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Why don’t we commemorate brave masses of immigrants?

By W. T. Block

First published in the Beaumont Enterprise on Saturday October 16, 1999.

NEDERLAND—Every elementary school child knows of the Plymouth Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, even though nearly half of their number had died of starvation, cold, or disease the previous winter. And we also celebrate Memorial Day, remembering thousands of Americans who gave their lives in battle; but we do not remember thousands of immigrants who died either at sea or on land during the great migration movements that populated our great nation.

One of the greatest tragedies in Texas never made it into the history books. About 1843 Prince Solms-Braunfels and others organized the Adelsverein, or German-Texas Immigration Company, to resettle thousands of German migrants into the Miller-Fisher grant, northwest of Austin. In 1845 they purchased a fleet of ships, furnished supplies for the voyages; but they made no provision to feed or care for the families after they landed in January 1846 at Indianola, the seaport that appeared on Texas maps, but still had not been built. A survivor of those voyages wrote as follows (Galveston Weekly News, Nov. 12, 1877):

“...When Baron von Meusebach returned to the coast, he found ships carrying 6,000 immigrants had unloaded at Indianola, for whose reception or travel not the slightest preparation had been made. With no other shelter, these unfortunate victims lived in holes dug in the ground, without roofs or drinking water, except for rain... Meusebach had contracted with teamsters to take them inland to New Braunfels, but the teamsters ran away to the U. S. Army...”

“...Their principal food was fish... For weeks the rains came... and the marsh prairie was covered with knee-deep water. Immigrants suffered first from malarial fever, but later from flux or dysentery, which like cholera began thinning their ranks... Hundreds of corpses were buried, only to be dug up by the wolves, and their bones left dotting the prairie...”

“...Finally the trails were passable, and those who were able started for New Braunfels on foot, leaving behind all their furniture and sick relatives. The route from Indianola was strewn with the bones of immigrants. I came upon a wagon stuck in the mud. The bones of the oxen were still there, under the ox yoke, as were those of the driver and family, scattered on all sides of the wagon. Of the 6,000 who reached Indianola, no more than 1,500 ever reached New Braunfels, and more than 50% died miserable deaths from starvation and disease. Upon reaching New Braunfels, I wrote back to Germany, suggesting that the eagle on the Adelsverein’s coat of arms be exchanged for a Texas buzzard...”

Many immigrants who arrived at Galveston were fated to die in the annual yellow fever epidemics. Of the passengers and crew of one ship quarantined in the harbor, not one soul got off alive, all dying of cholera. Of the 588 immigrants who sailed in 1854 aboard the Ben Nevis, 76 died of cholera and were buried at sea.

Despite the losses at sea and on land, the German immigrants kept coming - 35,000 in 1860, 157,000 in 1900, until 250 villages in Central Texas were predominately German. Several Confederate companies were comprised entirely by German immigrants, but many more were either Northern sympathizers or fought in the Union Army.

Lest we forget, the road to nationhood everywhere in America was paved with the corpses of these immigrants of all nationalities. And for every one that succeeded or found a niche for himself in the “new world,” another immigrant died while en route.

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