Christian Althaus, pioneer doctor, was born in Westphalia on February 11, 1821. He received his medical training in the Prussian army and, with other Germans who emigrated in the 1840s, traveled to Texas. He sailed from Antwerp on August 14, 1846, and arrived at Galveston in October. He was settled in Fredericksburg when town lots were distributed in 1847. On October 5, 1847, he married Anna Maria Elisabetha Behrens, also a German immigrant, whose mother brought her and her brother to Fredericksburg with the first colonists after her father died on the boat.
In the spring of 1847 Althaus signed the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty, which brought some stability to the Hill Country frontier. He gave the Indians medical treatment and followed the advice of his friend Chief John Carnor to "be friendly and never pull a gun." Althaus spoke several Indian dialects and worked for a time at nearby Fort Martin Scott distributing food to the Indians as an agent of the United States government. He also made and sold saddles and other supplies to the Forty-niners on their way to California. In 1857 he moved his family sixteen miles to Cave Creek to start ranching. He built his otherwise conventional dwelling over a spring to provide water inside the house and a cool place to store his medicine. Althaus opposed slavery and secession, but he organized the home guard during the Civil War and was a Gillespie county commissioner from 1861 to 1864 and again in 1866.
He served as a community doctor until the 1880s, and his practice of medicine was carried on under many difficulties. Medical instruments were scarce; before Althaus amputated a crushed arm, he had to have the operating instrument (now at Pioneer Museum, Fredericksburg) made by a local blacksmith. He used locally grown herbs, roots, and bark to make his own medicines. When the government sent him to Bandera to treat diphtheria patients, he used medicine he made from honey, almond juice, and the bark of the blackjack tree. Thirty-four out of thirty-five people survived. Elizabeth Althaus not only raised seven children but also ran a makeshift hospital, orphanage, and shelter for wayfarers in their home. In addition she tended the farm during her husband's trips, which sometimes lasted for weeks. Althaus died on August 10, 1915, at the age of ninety-four. He was buried at Cave Creek beside St. Paul Lutheran Church, which he had helped found in 1883.
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Fannie Althaus, "Reminiscences of a Pioneer Doctor," Junior Historian, May 1948. Gillespie County Historical Society, Pioneers in God's Hills (2 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1960, 1974).
Health and Medicine
Physicians and Surgeons
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Barbara Donalson Althaus,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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