Exploring the Past of A German Immigrant

on April 14th, 2021 by

GTHS Blog

A visit to the Kettner Family Ranch

Every year, just about a week before Christmas, my wife and I celebrate our anniversary with a little getaway. In previous years we have gone to San Antonio and New Orleans, but a similar trip did not seem appropriate during the time of a pandemic. Looking for alternatives, one of my neighbors pointed me to the Dos Rios RV park just south of Mason, which is situated along the LLano river. Traveling with the whole family this year has been thin, so we decided to take the kids with us and turn our anniversary weekend into a family getaway. In preparation for the trip I started some googling to see if the area had any specific points of interest. A friend of mine informed me that our final destination was within close proximity to the area where the German immigrant Franz Kettner had lived over 100 years ago. Franz Kettner immigrated to Texas from Oberkirch, Baden in 1848 and during his years he exchanged letters with his family back in Germany. The letters are published in the book “Die Kettner Briefe” and the accounts of Franz Kettner provide an amazing insight into the times here in Central Texas. Franz talks about the wildlife including bears and alligators, rivers with abundance of fish, challenges he endured with the Comanche tribe, his endeavors of farming, ranching, and public position, long trips to the West, and of course his family. Towards the end of his life Franz owned about 1000 acres just southeast of Llano right off US Highway 87. The road is named Ketter-Willmann Road and winds through a vast amount of ranch land.

At our annual conference in Temple in 2019, the book “Die Kettner Briefe” was presented in one of our sessions and since then I have purchased multiple copies giving them away as gifts, including one to my parents in Germany. You can buy the book either on Amazon or at the GTHS’ gift shop in Austin.
During my google “research” I came across the Lindsay Ranch, which featured the book on their website. I reached out to Deloris Lindsay, the owner of the Ranch inquiring about the whereabouts of the Kettner Ranch and if it was still in existence. Deloris was nice enough to put me in touch with the great grandson of Franz Kettner, Charles Kettner who is also the editor of the book. Charles lives in Delaware, and he connected me with his brother Fred and his wife Joan who still farm the original ranch land of Franz Kettner. After emails were sent back and forth, my family and I were set to visit the Lindsay Ranch and the original Kettner Ranch and homestead while we were in the area.

A few days before our trip I picked up the book again and looking over the Kettner family tree I found that Deloris Lindsay had married into the Kettner family over a half decade ago. Unfortunately her husband, Alva Clay Lindsay had passed away last summer at the age of 98, after living a fulfilled life.

Thursday afternoon we started our little journey and after a 2 hour drive west from Round Rock, we settled in for a frigid night in our airstream trailer overlooking the Llano river. The next morning we had some breakfast and started our journey with a visit to the Lindsay Ranch.
Deloris welcomed us at her Ranch and showed us many photos of her late husband, his parents and grandparents bringing us closer with each generation to Franz Kettner. We finished the morning with a tour of the Ranch and stories that stretched over multiple decades.
The next day we were set to meet up with Joan and Fred Kettner. It was a 15 minute drive from our campsite and as we were driving slowly with our minivan over the Kettner-Willmann dirt road, I was imagining what this area must have been like over 150 years ago. We drove up to the house and within a few minutes, Fred and Joan arrived to welcome us.
The property contains a simple ranch style house, an old slave quarter a few feet next to it, multiple rock cattle pens, a spring which was used to water the vegetable gardens and to swim in, and an enormous oak tree right in front of the house. The house is situated just a few hundred feet above the Comanche creek, and at the time of our visit had little to no water in it. My daughters enjoyed walking up the dry creek bed, searching for crystals and arrow heads. This area is harsh land, with rocks, brush and cacti growing everywhere. As we were walking across the property I kept thinking of how unforgiving this land must have been, with the limited resources the family had back then. The thing that astonished me the most are the multiple rock cattle pens. Picture a wall of around four to five feet high made out of stacked rocks in various sizes. Some of them must weigh a hundred pounds or more and the effort it must have taken is hard to imagine. Fred told us stories about growing up on the farm with his brother Charles and how they would use the rock pens, working the cattle with their father. I think these walls are there to stay for another century.
I truly enjoy reading and learning about history in general, but to read the first hand account of a German immigrant, who settled in the harsh conditions of central Texas, and then actually going to visit the homestead where he lived, was pretty amazing. It isn’t every day that you meet someone whom you can learn history directly from, about those who for whatever reason, sought a better life in a new and unfamiliar place and although it was hard, they succeeded.

Thank you to Deloris Lindsay, Charles Kettner, and Fred and Joan Kettner for taking the time to allow for an interesting visit to the Mason area.

Janis Gonser, President.