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  • Journey to Texas, 1833 by Detlef Dunt
  • Marian J. Barber
Journey to Texas, 1833. By Detlef Dunt. Translated from the German by Anders Saustrup. Edited by James C. Kearney and Geir Bentzen. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. Pp. 180. Notes, illustrations, bibliography, appendices.)

This elegant, brief book provides a service to all scholars of German Texas by offering the first full-length English translation of one of the several influential works by German authors aimed at encouraging emigration from Europe to what was then still part of Mexico. The centerpiece is Dunt’s own “Journey to Texas, Including Information about This Country, for Germans Intending to Go to America,” translated from the German by the Danish Texan linguist, historian, and botanist Anders Saustrup. Dunt prefaces his account of the rather harrowing journey from his native Holstein to America with a version of the famous letter calling to those who were languishing in the increasingly overcrowded provinces of northern Germany from Friedrich Ernst, founder of Industry, Texas, portraying the Brazos Valley as a paradise.

Dunt seeks simultaneously to confirm Ernst’s rosy picture of the Atlantic crossing, the beauty of Texas and the opportunities to be found there, and to offer a more realistic portrayal. He advises potential immigrants of what they will need to make a success in their new land: what they should bring from home, what they should purchase en route, and what they can expect to acquire upon arrival. He is forthright about the health risks of the journey, from how to cope with seasickness to how to time one’s journey to avoid yellow fever. An unexpected treat is his description of an interlude of several weeks spent in New York en route.

Dunt’s descriptions of the lower Brazos reflect the romantic style of the era, lingering over the charms of springs, streams, waterfalls, forests, and abundant shrubbery. But he also covers such practical details as the types of soil and how best to plant in each, as well as how to build a fence tall enough to prevent cattle from jumping over and dense enough to keep baby pigs from escaping. His lengthy discussions of Mexican colonization laws and land grant policies are tedious, but will be of value to readers with an interest in how immigrants became landowners and the role Ernst played in aiding his compatriots and himself.

Dunt’s narrative takes up slightly less than one hundred pages of the book. Of equal value are James C. Kearney’s introduction (in which we learn that Dunt was a pseudonym for Detlef Thomas Friedrich Jordt, the paterfamilias of a prominent Colorado County family), and his concluding bibliographic essay, “Early German Literature about Texas and Detlef Dunt’s Place in It.” In the latter, Kearney clears up confusion about authors such as J. V. Hecke, whose accounts have been credited with spurring German emigration to Texas, but who in fact never actually visited.

Also to be noted are the book’s appendices. The first is the only translation [End Page 510] of a reminiscence by Louise Ernst Stöhr, the widow of Friedrich Ernst, which appeared in 1884 in German American publications. Stöhr relates the challenging years of the Texas Revolution and German conflicts with the indigenous people, who had seasonally occupied the lands the settlers claimed. The second is a reprint of her daughter Caroline’s rather dark account of her childhood in the Ernst settlement, originally published in The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association (July 1898–April 1899). The third is a fascinating variant of the Ernst letter, excerpted from a rare 1835 work by Hermann Achenbach and also translated by Saustrup, while the last is an essential glossary.

Marian J. Barber
Catholic Archives of Texas


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pp. 510-511
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