Texas Germans and the German Belt in Texas
At various times in past Texas was French (1684–1689), Spanish (1690–1821), and Mexican (1821-1836). From 1836 to 1845 it was the Republic of Texas – before becoming the 28th US state on December 29, 1845. But Texas was/is also German in many ways. German-speaking immigrants began arriving in the 1830s, long before the Republic or statehood.
From German beer (Pearl and Spoetzl) to German place names (Heidelberg, Minden, New Berlin, Weimar, etc.), Texas continues to this day to reflect its German heritage. German speakers began arriving in what is now the Lone Star State in its earliest days. They were Germans, Swiss, and Austrians looking for a better life in North America.
In part this was due to Reise nach Texas (Journey to Texas), a book published in 1834 by the German Detlef Dunt (real name: Detlef Thomas Friedrich Jordt). Encouraged by another German, Friedrich Ernst, who had crossed the Atlantic before him and written letters home, Dunt went to Texas to see it for himself. While not entirely inaccurate, Dunt’s book portrayed Texas as a wonderland of milk and honey, a land of potential wealth, and other exaggerations. Its publication in Germany helped lure many Germans to Texas. (An English translation of Dunt’s book is available from Amazon.com: Journey to Texas, 1833 – Kindle)
Der Mainzer Adelsverein (1842-1853)
Not too many years after Dunt’s book, Hessians and Lower Saxons were sent to Texas by the Adelsverein, officially known as the Verein zum Schutze Deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas). First organized on 20 April 1842, by 21 German nobles (one of them female) in Biebrich on the Rhine, near Mainz, the Society represented a serious if delusionary attempt to establish a German colony in Texas by means of mass emigration. The Germans settled along a corridor stretching 100 miles northwestward from New Braunfels and San Antonio, through Fredericksburg along the axis of a former Indian route known as the Pinta Trail. One of the Society’s noblemen was Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, whose surname is seen today in the city of New Braunfels in the Texas Hill Country.
The German Slave Plantation in Texas
We don’t usually associate German speakers with slavery. German immigrants tended to be abolitionists opposed to the ugly practice of human slavery they encountered in the Republic of Texas and other parts of the American South. But the Nassau Plantation, near what is now Round Top, Texas, was owned and operated by the Adelsverein and its agents, primarily Joseph Count of Boos-Waldeck and Viktor Count of Alt-Leiningen-Westerburg, who arrived in 1842 to scout a location for a plantation in northern Fayette County.
Although the Society was successful in settling thousands of Germans in Texas between 1845 and 1847, the brief slavery experiment ended in catastrophe. In his interesting 2010 book, Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation, James C. Kearney describes how the Nassau Plantation ultimately failed, but also became a collection of small farms and homesteads, even becoming a hotbed of resistance to slavery. In the end, Nassau became an important resource for supporting the greenhorn settlers in the Texas Hill Country until they could make it on their own.
To Boos-Waldeck’s credit, he did come to believe it unwise and overly ambitious for the Society to try to establish a German colony based on a land grant contract with the Republic of Texas. He expressed that in writing reports back to the Society’s leadership in Germany. He eventually resigned from the Society after he was unable to persuade the leaders to abandon the land grant plan.
Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL – North German Lloyd)
The main instrument of the Adelsverein’s efforts to bring German, Austrian, and Czech settlers to Texas was the Bremen-based shipping line Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL). Galveston’s Kauffman agency was involved in transporting immigrants from Bremen to Galveston from the beginning of the Society’s first shipments in 1844 through the charter steamship era, which ended in 1886. (In 1853, highly in debt, the Adelsverein ended its colonization campaign in Texas, but German migration to Texas did not cease.)
The Bremen/Bremerhaven-Galveston shipping lane was most active between 1880 and 1886 when two sailing vessels and 15 steamships transported a little over 8,000 immigrants to Galveston directly from Bremen or its port of Bremerhaven. Virtually all of the steamships at that time were charters consigned to Kauffman, the NDL agents in Galveston, Texas. (The Kauffman firm name changed several times after its founding in Galveston in 1842 as Edward Kauffman and Company, finally becoming Kauffman and Runge in 1873.) The head of the Kauffman agency was Julius Kauffman Sr. (1815-1880), a merchant, importer, and shipping agent who came from Bremen. He also served as the consul to Austria-Hungary.
Through the Kauffman agency’s Galveston office, German-speaking immigrants already in Texas could prepay the passage of friends and relatives from Bremen to Galveston. The Kauffmans and the Society were working together to bring immigrants to the Republic of Texas with the help of legislation passed in 1841 and 1842 that sanctioned and encouraged European colonization. It was in the interest of the Republic to increase its population as part of an effort to discourage Mexican military intervention over disputed Mexico-Texas borders.
The advent of railroads in Texas in the 1880s made it easier for immigrants to travel inland from Galveston. In fact, the railroad agents worked with Norddeutscher Lloyd to charter ships whose passengers would then continue their journey by rail. Eventually, however, both the time and mileage of the immigrant journey were shortened considerably by crossing the Atlantic to New York City and then traveling via rail to Texas or other destinations. After Galveston’s harbor was made deeper in 1895, normal, regularly scheduled shipping (by NDL and the Hamburg American line) began in 1896. The former NDL charter business that had ended a decade earlier was no longer necessary or profitable.
San Antonio’s German Connection
San Antonio (Spanish for “Saint Anthony”), the second-most populous city in Texas, is most famous as the home of the Alamo. But an almost forgotten historical aspect of San Antonio today is German immigration in the region. The city’s King William Historic District was named in honor of Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. The District got its name from its major thoroughfare, King William Street (König-Wilhelm-Straße). Smaller surrounding towns such as New Braunfels, Castroville, Boerne, Comfort, Fredericksburg, and Bulverde were all settled by Germans. Many of the Germans were later drawn to the bigger city for work, and many buildings and streets in San Antonio still bear German names: Wurzbach, Huebner, Jones Maltsberger, and Wiederstein. In the early 1900s, it is estimated that at least one-third of San Antonio was ethnically German. The city had at least two German-language newspapers. (More below.) The German city of Darmstadt in Hesse has been one of San Antonio’s sister cities since 2017.
Texas German Newspapers
Over 20 daily and weekly German-language newspapers were published in various communities and at various times in Texas. Galveston had two German newspapers until 1880. German newspapers were also published in Texas cities such as San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. The Freie Presse für Texas was distributed in San Antonio from 1865 to 1945. In Houston, the Texas Deutsche Zeitung was published from 1873 until 1894. The New Braunfels Herald und Zeitung began as a German newspaper but is now published in English as the Harald-Zeitung (also online) five days a week (Tue.-Sat.).
The Galveston Movement
This was a term used to describe a humanitarian effort based in the Port of Galveston to relocate immigrant Jews from the American East Coast to other areas of the United States. In the late 1800s, thousands of Jews began fleeing their homes in Russia and Eastern Europe to escape anti-Semitic policies and violent pogroms. Many of these people settled in the US, establishing communities in New York City and other cities along the eastern seaboard. Overcrowding in these neighborhoods coincided with growing antisemitism. The Galveston Movement or Galveston Plan, operated by several Jewish organizations, brought nearly 10,000 Jewish immigrants through the Port of Galveston between 1907 and 1914, in an effort to address the problem by dispersing Jews more widely throughout the US. The Jewish, Frankfurt-born New York City financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff (Jakob Heinrich Schiff, 1847-1920) was the driving force behind the effort, to which he contributed nearly $500,000 (over $14 million in current dollars) of his personal fortune.
German Place Names in Texas
German-speaking immigrants in Texas did not reside only in towns or cities with German names, even today there are many communities all across Texas with the names of German, Austrian, or Swiss towns, or the names of people who came from there. We’ll start with the larger communities:
Bergheim (pop. 1,183) is an unincorporated community in eastern Kendall County in the Texas Hill Country. Known for its German-Texan culture and heritage, Bergheim is part of the San Antonio metropolitan statistical area and is still predominately a ranching and agricultural community. Bergheim, meaning “mountain home” in German, was founded by Austrian immigrant Andreas Engel, who immigrated to Texas in 1885, moved to the area, and established a store sometime before 1900. The Bergheim post office opened in 1901.
Boerne (pop. 18,232) is the county seat of Kendall County, in the Texas Hill Country. Boerne is part of the San Antonio–New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area. Boerne was named in honor of German author and publicist Ludwig Börne by the German founders of the town. Boerne came into being as an offshoot of the Texas Hill Country Free Thinker Latin Settlements, resulting from the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states. Those who came were Forty-Eighters, intellectual liberal abolitionists who enjoyed conversing in Latin and who believed in utopian ideals that guaranteed basic human rights to all. Founded in 1849 as “Tusculum,” the name was changed to “Boerne” when the town was platted in 1852.
Castroville (pop. 3,119) is a city in Medina County, on the Medina River about 20 miles west of downtown San Antonio. Castroville is known for its Alsatian-Texan architecture, people, and culture. Most Alsatians who came to Castroville spoke Alsatian, a German dialect. Castroville was established in 1844 by Henri Castro (1786-1865), who had been granted territory by the Republic of Texas. Castro recruited several dozen European families from Alsace (Elsass in German) and adjoining Baden to populate his Texas land grant. On September 2, 1844, the first colonists arrived. They were joined by another group from Alsace in 1847. The Steinbach Haus (originally built between 1618 and 1648 in Wahlbach, Alsace) was dismantled and reconstructed in Castroville in 1998. It opened to the public in 2002.
Comfort (pop. 2,363) is the second-largest town in Kendall County and is about 16 miles northwest of Boerne (above), and 48 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio. The town’s name isn’t German, but Comfort was established in 1854 by German immigrants who were Freethinkers (Freidenker, see the photo below) and abolitionists. Their communities came to be known as “Latin Colonies” because they felt the use of Latin was “essential for a cultured intellectual society.” Ernst Hermann Altgelt, at the age of 22, is credited with surveying and measuring the lots that would later be sold to the incoming German immigrants. Today Comfort’s downtown area is possibly one of the best-preserved historic business districts in Texas. There are well over 100 structures in the area dating back to the 19th century. Historic markers commemorate the German history of Comfort.
De Kalb (pop. 1,593) is a city in Bowie County. De Kalb is part of the Texarkana metropolitan statistical area. According to both the official City of De Kalb and the Handbook of Texas websites: “…a community had begun to take shape in the winter of 1835, when David Crockett visited the site on his way to the Alamo. …when Crockett enquired about the name of the town, residents told him it had none and then asked him to name it. He suggested the name of the Prussian Baron de Kalb, a general of the American revolutionary army.” Note: De Kalb, Texas is one of the very few places in the United States (towns and counties) that correctly spells the Prussian baron’s name. Most places omit the space between his surname’s two parts. But even the Handbook of Texas and the city’s website sometimes use “DeKalb” rather than the correct “De Kalb.”
Fredericksburg (pop. 11,496) is the county seat of Gillespie County in the Texas Hill Country. Fredericksburg is located 70 miles north of San Antonio and 78 miles west of Austin. Founded in 1846, the town was named for Prince Frederick of Prussia (and originally named “Friedrichsburg”). Fredericksburg is notable as the home of Texas German, a dialect spoken by the first generations of German settlers who initially refused to learn English. Fredericksburg (“Fritztown”) shares many cultural characteristics with New Braunfels (below). Fredericksburg is the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. It is the sister city of Montabaur, Germany. In 1970 the Fredericksburg Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Heidelberg (pop. 1,725) is only 13 miles north of the Mexican border, but Heidelberg, Texas was founded in 1921 by a German named Groshauser, who tried to attract German settlers, but left Heidelberg when his efforts failed to bring him the wealth he had hoped for. Nevertheless, the town survives to this day.
Luckenbach is included in this section because of its fame, not its size. Luckenbach is well known as a venue for country music (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and the gang), but it is pretty much a ghost town most of the time. Lukenbach lies 13 miles from Fredericksburg in southeastern Gillespie County, in the Texas Hill Country. The oldest building in Luckenbach is a combination general store and saloon reputedly opened in 1849 (1886 is more likely) by Minna Engel, whose father was an itinerant pastor from Germany. Luckenbach was one of the Latin Colonies founded by the Freidenker (see “Comfort” above).
New Braunfels (pop. 90,209) is a city in Comal and Guadalupe counties, just north of San Antonio. New Braunfels (local pronunciation: BRAWN-fels) was established in 1845 by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, and named for the founder’s German hometown. Today the city is part of the Greater San Antonio metropolitan area. New Braunfels was the third-fastest-growing city in the United States from 2010-2020.
Pflugerville | 65,380 (2019) – A city in Travis County, with a small portion in Williamson County. Pflugerville is a suburb of Austin and part of the Austin–Round Rock–San Marcos Metropolitan Statistical Area. The area was initially settled by German immigrant Henry Pfluger, Sr. (1803-1867) and members of his family from late 1849 into early 1850. Several generations of the Pfluger family helped develop the community, which had about 500 residents by the early 1920s. Pflugerville’s name reflects Henry Pfluger’s surname and the fact that most of the original German settlers were farmers. The German word Pfluger means “plowman.” Reflecting neighboring Austin’s rapid growth after 2000, Pflugerville also expanded rapidly from 16,335 in 2000 to its present 65,380.
Some Texas towns with non-Texan names, most having fewer than 100 inhabitants:
Berlin in central Washington County (also see New Berlin below), Hochheim in DeWitt County, Cologne in eastern Goliad County, Breslau in north central Lavaca County, New Baden in Robertson County, Oldenburg in northeastern Fayette County, Rhineland in Knox County, and Weser in Goliad County.
Other somewhat larger German-named places in Texas are:
Minden (pop. 350) is an unincorporated rural community in southeastern Rusk County, in East Texas. The Texas Minden is one of many across the USA, but it got its name from Minden, Louisiana, which was named for Minden in Germany.
New Berlin (pop. 624) is a small city in southwestern Guadalupe County, 27 miles east of San Antonio. New Berlin was founded in 1868 by German immigrants who named the new community after the Prussian capital city.
New Ulm (pop. 650) is an unincorporated community in western Austin County, 19 miles south of Brenham, Texas. The New Ulm post office first opened in 1852, named for the German city of Ulm, as many of the settlers came from that area.
Nordheim (pop. 303) is a city in DeWitt County. Nordheim was founded as a German community in 1895 when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway extended a siding to that point. A post office has been in operation in Nordheim since 1896.
Weimar (pop. 2,017 in 2021) lies between San Antonio and Houston on Interstate 10 and US 90. It was established in 1873 and settled primarily by Germans and Czechs (Austria-Hungary). The local pronunciation of the town’s name is WHY-mer. The only other Weimar in the US is in California.
Ghost Towns and Extinct German-Named Communities in Texas
Not all of the German-settled towns in Texas have survived to the present day. Here’s a partial list:
Anhalt (Comal County) is a ghost town located 28 miles west of New Braunfels. First known as Krause Settlement, after storekeeper George Krause, when it was settled by German pioneers in 1859, Anhalt may have been named after a place in Germany (Sachsen-Anhalt is a German state) or may be derived from the German word for a “stopping place” – descriptive of the store or the post office it contained. The Anhalt post office closed its doors in 1907.
New Bern (Williams County) was settled by Protestant Swiss immigrants in the 1880s. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was built in 1893. The town’s population never exceeded 100 people. Little remains of New Bern today, other than a cemetery.
Schoenau (Austin County) is an extinct town once located between Shelby and Industry.
NOTE: There are many more Texas German connections we don’t have space for here, but in the near future we will be publishing more complete listings for most US states, including Texas.