01. August 2012 · Comments Off on The Nueces Fight and ‘True to the Union’ · Categories: Old West · Tags: , , , , , ,

As I am going up to Comfort on the 11th, to take part in the 150th anniversary observences of the Nueces Fight, and since it has been a while since I wrote about this — herewith some background.)

Who would have thought that deep in the heart of a staunchly Confederate state, there would have been a large population of Unionists? But there was; and not only did they vote against Secession, but the governor of Texas himself was a Unionist. He was none other than Sam Houston himself, the hero of San Jacinto, who more than any other Texas man of note had politicked and maneuvered for ten long years so that Texas could join the United States. In the end, Texas seceded; instead of going it alone again, the secession party joined the Confederacy with what some observers considered to be reckless enthusiasm – especially considering the perilous position of those settlements on the far frontier. Those settlements had been protected from marauding Comanche, Apache and Kiowa by the efforts of US troops – and who would guard them now? When the Texas legislature passed a law requiring all public officials to swear an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, Sam Houston resigned rather than take it. Being then of a good age, of long and devoted service to the people of Texas and held in deep respect even by citizens who didn’t agree with his stand, Sam Houston retired without incident to his home near Huntsville.

Other staunch Unionists in Texas were not able to refuse the demands of the Confederacy as easily as wily old General Sam. Among those who felt the wrath of the Confederacy most keenly were the German settlers of the Hill Country. Most of those settlers had come from Europe in the late 1840s; others had settled in San Antonio, Galveston and Indianola. In many cases they were the mercantile elite, as well as providing a solid leavening of skilled doctors, engineers, scientists, artists, teachers and writers in those communities. They were also Abolitionists; and in an increasingly perilous position as the split between free-soil states and those which permitted chattel slavery widened during the 1850s. Once Texas went Confederate, they were in even more danger, although they did not at first appear to realize this. Those citizens and counties which favored the Union and abolition could not easily separate, as West Virginia had from Virginia: they were stuck. The war began and ground on … and the breaking point came early in 1862 with passage of a conscription law. Every white male between the age of eighteen and thirty-five was liable for military service. This outraged those who had been opposed to slavery and secession, to the point of riots, evasion and covert resistance. Texas abolitionists and Unionists would be forced to fight in defense of an institution they despised, and for a political body they had opposed. Only a bare handful of men from Gillespie, Kendall and Kerr counties volunteered for service in the Confederate Army throughout 1861 and 1862, although good few more were perfectly willing to serve as state troops protecting the frontier, or in local volunteer companies of Rangers. Anyone who wanted a fight could take on the Indians, without the trouble of going east for military glory.

Before very long, the distinct un-enthusiasm in the Hill Country for the Confederacy and all its works and ways became a matter of deep concern to military and governing authorities. In a way, it was a clash of mind-sets: the German immigrants were innocently certain that the freedom of speech and political thought which they had always enjoyed since coming to Texas were still viable. The pro-Confederate authorities saw such thought and speech as disloyalty, clear evidence of potentially dangerous spies and saboteurs … and acted accordingly. In the spring of 1862, Gillespie and Kerr County was put under harsh martial law. All men over the age of 16 were ordered to register with the local provost marshal and take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Few did so – and many never heard of the order, until the state troopers arrived to enforce it, under the command of a peppery, short-tempered former teamster; Captain James Duff.

By summer, Captain Duff ordered the arrest of any man who had not taken the loyalty oath. His troopers waged a savage campaign; flogging men they had arrested until they told his troopers what they wanted to hear, wrecking settler’s homes, arresting whole families, and confiscating foodstuffs and livestock. Men of draft age took to hiding out in the brush near their homes, while their families smuggled food to them. Frequently parties of Duff’s men assigned to arrest certain men returned empty-handed, with the subject of the arrest warrant left dangling on a rope from a handy tree on the return journey. Four out of six men arrested near Spring Branch in the Pedernales Valley and taken to be interned with other Unionists were summarily lynched when two of them escaped while their guards were asleep. A state trooper serving in the Fredericksburg area at that time remarked, “Hanging is getting to be as common as hunting.” Suspicion followed by repression bred resentment and defiance, which bred violence… and resistance.

(To be continued …)

Some years ago, I succumbed to the blandishments of the overloaded bookshelves at Half-Price Books last Friday, whilst getting a good price on some redundant DVDs. Even then, I  knew I shouldn’t have wandered into the section housing assortments of Texiana but I did and I was tempted. Since I can resist anything but temptation, I gave in and bought a slightly oversized volume (with color plates!) with the gripping title of German Artist on the Texas Frontier: Friedrich Richard Petrifor  a sum slightly less than the current price on Amazon.

Who was Friedrich Richard Petri, you might ask – and rightfully so for chances are practically no one outside of the local area might have heard of him, he finished very few substantial paintings, was only resident in the Hill Country of Texas for about seven years, and died relatively young.

He was one of those student intellectuals caught up in the ferment of the 1848, along with his friend and fellow-artist (and soon to be brother-in-law) Hermann Lungkwitz. Upon the failure of that movement to reduce the power of the old nobility in favor of something more closely resembling a modern democracy, the two of them resolved to immigrate to America, that promising new land. Once there, they settled upon traveling Texas, where the Adelsverein had previously established substantial enclaves of German settlers, and the weather was supposed to be particularly mild – a consideration, for Richard was plagued by lung ailments. Besides Hermann’s wife, Petri’s sister Elisabet, other members of their had families joined them: Hermann’s widowed mother, and his brother and sister, and Petri’s other sister, Marie. They would become part of the second wave of settlers in the Hill Country; probably just as well, because neither of the Lungkwitz men or Richard Petri had any skill or inclination towards farming, or any other useful pioneering skill. Hermann and Friedrich were artists; Adolph Lungkwitz was a trained metalsmith and glass fabricator.

Traveling by easy stages down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and then presumably by regular packet boat to Indianola, the Petri-Lungkwitz families arrived in New Braunfels. They rented a small farm there in the spring of 1851, but did not intend to settle in New Braunfels permanently. It seemed they wished to look around; and so they did, house-hunting and sketching scenes and quick portraits of each other and the people they met. Hermann Lungkwitz later made use of these sketches and scenes in an elaborate lithograph of San Antonio. In July, 1852, the families settled on 320 acres at Live Oak, about five miles southwest of Fredericksburg – and there they settled in, trying to make some sort of living out of farm work and art. They were unaccustomed to the former, although from this account, they seem to have sprung from stock accustomed to hard work, if not precisely in the sort of agrarian work required to make a living in a frontier settlement.

They seem to have gotten along pretty well at that, for the book is full of sketches, watercolors and finished paintings by Petri and Lungkwitz;  accomplished and vivid sketches of their friends, their families and the countryside around. There are landscapes of the rolling limestone hills, the stands of oak trees and meadows around Fredericksburg, a distant view of the town, with a brave huddle of rooftops, a poignant sketch of Elisabet, mourning beside the grave of hers and Hermann’s baby son, who lived for only three weeks after his birth. There are sketches of their farmstead, of neatly fenced areas around the two small log houses in which they lived, charming sketches of his sister’s children and their pet deer, of theatrical productions in Fredericksburg – all elaborate costumes and ballet dancers – and of the women in the family going to pay formal calls, balancing their parasols, sitting primly in the seats of an ox-cart. There are sketches of friends, of officers from the Federal army’s garrison at nearby Ft. Martin Scott, of sister Marie’s wedding to neighbor Jacob Kuechler. And there are elaborate sketches of Indians, mostly people of that Comanche tribe which had signed a peace treaty with the German settlers of Fredericksburg and the surrounding areas, for Friedrich Richard Petri had a sympathetic eye and considerable skill.

Oh, this is indeed the American frontier, but not quite as we are accustomed to think about it –  that never-never land that is the popularly assumed picture that comes to mind whenever anyone thinks “Old West”. And that is why I bought the book, out of funds that I could not well afford, because I used some of Richard Petri’s sketches to form my mental image of the German communities in ante-bellum Texas. The sketches are lovely, detailed and revealing. How people dressed, what their houses looked like, that sort of fences they put around them and the sort of gardens and native plans they let grow, how they went about their work and leisure. This is not the tiresomely familiar ‘old west’ of so many old movies and television shows – black hats and white hats and the tense shoot-out in the middle of a dusty street. This is something altogether different; a peaceable and cultured ‘old west’, of singing societies, and community theatrical presentations and concerts, of homes where the Comanche Indians came peaceably, without leaving a trail of fire, theft and murder behind them. I will write more of this particular ‘old west’, which is why I bought this book in the first place. (An extra from the public library in Gonzales, as it appears from the markings within)

Richard Petri fell ill in late 1857 – of his old lung complaint, or some combination of that and malaria was never quite clear. While his brothers-in-law and other relations were busy in the fields and about their other business, he went down to the nearby Pedernales River and drowned. The supposition is that he was ragingly thirsty, or hoped to cool his terrible fever in the waters. A combination of inability to earn a living by farming, in combination with the turmoil brought on by the Civil War drove the remainder of the family from Live Oak. Hermann and Elisabet and their children moved into San Antonio, where he partnered with an old friend there in a photography studio. Marie’s husband Jacob Keuchler survived the massacre of Unionists on the Nueces, and returned from exile in Mexico after the war to become Commissioner of the State Land Office. And a portion of Richard Petri’s collection of sketches was eventually reassembled, although the number of actual finished paintings is on the light side. Many of them were apparently sent to Germany, and might still exist there, in attics and storerooms, or in the dark corners of old-fashioned parlors, in the houses of people who think of them in passing as just a nice 19th century rural water-color, and never realize that they have a relic of the mild, mild west in their possession.

Ok, so the look-inside feature isn’t bolted on yet, but the Adelsverein Complete Trilogy has gone live at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as of yesterday – and in Kindle and Nook editions. Now that it’s well-launched, I’m back to the next two projects: the sequel to Daughter of Texas – which will be called Deep in the Heart and be ready for launch at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, which will be held at the end of November. And just in case there is not quite enough to on all of that, Watercress Press is going to do a second print edition of To Truckee’s Trail . . . which I have wanted to do, both because it would be at Watercress and at a slightly lower retail price than previously . . . and because I had found out from a descendent of one of the real-life people that I wrote about – that he had actually been to California two decades before crossing the Sierra Nevada with the Stephens-Townsend Party in 1844. The character of Old Man Hitchcock, the mountain man and fur-trapper was painted as an entertaining teller of tall tales . . . but in this one instance he had been telling the absolute truth. So – the second edition in print will be out by mid-October. And one last thing – I’ve been asked, in person and via email, if there wasn’t a way to have the Adelsverein Trilogy translated into a German edition, as there would be a terrific audience among all those Karl May fans, who absolutely eat up anything to do with adventures in the 19th century American west. Anyone know anyone in the literary agent world who pitches to German-language publishers, and wants to negotiate rights to a German translation of the Trilogy? Any agent looking to explore that option would make out like a bandit, even at 15%. Fortunes in the book-world these days favor the nimble. It may be a bit of a niche market relative to American publishing – but owning a large chunk of a niche market is not bad.

He really wore  a black hat, this particular villain; he was known and recognized throughout the district around Fredericksburg and the German settlements in Gillespie County – by his fine, black beaver hat. Which was not furry, as people might tend to picture immediately – but made of felt, felt manufactured from the hair scraped from beaver pelts. This had been the fashion early in the 19th century, and made a fortune for those who sent trappers and mountain-men into the far, far west, hunting and trapping beaver. The fashion changed – and the far-west fur trade collapsed, but I imagine that fine hats were still made from beaver felt. And J.P. Waldrip was so well-known by his hat that he was buried with it.

 There is not very much more known about him, for certain. I resorted to making up a good few things, in making him the malevolent presence that he is in The Adelsverein Trilogy – a psychopath with odd-colored eyes, a shifty character, suspected of horse-thievery and worse. I had found a couple of brief and relatively unsubstantiated references to him as a rancher in the Hill Country, before the Civil War, of no fixed and definite address.  That was the frontier, the edge of the white man’s civilization. Generally the people who lived there eked out a hardscrabble existence as subsistence farmers, running small herds of near-wild cattle. There was a scattering of towns – mostly founded by the German settlers who filled up Gillespie   the late 1840s, and spilling over into Kendall and Kerr counties. The German settlers, as I have written elsewhere, brought their culture with them, for many were educated, with artistic tastes and sensibilities which contrasted oddly with the comparative crudity of the frontier. They were also Unionists, and abolitionists in a Confederate state when the Civil War began – and strongly disinclined to either join the Confederate Army, or take loyalty oaths to a civil authority that they detested. Within a short time, those German settlers were seen as traitors, disloyal to the Southern Cause, and rebellious against the rebellion. They paid a price for that; martial law imposed on the Hill Country, and the scourge of the hangerbande, the Hanging Band. The Hanging Band was a pro-Confederate lynch gang, which operated at the edges of martial  and perhaps with encouragement of local military authorities.

J.P. Waldrip was undoubtedly one of them – in some documents he is described as a captain, but whether that was a real military rank, or a courtesy title given to someone who raised a company for some defensive or offensive purpose remains somewhat vague.  None the less, he was an active leader among those who raided the settlements along Grape Creek, shooting one man and hanging three others – all German settlers, all of them of Unionist sympathies. One man owned a fine horse herd, another was known to have money, and the other two had been involved in a land dispute with pro-Confederate neighbors. Waldrip was also recognized as being with a group of men who kidnapped Fredericksburg’s schoolteacher, Louis Scheutze, from his own house in the middle of town, and took him away into the night. He was found hanged, two days later – his apparent crime being to have objected to how the authorities had handled the murders of the men from Grape Creek. It was later said bitterly, that the Hanging Band had killed more white men in the Hill Country during the Civil War than raiding Indians ever did, before, during and afterwards.

And two years after the war ended, J.P. Waldrip appeared in Fredericksburg. No one at this date can give a reason why, when he was hated so passionately throughout the district, as a murderer, as a cruel and lawless man. He must have known this, known that his life might be at risk, even if the war was over. This was the frontier, where even the law-abiding and generally cultured German settlers went armed. Why did he think he might have nothing to fear? Local Fredericksburg historians that I put this question to replied that he was brazen, a bully – he might have thought no one would dare lift a hand against him, if he swaggered into town. Even though the Confederacy had lost the war, and Texas was under a Reconstruction government sympathetic to the formerly persecuted Unionists – what if he saw it as a dare, a spit in the eye? Here I am – what are y’all going to do about it?

What happened next has been a local mystery ever since, although I – and the other historical enthusiasts are certain that most everyone in town knew very well who killed J.P. Waldrip.  He was shot dead, and fell under a tree at the edge of the Nimitz Hotel property. The tree still exists, although the details of the story vary considerably: he was seen going into the hotel, and came out to smoke a quiet cigarette under the tree. No, the shooter saw him going towards the hotel stable, perhaps to steal a horse. No, he was being pursued by men of the town, after the sheriff had passed the word that he was an outlaw, and that anyone killing him would face no prosecution from the law. Waldrip was shot by a sniper, from the cobbler’s shop across Magazine Street — no, he was shot from the upper floor of another building, diagonally across Main Street. He was felled by a single bullet and died instantly, or was shot many times and lived long enough to plead “Please don’t shoot me any more”. I have created yet another rationale for his presence, and still another dramatic story of his end under the oak tree next to the Nimitz Hotel. I have a feeling this version will, over time be added to the rest. Everyone who knew the truth about who shot Waldrip, why he came back to town, how the town was roused against him, and what happened afterwards, all those people took the knowledge of those matters to their own graves, save for tantalizing hints left here and there for the rest of us to find. The whole matter about the two men who may have actually fired the shot — or shots —  was kept secret for decades, for fear of reprisals from those of his friends and kin who had survived the war. This was Texas, after all, where feuds and range wars went on for generations.

 So James P. Waldrip was buried – with his hat – first in a temporary grave, not in the town cemetery – and then moved to a secret and ignominious grave on private property. The story is given so that none of his many enemies might be tempted to desecrate it, but I think rather to make his ostracism plain and unmistakable, in the community which he and his gang had persecuted.