In 1845, a young German geologist was sent to Texas at the behest of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. His task was to investigate the mineral resources of this great unknown land and create an accurate map. What he gave us was the first scientific investigation of Texas made by someone who was qualified to do the job.
Ever since the publication of his book, Texas (in German, 1849), Ferdinand von Roemer has been known as the Father of Texas Geology, a title which does not him nearly the credit he deserves. It's sort of like calling Ben Franklin the father of the bifocal. True, but not nearly the full story.
His book presents Texas and Texans in glorious realness. It is like a National Geographic exploration in the pre-photography age. Most of his traveling was on the back of a mule which his companions dubbed "The Scientific Mule." Mule travel is slow business. It gave Roemer the time and leisure not just to eyeball the land, but to get Texas under his fingernails....
"The use of soap and water is apparently unknown to our scientific acquaintance. His diggings after geological specimens cause amusement of us all, especially the negroes, who take intense delight in watching his proceedings." -Matilda Houstoun (describing Dr. Roemer in her own book, Hesperos, 1850.)
Roemer was a young man who ate voraciously, loved his cognac, rode poorly, had few teeth, always had a cigar in his mouth and wrote everything down. Nothing escaped his attention, and everything was recorded with the detail and exactness of a Mercedes-Benz engineer. He describes for you:
*the topography of Texas
*the colonists and their hardships
*the Indians and their depredations
*flora and fauna
*old Spanish missions
"Many also carry Colt's revolving pistol which enjoys quite a popularity in Texas. The duties of the rangers consist chiefly in making frequent excursions along the borders, so as to keep the Indians in check." -Roemer on the Texas Rangers.
Once Roemer hooks your attention, you are one of his traveling companions to the end. And those travels take you from Galveston to Comanche territory and from New Braunfels to the area that would become Dallas. His excursions extended in all directions, enabling him to give you detailed descriptions of:
*and other hamlets and settlements
Roemer on a slice of San Antonio life...
"It was quite a startling spectacle to see a number of Mexican women and girls bathing entirely naked. Unconcerned about our presence, they continued their exercises while laughing and chattering, showing themselves to be perfect masters of the art of swimming."
Roemer on visiting the Capitol...
"The capitol is a log house on top of a hill. A more unpretentious building for a law-making body could hardly be found anywhere."
Roemer on travel in Houston...
"The streets were unpaved and the mud bottomless. I found justification in the fact that everybody, even the elegantly dressed gentlemen, stuffed their trouser legs into their boots."
Roemer also describes for you:
*the dress worn by the colonists
*the foods they ate
*the prices of various goods
*temperature recordings at his various destinations
*inns & hotels
Roemer on chow time...
"Supper consists of tea or coffee, warm cornbread and fried bacon. These articles of food are always found, but in better inns biscuits are served hot in addition to eggs, butter, honey and canned fruits."
Roemer on the holidays...
"I spent Christmas Eve in Galveston. The customary manner of celebrating it by decorating a tree and exchanging presents appeared to be unknown; however, small groups gathered and observed the day in festive spirit. The negroes celebrated it with a formal ball, the music of which resounded late into the night."
His description of the various Indian tribes, such as Lipans, Comanches, Caddos and Wacos, are masterful and among the few reliable first-hand accounts of Native Americans during the days of the Republic. Dr. Roemer went among them and had personal contact.
His depictions of the wildlife of unspoiled Texas might make you shake your head in disbelief. Just in the area of New Braunfels, Roemer reports seeing "black bear, plentyful cougers, ocelot and wolves galore."
"Roemer saw more and told about it in a livelier and more diverting way than any brace of other travelers between Cabeza de Vaca and Frederick Law Olmsted." - J. Frank Dobie
Texas was published in German in 1849. Nearly another century elapsed before it was translated into English. This edition gives his text an index for the first time, making it more than a good read...now it becomes a practical reference.
The book is 275 pages. Folded within is a facsimile reproduction of Roemer's original map - the first geological map of Texas and, as Roemer himself says, containing much of interest to the non-geologist.