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« Grassyville - German … | Home | William Makowski, Met… »

William K. Ebers, Wagon Master

by Ed Makowski with an introduction by Weldon Mersiovsky

Saturday 11 May 2013 at 9:25 pm.

“William K. Ebers, Wagon Master” was previously published in The Journal, German-Texan Heritage Society, Austin, Texas, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2009, pages 155ff and is published here with his permission.

Introduction

While this article by Makowski does not mention anything about the Wends there are at least two stories about Wends involved in the cotton trade. Use your imagination to imagine your Wendish ancestors doing the same thing for the same reason as you read the following three paragraphs and Makowski's tale of William Ebers. 

1. Carl Teinert was involved in the hauling of cotton to Matamoros. It was on the day of his wife's funeral, 17 November 1863, that Carl Teinert returned home from a trip hauling cotton to Mexico during the Civil War. As he approached his home he noticed all the people milling around. That is when and how he first became aware of her death.

2. Lillie Moerbe Caldwell, in her book, Texas Wends: Their First Half-Century, page 62 and following tells a story this way: "The Wends used all kinds of excuses to keep their men from going to war. ...several got affidavits to prove them unfit for services so that they could haul cotton to Mexico and run the blockade at Bagdad on the Mexican border. In exchange for their cotton they got lots of money, with which they bought and brought back all kinds of good from Mexico, San Antonio, and Houston.

As soon as the war started, Christoph Schatte realized that he and his adopted nephew Johann could not keep up the work of his blacksmith shop. People were buying new wagons that had to be checked; old wagons had to have many repairs and much overhauling so they would be strong enough to haul cotton and other freight as far away as Mexico and other cities. Schatte decided to move the blacksmith shop close to his home. In this way they could get more done and still have some time to spend with their family. Johann could also be spared more often to visit his firl friend Anna Zwahr, who lived at Prairie Branch. Christoph hired a number of men to help him dig a deep tank (stock pond) close to his house so that he would have plenty of water at all times to cool the hot iron from the blacksmith anvil. Rosina, his wife, Maria Pilak, the adopted daughter, and his son Andreas, all were able to help with the many little jobs in the shop. Many times during the war Christoph and all of his family worked day and night to get the wagons out for the teamsters.

Right in the middle of this busy time, in October 29, 1863, Johann Schatte, Christoph's adopted son, married his sweetheart Anna Zwahr. They moved into the home of Anna's mother, who was a widow with five other children and who was sick. Johann was needed there. After that Christoph Schatte's job was even harder on him, for help was hard to find at that time.

A short time later Ferdinand Jacob Moerbe, Ernest Moerbe's brother, who had lived with the Ernest Moerbes since they came to Texas, married a girl [Johanna Rahele Anna Dube] from Fedor, Texas, where they had made their home after the wedding. After Ferdinand left Ernest Moerbe's home, Mr Moerbe decided to take his young son Johann Traugott with him, as did most of the other Wendish fathers who were hauling freight. He promised his son a brand new freight wagon and a team of six mules for his seventeenth birthday, which was on October 1, 1864. This generous gift proved to be a big mistake; for on Johann Traugott's first hauling trip with the new wagon, while the team was pulling it up a steep river bank, the loaded wagon came loose, ran over the boy and instantly killed him."

3.  Anna Blasig in her book,in her book, The Wends of Texas, pages 51 and 52 tells about the cotton haulers this way: "The Wendish settlers prospered during the Civil War. They brought to Serbin a large amount of goods from Mexico, in exchange for their cotton, and had plenty of money. Since cotton was higher-priced than wool, some of the men hauled bales of cotton with freight wagons, drawn by srong oxen or horses, to Houston and at times returned with as much as twenty pieces of gold."

If someone has more to tell of Carl Teinert and others about their adventures running cotton, we offer this as a place to publish them.

William K. Ebers, Wagon Master

William Karl Ebers and Maria Juliana Fulz with their only son, Herman, emigrated from Braunschweig, settled in northeast Bastrop county at a community called Grassyville, and started their own farm. They became U.S. citizens in October 1856. In 1860 their second child, Bertha, was born at the farmhouse. The advent of the Civil War created a significant change in the lives of the young family because of Eber’s decision in early 1861 to join several of his neighbors in a risky, but potentially rewarding joint venture as described here. Another daughter was born to the family in 1862, but for the three years he was involved in this adventure he was seldom at home.

Cotton was the predominant product of export for the southern states prior to the Civil War. Great quantities of cotton were exported toBritish, French, and northern USA textile manufacturers. Cotton took such a predominate role in the economy of the South that it was commonly referred to as “King Cotton.” During the Civil War cotton “dominated international relations of the Confederacy…” (6) “Cotton diplomacy” enabled the Confederacy to obtain financing from European nations and cotton sales were banned to Northern manufacturers who had previously relied on the southern states to provide the raw material for the approximate 100 million dollars in cloth manufactured annually.

The advent of the Northern blockade of Southern ports beginning in 1861 created a severe economic threat to the South not onlythrough the loss of revenue from cotton sales, but also through the lack of imported manufactured goods critical to the Confederate Army. This placed a severe burden on the South’s ability to maintain its army. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that signaled the end of the Mexican War forbade blockade of Mexican waters by the U. S., and thence the Rio Grande channel and Mexican ports were left open for trade from all nations.

The situation immediately attracted a full spectrum of speculators, Union agents, Confederate agents, buyers, sellers, teamsters, laborers, and scoundrels. Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas cotton producers wasted little time beginning the transport by wagon train to Matamoros, Mexico. From there the cotton was moved down the Rio Grande to Bagdad, a fishing village of tents and shacks, and then moved offshore by paddlewheel steamboats to awaiting vessels. Many of these steamboats operating under Mexican registry were owned by Mifflin Kenedy of King Ranch fame. On one occasion an observer estimated there were about 70 ships congregated offshore awaiting their turn to unload and reload. In 1861 southern states produced an estimated 4.5 million bales of cotton. Due to the increasing shortage of food, more and more acres of cotton-producing land were diverted to the production of grains and vegetables. By 1863 only 500,000 bales were produced and the next year found only 30,000 bales available to the market. Intense competition among buyers drove the price of cotton, delivered in Europe, to fifty cents per pound. Even after the Union Army captured Brownsville the flow of cotton related traffic continued until the end of the war.

The need for getting this cotton to Matamoros created a huge array of transportation enterprises. Texas had few improved roads; bridges and railroads were almost nonexistent; and heat, dust, mud, accidents, outlaws, disease, and Indians all took toll on livestock and teamster; but in spite of the hardships the cotton trade flourished as Matamoros suddenly became Cotton Capital of the world.

Holland McCombs’ article, “Matamoros, Cotton Trading Center of the World,” gives the following comment on that enterprise: “All the way from Louisiana and Arkansas and from every direction and most every town in Texas came endless caravans of creaking carts and cotton wagons. From Rancho Santa Getrudis (now King Ranch) to Matamoros the cotton road was a mile wide.” Wagons loaded with 10 or 12 bales might be pulled by six yoke of oxen while very large capacity rigs were move by mule teams consisting of as many as 20 animals. Sales of cattle, horses, oxen, and supplies provided a quite lucrative income for Richard King, the owner of the land through which this Cotton Road traversed. Upon unloading in Matamoros the teamsters’ wagons were reloaded with food, dress goods, farm machinery, medicines, etc., or perhaps with heavy boxes labeled “hollow ware” (rifles), “beanflour” (gunpowder), “bat metal” (lead), and “canned gods” percussion caps [for the perilous return home. [1]

The Grassyville entrepreneurs utilized six or more wagons each trip, thus mutually providing the group with comradeship, assistance, and protection. They were away from home almost for the duration of the Civil War. A round trip to Matamoros took up to five months in good weather, possibly sixmonths or more in bad weather. A constant companion of Ebers during these trips was a Negro man for whom he had great regard. Apparently he was not a slave as there is not record of Ebers having owned a slave. For the three years of the wagon train experience the two were constant companions. [2]

In later years, Ebers enjoyed telling his grandchildren about his experiences during the years as a wagon master. On one occasion when returning from Mexico the group was robbed by armed bandits. Luckily, their assailants were interested only in gold, not cargo or lives. One winter they were delayed almost a month before crossing a river that had swollen due to unusual rains, but the teamsters were fortunate enough to find a vacant barn where they could at least sleep in a dry place. On another occasion the weather was so dry that deep sand in the Santa Getrudis area slowed their pace to four or five miles per day. Apparently he never revealed the specific nature of what he and his companions did for the three years. Perhaps he did not want his family to know. [2]

In 1864 he returned to stay with his family and farm at Grassyville. In 1865, another son was born. The family attended the Grassyville Methodist Church that was affiliated with the Louisiana German Mission Conference. Bastrop deed records show that Ebers conveyed land to the trustees of that church. (Volume W, page 81, Bastrop County Deed Records). It is not known how much Ebers profited from the teamster episode in his life, but he apparently was an astute businessman for before his death he conveyed 1106 acres of land to each of his three surviving children and then took residence for his final years in a small house near the home of his daughter, Bertha, who had married Henry Grusendorf.

His first wife Maria Fulz died on 15 January 1879 and is buried in the Grassyville Cemetery. Ebers later married thrice widowed Julia Sophie née Rabe Eisenbach Behrens. This marriage created a convoluted genealogy, for her son Anton Eisenbach had previously married Emma Ebers, the second daughter of William K. Ebers. Now William K. Ebers was stepfather and father-in-law of Anton Eisenbach and Julia was stepmother and mother-in-law of Emma Ebers. William Ebers died in Lee County on 7 November 1899 and is buried at Early Chapel Cemetery.

Credits:

1. McCombs, Holland, “Matamoros: Cotton Capital of the World.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, January 18, 1959

2. Grusendorf, Arthur A. Phd, unpublished biography manuscript in possession of Ed Makowski, Mission, Texas.

3. “Under the Rebel Flag. Life in Texas During the Civil War,” Texas State Library and Archives Commission (Internet)

4. Givens, Murphy, “Corpus Christi History”, Corpus Christi Caller Times, 19 Aug 1998.

5. Wooster, Ralph A., “Civil War Texas: A History and a Guide,” Texas State Historical Association Online.

6. Burton, Orville and Patricia Bonnin, “King Cotton” Internet (www.civilwarhome.com/kingcotton.htm)

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