{Texas Hill Country History} Frontier Folks and Old World “Fairy Tales”

Fairy tales and Texas? | Pamela Price | Image credit: UNT
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After several years over a decade of poking around periodically into the history of an abandoned Central Texas property in unincorporated Bexar County, I’m spending time this summer doing a historical literature review focused on German immigrants in general.

Nope, I’m not in a “beach read” mood this year.

Hopefully, this process will help me crystallize themes that I want to focus on moving forward to create a long-form piece, if I’m ever going to do that.

One of the books I turned up at San Antonio Public Library is a second edition of Glen E. Lich’s The German Texans {Amazon Affiliate Link*}. I’m only about halfway through, but two sections jumped out at me because they hint at something about which I’d been wondering. Basically, I’m intrigued about connections between German immigration to Texas, the “myth” of Texas frontier life and how it was crafted and promoted to would-be immigrants, and the publication of the Grimms’ famous fairy tales in the nineteenth century.

Writing in 1981, Lich links Meusebach–during his Berlin years–to Bettina von Arnim, a German author, composer, and muse. (Note that von Arnim was a true creative polymath and a friend of Goethe.)

Through [Arnim] and others, Meusebach became acquainted with some of Germany’s greatest writers and intellectuals. This ‘Berlin Circle’ [Lich’s term] included… the Humboldt brothers (one a minister of state and founder of the new Berlin University, the other a scientist and explorer), [and] the Grimm Brothers (philologists who helped establish the modern story of folklore with their collections of German fairy tales)…

This was a progressive-minded crowd, mind you, especially for mid-century Prussia. In fact, members of the famous Forty later named a Central Texas commune (!) Bettina, in tribute to von Arnim. She, despite her socialist tendencies, was also a friend to the far less progressive King of Prussia. (This kept her out of trouble, I reckon.)

Continuing on with the fairy tale thing, Lich later shares a passage written by Emma Murck Algelt who immigrated in 1854 as a young woman:

[Altgelt], who presided with great dignity and charm over the fashionable life of San Antonio’s King William district, fell in love with Texas the very first time she heard of it. “It sounded like a fairy tale to me. The beautiful blue of the skies, the clear atmosphere so peculiar to this country, the sun and its powerful rays charmed me. I roamed about and looked at the new countryside, the strange grasses, shrubs, and flowers. How I admired the many varieties of cacti and palms!” [Emphasis mine]

For what it’s worth, I first started thinking about Grimm brothers and their fairy tales in relation to Texas frontier life while researching the Plehwe (“PLAY-vee”) complex (above), which I wrote about eleven years ago. Specifically, I became interested in how modern children see the houses’ vernacular as evoking fairy tale stories. Usually the connect the houses to “Hansel and Gretel,” which makes sense if you think about images like this one. That instant recognition of the old world vernacular style intrigues me, especially as the property itself is in danger of being overtaken by sprawl.

Old World versus New World versus Digital Suburbia.

And a current of folktales run throughout.

So cool.

Coincidentally, in a recent interview with historian (and my friend) Marlene Richardson, who co-authored The Settlement of Leon Springs: From Prussia to Persia, {Amazon Affiliate Link*} she brought up her suspicions that there was a real relationship between John O. Meusebach (the founder of Fredericksburg) and the Grimms. As Marlene and her co-author Jeanne Dixon demonstrated in their book, Meusebach for a time likely lived for a time on property in present-day Camp Bullis.

In my own notes, I’ve got evidence connecting him to the Plehwes beyond proximity. But that’s a story, perhaps, for another day.

Looking for a place to learn more about German Texans? I suggest Sophienburg.

***

Pamela Price is a journalist and author who blogs intermittently on parenting, eldercare and lifestyle issues at RedWhiteandGrew.com. She also has two degrees in history, both from UT Austin. You can find her on on Twitter and Facebook.

 

*DISCLOSURE: The affiliate link is included for your convenience, should you wish to look up the ISBN at your library or track down the book for purchase. I do receive a few pennies if you make a purchase via Amazon, and this money in turn goes to support my research.

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