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MEUSEBACH, JOHN O.

MEUSEBACH, JOHN O. (1812–1897). Baron Otfried Hans Freiherr von Meusebach (John O. Meusebach), founder of Fredericksburg and peacemaker with the Comanche Indians, was born on May 26, 1812, at Dillenburg, Germany, one of the four surviving children of Baron Carl Hartwig Gregor von Meusebach, a judge solicitor, and Ernestine von Witzleben Meusebach. He attended the parochial school at Rossleben. In 1828 he enrolled in the Mining and Forest Academy at Clausthal in the Harz Mountains. In 1832 he enrolled at the University of Bonn, where he specialized in law, with cameralism and finance as supporting fields. During the course of his studies Meusebach learned to read five languages and speak English fluently. He eventually transferred to the University of Halle and took his bar examinations at Naumberg in 1836. Afterwards he worked in various administrative posts in Trier, Berlin, Potsdam, and elsewhere.

In 1845 the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, the Adelsverein, appointed Meusebach to succeed Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels as its commissioner general in Texas. As executive administrator for the Adelsverein, Meusebach received an allowance of $2,000 for the purchase of scientific equipment, a salary of $790 annually, a commission of 2 percent of all net profits of the society, and an allocation of 500 acres of land. If the society should dissolve within five years, he was to receive an indemnity of $5,000. In early May of 1845 Meusebach arrived in Galveston. He and his small entourage rode horseback to New Braunfels, 165 miles away, finishing the trip with six overnight stops. Meusebach labored to serve the needs of the new immigrants with a diligence true to the motto on his family's crest, "Tenax Propositi" ("Steadfast in Purpose"). However, indebtedness, lack of cash, the arrival of too many immigrants in too short a time, the shortage of the necessary vehicles for transporting them to the interior of Texas, the outbreak of war with Mexico in the immediate disembarkation area, the unexpectedly severe winter, and disease of epidemic proportions all hampered his efforts. Nevertheless, while he took charge of the affairs at New Braunfels he also founded the settlements of Fredericksburg, Castell, and Leiningen.

Soon after his arrival in New Braunfels, Meusebach put aside his German title of nobility and adopted the name John O. Meusebach. Convinced that use should be made of the land in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, he acquired headrights in it on credit. Before surveying and settlement of the site could occur, it was necessary to arrive at an agreement with the Comanche Indians. In December 1846, speaking through Indian interpreter Jim Shaw, Meusebach arranged to meet with ten Comanche chiefs on the lower San Saba River in early March 1847. Despite current reports that the Comanches were on the warpath, Meusebach and a delegation of German settlers met with the head chiefs-Buffalo Hump, Santa Anna,qqv and Mopechucope (Old Owl)-and their people. He promised the Indians presents worth $3,000 in return for the Indians' pledge not to disturb the surveyors or harm the colonists. On May 9, 1847, the Comanche chiefs came to Fredericksburg to sign the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty and collect their gifts. This treaty was one of the most important pioneer works of the Germans in Texas. After it, in July 1847, thinking that his work for the society was complete, Meusebach gave up the office of commissioner general.

Among Meusebach's close associates in Texas were botanist Ferdinand Lindheimer and geologist Ferdinand von Roemer.qqv He also corresponded and exchanged native plants with George Engelmann, founder of the Missouri State Botanical Gardens. With Engelmann as his intermediary, Meusebach annually supplied from his land in Central Texas thousands of cuttings of native black Spanish grapes to replace the phylloxera-ravaged plants of French vineyards. He also supplied Texas yucca plants to the American and foreign markets. At least once Engelmann provided Meusebach with Catalpa speciosa seeds.

While on a trip to Germany in 1851, Meusebach was elected to the Texas Senate to represent Bexar, Comal, and Medina counties. He was a member of Senate committees on state affairs and education, where he advocated universal and compulsory education. In early 1852 the education committee got a bill passed to provide for a system of public schools. In 1854 Meusebach received an appointment as commissioner from Governor Elisha M. Pease to issue land certificates to those immigrants of 1845 and 1846 who had been promised them by the Adelsverein.

Meusebach lost his first fiancée, Elisabeth von Hardenburg, to typhoid fever. On September 28, 1852, he married seventeen-year-old Countess Agnes of Coreth. They had eleven children, of whom three sons and four daughters reached adulthood. Meusebach retired to his 200-acre farm in Loyal Valley in 1869 and spent his remaining years tending his orchard, vineyards, and rose garden. He died at Loyal Valley on May 27, 1897, and is buried at Cherry Spring, near Fredericksburg.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Rudolph L. Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831–1861 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930; rpt. 1964). Irene M. King, John O. Meusebach, German Colonizer in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). Cornelia Marschall Smith, "Meusebach-Engelmann-Lindheimer," Texas Journal of Science 34 (September 1982).

Cornelia Marschall Smith and Otto W. Tetzlaff

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Cornelia Marschall Smith and Otto W. Tetzlaff, "MEUSEBACH, JOHN O.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fme33), accessed July 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.