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

(c) Copyright 2000--Susan Rektorik Henley

Chapter Three--The Impact of the American Civil War

If one wishes to understand the settlement practices of the Czech immigrants who came to Texas in the 1800's, one must learn the settlement patterns of the German immigrants who came to Texas in the 1800'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 1800'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 Two pertained to the settlement patterns of the Anglo American yeomen farmers and the German immigrants. In this part, I hope to present an overall view of settlements in Texas around the time of the Civil War and explore some societal issues which profoundly affected where the German and Czech immigrants would settle if they arrived around the time of the Civil War.  In the Book Texas: Dark Corner of the Confederacy: Contemporary Accounts of the Lone Star State in the Civil War, B. P. Gallaway presents a concise summary of Texas settlement immediately before the Civil War:

"The Lone Star State was a land of paradoxes during the war years. Her diverse social and economic structure was greatly complicated by a highly variegated topography, and erratic climate, an unequal distribution of wealth, and a rapidly increasing population. According to the Eighth Census of the United States in 1860, the total population was 604,215. The figure included 182,566 slaves, 355 free African Americans, and a 'foreign' population of 43,422. Brazoria County was the wealthiest county in the state and also the one containing the largest number of slaves. Only 21,878 Texans were slave holders and almost half owned three slaves or less. Only two Texas planters claimed two hundred slaves or more, and only one of these, D. C. Mills of Brazoria County, claimed more than three hundred.

By 1860 counties had been organized as far west as the one hundredth meridian and along the valley of the lower Rio Grande; the western interior was unorganized, unsettled, and very unhealthy. Human life was especially cheap west of a frontier line of settlement that extended roughly along the western fringe of the Western Cross Timbers, through the Hill County west of San Antonio, and southwest to the Rio Grande settlements. The heart of the organized section was the southeastern cotton-producing region and extended as far west as the Western Cross Timbers. Southwest of the German settlements and beyond the rolling Hill County were thousands of wild mustangs and wild, unbranded longhorn cattle (Gallaway 1)."

 Since less than five percent of the population lived in urban centers, Texas was essentially a land of innumerable villages, frontier forts, trading posts, sprawling ranches, and isolated farming communities. By 1860, however, the state did possess several sizable towns. The largest population concentrations were in San Antonio and Galveston, each claiming populations approaching ten thousand. Houston, Austin, New Braunsfels, Marshall, and about fourteen other settlements boasted more than one thousand inhabitants. Almost one-third of the free population in urban centers were foreign born, many having come directly from their homelands to become merchants, craftsmen, teamsters, or laborers. (Gallaway 2)."

This is where presenting the facts gets tricky for me. When Texas chose to secede from the Union, there was a significant percentage of the population who became polarized with the Confederate cause and in doing so began to turn on other Texans. Gallaway again presents a concise narrative:

"The news of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and of Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency greatly magnified the average Texan's anxiety and sectional hatred. By the time the state Session Convention convened in Austin early in 1861, many Texans were nearly in a frenzy. Several destructive fires of unknown origin in Dallas, Denton, and Waxahachie were interpreted as proof that subversives or Kansas Jayhawks were at work in the Lone Star State. Vigilante bands and secret organizations immediately sprang up to deal with the unseen terror. Strangers were attacked, travelers were threatened, and 'trouble-making' slaves and suspected Yankee sympathizers were lynched."

"The state convention passed the secession ordinance on February 1, 1861, by a vote of 171 to 6, and this action received popular sanction three weeks later by a vote of 46,129 to 14,698. Only nineteen counties could claim slim majorities opposing secession, largely in the rolling Hill County northwest of Austin, where many Germans lived, and along the Red River in North Texas, which contained clusters of free-soil immigrants from the Old Northwest (Gallaway 5)."

 Can you see where this is headed? I have not yet found a serious text which fully explores the Anti-German/Anti-Foreigner aspect of the Civil War. If that text does exist, I imagine would have been written recently and some will brand it as "Rewriting History." I have; however, tidbits in various places which clue one in to what was going on. In the book Galveston: A History of The Island by Gary Cartwright, I found the following:

"A group of mechanics and laborers who joined together in the aptly named Know Nothings movement shadowed German immigrants; they were flexed for violence and waiting for a sign that the Germans were involved in 'treason. The primary motive of the Know Nothings was to halt the immigration of Germans, who were likely to be pro Union and antislavery and, more importantly, were likely to take the jobs from native- born Americans (Cartwright 89)."

 In the book Galveston, I also found:

"When the word reached Galveston in January 1861 that South Carolina had seceded from the Union, the town went crazy. A mob stormed the offices of the German-language newspaper 'Die Union' and wrecked it. Its publisher, a mild-mannered Ferdinand Flake, had dared criticize secession. Flake's fellow publisher William Richardson, of the 'Galveston Daily News,' rather than rising to his defense, urged that the mob turn its reign of terror on the other German Americans.(Cartwright 92)."

So there we have it. Texas must not have seemed such a good idea anymore to many German immigrants and settlers. This anti-foreigner sentiment resulted in those immigrants who did arrive during this period not being able to buy land in many cases. For instance, the Hrncir family to which I am connected arrived at the brink of the Civil War in 1861. They had capital to purchase land but were not welcomed. Their young son was, however, almost conscripted in the Confederate Army...only by hauling contraband cotton to Mexico did he escape this service. It was not until after the war in 1865 that the Hrncirs purchased their first farm land in the area of High Hill, Fayette County...and this was, primarily, an area settled by Germans.

Before I close out this area, I am compelled to mention the so called "Battle of The Nueces In Kinney County, Texas" which occurred on August 10, 1862. The Handbook of Texas describes this event as follows:

"In this battle sixty-five German Unionists, attempting to reach Mexico and then New Orleans to join the Union Army, were attached by a Confederate force of ninety-six men. Nineteen were killed in the battle, and thirty-seven escaped. The rest were captured and then executed by the Confederate force (Handbook of Texas Online)."

A different view of this event can be found in the book Civil War in Texas and New Mexico Territory by Steve Cotrell:

"When the Confederacy initiated the conscription in the spring of 1862, many citizens objected so strongly that the situation nearly developed into a serious rebellion in Texas. Among the most adamant Union supporters opposed to the draft in the State were German immigrants located primarily in the six counties along the west coast. Confederate authorities declared the counties in a state of rebellion and sent a dispatchment of cavalry to apprehend the ringleaders. In August a party of sixty-one German Americans planning to flee to Mexico was overtaken by the Texas cavalrymen on the Nueces River. The troopers opened fire on the refugees and massacred thirty-four German men in cold blood, taking no prisoners (Cottrell 74)."

 Support for a reality closer to that as described by Cotrell (and further from the view presented by the Handbook of Texas) can be found in the book Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans by T. R. Fehrenbach:

"In the summer of 1862, one group of Germans, who were actually neutralist in sentiment fled this region for Mexico. They armed themselves, under the command of Major Tegener, but their purpose was to flee the state rather than fight the Confederacy. Tegener rode south with some 65 men and boys. When Duff learned he had gone, he dispatched a force under Lieutenant McRae in pursuit.

The refugees camped on the Nueces River, about two hundred miles from where they started. They did not expect close pursuit. On the night of August 9, under a full moon, Tegener and the group held a lively discussion about the meaning of 'fatherland,' 'citizenship,' 'Civil War,' and Mexico. According to the statements of John William Samson, who was there, most of the German farmers were deeply confused as to what the war was all about.

 McRae rode down upon the camp while the Germans lay sleeping. He surrounded it and opened fire indiscriminately. The result was a massacre. Nineteen Germans were killed by gunfire, and six more trampled to death by McRae's cavalry. Nine surrendered. McRae ordered them shot, and they were executed on the spot. In his report to Duff, the lieutenant stated he met 'determined resistance', hence I have no prisoners to report (Fehrenbach 363 - 364)."

My intent in presenting this is to make vivid the picture of what the German settlers were facing during the Civil War. This is the written material I have found. One can be sure that the Czech immigrants were treated in much the same manner as the Germans.

All of this pertains to my issue of settlement practices because it not only shows what was going on with European settlers at the time but also sets the stage for who settles where after the Civil War. That will be the subject of Part Four.

Bibliography: Cartwright, Gary. Galveston: A History of the Island.  TCU Press, 1991.

 Cottrell, Steve.  Civil War in Texas New Mexico Territory. Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Co, Inc., 1998.

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

Gallaway, B. P.  Texas: The Dark Corner of the Confederacy; Contemporary Accounts of the Lone Star State during the Civil War. Nebraska; University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

The Handbook of Texas Online: "West Nueces River"

Susan Rektorik Henley