On April 24, 2009, Renegade South published “Henry Flaugher, Civil War Unionist of Burnet County, Texas.” In 1863, Henry Flaugher was murdered by Confederate vigilantes in the Hill Country of Texas because he remained loyal to the Union. His body, thrown in a cave called Dead Man’s Hole, joined those of numerous other Southern Unionists murdered in similar fashion. In this follow-up post, I expand on this history of Civil War persecution with the story of the murder of Adolph Hoppe, Flaugher’s companion on that fateful day. New materials and transcriptions provided by John Dorff, Suzanne Wall, and Betty Zimmerman have enabled this new post, and I thank the three of them for their hard work and generous sharing of information about this tragic episode of Civil War history.
In her classic memoir of Texas pioneer life, Memoirs of a Texas Pioneer Grandmother, Ottilie Fuchs Goeth remembered the harrowing experiences of the Civil War from the perspective of German Texan Americans: “We lived in the shadow of death and worse, for our whole family, as indeed all Germans, remained loyal to the Union. Furthermore, we were looked upon with suspicion because we had never held any slaves. The Fuchs women were ridiculed and looked down upon for doing housework themselves which was all done by slaves on the large plantations.”(1)
Although there were German Americans in Texas and elsewhere who did own slaves and did support the Confederacy, in the Hill Country of Texas where Ottilie’s parents, Pastor Adolph Fuchs and his wife Louise (Ruemker), settled, support for the Union was indeed the norm among tight knit communities of German Texan farmers and ranchers who mostly relied on free labor to work their lands.
Joining the Fuchs (pronounced “Fox”) family and the many other Germans who pulled up stakes and moved to Texas were Johann Eduard Rudolf Richter and Hans Adolph Hoppe, who, like Ottilie’s family, settled in Burnet County. Through intermarriage, the Richter, Hoppe, and Fuchs families became intertwined. Living across the Colorado River from them was Henry Flaugher (pronounced “Flour”), a transplanted Northerner who shared their pro-Union views during the Civil War. (2)
The passage of time did not dim Ottilie Fuchs Goeth’s memories of the Civil War. In 1915, the widow of Texas legislator Carl Goeth recalled the devastating effects of the Civil War on her community. “By 1862,” she wrote, “the terrible war had advanced to the stage that Carl and many of his friends were conscripted for military service.” Because of volatile relations between Texas citizens and Indians, some married men were exempted from Confederate service in order to protect the home front against Indian attacks. Carl, “with considerable effort,” obtained such an assignment.
Others who opposed the new Confederate government were not so lucky. “The so-called Fire Eaters [avid secessionists] of the South were almost worse than the Indians” wrote Ottilie. “Secretly they murdered anyone who was not for the South and who expressed this view too openly. Fanatically they looked upon their actions as heroic deeds. A few miles from Marble Falls, on the road to Johnson City, one can see a place where men favoring the North were killed and thrown into a cavern after a trial of sorts was held there. Many of the best men of this area lost their lives at this spot.” Included among these men was John R. Scott, a pro-Union judge from Burnet County. (3)
The “spot” that Ottilie referred to was the infamous Dead Man’s Hole (also called Devil’s Well), the gruesome site of multiple murders during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Often referred to as a cave, Dead Man’s Hole is actually a deep natural sinkhole, probably caused by gas pressures. It was discovered in 1821 by Ferdinand Leuders, an entomologist and naturalist. (4)
There are conflicting reports of the number of men whose bones were found in Dead Man’s Hole after the war. Some say 36; others 17. There is also disagreement over what happened to the bones after they were removed. Some say the bones mysteriously disappeared from the courthouse where they had put on display; others say that at least some of the victims were given decent burials by their families.
During the war, to avoid being murdered and tossed into the “Hole” was serious business for Burnet County Unionists. Even friendships of long standing might be destroyed by differences over the war. “One of the fanatic Southern Fire Eaters was John Townsend,” wrote Ottilie, “a former friend and hunting companion of my brother Conrad. He was now a member of the gang of assassins who were supposed to report anyone who remained loyal to the Union. He came to my brother Conrad with tears in his eyes and said: ‘Conrad, I can’t save you any longer, you must go away.’ My brothers then left their wives with my parents for safety and themselves joined in Government service. They served with it until the end of the war.” Although no one in her immediate family lost their lives, Ottilie recalled that Adolph Hoppe, the father of her brother’s son-in-law, was one of those murdered
Like Ottilie’s husband and brothers, the Hoppes and Richters remained loyal to the U.S. government during the sectional crisis of the 1850s, and opposed the increasingly shrill calls for disunion by radical secessionists. In a 1973 interview conducted by his son-in-law, Earnest Langley, Hugo Ernst Richter recalled that his grandfather Johann (who went by his middle name of Rudolf) had many pro-Confederate neighbors, but managed to get along with them by keeping his mouth shut. (5)
Rudolf’’s close friend, Adolph Hoppe, was not so careful, and openly proclaimed his loyalty to the Union. Although Hoppe was murdered long before Hugo Richter was born, in 1973 Richter still remembered having seen a limb that once hung over Dead Man’s Hole. He had heard that the men who killed Adolph hung him from that limb and then cut the rope loose to lower his body into the hole.
Adolph Hoppe’s great-grandson, Dwayne Hoppe, understood from family tradition that Adolph was a pacifist who took seriously his oath of allegiance to the United States. His great-great-granddaughter, Becky McNamara, put Adolph’s pro-Union views in historical perspective. In the year that Hoppe migrated to Texas, Germany, like all of Europe, was in the midst of a deep economic depression that resulted in revolutions throughout the continent in 1848. “One of the unfulfilled dreams of these [Texas] pioneers,” wrote McNamara, “had been a unified Germany, and this dream had been part of what had led them to America.”(6)
Such people were not likely to support the tearing apart of their new nation. In 1861, Adolph Hoppe voted against secession, as did the majority of voters in Burnet County, by 248 to 159. He was marked for death by neighboring fire-eaters after he allegedly helped a field hand to evade Confederate conscription. (8)
Adolph’s family and friends knew something was wrong when his horses came home without him. They went looking for him, and saw a piece of harness on a ledge about 45 feet down in the sinkhole. Years later, after the poison gases of the sinkhole were removed, searchers brought up one of his shoes, the only evidence of him they recognized.
At this point, the different accounts of the murders at Dead Man’s Hole diverge. According to Henry Flaugher’s sister, Catherine Flaugher Wilson, it was Henry, not Adolph Hoppe, who went with a hired hand to cut a load of wood. Since neither Hoppe nor Flaugher (both middle-aged, prosperous landowners) would likely have served as hired hands for the other, it’s curious that the families of both men remember the “other” man as such. In an article in Frontier Times, Walter Richter simply describes Hoppe and “Mr. Flour” (Flaugher) as loading cedar posts together when they were halted by a group of men who separately murdered both of them. (8)
Despite such discrepancies, those who tell the story of Flaugher’s and Hoppe’s deaths agree that the two men were confronted while loading wood in a wagon by a ranger and a hostile band of men. Dwayne Hoppe was told that a Texas Ranger and “several men” took the “field hand” into custody for evading Confederate conscription. “Several days later the men returned without the Texas Ranger and seized Mr. Hoppe.”
Walter Richter’s account, though similar to Dwayne Hoppe’s, describes Hoppe and Flaugher as being confronted by a ranger and vigilantes who “tried” the two men on the spot for attending secret Union meetings. Flaugher, but not Hoppe, was found guilty. The ranger left him in the hands of the vigilantes, but let Hoppe go. As soon as the ranger went on his way, however, (not several days later) the vigilantes pursued Hoppe, and murdered him as well as Flaugher.
We will likely never know whether a hired hand or field hand was part of this story; nor exactly the sequence of events that led to the brutal murders of two upstanding citizens of Burnet County, Texas; nor exactly how many men (and women?) met their deaths in Dead Man’s Hole. We do know, however, that Adolph Hoppe and Henry Flaugher were among them.
The story of Dead Man’s Hole is painful to tell. It reminds us that war, despite highminded rhetoric about love of country and individual rights and responsibilities, simultaneously ushers in death, destruction, and suppression of civil liberties. In the Hill Country of Texas, Southern dissent was complicated by the United States’ history as a nation of immigrants. Here we encounter German Texans, many of whom entered the United States little more than a decade before the Civil War erupted, struggling to remain loyal to the national government they had pledged to uphold. From their perspective, the Confederacy was asking them to break their oath of allegiance, while demanding that they fight to uphold slavery, an institution that belied the nation’s democratic ideals.
NOTE: My thanks to John Dorff for contacting Renegade South and putting the telling of this story in motion, and to Ken Fuchs for generously supplying a photo of Adolph Hoppe after the fact.
1. Ottilie Fuchs Goeth, Memoirs of a Texas Pioneer Grandmother, (1915: translated by Irma Goeth Guenther, 1969, 1982). Ottilie migrated to Texas from Germany with her family, who settled at the German community of Cat Spring in Austin County before moving in 1853 to the south side of the Colorado River in Burnet County.
2. For a history of the Fuchs-Hoppe family that includes a photograph of Adolph Hoppe, see Ken Fuchs’ Web World.
5. Interview of Hugo Ernst Richter by his son-in-law, Earnest Langley, 1973, contained in the Earnest and Helen Langley papers, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech. Johann Eduard Rudolf Richter and Hans Adolph Hoppe emigrated from Germany to Burnet County, Texas in the 1800’s before the Civil War. The Hoppe and Richter families lived across the Colorado River from Henry Flaugher. Richter’s son, Walter Herman Richter, married Bertha Leonore Hoppe, a granddaughter of Hans Adolph Hoppe. On March 23, 1973, Earnest Langley interviewed his wife’s parents, Hugo Ernst Richter and Helene V. Klappenbach Richter, in Herford, Deaf Smith County, Texas. Genealogical information on the Richters and Hoppes may be found at : http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=REG&db=bbivona&id=I1776
6. Becky McNamara, “The Life and Times of Adolph Hoppe” (my thanks to Ken Fuchs for supplying me with a copy of this essay)
8. Walter Richter, “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” Frontier Times Magazine, vol. 18, No. 6, March 1941.