Rosa Kleberg was eighty-five years old in 1897 and had been in Texas since 1834. She related the following about her earliest Texas days to her grandson, who wrote it down (and translated it from her native German) and so we have it, which is something to be happy about.
Rosa was the wife of Robert J. Kleberg, a San Jacinto veteran and distinguished citizen of the Republic. Kleberg County is named in his honor. Rosa and Robert’s youngest son became head of the King Ranch and married the boss’s daughter, but that’s another story.
Let’s let Rosa tell hers:
After landing at New Orleans, we took sail for Texas, intending to land at Brazoria. Instead, we were wrecked off the coast of Galveston Island on December 22, 1834.
We managed to save all our goods and baggage, which included everything we thought needful to begin a settlement in a new country; and having built a hut out of the logs and planks which had been washed ashore, we were able to maintain ourselves for some time. There were no houses on the island, but there was no lack of game.
After a few days a large ship passed the island; and the other people who were with us went on board and landed at Brazoria. We could not afford to leave our baggage; and so my husband, the only one in the party who could speak English, together with my brother Louis von Roeder, went with them to Brazoria.
Thence they proceeded on foot to San Felipe to find my brothers and sister, who had gone to Texas two years before, and from whom we had not heard since their departure.
The task of finding them was not so difficult as might be supposed. Entirely contrary to the fashion of the day, all had allowed their beards to grow and had adopted the dress of Prussian peasants.
They found our people near Cat Spring. In the timber near Bostick’s an Indian came toward them. My brother Louis was of course ready to shoot; but my husband restrained him.
As it turned out the Indian was quite friendly, and told them where they would find the people they were seeking. He belonged to a troop of Indians who were camping in the neighborhood and from whom our relations had been in the habit of obtaining venison in exchange for ammunition. They found our people in a wretched condition. My sister and one brother had died, while the two remaining brothers were very ill with the fever.
My husband chartered a sloop to take us to the mainland. Captain Scott, the owner of the sloop, lived on one of the bayous, and we stopped at his house. He received us with the greatest kindness and kept us with him several days until we were thoroughly rested. I have never seen more hospitable people than those of Captain Scott’s family. Three miles from Captain Scott, on the other side of the bayou, lived a Mr. Kokernot.
We went to Harrisburg where my husband had rented a house. As we were carrying our baggage into the house and I had just thrown down a big bundle, an Indian carrying two big hams upon his back approached me, saying, “Swap! Swap!” I retreated behind a table upon which lay a loaf of bread, whereupon the Indian threw down the hams, picked up the bread and walked off.
As a matter of fact, the Indians were in the main quite amicable. They were constantly wishing to exchange skins for pots and other utensils. Quite a number of them was camping on Buffalo Bayou. I have often sewed clothes for them in exchange for moccasins. They were Coshattas, and big, strong men. There were also Kickapoos, who, however, were small.
We all lived together in the house during the rest of the winter. The house was very poor, and only in the kitchen was there a fireplace. My father carried on a butcher’s trade, while my sister and I took lessons in sewing from a Mrs. Swearingen and made clothes for Moore’s Store. We were all unused to that kind of work, but we felt that we must save our money; and, when required by necessity, one learns to do what one has never done before.
We had our pleasures, too. Our piano had been much damaged; but I played on it anyway, and the young people of Harrisburg danced to the music. Toward summer, we all took the fever; and it seemed to me as if we would never get rid of it. We had no medicines, and there were of course no physicians.
In the fall my husband, who had been in Cat Spring, came to Harrisburg with a team of oxen to take us with him. The roads in the Brazos bottom being impassable on account of the mud, we camped at Weeten’s. This was the first house on the road from Harrisburg to Cat Spring, and was a good day’s journey from the former place.
Weeten was a backwoods American, and carried on the trade of a “teamster.” He was the very personification of whole-souled generosity and hospitality. We also stopped at Hoff’s. Hoff was a Pennsylvania Dutchman. At the time he did not have much; later, however, he became a rich slave-holder. We hired a little crib from him, and had to pay for all we got.
Upon arriving at our place at Cat Spring (Austin County), we moved into a big log house which my husband and brothers had built. There was neither floor nor ceiling to it, and in the only room was a big fire-place. As soon, however, as the most important field work was done, the men built an extra fine house for our parents. This had a floor and ceiling of logs.
Rosa Kleberg about 1860
Circumstances were very different from the representations we had made to ourselves. My brothers had pictured pioneer life as one of hunting and fishing, of freedom from the restraints of Prussian society; and it was hard for them to settle down to the drudgery and toil of splitting rails and cultivating the field, work which was entirely new to them.
The settlers with whom we came in contact were very kind and hospitable; and this was true of nearly all the old American pioneers. They would receive one with genuine pleasure, and share the last piece of bread. Money was out of the question; and if you had offered it to those people, they would have been amazed.
When you came to one of the old settlers, you were expected to make yourself at home. He would see that your horses were well fed, and offer you the best cheer he could; and you were expected to do the same when the next opportunity presented itself. In the main, everything was very quiet and peaceful.
But there was great dissatisfaction with the Mexican government, which was in reality no government at all. The settlers were constantly saying that since the Mexicans gave them no government, they could not see why they could not have a government of their own and be rid of the Mexicans. This seemed to be the constant burden of their conversation. Old Mr. Kuykendall, who lived on a big plantation ten miles from us. had nothing else to say.
We lived about ten miles from San Felipe, where there were from two to four stores, besides a tavern and saloon and from thirty to forty private houses. In the stores you could buy almost anything you wanted in those days; but, of course, the prices were high.
There were no churches, but plenty of camp-meetings, one of which I attended. There was considerable trade in cotton and cattle in San Felipe and San Antonio. Dr. Peebles owned a big gin on the Brazos, in which he employed a good many negroes. Captain York was another one of our neighbors.
To be continued…..Next week Rosa tells us about the Texas Revolution