By: William T. Field

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 25, 2017

There were plans for settlement of Swiss in Texas as early as 1819, when a group of Swiss merchants in Philadelphia proposed to settle 10,000 of their countrymen in Texas. Although their plans did not materialize, other Swiss people became interested in the opening of Texas to colonization. In 1821 Louis and Henry Rueg moved to Texas and ultimately opened a mercantile business in Nacogdoches. Simón Tadeo Ortiz de Ayala, a Creole of Guadalajara, Mexico, secured authorization from the new Mexican republic in 1822 to bring European colonists into Coahuila and Texas, with particular attention to the Swiss as well as German, Irish, and Canary Islanders; his plan was never realized. Stephen F. Austin, in a June 14, 1830, letter to Thomas F. Leaming, wrote that he was considering the advantages of Swiss and German immigrants because they were opposed to slavery and did not have the Anglo-American mania for speculation. The contributions of Swiss immigrants to the history of the state have been far out of proportion to their relatively small numbers. A group of German-speaking Swiss settled the community of Schoenau, between Shelby and Industry, in Austin County. They built a hall nearby for their "Harmony Verein," where they enjoyed dancing and athletics and organized a singing society, Helvetia Schönau Männerchor, in the 1880s. The community disappeared, but the hall was still standing and in use in 1968. The population peak of the Swiss in most Texas areas was reached in the years 1890 to 1910; during this period there were Swiss settlements in Bexar, Dallas, Austin, Fayette, Travis, and Williamson counties. Vernon, in Wilbarger County, was settled by the Swiss in 1893. The 1930 census listed 1,410 persons of Swiss extraction. They were mostly craftsmen and tradesmen and tended to settle in the urban centers of Galveston, Houston, and Dallas.

Swiss immigrants who have played significant roles in Texas history include Jean Louis Berlandier, botanist and zoologist for the Mexican Boundary Commission in 1828; Peter Hunter Fullinwider, first Presbyterian missionary to Texas; and John Wahrenberger, an Austin baker who in 1842 was said to have alerted the town's citizenry of the impending removal of the archives of the republic in the Archives War. Two Swiss military men were important although little has been written about them. Johann Jacob Rahm, a Swiss member of John Coffee Hays's Texas Rangers, who was instrumental in persuading Hays to aid Germans of Henri Castro's colony when they were stranded in San Antonio in the spring of 1844. He also aided Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels's party when the springs and site of New Braunfels were located in 1845 and received an engraved gun from the prince in appreciation. The following year Rahm was killed in New Braunfels in a duel. C. Rohrdorf, a Swiss army colonel with the German Adelsverein, was a painter and lithographer who made numerous drawings and paintings of the early German settlements of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg; he was killed in a brief and violent encounter between two German groups contending for the possession of Nassau Farm in 1847, and John O. Meusebach is said to have bought the art collection left by the artist.

Getulius Kellersberger, brother-in-law of Johannes Romberg, moved to Texas in the late 1840s and became an internationally known surveyor and engineer. He returned to Texas to join the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the failure of the French colony of La Réunion a few Swiss made their homes in Dallas; among them were the naturalist Jacob Boll, who returned there from Europe in the 1870s, and Benjamin Lang (or Long, as he came to be known), who was the post-Civil War mayor of Dallas and the United States commissioner for the district. Two Swiss financier-philanthropists, George Henry Hermann of Houston and Henry Rosenberg of Galveston made outstanding bequests to their cities. Cesar Maurice Lombardi set the editorial pattern for the Dallas Morning News during the period of his directorship; he was also on the board of directors of the Galveston News. Jacob Metzger was founder of the Metzger dairies in Dallas, and Edward Walter Eberle, a distinguished naval officer from the early 1900s until the beginning of World War I, was responsible for numerous innovations in modern United States naval practices. The 1990 census listed 32,304 persons of Swiss descent in the state of Texas.

Edith Louise Kelly and Mattie Austin Hatcher, eds., "Tadeo Ortiz de Ayala and the Colonization of Texas, 1822–1833," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 32 (July 1928–April 1929). José María Sánchez, "A Trip to Texas in 1828," trans. Carlos E. Castañeda, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 29 (April 1926). Swiss-American Historical Society, Prominent Americans of Swiss Origin (New York: James T. White, 1932). The Swiss Texans (University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1977). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. John Paul von Grueningen, ed., The Swiss in the United States (Madison: Swiss-American Historical Society, 1940). Ralph A. Wooster, "Foreigners in the Principal Towns of Ante-Bellum Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 66 (October 1962).


  • Peoples
  • Swiss

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

William T. Field, “Swiss,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2022,

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April 25, 2017