Heritage, Summer 2003 Page: 6
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By Marshall J. Doke Jr.
Texas has long prized and needed its
transportation system, including railroads,
highways, and airports. We seldom learn,
even from our history books, the contrast
between travel in the early days and our
Fortunately for history, a diary of an
early Texas traveler takes all romance
away from transportation in our early
statehood. In 1849, a Prussian schoolmaster,
Wilhelm Steinert, was selected by a
local craftsmen's guild to investigate
North America, and particularly Texas, as
a possible destination for emigration.
The investigation was prompted by the
Henry Castro concession and notices such
as the one released by the American
Consulate in Bremen, Germany stating:
"The prospects available to German emigrants
in that beautiful and magnificent
state of Texas surpass everything previously
offered by governments and individuals."
Steinert's travel diary, entitled North
America, Particularly Texas, in the Year
1849: A Travel Account, originally was
published at Berlin in 1850. It recently
was translated from German and published
in 1999 by the DeGolyer Library &
William P. Clements Center for
Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist
University. Steinert's journey began at
Galveston in May 1849, and he proceeded
through Indian Point (then Indianola),
Cuero, Gonzales, Castroville,
Fredericksburg, Austin, Washington-on
the-Brazos, Houston, and ended the trip
three months later in Galveston.
Travel by oxen wagons at the time averaged
15 miles per day. Steinert said the
broken wagon parts along the way were
the best evidence of the roads' conditions.
When rain caused the creeks to rise, they
became impassable to wagons. Steinert
soon purchased a horse, which he rode
until near the end of the journey.
The diary contained frequent observations
about health conditions. Dysentery
was a regular experience while traveling.
A cholera epidemic prevented staying in
some towns. Fever was common for travelers
In towns, travelers would stumble over
cattle in the streets at night and often
were attacked by dogs (New Braunfels
tried to reduce their number with a 25
cents annual dog tax). Mosquitoes were
tormenting near any water, and travelers
sometimes scratched themselves until they
bled. Sleep usually was in the open and,
often, in the rain. Occasionally, a farmer
allowed a traveler to sleep on the dirt floor
of his small house or in an animal shed.
One surprising observation was that
buzzards were well-liked birds and served
"as the street cleaners and members of the
sanitary board." No one thought of bury
ing dead cattle because buzzards took care
of the problem. Anyone shooting one of
the birds was subject to a $5 fine.
Steinert reported encountering a large
prairie fire, "something not very unusual."
He said the fires were sometimes set by
Indians caused considerable damage in
1849. However, Steinert said they "do no
harm to their victims other than removing
their hair" (called "scalping"). Except for
one or two incidents, surprisingly small
attention is given in the diary to the constant
threat of Indians.
Horse theft was a major problem, particularly
in San Antonio. Ropes, saddles,
and other gear were taken even more
The diary is critical of Texas and the
prospects of German emigrants in Texas
(which he said had brought misery to hundreds
of people). The conditions he
reported, however, are testimony to the
sturdy stock, perseverance, and courage of
those who stayed and survived. Theirs
were the genes that left a proud Texas heritage.
Knowledge of our early transportation
history could benefit travelers today.
Waiting in line for airport security and suffering
during interstate construction
delays might be less frustrating. We cannot
appreciate where we are today unless
we know where we have been.
Doke is a lawyer in the Dallas office of
Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. He welcomes
your comments or suggestions regarding the
Texas Historical Foundation at his e-mail
address-mdoke@gardere . com .
HERITAGE SUMMER 2003
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2003, periodical, Summer 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45377/m1/6/: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.