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A Brief History
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 1840s.
Baron Otfried Han Freiherr von Meusebach relinquished 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 Kennedys 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
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
The contract stipulated Fisher and Miller colonize the
area by 1847 or forfeit their claim. The two men were nothing if not resourceful. In 1844
they convinced the Verein, or Society for the Protection of German Immigration in
Texas, to fork over $9,000 for land that cost them nothing. Apart from other financial
considerations, Fisher and Miller would receive an additional $14,000 if the Germans
failed to colonize the Grant. What the two men kept to themselves was that the land was
occupied by hostile Comanche and had been for the past 150 years.
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. 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
With the deadline fast approaching, the
Meusebach expedition left Fredericksburg on January 22, 1847 to the Fisher-Miller grant
which lay deep in the heart of Comanche territory. The group consisted of three wagons and
forty men including Lorenzo de Rozas. As a child Rozas had been kidnapped by the Comanche.
By virtue of his knowledge of the Comanche language and the territory, Rozas was appointed
guide and interpreter. The German Immigration Company was virtually bankrupt and the
desire to locate the Spanish silver mines was a faint ray of hope. The pragmatic Meusebach
commented, "I do not really count the silver mines until we have them."
The expedition got off to
an inauspicious start. On their second day, one of their men was seriously injured when
his rifle exploded while on a buffalo hunt, so he had to return to Fredericksburg. Also,
while building a campfire it began to burn out of control. In futility, Meusebach's men
fought the prairie fire for thirty-six hours. The earth was burned for miles around and
the event most certainly alerted any Indians in the area as to their presence.
Seventeen days after their departure
Meusebach and his men encountered a hunting party of Shawnee in the immediate vicinity of
the Llano River. After communicating to the Indians in broken English they hired three
Shawnee as hunters who told Meusebach that his expedition was under constant surveillance
by the Comanche whose tracks they had detected.
Finally, on February 5, the expedition
encountered a party of Comanche advancing in their direction carrying a white flag. After
assuring their leader, Ketemoczy, of the peaceful intent of the expedition the two parties
joined in a meal. The next day, accompanied by even more Comanche, the Meusebach party was
led to the main camp on the San Saba River.
The following account is from an anonymous
report taken from the files of two officers of the expedition who later returned to
Germany. Entitled "Meusebach's Expedition into the Territory of the Comanche Indians
in January, 1847." It originally appeared in an early number of Magazine of
Literature From Abroad: "The first days journey beyond the Llano took us
across large layers of granite, which could hold deposits of precious metals. The
following day we crossed a quartz regiion where we found rock crystals the size of a
fist... On February 7 we finally approached their wigwams on the San Saba River and here
we were given a ceremonious reception. From the distance we saw a large number of Indians
in their colorful array coming down the hill in formation. As we came nearer they entered
the valley, all mounted, and formed a long front. In the center was the flag; on the right
wing were the warriors, divided in sections and each section had a chief, the left wing
was formed by the women and children, also mounted. The entire spectacle presented a rich
and colorful picture because the garb of the Comanche on festive occasions is indeed
beautiful and in good taste. The neck and ears are decorated with pearls and shells and
the arms with heavy brass rings. The long hair of the men is braided into long plaits,
which, when interlaced with buffalo hair, reaches from head to foot and is decorated with
many silver ornaments."
To complete this description of the
Comanche, Jean Louis Berlandier wrote in his book, The Indians of Texas in 1830:
"their skin is a fine copper-brown, heightened with cinnabar, of which they use a
great deal. Some of them smear their bodies with powdered charcoal, others chalk, and many
of them have three lines tattooed from the lower eyelid over the cheeks. The thing that
makes the Comanche and several other natives look so different is the absence of beards,
and the way they completely pluck out their eyebrows and lashes."
"As we approached the formation of
the Comanche," the anonymous report continues, "it was requested of Mr.
Meusebach that only he and few companions come nearer, and that was arranged. When our
four or five men were within 100 paces, Lorenzo told us that if we fired our guns [into
the air] as an indication of our confidence, that it would make a very favorable
impression. This we did and the Comanche responded in a like manner. We were greeted with
elaborate handshakes and then led into their village."
The Meusebach expedition of forty men
discharged their guns in salute, thereby disarming themselves, while surrounded by two to
six thousand Comanche [sources vary on the actual number]. That may have been a foolhardy
act. However, in the face of such overwhelming numbers Meusebach's decision was not only
the wisest, but possibly the only rational course of action.
Meanwhile, near Fredericksburg, Indian
agent Robert S. Neighbors, and geologist Dr. Ferdinand von Roemer were enroute to overtake
the Meusebach expedition. Neighbors carried an urgent message from Texas governor
Henderson to call off the meeting for fear it would further incite the Comanche.
Roemers mission, however, was to inspect the mineral potential of the Fisher-Miller
"We arose at sunup," Roemer
recounted, " and after a short delay, caused by the preparation of our breakfast
consisting of coffee, fried bacon and bread, our little company was on its way. Jim Shaw,
a six foot tall, strong Delaware chief, led the way on a beautiful American horse. Viewed
from the rear, he looked quite civilized, since he wore a dark, stylish cloth coat which
he had bought in Austin in a haberdashery, and a black semi-military oil cloth cap. Viewed
from in front, his brown features, however, betrayed his Indian origin immediately; and
upon closer examination one found that his European dress was by no means as complete as
it appeared, for it lacked what is generally assumed to be a very essential part of a
gentlemans dress, namely the trousers. Instead of these he wore deerskin leggins,
similar to our riding leggins, which reached half way up his thigh. Then followed Mr.
Neighbors and I, with a young American whom Mr. Neighbors had engaged for the duration of
the expedition, and a common Shawnee Indian. Each of the two latter drove two pack mules
which belonged to Mr. Neighbors and Jim Shaw."
On February 10 the group came upon the
Meusebach expedition. "The three covered wagons which had been drawn into the center
of the camp," Roemer wrote, "were an arresting sight in this pathless
wilderness, in which up till now no wagon very likely had entered. Around these, the tents
had been erected and in front of them whites and Indians mingled in a motley crowd. Even
the whites were of diverse appearance and of mixed origin. In addition to a number of
unaffected Germans with genuine peasant features, one noticed in the immediate vicinity a
group of Mexican muleteers with the unmistakable southern facial expression; then there
were a number of American surveyors, equally peculiar representatives of a third
nationality, which von Meusebach carried with him in order to point out to them the land
to be surveyed."
While waiting for the Comanche chiefs to
assemble at the camp on the San Saba River, Meusebach and Roemer received permission to
lead an expedition to visit the old Spanish fort. In his accounts Roemer mentioned several
times a "persistent rumor among the Texas settlers that the Spaniards had worked some
silver mines in the vicinity of the fort." Upon arriving there, Roemer noted the
names of previous visitors who had inscribed their names on the main portals: Padillo
1810, Cos 1829, Bowie 1829, Moore 1840.
After examining the area, Roemer
concluded, "One may make the claim without hesitation, that at least in the vicinity
of the fort no deposits of precious metals are present." Although Meusebach had hoped
that the existence of silver mines would alleviate the financial straits of the Society,
he wrote before his departure, "I do not really count the silver mines until we have
them." Meusebach's courage and his habit of walking among the Comanche unarmed earned
the respect of the Indians. They even honored him with the name El Sol Colorado, or
The Red Sun. Considering that the sun was the principal deity among the Comanche, the name
had special significance.
Among the assembled chiefs were their
three most prominent leaders: Santa Anna, Old Owl, and Buffalo Hump. Roemer, in his
account of the meeting offered this description of the chiefs: "The three chiefs, who
were at the head of all the bands of the Comanches roaming the frontiers of the
settlements in Texas looked very dignified and grave. They differed much in appearance.
[Old Owl] the political chief, was a small old man who in his dirty cotton jacket looked
undistinguished and only his diplomatic crafty face marked him. The war chief, Santa Anna,
presented an altogether different appearance. He was a powerfully built man with a
benevolent and lively countenance. The third, Buffalo Hump, was the genuine, unadulterated
picture of a North American Indian. Unlike the majority of his tribe, he scorned all
European dress. The upper part of his body was naked. A buffalo hide was wound around his
hips. Yellow copper rings decorated his arms and a string of beads hung from his neck.
With his long, straight black hair hanging down, he sat there with the earnest (to the
European almost apathetic) expression of countenance of the North American savage. He drew
special attention to himself because in previous years he had distinguished himself for
daring and bravery in many engagements with the Texans."
Meusebach's total lack of prejudice toward
the Indians was in sharp contrast to that of Neighbors who believed all Indians were
untrustworthy savages. After concluding a successful treaty of peace Neighbors attempted
to take full credit for the agreement he had intended to prevent. In point of fact, had it
been left to Neighbors, Meusebach would have been induced to turn back before attempting a
During the treaty Meusebach told the
Comanche: "When my people have lived with you for some time, and when we know each
other better, then it may happen that some wish to marry. Soon our warriors will learn
your language. If they then wish to wed a girl of your tribe, I do not see any obstacle,
and our people will be so much better friends
I do not disdain my red brethren
because their skin is darker, and I do not think more of the white people because their
complexion is lighter.":
Most treaties between the whites and
Indians usually amounted to articles of surrender on the part of the latter. This was not
the case with Meusebach's treaty. The whites and Indians were given equal recognition and
dignity. The agreement was as if between two allies rather than two formerly warring
factions. In exchange for three thousand dollars worth of presents, the Comanche agreed to
allow the surveyors and settlers into the region without molestation. Also, the Indians
could be allowed into German settlements and would "have no cause to fear, but shall
go wherever they please." In exchange for Comanche protection from "bad
Indians", it was agreed that "the Germans likewise promise to aid the Comanches
against their enemies, should they be in danger of having their horses stolen or in any
way to be injured."
Years later, Meusebach passed along the
comments of Texas Ranger, Jack Hays as to the effectiveness of the treaty: "[Hays]
was never molested nor lost any animals during his travel within the limits of our colony,
but as soon as he passed the line he had losses."
"On March 3, we began our return trip
to Fredericksburg," the anonymous report notes. "Scarcely had we completed a
days journey when a company of Comanches under Santana [Santa Anna] with their
families joined us quite unceremoniously and informed us that they wished to accompany us
all the way to Fredericksburg.
"Their company proved to be of some
advantage to us, since they shot several wild horses. The meat was very appetizing. On
March 5 we arrived at the Llano and on the 6th we camped on Sandy Creek near the noted
Enchanted Rock. This mass of granite, so named because of its formation which have the
appearance of monstrous giants and wild beasts, reminded us the castles along the Rhein.
The Sandy Creek has a beautiful bed of granite, its crystal clear water dashes from
one shelf to another, forming many basins which are accessible by means of natural steps
and offer an invitation for a bath. We found some bass in this beautiful water.
"On the following day, after a thirty
five mile ride, we rejoiced when we reached Fredericksburg. It appeared to us even more
cheerful because it happened to be Sunday and the settlers, arrayed in their colorful
dress from the various districts of Germany, greeted us. They too, rejoiced when they saw
us return at the head of and in peaceful association with a troop of Comanche
Fisher-Miller grant contained 1,735,200 acres, the treaty included a total of 3,878,000
acres. In one day, Meusebach opened up for settlement what would become part of all of ten
Texas counties -- All or part of Concho, Kimble, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, Menard, Sansaba,
Schleicher, Sutton, and Tom Green.
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