Spiess, Hermann (ca. 1818–unknown)

By: Crystal Sasse Ragsdale

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 13, 2020

Hermann Spiess, German colonizer, was born around 1818 in Offenbach, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, the son of Luise (Werner) and Johann Balthasar Spiess; his father was a musician, linguist, pastor, writer on public education, and founder of the public education school system in Offenbach. Hermann's brother Adolf, an ardent physical culturist, had been a tutor to the young Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, but in 1833 was urged to flee from Giessen because of his acquaintance with members of the Frankfurt student Putsch, or revolt, taking Hermann with him to Burgdorf, Switzerland. Hermann returned to the Gymnasium (school) in Darmstadt in 1835, where he and Ferdinand Herff both passed their maturity examinations in 1838. That spring Hermann Spiess entered the University of Giessen, but the following year, because of his activities against the reactionary school government, Spiess was expelled for 2½ years. During that time he attended Polytechnic Institute in Karlsruhe, entering the school of natural sciences. He returned to Giessen in 1842, passed the examination, and from 1842 to 1845 he was with the woods and forests commission in Darmstadt, passing the second examination in 1844. In the spring of 1845 he took a two-year leave of absence; he traveled to New York, then west to Milwaukee, then south to New Orleans, Galveston, and New Braunfels in the spring of 1846. Spiess returned to Darmstadt, but despite the promise of a secure professional career he wrote that he "could not find any peace and suffered as the entire German youth or young manhood at that time." He convinced Herff and Gustav Schleicher to join him in founding a socialistic colony in Wisconsin. As Spiess gathered a number of young men who were interested in the plan, his work became known in Darmstadt. Contacted by an envoy of Count Carl of Castell-Castell, Spiess and Herff were interviewed in Wiesbaden, and they agreed to bring their colony to Texas and settle on Adelsverein lands. Herff and Spiess landed in New York in April 1847 and continued by way of New Orleans and Galveston. Spiess went to New Braunfels, and Herff remained on the coast to meet the "Darmstadters" at Indianola (see LATIN SETTLEMENTS OF TEXAS).

Count Carl sent a letter with Spiess announcing his appointment to the position of general commissioner of the Adelsverein, as John O. Meusebach had already made known his plan to resign as head of the Verein's colonization project. When Meusebach replaced the controversial "Dr. Schubbert," whose real name was Friedrich Armand Strubberg, with Jean von Coll as colony director in Fredericksburg, Schubbert refused to give up the post and would not vacate the society's living quarters. Spiess went there to settle the matter and also to regain control of Nassau Plantation (see NASSAU FARM), a Verein-owned 5,000-acre plantation in Fayette County, which Schubbert had earlier acquired by lease. After the breakdown of negotiations between Spiess and Schubbert, Schubbert took physical possession of Nassau Plantation, and a pre-dawn gunfight between the two factions at Nassau resulted in the death of a man named Sommers with the Schubbert party from La Grange, and Casper Rohrdorf (see SWISS) with the Spiess group. In a September 27, 1848, trial in La Grange, Spiess was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense in the death of Sommers. Spiess supervised the surveying of land for the expected Darmstadt colony on the Llano River, and a place was selected as close as possible to Fredericksburg for protection and source of supplies. A road was laid out, and a river crossing was prepared. Wagons were sent to the coast in July to bring the Darmstadters to their new location, which was not actually on the exact site Spiess had chosen. They named the new colony Bettina.

Meanwhile the financial affairs of the society had continued to disintegrate, and Spiess had inherited the responsibility of keeping the colonies going. The necessity of maintaining the still dependent colonies of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg involved hundreds of mule and ox carts, wagoners, saddlers, blacksmiths, bookkeepers, and clerks. On the last days of 1847 Spiess made it known that the affairs of the society would be severely limited. The administration at Fredericksburg, as well as that at Indianola, was abolished, and a number of oxen, mules, and wagons were auctioned to meet some of the society's debts. Hermann Wilke was retained to continue the surveying of town lots and ten-acre plots, and the original deeds transferring the lands from the Verein to the settlers bear the name of Hermann Spiess. Spiess participated in the activities of New Braunfels from the beginning. In 1848, with Ludwig Bene (afterwards his successor as Verein administrator) and Louis C. Ervendberg; he signed the petition for the charter of the Western Texas Orphan Asylum, for those children whose parents had died during the illnesses that plagued the colonists during their migration from the coast to New Braunfels in 1845–46. In 1850 Spiess and a number of men formed the Guadalupe River Bridge Company to construct a toll bridge across the river in New Braunfels. During this time he also built a sawmill and a shingle mill on his property at Waco Springs, just above New Braunfels. After the strong antislavery statement issued at a German political meeting held in San Antonio in May 1854, Spiess and several other Texas Germans issued a statement in the Texas State Gazette (see AUSTIN STATE GAZETTE), on June 18, 1854, defending the majority of their fellow settlers against the resulting press indictment that Texas Germans were pro-Union and antislavery (see GERMAN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE CIVIL WAR). In 1851 Spiess was married to Lena Spiess, the Mexican girl whose story had become legend among the early German settlers. They had ten children, three of whom died in infancy. In 1867 Spiess sold his Texas property on the advice of his doctor to move to a colder climate. The family settled in Warrensburg, Missouri, where Spiess died sometime after 1873.

Rudolph L. Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831–1861 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930; rpt. 1964). Henry B. Dielmann, "Dr. Ferdinand Herff, Pioneer Physician and Surgeon," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 57 (January 1954). Armand O. Huber, "Frederic Armand Strubberg, Alias Dr. Shubbert: Townbuilder, Physician, and Adventurer, 1806–1889," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 38 (1962). Irene M. King, John O. Meusebach, German Colonizer in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). Moritz Tiling, History of the German Element in Texas (Houston: Rein and Sons, 1913).

  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers

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

Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, “Spiess, Hermann,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/spiess-hermann.

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June 13, 2020