That there would ever be any sort of peace between the Comanche people, the horse-lords of the Southern Plains, and the settlers who steadily encroached upon the lands which they had always considered their own particular stamping grounds in 19th century Texas verges on the fantastical. That it lasted for longer than about a week must be accounted a miracle of Biblical proportions; but there was indeed such a treaty, negotiated and signed about mid-way through the bitter, brutal fifty-year long guerrilla war between the Tribes, and a group of settlers newly arrived in Texas.
The need a little patch of peace became apparent, and a matter of urgency upon the arrival of nearly 7,000 German immigrants under the sponsorship and auspices of the Mainzer Adelsverein, or as it was formally known; The Society for The Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, in a brief space of years after 1844. The Verein, as it was called inTexas, was formed by a group of high-born and socially conscious German noblemen, who conceived the notion of establishing a colony of German farmers and craftsmen in Texas. Their motivations were a combination of altruism, and calculation. This settlement plan would generously assist farmers and small craftsmen who were being displaced by the dwindling availability of farm land, and by increasing mechanization. But it would also establish a large, homogenous and German-oriented colony in the then-independent Texas nation, from which they hoped to profit materially and perhaps politically.
Unfortunately, their organizational skills and economic resources were not anywhere near equal to their ambitions; ambitions which in turn were only equaled by their astonishing naivety about the frontier. Their first commissioner in Texas was well-intentioned, well-born, and utterly clueless: every scammer, con-man and shady land-speculator west of the Mississippi must have seen Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels coming for a considerable distance. In a remarkably short time, Prince Karl effortlessly managed to piss-off most of the elected officials of the independent State of Texas, spend money as if it were water, burden the Verein with the Fisher-Miller Grant, (a large and almost useless tract of land smack-dab in the middle of Comanche territory), and amuse (or appall) practically everyone with whom he came in contact. Among the most risible of his personal peculiarities was the fact that he traveled in state with a large and specialized entourage, including a personal chef and two valets to help him on with his trousers of a morning. This went over with the rough denizens of the frontier about as well as could be expected.
In his short tenure as commissioner, Prince Karl did manage to found two towns for the benefit of his German immigrants (Indianola and New Braunfels), before he departed, probably hastened with sighs of deep relief from all concerned… and the hot breath of his creditors. Prince Karl’s hasty exodus late in 1844 left his replacement to handle the resulting tidal wave of hopeful immigrants headed towards the extensively-advertised, but useless land grant in the high prairie north and west of the present-day Hill Country. The new Verein commissioner in Texas was made— fortunately for the settlers— of abler and more experienced materiel; Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach. Of the minor but substantial nobility, Baron von Meusebach was a lawyer and experienced civil servant, whose family motto was “Steadfast in Purpose”. He spoke five languages, including English, and had a wide circle of friends both in Texas and Germany. Sensibly, nearly the first thing he did upon arrival in Texas was to set aside his aristocratic title, becoming known thereafter as plain John O. Meusebach. He was faced with an absolutely Herculean task; where to put all the arriving German immigrants, how to move them from the coastal ports, and how to secure their safety, once arrived at… wherever.
Meusebach did not want to write off the Fisher-Miller Grant, around which the Verein had built so many hopes, including their own. With an eye towards a way-station to funnel settlers into it, he established the settlement of Fredericksburg in thePedernales River valley, and a handful of others on the edge of the frontier, up in the limestone and oak forest Hill Country. Today it is one of the more beautiful parts of Texas; kind of our very own Lake District, but then it was the edge of the wilderness… hardly the best situation for newly-arrived European immigrants, fresh off the boat. Having been informed by many local experts that the Comanche war parties would see the German colonies as a sort of take-all-you-want buffet, John Meusebach decided that their best chance for prosperity and survival lay in making a peace treaty with them, person to person, people to people, as equals.
Late in January of 1847, John Meusebach set out with a picked party of men and three wagons on a dual mission; to survey the land which the Verein had been granted the rights to settle upon, and to make peace with the Comanche. The party included a company of mounted Verein private troopers, a group of American surveyors, some Mexican teamsters and an interpreter, Lorenzo de Rosas, who had been kidnapped by the Comanche as a child, and was serving Meusebach’s party as guide and interpreter, and three wagon-loads of supplies and gifts for the Comanche. The party was also joined by a group of Shawnee Indians, who were hunting along the route that Meusebachs’ party traveled, and a wandering scholar and geologist named Ferdinand von Roemer, who had been energetically exploring Texas and extensively studying the exotic flora, fauna and geology wherever he found it. A later addition was the Indian agent for the State of Texas, Major Robert Neighbors, sent post-haste after Meusebach with the noted scout and interpreter Jim Shaw, of theDelaware tribe, when the powers that be realized that Meusebach was entirely serious, and had already crossed the Llano into the Comanche hunting-grounds.
On the morning of February 5th, a day after crossing the Llano, Meusebach’s party was approached by a small party of Comanche warriors under a truce flag, led by a chief named Ketumsee. Meusebach rode out with his interpreter: Ketumsee informed the German party that they had been observed, and were surrounded, and asked as to what their purpose was, either peace or war… either of which would be perfectly acceptable to the Comanche. John Meusebach answered that he had come to make peace, as the representative of a people who had come a long way over the ocean, and stood with the Americans. He also added that the hospitality of Ketumsee’s people would be reciprocated, in the German colonies. Ketumsee appeared to be much impressed by this: he offered to receive the German party at his main encampment, a day or so journey away, and to send word to the other great Comanche chiefs to come to a peace conference. But first – there was a custom to be observed, and the fate of the excursion hung by a thread…
(To be continued)