John O. Meusebach was born exactly two hundred years ago in Dillenburg, Germany – and his birthday was celebrated in Fredericksburg last Saturday with a community picnic in the city park, with beer, BBQ, singing, dancing, gemütlichkeit and all. Who was John O. Meusebach, besides being the founder of Fredericksburg? He was the second commissioner for the Mainzer Adelsverein in Texas, the first commissioner being Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels; a well-intentioned but hapless princeling stranded well-beyond his depth in the dangerous waters of frontier Texas in the late 1840s. John O. Meusebach was also a noble, but a mere baron – and he sensibly gave up the title and became an American citizen as soon as he arrived in Texas. He was also 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.
His was the herculean task of sorting out the fortunes of an unfortunate venture into a Republic of Texas-era scheme to take up an entrepreneur grant and settle thousands of Germans on it. By the time he arrived in Texas, the whole project was in a shambles; and that it didn’t collapse completely was due to John Meusebach’s skill and diligence. That the network of Hill Country settlements weren’t wiped out by Comanche Indian raids almost immediately upon establishment was also his doing, for he sought out the leaders of the Southern, or Penateka Comanche, negotiated a peace treaty with them – which the Penateka lived up to, much to the surprise of practically every Texan who had ever dealt with the Comanche other than at gunpoint. Even after the Adelsverein organization floundered and went under, John Meusebach remained a strong and respected figure among the Hill Country German settlers, and served in the State legislature, where he advocated for public education. A man of worth and consequence, and held in respect by three very different communities; the Anglo Texans, the German-Texans and the Comanche.
A celebration of his birthday was well worth a trip up to Fredericksburg and a warm Saturday evening in the Pioneer pavilion in Ladybird Johnson park, listening to the band, and talking to many of the stalwart citizens that I’ve met through the writing of the Trilogy … which adventure involved reading practically every shred of material written about the early days. A local historian, Kenn Knopp invited us to come, and bring books – and although Blondie is certain that Fredericksburg was tapped out as a market for them, we wound up selling a respectable number of books: I do wish that we had more copies of Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart on hand, as those two are the prelude to the Trilogy, and so they would have gone like hot-cakes to everyone who had read it and wanted more, more, more.
Note to self: maybe I’d better finish the sequel about Dolph Becker and his English bride first, before tackling the adventures of Fredi Steinmetz in Gold-Rush era California. Well, Kenn has always said I should do something about the Mason County Hoo-Doo War, which was one of those horrific post-Civil-War range feuds wrapped in in a layer of mystery around nougat of enigma embedded in a riddle…eventually, so I have been told, even the participants themselves lost track of why they were fighting each other so viciously. Present-day historians are still baffled.
Anyway, Blondie and I set up the table with our books next to Kenn’s table of books, and we spent almost three hours, eating our own picnic supper between talking to friends and people fascinated by books and history. Another local author set up next to us, with his wife minding his own books; and we wound up swapping copies: James C. Kearney, who has the dignity of being published by the University of Texas Press. A fellow local historical enthusiast! A common interest and knowledge-base! He did a translation of a book by an early settler at Fredericksburg – one Friedrich Armand Strubberg, who was a bit of a con-man, actually – and another about one of the early Verein purchases; a plantation property, which turned out to be a bit of an embarrassment, all the way around. (The German nobles of the Adelsverein were abolitionists, you see.Aristocrats, giving commands to the lower orders. Likely the irony escaped them, completely.) I swapped some email addresses, talked face to face with some people who I had only email exchanges with before … including a gentleman who was related to the Townsends (from To Truckee’s Trail) and recalled visiting the mansion and gardens that Dr. John and Elizabeth Townsend’s son built in San Jose in the 1880s … alas, the house was ransacked and then condemned and torn down, and if Dr. Johns’ diary was anywhere in it, then it is long gone. Still – we hope that it will turn up someday…
Anyway, that was my long Memorial Day weekend – yours?