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SFC Pre History

“A Walk Back in Time”
A Brief History of Slumber Falls Camp Prior to Purchase

While this land overlooking the magnificent Guadalupe River has changed dramatically over the last several millennia, one thing has remained constant. People have been consistently drawn here for recreation, reflection, and refuge. While Paleo- Indians and natives of the Archaic period (9200 B.C.E.- 500 C.E.), did travel through this region, it is those of the historical period (1500 C.E.- Present) who left the greatest imprint. The history of this land is the history of Native American survival and struggle. Likewise, it is the story of Spanish explorers and German immigrants who endured to establish the great Republic of Texas. The focus of this brief narrative is the last three hundred or so years in which we find the most accurate oral and written history of this unique twenty plus acre parcel which has had many different names, two of which are definitely fitting, Paradise of the Hills and of course, Slumber Falls.

Pre-historical Period (500-1500 C.E.):

It was during this period that people began to settle in the land we call Texas. A nomadic, independent lifestyle gave way to more advanced social stratification and tool technology. There were large and complex groups of Native Americans such as the Caddo, primarily of East Texas. The Caddo traded with tribes outside of the region. They were also mound builders who had a complex pagan religious system. Many of the tribes that developed within central Texas were born of the Caddo while some were born of the Mogollon and Apache of the Southwest. It is likely that the “ceremonial” mound near fossil flats is a product of Caddo culture. It is not known for certain if it is a burial mound, but this is the most plausible possibility. The most likely inhabitants of the Fossil Flats area, according to oral and written history, were the Tonkawa, or “man- eaters” as they were called by the first settlers of New Braunfels. This was a tribe who prospered and, unfortunately, brought to the point of annihilation in the Historical Period (1500C.E.-Present).

Historical Period (1500 C.E.- Present):

It is unquestionable that this area along the river is one of mystery and spiritual importance. The following story is a summary and paraphrase of a portion of the “Diary of Martin De Alarcon”. Alarcon was the founder of San Antonio and the first ruler of Spanish Texas. Alarcon’s diary is located in the Mexican archives and can be referenced online. This story was also given in an interview with Rev. Clifton Freudenberg on the history of Slumber Falls Camp.

In May of 1718 Governor Alarcon, along with his chaplain and several soldiers, were exploring a region of the Guadalupe River. Based on the described geography and oral history, it is believed that the party was looking for a place to cross the river below what is, today, the first crossing in very close proximity to the Slumber Falls property of today. The Guadalupe was high and the Governor, a devout Catholic, began to pray aloud. Just before they made the first attempt to cross, about 20 buzzards began to circle overhead. The Governor asked his chaplain what this meant. The chaplain replied, “surely they have come to deliver our last rites”. The Governor and chaplain began to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary with rosaries in hand. The Governor sent his largest horse and soldier first and everyone else followed forming a chain. Just as the horse stepped on the shore, he was spooked and fell back into the river. The entire party was pulled under water, the pants ripped off of the Governor. According to the diary they all should have drowned. The party made several attempts, growing more confident each time. They finally made it to the other side. Not one man or animal was injured or killed in the ordeal. It was recorded by the Governor that, “surely this place on the Guadalupe is blessed by our God and his Holy Mother”.

About 125 years later Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Ludwig Georg Alfred Alexander, Prince of Solms, Lord of Braunfels, Grafenstein, Münzenberg, Wildenfels, and Sonnenwalde, was seeking a new home in the Texas Republic. Prince Carl purchased the land from Rafael Garza and Juan Veramendi in 1845. Juan Veramendi was a wealthy landowner, owning property from San Antonio to the springs in San Marcos. It is interesting to note that Slumber Falls was part of the Veramendi Survey at the time of purchase by Joseph Landa. So what did the German immigrants find when 1500 or so of them finally made it to the Texas Hill Country? Who was going to assist in protecting them from the Comanche? One friendly group of Native Americans had a large camp, numbering at least 500, just north of New Braunfels along the Guadalupe. According to the interview with Ruby “Skipper” Isleib and Comal County written history, an Indian camp such as this was located near the only known large fossil deposit along this part of the Guadalupe. You guessed it, Fossil Flats.

Next time you are walking the paths near fossil flats imagine the following: the howl of a wolf, finding the tracks of a Grizzly, the distant thunder of Buffalo, and catching crawfish as big as lobsters in the Guadalupe. This was the land of the Tonkawa. The word Tonkawa has been given a few different interpretations. They were known as “the people who stay together”. They were also known as the “people of the wolf”. The Tonkawa claimed to have descended from a mythical wolf. In their ceremonial areas, again, think Fossil Flats, they would do a sacred “Wolf Dance”, calling on their ancestors for guidance. The Tonkawa were divided into clans and refused to hunt. They would have collected pecans and wild blackberries along the river. They used Buffalo hide to cover their tee- pees and anything available to cover their wickiups (alternate shelter). The Tonkawa were heavily tattooed, but scantily clothed. The German immigrants, who had a rough time with the Comanche, looked to the Tonkawa for assistance. The Tonkawa helped win the Battle of Plum Creek against the Comanche. But the one thing that the immigrants could not stomach was the Tonkawa ritual of eating the enemy dead. They were known to carry the dead back to camp and cook them. This may sound disgusting, but it was a central part of their belief system. They believed that by consuming the warriors, there was a transference of strength for future battle. The Tonkawa were not easily persuaded to let go of their traditions, and this eventually led to their removal to Reservations, along with the hunger for land by the new Texans. The Tonkawa would have had a sacred, spiritual connection to the land of today’s Slumber Falls. If a Wolf Dance was ever performed on these grounds, it was their belief that those called upon spirits would never depart.

When Joseph Landa purchased this land in the 1890’s for cattle grazing, it was already a popular recreation spot for the locals. It was in the 1930’s that Joseph’s son Harry sold 20 acres in the Veramendi Survey (Slumber Falls) to W.V. and Francis Schulz Lillie, who developed it into a tourist court appropriately advertised as “Paradise of the Hills”. Mr. Victor Silvas, the gardener, maintained the flora of the property. According to a previous Camp history summary, it was also during this time that retaining walls were built, as well as the steps to the river. Eleven or so cottages were built by Mrs. Lillie and her brother Herman Schrader. The cottages were much nicer than the rustic versions of today, with linens, cookware, dishes, dressers, iceboxes, and hotplates. World War II took a toll on the lifestyle in the 1940’s, and in 1946, Mrs. Lillie sold the property to her two nephews and a third party. As recorded in the previous history, a terrible drought in 1957 delivered the final blow to the tourist court. The nephews decided to sell, and it just so happened that in 1956 the Texas Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church decided that a permanent camp was needed for Christian education.

Anyone who visits Slumber Falls will depart with a special place in their heart and mind set aside for their love and memory of the experience. Slumber Falls is much more than a 20 acre parcel of land. The land itself has a unique history and an unexplained presence of Spirit, which only adds to the experience which beckons a return time and time again. Happy 50th Anniversary Slumber Falls Camp; may you keep making history!