Local Pioneer History

By J. J. Starkey

Boerne Star, December 28, 1933

The facts for the following account of the Christian Dietert family were given us by Mrs. Herman Schulze, whose maiden name was Augusta Dietert, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Dietert. Mr. and Mrs. Dietert were pioneers of Comfort and Kerrville. Mr. Dietert was a millwright and some history of the early mills of this section will be found therein as well as other pioneer matters of interest.

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN DIETERT FAMILY

Christian Dietert was born in Tesen District of Magdaburg, Germany, on August 24, 1827. He was a millwright and miller by profession. In early manhood he left his homeland, embarking on a four-masted schooner, accompanied by his brother, William Dietert, who later settled in Boerne, Texas. They sailed for Texas, a voyage of eight weeks. The ship landed at Galveston. They came to Texas to try their fortunes with the much talked of new country and to gain political freedom. Their destination was New Braunfels, the "Mecca" of all German immigrants in those early days.

There were at that time only two routes to New Braunfels, one by way of Houston, which was a long and perilous journey, and another by way of Indianola, then the only seaport on the mainland. This route was somewhat shorter, so they shipped in a two-masted sailboat to Indianola. This port was totally destroyed by a tropical storm in about the year 1885.

After some weeks of delay, waiting for transports, they boarded wagons, drawn by mules, and were conveyed over tractless miles of territory covered with water from six to twelve inches in depth. This, together with the scarcity of camping places and danger of Indian raids, wild animals, etc., was a most arduous journey. They reached New Braunfels in July 1854, after weeks of slow travel overland. It had been five months since they had left Germany.

In August of the same year Christian Dietert joined a company of thirteen men, who journeyed into the Guadalupe valley to the place where the Cypress Creek joins the Guadalupe River, where they surveyed the tract of land, layed out and named the town of Comfort.

In the beginning, shingle making was the only industry. The shingles which were made by hand, were freighted to San Antonio by ox wagon. Early in 1855, a saw and grist mill was built under the direction of Mr. Christian Dietert. This venture was financed by Mr. Altgelt. The power was furnished by a huge waterwheel, fed by the waters of Cypress Creek. The remnants of the old rock dam, reaching halfway across the creek still stands, a [monument to an] enterprise that failed. The little stream that gushed from the hills, no doubt fed by copious rains the preceeding seasons, dried out after a year or two of drouths, and as a result the mill had to be abandoned for lack of water power, less than two years after its completion.

Mr. Dietert was married to Miss Rosalie Hess in 1855. She had come to the settlement of Comfort a short time before from her home in the city of Jena, Germany.

Mr. Dietert's father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Dietert, two brothers, Frederick and Henry and sister, Lena came over from Germany in 1856, to settle in Comfort. Accompanying them was Ferdinand Schulze, then a young man, who settled on a farm on Cypress Creek in the eastern part of Kerr County. He was the father of Herman Schulze of Split Rock Farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Christian Dietert moved to Fredericksburg early in 1857. In the later part of the same year they moved to Kerrville, following the organization of Kerr County. The young millwright bought the tract of land along the banks of the Guadalupe southwest of Water Street, from what is now Earl Garrett Street south to "A" street. He established a shingle mill, using horse power until he could construct a water wheel, with which he later sawed lumber from the Cypress trees growing along the banks of the river. This mill was built on the site of the present Ice Factory. It was washed away by a great flood after a year or two of operation.

Mr. Dietert, being without funds to rebuild his mill, again moved toward Fredericksburg, to build a saw and gristmill for Mr. C. H. Guenther on Live Oak Creek. The power for this mill was furnished by a water wheel. This venture was short lived, but let it be said, in spite of controversy, they did saw lumber from pecan and walnut trees, of which there were many in Gillespie County. The Germans who worked with lumber were well versed in the art of converting walnut and pecan wood into lumber suitable for building homes and furniture. After only a few months operation, torrential rains of several days duration softened the sandy land of that section to such an extent that the earth crumbled before the onrushing waters and took mill, waterwheel and everything pertaining to the undertaking away, to be buried and lost miles down the creek.

Mr. Dietert moved his little family and belongings back to Kerrville where he again built a mill on the old site. This mill was destroyed by fire. Being offered work on the construction of mills in the vicinity of Comfort, and to be near a school for his children, Mr. Dietert moved to Comfort. He also built a mill for his brother, William Dietert near Boerne.

The Dietert family moved back to Kerrville in 1866, and Mr. Dietert again set up a water wheel to operate a saw mill and steel grist mill. The water wheel was also washed away by a flood. In 1868 Mr. Dietert put in an under water iron turbine for power and a queer old type of flour mill consisting of two large stones, the lower a flat stone with a somewhat conical shaped stone above it, which in revolving crushed and ground into flour. People came from many miles around to have corn and wheat ground, and also to have lumber sawed by the sawmill into suitable lengths for building purposes.

According to information recently received from the First Assistant Postmaster General, Mr. Christian Dietert was appointed Postmaster at Kerrville on July 22, 1868, and served until his successor was appointed on June 26, 1888. He was elected to fill the office of Justice of the Peace in 1869 and had also to fill the place of County Judge in the absence of the regular judge. Mr. Dietert was greatly interested in education, and served on the school board for some time.

Mr. Dietert's first civic act upon arriving in the new land was to take out naturalization papers, and to begin the study of the English language.

Mr. Dietert engaged in the hauling of freight in company with a number of men, to and from Mexico, for the Government, for a time during the Civil War. Heavy wagons drawn by four to eight yoke of oxen were used. These trips usually took several months and were filled with dangers and hardships. Necessary provisions and clothing for the home were bought with each return trip. The groceries consisted mainly of coffee, tea, sugar, flour, rice and dried fruits. Cloth was bought by the bolt and was a coarse white material. Lengths of this cloth were dyed by the women with herbs, roots of the algerita and sumac, and bark of the pecan and live oak tree, and were then made by hand into garments for the men and children according to their needs.

Mr. Dietert's sympathies were with the Union during the Civil War. He believed in "a Union one and inseparable." Many of the immigrants from Europe were of this same belief.

This history would no be complete without mention being made of Mrs. Rosalie Dietert, who played a most important part in the upbuilding of this section of the country. Women were not appointed to office in those days, but Mrs. Dietert was made assistant postmistress and took over all responsibilities and all transactions pertaining to the office during Mr. Dietert's tenure of office. The first post office fixtures was a frame made of cypress wood, by the postmaster. It was four feet high, three feet wide and several inches deep. This postoffice fixture is still in the Dietert family.

The Dietert home was the center of social activities. Of times young couples danced in the large living room to the tune of fiddle and accordion. Being accomplished in the art, Mrs. Dietert taught the young men and the very few girls to dance and waltz.

Santa Claus brought the first Christmas tree in Kerrville to the Dietert home. People came from miles around to see the wonderful tree, which of course was not the glittering yule tree of today. Its dress was modest; the home made decorations consisted of festoons of chains, the links of which were cut and made from brightly colored paper. There were also nuts, covered with gold and silver paper, apples brought from San Antonio, and cookies cut into shapes of birds and animals and decorated with colored sugar. The candles were tallow dips.

The nearest trading place was San Antonio, and trips, which were made by wagon, took about a week. The nearest doctor was also in San Antonio. In case of sickness the neighbors assisted each other with home preparations, potions of roots and herbs.

The usual privations, and hardships of the pioneer, together with the dangers of Indian raids, wild animals, etc., were experienced by this couple but undaunted and undismayed they set their faces to the future, with the development and civilization of their adopted country were upppermost in their minds.

Twelve children were born to them: four sons and eight daughters, all of whom grew to manhood and womanhood except one daughter who died in infancy. Most of them are living in and near Kerrville and are active in various business enterprises.

In 1885, Mr. Dietert sold his mill site and interests to Chas. Schreiner and bought a farm across the Guadalupe, opposite the town, where he lived with his family until his death in May 1902. Mrs. Dietert lived to the ripe old age of ninety-six, when she was laid to rest beside her husband in ??? Cemetery, Kerrville, on April 7, 1929, having seen the little settlement with its five, one-room log huts grow into the thriving city of Kerrville.


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