150 Years of Luckenbach in Texas 1849-1999

Jacob Luckenbach is known to have come to Texas as early as the mid-1830’s and was among the Texans, including many Texas-Germans, who helped to win Texas’ independence from Mexico. The Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas 1835-1888 shows that he was awarded payment for service in the Texas army from May to September 15, 1836. (1) He then returned to Germany to his home in Stein, Hessen-Nassau, in the Westerwald, where he was born in the year 1817. Near Stein is the village of Luckenbach, undoubtedly founded by families of the same name.

The citizens of Luckenbach, Germany, were very proud when the song, “Luckenbach Texas--Back to the Basics” became a worldwide hit. A descendant of Jacob Luckenbach, Dr. Reiner Luckenbach, executive editor of the world’s largest encyclopedia of chemistry, after hearing the song, came to Texas in 1985 to meet with the Luckenbachs for the first time. A movement is afoot for the two Luckenbach villages to become “sister cities.”


Germany, Love it or Leave it!
In the mid-1800’s the towns of Stein and Luckenbach were under the rule of the Duke of Nassau who governed from his castle in Biebrich on the north side of Rhein River near Wiesbaden. In this castle in 1842 about thirty princes, dukes, counts, barons, electors and other royals organized the Adelsverein,
the Society of Noblemen, for both good and dubious reasons. The growing industrial revolution had taken jobs away from thousands. At the same time devastating drought lasting many years was causing severe depression.
But the real frustration to the royals were the highly educated from the highly placed families. The universities were a spawning revolution, calling for a united Germany under a peoples’ constitution with one-man one-vote. The goal was to put an end to the monarchy and its caste or vassal system. The royals could see that little by little the political revolutionists were being joined by the jobless and the working classes. Into that picture comes a plea from the new Republic of Texas.

The Adelsverein also thought they could take advantage of the Republic of Texas’ request to send Texas new citizens. Texas urgently needed help, manpower, to keep Mexico, and the many Indian tribes, from regaining control. At the same time the German royals saw an opportunity for profits-- to expand its already lucrative trade route to the rich cotton-raising southern rim of states. “Germany--love it or leave it!” was their pitch in the newspapers. Free city lots and large farm acreage were guaranteed to those who would board the ships in Bremen and Antwerp and emigrate to Texas.

Thousands signed up and landed in Texas beginning in 1845. The ships loaded up again with cotton, fur and other commodities and sold their bounty in Liverpool, Antwerp, and Bremen. This process repeated itself over and over again for a period of about five years. Having gotten rid of 12,000 or so just to Texas of their most vociferous revolutionists and disgruntled the royal troops were able to stave off democracy and a united Germany for another forty years.

Evidently what the Adelsverein schemers failed to take in consideration was that the revolutionists they enticed to emigrate to Texas would take a firm stand again chattel slavery and help Texas defeat the system of slavery in the Old South as they had planned to bring down the German feudal system. Also, no soon had the Germans landed on Republic of Texas soil when President Sam Houston and other Texas leaders were in the process of gaining the admittance of Texas as a state. English and German royals had promised support to the Confederate states did all they could to keep Texas out of the Union but to no avail. By 1848 the Adelsverein decided to disband, leaving the Texas immigrants high and dry. But so many of those who came to Texas beginning in 1845 reported how happy they were in Texas, thousands more came to Texas on their own. The immigrants are still coming to this day.

In December of 1845 Jacob Luckenbach and his wife, Justina Ruebsam, and two daughters, Amalie and Pauline, boarded one of the Adelsverein ships, the Johann Dethardt, and sailed for Texas. On the same ship was Christian Engel, from Wilsenroth-Dornburg also in Hessen-Nassau, in the Westerwald, who would in fact, along with his relatives, be one of several dozen German settlers to make his home in what was first called the South Grape Creek Community, later changing the name to the Luckenbach Community. Through the years another settlement had developed about five miles due west called Grapetown. The two “grape” communities so near each other tended to be confusing.

Both the Engels and the Luckenbachs arrived at South Grape Creek “Pioneer Crossing” along with the Adelsverein surveyors and then went on to establish Fredericksburg on May 8, 1846. Which family returned to that location to homestead first, the Engels or the Luckenbachs, has been a topic that is best avoided. In 1849, however Wilhelmina “Minna” Engel opened a trading post in what would eventually become South Grape Creek Town (now Luckenbach).

Two Texas State Historical Markers exist now in Luckenbach. A number of the descendants of pioneer families disputed the accuracy of the one that was first erected and which stands in front of the present-day Luckenbach General Store:

“Members of the Luckenbach family and other German immigrants moved here from Fredericksburg in the 1850s. They settled along Grape Creek and soon established a school for their children. The Grape Creek Post Office was in operation briefly after 1858 with William Luckenbach as first Postmaster. Later settlers included August Engel, who served as first Postmaster when the Post Office was reestablished here in 1886 under the name of Luckenbach. John Russell ‘Hondo’ Crouch and others bought the town center in 1970 and promoted its rustic atmosphere.” (2)

Some Luckenbach area citizens contested the data on the above plaque. To settle the dispute, the State Historical Commission allowed Historical Marker number two which was erected in front the historic two-story Engel Haus, located at the intersection of Farm Road 1376 and Luckenbach Loop, at the Pioneer Crossing Bridge (over South Grape Creek.) This is the south entrance to Luckenbach, with the present address of the Engel Haus as 519 Luckenbach Loop, and reads as follows:

The Rev. August Engel (1818-1904) a circuit riding Methodist preacher immigrated to Texas in 1846 from Germany. In 1859 he married Katharina Ernst (1837-1920). They had six children. August Engel served as postmaster for five years in Blanco County and for 32 years at Cranes Mill in Comal County. He was succeeded as postmaster by his son August Engel, Jr in 1904 who purchased 6 acres in 1895 in Gillespie County from Carl A. Luckenbach.

A post office was established in Engel’s home in 1886 with August Engel, Jr. serving as postmaster. His sister Minna was asked to name the new post office, married to C. A. Luckenbach chose the name Luckenbach. A general merchandise store with a post office area, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, saloon, and warehouses were added to the property. A dancehall (Tanz Halle) also located there was a center for social gatherings.

William Engel replaced his brother August Engel Jr. as postmaster in 1890. William’s son, Benno W. Engel Sr., was appointed postmaster in 1935 and served in that capacity for 36 years. The Luckenbach post office was discontinued in 1971 after 85 years of continuous service to Gillespie County and to the community. (1996)”

However, in addition to the Luckenbachs and the Engels, other pioneer families and their descendants were also highly instrumental in the founding and development of South Grape Creek Town or Luckenbach, especially the Erasmus Frantzens of Denmark. He and his wife Johanna, both in their twenties, joined the initial settlers who founded Fredericksburg in 1846 and then backtracked and picked out their farm and homestead in the present-day Luckenbach Community. Many additional Danish families also came to settle in the Luckenbach area. They would often gather in a grove at a place on the Blanco road near Luckenbach called “Lustiger Struempf” (Merry Stockings) and/or “Ratbach” (the Creek with Rats).

Away from the Germans who greatly outnumbered them they would be free to talk their native Danish to their heart’s delight, sing their traditional songs, and prepare special North Sea dishes of the fish they caught in the nearby Pedernales River and the various creeks, including South Grape Creek. Gradually the Danes intermarried with the Germans and the Anglos and accepted the speaking of German and English as their everyday languages. (3)

1846: A day or two before May 8, 1846, the official survey party under the direction of John O. Meusebach, Commissioner General of the Adelsverein for Texas, and about 120 settlers walking behind their oxen-led wagons, left the Sister Creeks Valley and reached the top of the next very high ridge. There they were treated to an awesome sight below them: the lush Pedernales Valley and its many creek tributaries, including the first one they would descend upon which would soon become known as South Grape Creek.

On orders to watch for and record the location of all active springs and creeks, they came down into the fertile valley and probably could not resist resting and letting their oxen and horses drink from the crystal clear waters and welcome the shade of the huge live oaks of South Grape Creek. No one has ever had to ask why the stream and the area was named South Grape Creek because of the profuse wild mustang grapes that have been wrapped around the trees along the banks and bluffs for centuries. This spot would not be forgotten!

The settlers continued their trek perhaps early the next morning to avoid the heat of the Texas summer. They crossed the Pedernales River clearly seeing the warning signs of the river’s erratic flooding history. A few miles further they came upon the confluence of two healthy, small creeks. There they agreed they would establish the city of Fredericksburg.

In Germany the Adelsverein headquarters in Mainz had pre-assigned the settlers specific town lots in a pre-planned Fredericksburg. Most of the settlers at least went to see the free lots they had been guaranteed. The lots were free for the coming. Once they staked out their intown lot and the 10-acre outlots near town, other members of the family could get larger free acreages away from town. This is when the Luckenbachs, the Engels, the Frantzens, Pehls, Brodbecks, and the Petschs and others lost no time in returning to the South Grape Creek “Pioneer’s Crossing” at the present day bridge and Luckenbach Tor (Gate or Entrance) to select their farmsteads in that beautiful and fertile, water-rich area.

1847: Reports circulated throughout the area that the first Elfendritschenwolpertinger was seen by hunters in the South Grape Creek woods. After the Peace Treaty was signed with the Indians on May 9, 1847, the Indians shared with the German settlers their most cherished of secrets about the fruit of the cactus. The Germans often ventured into the woods to hunt, packing schnapps and jerky securely in their saddlebags. At day’s end after carefully field-dressing the venison, wild turkey, quail, and what not, they would then begin gathering cactus hearts.

Following the recipe of instructions the Indians taught them they ceremoniously ingested the compound. In the midst of the “Rausch” or rush of the resultant bliss there would often suddenly appear on the edge of the camp the jolly, chirping Elfendritschenwolpertinger: nature’s most perfect of all living things, so awesome the men would collapse in sheer ecstasy, not waking until the crack of dawn.

Returning to their homes they would tell everyone, and their friends, what they had seen. The children would search excitedly for the Elfendritschenwolpertinger in the gardens and in the woods, but in vain. They would just have to wait until coming of age to be initiated properly in the rituals of the hunt before they, too, could behold this rarest of all the creatures from the inner sanctums of the semi-tropical paradise of the Texas Hill Country. The Elfendritschenwolpertinger is known to have been seen in downtown Luckenbach from time to time. (4)

1849: Wilhelmina “Minna” Engel, daughter of August Engel, Sr., opens a trading post in South Grape Creek Town, later to be renamed Luckenbach. Nearby Delaware and Comanche Indians, and possibly Huaco Indians from the Blanco-Twin Sisters area, came to trade in addition to area residents and the regular travelers and new immigrants using the Pioneer Trail from New Braunfels and San Antonio to Sisterdale, South Grape Creek Town, Cain City, and Fredericksburg, including the new Fort Martin Scott federal garrison established just outside Fredericksburg also in 1849.

1850: In a community wide endeavor the residents of the area construct the Gemeindehalle, the Community Hall, now the well-known Luckenbach Halle.

1855: Pioneer settler Peter Pehl deeded a two-acre tract of land for the building of the Luckenbach School with Herman Toepperwein as its first teacher. It operated until 1964 when it was consolidated with the Fredericksburg Independent School District. (5)

1858: In the spring, Jacob Brodbeck, and his bride, Christina Behrens, move from Fredericksburg, where Brodbeck bought a tract of land on South Grape Creek. In 1860 he became the new teacher at the Luckenbach School replacing Herman Toerpperwein.

1865: Luckenbach teacher, inventor, and musician builds and flies the world’s very first airplane: Jacob Brodbeck (1812-1910), born in Plattenhardt-Filderstadt, Wuerttemberg, Germany. Always at the top of his class, he graduated from the University of Esslingen with highest credentials in general and scientific teaching. He was, however, supremely insulted when the King of Wuerttemberg offered him only the equivalent of one cow for his new invention, a watch that would run without winding for a number of months. He immediately left for America.

He flew his airplane, reaching well above the treetops, but could not rewind the coils fast enough in flight to keep the airship up in the air. He survived the crash. Investors, however, would not help him try it again. While seeking new investors in the Washington, D.C. area, and wanting to patent his invention, he was mugged and robbed of all his diagrams. He was happy to return to Luckenbach alive. Fifteen years later the Wright brothers are said to have gotten their airplane off the ground, also for a very short time.
Brodbeck was a practicing Lutheran Christian, and not an anti-Christian Freidenker (atheist, agnostic, or anti-church freethinker.) Nor was he an anti-Freidenker. He enjoyed his Freidenker friends in nearby Sisterdale and Comfort. After all, he was conversant in the Latin language, the tongue of choice in Sisterdale and Comfort for quite a few years. The majority of Luckenbach and area residents were practicing Lutherans and Catholics from the start and still are. (6)

Brodbeck family historian, Anita Tatsch, wrote of the giftedness and fervent Lutheran spirituality of Jacob Brodbeck of Luckenbach: “...he was not only a mechanical genius, he was also a talented musician who wrote his own compositions for the organ and piano. For many years he was the organist in the Lutheran Church of Plattenhardt. (7) Brodbeck, his family, and children, attended Lutheran services regularly in Fredericksburg at the Vereinskirche. Everyone in his family also attended Sunday School and were registered in the Lutheran sacraments such as baptism and confirmation.

1879: A steam-operated cotton gin was built in Luckenbach near the general store as well as a blacksmith shop.

1881: The first Schuetzenverein, Target Shooting Club, of Gillespie County was the Luckenbach Marksmen’s Club organized June 1, 1881, with 37 active members. (8)

1885: The German men’s chorus, the Luckenbach Frohsinn Gesang Verein, literally, “Happy Singing Society” was organized at the Luckenbach Halle, on May 1, 1885, with a membership of 13 singers. The first officers were A. W. Engel, president; Eduard Brodbeck, secretary; H. Meier, treasurer; and Hilmer Brodbeck, choir director. It was one of about a dozen such German singing groups organized in different settlements with a store, church, or social hall that could be found all across Gillespie County until cars and buses came along. (9)

1886: Wilhelmina Engel renames Grape Creek Town in honor of her fiancé, Albert Luckenbach, and the U.S. Post Office system approves the name Luckenbach as the official new name of the town and Minna Engel as the first postmistress of Luckenbach, Texas.

1892: On August 28, 1892, eleven charter members officially organized the Heinrich Heine Lodge Nr. 49 of the Order of the Sons of Hermann in Luckenbach: W. Engel, president emeritus; Chas. Enderlin, president; Adolph Engel, secretary; Julius Tatsch, treasurer; Valentin Haberkorn, leader; William Hoffmann, inner watch; A.W. Schoenewolf, Jr., outer watch. Meetings were held in Engel’s Store. (10) The Hermann Sons provided insurance and social activities designed for the whole family with regular socials.

1893: July 29-30, 1893, the Luckenbach Marksmen’s Club took part in the first official Gillespie County Scheutzenbund Fest (Shooting Clubs Festival) held at the Grapetown Eintracht range. The Luckenbach took the fourth place club award. Schuetzenfests by continuing tradition are held on the
Saturday and Sunday of the full moon of the first of August. The full moon provided more light for the revelry, dancing, sing, and music that was enjoyed throughout the night and next morning. Thus, the tradition of the “Luckenbach Moon!”

1898: It was a proud day on May 7, 1898, when the Luckenbach Frohsinn hosted more than a dozen choirs from as far as San Antonio, New Braunfels, Boerne, Comfort and other choirs of the Fredericksburg area came to Luckenbach for the annual German Saengerfest, the festival of singers. (11)

1907: Henry R. Frantzen (1907-1994) of Luckenbach, Texas, was born. He composed the grand entrance march, The Luckenbach Marsch, in honor of the 50th Anniversary Saengerfest held in the Luckenbach Halle. Only the words have been preserved:

“Also, wie ein froher Saenger, marschieren wir vorn; Willkommen ein, willkommen all, nun fangen wir jetzt an. Mit Gesang, mit Gesang, mit ein’ hellen jubel Klang. Mit Gesang, mit Gesang, und fuer fuenfzig Jahre lang!”
“So, now we happy singers, we march right up; Welcome one, welcome all, now let’s get
started. With singing, with singing, with bright, joyous sounds, with singing, with singing, for fifty years of singing!”

Frantzen was also a star player on the Luckenbach Baseball Team. In addition he played trumpet, clarinet and saxophone in many of the area bands including the one he founded in Luckenbach, “Henry’s Old Time Brass Band.” He sang in the Luckenbach Frohsinn Gesangverein and was the director of the Luckenbach Gemischterchor (mixed chorus) from 1948 to 1960. In 1996 the Fredericksburg 150th Anniversary Singfest was dedicated to his memory.

1938: 49 members of the Frohsinn Gesangverein of Luckenbach (men’s singing association) posed at the 39th Annual Gillespie County Saengerfest held on April 24, 1938, held in the neighboring Grapetown Community Halle. They were, front: Bruno Haag, Alex Luckenbach, Benno Luckenbach Jr. Second row: Henry Meier, Willie Hoelzer, unknown, Rudolph Habenicht, Adolph Hopf (Director), Hilmar Brodbeck, unknown, Julius Luckenbach. Third row: Herman Schoenewolf, Theodore Pehl, Harry Jenschke.
Also, a Mr. Hopf, Edward Tatsch, Otto Ruebsahm, Alex Luckenbach, Edgar Tatsch, Raymond Franz, Henry Frantzen, Henry Molzberger, Alfred Klein, Walter Hopf, Egon Brodbeck, August Krieger. Fourth row: Max Pahl, Ewald Pehl, Edwin Schumann, Max Enderlin Sir., Ernst Meier, Hugo Klinksiek, Walter Meier, Otto Kunz, Walter Kuhlmann, Max Metzger, Lothar Meier, E. C. Fiedler, Gustav Jenschke, August Hopf, Walter Brehmer, Alex Frantzen, Reinhard Frantzen, and Edwin Brodbeck.

1970: The Engel family and the Luckenbach postmaster, Benno Engel, decide to retire officially. The Luckenbach U.S. Post Office closes. Hondo Crouch and cohorts purchase “Downtown Luckenbach” including the general store and dance hall. Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings and the boys, and many other musicians of their genre, become honorary citizens. The song “Luckenbach, Texas” becomes a hit all around the world. The era of the Willie Nelson July 4th Picnics begins.

In Luckenbach, in its 150th Anniversary Year, the spirit of its founders and descendants, including Henry Frantzen, remains: “....So, ...happy singers, march right up, welcome one, welcome all, now let’s get started....with singing, with singing, with bright, joyous sounds, with song, for ‘150 years’ of singing!”


(1) Gold, Ella A. “Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Luckenbach”, Pioneers in God’s Hills, Vol. II, Gillespie County Historical Society Publishers, Fredericksburg, Texas, 1974, pp. 84-86
(2) Haebig, John D. & Ernst, Peggy; Gillespie County Historical Markers, Self-Published in Public Domain, available $10: 107 N. Orange St., Fredericksburg TX 78624, section 10-1. Proceeds go to the Gillespie County Historical Society.
(3) Knopp, Kenn; German Immigration to America: The Fredericksburg Texas Manuscripts, “They Weren’t All Germans: The Undaunted Danish Pioneers of Fredericksburg”, Pre-Publication Manuscript, Fredericksburg Texas, 1999, pp 217-218
(4) Knopp, Kenn; Ibid, “The Elfendritschenwolpertinger”, p.203
(5) Haebig & Ernst, Ibid, section 10-2
(6) Knopp, Kenn; Ibid, “Jacob Brodbeck, the Real Father of Aviation”, pp 249+
(7) Tatsch, Anita; Jacob Brodbeck: Reached for the Sky in Texas, Dietel & Son Printing, Fredericksburg Texas, 1986, p. 21.
(8) Kowert, Arthur H.; “Schuetzenfest”, Pioneers in God’s Hills, Vol. II, Gillespie County Historical Society, Fredericksburg, Texas, 1974, pp: 178-179
(9) Penninger, Robert, editor; Fredericksburg Texas...The First Fifty Years, Fredericksburg Publishing Co., Fredericksburg TX, 1971 reprint in English; p. 69.
(10) Penninger, Robert, editor; Ibid, p. 68.
(11) Knopp, Kenn; 150 Jahresfeier: Friedrichsburg Texas deutsche Wegweiser & Singfest 4.Mai 1996, published by the German Heritage Commission, Fredericksburg, Texas, 1996. za