The Golden Free Land by Crystal Sasse Ragsdale
We, who live in the Machine Age, can scarcely imagine how our grandparents and parents, who came from a populous country, the home of their parents, and moved with them to the thinly settled state of Texas, passed their youth — under circumstances and surroundings so entirely different from those under which we grandchildren and children live.
Therefore, we gladly listen when Grandmother or Grandfather tells of that time: the pioneer days with their sorrows and joys!
And so the children and grandchildren of Louise Fuchs have asked her to write down her Reminiscences, so that those days will not vanish for us in the stream of time.
Frieda H. Fuchs
My father, Johannes Christlieb Nathanael Romberg, was the only son and only child of a minister Bernhard Friedrich Christlieb Romberg, and as was then the custom, he was also intended for the ministry; but weak eyes, the result of measles, made it hard for him to study. He felt an inclination to learn a trade, but the social standards of that time forbade that a minister’s son should do manual labor; so it was decided by his elders that he should become a merchant, for which calling he had neither talent nor inclination. While yet quite young he entered the business house of the merchant Johannes Dietrich Bauch for training.
Bauch’s second oldest daughter Friederike later became our mother. He was very shy and timid and my mother, still a child, felt sympathy for his loneliness. And I know not how it happened they soon became good friends. In his leisure hours she read to him, and frequently they discussed what they had read. He was a thinker and ponderer. She was planning to become a teacher, and she developed into a remarkably clever woman who was a match for any educated person in a discussion. I well remember this, for in our American “Settlement” lived many well-educated neighbors: a minister, an officer, a physician, an attorney, etc.
At the age of fourteen years Friederike became engaged to Johannes Romberg. Then she left her father’s house to teach, and it was in her twenty-fourth year (1833) that they married. They lived in Boizenburg on the Elbe, where my father started his own business (1833). Here four daughters and two sons came into the world — I in the year 1840.
My father never took pleasure in his business, but when he had a chance to do some cabinet- or brick-work in or on the house, he did it gladly. He was a tradesman unwillingly; he liked writing poetry much better. He also enjoyed working in the garden. Later on in America Mother had to attend to all the business.
MY CHILDHOOD IN GERMANY
Since I have always had so much affection for anything that had to do with the land, I must also tell you of the nice garden which we had on the edge of the town; it gave me so much pleasure, and is still such a bright spot in my memory! In it grew apples, pears, plums, and different berries.
Entirely through the garden ran a broad path, on each side of which beautiful roses grew. Early in the spring there were tulips, hyacinths, and many other flowers, but the lily-of-the-valley was the earliest. I still remember my joy when I found the first blossom half covered with snow, while in the blue spring sky several white clouds floated, and a crow called his “Caw, Caw!” down from above. And whenever I hear this “Caw, Caw!” again, I think of that spring morning.
On each side of the entrance stood a plum tree — the large blue plum — and as we stepped into the garden one morning, the ground was covered with the dark, ripe plums; how we shouted for joy! Such a sight I have never seen over here.
Our father had a grocery store, but as he had an assistant to help him he had some time for other things. When there was something in the house that needed to be altered or that had to be made, he always did it. Once he built a heater for our dining room, using tiles. (Here no one knows that building stone). For us children he made various toys which gave him, as well as us, pleasure.
He also manufactured vinegar which was very good — made of honey. For that he had a special room. There everything had to be made of wood, because the vinegar vapor corrodes all iron. Large barrels of honey were used there.
We always had a little honey on our dining table. This honey was raised in the Lüneburger woodland.
Almost in front of our house was an avenue of large trees, and behind them stood the church. Our house was a corner house, to the right of which stood the business section. To the left up the street lived the high constable (Amtshauptmann) of the district; there I was often invited as a playmate for the only child, Lillie, who was my age. There I had fine times. She had so very many beautiful toys!
When they went for a drive I was often taken along; one evening a servant came for me, so that I could go with them to visit little Lillie’s grandmother. That must have been the wish of my playmate; otherwise, I probably would not have been taken along. For gradually I began to find out, small as I still was, that according to the ideas of that time I was probably not a playmate of proper rank. Nevertheless, later on we corresponded for a while. But first, here in Texas, I had to learn to read and write, and that did not go so quickly, for generally Mother taught us only during the winter. In the summer there was work for us in the fields. But wait — we are not yet In Texas!
It was not till the year 1847 that we moved away. The circumstances in that populous country were such that our parents began to be concerned, as the number of their children grew, as to how they would find opportunities for all of them. — Also, the thought of living in a republic was very tempting. At that time the circumstances here were quite different; whoever was willing to work had a chance to prosper even with a large family of children. Children even were assets in the parents’ struggle to advance. The demands of existence were so simple, so few; yet everyone was contented, healthy, and happy.
But once more my thoughts fly back to Germany to an uncle of my mother’s, Rev. Bauch [Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Bauch, 1786-1866] of Zahrensdorf [“Sternsdorf” in the original German text], a German mile from Boizenburg. He was a country minister, and lived on a small stream called the Schaale. A fine garden lay between the house and the stream, with a broad path to the stream and on each side of the path rows of flowers and fruit trees. That was just what I liked! In particular I remember the beautiful blooming lilacs and the fruit we were often given to eat. And always we were taken for a boat ride down the stream, on which occasion we would go under a bridge, a very interesting adventure for me. Then we also went fishing, but the results of that I have forgotten, except that there were always fish to eat.
With what joy we always looked forward to such a visit! We rode on a fine, paved highway, and I remember we always had to stop at one place to pay toll. The money taken in was used to keep the highway repaired. The railroad also crossed the highway, and an iron chain barred the way when the train passed. That was the first train I saw.
The son of this uncle, Adolph Bauch, later traveled with us to Texas.
DEPARTURE FROM GERMANY IN THE YEAR 1847
Now I must mention how very hard it was for all of us to leave our dearly loved Grandmother Romberg, Conradine Sophie Friederike Hast. She had one relative in Germany, and she intended to live with her. She naturally clung to her only son and his family, but she felt too weak to go along and experience the hard beginning in the new land, and she feared that she would be a burden; our parents also did not like to risk taking her into such uncertain circumstances. Consequently, the bitter parting took place in Hagenow, where her only relative lived. Then came the farewells to Mother’s relatives. A distant cousin went with us to the train by which we intended going to Schwerin to the relatives. (Father stayed behind on business.) At the railroad station Mother said to us children, “Sit here quietly until I come again!”
She left us only to buy the tickets, but it took too long for us, and we went to meet Mother. Then the signal was given to take our seats on the train! As we rolled off we noticed that the youngest, Ida, — the most obedient — had stayed in her place. What a “frightened and general crying” and lamentation then began. There was nothing we could do, for it was not till the next morning that our mother, leaving us with her relatives in Schwerin, would be able to get the little sister. Our cousin, who had accompanied us to the train, found her and took her home with him — a lucky ending to the story. And Mother found her at his house, comforted, and eating bread and butter.
I still remember the feeling that came over me after all the farewells had been said. We were finally on the way, and our little sailing vessel began to move away from Hamburg, sailing over the apparently boundless water. Once we had a strong storm, and I can still see the waves dashing about, on every wave a large fish, as if the ocean swarmed with them.
There were many things that we had to do without on the voyage. The ship bread, large brown “crackers,” was almost unbearably hard. My mother made the discovery that by pounding up the crackers and adding dried fruit and sugar which she had brought along, she could prepare a right passable soup; and soon many of our fellow-voyagers were doing the same, and then there was a general pounding. Drinking water was very sparingly apportioned, and we sometimes suffered from rather dry throats.
Finally we landed in New Orleans; from there we went to Galveston in a steamboat. The voyage had taken eleven weeks, much longer than our parents had expected. On the last night we had a storm [November 17, 1847]. Our mother stayed in the cabin, while we children crawled into any corner in which we could find room together, where we tried to sleep, surrounded by lumber which rolled about us. Then an old Negro came and showed us a better place; the spot we had chosen was too dangerous, for something might have fallen on our heads.
In the morning, after a wakeful night, our aunt, Louise Bauch, who was making the voyage with us came and announced to us that the night had brought us another sister [Friederike or Rike]. Then there was great surprise and joy, and all our fatigue was forgotten.
At daybreak we landed in Galveston, and our big, strong muscular cousin Adolf Bauch carried our mother to the shore. From there she and the little sister were taken to the hotel. How we got to Houston I do not remember any more, but I do remember that we spent four weeks there in a hotel. The room we lived in was divided by curtains.
We continued our journey inland by ox-wagon. In Houston it rained almost continually, until a north wind finally cleared the sky. Our father bought land on the River San Bernard [in Austin County], and for our first shelter got a room for us with an old Texan named [Heinrich] Amthor. There we stayed, while Father with the help of our strong cousin built a log-house. It consisted of two rooms, with a hall between. The shingles for the roof also had to be made, and I do not know how long it was before we could finally move in. In one of the rooms, likewise, a fireplace had to be built. At that time fireplaces were made of wood and clay. In it we burned many a log, while the north wind howled and blustered differently than in these days. We slept soundly, but I remember that we often heard a branch of a large post-oak tree scraping on the roof. How did we get into the garret to our bed? Father made a settee with a high back (he brought all kinds of tools along when he came over here), and from this settee we managed to climb up into the garret, and down again.
I must tell you what a splendid playground the sandy Bernard was for us children. It was so nice in the sand! There mountains were heaped up and tunnels dug through with our bare hands. Canals were dug, and the water that followed our tunnels flowed as we wished. The mounds were decorated with flowers that stayed fresh in the moist sand. If only the cattle would not come and destroy everything. That was the nicest playground for children that one could think of. In the clean, white sand the clothing stayed unsoiled, and our pleasure was endless — until we came the next day to get water for our dear mother’s cooking and found everything trampled down, as was often the case. But we always built it up again, like the Japanese, who, undiscouraged, after the most awful volcanic eruption again start rebuilding.
We had to carry all the water for our household use. Later we had a barrel on a sled, which old Hans the horse had to pull. We children, several at once, found room on his broad back, for in those days there were no buggies and cars. Scarcely one old farm wagon with wooden axles was to be found. Such large horses like our Hans I never see now. Three or four of us children often found a place on his back. But frequently it became apparent that he wished to enjoy a roll in the sand. Then, when he made a motion to do so, we scrambled from all sides off his back to the ground. Our Hans was what was then called an “American horse,” very large, good for plowing and driving. At that time there were also small Mexican horses for riding, but they were not quite trustworthy.
Our field was fenced in by a zigzag fence of post-oak rails. Many large dead trees still stood in our field, and in April fine blackberries ripened around the trunks or stumps. We celebrated my oldest brother’s birthday, April 14, with the first berries; they were eaten with sugar
and cream in later years.
It was wonderful how many plants grew voluntarily in the sandy field beside the corn: butter beans that climbed up the corn stalks, okra, squash, and pumpkins. We never had to plant any, for they always came up by themselves. In the fence corners we found tomatoes, small and round, growing in clusters.
At that time game was very plentiful. From the house we could see the deer grazing on the other side of the Bernard and could see the turkeys in the field, with their flocks of young ones, gleaning the corn. But it was long before my brother Johannes (the oldest) learned to shoot them, and still longer before he succeeded in killing a deer, hard as he tried. How often in the spring one could often be seen from the house.
In those first years no one ever thought of hauling fire wood. We children had to gather it. Sometimes we also went along the fence and pulled off the bark from the post-oak rails. Mother like to burn this bark. We were often stung by scorpions while gathering it.
During the winter the first years we lived on beef and sweet potatoes, and very often we were without milk. But I must not forget to mention our cornbread and molasses. This is how we arranged it: The oldest sister went around with the molasses can and gave everyone a portion on the plate with cornbread, and we had to be satisfied with that. The clear river water drunk with this food tasted good to us children.
Oh, when one thinks of all that is placed on the table today! How entirely everything has changed in one lifetime! I scarcely feel at home in these changed circumstances.
On winter evenings when we all sat in a half circle before the fireplace, Father told us stories. Oh, how we enjoyed listening. Sometimes he teased us. When a very interesting situation came, he would puff thick clouds of smoke for awhile out of his long pipe, which he had brought along from Germany, and we had to wait impatiently until he let his pipe rest and took up the thread of the story again. Often he had thought out the story himself. I think that I must have inherited that gift, for later on while at work in the field I told my brothers and sisters many stories, and it was interesting to them. They listened attentively and begged for “More!” But how singular! Later when I wanted to relate something to my children, I could not do it. Work and sorrow must have killed the talent. I did not understand why I could no longer succeed in telling a story.
FRIENDS AND SCHOOL
I must also tell you of our good neighbors, Amthors. We liked to visit there, and we were glad when they came to see us. — Here I must mention that now in the year 1927, a son of these Amthors’, Wilhelm Amthor, is a good friend of my oldest grandson, Moritz Goebel, in Waco. — How everything has changed from 1848 to 1927! Amthors had a nice large house, approached by an avenue of huge chinaberry trees. In their shade hung swings, and there we spent many happy hours playing together. One son, Heinrich, was the age of my oldest brother, Johannes; Marie was my age. We spent so many happy hours there, and yet we drifted entirely apart when we moved away later. Therefore, I was glad that the descendants, Wilhelm Amthor and Moritz Goebel, became friends.
A family named Himli [Alex and Clothilda Himly] lived near us on the Bernard; my youngest brothers and sisters often played with the children, as they were all more or less of the same age.
It was a great event when the first piano was brought into our community. It belonged to the youngest aunt on our mother’s side, Caroline Bauch, who with her mother Dorothea Schleef Bauch and a sister had immigrated from Germany. (The sister, Elise, died on the ship of cholera and was buried at sea.) During the voyage Caroline Bauch became acquainted with the engineer Getulius Kellersberger and also became engaged to him. They married at our house, and then traveled on to Mexico and California. They did not want to take the piano along, because Kellersberger as a surveyor could not have a stationary residence. He made surveys for the city of San Francisco, also in New York, Mexico, and later in Texas.
For the piano they soon found buyers. Our neighbors, Amthor and Rev. Adolf Fuchs, both wanted it very much, so they decided who was to get it by casting lots. Our neighbor Amthor won it, so it stayed near us, and frequently a musical afternoon and evening was arranged there, for Amthor was a great music lover, and he often invited Rev. Fuchs over to sing his beautiful songs. On such occasions we neighbors were always present. A male choir also often sang there or at our house., and that sounded wonderful coming through the large oak trees on those moonlight nights. Ludwig / Louis Franke, a cousin of Rev. Fuchs’, often let the children sing. This Franke later became my brother-in-law.
But let me tell you some more about Rev. Fuchs and his family, because the Fuchs and Romberg families are still to this day closely associated. At that time they lived five miles from us at Cat Springs. Ottilie was the age of my oldest sister Bernhardine, while Ino [Adolfine] was my age. When they came to visit us, we played with the wonderful toy dishes and with the many beautiful dolls that I had received from my Grandmother Romberg in Germany. The dishes were so large that we could really cook with them. However, we had barely prepared a nice meal when, much too soon for us, it was time for them to leave, and everything had to be quickly packed away. Nearer neighbors with daughters my age we did not have, so it was always hard for me to part from Ino Fuchs and Marie Amthor after we had played together. But we had other
friends among our neighbors, who often on summer evening assembled under a large poplar tree in front of our house, where they rested on a large settee that Father had made. Then songs were sung, and often the men held disputes. How I enjoyed listening to both! The old tunes still ring in my head: “Im Krug zum grünen Kranze” and “It cannot always remain so, here under the changing moon; it blossoms awhile and then withers, whatever inhabits this world with us.” Yes, yes, how the times have changed! Wonderful is the progress and change occurring on one lifetime. For in truth, I am old now and can scarcely relate anything coherently.
When my sister Bernhardine and Ottilie Fuchs (later Ottilie Goeth) were together, they always sat and read. That is what my sister was usually doing, for we had brought many books along and she was very fond of reading. On summer afternoons she had barely finished eating before she was deep in her reading again. Then I could stand beside her and say, “Bernhardine, let’s wash the dishes!” as often as I liked. She did not hear or move: I could repeat it and shake her, but nothing disturbed her. I sometimes gave it up and attended to the dish-washing alone. At such times she lived only for her book! I was, to be sure, much stronger than she was, much healthier, and have had some work to do all my life, in the house, in the field, and in the garden. This always interested me, and I always attended to it with ardor as long as I was at home. I always had flowers in the house, too. We could not grow them in the yard because of the chickens.
My dear grandmother in Germany always sent me all kinds of flower seeds: wonderful stocks, carnations, mignonette, hyacinth bulbs, all of which were my standing favorites.
On Sunday afternoons, when the dishes were washed, I frequently went out with my younger sisters, Ida, Lina [alternately spelled “Line,” short for Caroline], and Rike, (the latter our ship-baby), to a nice flowery place. There I sat down, my sisters brought me flowers, and I wove each one a wreath to adorn her head, so that in the evening all came home crowned with flowers. But often I had to use my spare time to make new clothing for their dolls. That must have been the prelude to my later life!
You must not judge from this, dear children, that I was always so gentle and industrious. No, I bet my brothers that I could beat them climbing trees, and I won! Scarcely a tree was too high for me. Oh, that seemed heavenly to me, to climb high in the trees, which were usually festooned with wild grapes. The grape vines were so strong that we could climb on them from tree to tree.
But often after hard work in the field chopping cotton (where we were bothered with crabgrass), we lay still enjoying the noon-rest and reading. Poems gave me great pleasure, and I liked to memorize them and later recite them at my work in the field, so that I would not forget them. For me it was a pleasure to rejoice in their beauty while I was working.
In our long bookshelf we had such a nice selection of books that we could read and study. My mother was an excellent reader. Many times the winter evenings seemed too short, yea, much too short. My mother knitted while she read aloud, which did not seem to disturb her in the least. On the contrary; for her reading and knitting stockings seemed to belong together. And yet we children wore shoes and stockings only when we went visiting, and then they were a torment!
I can still so distinctly hear our mother reading to us, and see the knitting needles busily twinkling also. But once in a while her hands would fell in her lap, and her voice after an indistinct murmur would become silent, her head would nod, and she would sleep. But only for a little while; then she would lift her head main and say, “So now I can go on again!” And her twofold occupation would begin anew.
When I was thirteen years old [in 1853], my eighteen-year-old sister Bernhardine married the aforementioned Louis Franke, a lawyer from Germany, who now raised tobacco and manufactured cigars. At that time many people raised tobacco. We did too, for it paid very well.