Ahhh, Texas! The attraction was undeniable. The flow of settlers from the United States began in 1821, as soon as Stephen Austin made the land available. Mexico needed people there, so a partnership of sorts arranged for an irresistible opportunity. In 1829 Christian Dierks considered America a solution for his troubles in Germany. He brought his family to Texas in 1831, settled in a little nest of heaven on Mill Creek, and called the place Industry. This seemingly insignificant newcomer influenced Texas’ population in ways he never anticipated. He sent letters back home to his German friends, among them the family of Anthon Mehrens. Thousands of Germans dismissed the challenges of crossing an ocean. They boarded ships and left Europe for another continent. The stories of their relocation are remarkable and deserve to be remembered. By 1846, just as Texas was adopted into the “Union,” the Mehrens family followed their friends to Texas. They left Germany with hearts full of hope. It was a brutal journey. In the end their dreams would be fulfilled, paid for with agony familiar to many other immigrants. Twenty-first century Texans with German roots are here because of those confident souls who came to believe that Earth was not too large a place for those willing to conquer it.
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This is a beautifully authentic story of two German families and their migration to Texas in the early settlement. Their early lives are linked in ways they could never have predicted. This captivating book sheds light on the tough trip made by German immigrants to Texas in the 19th century and is a true monument to the perseverance of the human spirit. It is a compelling story of perseverance, sacrifice, and hope.
"Christian picked up his quill and penned a letter, its words scented with optimism and newfound freedom. 'Dear friends back home,' he began, 'I write to you from a land abundant and welcoming, a land I now call home...'"
We are drawn in from the opening line, immediately captivated by a celebration happening in 1819. The flow of settlers from the United States begins in 1821, when Stephen Austin made the land available. In 1829 Christian Dierks considered America a solution for his troubles in Germany. He brought his family to Texas in 1831, settled in a little nest of heaven on Mill Creek, and called the place Industry. This is their story, and the story of how the Mehrens would later follow.
Well written, with an acute attention to detail, the author weaves a story in three parts – each a timeline of events – the first beginning in 1819 in Rastede, Germany and ending with them leaving for New York in September of 1829. Part two begins in October of 1830 with Mail from New York and ends at the Dierks’ Farmhouse in February 1846. Finally, part three begins with Leaving for Texas in late September 1846 and the timeline takes us to The Wedding, 1847 in Industry, Texas.
The Duke of Oldenburg was a benevolent man. Both of Christian’s parents worked in the castle until his father died, and the duke was good to them. Then, as a widow, Frau Sybille Dierks took Christian to live with his Aunt Hilda on a farm in Varel. It was to this farm where Christian expected to return, to work, and to share in the bounty of crops. That was the future for Christian and his family.
Paul Heinz was destined to return to the humble home of his parents near the castle. Paul had experience with the horses and stood to inherit the job of stable master. Even in this he was too rough. The duke was particular about his gardens and his herd of Oldenburgs.
Of course, as will happen with humans, mistakes were made from time to time, and the duke agonized especially about any suffering of his animals. But in his compassionate heart he always forgave and allowed another chance. Paul may have been “less able” than other boys. For very personal reasons the duke understood such things and forgave easily.
As we follow along in the timeline, we see the ups and downs these families face on their journeys, the courage it must have taken to make such a bold move not only for themselves, but for their children and generations of their families who would come after them. We see their struggles and heartache along the way, but we also see what they stand to gain and their brave hearts full of hope.
History has never felt so deliciously fun to read! Through a series of letters and anecdotes, we follow the journey of Christian Dierks as he brings his family across the ocean to a new and unforeseen land, a seemingly insignificant newcomer who would influence the populace of Texas in ways he had never anticipated, and for many generations after him.
It was cold and bleak in Bremen on the day Anthon handed his papers over to the ship’s captain. His contract with the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas provided the family with passage on a barge up the River Weser, a contracted connection to a sailing vessel out of Bremerhaven into the North Sea and on to North America.
“All approved…all in order…,” the captain said with a reassuring smile. He accounted for each member of the family:
Anthon, age 53, and wife Louise Christine, age 49 years
Marie, age 20
Helene, age 18
Johanne, 16 years
Elise, age 13
Gerhard, 10 years old
Hermann, now 8
There was news of bad weather on the horizon as another family made the trek to the new land. They knew that the process of leaving Europe for North America would be hard, but Germany was no longer what it used to be to them. They longed for a future in a place of freedom and hoped that Texas would be that place.
How scary and exciting it must have been for them! And for the children, so full of hope and trusting in their parents, leaving everything they had ever known for the promise of a new life in a new world. Helene and Johanne had just finished school. What kind of men would they meet in Texas to form new families with? They wouldn’t be limited by noblemen’s rules in their new home.
"German Spirit for Texas Freedom" by Betsy Wagner paints a deftly balanced historically accurate and compelling narrative, a moving tribute to the Germans who played an essential role in the development of Texas. This beautifully crafted story is one of resilience, hope, and enduring courage. It will move you and stick in your heart and your mind long after you put down the book.
Anyone with a love of history, ties to Texas, or who enjoys heartfelt narratives of survival, resilience, and human spirit, will appreciate this book.
“German Spirit for Texas Freedom” by Betsy Wagner receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company
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