Erhard, Cayton (1822–1884)

By: Ford Dixon

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: April 5, 2016

Cayton Erhard, businessman and memoir writer, son of Ludwig and Laura Erhard, was born in Munich, Bavaria, on July 29, 1822. With his parents and younger brother, Adolph, he entered Texas at Galveston in 1839. The family and made its way up the Colorado River to Bastrop. In January 1840 both parents died, and the boys were informally adopted by the family of James Nicholson, a local merchant.

In 1841 President Mirabeau B. Lamar issued a call for volunteers to undertake an expedition to trade with and secure the Santa Fe territory for the Republic of Texas. Motivated more by the possibility of trade than that of glory, Erhard and his cousin Antonio Erhard joined the expedition. Along with the others, Erhard was captured by Mexican troops and spent the next two years as a prisoner in Mexico (see TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION).

In March 1843, after suffering cruel hardships, Erhard returned to Texas, where he rejoined the Nicholson family in Bastrop. Four years later, with his own savings and a loan from friends, he moved to San Marcos. There he was instrumental in organizing the Hays County government. He was elected the first county clerk and served as the first postmaster. In 1847 he opened a store in San Marcos that sold a large assortment of drugs and nostrums. This date marks it as the first drugstore in the state. During his eighteen years in San Marcos, Erhard prospered. He bought several lots of town property in San Marcos and Bastrop and several slaves.

His political convictions seemed solidly Democratic until the secession of Texas in 1861. His papers indicate that his discontent resulted from the deterioration of business conditions and public order as Texas endured the ordeal of the Civil War. Although Erhard's formal education was limited, his writings, which contain frequent references to classical literature, point to considerable learning. When his business floundered in San Marcos, he moved his store to Bastrop, where he remained the rest of his life.

After the storm of Reconstruction, Erhard again began to prosper. His politics, decidedly conservative and nonradical, apparently attracted notice in Austin. In 1872 he was appointed a judge in municipal elections for Bastrop, a position of influence normally reserved for those who supported the politics of Radical Republican governor Edmund J. Davis. Erhard's political position became sufficiently acceptable to the citizens of Bastrop for him to be elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1875. There he remained relatively quiet during the debates but was apparently pleased enough with the new constitution to give it his endorsement.

During the next ten years, Erhard devoted himself to his many business interests. In the fall of 1882 he began to write reminiscences of the Texan Santa Fe expedition for a weekly publication in the San Marcos Free Press. The series ran from November 16, 1882, to July 24, 1884. Erhard was married to Harriet Smith in September 1851, and they had nine children, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Erhard died at his home in Bastrop on July 21, 1884, and was buried in the city cemetery.

Ford Dixon, "Cayton Erhard's Reminiscences of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, 1841," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 66 (April 1963). Cayton Erhard Collection, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Thomas Falconer, Expedition to Santa Fe (New Orleans, 1842; rpt., as Letters and Notes on the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, 1841–1842, with intro. by Frederick Webb Hodges, New York: Dauber and Pine Bookshops, 1930). George Wilkins Kendall, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition (2 vols., New York: Harper, 1844; rpts. Austin: Steck, 1935; n.p.: Readex, 1966).

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

Ford Dixon, “Erhard, Cayton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

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January 1, 1995
April 5, 2016