Early German Settlements in Colorado County

This article is based on an oral presentation by Arliss Treybig, El Campo, Texas,
made at the 1990 Annual Meeting of the German-Texan Heritage Society in Brenham.

Colorado County was an original county organized in 1836. Columbus, the largest town and county seat, was laid out about 1836 but was the site of an earlier Anglo settlement. By 1844, however, perhaps as many as thirty German families were also there. The Texas Almanac of 1859 states that there were a great number of small German farms in the county and that Frelsburg was quite a flourishing village.

Frelsburg Area

The community of Frelsburg is located in the northern corner of the county at the junction of farm roads 109 and 1291; it is located in the Cummins survey. German settlers were in the area by the 1830's. The Peter Pieper league running east and west is adjacent to the Cummins survey. The Friedrich Zimmerscheidt league runs north and south from the Pieper league. Pieper secured title to his league in 1836. Zimmerscheidt, who had been brought to the area by Charles Fordtran, took occupancy of his league in the summer of 1834 although he did not obtain title until 1846. The names of other German families also appear in early records for that part of the county.

During its history the Frelsburg area was known by several other names; Cummins Creek Settlement, Westmunster, Blumenthal, and just simply "The German settlement,: (For a more complete discussion of the various names, refer to the Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, August, 1990, Volume 1, Number 6.) According to this reference, "...Cummins Creek, Westmunster, and Blumenthal may well have been overlapping or successive names of one widespread rural community without any semblance of an urbanized center. Or there might have been micro-communities with names along religious affiliations." The name Kraewinkel appears in a recent history of Frelsburg; however, this name may have been more of a nickname meaning "small, out of the way place" and may have been found only in informal usage.

Cummins Creek is to the west of the Pieper and Zimmerscheidt leagues and was a major water source. Because of the significance of the creek and its use as a landmark, the term Cummins Creek Settlement appears in some early records. The first post office was established in 1846 under the name of Cummins Creek.

Pieper, Beimer, and Heiman, among other families, were from the area of Munster, Westphalia. These families were Catholic. The first Catholic church records were "saddlebag" records of itinerant priests based in Houston. These records from 1843 use the reference Westmunster, probably in honor of the homeland of these settlers.

The term Blumenthal (valley of flowers) was used in connection with the Protestant congregation or community ministered to by Reverend L. C. Ervendberg who was in the area by 1840. The land he bought was in the Pieper league. Samuel W. Geiser in his work on Ervendberg, refers to "Blumenthal, or Cummins creek, as it came to be called..." These records would indicate that Blumenthal, Cummins Creek, and West Munster were different names for the same general area After serving his congregation of about seventy-six souls in Blumenthal, as well as congregations in nearby communities, Ervendberg went with Solms Braunfels to New Braunfels where he served as spiritual leader and also founded an orphanage.

Although the first post office was established as Cummins Creek, by 1847 the settlers must have determined that a different type of name was needed. According to some sources (whether fact or legend) the choice was between Pipersville and Frelsburg. William Frels was also an early settler of the area having come from Oldenburg in 1834 on the same ship with the founders of Cat Spring. Pieper was Catholic, and Frels was Lutheran; the Lutherans won by one vote.

According to a letter dated 14 May 1844, the Catholics were building a church and had a priest who conducted services every Sunday. However, the first parish books are dated 1847. The parish itself and the diocese records from Galveston also give the date of 1847 as the establishment of the parish with a resident priest. The priests from Sts. Peter & Paul Church ministered to the Catholics within a radius of about fifty miles, traveling on horseback. As a result, early Catholic records for many settlements appear in the Frelsburg books. The first catholic theological seminary in the state was also established at Frelsburg in 1854. A Catholic school existed from 1870 to 1915. Pieper is credited with donating the land for the church. Trinity Lutheran Church as established in 1855. Frels gave land for the church building, school, parsonage, and cemetery.

Hermann's University was the first school chartered in Texas by Germans. It was chartered by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1844. The memorial was signed by men from Austin, Colorado, and Washington counties including Ervendberg, Zimmerscheidt, Jordt, Rohde, Ruhman, and Wolters. The school was to have departments of theology, law, medicine, and philosophy with a Protestant faculty. The professors were to lecture in both English and German. The location was to be on Mill Creek or Cummins Creek.

Very few shares were sold; they were expensive, and people had land but no cash. In 1846 the charter was amended. Professors could be of any religion and any site designated by the president and trustees could be used. Later the cost of shares was lowered. A two-story building was finally erected in Frelsburg in 1869; it was sold to the public schools and opened in 1874 as a lower level, public school called Herman Seminary. The act of incorporation was repealed in 1871. Another early school in the area was the Zimmerscheidt school established in 1857 several miles south of Frelsburg on the Zimmerscheidt league.

According to one source, by 1852 the community consisted of two blacksmith shops, a post office, a cobbler shop, two general stores and a cotton gin. In 1878-1879 there were a boot and shoe manufacturer, a blacksmith shop, gins, saw mills, grist mills, carpenters, harness and saddle maker, baker, cane press, doctors, shoe make, tailor, lawyer, and drygoods, general merchandise, and grocery stores. At the present time the community has one general store and a Volunteer Fire Department building. the Lutheran church, parsonage, and cemetery are near the crossroads. The Catholic church, hall, rectory, and cemetery are about one-half mile from the crossroads.

Bernardo and Mentz Area

Bernardo is about ten miles southwest of Cat Spring on farm road 949. About four miles west of Bernardo is the settlement if Mentz. Determining the "city limits' of these settlements at a given period of time is also difficult. Just as the Frelsburg area was known by several names, Bernardo and Mentz also had various designations. Bernardo was known as Braden Settlement (for early settlers) and Bernard Prairie (for its location on the prairie land of the San Bernard River)/ Mentz was also known as San Bernard and Neu/New Mainz.

Although settlers may have been in the area earlier (Caspar Heiman's one-third league of land granted in 1838 included the present village of Bernardo), a large group of settlers came in 1846. At that time thirteen families including about forty persons came from the village of Büdesheim by Bingen (also the home of Friedrich Zimmerscheidt). They came to Texas as part of the colonization effort by the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants to Texas. However, when they reached Galveston, they came inland to an area already settled by Germans rather than go to the society land in west-central Texas. In 1848 about forty-three others came from the same village and settled in the Mentz-:Bernardo area.

Bernardo was on the main road from Houston inland; oxen wagons hauled merchandise and lumber inland and returned with produce and cotton. Charles Nagel, later to become Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Taft, was born in Bernardo in 1849. His family had come from Pritzwalk, Mark Brandenburg in 1847. The family later moved to Millheim in Austin County. The father, Dr. Herman Nagel, remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War; he and Charles escaped through Mexico and settled in St. Louis. Dr. Nagel continued his work as a doctor, and Charles studied law. Charles Nagel was the first native-born Texan to be a member of a President's cabinet.

Many of the early settlers of Bernardo and Mentz came from the Catholic diocese of Mainz (about fourteen miles east of Bingen) and were predominately Catholic. They established a church at the settlement which they called New Mainz for their homeland. They named the church St. Roch for the chapel of St. Roch on a hill near Bingen. The first church was built in 1857; a stone church was built in 1867 using stone from the Zimmerscheidt area. The first church books are dated 1860.

Bernardo and Mentz both had Catholic schools from 1872. The school in Bernardo closed in 1911; the one in Mentz closed in 1916. There were other schools in the area. Bretschneider School, a private one, opened in 1867; the Bachelor Hill School opened in 1897. Public schools were later established in Mentz and Bernardo.

The first post office at Bernardo was established as Bernard Prairie from 1875-1898; it was called Bernardo from 1898, closing in 1917. The Mentz post office went by the designation of San Bernard from 1853 to 1860 at which time it was changed to New Mainz; it closed in 1866. When it reopened in 1889, it was called Mentz; the Mentz post office closed in 1913.

At one time Bernardo had a doctor, dance hall, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, garage, millinery shop, and a store as well as the school and post office. At the present time there are a general store, a Volunteer Fire Department building, and a few homes at the crossroads on farm road 949.

Mentz also had a general store and dance hall in addition to a school and post office. Now, only the church and its buildings (rectory, hall, picnic buildings), the cemetery, and a baseball field are located on the grounds by the Mentz road.

Descendants of early Colorado County German settlers later moved to other parts of the county as well as other parts of Texas. As a result, the influence and heritage of these early German settlers have been significant in the history of much of the state.


Benjamin, Gilbert Giddings. The Germans in Texas; A Study in Immigration. Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1974
Biesele, Rudolph L. The History of the German Settlements in Texas. Ann Arbor, Michigan: McNaughton and Gunn, 1930.
Cat Spring Agricultural Society. The Cat Spring Story. San Antonio: Lone Star Printing Co, 1956.
Colorado County 1986 Sesquicentennial Committee. Colorado County Sesquicentennial Commemorative Book. La Grange; Hengst Printing and Supplies, 1986 (includes communities of the county)
Frelsburg Historical Committee. The History of Frelsburg: Kraewinkel. New Ulm: Enterprise Print, 1986
Geiser, Rev. Edward, Pastor. Centennial of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. Frelsburg, 1947.
Geue, Chester W. and Ethel H. A New Land Beckoned. Waco: Texian Press, 1970.
Geue, Ethel Hander. New Homes in a New Land. Waco: Texian Press, 1970.
Gold, Theresa Gros and Donald T. Hoelscher. The Hoelscher Family of Texas. 1987 (Some family members lived in Frelsburg.)
Jordan, Terry G. German Seed in Texas Soil. Austin: UT Press, 1966.
Lich, Glen E. The German Texans. San Antonio: UT Institute of Texas Cultures, 1981.
Nagel, Charles. A Boy's Civil War Story. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co., 1937. (The chapter "Early Youth in the First Settlement" tells of Bernardo.)
Noser, Garnett Pickett and Walter P. Noser. Early German Immigrants to Bernardo, Mentz, Frelsburg, Colorado County, Texas. Private Printing, 1980.
Ragsdale, Crystal Sasse. The Golden Free Land. Austin: Landmark Press, 1976.
Shook, Robert W. "German Migration to Texas 1830-1850: Causes and Consequences," Texana. Vol. X, No. 3, 1972.
Stein, Bill, ed. From Coblenz to Colorado County, NESBITT MEMORIAL LIBRARY JOURNAL, Volume 1, Number 6, August, 1990. Columbus: Butler Office Supply and Printing
Taylor, Lonn and David B. Warren. Texas Funiture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880. Austin: UT Press, 1975 (Check index for Colorado County entries.)
Treybig, Arlis. Pilgrimage to the Past: A History of the Mentz-Bernardo Community, Colorado County. Private printing. 1982.
Von-Maszewski, W. M., ed. Handbook and Registry of German-Texan Heritage. German-Texan Heritage Society, 1989. (Check Colorado County entries.)
Webb, Walter Prescott and H. Bailey Carroll, eds. The Handbook of Texas. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952.
Wilson, Joseph, ed. Texas and Germany: Crosscurrents. RICE UNIVERSITY STUDIES, Volume 63, No. 3, Summer 1977. Houston: William March Rice University.
Related topics are found in the GTHS Newsletter/Journal: Vol. IV, No. 3, Fall 1982, page 49; Vol. VII, No. 3, Fall 1985, pages 251-254; Vol. IX, No. 3, Fall 1987, pages 194-199; Vol. X, No. 1, Spring 1988, page 93; Vol. X, No. 3, Winter 1988, pages 252-254.

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