Authors: Brianna Lee McKenzie
Copyright © 2011
Brianna Lee McKenzie
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
: J. Darroll Hall
Cover photo provided by Jimmy Thomas at
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By Brianna Lee McKenzie
Enchanted by the assurance of free land in Texas, many German immigrants crossed the great Atlantic Ocean despite the waves of change that were predestined to relentlessly replace their idealistic dreams with challenging realities. Diligently, they struggled for balance upon the undulating deck of the ship that carved a course across the ocean, for they were determined to carve their own destiny in the unyielding Texas soil. For many, their excursion had just begun when they had set foot on the sandy beach. But for those unfortunate souls who had hoped to continue inland and claim the land that had been promised to them, their journey ended at Indianola…
“I can see it!” Marty Hirsch squealed with delight at the shoreline that slowly rose above the waves as her father held her up to the wooden bow of the ship. She curled her fingers around the cylindrical post that supported the railing and she turned her face to show Papa how thrilled she was to finally see land again. Oh, she had seen Florida as they had passed between the peninsula and the island of Cuba on their way to the Gulf Coast and toward their ultimate destination. However, she had not been impressed to watch it bob in front of the ship and then slip into the distant horizon behind them. But the sight of Texas and its promise for a bright and exciting future for her and her family was so exhilarating that she could hardly contain her enthusiasm.
Hans Hirsch smiled contentedly at his seven-year-old daughter and kissed her head before she turned it again. His eyes followed her gaze and he, too, was mesmerized by the far-away waves that lapped at the sand that flickered in the sunlight, waves that reminded him of a child reaching for the unreachable stars with inquisitive hands and coming back with shimmering specks that trickled through tiny fingers of hope, leaving only a dusting of prospective success. He stood tall and proud, steadying his body against the swaying of the planks beneath his feet as Marty clung to his neck with her arm while she squirmed in gleeful animation at the adventure that was yet to come.
His smile faded when he thought of her twin sister, who was more than a little affected by the thrashing of the waves upon their ship and who had spent the entire voyage either lying in their berth or hanging her delicate head over the chamber pot in anticipation of another bout of ship sickness. Dry land, motionless land was what he knew his other daughter looked forward to as she wasted away below while Mama tended to her. Poor, dear Greta, weak and frail, sickly and thin while her twin sister thrived with vibrant vitality as if all of the body’s tenacity to flourish had been transferred from the weakest to the strongest in the womb where one’s destiny is initially decided. That magical mirror, a distorted reflection of one to the other, betrayed Greta’s love of life, the bold inner strength that she kept locked away deep in her devoted soul, a gift to her double as if Marty needed any more courage to survive. But Greta’s strength was her loving and kind, tender and merciful, compassionate and gracious nature while her sister was brash and boisterous, haughty and hardhearted, speaking her mind without regard to whether or not her words would hurt someone else.
Hans wished that she could be more like her sister in that respect, for Greta only spoke if she had something kind to say. But his Marty, his impetuous Marty was his favorite despite Greta’s gentleness, despite his pity for the helpless girl who clung to Mama for affection and warmth. Marty’s fervent clapping took his weary mind off of her sister’s misery and he threw back his head and laughed at the girl’s zealous charisma.
This child and her twin were the reason why he had joined the thousands of others who had taken up the mission to journey to the hill country of Texas, bringing their families, their hopes and their dreams to a territory that promised prosperity, security and freedom. They were all willing to risk their lives, the lives of their loved ones, everything that they possessed in this earthbound world in order to travel across the ocean from their homeland of Germany to this auspicious new land. But more so was the Hirsch family, whose mounting expectations and life’s devastating tribulations rose and fell with the tides of time.
Hans Hirsch had gathered up his wife Adelaide and twin daughters Marthe and Margarethe, along with all of the most precious belongings that he could afford to ship along with them. They had boarded the vessel that was heading to the Texas shoreline and the promise that awaited them and they had eagerly left behind the life that they had known.
According to books and articles published in Europe, which Hans had read with great enthusiasm, this new country, which had won its independence from Mexico only thirteen years before, boasted vast lands as far as the eye could see; lands that spewed fresh, clean water and sprinkled the earth with gleaming gold and silver. Hans was not interested in the glistening riches that supposedly soaked the very ground where they were to live. Instead, he was hoping for a new start in this land of promise without the high taxes that had forced him and his business partner to leave their native homeland. He had followed the large number of immigrants that had heard of The Society of German Immigration’s attempt at easing overpopulation in their own country to the new country, The Republic of Texas. So, with high hopes and even higher aspirations, Hans had sold what he could in order to raise the money for their journey and they had embarked on a voyage that would ultimately change the lives of every member of the Hirsch family.
“The land will be free, Mama. The Society has promised us,” Hans later reiterated to Adelaide while she cradled Greta’s sleeping form in her arms. “Free from taxes, free from religious persecution and would cost not a penny of our own money!”
Adelaide shook her solemn head and kissed the girl’s tiny forehead before she gently laid her on the berth. She knew the story, for her husband had repeated it thousands of times in an effort to convince her to uproot her family and move to the new land. She knew that over three million acres in west-central Texas had been purchased from Henry Fisher and Burchard Miller, an endowment of land that came to be known as the Fisher-Miller Grant. She understood that her family had been promised 320 acres of land, plus transportation across Texas to that free land; a house, household furnishings, utensils, and farming equipment; churches, hospitals, roads and general provisions for their welfare; all for no price at all—or so it seemed. What physical price must her family pay in order to claim this land, she wondered as she looked into the shining face of her husband before she kissed his cheek and turned to lay with her sickly daughter.
“We’re almost there, Mama,” he told Adelaide as she closed her eyes against his heartfelt promises. “All will be well.”
Hans smiled at his loving wife as sleep quickly took her back home in her dreams. She would do anything for him, he was certain. She would die for him, would die for her children. But could she endure losing those that she loved? He could not perceive such a dreary thought. He shook it off and left her to her smiling slumber.
He walked up the creaking steps to the outside deck, shielding his eyes against the blinding sun. There were many different classes of people aboard, he recognized while he walked among those milling around the wooden planks. Many of these immigrants to Texas were poor with no land, like so many of the serfs that had been given money for their journey by The Society. Or they were over-taxed landowners like himself and his partner Sven Reinhold, who had been assured that this new land would be tax-free. But, no matter how they obtained their passage, they were all eager to start new lives and all seemed concerned with their own future, so they paid him no mind when he sauntered to the rail at the stern of the vessel and gazed toward the open ocean. Choosing to suppress the thrill of excitement that the sight of the new land stirred inside his heart, he avoided going to the side of the ship that crept ever closer to shore, delivering him and his family to their definitive destiny.
And yet, his mind whirled with anticipation. Full of dreams of farming his land and opening his blacksmith shop, he was unaware, as were his fellow passengers on that ship, that Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who had gone ahead of the first group of immigrants to prepare for their arrival in Texas, had misused most of the money that they had been promised for their survival in the new land. Moreover, they were never informed that the funds had dwindled to a diminutive figure. All they cared to know was that this man, their German Moses, would lead them to their Promised Land.
Staring at the blue horizon with eyes glazing over in recollection, Hans was reminded of the enthusiasm by the Society’s representatives while he and the other immigrants had been told, long before they had embarked on this journey, that Prince Carl had realized that the huge land grant in central Texas was too far from the coast for them to travel to without becoming fatigued. Wondering now, as he sucked in a long breath of sea air, if his frail little Greta would be able to make the long and arduous trek to their new home. He prayed silently that she would, at least, make it to the way station that had been established in a town named New Braunfels where they would rest until spring and then continue on.
Days later, upon their arrival on the Texas coast, they learned that Prince Carl had been replaced by Baron Ottfried Hans con Meusebach, who had dropped his title upon stepping foot in Texas and had became known simply as John O. Meusebach. Their new leader had landed only months before their ship entered its port at Indianola and, although there was very little financial aid existing, he was determined to relocate the settlers comfortably, if not prosperously with the impending procurement of the promised gold and silver. But word got around the six thousand immigrants who had no means of building shelter in that marshy wasteland that there was no money to purchase food or even canvas for make-shift tents and what’s more, there were no towns nearby in which to buy these things. Undaunted by this dilemma, they were certain that their future was not as bleak as it seemed.
“He will be back soon,” Hans told Adelaide while she sewed an improvised covering for their pit of a home out of fabric from her dresses. “They say that he has gone farther inland to start another settlement. He is naming it Fredericksburg.”
“How far inland?” Adelaide asked before she bit the thread and snapped the fabric to check her handiwork.
“All the way to the hill country. They say it is beautiful there, Mama!” Hans said with enthusiasm. “Sparkling granite rocks and waterfalls, and the wildflowers and trees flourish in the rich Texas soil! There are animals that we have never beheld, rivers and lakes and prairies as far as they eye can see!”
Despite the many attributes that the new land boasted, Mama was not concerned with them. She was more interested in the time that she and her family would have to stay on the shores of the country that seemed to want them gone. With the relentless rain followed by the broiling sun, the coast of Texas was not welcoming at all to the new settlers. She was ready to move on, to build their home out of the supposed boundless trees and to start a garden in the ‘rich soil’ so that she could feed her starving children.