As my condition had improved in the meantime," Roemer wrote, "I resolved to make use of this opportunity to see the unknown Indian land on the Llano and San Saba rivers. My preparations were of the simplest kind and were completed within a few hours." With those somewhat offhand remarks, Roemer embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.


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(c) 1999   Ira Kennedy   All rights reserved