A lot of things went into making Texas what it is. You know about the Spanish and Mexican influence, of course. And it can be no surprise that many new Americans headed here in the early days, fresh off the boats from many countries – an amazing number of which were represented at the Battle of the Alamo. But what we didn’t expect was to see such an overwhelmingly large German representation. We became aware of that in Cajun country, hearing about the German Catholics who fled religious persecution at home. Many found their way further west to Texas, and their influence is quite strong. Go know.
Our day started in San Antonio with a fond farewell to the Alamo, deserted in the early morning. We then started on the Mission Trail, to see those early outposts of the Franciscans who were determined to convert the heathen Indians. Getting to live in a mission was a bit of “forced volunteerism.” The Indians gave up their language, their religious beliefs, and many aspects of their culture in exchange for some protection from stronger Apache and Comanche tribes. The trade-off meant learning Spanish and Latin (for Mass) and converting to Catholicism. It also meant living and working as the Spanish wanted, being subject to the rigors of the Inquisition, and being at the mercy of Spain’s intent to keep the French out of Texas.
We saw two missions; Mission San Jose, and Mission San Juan Capistrano, both built in the early 1700’s. (Of course, the first mission that we saw was the Alamo.) They were both striking, though San Jose is more complete.
The Indians lived in small homes built into the outside walls and opening into the compound. It was amazing to learn that descendants of the original Indians in the area can identify which wall their families lived in three hundred years ago. As it was Sunday morning, both churches were filled with some of those descendants and not available to tourists, but we could hear them singing, and it gave us chills.
We then moved further into Texas hill country, which is indeed hilly. We stopped for lunch at New Braunfels, a thoroughly German town where one has schnitzel and wurst rather than barbecue. And yes, this place is in the middle of Texas, but with authentic German hospitality, meaning that we were served by an older version of Eva Braun and dared not question anything.
A short distance away is the town of Gruene, pronounced “Green” and home to the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas. It is German and Texan all in one, and a very happening place. Dance halls are a big thing out here and Saturday nights must be really hot. And have you ever seen such a rustic ATM?
Then we traveled up and down those hills on two-lane roads at 65 mph to get to our evening’s destination – Fredericksburg, another German enclave. We will behave ourselves and see what this town has to offer tomorrow.