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SCHENCK, PHILIPP FRIEDRICH KARL THEODOR

Grave of Philipp Friedrich Karl Theodor Schenck
Photograph, Grave of Philipp Friedrich Karl Theodor Schenck in Austin. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Carl G. von Iwonski
Photograph, Portrait of Carl G. von Iwonski. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

SCHENCK, PHILIPP FRIEDRICH KARL THEODOR (1820–1875). Friedrich Schenck, forester and one of the leaders of the Bettina colony, son of Johann and Theodora Philippina Magdalena (Klipstein) Schenck, was born in Darmstadt, Germany, on March 30, 1820. His Klipstein grandfather was one of six generals who fought and won the wars of Frederick the Great of Prussia. In school Schenck concentrated on forestry and natural sciences, but for his required manual training chose woodworking and sculpture. He carved a full-sized stag head, whose antlers reached nearly five feet high. According to family accounts this piece was so admired that the city fathers had two iron castings made and mounted on the gateposts, called Hirschköpfe Tor (Deerhead Gate), of the stone wall enclosing the grand-ducal hunting forest north of Darmstadt. At age twenty-six Schenck won appointment as Oberförster (head forester) of another grand-ducal forest at Nieder-Ramstadt, a suburb south of Darmstadt. Objecting, however, to the compulsory military service, he helped to organize the group of young men who emigrated to Texas in 1847 to found the Bettina colony. In 1850 Schenck went back to Germany to marry his fiancée, Caroline Luise Friedericke Lorenz. The couple returned to Texas in 1851 to employment in the General Land Office. They lived in Austin and reared ten children. One of the Schencks' close family friends was Carl G. von Iwonski, the noted painter, who in one picture featured two Schenck daughters (Johanna and Caroline). In a second painting he portrayed Schenck's astonishment at finding a housemaid trying to pluck the fur from a rabbit he had shot for dinner. Another warm friend was George W. Brackenridge, who, on Schenck's assurance that the San Antonio River was fed by a permanent artesian spring, purchased and donated to that city the tract now called Brackenridge Park. Schenck, a faithful friend of the Indians, was esteemed by them as a healer. The Comanche chief Santa Anna once came to him for a healing of the chief's daughter, which required a several-day absence. Although expressing some concern about his ability to deal with that case, Schenck went and successfully accomplished his mission. Family stories also relate that Schenck, always a skilled mechanic, invented a repeating rifle in Austin. Falling ill during the patent tests, he asked a close friend to carry them on. The rifle passed the tests, but the friend patented it under his own name. Schenck told his family that betrayal by a close friend pained him far more than the loss of his invention. In 1875 Schenck died in Austin of spinal meningitis. His widow later moved to San Antonio and lived with family members until 1916.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

H. T. Edward Hertzberg, trans., "A Letter from Friedrich Schenck in Texas to His Mother in Germany, 1847," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 92 (July 1988).

H. T. Edward Hertzberg

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

Handbook of Texas Online, H. T. Edward Hertzberg, "Schenck, Philipp Friedrich Karl Theodor," accessed August 28, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsc60.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 4, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.