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Bettina, Texas
Vanished Sister to Castell

Bettina, a short-lived commune on the north bank of the Llano River in western Llano County, was settled in 1847 by a fraternity of highly educated German communitarian freethinkers influenced by the writings of Étienne Cabetqv and Charles Fourier. Bettina was the seventh, and last, of the Adelsvereinqv colonies in Texas. It was one five settlements attempted by the Adelsverein within the Fisher-Miller Land Grantqv after John O. Meusebachqv concluded a treaty with the Comanches in the spring of 1847. It was named for Bettina Brentano von Arnim, a German liberal and writer. The first building was a thatched common house forty feet long by twenty-two feet wide. An adobeqv house, with a shingled roof and a massive fireplace, was built next. Crops were planted, and the first harvest was satisfactory. However, cooperation gradually foundered because of dissention over work details and the role of a young woman cook, a Hispanic captive presented as a gift by a Comanche chief who underwent successful eye surgery while visiting Bettina. The utopian venture lasted less than a year, but many of the members of this group went on to make major contributions to Texas life. Notable were Dr. Ferdinand von Herff,qv an eminent San Antonio physician and surgeon; Gustav Schleicher,qv an engineer who helped to expand the state's rail system and who thereafter became a member of Congress; and Jacob Kuechler,qv a vocal Unionist who became commissioner of the General Land Officeqv in Austin. Others, such as Christoph Flach and Johannes Hoerner, founded large and prominent Hill Countryqv families that for four or five generations retained vestiges of freethinking liberalism and ethics. The writings of Louis Reinhardt and Friedrich Schenck,qv two members, illustrate the everyday experiences of the group in Texas; Herff wrote a political treatise in which he touches on the colony and generalizes on the founding principles. The journalist Emma F. Murck Atgelt, the geologist Ferdinand von Roemer, the editor Ferdinand J. Lindheimer,qqv and others not directly associated with the fraternity also wrote about the settlement and its individual members. Vera Flach wrote a moving twentieth-century account of the acculturation of one of the Bettina families. The former commune is commemorated, along with the nearby Adelsverein settlements of Castell and Leiningen, by a state historical marker placed in 1964 on the north side of the Llano River across from Castell.

(BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rudolph L. Biesele, The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831-1861 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1930; rpt. 1964). Vera Flach, A Yankee in German-America: Texas Hill Country (San Antonio: Naylor, 1973). Ferdinand von Herff, The Regulated Emigration of the German Proletariat with Special Reference to Texas, trans. Arthur L. Finck (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978). H. T. Edward Hertzberg, trans., "A Letter from Friedrich Schenck in Texas to His Mother in Germany, 1847," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 92 (July 1988). Glen E. Lich and Dona B. Reeves, eds., German Culture in Texas (Boston: Twayne, 1980). Glen E. Lich, The German Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1981). Louis Reinhardt, "The Communistic Colony of Bettina," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 3 (July 1899).
Glen E. Lich)

Thanks to Scott Zesch


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