The first English translation of the earliest German book about Texas, Journey to Texas, 1833 offers a unique portrait of colonial Texas on the eve of revolution and of the nascent German communities in Austin’s Colony.
In 1834, a German immigrant to Texas, D. T. F. (Detlef Thomas Friedrich) Jordt, aka Detlef Dunt, published Reise nach Texas, a delightful little book that praised Texas as “a land which puts riches in [the immigrant’s] lap, which can bring happiness to thousands and to their descendants.” Dunt’s volume was the first one written by an on-the-ground observer to encourage German immigration to Texas, and it provides an unparalleled portrait of Austin’s Colony from the lower Brazos region and San Felipe to the Industry and Frelsburg areas, where Dunt resided with Friedrich Ernst and his family.
Journey to Texas, 1833 offers the first English translation of Reise nach Texas. It brings to vivid life the personalities, scenic landscapes, and customs that Dunt encountered in colonial Texas on the eve of revolution, along with his many practical suggestions for Germans who intended to emigrate. The editors’ introduction describes the social, political, and economic conditions that prompted Europeans to emigrate to Texas and provides biographical background on Dunt and his connection with Friedrich Ernst. Also included in the volume are a bibliography of German works about Texas and an interpretive essay discussing all of the early German literature about Texas and Dunt’s place within it. Expanding our knowledge of German immigration to Texas beyond the more fully documented Hill Country communities, Journey to Texas, 1833 also adds an important chapter to the story of pre-Revolutionary Texas by a sophisticated commentator.
An Introduction (James C. Kearney and Geir Bentzen)
Journey to Texas, including Information about This Country, for Germans Intending to Go to America (Detlef Dunt, translated by Anders Saustrup)
Departure from Oldenburg for New York by way of Bremerhaven, with Pertinent Observations. Report of a Letter from an Oldenburg Man in Texas. Description of New York, etc.
Departure from New York for New Orleans. Description of This City. Observation on the Most Essential Needs of the Colonist in Texas.
Travel from New Orleans to Brazoria in Texas. Staying There and at Varner’s Creek; Departure for San Felipe and Mill Creek. Observations Concerning These Localities.
Further Observations Concerning Texas. Report on the Most Essential Parts of the Colonization Law and the Constitutional Acts.
Some Observations Concerning the Quality of the Soil and the Procedures Followed in Agriculture and Horticulture.
The Author’s Return Trip to Germany.
Appendix 1: Louise Ernst Stöhr (Anders Saustrup)
Appendix 2: Caroline Ernst von Hinueber (Anders Saustrup)
Appendix 3: Wolters-Achenbach (Anders Saustrup)
Appendix 4: Nomenclature of Measures, Weights, Currency, and Other Terms of Designation (Anders Saustrup)
Early German Literature about Texas and Detlef Dunt’s Place in It: A Bibliographical Essay (James C. Kearney)
Chronological Bibliography of Nineteenth-Century German Works That Discuss or Mention Texas (James C. Kearney)
James C. Kearney and Geir Bentzen
The story of Detlef Dunt’s voyage to Texas in 1833–1834 is much more than a travelogue. First published in Germany after Dunt returned there in 1834, the book is a multigenerational story of paced immigration and settlement, of acquiring land, of organizing a society with institutions, and of giving the ultimate sacrifice for the land and people in the Civil War. It is also the story of the Jordt family in Colorado County, Texas.
We have been working to publish this translation from German to English since 2010. Anders Saustrup made the translation sometime in the 1990s; at least that is what we believe. The typewritten manuscript lingered unpublished in Saustrup’s home and was found there by Bill Stein of the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus after Saustrup had passed away in 2008. Stein contacted James C. Kearney about working on the manuscript, but soon after Stein also passed.
The name of Detlef Dunt is forever connected to this first German book about Texas. The problem with Dunt has always been that we knew little about him, and understood little of what drove him to Texas and back to Germany several times. Dunt read at least one letter by an earlier German settler, Friedrich Ernst, who arrived in present-day Industry in 1832 and wrote letters to friends back home about the opportunities and easy lifestyle awaiting them in Texas. In doing so, Ernst became part of an epistolary pattern that lured settlers across the Atlantic for several decades. Not long after reading Ernst’s letter, Dunt decided to go to Texas and see it for himself. How could he do that while planning to return to his homeland? It was entirely too expensive for most people to cross and recross the ocean to inspect the New World. The common immigrant sold what little he and his family owned and made the voyage without any possible return in mind. And Dunt considered himself a common man—a conceit that Saustrup accepted, describing Dunt in this way:
What [Detlef Dunt] thought and knew in advance about America—a common term abroad for the United States—we do not know.
Detlef Dunt would not have hesitated to call himself a common man, and did so, only using different words. More than just a common man, he was also a common denominator of
sorts, representing circumstances shared by many, who, however, did not have his articulate ability to write about them. For latter-day readers, it is felicitous that his book has such qualities rather than being intensely individualistic. To us, he is virtually anonymous as well, so we may say, in the words of Thomas Mann, that we want to tell his story not for his sake, but for the sake of the story. It is his very commonness that makes him so uncommon.
We know more now about Detlef Dunt and his circumstances than was known when Anders Saustrup wrote the text quoted above. Although Saustrup accepts Dunt’s self-description, the book and the voyages tell us that Dunt could hardly have been so common after all. He was resourceful, educated, knowledgeable, and a fast and observant learner. He also had enough money to put his life in Germany aside long enough to investigate Ernst’s claims before returning to his home and family.
In real life Detlef Dunt was named Detlef Thomas Friedrich Jordt. He was born in Lütjenburg in eastern Holstein on May 7, 1793. For centuries Holstein had been a divided political landscape dominated by dukes of the Danish royal family. In Jordt’s time the area was united under the Danish king, who also carried the title of Duke of Holstein. This simple arrangement was a recent development; in earlier times the area had been subdivided among the family members. The languages spoken would have been Low German dialects related to High German, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages. Some people may have used Danish or Swedish. The area is in the far north of present-day Germany and borders on both the Baltic and the North Sea coasts. Trade had long been a main source of wealth. The ancient trade route from the north went via Haithabu on the east coast across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast and into the English Channel. Trade routes can easily be understood by the old rule: water ties together, land divides. Othere, a Norwegian trader who came all the way from northern Norway to the court of King Alfred of Wessex in the 880s, provided an early report on Haithabu, remarking that he had been to the White Sea in the far north of present Russia and had passed by Haithabu on his way to England. He knew who lived in the area: “[. . .] this stands between the Wends and the Saxons and the Angles, and belongs to the Danes.” He also mentioned that the “Angles dwelt in those lands before they came here to this country” [England].
The location is at the narrowest and lowest-lying point of land between the Baltic and the North Sea. In general the area was and still is a meeting place for traders and travelers, a place where two oceans and several large rivers meet and make heavy transportation possible. The opportunities for trade must have been vastly superior to most other areas of Europe. The mental outlook of a person growing up in this area was very different from that of someone from a quiet agricultural area with few strangers and without the commercial activity that characterized Holstein. Traveling far and wide was normal; it was part of the local culture.
Jordt is thought to have been the son of a Kaufmann, which in German can mean a store owner or any other sort of businessman, large or small, rich or poor. His father may have been Matthias Jordt, mayor of Lütjenburg from 1785 to 1800. Matthias Jordt had also been the city administrator, and he administered a number of properties around the city owned by nobles. The two Jordt families in the area are both thought to have come from Copenhagen in Denmark. Matthias Jordt was married to Johanna Christiane, born von Dundten. She was the daughter of a Danish officer, Gerhardt Hinrich von Dundten. The name was sometimes shortened to Dundt. Their son got his simplified Detlef Dunt pseudonym from his mother’s side. His father died in 1801 and his mother in 1807. Both his father and his maternal grandfather had been Schützenkönig, or rifle shooting champion, in their hometown. The yearly competition and festivities are important social events in Germany to this day. His grandfather won in 1767 and his father in 1785. One of the four sides of a pyramid decoration built for the festivities of 1785 was not in German, but more in Danish: “Wi synge, onßka bröderlich—Gid Himmeln vel singe dig!” (We sing, wish brotherly—May the Heavens bless you!).
Detlef Jordt married Dorothea Heeder, from the duchy of Oldenburg, in 1819. He applied for a permit to settle in the city of Oldenburg in 1827, which he received only after his father-in-law and brother-in-law guaranteed that he would not be a burden to society. The Jordt family already had three children at this time, with their fourth soon to follow. According to historian Walter Struve, the family settled in the Berne/Wesermarsch area (Wesermarsch means the marsh or wet bottomland by the river Weser) to be close to the in-laws.
Little is known about this period in Jordt’s life. In his book he provides one comment on the area when he describes setting out on his voyage to Texas aboard the bark Leontine: “For quite some time we could still see the Oldenburg coastline and the churches of Burhave and Langwarden. I cannot express what feelings overcame me seeing this. I had previously lived for two years in the first-mentioned church village, and so many memories of pleasures enjoyed there, as well as bitter pain, unintentionally became associated with the view of that coast and that church tower.”
We know nothing else about his time in Burhave on the North Sea coast northwest of Bremerhaven, but we may speculate a bit about the bitter pain he mentions. In the early 1800s a type of malaria called the cold fever raged in Burhave. The average life expectancy fell to less than thirty years. The town’s inhabitants were also forced to work for the French occupiers during the Napoleonic wars. On February 3 and 4, 1825, an enormous storm flood hit the area. The flood marks reached more than seventeen feet above normal sea level. Large areas of land that had been pumped dry and protected by dikes in the years after the large flood of 1717 reverted to wetlands again and much coastal land was lost. By 1826 most land in Holstein had been mortgaged to pay the extra taxes imposed to rebuild the destroyed dikes. If Jordt experienced this disaster in coastal Burhave, then he would have had much to be bitter about. Memorials to the approximately eight hundred flood victims were later erected in many of the local churches. A tradition of emigration is supposed to have started with the flood in certain districts of Holstein northeast of Burhave, and it was not limited to the coast only. Historian Paul-Heinz Pauseback wrote, “More and more people waited for an opportunity to leave the land.”
Jordt makes a point of calling himself a common man from the very beginning of his book, writing that he “belongs to that class of people in society for whom overpopulation made advancement in his fatherland too difficult.” The theme of overpopulation is well known from this time; one contemporary was the dire English prognosticator Thomas Robert Malthus. The population of Oldenburg city did not exhibit rapid growth until after the Napoleonic wars: its population in 1816 is given as 6,278, which increased to more than 9,400 in 1821, but the population was actually higher in 1769 than in 1816. It continued to grow and passed 15,000 in 1848. Nevertheless, we do find traces of the problems caused by a slow-developing agricultural economy and the population increase outside of the city.
In the 1830s the government of the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg became concerned about the exodus to America. On July 11, 1834, the local authorities of Damme, south of the town of Oldenburg, were asked to report the number of persons who had emigrated since January 1, 1833, how much they had taken with them in valuables, and how many had returned or changed their minds before their ship left. The government also wanted to hear proposals for limiting emigration, and in the case of Damme to know why the number leaving the district was so high. The authorities of Damme emphasized three causes in their answer of July 31. The first was the disproportionate number of propertyless land tenants to landowners. All the land was owned by a few classes of people, and it was not being divided up. Since the class of land tenants was increasing rapidly, the contracts they had to endure were becoming more oppressive. Their situation was very insecure as they were competing for tenant contracts. The tenant could be hardworking and diligent, but he still was dependent on the landowner. Inappropriate services were demanded, and after working hard to improve bad land, he still risked being driven off and having to start all over in a new place. Under such circumstances, with no possibility of attaining their own land and no possessions to tie them down, many tenants decided to leave for other parts of the world where they might live a happier life. Second, there were fewer sources of work for the lower classes than before. This was especially true in Holland, where many had once gone to find work, often on fishing boats or in the merchant fleet. Many people unable to find work in Holland returned even poorer than when they had left. Third, many in the area already had friends and family in America. They received invitations from overseas with exaggerated claims about the conditions. Those who said something negative about America were even accused of lying.
These were clear and insightful answers to the authorities’ inquiries, and they are supported by modern research. Some years earlier, in 1817, 89.6 percent of those asked why they were emigrating from another German area answered that loss of property and valuables, lack of income opportunity, and hopes for a better life were motivating factors. These concerns affected not only children of the poor but also those of the landowners, who had nothing to offer their younger children other than to become tenants at the family property while the oldest brother took over the undivided property ownership. Sons and daughters of the landowners were effectively declassed. America offered new opportunities, and those from landowning or business families had a better chance of raising the money for the journey than did the very poor. The situation was almost the opposite of what we are used to today; having money could not create a secure life locally, since the economy was heavily tilted toward land ownership. And money in most cases could not buy land; land was inherited by the oldest son. What money could do was to pay for a ticket out.
The situation was not better for those having a trade. With the generally depressed economy, there was little work to be had, and many tradesmen had to resort to tenant farming or try to get by in other ways.
The people living in Danish lands, as Jordt did until 1827, suffered extra taxes after the Danish state went bankrupt in 1813 under the pressure of the Napoleonic wars. The old currency was made worthless and an extra tax of 6 percent was levied on all property to pay for currency reform. There were no functioning banks left in Holstein. The result was a deep recession in which many farmers lost their land, eventually auctioning it off to pay taxes. The Danish government abandoned the unpopular currency reform in 1841 and went back to the old currency, but the price of the reform effort had been high, especially for the German part of the population. The Germans had paid higher taxes because the Danish state gave Danish speakers preferential treatment in an attempt to foster national identity.
It should not be a surprise that Jordt did not do well in Holstein under the circumstances just described. He may have spent some of his time in the large Oldenburg library, because he claims that he had
already read much about America, and for a long time the desire had been stirring in him [Jordt was writing about himself in the third person] to try his luck in that country as soon as possible, since almost all letters from earlier emigrants sounded favorable. However, he did not want simply to take his chances in so important an undertaking; on the contrary, his most fervent wish was that one of his closer acquaintances might settle there and that, for the time being, he could go there by himself and be instructed about everything he needed to know. Then, if the new country agreed with his desires, he would have his family follow. Fortune had not yet granted the author his wish, when the following letter [a letter from Friedrich Ernst at Mill Creek] arrived; and though he did not know the writer personally, he did hear enough from closer acquaintances and personal friends to recommend the man.
One may wonder about these personal references of Ernst’s, since he was accused of embezzling money from the post office by the Grand Duke of Oldenburg, but perhaps the locals knew something at that time that we do not know today. Ernst had worked for the duke as a gardener and a postal clerk. The duke died in 1829, the same year Ernst took his family and ran. The accusation may have had something to do with a new administrator taking over and conflicts arising from his reorganizations. We should take note that Ernst kept his status among people in Oldenburg. Visitors from German lands continued to write to Ernst for help and hospitality for as long as he lived.
When Jordt left Oldenburg he may have used parts of the new chaussee road between it and Bremen and taken a ferry from Brake to the new Bremen harbor close to the sea, called Bremerhaven. The opening of this harbor in 1830 and the new roads being built made it much faster and easier for emigrants from northern Germany to get to the coast and board the ships. Ship departures often took time. After Jordt boarded the Leontine, the ship stayed in harbor for four more weeks, leaving Bremerhaven on Christmas Eve of 1832. The voyage across the Atlantic took almost nine weeks.
After arriving in New York on February 22, 1833, Jordt traveled on to New Orleans, which he reached on March 20. He left that city on April 22, but it is not quite clear when he arrived in Texas. After a slow journey up the Brazos River, Jordt finally reached Bell’s Landing. Counting the approximate days Jordt refers to in his narrative gives an arrival date of around May 20. But the actual date must have been ten to fifteen days earlier, given that he stayed at Martin Varner’s settlement, where the Varner-Hogg State Historical Park is today, for three weeks and it was still May when he left. His arrival date cannot have been later than May 10, 1833. The riverboat could not get any farther upriver, so Jordt and another traveler acquired a small boat and set out for Varner’s settlement. Jordt was a keen observer of nature, clearly in the romantic tradition of his age. He describes the beautiful evening and the not-sobeautiful mosquitoes at night, leading to a happy arrival at Varner’s and the invitation to share breakfast. He stayed there while waiting for the roads to dry up and for a cold fever to let go. The cold fever, like the one that hit Burhave, may have been a malaria attack after experiencing the mosquitoes of the lower Brazos River. Jordt does not mention it, but we know that the roads were more than just wet. This was the time of the infamous 1833 flood and cholera epidemic. Jordt may have avoided the cholera by leaving the lower Brazos area in time and sitting it out in the remote Mill Creek settlement. He may not have wanted to tell his fellow Germans about the flood, since many in northern Germany were still reeling from their own flood of 1825. Like many Germans after him, Jordt did not fall in love with the lower Brazos region. He considered it unhealthy.
Starting out from Varner’s to San Felipe, Jordt noticed the flatness of the prairie and the many ripe blackberries. He recorded that it was still May, much too early in the year for blackberries in Germany. Jordt’s penchant for detail is a great advantage to us today since much that he could have taken for granted and simply skipped might otherwise be unknown to us. He informs us about the price he paid for one hundred pounds of freight from Varner’s to San Felipe and tells us that his group of travelers set out with seven wagons, each drawn by six oxen. The wagons were slow, and Jordt took off along the road alone. This is perhaps something we don’t think about today, that a human being would walk faster than a load of freight drawn by oxen, which was the normal arrangement. We might also consider the effect of the oxen on unimproved and wet trails over the prairie. There were good reasons to wait for the prairie to dry up.
On the first day from Varner’s the party had their midday rest by a winding spring in what Jordt called a beautiful valley covered by shrubbery. This site could possibly be west of Damon, to the west of present-day State Highway 36. The travelers made coffee and pancakes, and Jordt expresses how much he enjoyed camping out during the trip. They stayed overnight at the Darst settlement. Jordt tells us that Darst (Abraham Dörst) knew Gottfried Duden in Missouri and that he ran a boardinghouse at the settlement. However, he advised his readers not to stay there or at any such house. The beds were not good, and since all travelers carried their own bedding anyway it was much better to sleep outdoors in the warm Texas climate. He also found a new friend at the Darst settlement, the Scottish botanist Thomas Drummond. Drummond had traveled in all parts of North America but had not found such an abundance of soil, vegetation, and easiness of livelihood anyplace other than in Texas. As we will see, Jordt would continue to describe nature and climate in highly positive phrases as long as he remained in Texas. He also found the traveling more and more pleasant as he got to know Mr. Drummond better. We may possibly assume that the botanist taught Jordt about plants and landscape, and that he found fertile ground for an educational tour de force in Jordt, who was keenly interested in his surroundings.
Jordt spent the last night before San Felipe in a Spanish settlement. He had lost his party and Mr. Drummond and ended up with people he had never seen before. He was a bit concerned at first, but he was treated well and put in a clean bed with mosquito netting. These were luxuries not mentioned at any other place. Jordt had heard that the Spanish were known for thievery and not for agriculture. Here he met honest, decent people who tended the land and kept a nice and welcoming home. This seems to have been confusing to him, since despite his experience he still claims later that the Spanish were good at horse thievery only.
Jordt describes San Felipe as something like a marketplace, with white buildings resembling tents and booths. As with so many other places in early Texas, today we have to imagine how it looked to a traveler on foot in 1833. Jordt describes the prairie at San Felipe as “very picturesque [. . .] here, alternating as it does with great variety between hills, valleys, and bushy areas.” Modern observers might think the prairie appears flat when they arrive in San Felipe from the south. However, on foot one discovers that it is hillier than it seems, especially when approaching San Felipe from the southwest. Here there are rolling hills all the way into the old town.
Jordt describes the scenery in more detail in his story about looking for Bernard Scherrer’s horse. Scherrer had been one of the travelers that came to Brazoria, but he left the party and went ahead to San Felipe. Jordt met him after wasting a day following the wrong trail out of town only to have to turn back after twelve miles. From his description, his turnaround point could have been at a crossing over the San Bernardo River. While looking for the horse they came upon Colonel Austin’s house in a location Jordt called
the most beautiful one I had so far seen in Texas. Laid out in an attractive valley, before it there is a high gently rising elevation, covered in small sections with natural vegetation of oaks, mulberries, sycamores, etc., as if human hand had turned it into an English garden. In the background a creek clear as crystal runs in a deep bed through natural shrubbery and over rocks; at high water levels, it goes out of its banks and floods the immediate vicinity. However, one thing I regretted the house not having was a beautiful garden. It seems, generally speaking, that Americans only cherish whatever produces money and derive but little pleasure, even when wealthy, from such planned amenable installations, combining usefulness and beauty, and for which nature herself provides such vigorous encouragement.
Austin was away on travel, Jordt reported. He does not mention that a political convention had been held right there in San Felipe the month before, from April 1 to April 13, 1833, or that Austin had left for San Antonio, Goliad, and ultimately Mexico City to deliver the resolutions of the convention. The changing relationship between Texas and the rest of Mexico was kept in the background by Jordt. He may not have wanted to bring attention to it, or he may have been unaware of the proceedings. Alternatively, it may have appeared that the situation was being resolved peacefully.
Jordt and his party left San Felipe around 4 p.m. and camped in a beautiful valley. The next day they traveled through wilder and even more beautiful terrain, with trees and plants that indicated productive soil. As they got closer to the Ernst settlement at Mill Creek, Jordt was reminded of the fields in eastern Holstein. There were “deceptive similarities in scenery.”
Jordt possibly arrived at Mill Creek by following the path of present-day Bermuda Road down to the settlement in Ernst Park. The valley is open there and a little creek ran through the old settlement. He described a hill with natural springs under some rocks to the south. The springs are still there, though perhaps they are no longer as attractive as in 1833. Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery is on the hill, with a larger cemetery area behind it. Ernst had diverted the springs down to the woods along Mill Creek to irrigate his garden and his cornfield. Jordt was in a state of total happiness, or at least he wanted his readers to see it that way:
The high hill already mentioned provides a magnificent view of the natural romantic scenery, which nevertheless cannot be referred to as wilderness, there being nowhere a single plant of heather in sight. There is only green expanse, hills and valleys covered with individual stands of trees, high woodlands, brush, the most beautiful flowers, shining herds of cattle, and also flocks of deer. Against the horizon are hills and woodlands of still higher elevation, and an immense distance away there extends, through the deep valley of Mill Creek, a long band of primeval forest. Though the day after my arrival in this little Elysium had been intended for rest, in the company of Mr. Scherrer I climbed the hills nearest by, roamed about in the woods, and there I had an invigorating bath in Mill Creek, which I enjoyed very much, having had for several years to forgo such pleasures because of lack of a suitable bathing site.
This must have been like a description of paradise for tired, landless, and frozen Oldenburgers reading Jordt’s account a year later.
How well can we trust Jordt? Impressions are difficult to judge, and the physical landscape is as described. But there is a problem with the house. Jordt describes it as white and in the style of the Oldenburger garden house. Ernst himself also describes it as like a garden house. In interviews attached to the translation, Ernst’s wife and daughter both say the house was very insubstantial, basically a hut that could not be heated, nor was the roofing rainproof. There was no door and no windows for three years, and then a new and totally different house was built. The description of the house could fit a jacal-type hut built of upright sticks chinked with mud and clay and covered with a straw roof. Such a house could be built from sticks and straw collected locally and with mud from the creek. Jordt also makes a point of the nice climate; he slept outdoors under a tree, not in the house. On a visit to the neighbors the next day he comments that the Fordtran house was much more substantial than the Ernst house and sat high on top of a hill. The Ernst daughter remembered conditions as very basic for several years, and certainly no paradise.
But that is not what Jordt tells his readers:
I can assure all of my German countrymen with conviction that Mr. Ernst’s letter, reproduced in the introduction, was completely confirmed in all particulars. Indeed, Texas is a country where conditions are made as easy for the immigrant who wants to pursue agriculture as they are anywhere else in the world, certainly to this extent—it is a land which puts riches in his lap, which can bring happiness to thousands and to their descendants—it is a country just waiting for people so that our European industry can raise and elevate it to the most blessed country in all the known world.
Jordt was in the business of not only informing Germans about Texas but also marketing it to them. The Ernst family and their neighbors had much to gain from future immigration to the area. A league was far too much land for them to put to use. They would be better off selling parts of it. Their services would be in demand by immigrants, as travelers would need places to stay overnight, stores to supply them with goods, and mail service to keep them in touch with family overseas. The Ernst family ended up engaging in all of these activities, which formed the basis for the town of Industry. But could such developments be planned? Probably not to the degree suggested, but it does not seem unnatural to assume that Jordt and Ernst had long talks about the opportunities in Texas and the situation back in the fatherland. The unanswered question is what Jordt stood to gain. He had no land at this time, had not brought his family over, and was not eligible for the better land grant deals. The land office was closed anyway, and he wondered about the possibilities of a future grant area around the falls of the Brazos. In the meantime, Jordt followed some of his own advice; he bought cattle and allowed it to roam on the land. He suggested to prospective immigrants that they would be welcome to make arrangements to cultivate some of the land of those who already had settled and to buy cattle while saving their money to look for their own piece of land.
At this point in the book Jordt changes his focus from describing the journey and the landscape to advising new immigrants and explaining laws that promoted and regulated immigration in Texas. There were opportunities in Texas for thousands of Europeans, he wrote.
To this subject Jordt added a steady stream of reassurances to offset doubts prospective immigrants might have had about settling in a place that was still part of Mexico. There would be enough land for all. Schools—which Germans may have thought especially important given their long traditions of public schooling—could be established. The German and Scandinavian tradition for wellorganized schools was reflected in the literate Germans who immigrated to Texas. They knew how to read and write and calculate.
A number of them wrote books and articles similar to Jordt’s about their travels to Texas and other states. Their audience in Europe was able to read and understand these works; empowered by their education, the readers were able to make decisions for themselves and their families based on words written far away.
As immigration increased, higher levels of cooperation developed among later Germans arriving in Texas. Germans began organizing themselves into immigration associations and communal groups to form settlements in their new homeland. Jordt mentions some cooperative efforts, but in his account they served only as a means to help travelers and newcomers, or perhaps as a way to build mutual aid among neighbors. There were still too few Germans in Texas at the time of Jordt’s writing for any of the communal ideas and associations from home to spring to life.
Jordt devotes much of the latter part of his book to advising newcomers on how to clear and use the land. He often goes into considerable detail, making the book a practical guide for new settlers. He divides the soil into three types: cleared woodland, black prairie soil, and sandy prairie soil. The most productive and longest-lasting was the cleared woodland, but the work involved in removing the trees was so time-consuming, he writes, as to make this type of land less attractive than the black prairie soil. Jordt also informs his readers about the hard work involved in building fences. He estimates that a single acre required seven hundred to eight hundred logs four inches thick and ten feet long. An experienced worker could produce as many as 150 of these logs per day, but an immigrant would need time to learn the skills required. Ernst had chosen a type of fence for his enclosure that required less wood:
Along the line where the fence is to be erected, two posts of about two inches in diameter and five feet long are driven into the ground at four-and-a-half-foot intervals and half a foot apart; to make this easier, they are sharpened to a point at the lower end and sawed flush at the other. After one side of the field has been done, brush is placed between these posts along the line and stamped solid; in this manner, a solid fence results, which is strengthened even further after a height of four feet is attained, when for every nine feet—in other words, at every other pair of posts—two posts are placed above in a cross and hammered into the ground. Heavy posts are placed in the crosses, and, in addition, above the fence, two ten-foot posts crossing in such a manner that the upper end rests on the crosses of the fence, with the lower ones crossing below about two feet from the bottom of the fence. This way it is impossible for the cattle to get close enough to the fence to make a jump, even though they do not shun a five-foot height. Nor can small domestic animals, such as young pigs, etc., get through, as they do every day through the gaps of a rail fence or enclosure.”
Jordt follows his account of building fences with a description of how to plant a number of common crops.
What we have in Jordt’s book is a little gemstone. It offers pure entertainment and general knowledge about early Texas. It can be read as a description of how early farms were established, or as a response to the social and economic realities in the German-speaking lands of northern Europe at the time, thereby reflecting conditions there as much as in Texas. It also can be read as an effort to market Texas to the German-speaking population, perhaps in the hope of gaining a profit from land and services, or perhaps simply to make some money on the sale of the book.
Jordt returned to Oldenburg in the fall of 1834 and published his book. According to Struve, he left for Texas again in February 1836, this time with his two sons, Hermann Emil Mathias, thirteen, and Karl Friedrich Sophus, fifteen. His wife, Dorothea, and his two daughters, ages seven and ten, stayed behind. When Ernst officiated the wedding of Jacob Wolters and Luisa Marie Wittwe on April 6, 1841, Jordt and Peter Pieper, who owned a league of land in Colorado County, were listed as witnesses. Six days later his son Hermann Emil and several others were confirmed by Pastor Louis Cachand Ervendberg during Easter services for the Industry, Cummins Creek, and Cat Springs district. Hermann Emil had followed the confirmation course from January 5 to April 10, 1841. We also know that Friedrich Wrede was in Industry in early August 1841. He had bought some land at Cummins Creek unseen from a German in New Orleans and rode the nine miles from Industry to Cummins Creek, only to be deeply disappointed when he saw his purchase. Not knowing what to do, he went to Jordt and Pastor Ervendberg and asked them to help him. Jordt’s son Charles (Karl) Friedrich Sophus Jordt had been granted the right to 640 acres back in 1839, but his property had not been surveyed. Wrede paid him an extra twenty dollars and swapped his land for Jordt’s land in a deal they went to Columbus to register on August 9, 1841. The land was in the eastern part of the Matthews League, about one mile east of Cummins Creek. Charles Jordt later bought more land in Colorado County from Wrede and others. He bought property from his father-in-law Samuel Redgate in 1851, Wilhelm Frels in 1853, and from his brother Hermann in May 1859.
Detlef Thomas Friedrich Jordt also acquired land in 1841, buying sixty acres from Jacob Wolters in Piepers League that year. On Good Friday three years later, in 1844, his sons Hermann Emil and Charles were both communicants. Later the same year Charles Jordt and Johann Ernst, the son of Friedrich Ernst of Industry, were both hired by Prince Solms-Braunfels as guides and hunters. At this time the father is not mentioned, but he may have been back in Oldenburg since he was present at his daughter’s confirmation in Bockhorn that year. His occupation was listed as innkeeper in Berne/Wesermarsch, which may have been the occupation of his wife, since Detlef spent so much time traveling. The last known record of Detlef Jordt was in September 1847, when Friedrich Ernst officiated at the wedding of his daughter Henriette. She and her mother had come to Texas the year before with the daughter’s groom-to-be. Jordt senior died in the same year and is believed to be buried in Columbus.
The Jordt family continued to live in Colorado County. Hermann Emil was among the original twenty-five trustees of Calvary College. He was elected president of the Hermann University (Seminary) in Frelsburg in 1860 and owned the two lots north of Trinity Lutheran Church at that time. He was justice of the peace in Frelsburg. During the Civil War, volunteers from Colorado County formed a company on April 7, 1862, and elected Hermann Jordt captain. The company became Company H in the Seventeenth Texas Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It fought at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, on June 7, 1863. Jordt died on July 22, 1863. Neither the location nor the cause of his death is known. His wife, Jane, was granted sole and exclusive rights when his will was finally probated after the war.
Charles Jordt ran a store in Frelsburg in 1850, even though he was a citizen of Columbus. He still ran the store in 1860. Thirty years after Detlef Jordt came to Texas to inspect the land Friedrich Ernst wrote about, his family was well integrated in Colorado County. They owned land and a store, they had fought for Texas, and grandchildren had been born. Henriette Jordt and her husband, Theodor Hardi, welcomed their son Louis Carl Heinrich on January 31, 1861. Charles (Karl) Jordt and Antoinette Malstädt had a daughter named after her mother on July 25, 1861. Hermann Emil and Jane Redgate had Carl Louis Emmil on May 24, 1862. “Detlef Dunt” and his descendants had come to stay.
A Note on the Translation
The reader will find in the text a number of square brackets with information or corrections. This is the work of Mr. Saustrup and was done during the original translation. They have been kept in place since they often provide the modern reader with much-needed information and clarification. The translator retained Dunt’s spelling of names but put the correct spelling in brackets.
“This long-awaited English translation of Dunt’s writings is a major addition to German Texas immigration studies. . . . The introduction to the translation lays a strong context for the book . . . [and] Kearney’s closing bibliographical essay of early German literature is a most-hoped-for addition to German immigration studies.”
Journal of Southern History
“Dunt’s firsthand observations of German and other settlements in pre-Revolutionary Texas are extremely valuable, and made more so by his efforts to explain to Germans matters that might seem ordinary and thus literally unremarkable to North Americans.”
James E. Crisp, Professor of History, North Carolina State University, and author of Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett’s Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution
“Vivid reports on everyday life in the first Texas settlements. . . . Texans specifically will find this documentation of the earliest years of development toward the Republic of Texas to be of interest. There is also a large population of German Texans . . . no longer conversant in German, who will welcome this publication. . . . Dunt’s book will take its place at the very beginning of the chronological list of similar works and will help us to understand the influence his reports on Texas, as well as his advice to the Germans planning to come to the area, really had.”
Meredith McClain, Associate Professor of German Emeritus and founding director of the Southwest Center for German Studies at Texas Tech University and of the TTU Center in Quedlinburg, Germany