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Sunday, November 21, 2021

For Rosalie, coming to Texas was an adventure

Sampler, Rosalie Dietert, possibly 1840s.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Almost all of us here descend from immigrants; even with Native American ancestors, if you go back in time far enough, the theory suggests they immigrated to the New World, too.
Last month, a kind person shared several large boxes of historic items with me – and among the heirlooms was a simple piece of cloth, embroidered with letters, numbers, and two first names. It is an embroidery sampler, made by a young woman in Germany who would come to Texas in the 1850s. Her name was Rosalie Hess, and she was born in Jena, Germany, on January 17, 1833, and immigrated to Texas in 1854. She married Christian Dietert in 1855. 
Rosalie Dietert
One of the earliest families to settle in Kerrville was the Dietert family, and it was one of their descendants who shared the items with me, for placement in the Heart of the Hills Heritage Center. 
When Rosalie and Christian Dietert arrived in Kerrville in 1857, there were only five one-room huts in the entire town. The Dieterts built a home on Spring Street, which is near the intersection of today's Washington and Water Streets, opposite the front doors to the sanctuary of Notre Dame Catholic Church, overlooking the river. Dietert was a millwright, and he built a mill on his property along the river.
His first mill here was powered by horses, and was designed to make shingles. He later built a mill powered by the river, which he used to saw lumber. 
Here's how Rosalie Dietert described Kerrville as it was 1857, in an interview with her great-granddaughter which was published in 1931, who was writing a report for her history class in school.
“What was in Kerrville when you came here?” the granddaughter asked. "Nothing, my child, but a cluster of five small log huts, of one or two rooms, a wilderness of trees, and grass as high as a man, with Indians skulking through." 
When this 1931 interview took place, Rosalie Dietert was 93 years old. 
"Your grandfather built the sixth house," Mrs. Dietert said. "It had three rooms and was built of cypress timbers cut on the saw mill he set up at the place where the ice plant now stands."
Cooking, too, was difficult.
Detail: "Rosalie"
Rosalie Dietert started housekeeping with a skillet and a small Dutch oven, "which was a small round iron pot with three legs and a dented-in lid to hold live coals." She also had a brass kettle holding about one gallon, for cooking utensils.
"Meat there was always plenty, venison, wild turkey, fish, occasionally bear, and later beef. In the beginning there were practically no vegetables. They made a salad of wild parsley and tea from a variety of the small prairie sage, and greens from the 'lamb's quarters' or 'land squatters.'"
However, "in about 1870 some cook stoves were brought west as far as San Antonio, one of which [Rosalie Dietert] became the proud possessor. No more out-door cooking in all sorts of weather -- a stove and a real oven to bake bread and cakes! Her recipes were gotten out, and all sorts of good things were made for holidays and birthdays. The favorites were stollen (loaf cake), pfeffer-nusse (spice cookies), and schnecken (a sweet dough rolled out flat and covered with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, currants and pecan meats. This was all rolled up, cut into slices, and baked.)"
The recipe became very popular in early Kerrville, and many early local families enjoyed making schnecken, though many early families called them a different name: "Dietert Cookies."
"Whatever made you leave your home, brave the sea and throw your lot in an unknown land?" asked her great-granddaughter.
Detail: "Emil"
"With me it was the spirit of adventure," Dietert replied, "All of the papers were full of the new world and of Texas. With the men it was for the most part a question of political freedom."
Her trip to Texas in the mid-1850s was not easy. "After a hard and perilous journey of eight weeks they landed at Galveston, from where they were transported to Indianola, long since destroyed by a tropical storm, in a two-masted sailboat. From there they made a journey to New Braunfels in wagon transports. This was even more tiring than the ocean voyage, as the land was for the most part covered with water from six to 12 inches in depth. It was the popular belief that the southeastern part of Texas was a swamp, but was later found to be caused by a period of much rainfall. There were no roads, or dry camping places, and danger of Indian raids was ever present. The guides and teamsters brought them safely to the settlement of New Braunfels in July, 1854, five months after leaving their homeland."
Among the things Rosalie Hess Dietert brought with her was a small cloth on which she’d embroidered letters, numbers, and two names, and embroidery ‘sampler.’ It measures 14 by 12 inches. The cloth has yellowed over time, and the threads used were coral and white, which have probably faded.
In white thread, at the top left of the cloth, is the name “Rosalie.” On the bottom right, and in coral thread, beneath a horn of leaves, is the name “Emil.” I have no idea who Emil was, but he was important enough to be included in the sampler – and kept by a young immigrant, carried with her as she crossed the sea to a new land.
Seeing this keepsake helped me imagine a young German woman who came to Texas in the “spirit of adventure
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerr County and Kerrville historical items, especially photographs. If you have something to share with him, it would make him happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times  November 20, 2021.

My coffee-table history books on Kerr County make great Christmas gifts.  Free shipping. Click here for more information. Each book filled with over 100 historic photos.

1 comment:

  1. Your article made my morning! Rosalie was my great grandmother, and I’ve never seen that photo or the sampler. She had eleven children and served as the postmistress of Comfort at one point. And my favorite story about her is how, during the Civil War, she bribed the notorious Colonel Duffy to release her husband Christian from the prison camp he had set up for German men during the Civil War.

    I would love to see more of those heirlooms or be in touch with whoever brought them to you.

    More photos and notes about Rosalie are here:


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