MONUMENT HILL / KREISCHE BREWERY HISTORIC SITES
The park is located off U.S. 77, south of La Grange, on an extension of Farm Road 155 labeled Spur 92.
It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Texas.
As its name implies, Monument Hill / Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites consists of two separate and very different aspects, both of historical significance.
The combined Monument Hill / Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites stands on a sandstone bluff overlooking the south side of the Colorado River, just across the water from La Grange. The bluff itself is the northern limit of the Bordes-Oakville Escarpment, which is the major surface expression of the Reynosa Plateau.
Technically, the bluff is a “cuesta,” which is a hill with a gentle slope on one side and a steep, rocky slope on the other. Cuestas often consist of karst, which is a porous rock—such as limestone, dolomite, or gypsum—that is easily permeable by water and is prone to caves, sinkholes, and springs. The Bordes-Oakville Escarpment is an interstratal karst, which develops beneath a cover of insoluble rock such as sandstone overlying limestone strata. It marks the boundary between the Upland Post Oak Woodlands and the Fayette Prairie.
Also on the bluff was the appropriately named town of Bluff, which was established prior to 1869, the first year the town had a post office. Today, Bluff is considered a ghost town, though the area now has a subdivision that is essentially a suburb of La Grange.
The modern history of the bluff dates to 1832, during the heyday of the Texas Empresarios, when the Mexican government granted 172 acres there to David Berry. Eight years later, Berry sold the land to Carl George Willrich, one of the original, well-off German immigrants known as the Forty-Eighters. Willrich owned the bluff until 1849.
The portion of the Monument Hill / Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites that was established first is Monument Hill. The history of this site is wrapped up in the Texas Revolution and the later battles of the Mexican Invasions of 1842.
After being defeated at San Jacinto in 1836, finalizing the Texan’s victory in the Texas Revolution, General Antonio López de Santa Anna signed a treaty relinquishing all lands north of the Rio Grande. He then was released and returned to Mexico. But Santa Anna was a ruthless and shameless man. Back home, he quickly consolidated his power and repudiated the treaty. By 1841, he was sending incursions into poorly defended South Texas, aided by 200 Mexican troops enlisted and led by Juan N. Seguín, who had once been a hero of the Texas Revolution but who’d subsequently joined forces with Santa Anna. The Mexican troops were aided by Cherokee guerrillas.
Most of these early incursions were only partially successful, but on September 11, 1842, General Adrián Woll led 1,000 regular troops and 500 cavalry into San Antonio and captured the city. In reprisal, a force of 200 Texas volunteers under Mathew Caldwell joined with a 14-man Texas Ranger company under Capt. John C. Hayes at Salado Creek, seven miles from San Antonio. Because the Texans were too seriously outnumbered to directly engage the enemy, Caldwell hatched a plan to lure the Mexican troops out onto the open prairie where they would be vulnerable to Caldwell’s men, who had the tree-filled creek ravine for cover. Caldwell sent Hayes and 38 men to do the luring.
Leaving most of his men under cover to ambush any Mexican troops that might follow them, Hayes and seven of his men sneaked within half a mile of the Alamo and hurled taunts, inviting the Mexican troops to come out and fight. They expected that only a few dozen might follow them, so they were surprised when almost all of Woll’s 500 cavalry emerged to run them down. All thoughts of ambush abandoned, Hayes and his men beat a hasty retreat, and though they rode like hell, Hayes lost several men before he and the others made it to Caldwell’s forces hiding in the creek bed.
There, though Woll’s 1,000 regular troops caught up, the story was different. Caldwell’s plan to use the timbered creek bed for cover worked out, and the Texan rifle fire decimated the Mexican troop out on the open prairie. There were a reported 60 casualties and numerous wounded on the Mexican side, while the Texans lost only one man, with about a dozen wounded. The fight was later dubbed the Battle of Salado Creek.
But not all went well for Texans fighting Woll’s forces. A company of 53 militiamen, mostly from Fayette County and under the command of Capt. Nicholas Mosby Dawson, raced to San Antonio to aid their fellow Texans, but they were intercepted by Woll’s cavalry. The one-hour battle turned into a massacre, and though two men managed to escape, 36 Texans were killed and 15 captured in what was alternately dubbed Dawson’s Fight and the Dawson Massacre.
Two days after the fighting, Woll abandoned San Antonio, taking with him a few dozen Texan prisoners. Woll’s forces were harried by Caldwell and Hayes’ forces as far as the Hondo River, where muddy terrain and Woll’s superior numbers forced them to halt. Woll went on, back across the Rio Grande, but that wasn’t the end of the issue.
Many Texans were incensed at the incursions, and President Sam Houston issued orders for an expedition to enter Mexico to retrieve the Texan prisoners, who were being held in Perote Prison. Known as the Mier Expedition, it got off to a shaky start when the original commander, Alexander Somervell, ordered the regiment to retreat. Many of the men, including five officers, rebelled, and continued on while Somervell and his loyal officers and men returned to their home base.
With their forces weakened, the men of the Meir Expedition elected William S. Fisher as their new commander and continued on to the Rio Grande and camped by the river, just across from the Mexican town of Ciudad Meir. Most of the contingent remained in camp while a group went across the river and tried to force citizens of Meir to hand over supplies. There was no immediate means of delivering the supplies, and the locals promised to deliver them the next day. However, unbeknownst to the Texans camped just across the river, Mexican forces led by General Pedro de Ampudia arrived before that could happen.
The next day, December 25, 1842, leaving forty two men to guard the Texan position on the Texas side of the river, 261 Texans crossed over the Rio Grande to Meir and found themselves engaged with Ampudia’s forces, which outnumbered the Texans ten-to-one. More than 600 Mexicans were killed, with 200 wounded, as opposed to 30 casualties and wounded on the Texans’ side, but with their powder and spirits exhausted, the Texans were forced to surrender. All but two of the men who’d been left on the Texas side of the river escaped.
Ampudia immediately violated the terms of the surrender and ordered all the remaining 250 Texans to be executed. The order sparked an international incident, and before the executions could be carried out, Ampudia was ordered to march the prisoners to Mexico City. During the march, 188 of the prisoners made an escape, but the distance back to Texas was too long and the desert terrain too unforgiving, and 176 of them were recaptured. Santa Anna then ordered the execution of the entire Texas contingent, but Governor Francisco Mexía of the state of Coahuila refused to obey. Santa Anna then ordered that every tenth man be executed.
This led to the infamous Black Bean Episode. The prisoners were forced to draw lots from a pot of beans, every tenth bean being black in color. The seventeen men who drew the black beans were blindfolded and shot on March 25, 1843. The remaining prisoners were then used as slave labor in building roads around Mexico City until the end of the summer, when the survivors were transferred to Perote Prison—the same prison housing the men they’d originally marched into Mexico to liberate. A few of the men escaped in Mexico City, and others escaped from the prison, but many died in captivity from wounds, disease, and starvation. Those few who remained were released on September 16, 1844. One in three men of the Meir Expedition died in combat, of injury or illness, or by execution.
The bodies of the men executed during the Black Bean Episode were exhumed in 1847 by an expedition led by white-bean survivor and now Texas Ranger Capt. John Dusenberry. It was in the midst of the Mexican War, and the troopers risked their lives to recover the bodies. The bodies of those killed in the Battle of Salado Creek and the Dawson Massacre were recovered in 1848, and all the available remains of those killed during the Mexican Invasion of 1842—58 total—were brought back to Fayette County, for internment.
A spot on the sandstone bluff owned by Carl George Willrich was chosen as the site for the mass grave. The internment, overlooking the river and known as Monument Hill, originally was marked by a sandstone monument erected by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas as a sober reminder of and tribute to these men who died for their fellow Texans. The current granite monument, also provided by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and installed in 1907, the year Monument Hill was named a State Historic Site.
These days, the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, makers of various Shiner beers, is probably the most famous craft brewery in Texas, but it is a relative latecomer to that industry, having been founded in 1909 as the Shiner Brewing Association. Long before that, beer had been a staple in Texas, but prior to 1840, most beers in the United States were ales, porters, and stouts—what are called top-fermented brews—mostly provided by British immigrant brewers. The advantage to these types of beer was that they do not need aging, which also requires some sort of refrigeration—something obviously hard to come by in the days before electricity.
But the coming of Germans and Czechs to Texas marked a radical change in the type of beer consumed here. These people preferred lager beer, which uses a bottom-fermenting yeast that also requires a secondary fermentation. Lagers have to be stored in cool temperatures for anywhere from four weeks to nine months to complete the process, and that necessitated some sort of refrigeration. Initially, the German and Czech brewers fermented their product mainly during the winter months, when the air was naturally cooler, and stored their casks in stone cellars.
The first-known and largest brewery in Texas at the time was William A. Menger’s Western Brewery, which operated from 1855 to 1878 on Alamo Square in San Antonio. Menger also built the now-famous Menger Hotel right next to the brewery, and the casks of his beer were aged in the hotel’s cellar, which had stone walls that were three feet thick. The second-largest brewery was the G. F. Giesecke and Brothers Brewery in Brehnam.
But one man created and expanded a brewery operations almost singlehandedly through ingenuity, hard work, and determination. He was Heinrich Ludwig Kreische, a German who immigrated to Texas in 1846. Kreische was a master stonemason, and in 1849, he bought Carl George Willrich’s 172-acre property atop the bluff, including the newly created gravesite with its sandstone monument.
First applying his skills as a stonemason to his own property, Kreische built a three-story home and smokehouse. He also did stonemasonry for others. In 1857, he constructed the third Fayette County Courthouse, which was designed by architect William Rosenberg. Built in Greek Revival style, the two-story rectangular structure had plenty of gingerbread, including corner quoins, an iron balcony over a double-door front entrance, and a large, triple-tiered central tower topped by a gilded dome with a weathervane. The construction costs were $14,500. The building was demolished in 1890 to make way for a larger structure. Kreische’s stonemasonry skills were so superb and the building was so sturdy that it had to be demolished with dynamite.
In 1860, stonemason Kreische embarked on a new and unlikely second career as a brewer when he began construction of a three-story stone-walled brewery on his property.
He located the brewery just downhill from his house to take advantage of a spring there. In designing the brewery, he utilized an ingenious water system aided by gravity to guide his product through the nine-step brewing process, eliminating the need for mechanical devices like pumps and siphons. The downward flow ended in a 40-foot-deep vault where spring water was fed to cool the casks of beer.
By 1879, about a dozen other breweries were in operation in Texas, but Kreische’s was the third-largest, right behind the Menger and Giesecke operations. His beer was named Kreische’s Bluff Beer, and after he’d finished every new batch, he would hoist a banner with the words, “Frisch Auf!” (“Freshen Up!”) to invite locals to partake of the brew, which they did in great numbers.
By then, the brewery had become the family’s principal source of income, but after Kreische’s accidental death in 1882 resulting from a fall from a wagon, his family lost his financial acumen. By 1884, the brewery ceased operation, and although his daughter continued to live in the house until her death, the brewery itself suffered a long period of decline and fell into decay and overgrown ruin.
Kreische had maintained the tomb of the fallen Texas soldiers until his death, but his heirs tried to have it removed, claiming it was frequently vandalized. Finally, the state condemned the tomb site in 1907, took it over, and turned it into the Monument Hill State Historic Site. Over the next few decades, land around the monument, including the ruins of Kreische’s Brewery and house, was purchased by a group of Fayette County citizens and deeded to the park, now dubbed the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites.