Treaty was gift of peace to German settlers

FREDERICKSBURG (May 24, 1997) -- The luckless Germans arrived in Fredericksburg 150 years ago thoroughly scammed. Their Hill Country utopia, where they hoped to freely practice their religion and politics, wasn't owned by the company that collected the cash. And just incidentally, the Promised Land was 150 miles inside the undisturbed territory of the Comanches, a tribe with a reputation so ferocious that its exploits are used to scare naughty children in backwater Central Texas even today.

With most of their resources invested and their homeland thousands of miles away, a German expedition led by John O. Meusebach headed for the San Saba River to negotiate with the landlords. On March 1, 1847, the Germans sat in a circle with twenty top Comanche chiefs, including Santanna, Old Owl, Buffalo Hump and Horseback. The negotiators sat on buffalo robes, made speeches that became an oral peace treaty, and passed a pipe around to seal the deal.

[Read excerpts from these speeches]

Two months later, Santanna led the Comanches to Fredericksburg, where on May 9, 1847, they finalized the treaty and helped the German settlers celebrate the laying of the foundation of the city's Vereins Kirche.

This treaty, which has stood for 150 years, is apparently the only such pact never broken by either side on the Texas frontier.

Chief Wallace Coffey, chairman of the Comanche Nation, and other tribal dignitaries gathered Saturday during the Lasting Friendship Powwow to reaffirm the peace treaty. The Comanches signed a renewed friendship treaty -- drawn in word and picture on a white hide -- then tied it like a banner to an 18-foot lance and hoist it for ceremonial confirmation.

A day earlier, a three-statue tableau was unveiled in the Marketplatz park to commemorate the 150 years of friendship. The statues, by sculptor Jay Hester, depict a German settler passing a peace pipe to a seated Comanche, wearing a buffalo-horn bonnet. A second Comanche stands over the two, watching the ceremony. The model for the two Comanches in the slightly larger-than-life scene was Larry Liles, the great-great grandson of Chief Horseback, and the emcee of the weekend powwow.

The weekend's celebration concluded Sunday, with a pipe ceremony at the Admiral Nimitz Museum's Japanese Tea Garden.

1997, Jonathan C. Donley