The earliest settlers in Sisterdale drank fine wine from tinkling glasses. They listened to Mozart played on the piano in the library lined with classical literature. Their lively after-dinner conversation, mostly in Latin, turned to Voltaire, Kant, Goethe and Hegel.
The scene was surreal and without parallel on the Texas frontier where most settlers lived a dark, meager existence.
Nicolaus Zink, a civil engineer and the man who surveyed New Braunfels, first saw the valley of the two Sister Creeks in 1847 while on his way to Fredericksburg from Comal County. He fell in love with the mountain atmosphere in the Sister Creek Valley and built a cabin there just north of the Guadalupe River with the Bosom Hills off in the distance.
Zink was an educated man with a large circle of sophisticated friends. Many of those friends followed him to Sister Creek. Their settlement became Sisterdale.
Zink’s friends were not dirt farmers but urban, cosmopolitan Germans who had never practiced agriculture before. They were writers, scientists, artists, noblemen, freethinkers, radicals, anarchists, utopians and revolutionaries exiled from the German states following the failed Revolution of 1848.
They were versed in the best literature and spoke several languages. They were Germany’s best; the most educated and enlightened people of their day.
Soon a rich intellectual life, filled with music and stimulating conversation, was in full bloom on the rough-hewn Texas frontier.
Ernst Kapp was an exiled intellectual from Germany. He was a writer, a political activist, and a teacher at the College of Minden Westphalia. Among his many scientific pursuits was a deep curiosity about the cure of diseases with mineral water. Dr. Kapp established a health spa in Sisterdale in 1853.
Another early settler was Edgar Gerhard Julius Oscar Ludwig von Westphalen, the son of a Prussian baron. Edgar’s childhood friend back in Trier, Germany was Karl Marx. Edgar’s sister Jenny married Marx and bore him seven children.
When Prince Paul of Wurttemburg, a naturalist, botanist, and the brother of the reigning king, visited Sisterdale, he was astonished to find such refined drawing room conversation at a place where he dodged marauding Comanches the day before.
German intellectuals settled at several Hill Country communities, commonly called Latin Colonies, but at Sisterdale, German “Kultur” on the Texas frontier reached its zenith.
Then in 1862, confederate authorities sent a detachment of soldiers to the Hill Country to deal with the Germans, most of whom were staunch Unionists. Pressure from the confederates broke up the Latin Colonies.
Most of Sisterdale’s more colorful residents drifted away. Ernst Kapp returned to Germany, leaving two married daughters in Texas. His descendants still reside in the Hill Country.
Edgar von Westphalen went to England and lived awhile with Friederich Engels. He then returned to Germany to live with Karl and Jenny Marx while Karl finished his book, Das Kapital.
Sisterdale is 15 miles north of Boerne in Kendall County on Ranch Road 1376. The Sisterdale Valley District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Michael Barr is a retired teacher and principal, living in Fredericksburg where he spends time writing books, columns and magazine articles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.