- Comanches and Germans on the Texas Frontier: The Ethnology of Heinrich Berghaus ed. by Daniel J. Gelo and Christopher J. Wickham
Anthropologist Daniel J. Gelo and German studies scholar ChristopherJ. Wickham, both based at the University of Texas at San Antonio, have teamed up to produce a notable contribution to the study of nineteenth-century Texas and Native America. In 1851, German scholar Heinrich Berghaus published an article in the journal Geographisches Jahrbuch (Geographic Yearbook) arguing that the languages spoken by Comanches, Shoshones, and (mistakenly) Apaches were related. The article included a description of Comanche culture, a Comanche-German vocabulary, and an unusually detailed map of Central Texas and neighboring regions to the north and west labeled "Jagd-Gebiet der Komantschen" ("Comanche Hunting Grounds"), which indicated the location of Comanche groups and other indigenous peoples, settlements, water streams, and other features. Gelo's and Wickham's carefully edited and painstakingly referenced book provides the first available English translation of Berghaus's article along with a thorough discussion of its intellectual and historical context and an assessment of its contributions to linguistics, ethnology, and cartography.
The book opens with an introduction succinctly summarizing Comanche [End Page 226] history as well as the history of German immigration to and settlement in Central Texas in the mid-nineteenth century, with particular attention to Comanche-German relations. The authors make clear that the Penateka Comanches who inhabited the Brazos and Colorado River drainages were independent from other Comanche divisions, emphasizing the environmental and geostrategic advantages of that location. They also discuss the successes and failures of the Adelsverein, the society founded by German nobles in 1842 to facilitate emigration to Texas and the establishment of a new Germany on U.S. soil (or so they hoped). In the end, the Adelsverein managed to bring thousands of immigrants to Texas who established some thriving communities (most notably New Braunfels and Fredericksburg). On the other hand, many Germans suffered hunger, disease, and misery in Texas, many died or returned to the motherland, and the Adelsverein ultimately failed to permanently settle the Fisher-Miller Land Grant.
The rest of the book is divided into three parts. In part one, the authors situate Berghaus and his work within the vibrant German-speaking scientific community of the nineteenth century. Berghaus was a reputable cartographer and co-founder, along with cartographer Carl Ritter and explorer-scientist Alexander von Humboldt, of the Berlin Geographical Society (Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin) in 1828. Berghaus's works show the influence of the holistic ideas of Humboldt and the linguistic emphasis prescribed by Humboldt's proto-anthropologist brother, Wilhelm. Gelo and Wickham ably situate Berghaus's analyses in the context of nineteenth-century German nationalistic, racial, and cultural ideologies. They also discuss the relevance of Berghaus and other German scholars in the development of American anthropology and provide a biographical sketch of Emil Kriewitz, the German immigrant to Texas who supplied the Comanche lexicon and the bulk of the geographic and ethnographic data that Berghaus used in his article and map. Kriewitz gathered his data when he spent three months at the camp of Comanche leader Santa Anna following the 1847 Penateka-German agreement popularly known as the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty.
Part two includes the English translation of Berghaus's 1851 article and a meticulous and richly documented commentary. Part three includes Berghaus's Comanche-German glossary, enriched with English translations and correlations with terms found in other early and modern Comanche and Shoshone lexicons, and an analysis of Berghaus's map in light of the historical cartography of early Texas.
Gelo's and Wickham's fruitful collaboration confirms the usefulness of multidisciplinary analyses to study primary sources, making this work a mandatory reference for scholars of nineteenth-century Texas, the Comanches, and German migration to the United States. I also recommend [End Page 227] this magnificent book to the cultivated general public interested in Texas history or Native American cultures.