Memorial planned in New Braunfels at unmarked graves of German settlers

In the first two years, hundreds were buried in unmarked graves

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas – What is now considered one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities began as a small German settlement in 1845, literally struggling to survive.

“It was many epidemics. A lot of people had pneumonia. A lot of people had dysentery,” said Lynn Thompson, a retired librarian who serves on the cemetery committee of the New Braunfels Parks Department.

So far, she said there’s been no record of a cholera outbreak.

Even so, she said those first German families arrived on the Texas coast vulnerable to disease and death, having been weakened by the rigors of their long voyage.

“They might have been ill on the way and died when they got here,” Thompson said. “The common cold could kill you back then.”

After landing on a bitterly cold Christmas Day, they then had to travel by wagon and on foot across what was still a rugged frontier.

The first year, 25 of the settlers died, followed by hundreds more the next year.

So many, Thompson said men, women and children had to be buried in unmarked graves.

“We think there’s at least 350 closer probably to 400 people are buried within a one-acre plot,” Thompson said.

She said there was no lumber for coffins and no stone masons had arrived yet to make the headstones.

Ground penetrating radar showed they were not buried in mass graves, Thompson said. Instead, they were buried individually wrapped in muslin shrouds.

The plot is marked off by large limestone blocks within the historic New Braunfels Cemetery located just off the I-35 South service road.

It is now the site of the planned Field of Graves Memorial.

By doing so, she said the city of New Braunfels is acknowledging everything those early settlers had gone through.

“We’re saying you came and you made the ultimate sacrifice,” Thompson said.

She said sadly they didn’t get to live out their dreams in the new land they’d traveled so far to find.

Thompson said funds are still being raised for the $125,000 project.

Once completed, she said the Field of Graves Memorial will be “kind of a place of calm repose,” where the descendants of those first families and the community can reflect and remember.

About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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