Friedrich Armand Strubberg's novel Friedrichsburg, published in Germany in 1867, is a fountain of information about the German settlements in the Hill Country of Texas, which were established in 1845, 1846, and 1847 by the Society for the Protection of German Emigrants in Texas. As the first colonial director of Fredericksburg, Strubberg was not only an observer, but also an important participant in this story. Strubberg places himself in the novel as Dr. Schubbert, the name he used at the time, and the background of the novel as well as most of the people named are historical. Thus the novel has a strong autobiographical contour.
Thousands of German emigrants began to arrive in Texas during the period between 1844 and 1848 under the auspices of the Adelsverein, a consortium of German nobles These immigrants came without adequate survival skills or provisions for coping with the dangers and rigors of settling on the Texas frontier in areas devoid of infrastructure and still inhabited by warlike Indians, most notably the Southern, or Penateka, Comanche bands. Here they attempted to make the transition to new home and community without ready access to manufactured tools or self-sustaining industry or agriculture.
The noblemen safely ensconced in their comfortable estates in Germany attempted to live up to their responsibilities and supply the settlers with basic needs, but their efforts fell woefully short. In consequence, the immigrants often were thrown upon their own devices and compelled to live from what they could learn to grow or hunt in a new land with unfamiliar climate, plants, and animals. Many hundreds perished from disease, exposure, and malnutrition. But after a painful period the German settlements took root and began to prosper, lending a Germanic stamp to the Hill Country area of Texas that endures to the present day.
Any catalog of the factors that allowed the town of Fredericksburg to survive despite all arrayed against it would have to begin first and foremost with the admirable resilience and resourcefulness demonstrated by the German settlers themselves. To this we must add their pronounced communal spirit, which contrasted markedly with the more individualistic approach of the average Anglo settler. But beyond this, several fortuitous factors helped Fredericksburg to survive, to wit: (1) the peace treaty with the Penateka Comanche Indians in the spring of 1847; (2) the establishment of the Mormon community of Zodiac four miles southeast of Fredericksburg on the Pedernales River in 1847; and (3) the assistance and guidance provided by the Delaware and Shawnee Indians, who traded for valuable bear oil, wild game, and animal skins, and who acted as intermediaries with other Indian tribes, particularly with the Comanche tribes; (4) logistical support supplied (largely) by Nassau Plantation in Fayette County; and (5) the opening of the road to Austin.
Friedrichsburg presents all these situations vividly and entertainingly, and although the book offers a romanticized and, in this sense, a sanitized version of the immigrants' travails, I maintain that it contains historically accurate depictions of people and events that have been largely overlooked in other accounts of the period.
The novel also invites us to reevaluate the role of Dr. Schubbert, as Friedrich Armand Strubberg was known at the time in Texas. Dr. Schubbert has come to be regarded as a scoundrel, a swindler, or worse; his positive contributions have been essentially excised from history books and public consciousness. I would argue that a reinterpretation is in order. To be sure, Dr. Schubbert had his faults: he was clearly an extremely narcissistic individual who could play fast and loose with the facts when it suited his purposes or when it supported his own self-image. These shortcomings, however, should not obscure his significant accomplishments and the important role he played as the colonial director of Fredericksburg during the foundation years of 1846 and 1847.
Before substantiating these assertions, I will first briefly outline the historical conditions that motivated German immigration to Texas, the hopes entertained by their sponsors, and the lack of information and preparation that led to near disaster for the immigrants themselves. I will also present an overview of the life of Friedrich Armand Strubberg and his historical connection to the Society for the Protection of German Emigrants in Texas and to the town of Fredericksburg. This will be followed by a short discussion of Strubberg's life, post-Fredericksburg, and his subsequent career in Germany as an author of adventure novels based largely on his experiences on the Texas frontier. I will conclude with a discussion of the historically significant events depicted in the novel.
Why Germans Emigrated
The root cause of German emigration in the nineteenth century was overpopulation, which in turn exacerbated other emerging stresses of a political, economic, and religious nature. A clear upward trend in population growth began in 1750 and continued throughout the nineteenth century. In 1816 about 25 million people inhabited the areas that became the German Reich after 1871. By 1914, this figure had grown to almost 68 million. This astounding increase was due in part to improved sanitation practices and the introduction of childhood vaccination; Germans now lived longer, married earlier, and had larger families.About three-quarters of the population still lived on the land at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the agrarian way of life was becoming more difficult to sustain since in many regions primogeniture left younger siblings with little or no property. Even where laws enabling equal division between heirs prevailed, each succeeding generation had less land to divide among ever more descendants. In most areas of Germany, land ownership and tenure continued to be governed by a system of late-feudal privileges, which compounded these problems. After 1815, agrarian reforms were introduced and hereditary bondage (Leibeigenschaft) was phased out, but this often had the short-term effect of converting subsistence Häusler—cottagers—into contract laborers on aristocratic estates.
Because Central Europe lagged fully fifty years behind England in industrial development, virtually no new jobs or occupations were created by modern industrialism to absorb the excess population. Craftsmen continued to produce shoes, clothing, and other artifacts of life and trade within a system regulated by closed guilds (Zunftwesen) rooted in practices dating from the Middle Ages even as cheaper, mass-produced items from England began to flood the continent and render these products less competitive.
Given these conditions, it is not surprising that many hundreds of thousands of Germans chose emigration to the New World as a solution to the lack of opportunity in their homeland. Of the 18.75 million immigrants who came to the United States during the nineteenth century, approximately 5 million, or 27 percent, came from the German-speaking areas of Europe. It is not possible to provide such detailed statistics for Texas, since the port of entry records for Texas disappeared in the great Galveston hurricane of 1900, but much can be inferred from the 1850 census and other sources. From the 1850 census, it appears that about 20 percent of the white population of Texas was of German descent, and two Texas towns were of almost exclusive German citizenry, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, ranked fourth and seventh in population, respectively.
German Interest in Texas
Texas began to attract attention as a possible goal for emigrants while still a province of Mexico. A glowing letter written by a German immigrant in 1831 who had settled in Texas created a sensation after it was passed along among friends and relatives in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. Friedrich Ernst moved to the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas in 1828, where he applied for and was granted a league of land (4,428 acres) in the rolling hills of South-Central Texas. He and his family then settled on the banks of Mill Creek in a region that was still essentially frontier. His letter portrayed Texas as a veritable paradise.
The meadows have the most sumptuous stands of grass … The soil is so rich it never requires fertilizing … The climate resembles that of lower Italy during the summer . . . a persistent fresh east breeze cools the air … The sun and air are always bright and clear; bees and butterflies are seen year round, birds are singing in the shrubs, some of which are evergreen; and in winter as well as in summer, the cattle find their own feed. The cows calve without assistance.
The letter also stated that, by comparison, the rest of the United States no longer offered the opportunities that it had in the past. In his new home, Ernst was owner of an entire league of land, an awesome treasure to behold. Moreover, the land had virtually been given to him for the asking by the Mexican government. His life in Texas, as Ernst reported it, was unproblematic and pastoral, indeed idyllic. Other than perhaps Archduke August himself, did any man in Oldenburg own that much land?
Ownership of such magnitude was invariably associated with social status, privilege, and nobility—not with ordinary people. Consequently, his letter struck a chord that would in time motivate scores of Germans to seek a new life in what was soon to become the Republic of Texas.
First German Settlements in Texas
One of the first to respond to the Ernst invitation was the extended von Roeder family. Father, mother, and five grown sons with wives made the move in 1835. They settled on the sandy plain near the San Bernard River and named their community Katzenquelle, later anglicized to Cat Spring. It became a magnet for others who filtered in singly or as family groups. The disruptions caused by the Texas war of independence from Mexico, which broke out in October 1835, only temporarily halted the influx of new arrivals. After the defeat of Santa Anna and the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto April 21, 1836, the trickle became a flood, and soon several distinctly German communities coalesced in South-Central Texas; these were little islands of transplanted German culture and language in a sea of predominantly Anglo settlement, places with names like Cat Spring, Millheim, Cummins Creek, Biegel's Settlement, and Industry.
Colonization Laws of 1842
The struggle for independence and the aggressive and expensive Indian policies of the republic's second president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had left the Republic of Texas teetering on the brink of financial collapse. Above all, the young republic needed settlers to infuse new cash and increase the tax base. In recognition of this reality, President Sam Houston, upon assuming the presidency for the second time in 1841, sought to encourage European emigration as a means to hasten the development of Texas. In January 1842 the Texas Congress empowered the president to offer conditional title to vast tracts of land as an inducement to entrepreneurs who would agree to settle specified numbers of colonists within a set time on vacant lands. The law echoed the empresario system by which Stephen F. Austin had established the original Anglo colony in Texas. Under this arrangement, empresarios entered into a contract with the Mexican government to introduce certain numbers of settlers in a given period of time. Mexican authorities issued land titles to the settlers directly and upon satisfaction of the terms of the contract rewarded the empresarios for their time, effort, and expense with enormous tracts of land proportionate to the number of settlers introduced. This time, however, three of the four grants were issued to European entrepreneurs. Resurrection of the land grant system held out the possibility of enormous financial gain for those who could secure a colonization contract and who had the energy and resources to fulfill its terms, a fact quickly noted by entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Germany in Texas: The Adelsverein's Aspirations and Foibles
One group in Germany was quick to respond to the republic's offer. In the spring of 1842, twenty German noblemen and one noblewoman convened at the residence of Adolph, duke of Nassau, in Biebrich on the Rhine in response to an invitation from Christian, count of Leiningen. The corporation they formed was convinced it had the means and will to fashion a program of important national significance whereby the opportunities of Texas could supply an answer to the frustrations of Germany. They also hoped to enhance the prestige of that particular class of German noblemen to which nearly all of them belonged, namely the Standesherren, and also to increase their personal wealth by speculating in inexpensive Texas land. They adopted the official name Der Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, which is usually shortened to Adelsverein, or Society of Noblemen. In scope and audacity, the plan they adopted holds a unique and dramatic position in the history of immigration to the New World in the nineteenth century.
The Adelsverein proposed to settle German emigrants in the Fischer-Miller grant, one of the four land grant contracts issued under the Colonization Act of 1842. This grant was defined as the confluence of the Llano and Colorado Rivers to their sources with a line drawn between these two points to form the western boundary. It was an enormous area encompassing many millions of acres. Except for a few hardy adventurers, no Anglo had laid eyes upon it. Certainly, none of the officials of the Adelsverein had visited the area. They had relied on hearsay and anecdotal accounts, which, like Ernst's letter, painted the region as the most beautiful and fertile area of the republic—accounts that, sadly, turned out to be utterly false. The area, moreover, was the winter hunting grounds of the Penateka, or Southern Comanche, the most warlike of the Texas Indians and a tribe determined to resist encroachments into their hereditary hunting grounds.
In 1844 the Adelsverein advertised for emigrants throughout Germany, promising 320 acres of free land and agreeing to provide food, shelter, and tools to the settlers for the first year in Texas or until the first crop was harvested. Thousands responded, and soon the main arteries leading to the North Sea, the Rhine, and the Weser and Elbe Rivers saw boatloads of emigrants making their way to the port cities of Amsterdam, Bremerhaven, and Hamburg. In the fall of 1844, the first chartered sailing ships began arriving in Galveston and at Indianola on Lavaca Bay, the vanguard of what was to amount to over eight thousand individuals. In chapter 2 of Friedrichsburg, Strubberg gives a nice synopsis of the origins of the Adelsverein and the causes of German emigration. He is careful never to directly criticize the noblemen in Germany directly, averring instead that they were misled by Henry Francis Fischer, who had sold them his land grant contract with the Republic of Texas.
New Braunfels Established
Carl, prince of Solms-Braunfels, had been sent over in the summer of 1844 to make preparations for the first shiploads of emigrants, which began arriving in the late summer and fall of that year. The prince quickly realized the practical impossibility of transporting and settling the new settlers into the Fischer-Miller grant, which lay beyond the north bank of the Llano River about two hundred miles to the north. Consequently, in the spring of 1845, he bought from the estate of Juan Martin de Veramendi, former Mexican governor of Coahuila y Tejas, two leagues of land in a beautiful valley east of San Antonio at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers. He named the town after his own family. The idea was to form a home base and staging area away from the coast and closer to the grant area, where the settlers could assemble and await the next move into the grant the following year.
New Braunfels was also the headquarters for the Adelsverein's bureaucracy in Texas, which had grown to over twenty individuals by 1847. Strubberg is very deferential to Prince Solms-Braunfels in Friedrichsburg and praises him for the wonderful location of the town he established. In the novel, Strubberg often refers to the town as simply "Braunfels" rather than the more common "Neu [New] Braunfels," and the translation retains this convention, when used. In the novel, Strubberg often refers to the Direktion, or bureaucracy, in Braunfels, and the opening scene begins with the young German hero, Rudolph, carrying dispatches from Braunfels to Fredericksburg.
Friedrichsburg [Fredericksburg] Established
In 1845, Johann Otfried Freiherr von Meusebach succeeded Prince Solms as commissioner-general of the Adelsverein in Texas. Meusebach considered it his first duty to fulfill the terms of the Fischer-Miller contract, which required that the grant area be surveyed by September 1, 1847, and six hundred emigrants settled by January 1, 1848. To facilitate the movement of emigrants into this area, he purchased ten thousand acres four miles north of the Pedernales River on the old La Pinta Trail in the spring of 1846. The first wagon train of 120 settlers arrived from New Braunfels on May 8, 1846, after a sixteen-day journey, accompanied by an eight-man military escort provided by the Adelsverein and under the command of a former Prussian officer, Lieutenant Bené. For this reason Bené is often considered to be the "father" of Fredericksburg. Bené continued as the nominal head of Fredericksburg until he was replaced by Dr. Schubbert. Named for Friedrich, prince of Prussia, one of the charter members of the society, the new town was situated about seventy miles to the northwest of New Braunfels, but still lay forty-five miles below the southern boundary of the Fischer-Miller grant in present-day Gillespie County.
Dr. Schubbert Engaged as Colonial Director
Meusebach needed a director for his new colony on the Pedernales, someone who combined force of personality and administrative skills with experience on the Texas frontier. In the spring of 1846, he made the acquaintance of Friedrich Armand Strubberg, aka Dr. Schubbert, and offered him the position.
Who Was Dr. Schubbert?
The three published biographies of Friedrich Armand Strubberg contain much that is either unsubstantiated or out-and-out false. Preston Barba, Arnim Huber, and Gunter Sehm have all written about Strubberg's life. The second two authors clearly relied heavily on Barba, whose study served as his dissertation and later was serialized in a scholarly publication in 1912 and 1913 in Pennsylvania. Barba traveled to Germany, where he interviewed several people who had known Strubberg personally, and he was granted access to some of Strubberg's personal papers. He did not, however, dig deeply into newspaper articles, official records, or police reports of the period to verify many of the dramatic claims made by Strubberg concerning his life. Instead, he appeared to accept at face value much of what Strubberg had written in his early, semi-autobiographical novel, Bis in die Wildniß [As Far as the Wilderness]. Barba combined this material with the anecdotal accounts he obtained in Germany.
A synopsis of Barba's account would read as follows: Strubberg was born in Kassel, Germany, in 1806. He hailed from a prominent tobacco merchant's family and came from an extremely cosmopolitan background. His father was from Holland, his mother from France, and he was related to the king of Sweden through a morganatic marriage of his grandmother on his father's side. He was the recipient of a good education, with an emphasis on business. A good shot, but quick to anger, Strubberg seriously wounded a man in a lover's duel in Germany, which prompted his first journey to the United States in 1826, where he served for several years as the agent of European firms in New York and the East Coast. In 1829 he returned to Germany to help in his father's business, which had suffered reverses. After ten years, Strubberg once again returned to the United States. His itinerary took him first to New Orleans and then on a long journey through the South. Eventually he arrived in New York to resume a career as a commission agent. In 1842, a duel in New York City led to a murder warrant and Strubberg was forced to flee. Since Texas was not part of the Union, it provided a likely haven from the hangman's noose. Along the way, near Louisville, Kentucky, the riverboat he was on ran aground and sank. While waiting to retrieve his luggage, he met a German doctor who ran a medical academy. Strubberg enrolled in the medical academy, and after two years of study emerged with a medical degree and a new name, Dr. Schubbert. Thereafter, he continued on his journey to Texas, arriving in or about 1844.
Once in Texas, the account continues, he headed for the frontier. Arriving at the headwaters of the Leona River in South Texas, at the base of the Edwards Plateau, he and three companions erected a log fort far from the nearest white settlements, in the heart of Indian country. Here they lived an idyllic existence, sustaining themselves mainly from the plentiful buffalo and other game that inhabited the area in abundance. The thrill of the hunt and occasional Indian encounters served to break the monotony of their lives. Here, so Strubberg claimed, he first came into contact with many different tribes and chiefs, forging many lasting friendships among the Indians, which he alludes to in all his Texas novels.
Ulf Debellius, the leading contemporary scholar of Strubberg in Germany and also the editor of a new edition of Strubberg's collected works, provides counterpoint to the Barba-Sehm-Huber version of Strubberg's life. Herr Debelius writes:
- As to the duel in Bremen, there is not one shred of evidence outside of Strubberg's own claim, which he continued to repeat his whole life long. Neither police documents, nor court documents, nor newspaper reports of the period exist that would substantiate such an occurrence.
- The same applies to the supposed duel in New York. Still, I hold this one for possible, but I would only mention it in his biography with appropriate qualifiers.
- The putative morganatic descent from the royal Hessian family was convincingly shown to be false as early as 1913 and again in greater detail in 1927 by Phillip Losch.
- I am likewise unfamiliar with any documents that would substantiate the study of medicine in Louisville and the conferral of a medical degree. That Strubberg, in fact, had amassed a large store of medical knowledge appears indisputable in light of his medical successes during his engagement by the Adelsverein. But in respect to a doctor's title, at the very least we have to consider that such a title in Germany would have brought with it a certain social standing and deference. Karl May, in the style of a classical con man, also assumed for himself the title of doctor. Given Strubberg's pronounced narcissistic tendencies, he surely would not have allowed such documentation to slip from his possession, and he would have been quick to display it—but no one ever laid eyes on such a document.
Strubberg's claims about the fort located on the headwaters of the Leona River are also doubtful, though Barba et al. accept this claim at face value. His description of the landscape does not match the region. He claims the Leona was a tributary of the Rio Grande. It is not; the Leona debouches into the Frio River, which in turn empties into the Nueces River, which finally spills into the Gulf of Mexico. He claims that one could see the mountains of Mexico in the distance. One cannot see any part of Mexico from any given stretch of the Leona River. He claims magnolia trees grew along the river. Magnolia trees are not native to South Texas and would not have been introduced until a later date.
Yet, for all this fabrication, Strubberg most likely did spend some time on the Texas frontier in 1844–1845. Several cryptic allusions of the period suggest he settled for a while, perhaps with one or two partners, somewhere on the San Gabriel River, north of Austin rather than in South Texas. In this venture, he might have been connected to Henry Francis Fischer and the San Saba Colonization Company, or he might have been acting on his own. Fischer also hailed from Kassel, and the two may well have known each other from this period. In either case, Strubberg would have had ample opportunity to come into contact with the Indian tribes and chiefs he claims to have met on the Leona and experienced many of the adventures he wrote about in his books.
We can only speculate why Strubberg spun a fictitious tale about a fort on the Leona, which becomes a kind of touchstone in his Texas adventure novels. Perhaps he considered the Leona in South Texas to be more exotic and to have a greater appeal to his readers in Germany. In respect to his own life, it is clear that Strubberg's works offer a complicated blend of fiction and truth, while gaps remain in his biography that we may never be able to fill.
Dr. Schubbert Becomes Colonial Director of Fredericksburg
It can be documented with certainty that Henry Francis Fischer introduced Dr. Schubbert to John Meusebach, commissioner-general of the Adelsverein in Texas, in March 1846. The two traveled together from Houston to Nassau Plantation, the Adelsverein's slave plantation in northern Fayette County, where Meusebach was staying at the time. Impressed with Schubbert's medical credentials, apparent knowledge of the frontier, and imposing presence, Meusebach offered his new acquaintance the position of colonial director of the new settlement on the Pedernales.
Dr. Schubbert and the Epidemic in New Braunfels
Dr. Schubbert arrived with Meusebach in New Braunfels from Nassau Plantation July 14, 1846. Hermann Seele, a Texas-German commentator of the period, has left us with his first impression of the doctor upon his arrival in New Braunfels:
His regal figure with fiery eyes, dark beard and hair on which he jauntily wore a dark hat, his gallant manner, as well as his fluent, assured way of speaking, created an imposing first impression.
Meusebach and Schubbert arrived to find the new settlement in the grip of a very serious epidemic. Curiously, none of the standard works of the German settlements in Texas—Biesele's The History of the German Settlements in Texas, Tiling's The History of the German Element, Benjamin's The Germans in Texas—mentions Dr. Schubbert in this connection. Preston Barba's Life and Works of Friedrich Armand Strubberg even casts doubt on Schubbert's presence in New Braunfels. Documents in the Solms-Braunfels Archives, the official records of the Adelsverein, however, show conclusively that Schubbert was present from July until October 1846, and that he labored day and night to minister to the sick and to prepare their medicines.
There is controversy to this day as to the exact cause of the epidemic. Dr. Schubbert diagnosed the disease as advanced scurvy and treated it accordingly, and, just as he claims in the novel, he used native plants and herbs as remedies, with some success.
The epidemic finally abated in the fall of 1846 and Schubbert was able to depart for Fredericksburg in October to take up his position as director of the new colony. The initial contingent of settlers had already made the trek, but new arrivals came in a steady stream. By January 1847, five hundred families had been settled in the town and 189 houses had been erected.
Fredericksburg: A Unique Town in Texas
Fredericksburg was unusual if not unique in Texas because it was, in a sense, completely artificial. Far from any established trading routes, in the heart of comanchería, it lacked any history of natural, organic development. Where one year only raw frontier existed, six months later a town of nearly one thousand inhabitants had taken shape, the seventh largest town in Texas by the 1850 census.
New Braunfels, also, was in a sense an artificial town, but due to its proximity to San Antonio and its location on the old and established trade route, the Camino Real, the town found itself much better positioned for success and less artificial in its existence. Fredericksburg, on the other hand, was remote, isolated, and incapable of feeding itself during its first year of existence. Its fate hung in the balance for two years, and the settlement came close to complete collapse because of the factors just mentioned, which were exacerbated by the outbreak of another epidemic. Had Fredericksburg failed, it is clear that there would have been a general retrenchment in respect to the German settlements in the Hill Country, and the demography of this part of Texas would be very different today.
Dr. Schubbert: A Controversial Figure
The people of Fredericksburg, as much as any other Texas town, are knowledgeable about and proud of their heritage. But when one mentions Dr. Schubbert, one is likely to hear a version of the following: "Dr. Schubbert, that swindler; we don't talk about him." How did Schubbert come to get such a reputation? How is it that on the town square in Fredericksburg, not one plaque or marker can be found commemorating Dr. Schubbert? Behind the reconstructed Vereinskirche, the symbol of Fredericksburg, and, ironically, a structure built originally on orders of Dr. Schubbert, one finds a bronze statue of Meusebach passing the pipe of peace to an Indian chief. One also finds a replica of an overshot mill wheel to acknowledge the assistance of the nearby Mormon settlement of Zodiac. But no mention is to be found of the man who served as colonial director during the most critical period of Fredericksburg's existence, 1846 and 1847. He is not acknowledged as part of the town's heritage; he is remembered only as a swindler.
An examination of original documents and letters from the period, however, paint quite a different picture: Dr. Schubbert had his detractors, but he also had many friends and a host of sympathetic supporters. Indeed, when word reached Fredericksburg in the summer of 1847 that Dr. Schubbert might be replaced, seventy-seven prominent citizens signed a letter to Dr. Schubbert expressing unqualified support and gratitude for his leadership. A quote from this letter is in order:
Our modesty prevents us, most honorable Sir, from listing all the services which you have rendered us in your short stay here. It was you who appeared among us to offer assistance when our need and suffering were at their greatest. You were the saving angel who through personal dedication and sacrifice restored life and health to many of us as well as our children. Through your boundless energy and ceaseless activity on our behalf, you procured the bare necessities of existence, which earlier, prior to your appearance, were so often woefully short or non-existent—in short, you were the one who restored hope in us that we might, despite all, have a secure future.
These are not the words of a community unified in dislike for their leader. When Schubbert was finally dismissed in August 1847, there was even fear of an open revolt on his behalf among the townspeople of Fredericksburg, so strong was his support and, concomitantly, so pronounced their antipathy to Meusebach. How, then, did the judgment against Dr. Schubbert come to be so rigidly one-sided in the contemporary public consciousness? First, Schubbert and Meusebach came to despise each other, and because there is a consensus that Meusebach was a great man, it follows that Dr. Schubbert must have been a scoundrel. Second, Dr. Schubbert was involved in a deadly shoot-out at Nassau Plantation in October 1847 after his dismissal as colonial director, which further discredited him. Third, and most importantly, when Fredericksburg celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1896, Robert Penninger, a local publisher, brought out a commemorative book of reminiscences by old pioneers. By luck or design, the men who contributed, especially Julius Splittgerber, were unified in their dislike of Dr. Schubbert. Nearly all subsequent articles and accounts of the doctor hark back to the Penninger book, while ignoring documents that give a more balanced interpretation. Thus, to use a wonderful German word, a Deutungshoheit—a sovereign interpretation—emerged to eclipse all others.
Schubbert contra Meusebach
The archivally substantiated facts about the Schubbert/Meusebach dispute are as follows: On January 1, 1847, a major disturbance took place in New Braunfels. A mob marched on the Sophienburg, the official compound of the Adelsverein, where Meusebach was staying. Fifty or so men gathered outside and talk of violence was directed at the commissioner-general. Rumors that the settlers would not receive title or access to the 320 acres of land promised to each head of household had fueled the ugly mood of the crowd. Meusebach confronted the mob and defused the situation. The following day Meusebach departed on an expedition to explore the grant north of the Llano River and make contact with the Comanche Indians.
Meusebach seems to have held Schubbert partially responsible for the uprising in New Braunfels and for otherwise undermining his authority. Among other infractions, Schubbert had mounted his own foray into the grant area in December 1846, a month before Meusebach's expedition. His party returned without ever crossing the Llano River into the grant or accomplishing anything noteworthy. Upon returning to Fredericksburg, Schubbert reportedly claimed that there were up to forty thousand hostile Comanches in the area. This rumor, apparently, fueled the mob's anger in New Braunfels, for, if true, any realistic program of settlement in the grant area would be rendered unfeasible and the 320 acres promised, even if granted, would be worthless.
The novel Friedrichsburg throws light on this controversy. In one scene, Dr. Schubbert explains to his companions his case for scrapping in total the plans for settlements in the Fischer-Miller grant. Instead, he argues, it makes more sense as a first priority to buy and fill in the fertile river valleys and other arable lands between New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. He suggests a series of interlocking settlements between the two places that could quickly be summoned to one another's mutual defense if attacked by hostile Indians. Dr. Schubbert continues that he tried to persuade the Direktion in New Braunfels (i.e., Meusebach) to adopt this stance, but to no avail. Meusebach made had made it clear that he was dead set against this approach because in addition to being expensive it would undermine his determination to satisfy the terms of the Fischer-Miller land grant contract.
Thus the novel confirms what Meusebach wrote at the time: that Dr. Schubbert opposed his program and authority. In hindsight, Schubbert's position appears to represent a rational approach to the altered circumstances and the real dangers facing the German settlers. It must be said, also, that what Schubbert called for is largely what happened: on their own initiative, German immigrants settled the fertile creek and river valleys between New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, making this region, rather than the Fischer-Miller grant proper, the concentrated center of German settlement in the Hill Country.
In fairness to Meusebach, failure to survey and settle the territory in the Fischer-Miller grant would have nullified the terms of the land grant contract. The result: the Adelsverein would have relinquished its claim to hundreds of thousands of acres of bonus lands and broken faith with the promise it had made to the emigrants. Because of Meusebach's stubborn determination, over 4,200 settlers eventually did receive certificates to land in the counties that made up the Fischer-Miller grant, though only a limited number actually chose to settle there.
Meusebach's displeasure led to further accusations. Prior to dismissing Schubbert from his post in Fredericksburg, Meusebach charged him with extravagant use of supplies he had purchased and deficiencies in the accounting of their use. He also intimated that Dr. Schubbert had profited personally from the sale of alcoholic spirits, which he had shipped in at the Adelsverein's expense, in generous quantities.
In a long letter of defense, Schubbert answered both these charges convincingly. Yes, he conceded, he had sold the Adelsverein's liquor provisions, but only to Americans who were passing through; and with the profit from these sales, he had bought badly needed medicines and other provisions for the colonists in Fredericksburg, which, according to Schubbert, Meusebach had withheld even after an epidemic broke out.
Meusebach was also opposed to the communal approach that Dr. Schubbert initiated. He argued that it made the settlers too reliant on one another and on the Adelsverein. The settlers needed to wean themselves from dependency on Obrigkeit [authority] and become more like the Anglo pioneers, self-sufficient and independently resourceful. It was also very expensive. Schubbert countered that material support was the least the Adelsverein could do considering that the settlers had yet to receive their promised land in the grant area.
Meusebach had also criticized the communal church, the Vereinskirche, which Dr. Schubbert ordered built in the spring of 1847, although he appears to have acquiesced to its construction. As many intellectuals in Germany were at the time (and as quite a few transplanted intellectuals on the Texas frontier continued to be), Meusebach was an unapologetic Freidenker, or freethinker. Meusebach claimed that the Vereinskirche violated the principle of separation of church and state, and that Schubbert had exceeded his authority by ordering it to be constructed at Verein expense. Dr. Schubbert, on the other hand, took offense at what he perceived as Meusebach's atheism, as did many others at the time. Near the end of Friedrichsburg, Schubbert provides a vivid and moving description of the laying of the cornerstone of the communal church. His depiction of this event, resplendent with ceremony and dedication speeches, conveys the role of the church in filling a glaring void in the communal life of the town.
Dr. Schubbert Dismissed
Dr. Schubbert's letter of defense, cited above, was the last straw for Meusebach. On July 12, 1847, he replied tersely to Schubbert that he was "either incapable of understanding the orders given to [him] or unwilling to follow them," that his "actions and words amount[ed] to insubordination," and that it was "not [his] role to lecture [his] superiors, but rather to follow their instructions." Meusebach informed Schubbert that he henceforth was relieved of all duties and he was to be replaced by the accountant von Coll.
Sometime in the summer of 1847, Meusebach also discovered Dr. Schubbert's true identity. This misrepresentation was for Meusebach "unredlich," a grave and unpardonable moral defect. Meusebach resigned in August 1847, but his last official act was to fire Dr. Schubbert as colonial director of Fredericksburg and to revoke the lease on Nassau Plantation, which he had originally offered under very favorable terms as inducement for Dr. Schubbert to become colonial director of Fredericksburg.
This turn of events set the stage for one of the most sordid affairs connected with the Adelsverein in Texas, and a situation that helped to further discredit Dr. Schubbert (henceforth Strubberg). In the fall of 1847, Strubberg was involved in a gun battle in which two men were killed at the Adelverein's plantation in northern Fayette County. Because the event had such dire consequences for the Adelsverein, financial and otherwise, the episode came to be termed Die Katastrophe [the catastrophe] by the officials of the Adelsverein in their reports.
Strubberg was convinced that Meusebach was behind the whole episode. The following year, he wrote Meusebach a parting letter from New Orleans, extraordinarily frank and aggressive in tone, wherein he defended himself against the charges that had led to his dismissal, and he challenged the abrogation of his lease to Nassau Plantation that had provoked the shoot-out. He also leveled some serious charges against Meusebach. He stated that nothing but jealousy had been behind Meusebach's hostility; that he, unlike Meusebach, was a man of numerous talents, greater energy, and of an engaging and sympathetic nature, all of which had rendered him more effective as a leader. His most damning charge was that the shoot-out at Nassau was in reality a planned assassination (Meuchelmord), which had been conceived and orchestrated by Meusebach behind the scenes. As a final insult, Strubberg averred that he had researched their respective family backgrounds and had discovered that Meusebach's ancestors once were servants to his family. Strubberg closed by saying that their paths were destined to cross again, at which time Meusebach would receive his just desserts.
Happily, their paths did not cross again, but Strubberg did take a civilized revenge: in Friedrichsburg he expunged Meusebach from the story, as if he had never existed.
Strubberg after 1847
The shoot-out at Nassau Plantation resulted in a flood of litigation that clogged two terms of the district court in Fayette County. Strubberg eventually received a sizeable settlement from the Adelsverein, by one account $3,000, as part of an overall deal in which each party agreed to drop his civil suit against the other. According to one of his biographers, Strubberg then moved to Arkansas, where he resumed his profession as a medical doctor. He is said to have become engaged to the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, but, once again, an accident occurred that altered the course of his life. He was stung in the left eye by an insect, and the wound refused to heal.
By this account, in 1854 Strubberg broke off the engagement and decided to return to Europe in the hope of finding relief from his malady. He was never successful in fully restoring the eye, and consequently often appeared with a patch over it.
Strubberg eventually moved in with a spinster sister who still lived in Kassel. He was in the habit of spending part of each day at a local coffeehouse in the Hotel Schombardt. Here, he entertained acquaintances and strangers alike with tales of adventures on the Texas frontier. According to Preston Barba:
Dr. Strubberg, with his remarkable tales of adventures, ever new, varied and endless, never wanted for an attentive circle of listeners. Oberststallmeister [master equerry] von Eschwege one day asked Strubberg to put his adventures into literary form, so that they could be circulated among his friends as a memorial of the many pleasant hours which had been afforded them.
Strubberg took his advice and, with the assistance of his sister, produced his first manuscript, which he offered to a publisher. In 1858, his first novel appeared, Amerikanische Jagd-und Reiseabenteuer [American Hunting and Travel Adventures].
Thus Strubberg embarked on a new phase in his life as an author of adventure novels based on both firsthand experience and hearsay from his years in the United States and on the Texas frontier. He was remarkably productive. In the next ten years he penned over forty volumes, about half of which related to the Texas frontier. A bibliography of his first editions has been provided as an appendix to give a sense of the scope and thematic focus of his oeuvre. His literary output gained for him a certain prominence during his lifetime and provided a comfortable living. Preston Barba summed up Strubberg's literary career as follows:
Strubberg occupies a unique position in the history of German letters. He was led to a literary career by the merest accident, but for the intervention of which he might have ended his days as a planter in Arkansas. Far from being a literary man, not even widely read in his own literature, much less in a foreign, we see him publishing his first book in his fifty-second year. Influenced by no literary tendency, a member of no literary school, he wrote, so to speak, "frei von der Leber." . . . He sought to express what he had seen, heard, and experienced in a simple, straightforward manner. There are but few literary allusions and little conformity to the ascribed forms of art.
The novel Friedrichsburg was published in 1867, toward the end of Strubberg's career as an author. It is arguably his best novel. The earlier works suffer from being overly episodic and much too long, with little sense of balance and flow in plot structure. In Friedrichsburg, however, Strubberg has constructed a good love story, albeit one mirroring the elevated discourse and sensibilities of nineteenth-century popular literature.
You sweet, you heavenly creature, how should I, how could I ever thank you for your love that blesses every hour, every minute of my life!" exclaimed the young man as he pressed the maid to his heart. "With your love, Rudolph, you put me in your debt," answered Ludwina as they walked into the entrance of the alcove, arm in arm. (1:12)
Yet, consistently, Strubberg depicts the natural landscape of Central Texas in a way that can still be recognized today. The degree of detail, the deep appreciation for natural beauty, and the narrative itself convey the atmosphere and experience of the Texas frontier:
A deathly silence lay upon the countryside; only the crash of the waves cascading over mighty boulders below the ford and the distant howls of a pack of wolves celebrating a kill interrupted the sacred serenity of the night. The darkness had lessened and a man could make out the slender trunks of the towering pecan trees along the banks, through whose crowns, inclining over the river, the stars shone down into the dark torrent with a reflection of a thousand lights. (1:6)
Despite the tendency toward elegiac raptures, as typified in this passage, anyone who has experienced isolated countryside near or in a place like Enchanted Rock by night can appreciate the veracity of Strubberg's observations about the impact of this landscape on the viewer.
Friedrichsburg: Separating Fact from Fiction
From the first pages of the novel, the reader is confronted with an admixture of truth and fantasy. Rudolph von Wildhorst and Ludwina Nimanski are almost certainly Strubberg's literary creations, but their sentimental love story plays out against the actual founding of Fredericksburg and the impending peace treaty between the German settlers and Comanche Indians, who had called the area on the upper reaches of the Pedernales, Llano, and San Saba Rivers their winter home for as far back as their wise men could recall.
As has already been indicated, a startling omission occurs throughout the novel. The man who had engaged Strubberg to be the colonial director of Friedrichsburg, the man whose bold initiative led to the historic treaty with the Comanches, John Meusebach, commissioner-general of the Adelsverein in Texas, is not mentioned at any point in the book.
In the case of the Delaware chief Youngbear, most likely based on the historical Jim Shaw (his English name), the reader encounters the opposite problem: Strubberg elevates and amplifies Shaw's persona beyond anything that is historically verifiable. Youngbear becomes a hero of the novel, even surpassing the role of the young German hero, Rudolph von Wildhorst, with whom he becomes a blood brother. In the end, after a botched shot by Rudolph, Youngbear's well-placed shot saves Ludwina from the murderous intentions of the villainous Kateumsi. In the final scene of the book, Youngbear is allowed to have the dance of honor at the wedding celebration of Rudolph and Ludwina, a remarkably suggestive and taboo-breaking scene.
In Kateumsi, Strubberg develops the most complex character of the novel, and here he blends fact and fiction in a startling way. Kateumsi, an important historical war chief of the Penateka (Southern) Comanches, is portrayed in the novel as a die-hard renegade who refuses to sign the peace treaty. Corroboration for this depiction can be found in newspaper accounts of the period, where Kateumsi is portrayed as wily and treacherous. At a later stage, however, the historical Kateumsi apparently became a voice of restraint and moderation in his tribe, counseling reconciliation and even taking up residence in a house on a reservation.
Although Kateumsi is cast as a villain, Strubberg provides him with several moving speeches that suggest the author's sympathy for the existential plight of American Indians and his recognition of the unjust treatment they had received, as in this passage:
Like the raging grey bear, who kills and dismembers solely from bloodlust, so have the palefaces driven the red children from the shores of the Big Water and exterminated entire tribes, and now they are seeking them out in these far-removed mountains in order to trick them into venturing out where, defenseless, they can be killed. (1:62)
Strubberg acknowledges the truth in Kateumsi's words, but counters his accusations with a question:
Was this part of the world created for the sole purpose that a small number of original inhabitants could wander over the countryside hunting in perpetuity? (1:158)
The tension between these two points of view is never resolved, and it functions as the dramatic mainspring of the novel.
Strubberg as Colonial Director and Everyday Life in Fredericksburg
One of the more entertaining and significant aspects of the novel is the portrayal of the everyday life of the citizens of Fredericksburg and the interaction of Strubberg as "Direktor Schubbert" with the settlers and the other officials of the Verein during the foundation year. These descriptions offer a glimpse into Strubberg's leadership style, into the authority he exercised, and into the enormity of the responsibility on his shoulders. They also provide insight into the energetic and creative solutions he often initiated.
Some of the many corroborated events that Strubberg depicted include the strange case of the parsimonious Herr Küster from Frankfurt, "who died from his own miserliness," the layout of the Verein compound in Fredericksburg and the organization of its bureaucracy, the communal cornfield, slaughterhouse, the magazine, the laying of the cornerstone of the Vereinskirche, the Sunday afternoon dances, the surveying of a new road to Austin, the successful treatment of snakebite using Indian remedies, trade with the Delaware and Shawnee Indians for venison and bear oil, treatment of scurvy through the gathering of native plants, the story of how Chief Old Owl fled the town in a panic because of a bad dream, festivities attendant to the signing of the peace treaty in 1847, and the important symbiotic relationship that developed between the citizens of Fredericksburg and the nearby Mormon community of Zodiac.
The Ethnographic Component
Strubberg stated in the preface to his novel that one of the purposes of the book was to offer real pictures of the American Indians he had encountered. True to this intent, Friedrichsburg offers detailed and exquisite descriptions of costumes, habits, and ceremonies of various tribes of frontier Texas Indians. Strubberg takes pains to draw contrasts between the various tribes. The first description the reader encounters is of the Delaware and Shawnee tribes, two bands of displaced or so-called immigrant tribes who had allied themselves with Anglo settlers. The grand entrance of the Comanche chiefs into Fredericksburg for the signing of the treaty is a marvelous and touching scene, the descriptive high point of the novel.
Strubberg's Place in German Literature about Texas
In the nineteenth century, literally scores of books, pamphlets, and reports were published in Germany about Texas—an extraordinary and largely forgotten output. These were by a wide margin nonfiction travelogues and firsthand reports designed to quench an almost insatiable thirst for facts and figures by those contemplating emigration to Texas. This output began with Detlev Dunt's important little book, Reise nach Texas [Journey to Texas] (1835), and reached its highpoint in 1848, when there was a steady increase in production of nonfictional works that parallels the curve of German emigration to Texas under the auspices of the Adelsverein. After 1848, the number of nonliterary works written in German about Texas fell off rather dramatically.
Two important books, however, stand apart from this trend and deserve mention. In 1841, Charles Sealsfield (Karl Postl) published Das Kajütenbuch oder nationale Charakteristiken [The Cabin Book or National Characteristics]. This work went through many editions and is still in print today. Controversy raged from that day until this as to where to place this book in German literature. Sealsfield, unlike Strubberg, was consciously literary and claimed to have invented a new type of novel, a kind of psychological work. In the book, as the title suggests, Sealsfield offers insights into those characteristics that enabled the Anglo settlers in Texas to successfully revolt and secede from Mexico, a country with a population twenty times their number.
The other noteworthy work is a memoir by Herman Ehrenberg that was published in 1843 under the title Texas und seine Revolution [Texas and Its Revolution]. The book found a large audience in Germany and enjoyed several reprints under different titles. As a young man and fresh immigrant from Germany, Ehrenberg joined the New Orleans Greys in 1835 and marched with the volunteers across Texas to help the Texans in their revolt against Mexico. He participated in the Battle of Bexar (December 1835) and subsequently was among the handful to escape the Goliad massacre. Ehrenberg emerges as an extraordinary Glückskind [darling of fortune] who escapes one hair-raising adventure after another, always with an infectious joie de vivre. His powers of description are formidable, not only of battle scenes and individuals but also of the charming natural landscapes he encounters on his travels through Texas.
Ehrenberg's memoir has garnered a tremendous amount of attention, not only as an entertaining historical document but also for the controversies it has generated in its own right. The prevailing interpretation of Sam Houston during the so-called Runaway Scrape rests heavily on an early translation of Ehrenberg, which, it turns out, is fundamentally flawed.
Strubberg's work differs from that of both of these other men. Unlike Karl Postl, Strubberg was an eyewitness to the history he wrote about, thus offering an element of authenticity absent in Das Kajütenbuch. And by weaving a fictitious love story into his personal story, Strubberg's Friedrichsburg offers a melodramatic quality missing in Ehrenberg.
After 1858, Strubberg's Texas novels began to edge out Reiseführer [travelogues] and other nonfictional writings as the works most published in Germany about Texas. This clearly represents a shift in the public's appetite from factual curiosity about Texas as a possible destination for emigration to a new awareness of Texas as a mythical landscape where America's heroes on the frontier become Germany's heroes. In this, Strubberg clearly points the way toward the new genre of Abenteuerliteratur [exotic literature], which was in its infancy in the 1850s and 1860s. The genre developed an enormous popularity among the German public that continues to the present day. Many scholars now see in Strubberg a direct precursor to Karl May, the author of the wildly successful Winnetou/Old Shatterhand novels that appeared in the 1880s and 1890s and the author who represents the most admired exponent of the genre. Jeffrey Sammons, for example, wrote the following in his influential Ideology, Mimesis, Fantasy: Charles Sealsfield, Karl May, and Other German Novelists of America:
Strubberg … reminds us forcibly of Karl May, who undoubtedly drew extensively from him … Strubberg is a kind of proto-Karl May, the predecessor who resembles the later writer most.
A thorough comparison between Strubberg and May could be a study in itself, and is well beyond the scope of this discussion. For present purposes, it should be noted that despite obvious similarities, substantial differences also exist between the two authors. Strubberg, unlike Karl May, remains thoroughly grounded in reality. Karl May amplifies his heroes to superhuman status; Strubberg does not. Rather than concentrating on one or two superheroes, Strubberg offers a whole range of heroes: German settlers, Indians, women, and even entire communities, and they always remain recognizable as human. Karl May offers his readers a mythical landscape; Strubberg portrays his landscapes accurately, intimately, and with a painter's eye for detail, for he was an accomplished amateur artist as well. In short, Karl May imagined the American West; Strubberg experienced it. In conjunction with this point, Preston Barba sums up the importance of Friedrichsburg as follows:
Strubberg has never received due recognition for having given to the world the most faithful account of the German colonies, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. Though these accounts are in literary form, a comparison with later histories will show how conscientiously the author endeavored to give historical accuracy to his work. In Friedrichsburg the author has devoted himself in particular to that colony in whose early history he himself played no unimportant role as colonial-director.
To this assessment, I would add that Friedrichsburg bears up well as the literary equivalent to the work of three well-known German artists of the Texas frontier: Richard Petri, Hermann Lungkwitz, and Theodor Gentri. These men have provided posterity with a marvelous visual record of early Hill Country landscapes and of the German settlements. These artists came out of the tradition of Northern Romantic landscape painting, yet their work is surprisingly faithful to the subjects they portrayed.
My research in the long-neglected and underutilized reports of the Solms-Braunfels Archives, as well as in contemporary newspaper reports of the period, largely corroborate what Strubberg asserts in his preface, namely that most of the episodes portrayed in the novel, aside from the abduction and subsequent rescue of the heroine Ludwina, are rooted in factual occurrences. On the other hand, in Friedrichsburg, readers come away with a picture of the town as it should have been rather than the way it was. The same might be said of the author's depiction of himself.
Strubberg/Schubbert emerges from these pages as someone whose leadership qualities always shine forth; as a great father figure, universally beloved and respected by those in his charge; as a leader sympathetic but resolute in all his decisions; as a man whose mental alertness and physical prowess make him equal to any challenge he encounters on the Texas frontier; and as a man whose European sensibilities lift him above the narrow prejudices he encounters in Texas and make him an admirer and friend of the American Indians, a man who recognizes their humanity and sees value in their way of life even as he acknowledges, regretfully, that it appears doomed to disappear in the face of advancing "civilization."
In truth, Strubberg/Schubbert was not the paragon depicted in the novel, but neither was he a complete scoundrel whose memory should be expunged from public consciousness. Narcissistic, yes; undermining of Meusebach's authority, probably. Arguably, though, without Strubberg's leadership in those first two years, Fredericksburg might not have survived.
In post-unified Germany, Strubberg has recently enjoyed a mini-revival. His collected works are being reissued, and in 2008 he was the subject of a radio reading by Michael Quast. None of Strubberg's Texas stories, however, have ever been translated into English. Thus, Strubberg's works have remained largely inaccessible to the communities whose legacy they bring vividly to life. My hope is that this annotated English version of Friedrichsburg will enhance our understanding and appreciation of this legacy even as it offers the reader an entertaining adventure and love story.