Stories from Texas

Stories from Texas > All Episodes

May 19, 2021

The Story of C.H. Guenther

By: W.F. Strong

Carl Hilmar Guenther left Germany for America when he was 22. The year was 1846. He left without telling his parents he was going for fear they’d try to stop him. Young Guenther sailed for America because he thought his future was limited in Germany. He wrote that he “felt hemmed in,” that there was little freedom and nothing was happening. America, with it’s promise of infinite opportunities called to him. “If I cannot see the world in my youth,”he told his parents, “then life won’t mean much to me.”

Upon his arrival in New York, he worked briefly as a laborer and then went on to Wisconsin where he worked in farming and saw mills. The game changer came when he was able to buy a set of carpenter’s tools for $30. With those tools he was no longer a laborer. He owned a business.

Guenther then headed south to Mississippi, where he built houses and barns and cabinets, but he didn’t much care for the plantation society he found there. After about four years in the U.S., he thought he might go back to Germany, but first, he wanted to see the place he’d heard so much about: Texas.

In San Antonio, he learned about the German community of Fredericksburg and went there to discover they needed a mill to process the local grain into flour. He had learned the milling trade from his father back in Germany, so he set about building a mill on Live Oak Creek. After borrowing money from his father to buy 150 acres of land, Guenther hired local men on promissory notes guaranteeing future payment for their helping him build a dam, a water wheel and a mill. Guenther was so honest and reliable that his notes were used in the area as a trustworthy currency.

He married, had children and, because of the success of his mill, they quickly became one of the wealthiest families in Fredericksburg. After a flood destroyed his dam and damaged his mill, he rebuilt it and thought he should build another one in San Antonio because the city would soon have a population of 10,000 people. It was 1859 and the little city was already a bustling, promising market. Also, the San Antonio River was a more reliable water source.

With the help of Alsatian immigrants from nearby Castroville, Guenther built his new mill. He paid for their labor, in part, with flour futures – the guarantee of future product they’d need. Guenther wrote to his mother that San Antonio was about one third Mexican, one third German, and one third Anglo. His son, he noted, spoke Spanish, English, and German, sometimes all in the same sentence.

The mill Guenther built in 1859 is still there in the same spot, much updated, of course. It is now a giant international corporation: Pioneer Flour Mills, doing business as C. H. Gunther & Son, is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in Texas. You can go there today and tour Pioneer Mills and the original Guenther House, now an exquisite museum and restaurant

In 1859, the only mechanical element was the water wheel turning the millstones.

Today, the plant is computerized and has robots working collaboratively with people to make flour and flour-based products, like fine gravies, for restaurants and bakeries. Pioneer makes pancake mix for Whataburger and the Whataburger pancake mix is sold at H-E-B, alongside their own Pioneer pancake mix and Pioneer flour. You may also be familiar with the White Wings (La Paloma) tortilla mix. That’s also made by Pioneer Flour. A subsidiary provides the McGriddle buns to McDonalds. If you’re from Texas, you’ve certainly tasted their products. Their reach is impressive. A European subsidiary even sells its breads in Germany where Guenther came from several generations ago. How cool is that? That’s the entrepreneurial cycle of life. From Saxony to San Antonio and back to Saxony.


Episodes

August 3, 2023

The Historical Accuracy of Lonesome Dove

“Lonesome Dove” is one of the most popular Texas novels of all time — with many millions of copies sold since it was first published in 1985. The miniseries that followed in 1989 was the second most popular mini-series of all time, behind “Roots.” But Texas Standard commentator WF Strong says author Larry McMurtry was […]

Listen

July 19, 2023

Texas Spelling Bee

Are there words that just trip you up every time you try to spell them? For the producer writing this script it’s allegience — allegiance — so many vowels. You know it’s bad when Word or Google can’t even make a guess at what you’re going for. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong explores the most […]

Listen

July 5, 2023

The Second Sacking of San Antonio

Most Texans believe that the Battle of San Jacinto settled everything. Once Mexican President Santa Anna was decisively defeated, he famously signed a treaty guaranteeing Texas independence and he would never again set foot on Texas soil…Right? Well, commentator WF Strong reminds us that’s not what happened.

Listen

June 22, 2023

The 50th anniversary of ‘The Time It Never Rained’

It’s been 50 years since the publication of Elmer Kelton’s now classic Texas novel, “The Time it Never Rained.” Kelton wrote 50 books and said this was his favorite — he called it his signature work. It won him both the Spur Award and the Western Heritage Award. Many Texas literary critics consider “The Time […]

Listen

May 24, 2023

Farmer Logic

If you’ve spent any time around farmers — you may have noticed a similar, pragmatic approach to life many share. Texas Standard Commentator WF Strong says it’s something he’s long observed.

Listen

May 10, 2023

Things Redneck Dave said to me on the drive across Texas

Technology has a role in helping us remember the past. Whether it’s a Facebook memory or a similar push from your photos app. But milestones have long played the same role — anniversaries, holidays, big changes in life. Maybe it’s a relationship or your last great vacation. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has been recalling […]

Listen

April 26, 2023

What a Handshake is Worth

How much is a promise worth? How much is it worth if you guarantee the promise with a handshake? What is the value of one’s word? In Texas, once, all these taken together were worth over ten billion dollars in a court of law. Texas Standard commentator WF Strong has the story.

Listen

April 12, 2023

Sancho

One of Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie’s favorite stories was the story of Sancho, the tamale-loving Longhorn. He heard it from John Rigby of Beeville, Texas. Dobie said that he figured Rigby had dressed up the story a bit and also admitted that he himself had done some “constructive work” on it over the years. […]

Listen