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Walking Tour – FM 965 – Cross Mountain

At 1951 feet above sea level, the peak of Cross Mountain was once a place Indian signaled news of the advancing white settlers. John Christian Durst arrived in Fredericksburg in 1847 and received a town lot and 10 acres of land, including this hill. He found a timber cross on the hilltop, suggesting that Spanish missionaries had used it as a landmark on the path from San Antonio to Mission San Saba. Durst named the hill “Kruezberg,” or Cross Mountain.

In 1849, Father George Menzel, replaced the first cross with a larger one. For almost 100 years afterward, Easter services were held on the hill. In 1946, St. Mary’s Catholic Church built a larger metal and concrete cross decorated with lights.

Cross Mountain was also a big part of the annual Easter Fires celebration in Fredericksburg.

On the Saturday evening preceding Easter, bonfires were lit atop as many as twenty-two specified hills flanking the town. At the appointed hour the church bells of the town tolled, and the hilltops burst into flame.
The fires, dating from the first Easter celebration in 1847, are almost as old as the town itself. According to local tradition, the custom originated when Comanche Indian scouts lit signal fires in the night to communicate with their chiefs, who were negotiating a treaty with German leader John O. Meusebach many miles to the north, beyond the Llano River. The scouts presumably were informing their chiefs concerning the movements of the town’s inhabitants.

According to this tradition, the signal fires terrified some German children in Fredericksburg, prompting one imaginative mother to tell her children that the Easter Rabbit and his helpers had lit the fires to cook eggs before decorating and distributing them among the children on Easter morning. As a result, many residents believe the Easter Fires are a custom linked to the founding of their town.

However, the Easter Fires have a much more ancient history. The people of northwestern Germany, especially in the provinces of Westphalia and Lower Saxony, practice an identical custom of lighting Easter-eve fires on specified hills. The practice originated in pre-Christian times as part of a spring festival and, along with the rabbit and egg, represents pagan customs that passed intact into Teutonic Christianity. The German provinces where Easter Fires occur contributed almost half of the settlers who came to the Texas Hill Country. The most likely sources of the story were Hanoverians, one of the two largest groups in early Fredericksburg.

More damaging to the signal-fire story, is that the Meusebach-Comanche negotiations occurred on March 1 and 2, 1847, while Easter eve in that year fell on April 3. Perhaps these two major events in Fredericksburg’s first spring later merged in the popular mind, or possibly the initial Easter Fires frightened German children from Hesse or some other southern province where the custom was unknown. In any case, the Old World origin of the fires is incontestable.

The City of Fredericksburg, which owns the property, has plans to develop the park and add facilities in the future. A master plan has been developed, but its implementation has not yet been funded and may still be a few years away. It is accessible to the public free of charge. There are nature trails at the base of the hill, and several trails that lead to the top where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the town. There is a paved parking area a short distance from the entrance (but currently no restroom facilities).

The Fredericksburg Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas conducts field trips to Cross Mountain several times a year, and some members visit the park on a regular basis, and has compiled a list of plants found in the park and so far have identified over 130 species.

Go back towards town, turn right on West Austin Street.

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