|Freethinkers and the Nueces Massacre
|The term Freethinkers (Freidenker) describes a liberal 19th century German intellectual movement
which attempted to be unencumbered by dogma. Freethinking became fashionable during the Age of
Reason from 1740 to 1753. Many of the early freethinkers were neither true agnostics nor true
atheists, rather they substituted the notion of a deity and its accouterments with opinions about
religion based on reason, logic and common sense. Some of the more radical members of the 48'ers
and Turners were freethinkers. The Freethinkers refused to accept political absolutism and the
authority of a church or a religion. They settled all across American, and there were groups of them
in every major city. At least two German regiments were comprised mostly of non-religious free
thinkers and they actually started their own "free churches" unencumbered by a traditional preacher.
Many freethinkers were highly educated and strongly supported public education, particularly
There were several freethinker communities across the USA including the Rationalist Society of St.
Louis which was formed in 1848 and is still in existence today, making it the oldest autonomous
Freethought organization in the United States. Their Naked Truth monument in St. Louis was
dedicated to Preetorius, Schurtz and Danzer. The statue was moved from its original location in the
wake of anti-German sentiment of World War One. Also in Missouri, Hermann was founded in
1837, after being chosen by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia for its resemblance to the
Rhine Valley of Germany. It proved to be beneficial to farming, brewing and especially wine making.
In the first few decades after its founding, it was also fertile ground for Free thought which was alive
and well until 1854.
|As early as 1850, Germans constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population. Texas Hill
Country in the late 1840s and 50s offered Freethinkers refuge from the oppressions of Europe. The
Freethinkers strongly admired the ideals of the great American patriots: Washington, Jefferson, Paine,
Adams, Madison, and Franklin. In May, 1854, the annual Texas state convention of German singing
groups, a Saengerfest, was held in San Antonio. Dominated by Freethinkers, numerous resolutions
were drawn, including the following: that people be taxed on the level of their income, that laws be
simple and intelligible so that there should be no need of lawyers, the abolition of the grand jury, of
capital punishment, of all temperance laws, of laws respecting Sunday or days of prayer and the
abolition of the oath as a matter of religious sanction, i.e. that Congress should never be opened by
prayer. Further, that there should be no religious instruction in schools and that preachers could not
be teachers, They brought to the United States high ideals of freedom for all, education for children,
limited government and medical and scientific advancement. However, after only a few years, they
ended up sacrificing their homes, fortunes, future, and lives for these ideals.
When the Civil War broke out, many Germans from Central Texas and the Texas Hill Country
strenuously objected to being drafted into the Confederate army. The vast majority of German-
Americans in the Texas Hill Country sided with Sam Houston in opposing secession and slavery,
and some of the German farmers openly backed the Union government. This was taken as a sign of
treason and rebellion by Confederate authorities who sent in troops in the spring of 1862.
The local residents of Comfort, Texas had formed the Union Loyal League to protect themselves
from Indian and outlaw attacks, and this worried the Confederacy who regarded the group as a
potential threat. Martial law was declared, and the Texas Rangers ordered all males over 16 years old
to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy or leave the state. Forced to choose between their
hard won farms and homes or violating their consciences, many refused to take the oath. As a result,
their farms and homes were burned and some of the local residents, about 150 by some accounts,
After the violent confrontation between Confederate soldiers and civilians broke out in Kinney
County on August 10, 1862, many German Texans decided to high tail it to Mexico, and a party
of 61 German Texans fleeing from the Hill Country counties were overtaken by Texas Confederate
cavalrymen on the Nueces River. Shots were fired and 36 German Texans were killed as a result,
some being executed upon capture. The bodies of these farmers and those killed on the Nueces River
were left unburied until the end of the war. Three years later the remains were returned and buried in
a mass grave in Comfort. Other Germans from Central Texas managed to complete their journey to
Mexico City under the leadership of Paul Machemehl of Austin County.
The Treue der Union memorial was erected in 1866 in honor of nineteen Germans settlers killed on
August 10, 1862 in the Battle at Nueces. Their remains are buried on the East side of the monument.
It also honors the nine additional Germans taken prisoner or murdered after the battle as well as
seven more killed at Rio Grande, October 18, 1862. The Treue der Union or True to the Union
Monument is inscribed with the name of the men who were killed. Outside of National Cemeteries,
this remains the only monument to the Union erected in a state south of the Mason-Dixon line. This
monument, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is also noteworthy for another unusual
feature. In 1991, the Treue der Union Monument became one of only five sites in the nation where
the flag is allowed to be flown at half staff at all times. The flag flown here is the thirty-six star
American flag, the one flown at the dedication of the monument long ago.
|The Murders and the Nueces Massacre
|In 1990, the US census revealed that 1,175,888 Texans claimed pure and 1,775,838 partial German
ancestry, for a total of 2,951,726, or 17½ percent of the total population.