Ein Lebensbild [A Life Story] by Heinrich von Struve

In the spring 2016 J.T. Koenig, fellow board member of the German Texan Heritage Society, presented me a German copy of Heinrich von Struve’s Ein Lebensbild [A Life Story] that had been originally published in Germany in 1896 and subsequently gone through two more printings. J.T. Koenig, it turns out, is a descendant of Heinrich von Struve. I was familiar with the Struve name by way of the important book, Germans & Texans; Commerce, Migration, and Culture in the Days of the Lone Star Republic, by Walter Struve, a history professor at the City College of New York. Heinrich von Struve’s Lebensbild, however, was unknown to me.  At first opportunity I read the book, and its significance as first-hand account of post-Republic/ pre-Civil War Texas hit me over the head like the proverbial ton of bricks. Moreover, the farmstead where he had originally settled in Fayette County, lay just a few miles across the Colorado River from where I grew up, which heightened my interest. A quick search of the internet revealed that a family member, Arno Struve, formerly of Waco and since deceased, had commissioned a translation in 1979 and written a long introduction for the self-published book himself. The book was basically for the benefit of the family with a small printing, and in line with this purpose the long introduction was more genealogical in emphasis than historical, with a lengthy exposition about medieval history and the Russian branch of the family. The book is extremely rare and  unknown even to most scholars of Texas German history. The Briscoe Center for American History Studies does not even possess a copy, which underscores its rarity in a way most scholars of Texas history can appreciate. Eventually I was able to obtain a copy of the translation, which I compared with the original. I discovered that the translation is quite competent, but lacks annotation while the introduction, for reasons outlined above, is interesting but unsatisfactory from the perspective of the Texas historian. It struck me that a reissue of the translation with annotations and a Texas-centered introduction  would be a worthwhile endeavor. The book truly has a significance well beyond immigration literature per se. Struve was an educated and widely-travelled man of the world. His rich and varied background made him an astute observer of the Texas scene while his business as a freighter brought him into contact with a broad range of characters, both German and Anglo-American, who inhabited the quasi-frontier Texas of the period. My enthusiasm for the book led me to approach the Struve family. They graciously and enthusiastically consented to a reissue of the book using (with some slight corrections) the translation commissioned by Arno Struve, but with annotations, illustrations,  and an introductory essay emphasizing the Texas significance of the book, so, for me, another work in progress.

The following [slightly edited] summary comes from the Wikipedia article on Heinrich von Struve. It distills nicely and accurately the amazing life of the author and makes apparent the significance of his autobiography for Texas history.

“Johann Ludwig Karl Heinrich von Struve was born in Stuttgart, in 1812 in what was then the Kingdom of Württemberg. He hailed from a cultured and respected noble family. Like his siblings before him, he attended the Gymnasium and Polytechnic schools in Stuttgart, before attending law school, which he did not finish, having been bitten by wanderlust before his final exams. He then joined and traveled to the province of Silesia, as a member of the Russian military. It was there that he met his first wife, Stephanie von Borowsky, the daughter of the local nobleman J. von Borowsky, and on September 19, 1836 they were married at the Borowsky estate at Posen. Struve and Stephanie farmed land in Froeschen, which Struve had bought from Borowsky, and there they had four children, including one who died shortly after birth. Von Struve then traveled to Berlin and there he married his cousin, Wilhelmine Charlotte Margarete “Minna” von Hochstetter on September 19, 1844. With Minna and his young family, he went back to his land holdings in the east and another daughter came, Stephanie von Struve, born 1847 in Chobanin, Kingdom of Poland. Shortly thereafter the German Revolution of 1848 began, and Heinrich’s brother, Gustav Struve, who was a leading component of such, caused the Struve name to be less than honorable for the times and created an environment less than hospitable for Heinrich von Struve and his family, as he too had supported the democratic cause. Like many of his German countrymen, he decided the only solution was to emigrate. He chose Texas, in the United States, as destination.”

“On September 19, 1848, Heinrich von Struve and his family emigrated from the port of Hamburg to Galveston, Texas, landing there on November 22, 1848. From there they went by ox-cart to Fayette County, Texas, ultimately settling between the Rutersville township and the town of Fayetteville in eastern Fayette County. In Texas the last four children were born to Heinrich and Minna von Struve. Von Struve was quite active in his adopted homeland of Texas, serving as a postmaster, a cigar-maker, a farmer and rancher and a land speculator. He enjoyed the frontier life. However, his wife, Minna, did not and just prior to the American Civil War, he sent his family back to Europe.”

“His two older sons, Amand and Louis, remained in Texas. The former, Amand, marrying Christiane Otilie Pfeisler and residing in Burnet County and later in Blanco County. The latter, Louis, marrying Clementine de Lassaulx, the daughter of Otto Phillip de Lassaulx of Koblenz and Elberfeld and his wife Margaretha Fassbender of Trier, and granddaughter of the noted royal Prussian architect Johann Claudius von Lassaulx (also known as J.C. de Lassaulx), and residing the remainder of his life in Fayette County, Texas.”

“Heinrich von Struve, like his wife and younger children, returned to Europe from Texas by way of New York, where he visited his brother Gustav Struve, who also had emigrated to America after the 1848 Revolution with his wife, Amalie. He assisted his brother in marketing Gustav’s “Weltgeschichte” or World History, which Gustav had written after his arrival in America.”

“Heinrich von Struve came back to Texas several times thereafter to visit his sons, as well as traveled to Brazil, where his youngest son, Konrad had gone as an engineer. In Brazil he had an audience with the Brazilian Emperor, Dom Pedro II, where he regaled the monarch with his tales of the Texas Wilderness.”

“When finally he returned and remained in Europe, Heinrich put his life story to paper and published it in 1895 as a “Lebensbild”. He died March 3, 1898 in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.” (Heinrich von Struve, Wikipedia, accessed August 8, 2016)