Ehrenberg, Herman (1816–1866)


By: Natalie Ornish

Revised by: James E. Crisp

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 7, 2021


Herman Vollrath Ehrenberg, surveyor and cartographer, survivor of the Goliad massacre, writer, and engineer, who wrote the longest and most vivid memoir of any soldier from the Texas revolutionary armies of 1835–36, was born in the village of Steuden, Prussia, where the birth of a Hermann Vollrath Ehrenberg was registered on October 17, 1816, at the Lutheran church. He was the youngest of three sons of Johann Friedrich Vollrath Ehrenberg, an innkeeper, and Johanna Sophie Julianne Ehrenberg, née Hesse, and he was baptized in the Lutheran parish at Steuden on October 20, 1816. His family moved four years later to the city of Eisleben, where his father became a district magistrate. In 1834 Herman emigrated, alone, to New York on the ship Ludwig from Bremen. Nothing definite is known of his activities in the United States before he signed on with the New Orleans Greys in October 1835.

As a teenaged volunteer member of the New Orleans Greys, he participated in the siege of Béxar in 1835 and the battle of Coleto in 1836, where he was captured along with the rest of Col. James Walker Fannin’s command. After surviving the massacre of most of these prisoners at Goliad (when he received a saber cut on his forehead that left a lifetime scar), Ehrenberg wandered alone as far as the Colorado River, where he was recaptured and taken with other Texan prisoners to labor for the Mexican army at the port of Matagorda. He escaped a second time during the Mexican retreat following the battle of San Jacinto and made his way to safety.

Ehrenberg became a citizen of the Republic of Texas and served briefly in a frontier ranging company in early 1840. After contracting an illness during this service, he returned to Europe for medical treatment and in 1843 published in Leipzig the first of what became three editions of his memoir, which became the most popular German-language book on Texas during the 1840s. He named the first (1843) edition of his book Texas und seine Revolution. The 1844 edition was called Der Freiheitskampf in Texas im Jahre 1836, and the book was published again in 1845 as Fahrten und Schicksale eines Deutschen in Texas.

He returned to North America soon after submitting his manuscript to the publisher and arrived in New Orleans in the summer of 1843. He traveled with a fur-trapping party from St. Louis to the Pacific by way of the Oregon Trail in 1844. In May 1845 he sailed from Oregon to Hawaii, where the government employed him to survey streets and draw a map of Honolulu. He also visited a number of Polynesian islands, including Tahiti. Ehrenberg helped rescue Americans held captive in lower California during the Mexican War, and he took part in the California gold rush in 1848–49. He traveled to the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. A well-known cartographer, Ehrenberg’s most famous work is his 1854 Map of the Gadsden Purchase, Sonora, and portions of New Mexico, Chihuahua, & California, republished in a revised edition in 1858. His map was the first made of the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.

In 1855 he surveyed and helped incorporate the town of Colorado City, Arizona. In 1856, with Charles Poston, Ehrenberg established the headquarters of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company at Tubac, Arizona, and was appointed surveyor and mining engineer. Senator Barry Goldwater called Ehrenberg "one of the greatest surveyors and map makers ever to visit the Western United States." Ehrenberg wrote articles for Mining Magazine and Journal of Geology and Arizona Weekly. He was also an Indian agent for the Mojaves on the Colorado River Reservation in the mid-1860s. The United States Board of Geographic Names gave the name Ehrenberg Peak to a summit in Grand Canyon National Park.

Ehrenberg never married. He was murdered by an unknown assailant on October 9, 1866, at Dos Palmas, near the site of present Palm Springs, California. At the time of his death, he was one of the most respected men in the American Southwest. Mineral City, Arizona, was renamed Ehrenberg in his honor through the efforts of Michael "Big Mike" Goldwater.

Although Ehrenberg was a close observer of his comrades-in-arms in Texas and a generally reliable eyewitness to the battles in which he took part, his memoir is also a literary creation intended for a German audience. In it, he not only espouses democracy and freedom for a united Germany as well as for Texas, but also embellishes his story of the revolution with imaginary incidents and invented characters and dialog, making it necessary for historians to use his work only with extreme caution. Nevertheless, his narrative offers valuable insight into the attitudes and ideals of a young Texan “everyman,” and constitutes one of the very few book-length works by a citizen of the Texas Republic.

The early translations of his work into English, which began to appear in book-length form only in the early twentieth century, notably works in 1925 and 1935, are marred by both unintentional errors and tendentious censorship. A new translation and scholarship was published in 2021.

Edgar William Bartholomae, A Translation of H. Ehrenberg’s Fahrten und Schicksale eines Deutschen in Texas, with Introduction and Notes (M. A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1925). James E. Crisp, ed., and Louis E. Brister, trans., with James C. Kearney, trans., Inside the Texas Revolution: The Enigmatic Memoir of Herman Ehrenberg (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2021). Hermann Ehrenberg, Der Freiheitskampf in Texas im Jahre 1836 (Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1844). Hermann Ehrenberg, Fahrten und Schicksale eines Deutschen in Texas (Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1845). Herman Ehrenberg, Texas Blood: Herman Ehrenberg’s Odyssey in the Texas Revolution (Boerne, Texas: Mockingbird Books, 2016). Hermann Ehrenberg, Texas und seine Revolution (Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1843). Herman Ehrenberg, With Milam and Fannin: Adventures of a German Boy in Texas’ Revolution, Edited by Henry [Nash] Smith. Translated by Charlotte Churchill (Dallas: Tardy Publishing Company, Inc., 1935; Reprinted with an added index by The Pemberton Press; Austin, Tex., 1968). Natalie Ornish, ed., Herman Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg: Goliad Survivor—Old West Explorer (Dallas: Texas Heritage Press, 1997).

Categories:
  • Exploration
  • Explorers (German)
  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Authors and Writers
  • Literature
  • Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel
  • Publications, Journals, and Magazines
  • Military
  • Soldiers
  • Surveyors and Cartographers
  • Jews
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

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

Natalie Ornish Revised by James E. Crisp, “Ehrenberg, Herman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ehrenberg-herman.

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1952
September 7, 2021