I’ve recently started a 4th novel. No, I haven’t yet finished my 3rd novel. This will be historical fiction from 1846 to present day in the Texas Hill Country. Let me know what you think of my prologue in the comments either on this blog or on Facebook. Be honest. I can take it. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, despite my last name, I’m over 60% German, mostly from Bavaria and the Black Forest per 23andme and Ancestry.com.
Guten tag. I’m Ellie-Kate. My formal name is Katherine Elizabeth and I’ll get to how my name came to be, but this story on how my grandma, my mother and I exposed the most loathsome Mexican border crime in Texas begins much earlier than my prep school years. This story spans generations.
My fifth great grandparents gave birth to ten daughters in the 19th century spa town of Baden-Baden, in the Schwarzwald region of Germany. What you might know as the Black Forest. I’m here now visiting, expecting to meet up with distant relatives. My fifth great grandparents were Johann Eduard Jordan and Marguerite Rose Jordan. A popular Christian baptismal name throughout Europe after the Crusades, Jordan is Hebrew for “to flow down”, or “to descend”, as in the Jordan River. Johann’s surname did not descend beyond his daughters’ generation as he had no sons. And that’s okay, because this is a story of the strength, resilience and determination of the descendants of those Jordan women.
Eduard and Marguerite joined the Adelsverein, the Noble Society of German Immigrants, on a Norddeutscher Lloyd ship to America in 1846. Before landing at Indianola, Texas, a coastal town long-ago wiped off the map by a hurricane, their daughter, my fourth great grandmother, Catharina was married by the ship’s captain to Mathias Zenner. It’s possible she fell in love during the transit, despite bathing in nothing but sea water and sharing a communal bucket for the privy for three months at sea. I prefer to think she excelled at numbers, knowing that she could double her fortune as her mate would be awarded twice the property stake once arriving in the Fisher-Miller land grant in the Llano Estacado upon arrival, if they were married. If it didn’t work out, the average age of an American male in that decade was about twenty-five years. Doubtful she’d of had access to those stats in the 19th century, but anecdotally, she’d have known. She wouldn’t have to suffer him for long. She did the math.
I learned all this from my Oma, my grandmother, Constance Fey Kraus Mountbatten. When you grow up in the Hill Country, they teach you much about the early German immigrants who settled the region of Texas that reminded them of Schwarzwald in grade school as local culture and history. Oma shared with me the past that they don’t teach to children.
Her story starts with the legacy of James P. Waldrip and his murderous hanging band of outlaws during the Civil War. Die Hangebande as they were known in the German-speaking, Texas Hill Country in 1864. J.P. wasn’t the ring leader, but he was very likely the most vicious of the gang of Confederate irregulars that terrorized Gillespie county during that time.
Understand that the early German settlers of the Hill Country voted overwhelmingly against succession from the Union. Like Sam Houston, the first president of Texas and its governor before the war, well over ninety percent of Fredericksburg residents were pro-Union abolitionists. Although this was less a philosophical and political statement. It was more pragmatic. There were only a handful of slaves in all of Gillespie county. Townsfolk felt the military focus should be on defending against Indian attacks more than on fighting the Union. The Hill Country was the frontier. For his disloyalty, Houston was booted out of office and retired to Huntsville. The Hill Country was placed under martial law by Governor Lubbock and suffered horrific depredations at the hands of the depraved outlaws among the Confederate troops.
The night Waldrip arrived with his gang at the house of the Fredericksburg school teacher and outspoken critic of the war, Louis Schuetze became one of the victims of the Hill Country violence. The secret society Soldiers’ Friends who directed J.P.’s lynchings were well aware there was no greater threat to their aspirations than a school teacher. Schuetze was found the next morning hanging from a live oak three miles outside of town along Palo Alto Creek.