Castell isn’t the first community in Llano County, but it is the first permanent settlement. The first community was Bettina. When disgruntled German citizens decided to leave the political turmoil in their native provinces and take up land in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant in Texas, they didn’t realize the land was dominated by Indians who did not take kindly to trespassers. The Comanches especially viewed the territory west of the Colorado and Llano Rivers as their hunting domain because the most southern range of the buffalo extended that far. Republic of Texas President Sam Houston had hoped to negotiate a treaty with the Comanche chiefs to push their territory back to the San Saba River, but Chief Buffalo Hump refused to concede. By then, it was too late because the German immigrants were already on their way to Texas. After landing at Indianola or Galveston, the Germans began the inland trek toward their new land grants. Led by Baron John O. Meusebach, head of an organization called the Adelsverein, the travelers made their way to Comal, Kendall, and finally, Gillespie County, with the intent to go further into what would become Llano County. Fearful of Indian reprisal, Meusebach bravely led a group of men into the heart of Comanche territory and located their camp site on the San Saba River. He and Comanche Chiefs Buffalo Hump, Santa Anna, and Old Owl agreed upon a treaty between the two cultures allowing the Germans to settle within the Indian land without fear of attack in exchange for full hunting privileges. They agreed the Indians would travel to Fredericksburg for a formal signing of the treaty two months later. The treaty was officially signed in May, 1847, paving the way for German families to settle on land in the Llano and Colorado River basins.
The first settlers Meusebach arranged to come into what is now Llano County were young German scholars and university students, known as the Society of Forty, who had chosen to come to Texas where they could freely put into practice their socialistic ideals. The first settlement was actually a commune, to be called Bettina, after a German literary figure and social visionary. The students were allotted $12,000 in financial backing along with livestock, equipment and provisions to sustain the project for the first year. The commune selected “friendship, freedom, equality” as its motto and advocated “no regular scheme of government.” Although the commune had ample finances and supplies to last a full year, the work ethic of the young students was a far cry from the type of physical stamina needed for a successful settlement on the untamed Texas frontier. Bettina failed miserably; by the end of the year, the students scattered, and the commune was abandoned. Another similar colony called Leiningen began shortly thereafter, but it was equally unsuccessful. It wasn’t until Castell was established about four to five miles upriver that Llano County had its first permanent settlement.
Even though Bettina and Leiningen did not survive, the men involved were very intelligent, well educated, skilled in their professions, and capable of accomplishing many important things for the good of Texas. The commune consisted of six lawyers, two physicians, five foresters, two architects, one engineer, a minister, and several refined and skilled craftsmen and laborers. Out of the 40, several are known for their outstanding achievements to the State of Texas. Of special significance were Gustav Schleicher, Ferdinand Ludwig Herff, and Herman Spiess.
First and foremost was GUSTAV SCHLEICHER. He was born in 1823 in the Darmstadt principality of Hesse. Gustav attended Giessen University, where he studied engineering. Even in his youth, he assisted in the construction of early railroads in Europe. He came to Texas in 1847 aboard the ship St. Pauli with others from the Society of Forty to establish Bettina. However, Schleicher was soon disillusioned with the commune experiment. He later commented that “the bigger the men, the more they talked, the less they worked and the more they ate.” He first went to Huaco Springs, near New Braunfels, where he briefly operated a shingle mill before becoming a surveyor to help German settlers locate land. In 1850, he moved to San Antonio and began working with others to build a toll bridge across the Guadalupe River on the main road between San Antonio and New Braunfels. He was instrumental in forming the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad and another railroad coming from Port Lavaca. After becoming an American citizen in 1852, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, serving one term. Schleicher was surveyor of the Bexar Land District from 1854 to 1861, which enabled him to acquire large land holdings within the Edwards Plateau. In 1856, he married Elizabeth Tinsley Howard, and soon afterwards joined with his brother-in-law to publish a German language newspaper in San Antonio. During this time, he was also cofounder of the San Antonio Water Company and Alamo College.
In 1859, Gustav Schleicher was elected to the Texas Senate representing the territory west of San Antonio, Gillespie, Medina, and Uvalde Counties. Even though he opposed Texas’ secession from the Union, he became a captain in the Confederate Army in charge of Gen. John B. Magruder’s Corps of Engineers. After the war, he practiced law in San Antonio and resumed work developing railroads. In 1874, he was elected to the U. S. Congress representing the 6th District, serving two additional terms. He was a member of the Way and Means Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Chairman of the House Canals and Railroads Committee. His support of the gold standard resulted in a challenging campaign in the Democratic primary with John Ireland, but he was reelected in 1878. However, Schleicher died on January 10, 1879, two months before the start of his third term. The memorial address at his funeral was given by Republican floor leader and later U.S. President, James A. Garfield, which demonstrated the feelings of respect even the opposing party had for Schleicher. Gustav Schleicher was buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery. Schleicher County, Texas was named in his honor.
FERDINAND LUDWIG HERFF was born in Darmstadt in 1820. His mother was a cousin to John O. Meusebach. He began his medical education at the University of Berlin and the University of Bonn, the alma mater of Karl Marx, but he finished his schooling in 1843 at the Univiersity of Giessen. In 1846, Ferdinand and Herman Spiess emigrated together to the United States by way of New York. From there, they traveled by railroad to West Virginia and on to New Orleans by stagecoach, where they boarded a ship to Galveston. Spiess went to New Braunfuls, and Herff went to Indianola at the end of April, 1847, to await the arrival of the other colony members. Once the Society of Forty settled at Bettina in Llano County, Herff put his medical training to good use by removing a cataract from the eye of a local Indian chief beneath an oak tree. After the colony failed, the young doctor returned to Germany for an additional period of service with the Hesse army to learn methods for treating battle casualties. During his duties, he was able to observe the correlation between a surgeon’s attention to sanitation and the low rate of patient infection. He also learned techniques of plastic surgery and recommended treatments for tuberculosis.
After he married his fiancée, Mathilde Klingelhoeffer, the couple re-emigrated to Texas, living briefly in New Braunfels. By 1850, the Herffs had established a home and medical practice in San Antonio. He served as City Alderman for two years. As early as 1854, Herff pioneered the use of chloroform in his medical practice. He was personal physician to Richard King, founder of the King Ranch, but many of his other patients were indigent, so he dedicated his career to caring for patients regardless of financial circumstances. As a charter member of the Texas Medical Association in 1853, Herff worked to elevate the standards of medical practice. He became the health officer for San Antonio in 1860. When the Civil War broke out, he served as a Confederate surgeon even though he had been a supporter of the Union. Later he was instrumental in helping establish Santa Rosa Infirmary, San Antonio’s first hospital.
Ferdinand and Mathilde raised six sons. The family especially enjoyed taking personal retreats on the 960 acres they owned in Boerne, Texas. The acreage has now become part of the Cibolo Nature Center and the Kendall County Fair Association. A Texas Historic Landmark was placed on Malakopf Mountain in Boerne in 1982 to honor Dr. Herff. He died in San Antonio on May 18, 1912, and was buried in the San Antonio City Cemetery No. 1.
Another accomplished member of the Society of Forty in Llano County was HERMAN SPIESS. It was Spiess who had helped John O. Meusebach choose the location for Bettina in 1847 on the banks on the north side of the Llano River at Elm Creek. After the colony disbanded, he was instrumental in establishing the Western Texas Orphan Asylum in 1848. The organization specialized in caring for children whose parents had died from illnesses contracted during the German’s migration from the coast to New Braunfels in 1845 and 1846. In 1850, Spiess joined others to construct a toll bridge across the river in New Braunfels. At the same time, he built a saw mill and a shingle mill on his property at Waco Springs, just above New Braunfels. In 1851, Spiess married a Mexican girl named Lena, who had been kidnapped by Comanche Indians at an early age, but who had somehow ended up with the German settlers at New Braunfels by the time she was three or four years old. The couple had ten children, three who died in infancy. In 1867, he sold his Texas property on the advice of his doctor and moved to a colder climate. He died sometime after 1873 in the vicinity of Warrensburg, Missouri.
SOURCES: HANDBOOK OF TEXAS; GEM OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Oatman, p. 13); wikipedia.org; tshaonline.org.