German immigration to Texas from the 1830s to the 1890s created a “German belt” in central Texas of German-speaking communities. It is not known who coined the term “German belt,” but it was used several times in newspapers printed in 1970.
Many central Texas towns still have Germanic names, but the German-American population has been steadily decreasing. By 2005, it was estimated that there were fewer than 8,000 native Texas German speakers left.
The German Texans
Texans of German birth or descent have, since the mid-19th century, made up one of the largest ethnic groups in the state. By 1850 they numbered five percent of the total population—a conservative count. The 1990 census listed more than 17 percent of the population, nearly three million individuals, claiming German heritage.
Germans who chose Texas as a home were, in the migrations from 1830 to 1900, anything but a uniform group. Early emigration came from a land of provinces and duchies, not a unified Germany, and from many backgrounds.
Many of the German colonists settled to the north and west of the Austin County Germans. Thus, a “German Belt” was created, stretching from Texas’s Coastal Plain to the Hill Country, including the larger towns of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.
Handbook of Texas Online
GERMANS. The largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe was persons of German birth or descent. As early as 1850, they constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population, a proportion that remained constant through the remainder of the nineteenth century. Intermarriage has blurred ethnic lines, but the 1990 United States census revealed that 1,175,888 Texans claimed pure and 1,775,838 partial German ancestry, for a total of 2,951,726, or 17½ percent of the total population. By this count, Germans rank behind Hispanics and form the third-largest national-origin group in the state. Most persons of German descent do not regard themselves as ethnic Germans, however. From their first immigration to Texas in the 1830s, the Germans tended to cluster in ethnic enclaves. A majority settled in a broad, fragmented belt across the south central part of the state. This belt stretched from Galveston and Houston on the east to Kerrville, Mason, and Hondo in the west; from the fertile, humid Coastal Plain to the semiarid Hill Country. This German Belt included most of the Teutonic settlements in the state, both rural and urban.
The German Belt is the product of concepts and processes well known to students of migration, particularly the concept of “dominant personality,” the process called “chain migration,” and the device of “America letters.” Voluntary migrations generally were begun by a dominant personality, or “true pioneer.” This individual was forceful and ambitious, a natural leader, who perceived emigration as a solution to economic, social, political, or religious problems in his homeland. He used his personality to convince others to follow him in migration. In the case of the Texas Germans, Friedrich Diercks, known in Texas under his alias, Johann Friedrich Ernst, was the dominant personality. Ernst had been a professional gardener in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg in northwestern Germany. He immigrated to America intending to settle in Missouri, but in New Orleans he learned that large land grants were available to Europeans in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. Ernst applied for and in 1831 received a grant of more than 4,000 acres that lay in the northwest corner of what is now Austin County. It formed the nucleus of the German Belt.
German Immigration to Texas by Theresa G. Gold
Although there were a few Germans in Texas when the area was under Spanish and Mexican rule, the first permanent settlement of Germans was at Industry, in Austin County, established by Friedrich Ernst and Charles Fordtran in the early 1830s. Ernst wrote a letter to a friend in his native Oldenburg which was published in the newspaper there. His description of Texas was so influential in attracting German immigrants to that area that he is remembered as “The Father of German Immigration to Texas.”
A map of present-day Texas shows a “German Belt” from Houston westward to the Fredericksburg vicinity in the Hill Country. Yet, the German settlements are not only clustered in this band or belt; they are also scattered throughout nearly all parts of the large state of Texas.
11 February 1954, Kerrville (TX) Mountain Sun, pg. 4, cols. 1-2:
The committee decided upon the knob hill, one and a half miles from Comfort, in a predominantly German belt;...
22 March 1970, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 6, col. 1:
Fredericksburg is one of Texas’ captivating cities. Along with several other communities in the German Belt, it was founded by colonists from the old country during the difficult times of the Texas Republic.
25 October 1970, Port Arthur (TX) News, pg. 6C, col. 1:
Of the many ethnological backgrounds that make up Texas’ proud heritage, none is more pronounced and precious than that of the German Belt. For these Texans have been here longer than most. Back in 1845 when Texas was still a Republic, Prince Carl von Solma-Braunfels led a large number of settlers to the new land from his native Germany.
OCLC WorldCat record
German seed in Texas soil : immigrant farmers in nineteenth-century Texas
by Terry G Jordan-Bychkov
Type: Book; English
Publisher: Austin : University of Texas Press, 1976, ©1966.
Edition: 1st pbk. ed | 2 Editions
Document Type: Book
Notes: Revision of the author’s thesis (Ph. D.--University of Wisconsin).
Description: xv, 237 p.,  p. of plates : ill., maps ; 23 cm.
Contents: Nineteenth-century German farmers and their emigration to Texas—Germans in the cotton kingdom : the eastern end of the German belt, 1831-1885—Germans on the rim of the desert : the western end of the German belt, 1844-1885—Conclusion : the importance of cultural heritage in the agricultural systems of the immigrant groups.
University researchers are trying to record state’s unique, and dying, German language
Web Posted: 01/30/2005 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News
NEW BRAUNFELS — Sitting at his kitchen table across from a University of Texas researcher, Bill Moltz helps record some of the last gasps of a dying language.
In its heyday at the turn of the 19th century, the so-called “German Belt” encompassed most of the Hill Country, where 95 percent of the population was either German-born or descended from German immigrants. In 1910, Texas had 110,000 residents who spoke German as their first language.
Linguist’s book will capture ‘der Cowboy’
Web Posted: 12/30/2005 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News
Hans Boas, a linguist at the University of Texas, was busy last January interviewing and recording some of the few remaining speakers of Texas German, a unique language they learned from ancestors in the Hill Country and immigrants from the old country.
Now, he’s also writing a book.
Tentatively titled “Language Death in the Melting Pot,” Boas’ scholarly work will track the rise and fall of the once-popular dialect.
At the turn of the 20th century, the so-called “German belt” encompassed much of the Hill Country, where 95 percent of all residents were either German-born or descendants of immigrants. In 1910, German was the first language of 110,000 Texans.
Today, fewer than 8,000 native Texas German speakers are left.
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Thursday, May 01, 2008 • Permalink