07. April 2007 · Comments Off on Fire on the Hill-Top · Categories: General, History, Old West, World

On Easter-evening, 1847, the hilltops around the new hill-country town of Fredericksburg, Gillespie County, on the far frontier of Texas suddenly blossomed with a crown of fire… bonfires that appeared, after sundown. The story is told that many people in Fredericksburg first thought that the fires were lit by Comanche Indians, to send messages about the movements of citizens of the town, to their chiefs far north in the Llano country, who were then negotiating a peace treaty with John Meusebach. Fredericksburg was then on the far frontier, a huddle of log cabins and huts in a clearing in the post-oak forest between two creeks in the Pedernales River valley, built by settlers newly come from Europe.

They came straight from comfortable, well-established towns and villages, where you could not travel a mile or two without encountering something— a wall, bridge, a castle or a church— which had been there for centuries. They came from a secure and orderly country, believing the promises of the entrepreneur who had recruited them with promises of land. They had packed up their belongings and taken ship— leaky wooden sailing ships— expecting to find something approximating in a rough way to what they had left behind. Which they did, eventually… but only after they had buckled down and built most of it themselves.

But on that Easter-eve, they looked up and saw the fires, and a fair number of them were afraid. Perhaps a quick-thinking mother told her terrified children that the fires had been built by the Easter rabbit and his helpers, to cook the eggs that they would have on Easter morning, all colored and decorated, and so that comforting story came to believed… among some of the settlers.

But in fact, the custom of setting fires on certain hilltops had been long-established in north-western Germany, in Westphalia and Saxony, from which areas nearly half of the Fredericksburg settlers had come. But the other half, from Hesse and the south, they would never have seen the Easter bonfires on the hilltops. And in any case, Meusebach had already met and negotiated the peace treaty with the Comanche by Easter of 1847.

They had brought more with them then their keepsakes and books and tools: they had brought their customs and habits. Some of them were refined and changed by new circumstances, but they endured. As did the people who brought them.

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