“How Old Man Henry and His Family are Getting Along in America”
On October 13, 1856, Henry Baumberger, a recent immigrant and resident of San Antonio, wrote to family and friends in his native Switzerland. The document is part of a collection of eight lengthy letters written by and to Baumberger between 1856 and 1867. Written in an older Sütterlin German script that is no longer used, the letters have been translated into English.
In the letter of October 13, Baumberger described life in Texas in great detail for loved ones living very differently in Europe. “The way people live here is strange,” he wrote. “You hardly will believe me if I tell you the truth and I am telling you nothing but the truth.” On one hand, Baumberger found much to criticize in San Antonio:
An enormous rudeness is generally prevalent in this country. Nobody cares about enlightenment and education. Nobody lived intellectually. Everybody strives for money and for money only. Money is the idol that is worshipped. The officers are not in the least interested in public welfare…Every day on the streets you can see loafers by the dozens, carrying knives and pistols. They are looking for trouble and stab or shoot, as they please. Every week some people are killed in the public street. And as the officers are mostly people of the same kind, usually nothing is done about it. Every night horses, mules or cattle are stolen. In the beginning all this seemed terrible to me and I was afraid of these rascals but not now any more.
On the other hand, however, Baumberger also described circumstances in Texas that he believed and observed to be an improvement over conditions in Switzerland. He explained ways in which American women enjoyed more legal rights than their European counterparts; praised laws that protected debtors from losing all of their property and belongings as payment to creditors; and described the “very happy life” enjoyed by Texas farmers, even though they were “sometimes raided by wild Indians.” Despite his mixed feelings about life in Texas, Baumberger ultimately wrote that “in general I am doing pretty well and so far I never regretted that I have emigrated [sic] to America.”
Based on evidence in the letters, Henry Baumberger (born circa 1823) and his wife, Anna Weiss Baumberger, immigrated to Texas with their two daughters, Anna (born circa 1852) and Eliza (born circa 1855). In his letter of October 13, Henry marveled that his young children could “already babble [in] English.” In the same letter, he happily announced the birth of his son, Henry, and explained that the “little fellow is already now an American citizen, because everybody born here is as a matter of course a citizen of this country.” Sadly, in a letter dated July 18, 1857, Baumberger informed his relatives and friends that baby Henry had died from a fever. “God has called him away,” he wrote, “and the hearts of the parents are struck again, because this is the third boy we had to see leaving us…I had trusted to have at last a male offspring. But it was not so to be.” However, by 1867 the Baumberger expanded to include two additional children: Paulina (born circa 1858) and Charles (born circa 1863).
While Henry Baumberger had worked as a teacher in Switzerland, his letters in the DRT Library document the variety of jobs he undertook in Texas: at different times he worked as a merchant, a beer garden owner, and an owner of shipping business that transported freight by wagon from San Antonio to Mexico or Port Lavaca. The 1870 census listed Henry as a member of the San Antonio police force and the 1880 census stated that he was once again working as a teacher.