New World View

Letters from a German Immigrant Family in Texas (1854–1885)

by Ruth Cape (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs XII, 154 Pages


New World View: Letters from a German Immigrant Family in Texas, 1854–1885 is a bilingual and annotated edition of a collection of letters written by a 19th century German immigrant family in Texas. Christian Friedrich Bergmann and his family belonged to the large wave of German immigrants that came to Texas in the 1850s. Born in April of 1817 in Ebersbach, a small village then located in the Kingdom of Saxony, Bergmann – together with his wife Johanna Christiane Luise Bergmann and his three sons, Friedrich, Karl, and Christoph – embarked on an overseas journey to America in August of 1854; in November of 1854, they arrived in Texas. The family first resided in San Antonio before later settling on the Guadalupe River near Boerne, where Bergmann bought 320 acres of land and he and his family became farmers and ranchers, as well as active members of their community.
The Bergmann letter collection begins with a detailed description of the sea journey and the many exciting and disheartening moments experienced while at sea. Bergmann then gives deep insight into many facets of immigrant life on the Texas frontier while narrating how he and his family built a life for themselves in Texas.
This letter collection spans a period of three decades, presenting the reader with important insight into the process of German immigrant acculturation in Texas in the second half of the 19th century. At the same time, it details the numerous challenges many immigrants faced in their attempts to adapt to American culture and succeed in the New World. The book, which includes a historical and biographical introduction, is a valuable source for scholars and students in various disciplines, but also addresses readers with a general interest in the social history of German immigration to the United States and, specifically, to Texas.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Part One: Introduction
  • 1. German Immigrants to the United States
  • 2. German Immigration to Texas in the Nineteenth Century
  • 3. State of Research
  • 4. The C.F. Bergmann Family: Biographical Background
  • 5. Importance of the Edition
  • 6. Limits of Written Communication
  • 7. Message of the Letters
  • 8. Study Approaches to Immigrant Letters
  • 9. Principles of Transcription and Translation
  • Notes
  • Part Two: The Bergmann Letters
  • 1. The Sea Journey to America: August to November 1854
  • 2. The First Years in San Antonio, Texas: 1854 to 1857
  • 3. Farm Life on the Guadalupe River: 1857 to 1888
  • Notes
  • Plates
  • Part Three: Die Bergmann-Briefe
  • 1. Die Seereise nach Amerika: August bis November 1854
  • 2. Die ersten Jahre in San Antonio, Texas: 1854 bis 1857
  • 3. Farmleben an der Guadalupe in Texas: 1857 bis 1888
  • Bibliography
  • Index


This edition of correspondence would not have been possible without the dedicated support of Gene Steele and Helga Mittrach, both descendants of the Christian Friedrich Bergmann family. I am grateful to Gene Steele for bringing the Bergmann correspondence to my attention, for providing me with important documents that relate to the letters, and for generously funding the printing of this publication. Furthermore, I am indebted to Helga Mittrach, the owner of the letter collection, for giving me permission to publish the Bergmann letters in this bilingual and annotated edition and for patiently providing useful additional information during our many hours of conversations on the phone.

In the process leading up to publication, students studying German at Austin College in Sherman, Texas gained valuable insight into the letter collection by working on them in two different course projects as part of two advanced German courses. Many students contributed to this edition by diligently entering parts of the German transcription of the letters that were only available as a photocopy into a computer. Thanks go to the following current or former German students of Austin College: Madeline Akers, Christopher Burke, Michael Clark, Helen Hohnholt, Abderrazak Kerfai, Bradley West, Matthew Moore, Randall Ham, Spencer Nystrom, Rebekah Percival, Christopher Stein, Allison Lloveras, Brian Orr, Erika Valek, Sophie Higgs, and Madeline Faye; to Lauren Tepera for turning the floor plan of Bergmann’s house into an electronic version. I am also thankful to the German language house assistant for the academic year 2012/2013, Ateeb Rehman, for bringing the original letters from Germany to Texas so they could be consulted to clarify questions that arose during the preparation of the book manuscript. I am grateful to James Kearney for allowing me to consult the manuscript of an article on European Immigration in Texas that, in the meantime, was published in the book Discovering Texas History (2014). I am also thankful to one of the editors of the volume, my colleague and former Texas State Historian Light Cummins, for encouraging me to pursue this topic and for readily making James Kearney’s article available. Furthermore, thanks go to Bryden Moon for graciously giving me a tour of the former Bergmann land which included a visit to the grave site of C.F. Bergmann; to Frank W. and Ruth Kiel for sharing interesting information about Bergmann’s oldest sons Friedrich and Karl in the context of the Civil War, and to the staff of the Patrick Heath Public Library in Boerne, Texas, for access to their archives. I thank Austin College and the Richardson Foundation for travel grants to visit sites, archives, and libraries in Texas in order to further research the topic of German immigration to Texas and, specifically, the history of the Christian Friedrich Bergmann family. I am also grateful to numerous friends and colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, especially to Andreas Kiryakakis at St. John’s University, MN, for the many inspiring conversations about this collection and his support. Furthermore, I am indebted to Georg Schild at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany, for his encouragement, for reading and commenting on parts of the manuscript, and for sharing his historical expertise about North American history during our many conversations. Finally, I thank Jacqueline Klassen for her diligent editorial work on large portions of the manuscript, and Sharon Jackson for editorial work on the photographs.

Last, but not least, I am indebted to my daughter Corinna Cape for her careful reading of the translation of the letters from German into English, her many useful suggestions and improvements in the English wording, and for designing the book cover concept; to my son Joshua Cape for his support and valuable editorial advice.


This book is a bilingual and annotated edition of a collection of letters written by the German immigrant Christian Friedrich Bergmann and his family between 1854 and 1885, upon their arrival in Texas. The volume is intended as an insightful and thought-provoking contribution to the larger question of German immigration to Texas in the nineteenth century, and tries to promote a better understanding of today’s diverse American culture. At the same time, it is an attempt to show that, historically speaking, ‘Americanization’ has taken place on both the American and the European continents.

Gene Steele and Helga Mittrach, both descendants of the Christian Friedrich Bergmann family, played an important role in the compilation of this edition. Gene Steele is a great-grandson of Christian Friedrich Bergmann and a grandson of Bergmann’s youngest son, Christoph. Helga Mittrach is a great-granddaughter of Christian Friedrich Bergmann’s sister. Gene Steele met his cousin Helga Mittrach who resides in Mainz, Germany, for the first time in the fall of 1994 and has been in contact with her ever since. More than twenty years ago, Helga Mittrach, the owner of the original Bergmann letters, decided to transcribe the entire correspondence into modern German font. This endeavor was especially helpful, since fewer and fewer Germans are able to decipher the style of old German script in which the letters were originally written.

The history of these letters is not fully known. For some time, they were in the possession of an organ player in Oberwitz, Germany, who gave them to the sister of Helga Mittrach’s mother; from her, Helga’s mother received the correspondence in the early 1970s. Eventually, the latter brought the Bergmann correspondence from former East Germany to West Germany. At that time, Helga Mittrach who had left East Germany in 1952, obtained the letters from her mother. However, if it were not for Arlan Bergmann, a great-grandson of Christian Friedrich Bergmann’s youngest son Christoph, the content of the Bergmann letters might have never crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Arlan Bergmann who had been eager to learn more about his German ancestors for many years, was not permitted to visit Ebersbach—Bergmann’s hometown—while it was part of East Germany. However, shortly after the German reunification in 1990, he seized the opportunity to finally travel to this village. From there he was guided to Helga Mittrach from whom he obtained photocopies of the transcriptions that he later distributed among relatives in Texas.

Several years ago, Gene Steele brought the letter collection to my attention when he took a German course at Austin College from me. Knowing that I was working on another bilingual letter edition at the time, he showed me a photocopy of Helga Mittrach’s transcriptions. Eventually, he helped me establish communication with her, and I accepted the invitation to work on an edition of the Bergmann correspondence. As we found out only after I had completed the English translation of all the letters myself, a large portion of fairly good, but at times incorrect or incomplete English translations of Bergmann’s letters (translator not listed) had found their way into various issues of Keys to the Past. A Journal Compiled & Published by the Genealogical Society of Kendall County in Boerne, Texas. These publications took place without the knowledge of Helga Mittrach. As a result, a comprehensive annotated edition of the correspondence of Christian Friedrich Bergmann and his family had never been authorized or compiled before. Throughout my work on these letters, Gene Steele diligently researched numerous aspects of the family history that he shared with me and that partially have found their way into annotations of this edition.

Today, the land on which Bergmann settled in 1857 upon his arrival in Texas, is part of a gated community, the WaterStone Subdivision near Boerne, Texas. Many descendants of Christian Friedrich Bergmann still live in Texas. As a tribute to Christian Friedrich Bergmann, in 2009, the WaterStone Subdivision renamed their ‘North Park’ the ‘Bergmann Park.’ Seventy Bergmann descendants were present at the dedication ceremony.

It was Helga Mittrach’s wish that the Bergmann letters would find a home close to where the Bergmann family settled. Therefore, she decided to donate the original letters to the Patrick Heath Public Library in Boerne, Texas.


XII, 154
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
community acculturation social history journey
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 154 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Ruth Cape (Volume editor)

Ruth I. Cape is Associate Professor of German at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. After completing graduate work in history and Latin at the Westfälische Wilhelms-University Münster in Germany and the University of Arizona in Tucson, Cape earned her PhD in Germanic Languages from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the editor of two previous bilingual and annotated editions, Youth at War: Feldpost Letters of a German Boy to his Family, 1943-1945 (Peter Lang, 2010), and The Jews’ Mirror [Der Judenspiegel] by Johannes Pfefferkorn (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies; series Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 2011).


Title: New World View
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170 pages