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Spiess, Lena (ca. 1836–1914)

Crystal Sasse Ragsdale Biography Entry

Lena (Lina) Spiess, the Mexican wife of Hermann Spiess, second general commissioner of the Adelsverein, was born probably around 1836 in Mexico, although the early years of her life are clouded in mystery. Later in her life she selected April 22 as her birthdate. Various accounts have shown her as having been kidnapped by Comanche Indians at an early age and either given to or bought by German settlers at New Braunfels when she was three or four years old. One account shows that the little girl was sent to a Catholic convent for a time and then became part of the household of Count Ernst Coreth, near New Braunfels, where she was taught High German and English (with a German accent) by Augusta and Minchen Schleicher, and that she then lived for a while with Hermann Spiess and his sister Luise, who had come over from Germany for a visit to Hermann's home at Waco Springs. According to this account Lena was adopted by Spiess, but upon his sister's return to Germany the child was sent to Louis C. Ervendberg's Waisenhaus (Western Texas Orphan Asylum) to live with the German children whose parents had died. A different account says that the child was given to Dr. Ferdinand Herff by a Comanche Indian brave in return for an eye operation, that she was left in the care of a Miss Julie Herf, the cook at Bettina, and then taken to the orphanage. It is fairly certain, however, that Lena lived for a time at the Waisenhaus. After that the facts are known. When Lena was about fifteen, in 1851, she was married to Hermann Spiess. They became the parents of ten children and lived at Waco Springs until the family moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, in 1867. Although she had some memories of her life in Mexico, Lena Spiess never discovered who her parents were nor where she had been born. She died in Tropico, California, a Los Angeles suburb, on January 3, 1914.

Henry B. Dielmann, "Dr. Ferdinand Herff, Pioneer Physician and Surgeon," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 57 (January 1954). Irene M. King, John O. Meusebach, German Colonizer in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967).


  • Women
  • Native American Captives
  • 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, Lena,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 06, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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