Kriewitz and the Comanches

by Glenn Hadeler

 

The history of Texas’ frontier settlement is filled with tragic stories of whites who had the misfortune of being held captive by the Comanche Indians, but so far as can be determined there is only one episode where a person willingly gave himself into their hands. This was the peculiar case of Emil von Kriewitz.

The famous treaty made in 1847 with the Comanches by German colonizer John O. Meusebach, carried with it a side request which is little known. The Indians demanded that a German settler live with them in their camp far to the west of the new settlement of Fredericksburg. The reported purposes for this have been "to act as an Indian Agent", or "to further the understanding between the two peoples", but perhaps the most realistic purpose was stated "as a hostage for the peaceable intentions of the Germans". This was the dangerous position in which Kriewitz would find himself.

Emil von Kriewitz was no stranger to adventure. Born to a noble family near Potsdam, Germany in 1822, Kriewitz saw the rise of turbulent times in his native land. Overpopulation, poverty and political unrest created an atmosphere of discontent and rebellion. By 1842 this inspired a group of German nobleman to develop the grand scheme of moving thousands of Germans into the vast unsettled territories of the Republic of Texas. This they reasoned would rid Germany of many malcontents, decrease the surplus population, and quite possibly prove profitable as well. In addition there was no doubt, the thought that the fledgling Republic with its vast natural resources so desired at the onset of the industrial era, might be swayed to one day form close ties to Germany, especially if its’ population was primarily of German extraction. The organization was known by many names including The German Immigration Company, The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, or simply as the Nobel’s Society or "Adelsverein". Prince Carl of Solm Braunfels was selected to travel to Texas and negotiate for land on which to place the settlements. The Prince proved a man of great vision and vigor but also a very poor businessman. The Adelsverein had already been swindled by one land dealer, when the Prince decided to purchase the rights to the remote Fisher-Miller Land Grant. Under the land grant contract the promoters would have to survey the land and settle families in the grant within an eighteen month period, much of which had already expired. The most foreboding obstacle of all was the location of the site itself. The grant was composed of all lands north of the Llano River to the Colorado River. This placed it a full one hundred miles west of the nearest civilized areas and in the very heart of the Penetaka Comanche hunting grounds. The Prince purchased land at Indian Point on Matagorda Bay as a landing site for the colonists and established New Braunfels as a supply colony along the route to the Llano. Then despite the fact that the Adelsverein’s Texas operations were under-capitalized and poorly prepared, Prince Carl returned to Germany and began making a speaking tour in which he expounded on the vast wealth and opportunities which could be found in the new colonies.

It was speeches such as this, that no doubt captured the imagination and adventurous spirit of Emil von Kriewitz. He saw around him dwindling opportunities in his native land, even for educated men. In August of 1845 Kriewitz notified the office of the Adelsverein that he wished to join a group of immigrants going to Texas. In October he traveled to the river port of Bremen to take a ship leaving in November. Kriewitz set sail on the Bremen Bark Franziska during the stormy winter season of the north Atlantic and did not arrive in Galveston until February 5, 1846. Here the Adelsverein had made arrangements for storehouses to shelter the immigrants until passage could be arranged to Indian Point which the Prince had named Carlshafen. Here too, Kriewitz and the others were listed as new colonists and would have learned that they would not be citizens of the Republic of Texas, but instead of the United States of America, as Texas had been annexed in December while they were in route.

Kriewitz was transported to Indian Point where he was shocked by what he found. Hundreds of German immigrants stranded on the mud beach under the most deplorable of conditions. Few provisions were made for even feeding the colonists much less for adequate housing and medical care. Some had constructed makeshift dugouts with mud walls and cloth tops in a effort to shield themselves from rain storms and the searing Texas sun. Even clean water was in short supply and as a result disease was sweeping through the camp, killing the colonists by the score. These conditions were not however, due to a lack of effort on the part of the new Colonial Director for the Adelsverein, John O. Meusebach. John O. Meusebach had taken control of the Texas colonial activities from Prince Carl the previous May. He found the financial state of the operations in chaos. He set to work with great energy to pay creditors, reassure the colonists already in New Braunfels, and arrange for wagons to get the stranded colonists off the unhealthy Texas coast. No sooner had John O. Meusebach arranged for wagons and teams to move the colonists inland than heavy rains began to fall. Streams overflowed their banks making them impassable and the wagons bogged down to the axles in mud. By late March of 1846 the rains had diminished and the transport of the colonists to New Braunfels accelerated. Then disaster struck again.

 

The annexation of Texas had outraged Mexico, which
still claimed it as a province. This eventually led to
the outbreak of war between the US and Mexico in
May. All wagons and teams in the area were purchased or seized to supply General Zachary Taylor’s growing army on Corpus Christi Bay. It would be impossible to imagine the hopelessness and desperation which now must have gripped the stranded Germans. This desperation led Kriewitz and a number of other young Germans to form a company of volunteers who joined the US Army. The company was commanded by another recent immigrant to Texas, Augustus Buchel. Buchel had been a professional soldier and mercenary in Europe and had served as an instructor in the Turkish Sultan’s army. He was said to have been forced to flee Europe as the result of a duel of honor with a nobleman which resulted in the latter’s death. He made Kriewitz first sergeant of the company and on May 22, 1846, it was mustered into service as Company H, of the First Texas Rifle Volunteer regiment. The Colonel of the regiment was another illustrious individual in Texas history, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston. The company was in service during the battle of Resca de la Palma but would have seen no action as General Taylor did not trust volunteer regiments and held them in reserve whenever he had regular US troops at his disposal.

The company served garrison duty at Matamoras, Mexico and were then transferred to Camargo. The natural love of order in discipline probably made the Germans good soldiers, but the disease brought with them from Carlshafen, and the unaccustomed climate proved disastrous. The term of their enlistment was to have been for six months, but by August so many had fallen ill that General Taylor discharged the entire company. Augustus Buchel and Albert Sidney Johnston would remain with the Army and Buchel would rise to the rank of Major before the wars end. Ironically both would later serve as Generals in the Confederate Army, and both would fall in battle. Johnston in the 1862 battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, and Buchel in the 1864 battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Today both lie within a few yards of one another in the Texas State Cemetery at Austin.

During the time Kriewitz was with the army, John O. Meusebach had been busy attempting to move German settlers on toward the Fisher-Miller grant. In may of 1846 he had established the colony of Fredericksburg on the upper Pedernales River Valley. Meusebach was aware that to attempt settlement further northwest would almost certainly result in confrontation with the Comanches. Indeed the safety of the colonists of Fredericksburg hung by a thread. With grim determination, Meusebach set out to locate the Comanche chiefs and negotiate a treaty.

Kriewitz returned to Indian Point to find conditions little improved from when he left. This time luck was with him. Meusebach had ordered that a company of guards be organized to accompany him into the grant. Kriewitz was selected to form this company. He chose mostly his veteran Mexican War troops, and set out on January 1, 1847. Upon arrival in New Braunfels they discovered that Meusebach had already departed and were ordered to follow him at a forced march. Kreiwitz’s company encountered Meusebach on his return from the successful treaty negotiations near Fredericksburg. His company received orders to guard the surveyor Howard who would be surveying the grant just north of the Llano River. Following the completion of Howard’s work the company returned to Fredericksburg.

The treaty negotiated by Meusebach was a broad document. Under the provisions the Comanche and the Germans would both live in the territories specified in the grant. The two peoples would form an alliance against other tribes and most importantly the Germans would provide $3,000.00 worth of gifts to the Comanches. The liberal minded Meusebach further told the Indians of his wishes that the two people would become one and perhaps some intermarry. The small matter of the request of an "Indian Agent" by the Comanches was something Meusebach never discussed in later years. The Comanches were to come to Fredericksburg in May to receive a partial payment and meet the German colonists.

The meeting in May of 1847 at Fredericksburg went well. The Comanches took part in a celebration commemorating the laying of the cornerstone for the Society Church, and a lively exchange of trade was conducted. When the time came for the "Agent" to be named however, most individuals who had placed themselves in nomination quickly withdrew upon seeing the Indians. With few other opportunities available, Kriewitz again let his adventurous spirit take over, and volunteered for the assignment.

He delivered himself to the Comanche camp of Chief Santa Anna with a large quantity of coffee and sugar as further payment on the treaty. The greeting he received was far from hospitable. Some of the Comanches had visited a trading post on the Brazos River, run by a one eyed man named Barnett. When Barnett learned of the Meusebach treaty he realized his lucrative trade with the Comanches would move to Fredericksburg. He attempted as best he could to arouse the Comanches suspicions of the Germans. He told the Indians that the Germans were out to steal all of their land and their horses too. This would have undoubtedly inflamed the Comanches. For to take a warrior’s wife would anger him, but to steal his horse would infuriate him. Kriewitz was taken before Santa Anna, whereupon, he attempted to communicate through gesture and broken Spanish that he had come to live with the tribe. The distribution of the coffee and sugar did much to appease the Indians’ concerns. As the summer past, Kriewitz struggled to accommodate himself with his new hosts as best he could, and succeeded in forming a friendship with Santa Anna. During this time, survey parties were going about their work in the grant and were often visited by members of Santa Anna’s band. These Comanches kept to the treaty and did not molest the parties in any way.

There was at least one problem which confronted Kriewitz. His European features apparently proved fascinating to the young Indian girls. The jealousy this caused strained his already tense relationship with the young warriors. The situation seemed to culminate when Santa Anna hinted that Kriewitz might wish to take his daughter as a wife. Santa Anna further suggested that he would make Kriewitz a sub chief in the band of the Chief Ketemoczy. Kriewitz cautiously and as courteously as possible declined both offers.

By late summer, Kriewitz faced ever increasing inquiries from Santa Anna as to the additional payment he felt due to the Comanches. He attempted to placate the old chief with reassurances of the Adelsverein’s credibility. There can be no doubt however that Kriewitz was well aware that the Adelsverein had in the past, made obligations they could not fulfill, and this obligation Kriewitz had virtually guaranteed with his life. By August, Santa Anna would be put off no longer. He demanded that he would pay a visit to "El Sol Colorado" (Meusebach) whom he held as chief of the Germans. Kriewitz, Santa Anna and a small party left their camp in the San Saba Valley and traveled to New Braunfels where Kriewitz hoped to find Meusebach. Unknown to Kriewitz, was that the Adelsverein’s financial condition was every bit as bad as he may have supposed. Due to this, Meusebach had already resigned from his position in June, turning his office over to Hermann Spiess.

Santa Anna’s party arrived in New Braunfels creating tremendous excitement. This was the first time, and would be the last time, Comanches were ever seen in the colony. Though no longer employed by the Adelsverein, Muesebach joined Spiess in receiving the Comanche party. Kriewitz was kept under close guard by the Indians and was allowed to speak to no one. The Comanches, now far from their own territory, were more nervous than ever of treachery. Further complicating Kreiwitz’s predicament was the fact that he had adopted the dress and style of the Comanches so well, he could not be recognized from the others in the group. Finally, while seated at a table with some of the German colonists, a previous acquaintance thought he recognized Kriewitz and stared intently at him. Kriewitz cautiously kicked him under the table, notifying him to discontinue his staring. The acquaintance then quietly passed a pencil and paper to Kriewitz. Written language being unknown to most of the Indians they paid little attention, giving Kriewitz a chance to scroll out a quick note. He notified his friend of his identity, and that he could not speak to anyone at that time. He informed him that he would try to slip away from the Indian party later.

Fortunately for Kriewitz, the store houses of the Adelsverein contained enough surplus to satisfy Santa Anna. With another payment in goods made to him, much of his distrust disappeared. Kriewitz was now allowed to move about more freely and he used the opportunity to briefly visit with his old acquaintances. Upon his return, he found the entire Comanche party in a state of alarm. Bows and arrows were drawn from quivers, mules were being packed and trouble seemed imminent. After a while Kriewitz determined the cause of the commotion. Santa Anna had taken a tour of New Braunfels with Meusebach. Upon his return he had suddenly fallen very ill. The Comanches immediately surmised that the Chief had been poisoned. As Kriewitz further put together the facts, he realized the cause of the Chief’s ailment. Meusebach had conducted his tour in a spring board buggy. Santa Anna not being accustomed to such a mode of transportation, he been overcome with motion sickness. Once the Chief had retained his composure, the anxiety of the party was again quieted and the Indians remained in New Braunfels for two more days enjoying the food and hospitality of the colonists.

Following this visit, Kriewitz was more at ease than ever with the Comanches and the Indians appeared to find new trust in Kriewitz and the Germans. He traveled back toward the San Saba with them stopping at the Meusebach farm in Comanche Springs. One day Kreiwitz’s charm and appearance came near to costing him his life. A Mexican man who lived with the Comanches possessed a young Indian girl who once more found Kriewitz irresistible. Intoxicated with liquor the man’s jealousy exploded. Kriewitz, alerted by the girl’s scream, turned to find himself looking down a rifle barrel. Only through the quick action of the others in the party was his life saved. The man was wrestled to the ground and disarmed. To the Comanches this action was not worthy of any particular punishment. The perpetrator was merely tied down over his horse the remainder of the day and the following night, so that the poison to his mind could be sweated out.

 

As the party passed near to Fredericksburg, they met with a representative of the colony who provided them with meat from the company stores. Kriewitz knew it would take some time for the meat to be properly cooked and packed away for the journey home. He told the party that he wished to visit friends in the colony and would join them at their camp on Seven Mile Creek that evening. Kreiwitz’s visit in Fredericksburg proved so enjoyable that with the aid of a bottle of good wine, he lost track of the time. He started out a midnight hoping to find the Comanches still encamped. When he arrived at the campsite his fears were confirmed. His failure to return had again roused the suspicions of the party, and they had taken flight. Kriewitz attempted to rejoin the party, but moving relentlessly as the Comanches did, he was never able to catch up to them. With his horse exhausted there was no other choice but to return to Fredericksburg.

His job as Indian Agent finished, Kriewitz was given a new assignment. Relying on his knowledge of the landscape, the Adelsverein directors ordered him to find a passable road and lead the first colonists into the Fisher-Miller Grant. The first group of colonists were an unusual assortment of scholars and artisans known as the Darmstadters. The Adelsverein had authorized $10,000.00 in money and supplies be provided this party in return for being the first to attempt settlement in the grant. They planned to form a colony under the principals of a communal society. There was to be no individual in charge and all were to share equally in the work and the rewards of the endeavor. Louis Reinhart was among the colonists and gave this account of the journey in an interview with Rudolf Kleberg, Jr. "Kriewitz was our guide, and as he rode ahead of us, one could not have told him from an Indian. Having again spent several days in Fredericksburg we set out for our tract, Kriewitz again being our guide. Of course, we had to move very slowly and when we arrived at the Llano we hunted a ford for three days. The best one finally proved to be but a few yards from our camp, where we had to lift the wagons four feet upon a rock in the bottom of the river by the aid of windlasses, and this work took us from morning until night." Reinhart described the Llano as a silvery stream, clear as crystal. One could see the bottom at the deepest places. The first colony was established in early September of 1847, on the north bank of the Llano where Elm Creek enters the river. They named the colony Bettina in honor of Bettina von Arnim, a leading liberal authoress in Germany. Kriewitz later led two others parties to the Llano. These settled at the site of Castell, which was established in March of 1848 and then at the site of Leinigen, a few miles further east.

In December of 1847, Kriewitz signed the petition to organize Gillespie County, which was formed the following February by act of the state legislature. He remained in the employment of the Adelsverein through the winter even though it was now obvious that the operations were all but bankrupt. In October of 1847, Spiess had involved himself in violent confrontations between some of the other Texas officers of the Adelsverein. This resulted in two deaths and the subsequent replacement of Spiess, as Colonial Director, with Louis Bene. In February, Bene had written a lengthy report on the incident with Speiss and the state of the Texas colonies, to Count Carl Castell in Germany. In closing Bene made an appeal that the Adelsverein send him at least enough funds to provide Emil von Kriewitz and Jean von Coll the wages due to them. It is very unlikely that any funds were received, for by this time the Adelsverein had practically dissolved in Germany. Bene began distributing any supplies and equipment which still belonged to the Adelsverein among the colonists. He provided Kriewitz with a letter of reference in which he spoke highly of the valuable services Kriewitz had performed for the colonists, but was able to provide him little else.

Kriewitz now found himself adrift in Texas like the other colonists, he remained in the area of Fredericksburg and New Braunfels earning his way as best he could. He had received title to town lot No. 235 in Fredericksburg from the Adelsverein on March 29, 1848 as some compensation for his work. On October 21, 1850 he sold the lot to Henry Basse at Comanche Springs, for $60.00. This launched Kriewitz on his career as a land speculator. He later purchased and resold lot No. 235 in Fredericksburg.

In 1852 he relocated to the Llano colony of Castell. Here he formed a partnership with Franz Kettner and opened a store in the frontier colony. The store apparently prospered and for the first time Kriewitz found a home in his adopted land. He began to pay court to Amelia Markwordt, a girl eighteen years younger than himself. The two traveled to Cherry Springs in October of 1857 and were married by Justice of the Peace Louis Schneider. The first of what would eventually number eight children was born to them the following October.

Kriewitz continued to operate his store and dabble in real-estate becoming a widely respected citizen in the area. He remained in Castell during the turbulent years of the Civil War but later stated he did not vote for secession. He was able to purchase two leagues of land in 1865 for ten cents an acre. A deal made all the better by the fact he was able to purchase the land with Confederate money. He began ranching and had a fine two story granite home built for himself on Elm Creek, five miles north of Castell. Kriewitz, always the entrepreneur, also had a small stone "Sunday House" built behind the main house with a loft accessed from the exterior by means of a ladder. This structure he used to board travelers though the area while they rested their horses and resupplied for their journey. He was elected as Justice of the Peace in June of 1870 and served as postmaster of Castell from 1876 to 1883.

In the latter part of the 1880’s Kriewitz sold his store to concentrate on his ranching and land interests. It was about this time that the circumstances of life began to take a down turn. It began with President Grover Cleveland’s administration. Cleveland was instrumental in lifting a tariff against imported wool. This action resulted in Kreiwitz’s vast flocks of sheep becoming nearly worthless. This was followed by a real-estate bust around 1890. By 1887 the seventy-six year old Kriewitz found himself near bankruptcy. He applied for a pension from the Federal Government for his service in the Mexican War, in which he stated that his land was mortgaged for $1,000 above its value and he supported his wife, three of his children, two grandchildren, and an orphaned boy. He was granted a veteran’s pension of $8, but this did little to remedy his financial difficulties. Finally, Kriewitz was forced to sell his ranch and home and retained only $215 worth of property. The family moved into a small boarding house in Castell. There on May 21, 1902 Emil died at the age of 80. His death left his family destitute. Shortly after this Amelia took her family to Oklahoma to live with relatives, where she would die in 1911.

Of the German colonies Kriewitz worked to establish and protect, little remains. The utopian community that was Bettina was abandoned in less than a year. The community of Leiningen vanished in the early part of the 20th century. Only the tiny village of Castell is still in existence. Today Emil von Kriewitz lies in a little visited grave in the old portion of the Llano County Cemetery. Like the Adelsverein itself, Kreiwitz’s life proved a financial failure, but both share the distinction of having left their mark on the pages of Texas history.

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