Click here to see the chapter's trip map. The drive doesn't strictly follow the colony's chronological path, but is convenient for travellers from Austin and hits all the settlements and many of the camps in the Hill Country.
Texas has been attracting dreamers and schemers for centuries: brigands like Jean LaFitte; treasure hunters like Jim Bowie, empire builders like Philip Nolan, Augustus McGee, Henry Perry, and Dr. James Long; utopians like Nicholas Zink of Sisterdale, Gustav Schleicher of Bettina, and Victor Considerant of La Reunion; religious leaders like Johann Kilian and his Wendish Lutheran flock, and Lyman Wight and his Mormon faithful. Few Texans know anything of these men and their dreams, perhaps because most of them failed. Lyman Wight, one of the Latter-day Saints' original Quorum of Twelve, followed his dream to Texas. This trip traces the wanderings of Wight and his followers through the Hill Country.
Before we start traveling, we need to spend some time looking at the events that led to Wight's migration to Texas. The Latter-day Saints movement traces its beginnings back to 1820, when young Joseph Smith received a vision from God. The 15-year-old Smith was attending a Baptist-Methodist revival in his hometown of Palmyra, New York, when a voice from heaven told him not to join any sect, but rather to await a second vision from God.
This second vision came in 1823, when a heavenly messenger revealed to Smith the location of some ancient plates buried in a field near Palmyra. These plates supposedly contained the record of ancestry of the American Indians, who were supposed to be the remnants of the ancient House of Israel. Accompanying the plates were two stones, the Urim and the Thummin, which held the key to the plates' translation. Smith was allowed to see the plates during this second vision, but was not allowed to take possession of them. Four years later the messenger visited Smith again, and this time Smith got to keep the plates. Smith then translated the plates in dictation to several scribes, including his new wife, Emma, and an itinerant schoolteacher, Oliver Cowdery. When completed, the revelations were printed at Palmyra in 1829. This is the Book of Mormon, which Mormons hold in equal esteem with the Bible.
Smith's brand of religion began to attract followers, one of whom was Lyman Wight. Wight was born in Connecticut in 1796. He fought with distinction in the War of 1812. In 1823, Wight married Harriet Benton; they moved in 1826 to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Wight joined the Lord's flock under the tutelage of a Baptist-turned-Campbellite preacher named Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon's converts then formed a commune, 12 families strong, which had interests in both farming and mechanics. A year later, the commune members were baptized into the Latter-Day Saints church. Wight became an elder in the Latter-Day Saints church just 6 days after his baptism.
While in Kirtland, Ohio (their first gathering place), the Mormons adopted the "stewardship plan," a financial plan to which they still adhere, in theory. The stewardship plan is the economic basis for Mormonism. By its terms each man gives all his properties to the church, whereupon he is given stewardship over certain properties, usually the same that he has just given over to God.
Out of these properties he keeps only enough for his "just wants and needs" and turns over the surplus to the church's general fund, administered by a bishop. This was a different proposition from the "common stock" proposition of Rigdon's settlement, and the common stock system was the economic setup employed by Wight in Texas.
Neighbors in Kirtland did not appreciate the presence of the Latter-Day Saints, so it was decided that the main mass of Mormons would move to the western edge of Missouri (which was then the edge of America's western frontier), according to a vision received by Smith. Wight was specifically mentioned in one of Smith's visions as one of those chosen to carry the gospel to Missouri. At the conference of June 3-6, 1831, Joseph Smith laid his hands on Wight and ordained him to the High Priesthood, after the holy order of God, and the spirit fell upon him. But that same month, God, through Smith, also warned Wight: "And let my servant Lyman Wight beware, for Satan desireth to sift him as chaff." As a high priest, Wight would prove to be something of a theological loose cannon. At one church meeting a few years later, John Corrill complained that Lyman Wight was teaching that "all disease in this church is of the devil, and that medicine administered to the sick is of the devil; for the sick in the church ought to live by faith," a charge that Wight acknowledged to be true. The more practical-minded president told Wight to keep this belief strictly to himself, and affirmed the utility of church-approved roots and herbs as medicine, especially when administered by a church member.
Wight and four other elders came to Independence, the seat of Jackson County, Missouri, in 1831. Smith and other church officials arrived soon after, and announced that this section of Missouri had been revealed as Zion, the promised land of the Mormons. They bought 40 acres of land and laid the cornerstone for a temple that was never constructed. They established a Mormon newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, in 1832. By 1833, the Mormon population in Jackson County was nearly 1500, or about one-third of the county's population. The Mormons organized their Missouri Zion as a collective and lived every minute of their lives according to the church's evolving doctrine, which stood in sharp contrast to the individualistic, loosely structured character of most frontier communities. The Mormons' economic success, their ability to control local elections, their clannishness, their church secrets, and their rapid growth in numbers aroused the anger and fear of their mostly Southern, Anglo neighbors, who also objected to the Mormons' abolitionist beliefs and their belief that the American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel.
Tensions between Mormons and gentiles grew. The Mormons saw Jackson County, Missouri, as their final gathering place, the sacred place to which Christ will come for the second resurrection. If this sacred plot were lost to them, the Mormons were to redeem it by force if necessary.
There were minor persecutions and personal conflicts, and then mob violence erupted. The Mormons' printing facilities at Independence were destroyed, and the Mormons as a group were driven from the county in 1833. Lyman Wight claimed that 203 Mormon houses and one mill were burned. He also said: "I saw 190 women and children driven 30 miles across the prairie in the month of November, with 3 decrepit men only in their company. The ground was thinly crusted with sleet and I could easily follow on their trail by the blood that flowed from their lacerated feet on the stubble of the burnt prairie."
The Mormons fled over into neighboring Clay, Ray, and Daviess Counties, but they did not abandon their claim to Zion. They would do whatever it took to get their legally purchased property back. When a barrage of letters to the governor proved fruitless, the Mormons began to take stronger measures. By May 1834, the Mormons in Clay County had established an armory, where they made weapons like swords, knives, pistols, and repaired rifles and shotguns. Wight, who had held a colonel's commission in the Missouri militia, became the Mormons' chief military commander. General Wight was truly a soldier's general. On June 18, 1834, the Mormon band had to cross a slough that was half a mile wide. The soldiers had to wade through waist-deep mud and water. According to one compatriot, "General Wight, who had traveled from Kirtland [Ohio} without a stocking on his foot, carried Bother Joseph Young on his back." Breakfast that day was watery-thin cornmeal gruel.
On August 16, 1834, Joseph Smith wrote Wight from Kirtland and told him to "enter complaint to the Governor as often as he receives any insult or injury, and in case that they proceed to endeavor to take life, or tear down houses, and if the citizens of Clay County do not befriend us, to gather up the little army and be sent over immediately into Jackson County, and trust in God, and do the best he can in maintaining the ground."
The Clay Countians did not befriend the Mormons, or at least they did not befriend them for long. On June 29, 1836, the gentiles of Clay County called on the Mormons to leave the county. They had first welcomed the Mormons, as refugees, with Christian charity, but the Mormons had worn out their welcome; they were not welcome to live in Clay County, for roughly the same set of reasons given by the Jackson County gentiles. Either the Mormons moved elsewhere (they recommended Wisconsin) or the gentiles would commence a civil war against them. At least partly in response to this threat, the Missouri legislature created Caldwell County on December 29, 1836, as a Mormon refuge. Caldwell County is just north and east of Clay County.
Within a few months of the its creation, most of the Mormons moved to Caldwell County, where they founded the towns of Salem and Far West. Far West became the county seat. Far West's square measured 396 feet per side; the four main streets were 100 feet wide. A temple site was selected in 1837 and the population swelled to 4000. Again, friction developed between the Mormons and their gentile neighbors. Quarrels gave way to shootings, which in turn begat a guerilla war, known as the Mormon War, in 1837.
Meanwhile, Lyman Wight settled in 1837 on a great bend of the Grand River in Daviess County (located above Caldwell County) and established a ferry. In May 1838, Joseph Smith visited Wight's settlement and named it Adam-ondi-Ahman, which in the Reformed Egyptian language means "Adam's Consecrated Land." According to church history, this is the valley where three years before his death Adam gathered all the patriarchs--Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaliel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah--and gave them his final blessing. As he blessed them, the heavens opened up and the Lord appeared. Here, Smith prophesied, the judgment will sit and the Son of Man will appear and issue a decree that his dominion will be everlasting. At the brow of a hill above the village, Smith discovered a ruined stone altar where he said the patriarchs had worshipped.
Adam-ondi-Ahman grew rapidly. By October 1838, nearly 200 houses had been built, and 40 more Mormon families were living in wagons while waiting for more houses to be built. But the end was near. The Mormons had problems with the gentiles in Daviess County from almost the beginning. Adam-ondi-Ahman was located just 4 miles north of the county seat of Gallatin. Gallatin was a ragged row of 10 houses, 3 of which were saloons. Almost overnight, the Mormons outnumbered the gentiles in Daviess County and their thriving town quickly left Gallatin in the dust. When a group of unarmed Mormons came to Gallatin to vote on August 6, 1838, they were met by a mob controlled by Col. W. P. Peniston, a member of the county's founding family and candidate for office whom the Mormons opposed. A drunkard picked a quarrel with one of the Mormon leaders, and a fight began. Pistols weren't used, but rocks, clubs, and the occasional butcher knife were pressed into service. Men dropped like flies on all sides. Major Joseph H. McGee saw a Mormon pursued by two Missourians. The Mormon had a butcher knife sticking between his shoulders. As they chased him, another Mormon seized a large club, rushed in between them and their victim, and knocked the gentiles senseless into the dirt. The Mormons retreated, but on October 11, 1838, they attacked Gallatin, and sacked and burned the town's storehouse and tailor shop. Adam-ondi-Ahman came to resemble a fort.
In 1838, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs ordered the state militia to either exterminate the Mormons or drive them from Missouri. When some Mormons moved over into Carroll County (just east of Caldwell County) in the summer of 1838, a civil war with the gentiles flared within weeks of their arrival. The Mormons left Carroll County in September rather than face massacre by their neighbors. On October 30, 1838, 200 Missouri militia attacked a small group of Mormons who had taken refuge at Haun's Mill in Caldwell County. About 18 Mormons were killed. Rather than allow the Mormons to bury their dead, the militia threw the bodies down a well.
After the Haun's Mill massacre, state militia was dispatched to Far West. The Mormons at Far West surrendered. The leaders were tried by court martial and ordered shot, but the sentence wasn't carried out. They were jailed instead. On November 8, 1838, shortly after the Mormons surrendered at Far West, Brigadier General Robert Wilson went to Adam-ondi-Ahman to hold an inquiry into the alleged Mormon transgressions. After a 3-day hearing, every Mormon was acquitted, but Wilson ordered the town to be vacated in 10 days. The Mormons were allowed to spend the winter in Caldwell County, but they had to leave Missouri as soon as it warmed up. The abandoned town quickly fell into ruin, and by 1940, only one crumbling log house--said to be the house of Lyman Wight--remained. Elder Lyman Wight joined his fellow Mormon leaders in jail. On December 1, 1838, Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hiram Smith, Lyman Wight, Sidney Rigdon, and two others were placed in the Clay County Jail in Liberty. The town was abuzz with wild rumors of poisoning attempts, gruesome punishments, threats of lynching, and attempted escapes. Joseph Smith had a series of revelations, while the other prisoners denounced any townspeople who came within shouting distance. Rigdon was paroled; the other five Mormon leaders remained in the Liberty jail until April 15, 1839, when they were transferred to Daviess County. While being transferred to another jail in Columbia, Joseph Smith and most of the prisoners escaped; the rest of the Mormons escaped from the Columbia jail and fled to Illinois, where most of their followers had settled after leaving Missouri. The escapes were probably arranged.
The Mormons built a city--Nauvoo--in Illinois and there enjoyed prosperity and peace for a few years, bringing in thousands of converts, the result of the massive proselytizing efforts of the missionary arm of the church, known as the Quorum of Twelve. Wight became a member of the Quorum in 1841. He also became president of the Black River Lumber Company, which the Mormons formed to acquire lumber for the construction of a temple at Nauvoo.
By 1843 the Mormons were having trouble with their Nauvoo neighbors, too, and they were looking for a new Zion. The Republic of Texas seemed to offer great possibilities as a place where they could found a nation all their own, so the church began to make plans for a colony in Texas. Wight was at the head of this company. Come 1844, the Texas plan was sidelined for a time while the church organized a harebrained attempt to elect Joseph Smith president of the United States. Should Smith be defeated, the Texas plan would take effect.
The Texas plan provided for the purchase of territory "north of a west line, from the falls of the Colorado River to the Nueces River, thence down same to the Gulf of Mexico and along the Rio Grande and up the same to the United States territory." The Mormons expected to be recognized here as a sovereign nation and to help the struggling Texas republic to defend herself from Mexico.
The Black River Lumber Company was to take possession of the new territory. At the time, the Mormons' desired territory was part of the land in dispute between Mexico and Texas. A Mormon representative went to Texas to negotiate with the government and returned in 1844 with treaty approval by the president's cabinet. Three more men were then appointed commissioners to meet with the Texas congress to ratify the treaty, after which Wight and George Miller were to lead the colony to this territory.
The plan to elect Smith president of the United States came to an abrupt halt in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844, when Smith was killed by a mob that broke into the jail where he was being held. Confusion followed at Nauvoo, and Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of Twelve, assumed control of the church and declared himself to be the successor to Smith. The Quorum followed his lead, save Wight and two others. Most of the faithful followed Young out to Utah, while other smaller groups went their own way, including Lyman Wight. Wight was not called the Wild Ram of the Mountains for nothing.
When Wight refused the leadership of BrighamYoung, he decided to lead the Black River Lumber Company to Texas, following the council's 1844 directive. On March 25, 1845, Wight and 150 followers started down the Mississippi for Texas. They landed near Davenport, Iowa, from which point they prepared for the rest of the trip, which was to be overland.
After Indian problems, disease and death, they crossed the Red River into Texas on November 10, 1845, and spent the winter in an abandoned fort in Grayson County. They resumed their journey south on April 24, 1846, arriving at Webberville, east of Austin, on June 6 of that same year.
They didn't stay long. Noah Smithwick, chronicler of early Texas and the Mormons' neighbor at Webberville, wrote: "They were a novelty in the religious world, and curious to know something of their peculiar views, I permitted the elder to preach in my house. Preaching of any kind was so rare that the neighbors all gathered in and listened with respectful attention while the elder expounded the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, being careful to leave out its more objectionable features. But amongst most people the idea obtained that they were a lawless band and the subject of rising up and driving them from the country was strongly advocated. They were in sufficient numbers to stand off the Indians, and, it being their policy to isolate their communities, which relegated them to the outskirts of civilization, I was willing to utilize anything that formed a barrier against the savages. I therefore counseled suspension of hostilities till some overt act called for their expulsion."
Smithwick's advice was not heeded and the Mormons soon moved to a spot on the Colorado River a few miles above Austin by the "Great Falls," near the present location of Tom Miller Dam. Here they settled down to the business of making a living. They took the contract for the first jail in Austin.
At the falls of the Colorado the Mormons built the area's first gristmill. Smithwick relates: "Up to this time we were under the necessity of grinding our corn on steel mills run by hand--a tedious and wearying process, so that in building the mill the Mormons became public benefactors and it was a great catastrophe when a rise in the river swept their mill away. They gathered up the machinery, but, discouraged with the prospect, began to look about for a better location."
One report has them moving up the river to Bull Creek, where they established another mill. At any rate, during their stay in Austin they proved to be prodigious workers, building several houses in addition to the jail and several miles of roads to their mills. We know these roads now as Scenic Dr., which runs along the banks of Lake Austin from Enfield Dr. to Pecos St., and Lakewood Dr./Spicewood Springs Rd., which runs along Bull Creek. Most of Lakewood Dr. has now been obliterated by Loop 360. These roads are among the most visually pleasing in Austin.
Hard work notwithstanding, the Mormons managed to indebt themselves to the tune of $2000 to Austin merchants. Before the year 1846 was history, Wight had sent an exploring party west to scout for a new colony location. It reported back a favorable location on the Pedernales "with plenty of good water and timber, abounding with game and honey."
Wight had heard of the German settlement at Fredericksburg and hoped that he and his flock might be able to live harmoniously with the mostly abolitionist and Free-Soiler Germans. Adelsverein commissioner John Meusebach welcomed the idea, and so the Mormons prepared to move again, into the valley of the Corderillas or Cordilleras Mountains, as the hills ringing Fredericksburg were variously called. (Corderilla means "lambskin dressed with the fleece" in Spanish; cordillera means "mountain range.")
By May 1, 1847, a mill site had been selected 4 miles below Fredericksburg on the Pedernales, and 6 weeks later the advance guard had a gristmill in operation. Crops were planted, the Austin mill site was sold in August, and the whole colony moved to the new settlement, named Zodiac by Wight. Soon the Mormons had constructed a sawmill, general store, temple-storehouse, school, blacksmith and wagon shop, cabinet and furniture shops, shingle mill, and houses for the 20-odd Mormon families.
Wight's colony was a godsend to Fredericksburg; the Mormons supplied the Germans with seed, lumber, and shingles from their mill, cornmeal from their gristmill, and furniture from their shops. The Mormons also helped the Germans adjust to the idiosyncrasies of farming on the edge of the Great American Desert. Many of the German immigrants were becoming farmers and herders for the first time, here in America. The colony also supplied grain and lumber to nearby Fort Martin Scott.
On December 13, 1848, two men from Brigham Young's headquarters at Council Bluff, Nebraska, came to Zodiac, their mission being to persuade Wight to journey to Salt Lake City to counsel with his brethren on the Quorum of Twelve. They threatened him with excommunication should he refuse. Wight replied, "Nobody under the light of the heavens except Joseph Smith or John Smith, the president of the Fifty, can call me from Texas to come to Salt Lake City," and said that he had as much authority to call one of the Twelve--or rather Eleven--to Texas, as they had to call him to Utah. The Wild Ram of the Mountains was excommunicated a year later.
Wight apparently tried to get along with neighbors, both red and white. Chief Buffalo Hump and his Comanches visited Zodiac several times during 1849 and 1850 and gave the Mormons the privilege of traveling anywhere through their nation. Wight tried to discuss Mormonism with them, which seemed to please the Comanches greatly.
In 1850 Wight entered secular politics, running for chief justice and judge of probate court of Gillespie County. Wight lost the regular election to Johann Jost Klingelhoefer, but contested the results on the grounds that Klingelhoefer was not a U.S. citizen (he had not yet been naturalized). The contest was decided in Wight's favor, and he took office in September 1850. But since the rest of the county court was comprised of Germans, Wight could not run the county as he pleased. So after attending only five sessions of court, Wight refused to attend any more. He ignored all summons from his fellow commissioners to attend, so the commissioners met, declared the office of chief justice vacant, and called a special election to fill the vacancy. The election was held in August 1851, and Klingelhoefer, by now a U.S. citizen, was elected in Wight's place.
Despite the colony's industriousness, its debts seemed to grow larger and larger, owing to Wight's bad financial management. Come 1851, Wight was anticipating a new move, for a variety of reasons: his inability to get along with the county commissioners; sickness in the colony; no more contract work at Fort Martin Scott, to which they had earlier furnished much lumber and grain; a defect in land title that caused them to lose the land, necessitating repurchase; a flood that swept away their crops and mills; and finally, Wight's seemingly insatiable wanderlust, which prevented him from settling down anywhere for more than a few years at a time.
Nothing remains of Zodiac today except a one-acre cemetery plot that lies hidden away, north of the road, on the western banks of the river. Church officials from Salt Lake City visit the plot occasionally to keep it clean, but otherwise, Lyman Wight and his followers buried here sleep on, undisturbed.
By February 1851 they were on the move again, this time northeastward. They stopped briefly at the Colorado River near the Marble Falls.
A few miles east of Marble Falls is Smithwick community, named after the Mormons' Webberville neighbor Noah Smithwick. Smithwick was born in North Carolina on New Year's Day, 1809. He moved to Texas in 1827, working as a blacksmith and smuggling tobacco across the Mexican border with his old friend Dr. John Webber. After serving in the Republican Army during the Texas war of independence, Smithwick lived first in Bastrop, then in Webberville, where he served as blacksmith, postmaster, and justice of the peace. He moved to Fort Croghan (now Burnet) in 1848, then to the section of the country that now bears his name, located between Doublehorn and Hickory Creeks, in 1855. Doublehorn Creek's name is derived from the interlocked antlers found near the source of the stream by early settlers. Two bucks, presumably having met at the spring to drink, became engaged in an altercation. During the course of their battle they managed to interlock their horns, and unable to extricate themselves, starved to death. Here Smithwick built his first house and a mill on the Colorado.
In 1858 a great grasshopper plague descended upon the countryside, and Smithwick described their onslaught:
"They came on the wing and in such numbers that the sun was literally darkened with them. Anyone who has ever looked toward the zenith during a snowstorm will remember that the snowflakes looked like myriads of black specks. That is just the appearance the grasshoppers presented when first discovered. Soon they began to drop, and the ground was alive with them. It was late in the fall and they went into winter quarters, devouring every green thing in sight except the rag-weed, which is intensely bitter, utilizing the denuded branches and weeds for roosting purposes. When the cold came on they were frozen on their perches, and in this state they fell easy victims to the hogs, which devoured millions of them, but there were still enough left to seed the ground for the next season's crop, which they did by boring holes into the earth with their tail-ends. They did not distribute themselves evenly, some farms being almost free of them. On one such place there were only a few dropped down, and the owner thereof, mustering his whole family when the hoppers began to light, gathered tin pans, beating them energetically until the main body of pests passed over. After his neighbors had received the full force of the invasion he was wont to attribute their affliction to shiftlessness. 'If you had just got out and fought them, as I did, you might have saved your crop.' Pretty soon, though, there came on another detachment. When they began to drop our hero got out with his tin pans and brooms and 'beat' and 'shooed' till he was exhausted, but the hoppers kept on dropping, and lost no time in getting to work, cleaning out everything in sight."
With the coming of the Civil War, Smithwick left Texas for California. An avowed unionist, he was threatened by his hot-headed secessionist neighbors, so he sold his farm for $2000, gave his mill--for which he had been offered $12,000 the year before--to his nephew John Hubbard, and drove a prairie schooner to California. But before leaving Texas, he paid a farewell visit to his old friend and fellow unionist Sam Houston. Smithwick lived out the rest of his 91 years in California. Toward the end of his life, he began to work on his memoirs of life in early Texas. Smithwick didn't let blindness halt his work; he dictated the text to his daughter.
After Colonel Charles J. Todd's ill-fated attempt to establish a town at Marble Falls (although he managed to sell several lots for $200 apiece), a Colonel Dale came down to Burnet County in the summer of 1860 to buy land. Representing a St. Louis manufacturing firm that was looking to build a woolen factory somewhere contiguous to the wool-producing section, Dale was attracted to the Marble Falls of the Colorado for their obvious power-producing capacity. But Colonel Todd held out for too dear a price, and Dale turned to Smithwick at his mill on the Colorado, offering him the aforementioned $12,000 figure. Itching for new worlds to conquer, Smithwick accepted this handsome offer. Dale went back to St. Louis to report to his company, get the cash for the purchase, and obtain the requisite machinery. That winter brought the victory of Lincoln and the first of the 13 ordinances of secession passed by the rebelling states, and the Dale deal fell through.
Wight and the Mormons had earlier been attracted to the Marble Falls; a February 1851 scouting party had chosen a location on the river near the falls. But the colony didn't stay there long, as Wight related in a letter. "We stopped on the Colorado river which we anticipated was a pleasant place to stop till we made choice of a place on which to locate. In an unexpected moment the spring of water failed and weather being extremely dry and hot and not having nother but river water and being exposed to the heat for fear that sickness would again persue us we made a sudden effort to find good water which we found here in great abundance."
"Here" was a spot on Hamilton Creek about 8 miles north of the Marble Falls, to be known thereafter as the Mormon Mills.
About 6 miles north of Marble Falls on Mormon Mills Rd., you cross Hamilton Creek. The Mormon cemetery lies up on the west bank of the creek just north of this low-water bridge, hidden from sight on private property. It was here along scenic Hamilton Creek that the Mormons had settled by July 1851. Go another couple of hundred feet and you see a wide blue pond, a historical marker on the left between the road and creek, and a tree-obscured view of the Hamilton Falls, which form the pond.
Smithwick described the falls as follows: "A mountain had been cleft from north to south, to permit the stream to pass through, and then from east to west, the southern portion having been entirely removed so that the almost perpendicular walls between which flowed the creek, turned away at right angles at the mouth of the gorge, where the stream fell over a precipice twenty-eight feet or more in height into a deep pool below: thence rippling away between great banks, shaded by the various trees indigenous to the country."
Today you see a several-tiered limestone cliff, which is the breaking point of a long limestone chute. Several streams of water course over its edge, breaking into smaller rivulets on their stairstep path down to the 2.5-acre pool. The chute's east bluff is conveniently cut away for the roadside viewer; the west bluff continues on for a considerable distance.
You have to settle for a partially obscured glimpse of the falls, for they are on private property very explicitly posted with "No Trespassing" signs, but fortunately there is no way for the signs to diminish the melodic tumbling of the waters. It should still be easy to see why the Mormons settled here.
This was the finest land along Hamilton Creek, originally granted to Conrad Rohrer, a German bachelor from Pennsylvania, in compensation for his services in the Texas Revolution. Rohrer, unfortunately, was killed by Indians the same year of his grant, 1836, and never cast an eye on the land.
Once settled, the Mormon colony built a new set of mills and shops, but not without problems. They had lost their grain-grinding burrs in the Zodiac floods. Since they had no money to buy new ones they went out to a nearby quarry and got out blocks of marble, from which they manufactured burrs that sufficed for grinding corn but required frequent dressing.
Smithwick picks up the story: "Old Lyman Wight, the high priest, set about the task of recovering the lost stones. After wrestling alone with the spirits for some little time he arose one morning with joy in his heart, and summoning his people, announced to them that he had a revelation, and bidding them take spades and crowbars and follow him, set out to locate the millstones. Straight ahead he bore as one in a dream, his divining rod in his hand; his awestruck disciples following in silence. Pausing at last in the middle of the sand bar deposited by the flood, he stuck his rod down.
"'Dig right here,' he commanded. His followers, never doubting, set to work, and upon removing a few feet of sand, lo and behold, there were revealed the buried millstones. Wight said he saw them in a vision and his followers believed it."
With the recovered stones in place, the Mormons increased their grinding activities, adding a sawmill and turning lathes, with which they manufactured chairs, tables, and all other manner of furniture, supplying the whole countryside. Most of their furniture was made from hackberry wood, which being so white in color required frequent washing to preserve its purity.
Smithwick told another story about this furniture. "One lady in Burnet, to obviate the necessity of such frequent cleaning, concluded to paint her chairs; that was before the days of chemical paint. We bought the pigment and reduced it with linseed oil. This lady, having no oil, and arguing that oil was oil and so was butter, during the summer, mixed her paint with butter and applied the combination to her chairs; the effect can be better imagined than described."
In addition to the furniture business, they operated a farm and the women made willow baskets for sale. But in spite of their industrious habits and frugal living, the Saints fell deeper into debt.
In addition, they were plagued by Indian raids. Several times their horses and oxen were stolen and their milk cows were killed. Members of nearby families were slain or kidnapped.
Disease also plagued the colony. Wight did his best to stem its tide through the performing of "miracles," but in spite of his best efforts 23 of the faithful ended up buried along the ridge half a mile downstream from the mill. Smithwick told of one of Wight's healing sessions, as described to him by an eyewitness. "A boy fell from a tree and broke his leg. He was taken to the council chamber and the elder and his council were summoned. They laid their hands upon the broken limb and prayed; the boy then arose and walked. When the narrator had finished . . . I looked him searchingly in the face and said:
"'Did you feel of that leg and satisfy yourself that it was really broken?'
"'No, I didn't; but "the twelve" did and they said it was broken,' he replied, with an air of wonder that any one should have the audacity to question a verdict rendered by such an authority.
"'I'm glad you didn't,' said I, 'for if you had told me that you yourself felt of that boy's leg and found it broken, I should never believe another word you speak.'
"The poor dupe looked as if thunderstruck. I was not so much surprised at him, but there were some really intelligent men among them, and it was a mystery to me how they could lend themselves to such a course, when there was so little to be gained by it."
By the late fall of 1853 the faithful were on the move again. Wight had never completed his transaction with the land's owner, W. H. Magill, and so the site was sold to Noah Smithwick, who confessed to "having all my life had a penchant for mills." While a youth, Smithwick became fascinated with windmills and whirligigs and constructed a creek-driven circular saw that he used to turn out considerable quantities of cornstalk lumber.
Smithwick described his newly acquired mill, which stood "just at the foot of the falls on the east [bank, the roadside bank you are just a stone's throw from], a three story frame building, with which it was connected by a gangway. A patriarchal pecan tree lifted its stately head beside the building, caressing it with its slender branches. On the upper side, connected with the falls by a flume, rose the huge overshot wheel, twenty-six feet in diameter, which furnished the power for the mill. The machinery was mostly of the rudest, clumsiest kind, manufactured by the Mormons of such material as was obtainable from natural sources. Great, clumsy, rattling wooden cog wheels and drum and fly-wheels filled up the lower stories, the upper one containing a small corn crackermill and an old up-and-down sash saw, which, after all, had this advantage over the circular saw, that it could handle large timber."
Smithwick and nephew John Hubbard decided to throw out the sawmill, since there was no good milling timber in the vicinity. Then they reorganized the machinery, throwing out all the old wooden cog work and replacing it with cast-iron gearings, a ton's worth. While they were at it, they replaced the overshot wheel with another that was 28 feet in diameter!
And as Smithwick related, "We then put in a new set of burrs and added bolting works, the first flouring mill west of Georgetown. This gave a new direction to the farming interest, and soon the rattle of the [wheat] threshing machine was heard in the land, and the reign of the corn-dodger [corn pone] was over in those parts. People came from all points to have their grain ground, and the capacity of the mill being very limited, sometimes when the mill was crowded they had to wait several days for their turn. Those who lived at a distance, many of them thirty or forty miles, struck camp and stayed it out. The Germans came from Fredericksburg. Like other German colonists, they had a hard scramble for the first few years, their crops failing, and for want of a knowledge of the use of firearms they were unable to utilize the game. Many of them gave away their children to keep them from starving."
Farmers waiting for their grain to be milled were not the only visitors to the Mormon Mills while it was under Smithwick's ownership. Political candidates in the election of 1854 managed to penetrate the dense cedar brakes surrounding the mill, as did Gail Borden of condensed milk fame (see Taming of Central Texas trip), who Smithwick had known in San Felipe de Austin back in the 1820s when Borden was just a blacksmith. Lately, Borden had been to Europe in the interest of condensed milk, and had also taken up the practice of homeopathic medicine and begun prefixing his name with the title "Dr." But Borden's business in Burnet County had to do with gold. He owned land located on Sandy Creek and gold particles had been found in the creek, which had the good "doctor" excited and dreaming of vast wealth. But the gold mines didn't pan out. Ditto for the old Spanish silver mines located nearby.
While visiting Smithwick, Bordon imparted to him the great secret of his school of medicine as he understood it. Said Borden: "It is no use to be a doctor unless you put on the airs of one. Nine times out of ten sickness is caused by overeating or eating unwholesome food, but a patient gets angry if you tell him so; you must humor him. This I do by taking one grain of calomel [a purgative] and divide it into infinitesimel parts, adding sufficient starch to each part to make one of those little pellets (exhibiting a little vial of tiny white pills), then glaze them over with sugar. In prescribing for a patient I caution him about his diet, warning him that the pills have calomel in them. Well, the result is that he abstains from hurtful articles of food, which is all he needs to do anyway. But I have strong medicine to use in cases of need." Sounds like good advice today.
Smithwick moved in 1855 to the community that now bears his name, after building a rock store here at Mormon Mills. The mill was demolished in 1902; the wooden mill dam that turned the creek toward the flume burned the same year. The last of the old Mormon buildings burned in 1915. In 1935 the landowners sold the stone walls and chimney from Smithwick's store to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who used the stones to build a cabin in Houston's Hermann Park.
The placidly flowing creek we see here most of the time turns occasionally into a beast. Hamilton Creek drains quite a scope of country, and when swollen by heavy rains, the runoff becomes congested within the narrow gorge above the falls. The creek then rises rapidly, coming down in a solid wall of water that pours over the falls like a little Niagara. Smithwick related, "I have often seen the creek, which is ordinarily a trivial stream, become a torrent within a few minutes. On one occasion a party of sightseers had a narrow escape. Having wended their way up into the gorge, along the margin of the shallow stream, they were startled by a roar above them, and the guide being acquainted with the vagaries of the stream, ordered them to climb for their lives. Laying hold of the bushes in the face of the steep declivity, they scrambled up out of harm's way and watched the angry flood of waters rush past and leap the falls with a report like thunder, sending up clouds of spray."
But back to the Mormons. A few of them stayed with Smithwick at the mill, the rest moved on. Before we resume our retracing of their wanderings, let us listen to Smithwick's estimation of the Mormons. "I found them just the same as other people in matters of business. While some of them were honest and industrious, others were shiftless and unreliable; and this must ever prove a potent argument against community holdings--the thriftless got just as much as the thrifty. But though the industrious saint was still forced to contribute to the support of his idle brother, he drew the line to exclude the worthless dog that is generally considered an indispensable adjunct to thriftlessness, the canine family being conspicuous by its absence about the domicile of the Mormon. Nor was there anything objectionable in the Mormons as neighbors. If there were any polygamous families, I did not know of them. To still further emphasize the perfect equality of all members of the society, all titles of respect were discarded, men and women being universally called by their first names. And these first names, by the way, were perhaps the most striking peculiarity about the Mormons. The proselytes were permitted to retain their gentile names, but those born in the fold received their names from the Book of Mormon; and have no counterpart elsewhere. There were Abinadi, Maroni, Luami, Lamoni, Romali, Cornoman and many others equally original. The female children, however, were apparently not permitted to participate in this saintly nomenclature. It might be that women cut no figure in the Book of Mormon; at any rate, there was nothing distinctive in the names of girls."
So, the Mormons were on the trail again, headed west, toward the old German settlement at Castell, on Llano River. Along the way, they camped along Honey Creek between Kingsland and Llano. Llano had not yet been founded when the Mormons passed through, but the story of its founding is a vivid example of what the Mormons had to live with during those times.
Llano County Seat
Llano, which is (and always has been) the seat of government of Llano County, was founded in 1855. Several other settlements, including Castell, Tow, and Bluffton, had already been founded in the area. Among the first settlers of Llano were John Oatman Sr., and Amariah Wilson. Indians still raided the countryside, and in that first year the Llano pioneers lost their clothes to the raiders.
Llano County was part of the vast Fisher-Miller tract, which was to have been settled by Adelsverein colonists. That tract extended northward into San Saba, Menard, and other counties. Castell, which was as far north as the first wave of Germans got, was on the southern edge of this tract.
Llano County was created from parts of Bexar and Gillespie counties in 1856 and was named for the river that courses through it from west to east. Llano means "plains" in Spanish; although Llano County is ruggedly hilly, the Llano River rises in the flatland counties of Sutton and Schleicher. One explanation lies in an old (1711) Spanish name for the river, "Rio de las Chanas," or River of the Chanas. The Chanas were a band of Tonkawa Indians that lived in the area. In 1754 the Spanish explorer Pedro de Rabago y Teran identified the river on his map of Texas as the "Sanas" River. "Sano" means "healthy" in Spanish, "sanas" would mean two or more healthy females. Over the years, the local explanation goes, the phonetic similarity between "chanas" and "llano" caused confusion and led to the present name, Llano.
As was often the case, the location of the new county seat was hotly contested. Clement Oatman was appointed commissioner of the new county, and as such was charged with holding an election to establish the county seat and to elect the first county officials. The contest narrowed to two sites: the present-day town of Llano built on land donated by John Oatman, Sr., and Amariah Wilson; and a site on Wright Creek north of Llano that was advocated by Uncle Dave Cowan and the Tow Valley/Bluffton crowd, who wouldn't have to cross the Llano River to get to the courthouse. The Llano River was not always easy to cross.
Clement Oatman declared, it won't do to have our county seat here for this water is unhealthy, there are bugs in it." Whereupon he walked to his horse, rummaged about in his saddlebags, pulled out a quart of moonshine, and poured it into the bucket of water so as to "kill the bugs."
Theatrics notwithstanding, the Wright Creek faction lost the election and the county seat ended up here on the river, which was probably just as well. In 1856 Wright Creek was a bold stream considered to be always able to supply a good-sized town. Now it only flows during the rainy season. Llano finally erected a bridge across the river for the convenience of southbound travelers (the courthouse is located on the south side of the river), but it has not even been needed on two recent occasions; the Llano River ran bone-dry in 1952 and 1956.
By 1860 Llano had stores, a hotel, and plenty of saloons but no churches. In 1861, Llano County approved the Texas Ordinance of Secession by 65 percent, one of the largest percentages on the frontier. With the Civil War, Indian attacks increased. Three Confederate Army companies were raised in the county; so many of the men were away fighting, leaving many farms as easy targets for the Comanches. A home guard was formed to protect the county, but the Indians raged through the county until the decisive battle atop Packsaddle Mountain in 1873.
You would not expect a county known as the "Colorado of Texas" to be heavily farmed, and Llano County has never had more than 20 percent of its 941-square-mile area in cultivation. Llano County residents have traditionally been stockraisers and many of the ranchers, such as the Moss brothers, drove thousands of steers north during the great cattle-drive era. Llano was at the edge of the frontier until 1875.
As was typical with Texas frontier towns and counties, Llano the city and Llano the county both had their share of banditry and rustling and feuding. But life here was not as cheap as it was in neighboring Mason County, home of the infamous "Hoodoo War," a cattle feud between German-American and Anglo ranchers. Many early Llano County records were destroyed in the courthouse fire of 1892. But we do know that Llano County ranchers had their share of cattle rustlers to contend with, and that between 50 and 100 Llano, Burnet, and San Saba ranchers banded together in a vigilante group to kill the rustlers and otherwise rid their country of outlaws.
The town of Llano did not have an honest-to-God church building until 1885. Prior to that year, services were held in private homes or in the local schoolhouse. Many of the town's young men and boys enlivened their Sundays by disrupting the worship services of the faithful. Owing to the disorganized state of organized religion on the frontier, God's children in Llano were administered to by an everchanging assortment of circuit-riding preachers. One Sunday the Reverend James Moore, a real frontiersman, came to preach. He entered the schoolroom, which had turned sanctuary for the day, with his saddlebags in one hand and his long-barreled Winchester rifle in the other. Drawing his Bible from his saddlebags and setting his rifle on the table-turned-altar, Moore gazed over the crowd calmly and announced, "By the grace of God and Winchester there will be no disturbance to the services today."
Llano remained a dusty, rough-edged cow town until 1886, when the Wakefield Iron and Coal Company of Minneapolis came to town in a big way. Prospecting trips had revealed large deposits of magnetic iron ores scattered across the county, the largest concentration of which was located at Smoothingiron Mountain, about 15 miles northwest of Llano as the crow flies. The Wakefield Company and other eastern capitalists who came in on Wakefield's coattails had dreams of making Llano the Birmingham of Texas. Over $300,000 was spent buying up area mineral leases--a considerable amount of money back then, when land sold for mere dollars rather than thousands of dollars an acre.
The many northern and eastern capitalists who came to Llano brought a brand-new snobbish, ostentatious social life with them. The famous Algona hotel was built early in the boom, and it was the hub of the new social lifestyle for Llano and Central Texas. Countless fancy balls, dinners, and parties were held in the grand ballrooms and dining rooms. Of the Algona's 80 rooms, 50 were bedrooms. Built of red brick on the north side of the river, the Algona was named for its builder's hometown of Algona, Iowa. Typical of the vast and rapid changes wrought in Llano by big money, this grand edifice replaced a spread of muddy cattle pens.
Most of the stone and brick buildings in downtown Llano were built during this boom era, replacing the more vulnerable wooden structures. The Llano Improvement and Furnace Company was organized to promote the north bank of the Llano River. The company plotted out a large tract of land there with plenty of parks and green space. Lots sold to speculators at highly inflated prices. Some of the streets were given steel-related names: Bessemer, Pittsburg, Sheffield, Birmingham.
The town was full of hope and optimism. Smoothingiron Mountain was celebrated as "bearing the richest grade of magnetic ore to be found in the world." Then, of course, there was Barringer Hill--the greatest field of rare minerals to be found any place in the world--located east of Llano.
An iron mine, the Olive Mine, was opened about 10 miles east of town and actually shipped out a few carloads of ore, one to the state prison's foundry at Rusk and the others to Birmingham, Alabama. The mine had a fat-enough payroll during its few years of operation to attract the attention of one bandit, who ambushed the mine's manager as he was driving the payroll wagon from town back out to the mine. The highwayman killed the manager, Captain Thomas Dunn, and made off with the loot.
The iron boom went bust in 1894. You can't make steel without coal, and at the time there was no coal to be found in Llano County or anywhere near it. Carrying it in cost too much. So the big capitalists left town. The Algona closed, the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company went bankrupt, and the Olive Mine shut down. Fires destroyed most of the northside boom buildings, and Llano town, incorporated in 1892, disincorporated in 1895, not to reincorporate for many years. A tornado in 1900 did further damage.
With the steel boom gone bust, the granite industry took up some of the industrial slack. By 1920 Llano had 6 granite quarries and 1 marble works, sending out at least 13 different varieties of granite. 'Twas said of Llano's granite supply that it was "the best and largest deposit of grey granite to be found in the U.S., not excepting the well-known deposits of Massachusetts and Vermont." The granite industry here peaked in 1935, at 10 quarries and 5 finishing plants. But increased rail shipping rates made it cheaper for many customers to use out-of-state granite, so the number of quarries declined, although commercially usable granite remains here in almost limitless quantities.
Turn right on SH 16 from SH 71 to enter Llano. SH 16/SH 71 becomes Ford St. within the city limits. A few blocks south of the Llano River you come to the courthouse square and main business district. To continue the trail of the Mormons west, take FM 152 west from the courthouse square toward Castell.
Leaving Llano on FM 152, you again pick up the wandering Mormons' path west, along the fertile valley of the Llano River, toward the "Dutch settlements" where they were to briefly encamp before turning sharply south toward their eventual home near Bandera. Although you seldom see the river for the next 18 miles, it is always there, just beyond the trees. The Dutch settlements were in fact the Adelsverein's final colonization attempts in Texas. Five projected communities were strung out for several miles along the north bank of the Llano River, which put the Adelsverein just inside the southernmost boundaries of the sprawling Fisher-Miller Grant. This toehold was as far as the Adelsverein would get in its grandiose empire-building scheme.
Despite its dubious claim to the grant land (by 1847 the Fisher-Miller Grant was void) the Adelsverein readied that year to make the final push into the 3-million-plus-acre tract. That land was mostly stone and seldom tillable, the scanty rainfalls were often months apart. Extremely isolated, it was also a Comanche stronghold. Principal instigators behind the settlements were John Meusebach, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, H. Spies, and Count Carl of Castell.
Schoenburg was the easternmost of these settlements, followed by Meerholz, Leiningen, Bettina, and Castell. The first two were stillborn. Castell, Bettina, and Leiningen made a run at life, but only Castell actually made it, and it is the only one of the Dutch settlements that exists today.
Bettina, the most controversial of these settlements, was composed of recruits from Darmstadt, Germany. Upon his return to Germany from New Braunfels in 1845, Prince Carl hit the university circuit to drum up enthusiasm for the Adelsverein's pretentious colonization project. He told students all over the German states that there was no demand in the old country for all the young professional men the German universities were turning out. They had to find a new and growing country where their services would be in demand. That place was Texas.
The most receptive ears belonged to the members of a fraternity of communistic freethinkers in Darmstadt known as Die Vierziger (the Forty). Prince Carl described Texas to them as "a land of milk and honey, of perennial flowers, of crystal streams, rich and fruitful beyond measures, where roamed myriads of deer and buffalo while the primeval forests abounded in wild fowl of every kind."
After listening to this farfetched spiel, the Forty decided to tum their pipedreams of a communistic utopia into reality. Early in 1846, they formed the Darmstaedter Kolonie and began to plan apace their colony in Texas, which was to be based on the motto "Friendship, freedom, and equality" and the cardinal principle "Let everyone do as they please." They "had no regular scheme of government," Vierziger member Louis Reinhardt recalled years later. In fact, being communistic, the association would not brook the tyranny of a ruler. Instead there were guiding spirits by common consent. Being the youngest of the company--l was thirteen--I was, of course, rarely consulted."
The Forty collectively made a contract with the Adelsverein to settle themselves and 200 other families within the boundaries of the Fisher-Miller Grant. In return, they would receive $12,000 or the equivalent in livestock, tools, agricultural implements, wagons, and one year's provisions.
Seven of the Forty came down with cold feet; the other 33 sailed from Hamburg in February 1847. Their occupational makeup was quite diversifed: physicians, architects, lawyers (seven of them), foresters, mechanics, carpenters, engineer, butcher, blacksmith, army artillery officer, shipbuilder, brewer, miller, botanist, hosteler, theologian, musical instrument maker, and agriculturalist. Only the ship's cook spoke English, and few of the 33 had ever actually worked for a living. They were not particularly worried.
The ship landed at Galveston on July 17, 1847, and there they paused long enough to name their colony Bettina, after the forward-thinking, controversial German author Bettina von Arnim, and to resolve that each man would do his share of the work, from tending the fields to building cabins. That done, the men of Bettina sailed again for Indianola--then called Carlshafen--where they disembarked for the long journey inland. Before leaving they received financial assistance from the Adelsverein. The 33 men and their supplies filled up 30 wagons. The cargo included a complete set of mill machinery, barrels of whiskey, and their favorite dogs from back home. "We came prepared to conquer the world," one of them said.
The journey to New Braunfels took a leisurely 4 weeks. They camped out, drank, sang, and frolicked like the schoolboys they had until recently been. "We lived like the Gods of Olympus," one confessed. Their favorite traveling song commenced, "A life we lead, a life full of bliss." Quite a contrast to their countrymen's death-ridden experiences at Carlshafen and New Braunfels only a year earlier. The men of Bettina experienced no Indian hostilities along the way, courtesy of the recently signed Meusebach treaty with the Comanches (See Fort Martin Scott).
Bettina was first laid out under a large oak tree near the confluence of Elm Creek and the Llano River. A cannon was set up and a guard posted. The rest of the men sang and drank until the wee hours of dawn "Lebe Hoch United States, Lebe Hoch Texas" rang out drunkenly through the night. They started on a huge brush arbor the next day, and followed it with pecan-shingled adobe huts.
Their Indian relations continued to be harmonious. Whenever some raiding rascals stole from the tenderfoot Germans, Chief Santanta tried to bring justice to the thieves if at all possible. When the Germans visited the Indians, the Indians gave them pecans and spread out deerskins for their sitting comfort. They even tried to learn German.
"Heaven on earth" lasted a couple of months. Since everyone could work if and when he pleased, less and less work was done as time progressed. Some spent their time hunting, others chose to while away their days in deep philosophical debate. "Most of the professional men wanted to do the directing and ordering,while the mechanics and laborers were to carry out their plans. Of course, the latter failed to see the justice of their ruling, so no one did anything," one of the 33 later reflected.
By the summer of 1848, members had begun to drift away. Bettina, barely a year old, was a complete bust by the end of 1848. Some of the defectors went to New Braunfels, others to San Antonio, Austin, and Tusculum, which later became Boerne. Several went on to leave prominent marks on Texas history, among them Gustav Schleicher and Dr. Ferdinand Herff. Schleicher served as state legislator and U.S. congressman, and had a West Texas county named for him. Previously a distinguished Hessian Army surgeon, Herff performed a successful cataract operation on an Indian girl out here on the frontier and later became the first doctor in Texas to perform an operation with anesthesia, in 1854. Nothing remains of Bettina today.
Castell, the westernmost of this string of settlements, was named for Count Carl of Castell. Henry Lorenz was the first white man to settle on the north banks of the Llano, but he stayed only a short time, returning to the ssafety of Fredericksburg. Next came Ludwig Schneider and Henry Vasterling, who settled several miles east of present-day Castell, on the north side of the river. Thus Castell was born. In the coming years Castell moved several times, first across to the south bank of the river, then a mile or so upstream to its present location.
Life here was not easy. For the first couple of years, Castellites depended heavily on supplies and support from the people of Fredericksburg, who had problems enough of theiI own. A round trip to Fredericksburg--about 50 miles--took 4 days. Trips to Indianola were also necessary, and they could last from 3 to 4 months. Five or six wagons would band together to make the trek. If the wagon train were detained--by bad weather, high rivers, bandits--the folks back home would suffer, sometimes coming close to starving. On one such occasion, two wives whose husbands were away, Mrs. Bader and Mrs. Steele, became so disconsolate that they agreed to divide what little cornmeal they had between them and starve together. To ease the hunger pangs they gathered tender weeds and cooked them. Once, Mrs. Bader nearly dled from eating poisonous weeds.
To survive, many of the German men became wagoneers, supplying the frontier forts. Hunger sharpened their business instincts. They would often spend their limited hard cash to buy whiskey, which they would then trade to the soldiers for com. Soldiers always had plenty of corn but seldom did they have enough booze. Other times the Germans would comb the stable yards for stray kernels after the soldiers' horses had been fed. When times really got hard, the "Dutchmen" would feed their stock first, then salvage and wash off whatever corn kernels they could find in the barnyard droppings.
Realizing the need for mutual support in these times of adversity, the Castell colony divided its tasks accordingly. One group felled trees, another built the fences, another cooked, and so on. When the Adelsverein collapsed, even the meager supplies sent to them from Fredericksburg ceased. Many lost their zest for life on the Texas frontier. They shared that feeling with the German nobles who had abandoned them. With the annexation of Texas in 1846, most of the Adelsverein's royal patrons lost interest in their scheme to create a model German state in the new world.
Those who chose to hang on here had to work hard and imaginatively. Henry Vasterling established the region's first cheese factory, turning out huge wheels of the stuff and wagoneering it as far away as Austin to sell. Others made and sold bacon in a similar manner. Some even sold their children, or so their Anglo neighbors claimed. These few stalwart survivors were rewarded in a way by the state, which eventually awarded them legal title to the lands settled under terms of the defunct Fisher-Miller Grant. Its beneficence really didn't put the state out much, however; many years later, 320 acres of land out here was sold for a quart of whiskey.
As one wit put it: "In those days a man could obtain title to 640 acres by filing on it and then living on it for 3 years. That's just legal talk for 'The state bets you 640 acres that you'll starve to death before 3 years are up.' "
Almost 9 miles out of Llano, you see a county gravel road, marked by a stop sign, running off FM 152 to your right, across the river. You're entering the Dutch Settlements now. In another 4 miles you come to a 4-way intersection with another gravel road. Turn right onto this gravel road and in a few yards you come to a low-water crossing of the Llano, one of the most pleasantly pastoral river crossings in the Hill Country. Return to FM 152 and continue west from the gravel-road intersection.
The Mormons did not find the Dutch Settlements to their liking, so they decided to head south. From Castell, continue west on FM 152 to US 87. Turn left on US 87, toward Fredericksburg. After 10 miles you pass through Cherry Springs. The Wight group camped on two different area creeks, Marschall and Squaw, on their way through.
They did not choose to try and reestablish themselves at Zodiac, but kept heading south, camping on Cypress Creek near what is now Comfort. At Center Point, about 10 miles away. local legend has it that the Mormons built a gristmill on the Guadalupe River here, but if they did, they probably built it under contract for someone else. From here, they took what is now Highway 173 through Bandera Pass to the little village of Bandera.
Wight and the faithful arrived in Bandera in the spring of 1854. They camped at first on the north bank of the river, across from the new town. Eventually they bought lots in town and built a schoolhouse and furniture factory. Wight performed the first marriage in Bandera County, wedding son Levi Lamoni with Sophia Leyland.
Wight's group left Bandera in the fall of 1856. We don't know why, but given their past track record, it's safe to guess that they didn't get along with their neighbors. The local Frontier Times Museum's rock fireplace incorporates the millstone used by the Wight colony at their various mills, the same millstone that was lost in the Zodia flood and later recovered through Wight's miraculous vision.
You leave Bandera on SH 16, heading toward San Antonio. The good views start about 4 miles out of town, and bring to mind several of Bandera's many nicknames: Land of Pure Delight, Switzerland of Texas, Cowboy Capital of the World. Do the nicknames fit the terrain? You be the judge.
You experience an abrupt change in terrain after you turn onto Park Rd. 37, which takes a wild and twisting path along the hillsides filled with cedar and vacation homes that ring Medina Lake.
Completed in 1912, Medina Lake submerged Mountain Valley, site of the last organized stand of the Lyman Wight colony in Texas.
Continue on Park Rd. 37, following the contours of Medina Lake down to Medina Lake Recreation Park where Park Rd. 37 ends and you are treated to a head-on view of jewellike Medina Lake.
Medina Lake Park is about as close as you get to the old Mormon colony of Mountain Valley, which their gentile neighbors called Mormon Camp. The great flood of 1900 destroyed the few buildings that remained, and Lake Medina put the site forever under water. But you can still appreciate the beauty of the Medina valley, and it should be easy to see why Wight settled his colony down here.
In Wight's own words, "We are placed in a valley between several lofty mountains, on a beautiful prairie bottom. The Medina River, a stream a trifle smaller than the Genesee River [in New York state] runs within 30 steps of our doors. Our houses are spaced at a proper distance apart in two straight rows, our gardens Iying between, which makes it very pleasant. We have mechancks of allmost all descriptions. We make bedsteads and chairs in large quantities, and they sell as well as the finest quality of work brought from the east. We sent off one hundred and thirty chairs and eight or ten bedsteads yesterday and can send as many more in three weeks. We send them sixteen miles and get one dollar apiece for chairs by the thousand. We have a good horse mill to grind for ourselves and neighbors. We have a black smith and white smith. We raise our own cotton and make our own wheels to spin it on; and with all we have a share of farmers . . . our corn is mostly up and growing finely, we have lettice, and in a few days we will have radishes."
The Mormons also had Indian problems. Raiding Comanches hit the colony often, stealing the disciples' horses and mules, firing their crops, and driving off their cattle. Wight wrote pleading letters to Indian agents, the legislature, even the governor, asking for protection. Wight even offered the colony's assistance in civilizing the Indians, teaching the Indians how to use a plow, make wagons and chairs, and handle the blacksmith's furnace and tools. But protection was slow in coming and the raids continued. The Mormons' stock losses mounted, and so did their indebtedness to area merchants.
Wight started dreaming of yet another move, down to Mexico where, in Wight's words, "they have established a pure republic and put down the priests with their craft and made many of them pay one hundred thousand dollars for their lives; they have given free toleration to all sects and denominations and have invited all classes to come, and as the inhabitants are more than three-quarters Indian blood, l shall seek the earliest opportunity of laying the book of Mormon before them, whish treats of many anticuities with which they are perfectly acquainted." (Remember, Smith had been told by God that the Indians were the remnants of the House of Israel.) Wight further hoped that he might find there enough converts to make a republic in Jackson County, Missouri, from which he and the faithful were driven in 1833.
But before Wight could turn his Mexican dream into a reality, he received a vision from God in March 1858. Wight claimed God warned him in a vision of a coming war between the North and the South, and further that God told him to move back north. Of course, continued financial reverses and the resultant litigation may have been additional incentive to move, but Wight would never have admitted to any such mundane pressures.
Wight announced the plans to move the following day, but his decision to move all the way back to Missouri met with considerable opposition. Even three of his sons declined to make the move, preferring to stay where they were and face the consequences.
Those who chose to follow Wight left shortly thereafter. But only 2 days into the thousand-mile trek Wight died, 8 miles north of San Antonio. Wight's body was taken for burial to Zodiac, where he still rests.
With Wight's death, the expedition fell totally apart. Some drifted back to Mountain Valley and Bandera, while others just dropped off at various points on the route north, such as Burnet and Bell counties. The persistent ones finally ended up in Shelby County, Iowa, in the spring of 1861. Practically all of them affiliated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which established its headquarters in Independence, Missouri, back in the Zion of Joseph Smith.
Of Wight's sons, Levi Lamoni served in the Confederate Army and settled afterward at Medina City, Loami Limhi served the Confederacy and afterward lived in Bandera, Orange Lysander lived in Llano County before moving to Utah, and Lyman Levi lived in Burnet County before settling for good in Missouri.
Thus the Mormon colony of Lyman Wight passed into the history books, like so many other dreams of early settlers who came to Texas with visions of glory.
From Lake Medina, retrace your route on Park Rd. 37 to its junction with RM Rd. 1283. Here you can return to Bandera, or continue on Park Rd. 37 to SH 16, which takes you to San Antonio.