The history of the Huebner family of Matagorda County began with
Johan Andreas Huebner, who was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1814. He
became disenchanted with the dictatorial government of Germany, and
since he was a second son, he knew the family estate would be
inherited by his older brother. Johan received a small inheritance
from his older brother, left Germany and arrived in Baltimore,
Maryland, in 1832, at the age of eighteen. He made his way to New
Orleans, and arrived in Texas at the time of the Battle of San
Jacinto. In 1839, he was granted Headright #101 by the Republic of
Texas, a grant of 320 acres. He later bought other land. He
anglicized his name to John Andrew Huebner and settled near La
Grange. There he met, and on August 29, 1848, married a young German
girl, Pauline Willrich, who was born at Uelzen, Germany, on October
17, 1829. Pauline was the daughter of George Carl Willrich, a former
judge in the District Luneberg. The Willrich also left Germany for
Johan and Pauline were the parents of five children who lived to maturity:
Elise Frederica Wilhelmina (1849-1951)
Johan Andreas Huebner came to the United States from Bavaria around the middle of the 19th century. He anglicized his name to John Andrew and settled in Fayette County, Texas, near La Grange. There he raised five children, Franz, Andrew, Louis, George and Elise.
In 1885, John Andrew bought a tract of land in Matagorda County on the Colorado River close to what is now Bay City. The tract of land included the Peter Bertrand League, which had originally been granted to surveyor Bertrand by Stephen F. Austin. Huebner turned the land over to his children to farm, and eventually all of the children moved to the area, except George, who sold his interest in the land to his brothers. Later the land was divided and Andrew and Elise partitioned out their separate parts, while Franz and Louis remained in partnership and named their property the Huebner Brothers Ranch.
The Huebner brothers raised cattle and farmed cotton, corn, and some potatoes. Louis was responsible for the cattle, while Franz managed the farming. Just prior to the turn of the century, the brothers either saw or heard about the experiments being made around the Eagle Lake area by Captain William Dunavant—the first man to try to grow rice in the lower Colorado River area through the use of irrigation. The Huebners were among the first farmers in Matagorda County to attempt to grow rice here, and helped to form a canal company, the Matagorda County Rice and Irrigation Company, chartered on January 27, 1900. Louis and Franz Huebner, D. P. Moore, Henry Rugeley, and N. M. Vogelsang were directors of the company. The canal was started north of Bay City in 1899, and was completed in time to plant a crop in 1900.
Franz had married Louise Kehrer of La Grange, and they had five children, all born in Matagorda County: Adolph, Otto, Pauline, Marguerite and John Andrew. Otto married Mary Elizabeth Nichols of New Orleans, and made a career in the United States Navy. Marguerite married local rancher Donald K. Poole, and John married Molly Laflin Foote, daughter of Dr. Stephen Foote of Bay City.
John began farming the family land during the 1930s. He and Molly had two children, John Andrew, Jr. and Pauline. John served three terms in the State House of Representatives during the 1950s, and Molly was a successful interior designer in Houston.
John, Jr., married Myrtle Gregory, and Pauline married Robert Coppock. Each couple had three children. After serving with the United States Navy during World War II, John, Jr., returned to Bay City to manage Huebner Brothers Ranch.
In 1985, Huebner Brothers Ranch will mark its 100th anniversary. The original house built by Franz and Louis still stands, and is the home of Franz’s daughter, Pauline. No history of the Franz Huebner family would be complete without mentioning some of the people who, though not related to the family, still contributed to and were part of the “family,” Alex Sanko, Pete Banyansco of Matagorda, James and Orell Bivens and Emma Earls.
The Huebner family contributed a great deal to the area, and were proud to have had a part in the development of Matagorda County.
John A. Huebner, Jr.
Historic Matagorda County, Volume II, pages 261-262, 1986
Johan Andreas Huebner came to the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. He did not appreciate the dictatorial government in Germany. Also, in Germany, the estate went to the oldest son of a family and Johan Andreas, not being the oldest son, saw no future in staying.
America seemed to be the land of milk and honey for people all over the world. They had always dreamed of freedom and self-government, and America offered this ideal.
John Andreas came over when he was about twenty years old. He anglicized his name to John Andrew, wishing to feel more a part of his adopted country. He settled in Fayette County, near La Grange. He raised four sons and one daughter—Franz, Andrew, Louis, George, and Lillie.
Andrew as the first one to hear of the tract of land, called the Peter Bertrand League, being on the market. This tract of land had been granted to Peter Bertrand, a surveyor, by Stephen F. Austin when this territory had belonged to Mexico. The Peter Bertrand League was in Matagorda County on the Colorado River.
Andrew was very impressed with the land. The land had water on both ends; the Colorado River on the west, Cottonwood Creek on the east, and the Live Oak Creek in the middle. Andrew did not have enough money to buy the tract of land so he asked his father to buy it. John Andrew, being raised in the hills of Bavaria, thought the land was very flat, but concluded that it was good land because of the water locations.
The land had fallen into several hands since Peter Bertrand. The last owner, before the Huebners acquired it, was Delia Wilcox, a widow.
John Andrew Huebner bought the league of land from Delia Wilcox on March 26, 1885. The tracts cost was $6,500. Each acre cost about $1.40. He had two years to pay for it, including eight percent interest. He finished paying Mrs. Wilcox in 1887. In the same year, John Andrew bought an adjoining piece of land from the New York Land Company. The land made up 818 acres and cost about $2,454.
The same year that the deed was signed, Franz and Louis came down to their land. The land was located in an area called Bay Prairie, where the town of Bay City is now located. Franz brought hi s wife, Louise Kehrer Huebner, to Bay City where his brother had built homes. Louis was a bachelor.
Franz and Louis built a simple house and as their family grew, they expanded it. After many additions, the home still stands and is the present home of their daughter, Pauline.
Franz and Louise had five children—Adolf, Otto, Pauline, Marguerite, and John Andrew. The children had governesses and tutors that lived with the family, and taught them. Later, Adolf, Pauline, and Marguerite went off to boarding school.
Louis and Franz became partners and combined their parts of the land. Andrew kept his third, but George sold all of his part of the land.
The Matagorda-Wharton Highway (if it could be called that) ran on the east side of the Colorado River. The west side of the ranch house was originally the front porch facing the highway.
The Huebners lived about halfway between Matagorda and Wharton, and many people traveling on the road would usually arrive at the house at nightfall and stay overnight. Visitors were the way the Huebners got news from other places, so they were always welcome. It is said that the Huebner’s long dining room table was always full of either visitors, tenant farmers, or cow hands and, of course, family.
When the Huebners came to their land, there was not a thing, except unfenced land as far as the eye could see. Louis and Franz quickly started to work on building fences and sheds. In those days, lumber for ranch building was shipped to Matagorda, then carried to the ranch by wagon. Groceries were sent to Wharton from St. Louis.
The Huebner brothers started by raising cattle. They would always add to the number of cattle each year. Besides cattle, the Huebners raised a few other animals, such as chickens, guineas, and hogs. When the first cold spell of the year came, they would butcher a hog and make sausage and bacon. The bacon and sausage would be smoked by burning rotted willow branches.
When farming developed on the Huebner ranch, the main crops were cotton and corn. There were also some potatoes—Irish and sweet potatoes. The Huebners had a potato bunk where they could keep the potatoes in the winter.
Sometimes there would be an invasion of large grasshoppers. They would eat the cotton. There were so many of them that when they finished the land would be bare. The Huebners solved this problem in a very unique way. Franz bought about 200 turkeys and let them go in the cotton field and soon they ate all of the grasshoppers. They had quite a few turkeys left over, but they did not have the pesty grasshoppers.
Another insect that was a hazard to cotton was the army worm. They solved that problem by using mules. The mule would carry a pole across his harness with an insect killer formula on each end of the pole. This formula was Paris Green and flour. The mule would trod between the rows of cotton, jolting and spreading out the formula.
The work animals were horses and mules. Franz bought twenty to thirty mules from Johnny Thompson.
Franz looked after the farming and Louis looked after the cattle. The cows would be transferred from time to time and the Huebners would sometimes take cattle down to the Matagorda Peninsula. In the days of the depression, cattle drives and branding were a big event because of the great amount of workers. On the Huebner ranch, there are still beach trips, cattle drives, and branding.
Franz was driving cattle near Eagle Lake one day in 1899 when he saw a rice experiment being made, probably by Captain William Dunavant—the first man to try to irrigate a rice farm in the lower Colorado River area. Franz saw no reason why this could not be done in Matagorda County. He explained what he saw and his conclusion to other citizens. Further investigations were made by Henry Rugeley. He later explained the process to a small group of citizens.
Soon afterwards a canal company, The Matagorda County Rice and Irrigation Company, was formed. It was chartered on January 27, 1900. Louis and Franz, D. P. Moore, Henry Rugeley, and N. M. Vogelsang were directors of the company. The canal was started north of Bay City in 1899. It was completed in time to plant a crop in 1900.
The Huebners bought a boat and barge, called the “Vaquero,” operated by Captain White. The boat hauled wood to the pumping plant to use as fuel.
Many of the workers on the Huebner ranch were tenant farmers. In other words, they would work for the ranch and also have a crop of their own. Franz would provide for the seed, buy a house for the tenant farmer, and provide the land to farm on, and also mules. Then, the tenant farmer would plant the crop and harvest it, and get a portion of the crop. Also, the Huebners would receive a portion of the crop.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there were many tenant farmers. There were about sixteen families, besides the Huebners, living on the ranch.
William Bonner lived on the ranch for thirty-three years from his birth. His father, Irving Bonner, was a tenant farmer and so was Willie. When Willie was a boy, he had a little education. He went to Hilliard High School in Bay City; then he would come home and work. Work, according to Willie Bonner, is a greater remedy for good health than medicine. When Willie was a young man, he moved by the Colorado River, about a half-mile from the ranch house. He worked for the ranch, doing mechanical work, cattle work, and tenant farming. Willie loves ranch work more than anything. This is still his occupation.
In about 1900, the Santa Fe Railroad put in a line from Bay City to Matagorda and passed through Huebner lands just east of the Bertrand survey. It was well received by the Huebners. It provided them transportation and they could ship out crops and cattle and it could bring in equipment. The Huebners sold the right of way, willingly.
About 1903, another railroad, what is now the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, devised a plan to put in a line that went right through the Huebner house. Because of Huebner’s protesting, the Missouri-Pacific moved the line somewhat, to pass about 100 yards from the house. The Huebners still opposed the plan because it divided the ranch in two and this created several problems. The railroad seized the right of way through its power of eminent domain, despite the Huebners’ protest.
Floods were common in the early 1900s. The river would overflow and would damage the land. In Bay City, the water was up to one’s waist when the river overflowed. The Huebners built a big levee to protect the house from the overflowing river. The levee diverted the water to Little Live Oak Creek. The last big overflow of the Colorado River was in 1935. IN 1940, several dams were built on the river above Austin.
In the years of the twentieth century, there were several changes. When combines and tractors came into main use, the labor decreased tremendously. Where mules did the job, machinery does now. There are only three tenant farmers living on the ranch today.
Transportation changed greatly on the ranch. The Huebners’ first automobile was a Model T. The car had gas lights and a folding top. A person had to crank it up. It also had isinglass windows, which would be similar to plastic in modern day, but this material was made from minerals.
Now where cotton and corn were king, rice and soybeans stand.
The number of cattle increased greatly and there were many different breeds of cattle.
There might have been many hardships for the Huebners and for the people that helped them build this ranch, but they never gave up.
They came here to make it and they did!
Copyright 2007 -
Present by the Huebner Family
Mar. 2, 2008
Mar. 2, 2008