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VON BEHR, OTTOMAR

VON BEHR, OTTOMAR (1810–1856). Baron Ottomar von Behr, pioneer settler, was born in 1810, the son of a high official of the duchy of Anhalt-Cöthen, Germany. He was a friend of geographer-naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and of Bettina von Arnim, for whom the commune of Bettina was named. It is not clear when Behr first came to Texas, but he was in Houston in 1846 when he met an acquaintance, Hermann Spiess, and they returned to Europe together. Gustav Dresel, agent of the Adelsverein, wrote from Galveston in 1847 that Behr and his family had arrived from Germany and were staying with him. It was the same year that Behr's book for German immigrants-Guter Rath für Auswanderer nach den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung von Texas-was published in Leipzig. Nicolaus Zink founded a settlement on Sister Creek in 1847, and Behr, following soon after, was the second settler. It is said that Behr was the one who named the settlement Sisterdale. This colony of German intellectuals was an important stop forty-six miles from San Antonio on the historic Pinta Trail, which led to Fredericksburg and on west. In the Galveston Zeitung, June 7, 1848, Behr's name appeared on a list of prominent Texas Germans who would vouch for the favorable Texas climate, the land and land prices, the farming potential, and the friendliness of the Indians. The Comal County census of 1850 lists Ottomar von Behr (age 35), his wife, Louisa Katzfass (age 27), and three children. In October 1853 Behr was one of the four singers from Sisterdale who attended the first Sängerfest in New Braunfels (see TEXAS STATE SÄNGERBUND). He raised a breed of sheep that he had developed by crossing those he had brought from Germany with a Mexican breed. In his complex of log and fachwerk cabins on the banks of the Guadalupe River he had a lending library (possibly the first in Texas), held court as justice of the peace of his precinct, and is said to have operated the post office. He was a meteorologist and a naturalist. Prominent travelers, among them Prince Paul of Württemberg, John Russell Bartlett, and Frederick Law Olmsted, visited the Behr household and commented on its contents of books, pictures, and a harpsichord in the wilderness culture of the "Latin Settlementsqv." Behr owned property in Germany and made regular trips back there to collect his rents; on one trip he took his daughters by his first marriage to enroll in school. He died on a later trip to Germany in 1856. His wife remained in Texas to rear their four children, whose descendants were living in the Sisterdale area in the 1970s.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John Russell Bartlett, Personal Narrative of Explorations...Connected with the United States and Mexican Boundary Commission (New York: Appleton, 1854; rpt., Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1965). Rudolph L. Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831–1861 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930; rpt. 1964). Viktor F. Bracht, Texas im Jahre 1848 (Iserlohn, Westphalia: J. Bädeker, 1849; trans. C. F. Schmidt, San Antonio: Naylor, 1931). S. W. Geiser, Naturalists of the Frontier (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1937; 2d ed. 1948). Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey through Texas (New York, 1857; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978).

Paul C. Ragsdale

Citation

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

Paul C. Ragsdale, "VON BEHR, OTTOMAR," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fvo02), accessed December 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.