John Charles Beales’s Rio Grande Colony


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This collection of letters, written by a young German colonist in Dr. John Charles Beales’ ill-fated colony Dolores, provides an almost daily account of the colonists’ journey to the Rio Grande from New York City harbor and their labors to establish a settlement there on Las Moras Creek.

Eduard Ludecus recounts in his letters the colonists’ efforts to provide protection from Indian attacks by constructing around the settlement a high, thorny barrier of mesquite branches and cactus cleared from the land they wished to plant. He narrates how the carpenters among the colonists fashioned a cannon of oak which they successfully fired once to warn off hostile Indians in the area. His record of life in the colony emphasizes the deprivation suffered by the colonists. From the day of their arrival at the colony site to the day most of the colonists abandoned the settlement in desperation, Ludecus’ letters are filled with descriptions of the colonists’ hardships and frustration as they tried to cope with an almost total lack of stone and timber in the vicinity of Dolores for constructing houses, outbuildings, and fencing around their young crops.

Eduard Ludecus’ letters are also an important source of valuable information about life and culture in pre-revolutionary Texas. His letters are but one of a handful of eyewitness reports about the early Texas frontier. His observations are those of a young, well-educated German merchant who had traveled from the urbane environment of Weimar, the center of art and literature in Germany in the early nineteenth century, to the raw, hostile environment of Texas. As a result, many of his remarks seem to have been recorded in wide-eyed awe of his new environment.

Ludecus’ letters are written with a vivid directness often lacking in the recollections of such well-known narrators as John C. Duval, Noah Smithwick, and John Holland Jenkins. Ludecus’ narrative style is so vivid, so lively that the reader often feels as if he were sharing the narrator’s experiences and observations not as a reader, but as a companion.


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