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Lost Texas!

Texas 1820-1836

William Benitz
Texas 1834 - 1841
(ages: 18-26)

There are three parts to this period of William's life:

Second Arrival – Coast of Texas  (1834 – 1836)

It is a mystery how William came to be onboard a ship that was wrecked on the coast of Mexico-Texas.  But, there he was.  Why?  We do not know, but he may have been attempting to reach the German colonies in Texas, influenced by the glowing letters of Johann Friedrich Ernst (see previous section).

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Page 1 of
Aphra Peard’s Notes
(Source: J.Lockwood)

Though prone to inaccuracies and exagerations, the family lore about William’s arrival in Texas, including the version in his son Alfred’s biography, does provide a reasonably possible account.  Aphra Peard [de] Benitz, wife of grandson John Benitz, wrote down her recollections of the family legends.  Below is an embellished version of his arrival.  It is basicallly the same bed-time story I was told as a child by my father:

The Myth

In the year 1834 a young man aged 18 years . . . decided to leave Germany, not liking the political situation.

He set sail on an old vessel for Mexico.  The journey was long and dreary, when getting to the Gulf of Mexico and land in sight a dreadful storm arose, and after pitching & tossing the ship broke up.

He watched many passengers drown, but as he studied the waves and saw bits of timber washed ashore on the 7th wave, he decided to jump on the next 7th wave, which landed him on the beach. (He was the only survivor)

He was exhausted and slept on the sand for many hours.

On waking he saw he was surrounded by hostile looking Indians, however they realized he was harmless and took him off where he lived with them and worked for many months.

We know that William first arrived in the U.S. at the port of New York as a passenger on a ship from Le Havre on December 2, 1833.  However, this fact does not disprove the manner of his arrival in Texas.

It is probably true that William was a passenger (or a seaman) on a ship that was caught by a storm in the Gulf of Mexico and wrecked upon the coast of Mexico-Texas.  If so, it most likely occurred in the late summer (hurricane season) of 1834 or ’35.  It is also probably true that he was rescued by and lived with the local inhabitants (Indians or Mexicans) for several months.  However, we do not know where he came ashore, nor how long and where he lived during those months.  The bit about the 7th wave seems plausible, being the lone survivor is probably an embellishment.

After leaving the coast, William likely made his way to join the German settlers at Bastrop or Houston.  It seems reasonable to assume he lived for several months amongst the Anglo community of Texas, long enough to assimilate their attitudes; attitudes that led him to enlist in the Texian army.

William reappears on record when he enlisted in the army of the Republic of Texas, on October 1, 1836.

For more detail, click:

Private, Republic of Texas Army (1836-1837)

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William Benitz’s signature
on the transfer of title

William served, as William Bennett, in the Army of the Republic of Texas.  He was a private in Company II, first Regiment Permanent Volunteers, from 1 October, 1836, through 29 August, 1837, and was honorably discharged by the Surgeon General.  For military services rendered, he was paid partly in cash and the rest in the form of a ‘bounty’, a voucher for land (1,708 acres / 687 hectares) - the Republic of Texas was hard up for cash but it had plenty of land.

Like many servicemen, William sold his voucher.  The records (land claim #3245) show William sold his voucher to J.J. Clayton.  His signature is clearly legible as William Benitz on the transfer of title.

Dan Agler (Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum) described the First Regiment of Volunteers as follows:

The First Regiment of Volunteers was a designation given to a unit in the Republic of Texas Army.  It was made up of men that came to fight in the Texas Revolution but arrived after the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.  Men continued to arrive in Texas after this last battle of the revolution.  They were organized into military companies and kept in service in the event that Mexico should attempt to retaliate after San Jacinto.  General Sam Houston began furloughing men from the Army in the winter of 1836 and had finished discharging men by the fall of 1837.

For more detail, including the land claim, click:

Gone Missing (1837-1842)

After William sold his voucher for his service in the army of the Republic of Texas, he disappears once again from the known records.  He does not reappear on record until 1843 when he is travelling to Sacramento to meet Johan Sutter about employment.

Texas Rangers:

Contrary to family lore, William was never a Texas Ranger, even though the definition of a Texas Ranger is fairly broad.  According to Dan Agler (Curatorial Technician, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas), in a letter dated December 12, 2000:

“I searched the records and indexes to records groups for ranger service between 1830 and 1847 and found no information on WILLIAM BENNETT (BENITZ).  I also searched using the many spelling variations of that last name and found nothing.”

We believe the myth that William was a Texas Ranger came about when the narrators confused the army of the Republic of Texas with the more romantic Texas Rangers.

What did he do from 1837 to 1843?:

We can only speculate what he did during those six years.  He had money from his service in the army, probably not much, but probably enough to give him some freedom of movement.  He had many options, here are some:

Per court records (US Land re New Breisgau), he arrived in Sacramento, California, in 1843, when it was still part of Mexico.  His claim that he arrived in California in 1842 is not inconsistent for at that time Alta California was much larger than just today’s California – it included today’s western Colorado and all of Arizona, Nevada, & Utah.

  1. He may have remained in Texas in the growing German settlements.  In the Harris County (Houston),Texas, records is the marriage on 30 October, 1840, of Barbara Benitz to Gustave Erichson.  Per the records, she was from Baden.  She may have been a cousin; per her age she could have been Alexander’s sister Barbara, born in 1815, baptised “Maria Barbara”.  If so, why was she in Texas?  Did she know (from his letters home, if any) that William was in Texas before she emigrated?
  2. He may have visited his siblings in Ohio and Pennsylvania: Anton, Johan, Franz Xavier, and Nany (Mahrer).  Anton was almost certainly in Pittsburgh before 1840.  On May 6, 1852 Anton wrote to their elder brother Thadaeus in Endingen saying “I have to give you some important news, meaning that I have found our brother William Benitz, whom we missed for the last 12 years; he is in California.”  Anton thereby implies he knew William’s whereabouts in 1840 (i.e.: 12 years prior to 1852).  He encloses a letter from William – how did William know Anton’s address in Pittsburgh?  (Had William been in Pittsburgh before going to Texas? Or, had William visited Anton there after his Texas army service?)
  3. He could have traveled west in easy steps.  With no schedule to meet, he could have taken his time as he crossed Mexican territory.  He very likely did arrive in Alta California in 1841 or 1842 as he claimed.  Per court testimony, he appears in Sacramento in 1843.

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)