Land Settlement Patterns in Texas and the Subsequent Impact on the Czech Settlers

(c) Copyright 2000--Susan Rektorik Henley

Chapter Two--The German Immigrants

 If one wishes to understand the settlement practices of the Czech immigrants who came to Texas in the 1880's, one must learn the settlement patterns of the German immigrants who came to Texas in the 1880's because the first Czechs sought out and settled near the Germans. In turn, if one wishes to understand the settlement patterns of the Germans, one needs to study the settlement patterns of the Anglo-Americans who, generally, settled in Texas, prior to the mass migration of Germans and Czechs. This short study will attempt to present an overview of the settlement patterns in Texas in the 1880's.

 Part One pertained to the settlement of the Austin colony by cotton planters and polite gentry. The colony was established under the Spanish Government and was allowed to continue when the Mexican Government took control. Part One was based on the book Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, by T. R. Fehrenbach.

I find the Fehrenbach a good reference. In the matter of Austin's Colony, I find that Fehrenbach places quite a bit of emphasis on the slave owning plantain owners. They were indeed influential and during and after the Civil War, their impact on Texas and the eventual impact of the loss of the war on them would influence land settlement practices in Texas. However, I think it is important to remember that the plantation owners of East Texas were only along the river bottoms. The plantation system relied on transportation by rivers. Away from the river bottoms, other settlers established themselves. These Anglo-American farmers who worked the land by themselves (or with the aid of only one or two slaves) are frequently referred to as "yeomen farmers" by Fehrenbach and other authors. Fehrenbach describes the forerunners of these folk as:

"...part of the grim, tough Anglo-Celt vanguard, eternally moving on. They came out of the mountains with their hatchets and rifles and filtered thought he forests until came to the forest's end. They lived in Indian county--that of the also moving Chactaw and Cherokees, who were being pushed west into east Texas and who in turn pushed the peaceful remnants of the Caddoan out into the borderlands between the pin woods and the Plains. They cut clearings and hunted in the wilderness along the Red River and some of the people who came close behind them planted corn. (Fehrenbach 150)"

 Terry G. Jordan wrote his dissertation on the German Farmer Immigrants in Texas. The work is now published as a book titled: German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth Century Texas. In the early chapters of his book, Jordan sets the stage for his research work by describing the settlement patterns of Texas in the early 1900's. To pertinent point (during the Empresario period), is the following:

"Settlement was essential riverine in character, and nearly every land grant was rectangular in shape, with one of the smaller sides fronting the river or a smaller stream, reminiscent of the long lots of New France. It is possible that this settlement form was diffused to the Spanish during their forty-year rule of Louisiana and passed on intact to the Mexican rules after independence. Two major shoe-string-shaped areas of settlement developed, one along the lower Brazos and its tributaries and the other along the lower Colorado. A smaller clustering developed near the mouth of the San Jacinto River and along Buffalo Bayou. The settlers of Austin's colony were for the most part yeomen farmers from Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky, with the result that slaves formed a relatively small part of the total population. In 1834 a Mexican official reported 9,000 people in Austin's colony and the adjacent smaller colony of any Empresario, of whom only 1,000 were Negro slaves. The official attitude of the government, though not enforced, was one of opposition to slavery, and this may have discouraged large plantation owners from coming to Texas. The slave owners who did come were concentrated near the mouths of the Brazos and Colorado, in the only major plantation area of the colony. (Jordan 24)

 Illegal immigration to East Texas was significant, according to Jordan, during the Mexican period. And, when the law prohibiting American immigration was repealed in 1834, "a large scale influx of Americans settlers began. In the summer, one Mexican official estimated that over 3,000 would enter Texas before the year end, and it was reported that about 2,000 had landed at the mouth of the Brazos alone in January and February of 1835 (25)" Immigration from American and the settlement of East Texas continued to increase even through the period of the Republic of Texas and into the Civil War. According to Jordan, these immigrants were settling the older already settled areas and along the frontier "westward in the northern portion of the state and partially filled the fertile Black Waxy Prairie. The major expansion of plantations took place in far northeastern Texas in the valleys of the Red River and its right-back tributaries (Jordan 27)."

 So between the two authors, Fehrenbach and Jordan, we have a picture of the settlement of Texas by Americans during the first half of the nineteenth century. Jordan goes on to address, in detail the settlement of Texas by the German immigrants. Jordan describes what he sees as the beginning of German immigration to Texas:

"The movement of Germans to Texas properly may be said to have begun in the year 1831, for although there were a few Germans living their prior to the date, their presence did not attract fellow countrymen to join them. It was in 1831 that Friedrich Ernst, a native of Oldenburg, received a grant of land from the Mexican Government, lying within the Austin colony in the Valley of Mill Creek in the present-day northwestern Austin County. Here Ernst established his farm. He found the land much to his liking and wrote an enthusiastic letter to a friend back in Germany, describing his new home in glowing terms. The letter was published in the newspaper in Oldenberg and also in a book describing travels in Texas and had a considerable effect. In the years which followed, a small stream of German immigrants settled near Ernst in the area between the lower Brazos and the Colorado rivers, founding a number of German rural communities in Austin, Fayette, and Colorado Counties. Ernst himself laid out a town site on his property in 1838, and it grew slowly to become the village of Industry. Ernst's wife estimated that several hundred Germans settled around Industry from 1838 to 1842 (Jordan 41)."

"The original impetus provided by Fredrich Ernst was a key factor in the early development of German settlement in Texas, but still, the German element in the state might have remained relatively small and insignificant had it not been for the work of the  Vereinzum Schutz deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, a society composed of wealthy Germans who were interested in overseas colonization for both economic and philanthropic reasons. These promoters hoped, by purchasing colonial lands and settling them with Germans, to realize a profit on their investment as land values increased with the development of the area, while at the same time to provide a safe and prosperous future for thousands of emigrants. After some consideration, Texas was chosen as the site for the colony. The Verein obtained the right to settle Germans on a vast tract of land in west-central Texas known as the Fisher-Miller Grant.

The offer by the Verein to prospective emigrants was very attractive, and recruits were easy to find. each unmarried man was to pay the equivalent of $120 and the head of a household $240, while each agreed to cultivate at least fifteen acre for three years and to occupy his house for the same period. In return for this, the Verein promised (1) free transportation to the colony, (2) free land in the colony (160 acres for a single man and 3200 acres for a family), (3) a free log house, (4) provisions and all goods necessary to begin farming, supplied on credit until the second successive crop had been harvested, and (5) numerous public improvements, such as the construction of roads, mills, cotton gins, hospitals, schools, churches, orphan asylums, and even the canalization of rivers. All this the Verein proposed to do with a total capital of only about $80,000, apparently convinced that huge profits would be realized by keeping ownership of one-half on the land under the colony.

Under the supervision of Prince Cal von Solms Braunsfels, and later the Baron von Meusebach, the Verein went about the task of colonization. Beginning in 1844, German emigrants were sent by sailing ship to Galveston, and thence to Indianola, the Verein port on Matagorda Bay. It was soon realized that the land obtained for colonization was too far from the coast to be settled immediately, and as a result, New Braunsfels (Comal County, 1845, and Fredericksburg (Gillespie County, 1846) were founded as way stations on the road to the grant.

The German immigrants brought by the Verein numbered 7,380 in the period from 1844 to 1846. The following year, 1847, the Verein went bankrupt, a victim of improper management and inadequate planning. (Jordan 41, 43 - 44)."

Except for the fact that real people were harmed by the failure of the Verein, it would be humorous considering what the originators failed to ensure and/or to take into account. Jordan states that issues which led to the failure of the Verein include: 1. The soils of the Fisher-Miller grant were stony and infertile and the rainfall for the area was low; 2. The area was isolated and inhabited by the Comanche Indians; 3. Not one of the Verein members had actually seen the land of the Fisher-Miller Grant; and (4.) The Verein had not actually purchased the land in the grant but only the right to settle people there. (Eventually the State of Texas did grant title to the German settlers) (Jordan 45).

"Thousands of the Germans brought by the Verein were strewn out along the immigrant road from Indianola to Castell when the company collapsed. Most of them settled along the axis of this road without reaching the grant, while others remained in the port cities or scattered among the German settlements farther to the east in Texas. No further penetration was made into the grant, and most Germans sold whatever rights to land that they had there without ever having set foot upon it. The grant had acted as a giant 'magnet', but its power was cut off before the Germans reached it. (Jordan 46 - 47)"

Bibliography: Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. New York: Collier Books, 1986.

Jordan, Terry G. German Seed in Texas Soil: Immigrant Farmers in Nineteenth-Century Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

In the third part of this study, I describe what the settlement of Texas was around the time of the Civil War and the impact of the war on the Germans and Czechs.

 Susan Rektorik Henley