Monken Journey to Texas

Hardships of a German Family
Written for Frontier Times by Bernard Monken, Boerne, Texas
from Vol. 4, No. 5, Frontier Times, February, 1927

A journey from Galveston to New Braunfels today is considered a pleasure trip. At night you enter a comfortable Pullman; next morning you enjoy a good breakfast in San Antonio; this ended you step on a train going north east and in about an hour's time you arrive safely at your destination. Like a fairy tale though sounds the description of such a trip made in the year 1845 - 1846. Perhaps the younger generation have heard of the hardships and trials that our forebears had to undergo; but at the same time they can never fully realize the conditions as they actually existed then. In the following I will try to describe a trip of those bygone days. I was then merely a boy of eleven years but even now the tragic details of such a trip live undimmed vividly before my eyes.

My father was a wine grower on the banks of the river Rhine. The immigration fever, so prevalent at that time all through Germany, also struck my father. Partly after going through a half dozen poor crop years and probably the unrest of the year 1848 was already in the air. Duped by promises of the Nobility Club of Nayence, of whose true worth no one had a clear conception, my father finally decided to also join to go to Texas under their terms. It was in the month of October, 1845, that our family embarked on the two masted schooner Neptune for our overseas trip which lasted in all, 58 days, and was very agreeable.

As the sailing lasted longer than intended, we began to suffer for want of water. When we first sighted land we got a good impression of our new country, as the boat sent out to meet us brought a pilot and some fresh meat. After a stay of a couple of days in Galveston the company chartered a steamboat to take the passengers of the Neptune, and also the passengers of the Hercules, which had arrived meantime, to land them at the port of Indianola.

As the steamer was nearing Pass Cavallo, a strong wind was blowing making the passage of the Pass very dangerous. Not taking into consideration that the steamer was almost overloaded with human beings and their belongings, the pilot attempted, with true American daring, to cross the channel. The steamer stranded on the reef, sprung a leak, and was slowly filling with water. As Lady Luck would have it, the water was not deep enough to submerge the steamer. The passengers and their belongings were hurriedly landed on the Island of Matagorda. The workers, when they finally got through, were waist deep in water, and the goods were piled together in one location and a guard put over them at night.

We soon sighted a schooner coming our way loaded with cotton, which after an agreement was made, hastened to unload the cotton on shore, taking in its place all the first class passengers of the Neptune and Hercules, and also all the tents and other goods and provisions to land them at Indianola. After eight days the vessel returned and got the balance of the passengers and their things of the Hercules, and after another dreary wait of eight days finally the last of the passengers of the Neptune were relieved of their distress and landed at Indianola, happy to be on solid ground once more.

Indianola at that time was sparsely settled. The company that had agreed, after a cash stipulation was made in the old country with them, to land them safely and see to their comforts, failed utterly to do so. No building material or tools of any kind were on hand. In the first place no tents were intended for the peasants. The Company's store house was constructed of wreakage from the sea, so everybody did the best they could. It was rumored that we had to live in caves, which is an untruth, as by digging in four feet the water will begin to seep in. On account of a scarcity of building material a good many were compelled to dig sod and build sod houses, with whatever they could find for a covering, often entailing the severest hardships, as it all had to be brought together on our backs. Often after this work was completed it began to pour down rain softening the sod so everything tumbled down, again making it, of course, look more like caves than living quarters. Father was unable to buy a tent or the goods for one so he built for us, out of rough timber and sod, some kind of shack for shelter against the inclement weather. Naturally such a hut had hardly any ventilation and in consequence of the continued rains, everything became mouldy. Then when it was not raining we had to have these huts to escape the burning rays of the sun. Under these circumstances it was no wonder that the people got sick and died. We had to live like this for several months.

In the spring of 1846 five young men, Fietsam by name, cousins of mine, came over from Germany. Meantime the company had done better by us, giving those poor dejected immigrants some sort of comforts. Father bought goods for a tent to be used on our inland journey, and it had just been made. This tent also gave shelter to my cousins.

The company had made a contract with a man by the name of Torrey for the transportation of the immigrants to the New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Llano grants. When the war broke out between the United States and Mexico, Mr. Torrey gave his best teams to the service of the United States and only those that were not fit for government service were put to our disposal for the trip inland. After waiting quite awhile, my father concluded to walk up from Indianola to New Braunfels to see if he could not procure accomodations and for the transport up to his destination. One of his nephews (Fietsam) accompanied him and they were lucky enough to get a wagon to come back with them. During father's absence the Company's agent informed us to get ready to go, as we were next on the list. What should we do now? It was uncertain if father could procure a wagon to take us up. As the Fietsam's also had the agent's consent to go, we packed up our wagon with all of our goods and those of the Fietsams. With us on the same wagon went a family of four, by the name of Weber.

On the 5th day of July, 1846, our wagon loaded with sixteen persons and their belongings left Indianola for New Braunfels. The first night we camped on Chocolate Creek. The second day, toward evening, one wagon wheel broke, in the midst of an open prairie. Now we had to suffer for not providing enough vessels for a supply of water, also there was no wood around to cook with. We knew that a little further up a man by the name of Kohler lived. My brother and one Fietsam went with him and told him of our predicament, and Kohler let them have a wagon and a yoke of oxen, so we moved on to the next watering place. The broken wagon and baggage we left behind.

While we were camped at the water, father returned but thoughtlessly let the wagon he had secured go on to Indianola, so having made the trip on foot to New Braunfels all in vain. My father repaired the broken wheel, the remaining goods were loaded on and the journey resumed, but not for long. This time an axle broke, which again was repaired by father, and we finally reached Victoria. The distance between this place and Indianola is about forty miles and it took us all of fourteen days to make it.

Upon our arrival in Victoria we were all more or less sick, and our hands and faces were sore and swollen from mosquito bites. We consulted a doctor, but got no relief from his medicine. To make things worse, we had to take a new teamster, a negro with six yoke of oxen. Why this change we did not know. We had to leave the Weber family in Victoria to make the load lighter. The negro brought us very considerately to Spring Creek and left us in the midst of a lot of hills. Here we buried my dear mother and one of the Fietsams, who were sick when we left Indianola. While here father got acquainted with a man by the name of Sewald; later known throughout Comal county as Treasure Hunter Sewald. Mr. Sewald gave us all the assistance he could to bury our dead, but later on was indirectly the cause of a great sorrow to us by him selling a Spanish stud horse to father.

We were left at Spring Creek for quite awhile where no meat or vegetables were to be had, and but little meal was left of the barrell which father had bought on the coast, and worst of all we were still more or less sick. Finally another teamster took pity on us and carried us as far as Widow Burkhart's place, where now Hochheim is situated. Here the teamster turned two yoke of oxen loose and took the other along with him. We had this advantage, there was good water and we could also buy milk.

So the time slipped by, and looked as though everybody had forgotten about us, and worst of all, disease was taking on a more malignent form. While there first one of the Fietsams died, then followed his brother, the one who had so laborously made it on foot with father, up to New Braunfels, and finally the youngest brother of Fietsams also died. These three brothers were about the first to be interred in the then new cemetery at Hochheim. When the last on was buried, that same day the Americans had a picnic in progress in the near neighborhood, but all attended the funeral and I remember very distinctly that many a tear glistened in the eyes of those stalwart sons of the pioneer country when they saw body of the handsome young man lowered into his last resting place. My brother Henry, and the last of the five Fietsam brothers, also took sick but still managed to keep their spirits up.

My father fearing that he would lose all of his dear ones went to Burkhart's offering to pay them liberally if they would consent to take us to New Braunfels. A young man promised to do so, and went and got two yoke of oxen from Mr. Torrey and two of his own and drove us as far as Peach Creek. The crossing of this creek was very boggy and when we were in the middle of the creek the wagon bogged down so that the team was unable to get us out again, and Mr. Burkhart went back to get more teams.

While he was gone it began to rain. My sick brother sought shelter under a tree, where my sister tried her best to protect him with an umbrella. But still it rained and it seemed as if we were doomed to drown and be washed away. After awhile we were delighted to see my sister, Rose, coming from New Braunfels with help. Sister Rose had taken an earlier opportunity to get to New Braunfels where she accepted a place as a servant girl. When we were at Hochheim, father wrote to her to try her best to get help so we would get out of our deplorable state. A friend of father's, Hankhamer, by name, passing by, promised to deliver the letter to the family that my sister was with. But they failed to give the letter to my sister. Nevertheless, they had to broad-cast the news of death and disaster and perhaps added a little. Of course when my sister heard all of this, it nearly drove her to dispair, and she concluded to take the first chance to go down to where her dear ones were to verify the reports. There on Peach Creek, or rather in the creek she met us.

Father had to pay those heartless teamsters well to get us out of the mud and water. They had also sent along a teamster to take us to New Braunfels. Meanwhile Mr. Burkhart arrived with more oxen, and was willing enough to take us up himself declaring that the other teamster with only two yoke of oxen could not get through, but he would not let Mr. Burkhart have the Torrey oxen and so Burkhart had to be content, but when he left us he waived all responsibility of the safe arrival of his charges. That same afternoon our teamster took us two miles on to near a cotton gin belonging to Mr. Jones, the birthplace of Judge Jones, who later moved to near Curry's Creek, Kendall county. The teamster pretended he was looking for oxen. He left us and never returned. My sister wrote to Mr. Burkhart for help, and he responded promptly by sending a Swiss man by the name of Kaeterle, with two yoke of oxen.

About this time my sick brother died and was buried in a small grave yard near the Jones estate. A member of the Jones family also took sick and they had to send to Gonzales for a doctor. My sister undertook to go, as she was a fearless rider, using that horse which father had bought from Mr. Sewald. Returning, a bunch of mustang horses crossed her path. Her mount was bent on following them but was held back by Sister when he reared up and fell over on her the pommel of the saddle striking her with full force near her heart. We took her along in a serious condition, but when we got to Seguin death relieved her suffering. She is resting in the cemetery at that place.

Father had to leave the last of the surviving nephews, Fietsam, in the tender care of the Jones family, where he speedily recovered his health. It was in September when we arrived at New Braunfels under the able guidance of Mr. Kaeterle, the trip taking fully three months. Soon after getting to New Braunfels, my other sister, Barbara, dies and lies buried at the cemetery in New Braunfels.

Fifty-six years have passed since those eventful days. My days have been filled with joys and sorrows, but I very well recollect the happenings undimmed and clear. My aim in putting this down on paper is mainly to remind the youth of today that they owe to the pioneers all honor and respect for blazing the trail for their own prosperity and the wonderful developments the country now enjoys.


Note: The author of this account was Bernard Monken, who was the son of Freidrich Franz Monken, who was our great-great-great-great uncle, the brother of our great-great-great grandmother, Judith Katherina (Monken) Fietsam. The five Fietsam nephews in the account were the sons of our great-great-great grandfather, Heinrich Johann Fietsam:

Johann Joseph Fietsam- born 1820, died August 3, 1846 in Hochheim, Texas.
Michael Fietsam- born 1822, died July 11, 1846 in Victoria, Texas.
Joseph George Fietsam- born Feb 12, 1825, died 1906 in Weimar, Texas.
William Fietsam- born 1826, died July 30, 1846 in Hochheim, Texas.
Friedrich Fietsam- born 1828, died August 2, 1846 in Hochheim, Texas.

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