by Vaudrene R. Smith Hunt
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of
The University of Texas at Arlington in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
MASTER OF ARTS IN HISTORY
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON
TOWARD A HISTORY OF KRISTENSTAD
The community of Kristenstad, Hood County, Texas, has been widely perceived as a utopian experiment of the 1930’s. The undeniable similarities between nineteenth century utopian models and Kristenstad led historians and area residents alike to believe the settlement was indeed an anachronism. However, numerous characteristics attributed to the settlement by the news media were merely romanticized accounts of circumstances surrounding the real estate development of John B. Christensen.
Other attempts to describe the socio-economic nature of Kristenstad resulted in its being labeled a Communist community, a tiny kingdom, a Mennonite settlement and a Danish colony. Christensen stridently denied any socialistic, communistic or utopian connection or intent. Therefore, a survey of the origin and application of the various labels associated with this venture is essential to a clear understanding of the historic significance of Kristenstad.
The educational background of John B. Christensen, his previous business activities, his social, political and economic philosophy as revealed in many published articles, all point to the conclusion that Kristenstad was a capitalistic venture. While the colorful personality of Christensen can readily be seen in the development, it is also obvious that many of the dreams of previous owners of the Hood County property, as well as other prominent figures in history, have been superimposed upon the real John B. Christensen, projecting an image of the man and his project that is far from accurate.
The eager acceptance of the saga of Kristenstad reflects the important role history plays in shaping our lives. Suffering misery and defeat during the Depression of the 1930’s, the people sought relief from unlikely sources. In searching for a solution to their dilemma, they were prompted to reexamine social experiments of the past. Although abandoned in the mid-thirties, the widely circulated stories of Kristenstad provided a ray of hope; and for a brief span of time, this unusual community drew national attention and acclaim.
PART I. – BACKGROUND
Much has been written about the community of Kristenstad, Hood County, Texas, and the utopian characteristics of this settlement. News accounts promoted the image of a collectivist society and these stories were generally accepted as factual by Central Texas residents and historians alike. United Press releases of several locally published feature articles expanded the myth. Other attempts to describe the socio-economic nature of Kristenstad resulted in its being labeled a communist community, a tiny kingdom and a Danish colony.
John B. Christensen, founder of the settlement, stridently denied any socialistic, communistic or utopian connection; yet, the romanticized accounts of the lifestyle of the community proved to be more convincing to the reading public. Public documents, business records and personal letters support Christensen’s claim that Kristenstad was a land development venture and not a utopian experiment of the 1930’s.
UTOPIA: AN EXPRESSION OF TRANSCENDENTAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA
Man’s historical search for a better life on earth may be raced from the time of Plato to the twentieth century. In 1516, Sir Thomas Moore’s famous book contributed a name for the ideal.1 In theory, the name “utopia” implied a solution to the social imbalances that resulted in discontent for the majority of a society of people. The U.S., with its democratic political system, provided a fertile soil for the renewal of this dream. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, the utopian trend of thought gained new emphasis. Some utopian plans have been religiously inspired while others outlined specific social and economic reforms with no sectarian limitations. However, some projects instigated by unscrupulous promoters were specifically designed to bilk the gullible.2
One of the most famous attempts to establish a utopia began in September 1836, when a group, later named “The “Transcendental Club,” was organized. Some of the most learned, artistic individuals in and around the Boston and Concord area were members of this informal discussion group. They were mostly young people, college trained and “of high ideals in intellectual achievement, religious and social life.”3 All agreed that there were many evils to be remedied, but there were as many varied ideas about a solution to those evils as there were individual members.
Despite their differences, the transcendental philosophy was an opening wedge that tended to divide and break down the strict Calvinistic theology of that time. From the humanitarian spirit that ensued, there developed the idea of greater freedom from social stresses. The institution of slavery and the economic aspect of exploitation in trade and commerce were prime factors of discontent in some sections of the country.4
Dr. William Ellery Channing, addressing the emerging group of clergymen in the early 1830’s, underscored the emerging social awareness of that time. “The Great Awakener” emphasized the dignity of each human no matter how unfortunate his circumstances. One of his “dearest ideas,” which he confided to George Ripley, was to bring together a group of cultivated, thoughtful people. Ripley, a Unitarian minister, envisioned the ideal community as one where labor and culture should be united.5 Subsequently, Ripley’s plan was implemented and Brook Farm became one of the best known utopian experiments in America.
In the spring of 1841, a location for the proposed community was chosen. Situated adjacent to a large loop in the Charles River near West Rosbury, Brook Farm was a distance of about eight or nine miles from Boston.6 From the men of the Transcendental Club, only Nathaniel Hawthorne and John S. Dwight joined Ripley at the farm. Although Emerson talked favorably of the experiment, he declined to join when asked to do so.7
The initial financial arrangements for the project were accomplished by Ripley. When the new inhabitants arrived at the place, it was a “milk farm.” There were about twenty members of the first group to arrive. To help sustain themselves, they sold their surplus milk in Boston. Soon a school was put into operation for boarding students as well as for the children of the resident families. This combined effort provided some revenue for the community.8
Listed in the Articles of Agreement, the primary goal of the association was “to substitute a system of brotherly cooperation for one of selfish competition.” Comforts as well as necessities were to be provided for the members at actual cost. No religious test was ever to be required of any member.9 As the weather moderated, crops of vegetables, fruits and hay were planted to help support the community.10
The passage of time was marked by increasing concern for Brook Farm residents. Unable to attain the financial success it desired, the community began reorganization efforts. This stage of development began about two years after the initial attempt. Albert Brisbane, an interpreter of the Fourier philosophy, was especially attracted to the idea of industry made attractive by organized labor.11 Brisbane urged Ripley to introduce the phalanx system at the farm. Although Ripley favored a cooperative association rather than a community of property, the Brook Farm Association did adopt one of Fourier’s ideas.12 A large outlay of capital and labor in the construction of “Phalanstry” had been provided by the Association. However, before it could be completed, the three story building containing fourteen apartments was destroyed by fire. An article in The Harbinger, a periodical published at the Farm, described the catastrophe.13
The tragic loss of the Phalanstry was fatal to the noble experiment. Strict adherence to the Association’s principle against receiving any persons who would increase the expense more than the revenue of the establishment proved insufficient to save the community from bankruptcy.14 The inhabitants were encouraged to leave gradually and establish themselves in the outside world. The Association that had aimed for the highest perfections of man came to a close.15
Historians have questioned the rationale for the establishment of Brook Farm. Some believed that the recession of the 1830’s had a significant impact upon the course of events. It is true that economic pressures were keenly felt by some of the membership. For the leader of the Association, however, it was not an escape from intolerable circumstances, but a personal sacrifice. Ripley left a comfortable position at the Purchase Street Church in Boston where he had served as minister for fifteen years. Ripley’s discouragement with the project was revealed in a letter to Emerson dated November 9, 1840. He was uncertain that the time had come “for fulfillment of a high hope,” or whether the work belonged “to a future generation.”16 Hawthorne expressed a similar sentiment in a passage from Blithedale Romance. He reflected that “more and more I feel we struck upon what ought to be a truth. Posterity may dig it up and profit by it.”17
The failure of Brook Farm signaled a decline in the utopian search in America. By the late 1840’s, the idealistic goals of the transcendentalists were put aside to wait for a more opportune time to be implemented. Other expressions of transcendental thought surfaced periodically. Therefore, it is not surprising to find elements of this movement in the socio-economic organization of Kristenstad. The value of intellectual companionship, the human dignity of manual labor, and the necessity for self-reliance were all traceable in the 1920’s – 1930’s experiment.18 However, the collectivist leaning of the Transcendental Club was modified by capitalism in the Hood County colonization plan.
|1||Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: Random House, 1951), p. 62.|
|2||Vernon Louis Parrington, Jr., American Dreams (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1964), p. 4.|
|3||John Thomas Codman, Brook Farm (Boston: Arena Publishing Company, 1894), p. 2.|
|5||Edith Roelker Curtis, A Season in Utopia (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961), p. 22.|
|6||Georgiana Bruce Kirby, Years of Experience (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1887), p. 93.|
|7||Codman, Brook Farm, pp. 8-9.|
|8||Ibid., pp. 9-10.|
|9||Ibid., pp. 11-13.|
|10||Lindsey Swift, Brook Farm (New York: Corinth Books, Inc., 1961), p. 40.|
|11||Codman, Brook Farm, pp. 25-26.|
|12||Ibid., p. 147.|
|13||Henry W. Sams, ed., Autobiography of Brook Farm (New Jersey: Prentiss Hall, Inc., 1958), pp. 170-71.|
|14||Codman, Brook Farm, p. 286.|
|15||Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Note-Books, Vol. 9, p. 226, quoted in Codman, Brook Farm, p. 21.|
|16||Sams, Autobiography of Brook Farm, p. 8.|
|17||Codman, Brook Farm, p. 21.|
|18||William Flind Thraal and Addison Hibbard, A Handbook to Literature (New York: The Odyssey Press, Incl., 1960), pp. 492-93.|
|19||Harvey Wish, Society and Though in Early America (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1964), pp. 459-60.|
COLOR ADDED: PREVIOUS OWNERS OF THE BEND SUPPLY BACKGROUND LORE
Characteristics attributed to previous owners of the De Cordova Bend property in Hood County, Texas, have added to the saga of Kristenstad and to its image as a utopian community. These colorful figures from the pages of history re-emerge to add spice and provoke the imagination of neighboring residents of that Central Texas community. Many of the rumors contributing to the legend emanated from events surrounding their lives and from their dreams of the eventual development of the area. To compound the confusion, there were many similarities in educational background and business activities of the previous owners to that of the founder of Kristenstad. Certainly, the predecessors of John B. Christensen left an indelible mark on historic accounts of that unique community.
The first owner, under state auspices, supplied the name for the Bend property. On September 2, 1847, J. Pinkney Henderson, the first governor of the state of Texas, issued a patent relinquishing 15,838,000 square varas of land owned by the state in the Milam District to Jacob de Covdova.1 This land was called the James W. Moore survey. De Cordova was a land merchant who owned more than a million acres in the Brazos River watershed area. The best known of the De Cordova landmarks is the large loop in the Brazos River near Granbury.2
The career of De Cordova provided many threads to be woven into the Kristenstad myth. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, British West Indies, in 1808, he came with his parents to the United States when he was very young. During his life, he traveled extensively in the United States, London, Paris and other European cities. By his teens, he could speak several languages. These included English, French, German, Spanish and Hebrew. Coming from a well-educated family, De Cordova was able to tell interested listeners about the wonders of Texas, especially Central Texas, including his holdings there.3
This illustrious man tallied a long list of accomplishments. He published a newspaper in Kingston, then, upon returning to the United States, De Cordova was a merchant in New Orleans during the Texas Revolution. In 1837, he moved to Galveston, then on to Houston where he entered politics. De Cordova served as a representative from Harris County in the Texas legislature, later moving to Austin to edit the Texas Herald. But, his chief interest was land, so he began buying and accumulating land scrip, some for as little as five cents per acre. In order to attract needed men and women to develop his empire, De Cordova produced a Texas map and guidebook. He also wrote several newspaper articles telling of the beauty and wealth of the new land in Texas.4
In the 1860’s, De Cordova, his wife Rebecca, and their five children moved to a farm near the town of Kimball. He dreamed of damming the river, putting in a power plant and establishing a textile mill. As is often true of great men, De Cordova never lived to realize his dream. While working on his project, he overtaxed his strength and suffered overexposure in a rainstorm while exploring the river bottom. He became ill and died in 1868. De Cordova was buried at Kimball, but later his remains were moved to the state cemetery in Austin.5
On February 26, 1852, the De Cordova Bend property was transferred to Richard B. Kimbell of New York, an early day financier in the Republic of Texas.6 Kimbell backed De Cordova in some of his land dealings and probably accepted title to this property to secure his investment.7 Almost four years later, the property was transferred back to De Cordova and on January 26, 1856, he sold it to Dr. Josephus Murry Steiner of Travis County.8
Dr. Steiner was one of the more colorful owners of the “Bend.” Born on September 17, 1823, at Frederick, Maryland, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio, and medical school in Pennsylvania. He first came to Texas with the U.S. Army troops during the Mexican War. At the end of the war, Steiner’s commanding officer, Major Ripley A. Arnold, had him arrested. He killed Arnold in the dispute. The army was unable to place Steiner under arrest, but he surrendered to a civil court in May 1854 and was acquitted. He was dropped from the army rolls in May 1856. Dr. Steiner was married to Laura Fisher at Tiffin, Ohio, in November of that same year. He served as an Indian Commissioner and Superintendent of the State Insane Asylum. He died May 20, 1873, and was buried at Marietta, Georgia. Later, his body was moved to Oakwood Cemetery in Austin. The town of Steiner and Steiner Valley in Hill County were named in his honor.9
Steiner’s ownership marked the division of the De Cordova Bend property. In 1872, Dr. Steiner sold half interest to Charles E. Barnard and willed the remainder to his wife, Laura.10 She, in turn, willed her interest in the property to their two daughters, Adele and Bessie. The interest that belonged to Barnard was divided and resold many times between the years 1872 and 1917. Subsequently, Steiner’s daughters and their husbands, C.D. Johns, husband of Bessie, and Albert Sidney Burleson, husband of Adele, regained ownership of the original James W. Moore survey.11
Details in the life of A.S. Burleson provided an interesting link of understanding to the business transaction surrounding the creation of Kristenstad. A contemporary of John B. Christensen, Burleson was born June 7, 1863, in San Marcos, Texas. He attended the Colonial Institute, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas and the University of Texas. He was admitted to the bar in 1884, and became city attorney of the Twenty-sixth Judicial District. Burleson represented Texas in the Fifty-sixth through the Sixty-third United States Congresses, serving on the Committee of Agriculture, Census, Foreign Affairs and Appropriations. Accepting the appointment to Woodrow Wilson’s Cabinet as Postmaster-General on March 6, 1913, he remained in that post until March 1921. Described as an affable Texan, Burleson, nonetheless, pursued a hostile policy toward those who advocated socio-economic change during the Wilson administration.12 The United States Post Office experienced considerable growth during his term of office due to the development of parcel post and air mail service. Burleson retired from public office in 1921.13 His death on November 24, 1937, was preceded only a few months by that of his friend and colleague John B. Christensen, founder of Kristenstad.
There are many parallels to be drawn between the lives of previous owners of the Bend property and that of John B. Christensen. Yet, some of their activities were mistakenly attributed to Christensen. Sharing a similar educational background in history, literature and law, it is possible that he also was aware of their aspirations and built his own dreams upon some of those previous projections. While it is impossible to weigh the exact degree of influence that events in history had upon the creation of Kristenstad, the correlation between accounts of events surrounding the lives of former owners of the Bend and the story that emerged is undeniable. The dreams of Jacob de Cordova, the volatile controversy that surrounded Steiner, and the reputation of suppressing domestic radicals associated with Burleson during his tenure as Postmaster-General, are all intermingled to form a collage depicting Christensen and his role as developer of Kristenstad. As former inhabitants of Kristenstad and neighboring residents reconstruct those events, the listener is immediately aware that elements of the account have been heard or read before in another context.
|1||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 55, p. 484.|
|2||The Mart Herald, 30 March 1961.|
|6||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. L., p. 224.|
|7||Interview with Jenkins Garrett, 6 April 1965.|
|8||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 54, pp. 241-242.|
|9||H. Bailey Carroll and Walter P. Webb, eds., Handbook of Texas. 2 vols. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952), II: 665-66.|
|10||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 54, p. 242.|
|11||Jenkins Garrett, notes taken when examining the abstract of the Bend property prior to its purchase by O. P. Leonard on February 27, 1947.|
|12||Robert K. Murray, Red Scare, A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955), pp. 203-204.|
|13||Carroll and Webb, Handbook of Texas, I:248.|
THE CHRISTENSEN IMPRINT
The physical characteristics of John B. Christensen and the unique aspects of his life provided an interesting chapter in the saga of Kristenstad. A middle-aged man of portly build, Christensen resembled Burl Ives, and was equally adept in verbal expression. His educational background and individuality were reflected in the varied activities he pursued. Christensen was viewed by some observers to be a jovial, pleasant person whose personality obscured a shrewd, scheming mind.1
Earliest records of Christensen’s educational background were recalled by his close friend and former classmate, Homer Mitchell. Coming from a Westport, Missouri, family of modest means, Christensen worked as an apprentice brick layer in order to complete high school. Without funds, but with a “bent for learning,” he was determined to enter the University of Missouri Law School. The fifty dollar entry fee seemed an insurmountable obstacle; yet, Christensen sought help through the Rawlins aid fund. Traditionally presented to students of proven ability, Christensen persuaded the scholarship committee to advance him the sum. Gaining entrance to the University, he fulfilled his promise to earn the scholarship.2 The first hurdle was overcome, but financial difficulties continued to plague him throughout his college career. He stoked furnaces to help pay room, board and tuition.3 Letters from his father reported attempts to borrow money in behalf of “John B.” until he could complete his education.4 Equal to the challenge, Christensen graduated in 1895, as valedictorian of his class. He was not yet twenty-one years of age.5 In a letter expressing congratulations for his achievement, James Christensen admonished his son not to lose his head. “We need God’s grace to stand success as much as we need it in adversity,” he concluded.6
After graduation, Christensen practiced law in Pineville, Missouri, forming a partnership with J.G. Lamson, former Judge of the 24th Judicial Circuit. He worked in that capacity for a number of years, succeeding the senior partner in April 1902.7 Never one to be idle, Christensen combined his law practice with the duties of postmaster in Pineville. His first wife, May R. Christensen, served as his assistant.8 In addition to his law practice and duties as postmaster, Christensen established a weekly newspaper and print shop in Pineville. However, a restless nature prompted him to move on to “greener pastures.” His next assignment was vice-president of a bank in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pictures of the bank interior depicted women, wearing long dresses, working as cashiers and bookkeepers. Hiring women in business was a new practice in the early years of the century, but “it was typical of John B. to be the first to try something new.” The banking business was abandoned when the president of the bank objected to Christensen’s practice of underlining in red ink the main ideas on legal documents held by the bank. He felt these and other restrictions were unnecessary.9 For a short time, Christensen worked as attorney for a railroad company in southwest Missouri, “but the job of looking after the other fellow’s business could not satisfy the originating brain of John B. Christensen.”10
Migrating to Texas, Christensen launched a land development enterprise in conjunction with a hard-surfaced road project at Rainbow, Texas. A plat filed May 6, 1913, resembled the pattern used by early-day railroad towns, with the roadway bisecting the town and business lots fronting each side. Residential lots were situated further away from the road.11 The hard-surfaced road, called the Motorway, was designed to connect with a similar development project in southwest Somervell County called Adastra. The word Adastra, Latin for “at the stars,” symbolized Christensen’s aspirations for the future.12 To increase revenue, the Motorway was projected to eventually extend from Cleburne to Stephenville.
May R. Christensen remained at the home in Rainbow in 1914, when John B. entered partnership with E.B. Germany in Dallas, Texas.13 They were interested in buying and reorganizing short-line railroads. The purchase and turnover of a branch coal line near Grand Saline was “most profitable.”14 But financial success did not assure marital bliss. A series of sales from the Adastra development and land transfers to May and each of the Christensen children suggested a division of property that accompanied the dissolution of marital bonds.15 Mr. Christensen retained control of the Rainbow property, but the lack of capital halted the development of the Motorway. The completed portion of the roadway between Glen Rose and Rainbow generated a small amount of revenue, but hardly enough to assure continued development.16
Never satisfied to confine himself to a single endeavor, Christensen entered the lumber business in 1915. Partnership in the Christensen and Watson Lumber Company near Hemphill marked a pivotal point in Christensen’s life. John B. and Homer Mitchell had loaned money to a Mr. Watson to establish a sawmill in Sabine County, Texas. The venture proved unsuccessful and Christensen went to East Texas to get the mill going and recover some of the loss. He hired Thomas Caldwell as a plane foreman and Mrs. Caldwell to operate a boarding house. Christensen obtained a post office for the lumber camp known as Tall Timbers. It provided better mail service and a little extra income on the side. Observers, familiar with his previous development projects at Rainbow and Adastra, assumed that Tall Timbers was a similar business venture.17 This misinformation was repeated in numerous news accounts of his business activities. There was nothing unusual in details of Christensen’s lumber business. However, the occasion proved to be momentous. At this remote East Texas lumber camp, he met a comely lass who later became his wife.
At age sixteen, Myrtle Doris Caldwell married John B. Christensen, who was twenty-nine years her senior. The difference in age created few problems for the couple. Mrs. Christensen proved to be an enthusiastic helpmate providing inspiration and moral support. Her education, mostly received in East Texas lumber camps, was sketchy at best, so Christensen launched a program to overcome this deficiency. He bought numerous books, mostly the classics, and read to her each evening. Under his direction, her cultural development progressed rapidly.18
Christensen previously worked with Homer Mitchell in establishing Texas Employers Insurance of Texas. Following his marriage to Myrtle, the couple returned to Dallas and the insurance business for a time. In 1922, prior to the birth of their first child, the Christensens moved to Rainbow where he renewed his efforts in real estate development.19 They built cabins along the river frontage and operated a summer camp. A spring at the edge of the main channel of the river was dammed to create a swimming pool. Attractively landscaped, the facility was a haven for weary, urban residents fleeing the congestion of the city.20
A reorganization of Christensen’s priorities returned conservation to the foreground of his activities. Recognizing the potential benefit of strategically located dams on the Brazos River, he launched a one-man campaign to bring about the development of these projects. He authored many articles that appeared in metropolitan newspapers throughout the state.21 Christensen also promoted his projects in the Rainbow Reminder, a monthly periodical he owned and published.22 A regular Sunday morning program aired by station KFPL in Dublin, Texas, featured a program of music and lecture-discussion conducted by Christensen, promoted water conservation and rural electrification. Transportation for Christensen’s trips to Dublin was often provided by Mr. Earl Flanary of Rainbow.23 He received no support from anyone to help pay for this advertising. “He bought the air time with his own money,” declared Mrs. Christensen.24
Christensen’s efforts to promote water conservation, rural electrification and industry in Texas were directly related to his land development activities. The founder of Kristenstad was a restless, highly competitive man. He was respected by many, distrusted by some. Often depicted as a man forty years ahead of his time, Christensen’s projects were left to be completed by others.25
|1||Interview with Lester Maddox, Fort Worth, 29 July 1977.|
|2||Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933.|
|3||Interview with Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, 27 July 1978.|
|4||James Christensen to his son, John B. Christensen, while attending the University of Missouri Law School, October 13, 1894, in the possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|5||Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933.|
|6||James Christensen to John B. Christensen, Westport, Missouri (no date), in the possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|7||John B. Christensen to Mr. Neils Kristensen, Kjobenhavn, Denmark, April 14, 1902 (John B. altered the formal letterhead of the firm to read “Successor to J.G. Lamson”), in possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|8||John B. Christensen to John Anderson Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1902 (May R. Christensen listed on United States Post Office letterhead as Assistant), in possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|9||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|10||Dallas Morning News, 23 January 1933.|
|11||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. S., p. 23.|
|12||Ibid., pp. 150-51.|
|13||Interview with Zilpha Gambrell, Rainbow, Texas, 16 June 1978.|
|14||Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933.|
|15||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. P., pp. 441-97.|
|16||Interview with Zilpha Gambrell, 16 June 1978.|
|17||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977 and 28 July 1978.|
|18||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|20||Interview with Mrs. Billie Flanary, Rainbow, Texas, 20 July 1977.|
|21||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|22||Rainbow Reminder, June 1928.|
|23||Interview with Earl Flanary, Rainbow, Texas, 20 July 1977.|
|24||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
ORIGINAL PLAN FOR SETTLEMENT
“Big Colonization Project Near Cleburne” proclaimed a headline in the November 15, 1927, issue of the Cleburne Daily Times.1 This article, announcing the development of the De Cordova Bend property, set the tone for future analysis and news interpretives concerning the settlement of Kristenstad. While many years of preparation preceded this announcement, the initial plan was to be modified with the actual development.
Scheduled to begin January 1, 1928, the Daily Times stated that the sale of this famous Brazos River peninsula to a Danish colonization society would prove to be of great benefit to the city of Cleburne as well as other towns in the territory. Intensive truck-farming, dairying and poultry-raising on a large scale were planned. Preparation for bringing the first contingent of settlers, which was to consist of about fifty families of Norwegian and Danish origin, was reportedly under way at the time of the announcement.2
Promoting the concept of a Danish settlement, John B. Christensen described the valuable attributes of the Danish and Norwegian people. The industry, thrift and superb management of these people were observed in Bosque County and recounted for the Daily Times publication. “A fair idea as to the character of these people” can be gained by traveling within a triangle formed by a line drawn from Meridian to Clifton, westerly to Cranfills Gap, then back to Meridian. Supplementing Christensen’s assessment of the Bosque County residents, the Daily Times quoted Farm and Ranch magazine stating that about 3,000 people of Norse blood resided in that county. “They have been for three quarters of a century one of the major factors in the development of the country.”3
Christensen’s skill in promoting his project was revealed in this introductory article. By securing the endorsement and cooperation of Chambers of Commerce along the Gulf Coast, he launched an outstanding program of public relations for the colony. The coastal cities were originally targeted for support by Christensen because they were to serve as ports of entry for Danish immigrants. The Galveston Chamber of Commerce felt that the developer’s idea to “co-operate with the co-operative societies of Denmark” was a good one. They expressed a confidence that people from Denmark and Norway would make good industrious citizens. “People of this calibre would do much in putting the agricultural interests of Texas where they belong.” The New Orleans and Corpus Christi Chambers also went on record in support of this plan. Recounting the achievements of the thousands of Danes and Norwegians who migrated to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, they were credited as the main force in the development and up-building of those states. The Danes were recognized as intelligent, industrious, loyal and law-abiding people. Christensen concluded that there was little room for doubt that these people would accomplish for Johnson and Hood Counties “the same kind of good they have already wrought for Bosque County.”4
Further justification for locating a settlement in the De Cordova Bend of the Brazos River was the proposed government project to dam the river in that immediate vicinity. The development of Kristenstad was closely related to Christensen’s efforts to promote water conservation in the state, especially in the Brazos watershed region.5 He had made numerous trips to Austin consulting with the State Board of Water Engineers and sharing his findings. Over a period of several years, rainfall and water levels in the river channel were recorded. These figures accompanied water samples taken weekly and were sent to the State Board for analysis.6 A dam at the “narrows,” where the river loops back to within one-half mile of itself, would allow barge transportation for the products of the colony to be marketed in the Granbury and Fort Worth area. A cable system was to be installed to transport the products across the river at the eastern tip of the Bend to be marketed in Cleburne. Confidence that the state of Texas and the U.S. government would carry out the conservation plan was expressed by Christensen.7
Many of the details relating to the water conservation plans reported in this article reflected the influential role of John B. Christensen in the selection of dam sites. The official maps designated that a dam be built just below the Rainbow bridge.8 This location was adjacent to an earlier development owned and promoted by Christensen. Platted in 1913 for the Rainbow Company, the project never gained the attention its successor, Kristenstad, did.9 Also, Christensen’s association with Albert Sidney Burleson helps explain Burleson’s initiative in regaining control of the Bend property from the Barnard heirs and others in 1917.10 Recognizing the potential, Christensen encouraged Burleson in this matter, thereby laying the foundation for his plan to develop the property at a later date. It was through the reorganization of the old Rainbow Company plus the mortgaging of his Sabine County holdings that Christensen was able to raise his share of the capital to launch the Kristenstad project.11
Possibly Burleson’s influence in the state of Texas and on the national level as a member of the Wilson Cabinet resulted in the funding of the water conservation program. Several years prior to the beginning of the Kristenstad project, the state appropriated $600,000 and the federal government provided an equal amount to be used in surveying the watersheds of Texas and location of sites for construction of “great reservoirs.” Definite estimates of costs for the various projects were made and favorably reported by the State Board of Water Engineers and the engineers of the federal government. As president of the Rainbow Conservation Association and as a personal friend of Burleson, Christensen had access to data concerning the state and federal conservation plans and was confident that construction on these projects would be completed with dispatch.12
Added emphasis to the importance of the Danish colonization scheme was expressed in the conclusion of the Daily Times article. The weight of the cabinet level position of the “Honorable S. A. Burleson” was placed behind the project of Kristenstad. Reviewing Burleson’s recent European tour of several countries, the time spent in Denmark was reportedly for the purpose of observing the Danish system of farming and cooperative marketing. As one of the conveyors of the De Cordova property, “General Burleson” expressed complete confidence in the Danish people and the proposed project. According to Christensen, this confidence of the former Postmaster-General was a major factor in the conclusion of the land transaction.13
The proposed truck-farming, dairying and the raising of poultry became a reality in Kristenstad, while the ethnic composition of the settlement was not primarily Scandinavian as frequently reported in accounts of the settlement. It is pointless to take issue with the announced plans of the founder of the colony to locate Danish families in the Bend; yet, there is no clue as to why the original plan was not pursued. Subsequent stories, stemming partly from the Daily Times article, continued to depict Christensen as a Danish farmer who envisioned a utopia to be carved from the wilderness of Central Texas.14 The humor of these reports is that Christensen was never a farmer. “He didn’t know corn seed from pumpkin seed,” declared Mrs. Christensen.15 In fact, Christensen was an attorney and businessman with a broad range of experience to his credit; but the true character of the man never emerged in written accounts of his land development projects.
While the announcement of the Kristenstad project was supported by numerous quotes from John B. Christensen, the founder, the article revealed a complete lack of knowledge of the magnitude of the project and the financial arrangements of the venture. The Daily Times indicated that there were between 6,000 and 10,000 acres of land involved in the development. Also the figure of $200,000 was the estimated contractual agreement between the Burleson and Johns families and the newly reorganized Rainbow Company.16 Whatever shadow of doubt this evident lack of information concerning the fiscal arrangements might cast upon the accuracy of other information contained in the article, it is obvious that this early publicity played a major role in the manner in which Kristenstad was perceived by succeeding generations of Central Texas observers.
|1||Reprint of an article appearing in the Cleburne Daily Times, November 15, 1927, issue. The reprint appears to be an advertising flier designed to promote circulation of that periodical. A copy of this flier was located in the possession of Eugene Connally of Glen Rose, Texas.|
|6||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978.|
|7||Reprint of an article in the Cleburne Daily Times, 15 November 1927.|
|9||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. S., p. 23.|
|10||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 54, p. 242.|
|11||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 67, pp. 492-494; and interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 July 1978.|
|12||Reprint of an article in the Cleburne Daily Times, 15 November 1927.|
|15||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|16||Reprint of an article in the Cleburne Daily Times, 15 November 1927; and Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 67. pp. 492-95.|
EARLY NEWS ACCOUNTS PERPETUATE THE MYTH
The dreams of agrarian prosperity during the 1920’s turned into a nightmare in the 1930’s. Depression misery, shared by rural and urban residents alike, prompted a large number of citizens to seek relief in various forms of socio-economic organization. The community of Kristenstad became a beacon of hope to many through the romanticized accounts of the “collectivist” activities there. Feature articles appearing in local metropolitan newspapers were picked up by the Associated Press and given wide distribution throughout the United States.1 These early accounts, which promoted Kristenstad as a model by which the economic malaise could be overcome, tended to perpetuate the myth of collectivism in the development.
One of the earliest accounts extolling the merits of the Hood County community appeared in the August 29, 1931, edition of the Texas Weekly. Examining the causes of economic breakdown in the state, C.M. Hammond pointed to Kristenstad as a model by which economic stability could be regained. He concluded that the old economic structure in Texas had “fallen around our heads and buried us” primarily because its foundation was too weak to support it in times of stress. Thus the author felt that rebuilding should begin with the development of self-supporting and self-sufficient communities. The plans and aspirations of the community of Kristenstad represented the only foundation upon which it would be safe to build the economic future of Texas.2
Drawing upon the transcendentalist doctrine of self-sufficiency, Hammond carefully outlined the main characteristics of the settlement. The first lesson taught new settlers was that of doing things for themselves. The family was urged to produce as many crops and other goods as possible for their own needs. Only then were they to produce a surplus of products to market. The success of the family unit was the basis of success for the community as a whole.3
With acceptance into Kristenstad, the family became an integral part of the community. So long as these members were willing to do their part, they were not allowed to fail or suffer. For that reason, every prospective settler was closely examined as to his character and ability, since Kristenstad did not want to admit any citizen that might abuse the privileges extended. Prospective settlers that qualified were then allowed to select a tract of land suitable in size and situated to his needs from any of the unoccupied land at forty dollars per acre. No down payment was required with twenty years allowed for payment at six percent per annum charged on the unpaid balance. Newcomers were encouraged to use what money they might have in building improvements on their farms. Even interest payments were suspended when necessary to assist new settlers to become firmly established.4
Advised that the success of his venture hinged upon his ability to keep the cost of clearing the land to a minimum, Christensen indicated that instead of an expense, the project should produce a profit for the settlers.5 A sawmill from Christensen’s Sabine County property was moved to Kristenstad and installed.6 Each settler could fell trees on his property, haul them to the sawmill, and for a small sum, get enough lumber to build his home. Only nails, roofing and windows were needed from outside the community. The waste from the sawing process was converted to charcoal. A ready market for this product to railroads, stores, makers of chicken feed and even medicinal suppliers provided additional income for the settlers.7
Other projects in Kristenstad that were already in the process of implementation, as well as those in various stages of planning, received Hammond’s endorsement. Commenting on the merits of thrift and complete utilization of available resources, he described the procedures of a small chair factory that had recently been established. Wood that was too small for lumber but too good to burn into charcoal was used to make old-fashioned straight-back and rocking-chairs with cowhide bottoms. The cowhide came from cattle slaughtered in the Bend. The chairs were sold in substantial quantities in fourteen states besides Texas. This account of the chair factory vividly reflected the blending of fact and fiction that became the saga of Kristenstad.8
Another project under construction at that time that was expected to pay its own expenses, as well as provide a service for the community, was the printing plant. It was built to accommodate the publication of the recently acquired Southern Dairyman. A twenty-page, monthly magazine with a circulation of 25,000, this periodical would provide advertising for local industries and thereby pay its own expenses while attracting buyers for the surplus production of the settlement.9
Future plans for the community included installation of a creamery and an ice plant. This would provide a profitable market for surplus dairy products once the goal of five hundred cows in the bend had been reached. A grist mill was scheduled to be in operation at an early date to grind the grain for livestock feed as well as cornmeal for household use. Lime kilns were envisioned and the abundant supply of sand, gravel and native rock would permit the building of more permanent, sturdy buildings. An ambitious road and bridge program was to be financed by the creation of a road district. A bridge across the Brazos on the northern side of the community would furnish a shorter, more direct route to Fort Worth and facilitate marketing activities of the settlement.10
To coordinate the business activities of the community, Christensen organized three separate corporations. The Marketing Association sought buyers for the surplus farm produce and the products of the industries. In addition, this company bought the supplies that were needed from the outside world and ran the commissary. The Cooperative Association financed the purchase of all types of livestock for individual farmers. The Loan Company provided financial backing for the Cooperative Association and was affiliated with the Federal Intermediate Credit Bank at Houston. The members of the community were permitted to buy shares in any or all of these associations as well as the different industries located there. Hammond reported that approximately two-thirds of the men owned shares in at least one of these financial organizations.11
Much of the confusion about the socio-economic organization was translated into the lifestyle of the community. In this system, the men could work in the industries when they had free time away from their farming duties. No man was required to work, but they could earn between two and two and one-half dollars a day in their spare time. While realizing all of the supposed benefits of a communistic or socialistic plan, this method avoided all the weakness of a collectivist society by providing each individual a reward in proportion to his own initiative. However, it was the mention of communists and socialists that made the greatest impression upon the readers, rather than the explanation of advantages of a unique system given by Hammond.
Another benefit to be derived from the agricultural-industrial composition of the community was the training opportunities afforded the young people. The experience gained working in Kristenstad would prepare them for life inside the colony or outside if they chose to establish themselves elsewhere. To emphasize the unique nature of Kristenstad, Hammond quoted the founder of the settlement saying there was no “ism” in the community but “pure Americanism.”12 This statement was often parroted in subsequent articles, but the emphasis on Americanism was lost and the elements of cooperative effort were stressed until the general concensus among news analysts was that Kristenstad was indeed a collectivist society.
Other aspects of the lifestyle in Kristenstad were revealed in community interests and recreational activities. A non-sectarian Sunday School was held each Sunday with church services following. Preachers of any religious affiliation were welcomed to direct these services and bring their message to the people. The new, rock school building housed the Sunday services as well as served as a community center. Lectures and demonstrations on such topics as grafting papershell pecans onto the native stock in the area and proper methods of livestock feeding were provided to strengthen the productivity of the settlement. Another aspect of the cohesive nature of the community was the organization of a baseball club. Competing with clubs from area communities, it tallied an impressive record by winning fourteen of sixteen games the first year it was organized.13
Hammond’s concluding comments reflected the transcendentalist theme of the dignity of manual labor.14 Kristenstad was commended for utilizing the ability and energy of its citizens rather than basing its prosperity on factors over which they had no control. By merging industry and agriculture, Kristenstad was destined to make of itself the “ideal community of the future.”15
The feature article by C.M. Hammond in the August 29, 1931, edition of the Texas Weekly was soon followed by coverage in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “Kristenstad Fulfills Modern Utopia Hopes; Colony on Brazos Has Own Store and Money” headlined the article by C.L. Richhart in the October 11, 1931, edition of this periodical.16 Repeating much of the information and misinformation in the Texas Weekly analysis, Richhart was the source most frequently quoted in later accounts of the settlement. Beginning his article with background information about the founder, Richhard displayed a lack of knowledge or complete disregard for fact.
Christensen’s past career was thoroughly misrepresented. Richhart stated that Christensen envisioned a practical utopia while the “Danish colonizer” was strolling through the woods of De Cordova Bend in 1928.17 However, Christensen’s interest in the community preceded the date designated by Richhart by several years. Christensen’s previous influence was reflected in records of the Common School District No. 34 formerly called De Cordova. The school name was changed to Kristenstad for the 1926-27 school term.18
Other examples of distorted information about the founder and his business activities concern the nature of Christensen’s Sabine County lumber business and his development project at Rainbow. The lumber camp near the present day Toledo Bend Lake was perceived to be an attempt, in 1923, to establish a Scandinavian farm community. Richhart reported that the water turned out bad and thus Christensen was forced to search for another location. Attracted to the Brazos River area because of the prominence it had been given in the State Conservation Project, Christensen supposedly selected a site adjacent to another bend in the river and named it Rainbow. Then realizing the need for additional space, Christensen found the land in De Cordova Bend which was to become the site of Kristenstad.19 This was a romantic account indeed, but the community of Rainbow had been named long before Christensen’s arrival and the subsequent organization of the Rainbow Company in 1913.20 This development project (which will be discussed in detail in a later chapter) preceded Christensen’s venture in the lumber business in East Texas which dated from about 1915.21
The first published mention of the U.S. Post Office at Kristenstad and how the community was named is also inaccurate. According to Richhart, the Post Office Department was responsible for the name of the settlement. Located in the heart of the community in the same building with the community store and the office of the notary public, it was named Kristenstad in honor of the founder of the colony.22 In Denmark, the Christensen family name was spelled Kristensen and meant the son of Christian.23 By adding the suffix “stad” to Kristen – Kristenstad – the name means “the home of Christian.”24 However, the community was being called Kristenstad as early as 1926, at least five years prior to the establishment of the Post Office in 1931.25 The community was named in honor Christensen. The Post Office assumed the community name.
While Richhard reiterated much of the previously published misinformation about the chair factory and other proposed industries in the Bend, he did provide a credible account of the system of monetary exchange. This “unique feature” by which the farmers were financed from season to season was treated objectively in his column. He explained that instead of having the settlers charge their supplies or borrow cash and sign notes, Christensen used a system of merchandise checks in place of American currency. The metal checks were exchangeable only through the Kristenstad business agencies or between residents of the community. Each farmer was issued the amount of checks needed for immediate use and signed for that amount.26 What Richhart failed to mention was that Christensen had “picked up this idea” from the East Texas lumber camps where he operated a commissary and also established a similar facility at Rainbow where these tokens were used as a medium of exchange as early as 1915.27 Ironically, the most accurate information in Richhart’s article was destined to be distorted in later stories about the community.
As depression woes deepened, interest in the development of Kristenstad increased. The Dallas Morning News declared in bold headlines: “Depression Merely News Item To One Little Texas Community.” Appearing in the April 3, 1932 issue of the News, this article repeated the familiar story of dreams inspired by the fleur-de-lis shaped plateau surrounded by a large loop of the Brazos River. However, the local currency system outlined in this article differed significantly from Richhart’s description. No mention was made about the origin of the currency and the observation that there was “never any shortage of money” underscored the acceptability of the system within the community. The cohesiveness that prevailed among the settlers attested to the fact that the people liked the business arrangements and lifestyle of the community. The writer observed none of the fear that frequently gripped the individual family, dependent only on its own resources. In Kristenstad, the entire community would help in case of illness or distress. The author concluded that while Kristenstad might not be “a utopia,” it was far ahead of many industrial-farming communities that possessed greater wealth.28
Widespread interest in the Hood County project continued in 1932. Editorial comment from the pages of the New York Times stressed the unique nature of the colony. The inhabitants were imbued with the idea of building slowly and steadily, a community of independent farmer-industrialists, free from sensationalism, instability or any symptoms of “boom” growth. Cogent messages from Kristenstad supposedly would appear in The Interpreter, a monthly magazine to be published in the community. According to the prospectus of the forthcoming periodical received in New York, the magazine would expound the theories of successful community organization and relate some of the incidents connected with the founding of a new town. The preliminary issue of The Interpreter sought to dispel any notion that observers may have had that the community represented a movement toward “seclusion, monasticism or world-renunciation.”29 The need to clarify the nature of the community organization indicated the range and extent of distortion contained in stories being circulated about the settlement. Despite the efforts to project an image free from sensationalism, ensuing articles expanded the myth.
A series of four articles appearing in the Fort Worth Press, beginning November 1, 1932, added a new dimension to the myth of Kristenstad. “Tiny Kingdom of Kristenstad, World Within Itself, Nestles in Bend of River 45 Miles From Fort Worth,” declared the front-page headlines of the first article. C. L. Douglas, author of the series, described the community as having the “sound of an old world principality, the kind you read about in story books.” He asserted that it was, in fact, an economic principality ruled by a man whose powers might be likened to those of a limited monarch.30 However, the kingdom was basically communal, according to Douglas, who made no attempt to reconcile these conflicting ideas. With time, the use of the term “tiny kingdom” became more frequent as observers sought to explain the socio-economic nature of the community.
The monetary system in Kristenstad proved to be the most surprising aspect of the “communal municipality” to Douglas. He reported that the “home used” currency had become the recognized medium of exchange with Christensen himself serving as “comptroller of the currency.” Being valid at the commissary owned by Christensen, it was accepted without question by workers employed in the various community building projects.31
The many roles played by Christensen evoked comments of amazement from Douglas. Besides serving as “comptroller of the currency,” Christensen served as postmaster, mayor and “law west of the narrows.”32 In the latter capacity, the settlement of a minor disruption was achieved through calm, yet quick, action by Mr. Christensen. The peaceful community was upset by a quarrel between two men in which one of the combatants received a blow to the head with a piece of timber. Witnesses to the altercation sought out Christensen asking if he wanted to settle the matter locally or should they send for the county sheriff. Christensen promptly assembled a group from the community to serve as a jury, meeting at the school house. Evidence was presented and the blame was fixed on the assailant. The man that wielded the timber was “shipped out.” The verdict stood, and the exiled party was never to be seen in Kristenstad after that time.33
The source of information that prompted Douglas to travel to the geographically isolated community of Kristenstad was The Interpreter. Having received two copies of the new periodical in the mail, he was very impressed with the quality of the magazine. “A magazine of good things,” the slogan printed on the front cover, was an apt description. According to Douglas, The Interpreter contained good literature, sane criticism, and thought-provoking essays in the fields of philosophy, religion, economics and politics. It seemed incongruous to Douglas that a magazine of this quality could be produced “in the depths of a wilderness” in a one-man shop, on a job press that was powered by the motor of an old Ford car. It was only after Douglas entered the print shop that he learned the identity of the editor of the magazine. He was Peter Molyneaux of Dallas, who also edited and published the Texas Weekly which was read throughout the state of Texas.34
Douglas’ tour of the colony revealed people of many ethnic origins working together with Christensen to make the community self-sustaining. Dirk Rudy from Holland was the third generation of a family of cheese-makers. He was to be in charge of a cheese factory that was under construction at that time. Rudy was also a shoe-maker. Julius Kromberg from Riga, Latvia, was a wood-carver. He had been a resident of the United States for twenty one years, but had come to Kristenstad about 1930, from Boston where he worked for a company that made church furniture. Pictured with a decorative four-poster bed that he carved from native cedar, Kromberg stated that he also worked as a carpenter, a stone mason, as well as in one of the industrial plants of the community.35
John H. Foss, a native of Norway, was storekeeper of the commissary and assistant postmaster. Having resided in Kristenstad for two years, Foss, age 73, looked forward to many additional productive years in the prosperous community. Responding to Douglas’ questions about the depression, he declared, “not here, but we hear you are having one out beyond the narrows of the river.”36
A discussion of other ethnic groups was included in Douglas’ articles. The country of Bulgaria was represented by James Raicoff, a printer that came to the United States prior to World War I. William Wick, a carpenter, and his wife, a trained nurse, were of Swedish descent. Ed Haas and his family represented Germany. The Norwegian family of Neal H. Brynie completed the tally in 1932 of residents in Kristenstad coming from foreign countries of the world.37
While numerous families came to Kristenstad from surrounding communities, Douglas mentioned only two of these in his series of articles. Mrs. Maude Smith from the Polytechnic section of Fort Worth served as guide for Douglas during his visit. Francis Smith, daughter of Mrs. Smith, worked in the print shop as assistant to Peter Molyneaux. Miss Tovrea Garnett, teacher in the community, came from the community of Mambrino, located across the southern part of the loop of the Brazos that encircled Kristenstad.38
With the emphasis of this series of articles placed upon the foreign origin of some of the residents, the myth that Kristenstad was a Scandanavian colony was advanced. Douglas’ use of the terms “tiny kingdom” and “communal municipality,” coupled with his description of an old world atmosphere, added to the distorted image of the community.
The early news accounts of Kristenstad significantly contributed to the collectivist myth surrounding the development. It is true there were elements of transcendental though evident in the organization and operation of the settlement such as the concepts of self-sufficiency, the dignity of manual labor, as well as the value of co-operative effort. Although mentioned, the capitalist concepts of private property and the profit motive were played down in these articles, giving the reader the distinct impression that Kristenstad was indeed a utopian society. While much of the world experienced economic depression, the glowing reports of building and general economic health in Kristenstad persuaded many that a “noble experiment” in Hood County was providing a pattern by which the rest of the country could regain its equilibrium.
|1||John Christensen to Svend Waendelin, Archivist, Dan-American Archives Society, Aalberg, Denmark, 3 February 1936, carbon copy of the letter in possession of Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, Dallas, Texas.|
|2||C. M. Hannond, “Kristenstad: A Practical Utopia,” Texas Weekly, August 29, 1931, pp. 5, 6, and 9.|
|6||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|7||Hammond, Texas Weekly, p. 6.|
|8||Facts about the chair business will be recounted in Part III.|
|9||Hammond, Texas Weekly, p. 6.|
|14||Thrall and Hibbard, A Handbook to Literature, pp. 492-493.|
|15||Hammond, Texas Weekly, p. 9.|
|16||C.L. Richhart, “Kristenstad Fulfills Modern Utopia Hopes; Colony on Brazos Has Own Store and Money,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, October 11, 1931, sec. 1, part 2, p. 1.|
|18||Texas, Hood County, School Attendance and Grade Records, located in the office of the County Judge, ex officio County Superintendent of Schools.|
|19||Richhart, Fort Worth Star Telegram, sec. 1, part 2, p. 1.|
|20||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. S., p. 23.|
|21||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|22||Richhart, Fort Worth Star Telegram.|
|23||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978.|
|25||As a note of explanation, the spelling of the surname Christensen is also spelled Kristensen. The family dropped the old world spelling of their name, Kristensen, before the turn of the century. John B. used Christensen in business dealings in Somervell, Johnson, Dallas and Sabine Counties. Kristensen was used in connection with his Hood County transactions. The news coverage began using the old world spelling in 1931. Correspondence relating to the Hood County project also bore the old world signature. The change in spelling may have been a source of confusion for his children as county school records reflect a different spelling of the surname from year to year.|
|26||Richhart, Fort Worth Star Telegram, sec. 1, part 2, p. 1; and interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|27||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978; and Mrs. Gambrell, 16 June 1978.|
|28||Newspaper clipping located in Cleburne Library, periodical unknown, but reprinted from The Dallas Morning News, 3 April 1932.|
|29||New York Times, 23 August 1932, p. 18.|
|30||C.L. Douglas, “Tiny Kingdom of Kristenstad, World Within Itself, Nestles in Bend of River 45 Miles From Fort Worth,” Fort Worth Press, 15 November 1932.|
The image of Kristenstad as a socialist society continued to grow in the mid-1930’s, especially after another of Douglas’ articles appeared in the Fort Worth Press. It was titled “Kristenstad Offers Haven to Jobless,” and dual subtitles appeared on either side of a picture of John B. Christensen proclaiming, “Brazos Economic Colony Breaks Isolation With Revolutionary Plan” and “Community Founder Here With Plan to Give Men Chance to ‘Rebuild’.” The intent of the article was to inform the unemployed in Dallas and Fort Worth of job opportunities in the Bend.
A plan presented by Christensen to H.B. Bowden, head of the Community Chest, and Roscoe Ady of the Chamber of Commerce in Fort Worth, would provide in the village of Kristenstad an opportunity for jobless men to build a home, make a living and regain lost pride and self-respect. Christensen proposed that a small loan fund be raised by cooperating welfare agencies in Fort Worth and when an unfortunate family requested assistance that the head of the household be offered a plot of ground in Kristenstad and a loan that would enable him to get a start. Loans would be extended from a revolving fund established by those agencies and administered by an independent loan company. Money for supplies — for example, $15 a month — would be provided while the family constructed a home in Kristenstad from the native materials, and credit to buy a cow, some pigs and chickens would allow the family a new beginning. Once established, the family could work at one of the community industries. Repayment of the loan would be made by setting aside twenty-five percent of every dollar earned to reduce the debt. Once the loan was repaid, ten percent of the family earnings would be credited to the loan fund for a period of time yet to be determined. The revolving fund would allow those who had been helped to help others. The advantage of offering employment instead of charity was the factor that motivated Christensen to devise such a plan. However, it was the provision of taking ten percent of a worker’s earnings to provide opportunity and a measure of security for other members of the community that tended to perpetuate the socialist image of the settlement at Kristenstad.1
Death notices of the founder of Kristenstad contained information that further distorted the image of the community. Front-page articles in the Granbury News, July 2, 1937, and the July 8, 1937, edition of the Hood County Tablet each contained background information on the life of John B. Christensen. These notices reminded area residents that Kristenstad was a co-operative Scandinavian colony in De Cordova Bend. The Tablet repeated previously published information about Christensen’s attempt to establish a colony in East Texas, but failed to mention his development at Rainbow, which was less than fifteen miles from Granbury. This incongruity was startling due to the fact that the article designated the place of death at his home in Rainbow.2
The myth assumed a nostalgic tone in January 1938. The Fort Worth Star Telegram cited the court decision which signaled an end to the dream of a modern utopia. The order, which returned the De Cordova property to the Burleson and Johns heirs, was reported with sadness. Reconstructing the story of Christensen’s dream of a Danish colony, the reported waxed eloquent of the loss: “Buildings that once echoed to the strains of the fiddle and joyous shouts of children were gaunt and empty; land that blossomed with bountiful crops lay bare and untilled.” Recounting the magnificent struggle of Christensen and approximately forty other families that inhabited the community, the Star Telegram described a series of misfortunes that ultimately resulted in failure of the project.3 Perhaps the times were not yet right to achieve success with such a “noble” experiment.
A worn newspaper clipping from the files of John Campbell of Irving, reflected a note of bitterness and disappointment with the failure of the project at Kristenstad. The Press Regional Service release bears a Granbury, September 26 dateline, and the year 1946 has been added in pencil. This unidentified source referred to a “worthless deed, a few newspaper clippings and a blueprinted land plat” as being the only remnants of a plan to set up a communist settlement in Hood County. Mr. Al Campbell was quoted as saying the items only brought back “bad memories.” According to this reporter, publicity in a national newspaper about a “socialistic colony” in Texas influenced the Campbell family to pull up stakes in North Dakota and head for the settlement. Implying that the Campbells had been duped, the article recounted alleged false promises. The community had been depicted as a land of milk and honey, where colonists reaped all the profits in a share-and-share-alike situation. In reference to the monetary system in Kristenstad, the report caustically stated that “they didn’t use that unpredictable United States stuff.”4 By painting a dismal picture of the colonists encountering frustration and despair, the author of this news article suggested that the “communist” experiment was doomed to failure from the beginning. Elements of this negative assessment were repeated in personal interviews conducted with area residents in the 1960’s and 1970’s.5
A history of ghost towns in Texas by Dick King included Kristenstad in the section describing utopian communities. Recounting the philosophy behind the development, King indicated it was tied to the “sell much, buy little” theory and based on the principle of “work if you eat.” Interesting pictures of the building remains that existed in 1949 accompany his account of the businesses and homes built from the native stone. He estimated that the population numbered 200, living in an area two miles in length, with approximately 1,200 acres of land under cultivation. Reasoning that the establishment of the commissary was to provide residents the advantage of buying at wholesale prices, King described the “unique” monetary system as the vehicle by which these transactions were facilitated. This colorful account made interesting reading and seemed to add legitimacy to the saga of Kristenstad. Yet, a check of sources used to document this bit of history revealed that King relied on information provided by residents of De Cordova Bend — “Names are unknown. July 1, 1949.”6
Historical accounts published in the 1950’s renewed interest in the “kingdom of Kristenstad.” Information garnered from area residents supplemented the earlier news accounts describing the settlement and expanded the scope of the narrative. Depending heavily upon published information, local observers interspersed bits of the legend collected over the years by word of mouth to complete their account of this Hood County community. The character and personality of the founder of the settlement received much attention from local history buffs, with opinion about equally divided concerning the personal integrity of John B. Christensen and his objective in the establishment of Kristenstad. While news accounts appearing from the mid-1930’s through the 1950’s added credence to the utopian label applied to the settlement, it was the early 1970’s before a serious challenge to the utopian theory was published. This article by Mary Ficklen, appearing in the May 1971, edition of the Texas Parade, seemed to have little, if any, impact upon the prevailing views of local history buffs who had no direct contact with the community during the 1930’s.7
Confusion created by the multitude of conflicting data found in news accounts about Kristenstad was further compounded by information printed in popular reference books. Generally accepted and readily available to local history buffs, both the Texas Almanac and The Handbook of Texas contained distortions. Listed for the first time in the 1931 edition of the Texas Almanac, Kristenstad was credited with having a post office until 1938; yet the population figure never exceeded twenty as cited in these publications, which would not warrant the establishment of a post office.8 The Handbook of Texas described Kristenstad as a Norwegian community in Hood County. This volume set the year 1915 as the approximate date of establishment. The post office was reported to be in operation from 1928 to 1935, with the settlement disbanding in 1940.9 Amazingly, none of the information listed was accurate.
Yet, the accuracy seemed not to be a prerequisite in the growth of the legend. While few physical traces of the community remained by the 1960’s, the curiosity of area residents kept the legend alive. An example of the continuing interest was revealed by comments contained in a camping brochure distributed by the Fort Worth and Tarrant County Council of Camp Fire Girls. “A Bit of History” included the following narrative about Camp El Tesoro and its surrounding area:
“As late as the 1930’s and the 1940’s, Cordova Bend had its own little kingdom . . . a community named Kristenstead [sic]. One man dominated the group, planned its mode of life, and even issued private currency at the communities nearby. The inhabitants lived in primitive dugouts, women carried water in buckets on their heads, furniture was built of cedar logs, clothes were washed in caves from the spring water. But the community is gone now, the people have moved . . . only the history remains, of this strange world of a man named Kristen [sic].”10
Mailed to numerous homes of camp-aged children, this version of the lifestyle in Kristenstad received wide distribution and contributed significantly to the sense of strangeness associated with the community.
Historical societies have traditionally emphasized the important role of history in shaping our lives. “The Saga of Kristenstad,” prepared by Miss Ethel Baker for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, sought to preserve an important chapter in the history of Hood County. Her essay first appeared in early 1970, in the Hood County News Tablet and later the same year in Hood County History in Picture and Story 1970. Bibliographical information revealed that Miss Baker depended entirely upon local news articles to recount the familiar story. A disparate accumulation of comments from present-day citizens of Granbury concluded the account. A valuable portion of the essay, the impressions of Kristenstad reflected in these remarks are characterized by the wide differences of opinion about the founder of the colony. There was a distinct correlation between the personal regard for the founder and the manner in which each person interviewed perceived the settlement. Those who liked Christensen approved of his activities; those who did not, sought to discredit his efforts.11
|1||Newspaper clipping of an article by C. L. Douglas in the Fort Worth Press, date indistinguishable, located in a folder of information on Kristenstad in the Cleburne Public Library.|
|2||Granbury News, 2 July 1937; and Hood County Tablet, 8 July 1937.|
|3||Fort Worth Star Telegram, 14 January 1938.|
|4||News clipping of an unidentified source located in the files of John Campbell, Irving, Texas.|
|5||Ethel Baker, “The Saga of Kristenstad,” Hood County News Tablet, 29 January 1970.|
|6||Dick King, Ghost Towns of Texas (San Antonio: The Naylor Co., 1956), pp. 183-185.|
|7||Mary Ficklen, “Texas’ Lost Utopia,” Texas Parade, May 1971.|
|8||Texas Almanac (Dallas: A. H. Belo Corporation, 1931, 1933, 1936, 1939), p. 145, 61, 418, 208.|
|9||Carroll and Webb, The Handbook of Texas, II: pp. 665-66.|
|10||Fort Worth and Tarrant County Council of Camp Fire Girls, Inc., Camping Brochure, 1964.|
|11||Junior Woman’s Club of Granbury, Texas, Hood County History in Picture and Story, 1970 (Fort Worth: Historical Publishers, 1970), pp. H44-52.|
PART III. – THE MYTH DISPELLED
UTOPIAN IMAGE REFUTED
Headlines are molders of image. “The Saga of Kristenstad” emphasized the truth of this statement. Articles recounting the activities in the Hood County settlement contained many salient points covering the true nature of the development; yet, the term “utopia” was consistently associated with the community. Geographic isolation was equated with clannishness. Cooperative effort was viewed as socialistic. The initial plans announced for a Danish colony were repeated in subsequent reports and superimposed upon the developing settlement when the description no longer applied. Identical terminology used in many sources revealed the practice of news writers copying each other. Repetition and building on previous accounts resulted in a general acceptance of the narrative as factual information. If seen in print often enough, it was accepted as truth. The lack of documentation for news stories contributed to recurring misrepresentations; however, the news coverage provided a indispensable tool when accompanied by research of public records and interviews with those individuals closest to the unfolding drama.
Termed a development venture by Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, the capitalist nature of the project was revealed in the terms of the contract transferring ownership of 6,000 acres of land from the Burleson and Johns families to the Rainbow Company on January 1, 1928.2 The purchase price of $120,000 was to be paid and secured to be paid by the Rainbow Company in a series of seven promissory notes of $15,000 each coming due on even numbered years with a maturity date twenty-five years following the initiation of each note. This arrangement included a down payment of $15,000 and forty years to complete the retirement of the debt. Interest at five percent per annum would be charged on the unpaid balance with the condition that no interest would be levied for the year 1928, providing that $10,000 worth of improvements were made on the property.3 A contract accompanying the recorded deed outlined agreements not contained in the sale of the property. Twenty-five percent of the net profits from the sale of lumber taken from the acreage would be applied to the seven notes. Income from the production of charcoal would be similarly allocated. Total compensation for any land condemned for public usage would be applied to the debt. Finally a release from the vendor’s lien on the property securing the notes would be made for such acreage on which $30 per acre was paid.4
The intricate financial arrangements of the transactions indicated that Christensen was aware of the necessity to maintain a favorable cash flow. However, the last provision of the agreement also proved to be a most important detail for the historian. It refuted allegations of duplicity on the part of Christensen in his land dealings with the settlers. Many observers believed that Christensen sold land with the knowledge that he could not provide clear title to the property.5 It was the inability of settlers to pay for the land that resulted in default and forfeiture of their holdings.
Extensive advance planning of the real estate development project was evident. Bearing the same date as the deed of transfer, a plat of the surveyed townsite was filed. Located in the central part of the 6,000 acre tract, blocks, 8, 9, 14, 15, 23 and 24 from the original J.W. Moore Survey comprised the boundaries of the map of Kristenstad.6 (See a copy of the survey in the pocket.) The plat was similar to that of Washington, D.C., with the main streets converging on a central plaza. These main arteries bisected the townsite diagonally and were named Washington Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue. Other main streets approaching the central plaza at right angles were Kent, Johnson, Crockett and Zanco. Horizontal streets skirting the perimeter of the town on the north were named Oden, Johns and Houston; on the south, they were named Austin, Doris and Mitchell. Connecting streets running north to south of this rectangular survey were Olaf, Tonkaway, Seminole, Kickapoo, Cherokee, Burleson, Cordova and Rjukan. Eight blocks, two lots deep, plus eight triangular pieces of land, were divided into small business lots that surrounded the plaza. Two additional tiers of lots completed the proposed downtown business district and residential lots. Tracts of about two and one-half acres completed the central section of the survey. Larger tracts were located on the outer radius of the area proposed for development.7 Less than one-third of the 6,000 acres was earmarked for resale in the first stage of development.
The financial arrangement for purchase of the De Cordova Bend property was only one aspect of the capitalist intent of John B. Christensen. In order to raise sufficient capital for the down payment, Christensen deeded certain lots in his Rainbow development to members of the Burleson and Johns families and gave them a mortgage on the remaining portion plus a mortgage on two plots of land, two hundred acres and twenty acres, he owned in Sabine County, Texas.8 His long-time friend and financial backer, Homer Mitchell of Dallas, provided additional funds in the transaction that included the reorganization of the Old Rainbow Company into a new organization.9 Selling tracts from the De Cordova property at $40 per acre, Christensen charged six percent interest on loans extended to buyers. He bought the property for $20 per acre at five percent interest. As director of the colony, he expected to cover the purchase price of the 6,000 acres through these sales, leaving him “a profit of his individual farm . . . and rough timbered acreage unfitted for cultivation.” The fact that the surplus land was not suited for farming did not indicate a lack of worth, since it was believed to be rich in natural resources and expected to make a nice return on the capital investment.10
Location of prospective buyers was the first order of business in the development. The original intent was to obtain from the American-Scandinavian classes diligent, thrifty families to people the settlement. However, other desirable buyers met the qualifications required of applicants.11 Strict examination of prospective tenants as to character and ability was maintained. A letter dated February 21, 1933, to Mr. A.C. Campbell of Grace City, North Dakota, reflected this diligence. Christensen requested the names and addresses of at least three people that would vouch for him as “a loyal, law-abiding, industrious person of integrity.” The founder described Kristenstad as a common sense and practical business, based on neighborliness and old-fashioned cooperation. Christensen denied the existence of a dreamland, paradise, or “utopia” that had been projected in “pen pictures” of the settlement.12 In view of this candid description of the project to a prospective buyer, the allegations of perfidious conduct on the part of Christensen was proven to be without foundation.
The widely publicized announcement of the Central Texas project as a Danish colony left an indelible impression in the minds of readers throughout the United States. Realizing that Texas claimed many settlements distinguished by the ethnic origin of its residents, readers expected Kristenstad to be a Scandinavian community. Yet, only a few settlers of Scandinavian descent made their homes in Kristenstad. Most of the tenants came from Texas and many of them from only a short distance away.13 The seven family names of foreign origin reported in the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1932 were interspersed with many ethnically dissimilar names on school attendance records.14 The list, including such names as Whitehead, Buchanan, Wolske, Hinkle, Turner, Isreal, Thompson, Smith, Herring, Paxton, Mall, Phelps, Molder, Cogdill, Miller, Corbett, Kinkade, Maddox, Garnett, Aga, Caldwell and Long, reflected the mixed ethnic heritage of the community.15 The principal occupation of many of the residents was farming; however, Christensen sought people of other various skills and abilities to achieve a balanced and near self-sustaining society.16 Roy Corbett, a dentist, Mrs. Paul Long, editor of the Southern Dairyman, Mrs. J.A. Cogdill, a housekeeper, Francis Smith, who worked in the print shop, Tovrea Garnett, teacher, A.C. Campbell, engaged in trucking, and Peter Molyneaux, publisher, are all testimonials to the successful recruiting techniques used by Christensen.17
Personal contact and word of mouth added to the increasing numbers at Kristenstad. Mrs. Maude Smith and her daughter, Francis, came from Fort Worth. They were the contact by which Lester Maddox and his father learned of the project.18 Ruth Harrison Rogers came with her parents from Fort Worth.19 Raymond Cogdill formerly lived at Falls Creek, a community across the river from Kristenstad. His uncle worked for Christensen before his death and Raymond joined his widowed aunt and her children when they moved to the community.20 Mrs. Emma Roberson came from Erath County where she made contact with Christensen through the Grange Organization.21 As the depression deepened, many people hearing about the settlement came without invitation. Down on their luck, these unfortunate individuals posed a serious problem for the developer. Reluctant to turn them away, Christensen jeopardized the financial structure of the settlement. He later observed that these transactions created insurmountable problems for the development.22
The wide range of business activity of Christensen was generally unknown to residents of the Bend. This lack of awareness concerning the complexities of business arrangements relating to the project resulted in resentment and distrust of Christensen on the part of some. Working daily from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., he required the services of a secretary to help with correspondence.23 His secretary would become angry with Mr. Christensen for using the common language of the people with whom he was talking. She stated that he had the greatest command of the English language she had ever known and felt that he “lowered” himself by using the speech patterns of illiterates. Mrs. Christensen explained that her husband did “talk just like the farmers” when conversing with them, but used a more sophisticated approach with his peers.24 This effort to alleviate resentment among the farmers of Kristenstad contributed to the “Danish farmer” myth.
While Christensen was no farmer, he tried to encourage local farmers to diversify their crops. They often discredited his advice because he had little knowledge of the technical aspects of farming. Christensen depended on a hired manager to supervise his own farming operations. W.J. Phelps and his family from Palacios, Texas, were considered indispensable. They raised horses, cows, Poland China hogs, and turkeys, plus feed crops such as corn, maize, peanuts and garden products. Mr. Phelps diplomatically guided “John B.” in making farm decisions about which Christensen knew nothing. The local farmers “resented this guy with a law degree coming down there and telling them how to run their business.”25 This friction between Christensen and the farmers was a contributing cause of recurring accounts that depicted Christensen as a shrewd schemer who took advantage of the unwary.
Work opportunities for residents of the Bend had a two-fold purpose for the organizer of the development. Families had additional income from which to repay loans made when they purchased their homesites, and the profit from sales of the products allowed Christensen to maintain his business enterprise. The arrangement was mutually beneficial to Christensen and the tenants due to scarcity of available jobs. Descriptions of the industries in news accounts, however, implied that these were only for the mutual benefit of the settlers. Romanticized stories of complete utilization of resources also hindered a realistic appraisal of the enterprise. The often repeated narrative of using smaller, but good, parts of the tree discarded by the sawmill to make chairs was inaccurate. The arrangement for the production and marketing of chairs was widely misunderstood.
The primary operation was located in the cedar breaks up the Paluxy River, near Glen Rose, Texas, not in the Bend. Mrs. Myrtle Christensen’s father, Thomas Caldwell, used machinery owned by Christensen to produce chairs from the heart of the cedar trees.26 As the market expanded, Caldwell was unable to produce enough to meet the demand. Christensen sub-contracted part of the work to the Gann Company at Lufkin, Texas, where hickory wood was used to make a full line of chairs from rockers to high chairs. Chair parts of at least two styles were brought into the Bend where they were assembled then shipped to wholesale buyers. The chairs with the cowhide bottoms were best remembered, but the split-bottom hickory chairs were a popular seller. Mrs. Myrtle Christensen still retains a price list from the operation.27 The cedar chairs made by her father were used until recently in the old Glen Rose Hospital waiting room.28
The production of charcoal had three phases. First, cordwood was cut — not the remnants from the sawmill — for burning. Next, the four foot timbers were stacked symmetrically with a layer of grass on top. Kindling was placed in the center with a tunnel to the outside by which to ignite. The stack was then covered with dirt. Once lit, the hole was plugged, then allowed to burn slowly. This step sometimes required as long as two weeks, requiring twenty-four-hour-a-day supervision to make sure no holes appeared in the mound.29 The burning completed, the charcoal was washed and screened. This process was reported to be very dirty work — as dirty as working in a coal mine. Though hard, dirty work, the opportunity to earn a wage was appreciated by the settlers.30 The lime kiln and farm operations provided additional jobs, and combined with other Bend projects, were a tribute to the business acumen and managerial skills of John B. Christensen.
Unfortunately, Christensen’s ability as an entrepreneur did not receive plaudits from all residents of the community. James and Anna Raicoff objected to the business arrangements they found at Kristenstad. While settlers could buy stock in the three corporations established to administer the business of the colony, the Raicoffs objected to what they viewed as monopolistic control of the industries and other business ventures. Mrs. Raicoff alleged Christensen would not allow anyone other than himself to operate a business within the Bend. “He wanted a cheese factory, and he wanted — well, ever so many different kinds of industry to be brought in there, but be was going to run them.”31 Mr. Raicoff stated that Peter Molyneaux was the one who wanted to establish a cooperative colony that would equally reward the residents, but Christensen wanted to “hold the peons to bondage.” Christensen allegedly vetoed a proposed cannery that would divide profits on the basis of ownership. “He wanted to control it all — wanted the cream and give the people skim milk.”32
Other expressions of discontent shared by several families in the Bend were summarized in a narrative told by Lester Maddox. Maddox and his father went to Kristenstad in 1931. Due to the depression, living conditions in Forth Worth worsened. Mr. Maddox lost his job and the family desperately needed a place to go. Unable to care for his orphaned children, he placed the girls, all younger than Lester, in an orphan’s home. Lester and his father had heard that one could buy a small block of land for nothing down and pay for it along as they worked for “the man.” “As a drowning person would grasp for a straw,” they moved there and contracted to buy five acres of land. Mr. Maddox, a former janitor for the Forth Worth schools, worked on Mr. Christensen’s farm. At the end of the week, a percentage of their earnings was applied to the principal and interest of the note. Maddox claimed Christensen knew he could not give them a clear title to the land.33 The balance of their pay was made in aluminum coins that could only be used at the company store. If workers could not pay on the principal, Christensen accepted small payments against the interest owed. This would not increase their security or gain the resident any greater claim to the land, Maddox observed.34 The practice of charging interest for a debt and using the purchase as collateral to insure payment was standard procedure in the 1930’s. It is unclear why this arrangement was considered fraudulent when applied by Christensen.
Other aspects of the business posture of Kristenstad entered around the community store. Popular news accounts left the impression that it was a communal facility established for the convenience of the settlers. However, inquiries about the commissary received mixed reviews from former residents of the Bend. Most respondents recognized that it was a business establishment producing income for the owner. Some felt that the store provided a necessary service, while others believed it was just another tool by which to control the money thereby control the lives of the people. The store was stocked with all kinds of odds and ends, bolts of fabric, clothing and groceries. Trips into Fort Worth for supplies were made by Christensen himself in an old 1927 Oldsmobile car stripped down to serve as a pickup. He reportedly shopped around for fire and bankrupt sales. On return to Kristenstad, he would clean and polish the merchandise for retail. Sale items included slightly damaged groceries and out of style clothing. Only salvage merchandise was remembered by Lester Maddox; however, litigation between the Waples-Platter Company and Christensen over payment of an account indicated that a significant volume of first-line stock had been purchased for the store.35
The importance of the post office to the business climate of Kristenstad should not be overlooked. It brought distinction to the community and provided much needed contact with the outside world. It also brought additional revenue for John Christensen, the first postmaster. Housed in the same building with the commissary, Christensen could attend to the store, the post office and business related to his development projects in a single operation. John H. Foss served as clerk and assistant postmaster in the absence of Christensen who made frequent business trips.36 Mrs. James F. Carey assumed postal duties following the death of Foss. Mrs. Carey moved from the Bend in 1935, and Lester Maddox became postmaster, serving until the post office closed in March 1937. The last day the Kristenstad Post Office was open, there was a flood of self-addressed, stamped envelopes to be cancelled. Stamp collectors from numerous locations over the United States had received “inside” information about the closing and mailed last day cancellation requests. Some of the requests were accompanied by “a little change” to pay the postmaster for his trouble. Mr. Maddox was more than glad to accommodate these collectors because he received 135% of 85% of total cancellations as his pay.37 In fourth class post offices, the postmaster was not paid a straight salary. Those operations were a losing proposition for the government as the percentage allowed in salaries was greater than the receipts.38 On a visit to the Granbury Post Office, Maddox expressed concern to Mr. Chevis Cleveland about the difference in cost of operations and receipts. Mr. Cleveland assured him that was not unusual and to “think nothing about it,” since the larger postal operation in Granbury was also losing money.39
Many of the multiple-faceted business activities of John B. Christensen were misunderstood, but careful analysis of his endeavors refuted the utopian image of Kristenstad. While some historians regarded his humanitarian efforts as socialistic, he, in fact, projected the profile of an entrepreneur. The negative reports on his role as developer and leader in the community stemmed from the dissension that eventually destroyed the development.
|1||Baker, “The Saga of Kristenstad,” Hood County News Tablet, 29 January 1970.|
|2||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|3||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 67, pp. 492-494.|
|4||Ibid., pp. 494-496.|
|5||Interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Press Williams on 17 June 1978; and with Lester Maddox on 27 July 1978.|
|6||Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 60, p. 319.|
|8||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. 33, p. 549.|
|9||Ibid., Vol. 28, p. 317; and interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|10||Frances O. Landon and Verdi MacLennan, “Kristenstad, A Novel Colony on the Brazos,” Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933, sec. 4, p. 1.|
|12||John B. Christensen to A. C. Campbell, Grace City, North Dakota, February 21, 1933, located in the files of John Campbell, Irving, Texas.|
|13||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|14||Star Telegram, 17 November 1932.|
|15||Texas, Hood County, School Attendance and Grade Records, located in the office of the County Judge.|
|16||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|17||Texas, Hood County, School Attendance and Grade Records; and Star Telegram, 17 November 1932.|
|18||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|19||Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.|
|20||Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.|
|21||Interview with Emma Roberson, 21 July 1977.|
|22||John Christensen to Svend Waendelin, 3 February 1936, carbon copy of letter in possession of Mrs. Myrtle Christensen.|
|23||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977; and identification initials on letter from John B. Christensen to A. C. Campbell, 21 February 1933, in possession of John Campbell.|
|24||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|26||Interview with Cecil Collins, Glen Rose, 20 July 1977.|
|27||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|28||Interview with Eugene Conally, Glen Rose, 15 July 1978.|
|29||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|30||Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.|
|31||Interview with Anna Raicoff and Mrs. Wallace Reilly, conducted by Dr. George Green, 10 April 1975 (Transcript from the Oral History Project 1975 – Labor Collection, University of Texas at Arlington, OH54, pp. 17-31).|
|32||Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.|
|33||This allegation was refuted in an earlier section of the thesis.|
|34||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|35||Interviews with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977; Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977; James Raicoff, 27 July 1977; Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977; and Emma Roberson, 21 July 1977; and Waples-Platter vs. Rainbow Company, Inc., 65 S.W. 2d 391 (1936).|
|36||Fort Worth Press, 15 November 1932.|
|37||This was the method of computation used to figure salaries in fourth class post offices.|
|38||Interview with Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
Life in the Bend? “Just like anywhere else,” was the rejoinder most often heard from former residents of Kristenstad.1 Among the numerous descriptions of the settlement through the years, the communist label elicited the most vigorous protest from respondents. “The people were not communist, just down on their luck — searching for a way to make a living.”2 Considered an ugly epithet, the citizens were confused as to how the term came to be applied. The confusion what somewhat justified. While there was at least one resident of the community that espoused the Marxist philosophy of collectivism and the theory of surplus value, even that party decried the capitalist nature of the enterprise in De Cordova Bend.3 The “Americanism” of John B. Christensen was expressed in the vigorous, thriving community that took root in a primitive environment, leaving a rich and colorful legacy for the people of Hood County and Texas.
Coming from Fort Worth to the Bend in 1931, Lester Maddox witnessed a sharp contrast in lifestyles. It was “like stepping from one century back to the previous one.”4 Housing somewhat reflected the skills and available resources of the individual families. The Campbells built a house of native stone,5 while “others built ‘shebang’ shelters, dugouts with entry rooms of homemade brick,” and structures that combined native stone and rough timbers.6 The Maddox home was built three feet in the ground with walls extending about four feet above the ground. This arrangement served a dual purpose. The cabin was warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. It also saved on construction materials, most of which were scrap.7
The mode of dress and forms of amusement recalled pioneer days. The only entertainment on Saturday night for tenants of the Bend was provided by themselves. Few residents had radios, even crystal sets. Square-dancing became a popular pastime, with the “young singles” taking turns hosting these events. People going to parties carried kerosene lanterns. These lanterns provided light as they traversed the narrow roads and paths, but also supplemented lighting for the hostess. An old-time fiddler, Mr. John Turner and his sons, Bill, Charlie, Buck and John, who played guitars, provided the music. Compensation for these performances would consist of a few cents supplied by each of the young men who came to the dance. Some of the boys, who had a “little business” in the cedar breaks across the river, would take Mr. Turner outside and “quench his thirst.” “Well oiled” by midnight, he would really play the fiddle as he learned back in his chair and closed his eyes. While these affairs were usually attended by only fifteen or twenty residents, they provided the nucleus of entertainment for the young people. Other events, usually held in the school building, included parties for all ages where they played games, visited and accompanied singing with their own musical instruments.8
A familiar figure at these community events was a fellow nicknamed “Twostory” Whitehead. He was six feet, six inches tall, went barefoot and carried a very large “nigger shooter” in the hip pocket of his overalls. (“Excuse the expression, but my name is Lester Maddox.”) “Twostory” was so ungainly, “he would put down a foot and pull up fourteen inches.”9 This quaint expression denoting the size of his feet was typical of the humor that characterized pioneer life.
Work and recreation were often combined in Kristenstad. Impromptu rodeos for the purpose of breaking horses provided sport for the young men of the community. A more salable product, the horses broken to work would bring higher prices. Animals of indomitable spirit, unsuitable for pulling the wagon or plow, were sold to promoters of the Acton rodeo. These popular events attracted widespread interest and attendance. Reflecting the social and economic ties of the settlement with surrounding communities, Christensen’s equestrian venture produced pleasure and profit.
Advancement of the social and intellectual quality of life in Kristenstad accompanied the organization of subordinate and Pomona Chapters of the Grange. One of the greatest farmer’s organizations in the United States, the 1930’s witnessed a revival of the order in Texas.10 A fraternal order with its own secret ritual, it provided a program of recreation and education for its members. Christensen served as subordinate master of the Kristenstad Grange as well as the master of the De Cordova Pomona, an affiliate of the organization.11
The Kristenstad Grange enjoyed many distinctions, chief of which was its being the pioneer in the new Grange movement in Texas. Application for a charter, “first in the state,” was mailed to National Master Louis J. Taber on October 9, 1933, and was acknowledged a short time afterward. However, conditions for Texas organization work at that time seemed impractical and it was January 1935, before National Deputy Harold W. Gaulrapp was sent into the state with commissions to organize Granges. It, therefore, followed that Kristenstad subordinate was not only first in the list of Texas Granges, but also was first to organize a Juvenile Grange, a Grange Cooperative project, a permanent Grange Hall and business headquarters, and a Grange insurance company in Texas. “As under the date June 9, 1936,” the Rural Electrification Administration at Washington approved the project covering parts of three counties, “for which this lively Grange was responsible.” Ranked first in membership with more than ninety percent of eligible members of the community enrolled, the percentage also applied to the children’s membership in the Juvenile Grange.12
The Grange proved to be an effective tool by which Christensen promoted his development. He traveled all over the state working with its organization, and, in turn, secured outside talent for educational programs in Kristenstad. Appealing to diverse interests, monthly meetings in the Bend sought methods to improve working conditions and raise the standard of living in the community. Typical programs featured lectures and demonstrations on improved techniques of livestock feeding and grafting of the native pecan trees that grew in abundance.13
The establishment and expansion of state agricultural and mechanical colleges and the State Extension Service was supported by the Grange. Articles in the Grange Monthly indicated that many of the people in the Extension Service received their training in the Grange program.14 Both the State Extension Service and the Grange provided material presented by Christensen for cultural enrichment of the community, but program suggestions were drawn primarily from the Grange Monthly. An example of programs designed to ensure structure and continuity for the organization appeared in the October 1936 edition.15 The Grange not only provided recreational and enrichment opportunities, but also allowed Christensen to get better acquainted with the people.
A Grange Monthly report on the activities of the Kristenstad Juvenile Grange revealed the active cooperation and support of Christensen’s wife in the community. A letter from Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, matron of the group, discussed recent programs in preparation for the coming state centennial celebration. One program presented to the subordinate Grange featured roll call with each juvenile present answering with some well-known fact about Texas. A picture that accompanied the letter included all officers and members of the group except one. The attendance record of ninety-eight percent attested to the popularity of the organization. Mrs. Christensen was quoted as saying that “because we are the only Juvenile Grange in Texas, . . . we are trying very hard to set a good example.”16
Mrs. Christensen’s assistance was indispensable in many other areas of community life. As in pioneer days, the people banded together for the sake of survival. The residents depended heavily on the Christensens for assistance in emergencies. Few had cars and it was fifteen miles to the nearest doctor in Granbury. Mrs. Christensen gained extensive first aid experience with broken bones and wounds inflicted by the large double-bit axes used in the woodcutting operation. Often she was called upon to perform the services of a midwife, helping with the delivery of babies that arrived before a doctor could be summoned. Not all of these blessed events passed without frustration or incident. Mrs. Aga, a Norwegian migrant from Minnesota, was aided in delivery by Mrs. Christensen and Mrs. Menefee. Wanting a daughter to name for her mother, Mrs. Aga was disappointed in the arrival of her fourth child — another boy.17
On December 16, 1933, an event that highlighted religious difference among residents of the Bend was recalled by Mrs. Christensen. Her youngest child, David Bryon, was born before Doctor Cook of Granbury arrived. Mrs. Cogdill and Mrs. Campbell assisted with the birth. While directing the operations, Mrs. Christensen asked Mrs. Campbell to use alcohol to sterilize the scissors before cutting the umbilical cord. Being a Christian Scientist, Mrs. Campbell objected, stating that she could not use any kind of medicine — she had to have faith. Mrs. Christensen quickly assured her she would assume responsibility for any transgression that might be committed.18
Minor incidents created few interruptions in the routine of life. However, a favorite pastime for the older children again brought attention to existing religious difference. The boys used cordwood, cut for sale, to build their play log cabins. While using an ax to supplement these materials, one of the Campbell boys received a large gash over the eyebrow. Mrs. Christensen applied peroxide to the wound, disregarding protests from the boy. Mrs. Christensen never told Mrs. Campbell she had cleaned the boy’s wound with peroxide, and, reportedly, neither did the boy.19
Another incident, resulting in a badly broken arm for one of the Campbell children, did create some friction when “John B.” insisted the child be taken to a doctor.20 However, these differences in beliefs never created a permanent breach of respect or friendship between the families. Survivors from each family remembered the other with affection and good will.
Considering the inherent dangers of the environment, it was miraculous that more serious injuries were not sustained. Log-riding in the river by boys between the ages of ten and fourteen was another activity of high risk recalled by Mrs. Christensen. During periods of dry weather, logs would become stranded on sand bars and the bank of the river. With a good rain, especially upstream, logs from the timber cutting operation on the Bend would begin to float downstream. The boys would get on these logs and ride them completely around the loop that encircles the settlement, getting off at the “narrows.” This trip constituted a ride of approximately nineteen miles, a considerably long journey for boys of that age. Yet, the boys “roamed those woods like indians.”21
Close proximity between the children and animals of the Bend produced many anxious moments for Mrs. Christensen. The Poland China hogs raised by the family ran loose in the unfenced areas. A large sow with a litter of small pigs ranged the area near “the White House,” a name given the Christensen home by residents of the community. Odin, the oldest son, wanted to get one of the little pigs and pen it for a pet. A dangerous encounter occurred when the sow hear her “baby” squeal. Hearing the commotion, Mrs. Christensen met Odin as he ran toward the yard fence with the pig. “Prominently pregnant,” she was barely able to hoist the boy and pig over the fence before the angry, six-hundred pound sow could attack her son. “The good Lord made it possible for me to see and respond to emergencies.”22 Similarly dangerous incidents that were endured without question reflect the true pioneer spirit of the Christensen family and other residents of the Bend.
The “facts of life” transferred through observation of routine farm management often resulted in humorous situations. As they accompanied their father and Mr. Phelps attending farm chores, the boys observed castration of pigs and calves. Eager to apply their recently acquired knowledge, they performed the operation on a kitten, hiding the animal in an old boot in the woods. Later grown to an extraordinary size, the cat appeared at the back door of the house. Frightened at first glance, Mrs. Christensen believed the cat to be one of the wild species native to the area. Eventually, the cat was tamed and weighed. It tipped the scales at fourteen pounds.23
While Kristenstad offered a world of adventure for the children, recreational activities for the ladies were limited. Mrs. Christensen had a sewing room where several of the ladies gathered to work while they visited. They would take turns helping each other quilt covers for winter needs. This was especially helpful as many of them did not have adequate room to put up quilting frames in their homes. Occasionally, a few of the women and some of the smaller children would go to the river to fish, but they seldom caught anything large enough to keep. Four of the ladies formed a forty-two club where they enjoyed afternoon companionship on a regular basis. Not only were these social contacts pleasurable, but they provided an opportunity for Mrs. Christensen to assist her husband in the project by acquainting themselves with the wants and needs of the people in the settlement as seen from the distaff perspective.24
The role of hostess was also filled by Mrs. Christensen. When Mrs. Paula Long, former editor of the Southern Dairyman, came to investigate the project, she stayed in the Christensen home, as did other visitors to the Bend.25 Though plans were announced by Mrs. Maude Smith to build cabins to accommodate guests, they never materialized.26 Thus, Mrs. Christensen was kept busy as a hostess because there was no where else to stay.27
Small business enterprises in the Bend reflected the creativity and industrious nature of the residents. The children contributed to community output by gathering roots and herbs for market.28 Ruth Harrison Rogers helped offset the cost of her education by making grape juice from the native grapes which grew in abundance. Her graduation from Texas Weslayan College in Fort Worth was made possible because she was able to supply the juice in exchange for room and board at the school.29 An incident related to Mrs. Christensen’s project of raising canaries for sale received unusual attention. The cages, placed on the mantel for safety, was nonetheless, invaded by a large chicken snake. Reacting to the challenge, Mrs. Christensen grabbed a twenty-two rifle and fired at the snake, the bullet passing through three sections of its body. A friend later mailed a clipping from a local paper relating the incident. The story was accompanied by a caricature of a woman holding a gun in a threatening manner. This publicity was probably the result of wide-spread interest in the colony.30
While life in the Bend appeared to be very similar to other Texas communities in the 1930’s, it bore one distinction that set it apart. Central direction of virtually every aspect of intellectual, social and economic activity was evident. For a time, this direction yielded a measure of economic security for the residents that was not shared by the rest of the country, staggering under the weight of economic depression. The organizer of the project, though humanitarian by nature, was struggling valiantly to protect his investment.
|1||Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.|
|2||Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.|
|3||Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.|
|4||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|5||Interview with John Campbell, 28 June 1978.|
|6||Ficklen, “Texas’ Lost Utopia.”|
|7||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|10||National Grange Monthly, November, 1936, p. 20.|
|13||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978; and Grange Monthly, December 1936, p. 8.|
|14||Grange Monthly, June 1936, p. 17.|
|15||Ibid., October 1936, p. 14.|
|16||Ibid., April, 1936, p. 14.|
|17||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|19||Ibid., 28 July 1978.|
|23||Ibid., 26 July 1977.|
|24||Ibid., 28 July 1978.|
|25||Ibid., 29 June 1978.|
|26||Fort Worth Press, 17 November 1932.|
|27||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 29 June 1978.|
|28||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 June 1977.|
|29||Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.|
|30||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
CAUSES OF FAILURE
The failure of Kristenstad could not be attributed to a lack of business experience on the part of the developer. Although to say he had suffered some financial reverses in the past, Christensen had a broad range of credits attesting to his ability. His educational background and persuasive personality enhanced the promise of successful conclusion of his development in De Cordova Bend. Other interests in water conservation, rural electrification, and hard-surfaced roads were inextricably tied to his land development projects. Although not realized in his lifetime, his tireless efforts in behalf of these interests left an indelible mark on Central Texas. Circumstances beyond his control signaled the doom of his Hood County project. World-wide depression, misleading news coverage and internal dissension all contributed to the decline of the development. Had he lived, Christensen might have been able to recoup his losses and salvage his dream — his dream of financial security based on capital accumulation.
Extensive planning, careful preparation and financial backing were all for naught. What went wrong? The community could not isolate itself from the effects of the great depression. While news accounts of Kristenstad it its apex in 1932-33, indicated that the community fared better than surrounding areas, declining markets for products of their industry created a strain on local economy. A series of severe winters and droughts that destroyed crops aggravated the problem and prompted Christensen to seek assistance through a government canning project at Granbury to help sustain the residents. With an abundant supply of canned meats, the residents of Kristenstad did not suffer as badly as some.1 Another symptom of distress was Christensen’s plan to provide jobs for welfare recipients in the Fort Worth – Dallas area. Though beneficial to the agencies of public assistance, the plan had a two-fold purpose. It would provide needed funds to keep his development afloat.2 Though Christensen’s vested interest was reflected in the proposal, it was not without altruistic consideration. This humanitarianism was revealed in stories from old-timers who reported he allowed no one to go hungry.3 He “grubstaked” more families than the financial structure of the project could absorb.
Christensen found other causes to be responsible for the difficulties at Kristenstad. In a letter to Svend Waendelin, an archivist in Denmark, he outlined the source of trouble. Including tearsheets of articles about the development, Christensen described the adverse affects of this publicity. He explained that feature articles appearing in the Fort Worth Press were turned over to United Press and published throughout the United States in metropolitan papers. This resulted in vast numbers of destitute people coming with the expectation of having a secure life provided. Other undesirables, such as “criminals, communists, fanatics, and rattle-brained cranks of every description” were influenced by the publicity to think that Kristenstad would be the place to experiment with their “half-baked theories.” A folder, describing the true nature of the settlement, had been widely distributed in an effort to offset the destructive publicity. Yet, many “nuts” continued to “blow in” there without any correspondence, arrangements or invitation. A few gained a “toehold” before their real purpose was revealed. They came pretending to be decent, law-abiding people, but in a few months, they started their “communist propaganda.” Christensen found it quite difficult to get the “immoral” element out of the community.4
Other reports from former residents of Kristenstad confirmed that Christensen did not overstate the magnitude of the dissident movement in the community. The dissent was expressed in many forms. Mrs. Christensen related an incident that reflected the ideological differences in the community. Passing the school on her way to the post office, she noticed that the American flag was not flying. Upon questioning the teacher, Miss Tovrea Garnett, she learned that James Raicoff had demanded that the flag be taken down. Raicoff stated that he did not want his youngest daughter indoctrinated. He felt that his oldest daughter, then twelve years of age, was mature enough to know the difference, but the youngest child was vulnerable. Raicoff told the settlers that “John B.” only wanted them to work like slaves, not to own their land or make money off their work. Several believed him and demanded their money back on their land purchases.5 Unable to refund the money at that point, Christensen was tagged with the reputation of being a swindler.
Statements from Raicoff confirmed his communist leanings and the role he played in disrupting the community. He viewed the people in Kristenstad as helpless victims. “They were inveigled to come there and bring everything they had in life. But Mr. Christensen controlled the capital. When I got there, I spoiled the whole thing.” Certainly Raicoff had past experience in using these disruptive tactics.6
A native of Bulgaria, Raicoff came to the United States just prior to World War I. Quoting Lenin extensively, he boasted of being jailed for expressing his views at a union meeting during litigation of a steel strike in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Supporting the Socialist Labor Party, Raicoff considered himself to be far more radical than the stated position of the party. He felt that capitalism exploited the laboring man and promoted political corruption. “Capital is the profit of labor, produced by labor, then in turn, used to exploit labor.” Raicoff believed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was a promise not yet fulfilled.7 This dissident, Bulgarian printer gathered many followers at Kristenstad and caused a schism among the residents that was never resolved.
The screening system employed by Christensen failed to exclude the most disruptive element in the settlement. Yet, circumstances that permitted the entry of the Raicoff family could hardly be foreseen. Peter Molyneaux hired Raicoff, a union printer, to help build a print shop and set up a press that he would operate in the publication of The Interpreter and editions of the popular classics. Raicoff felt no loyalty to Christensen and boasted that he could speak his own mind because he did not depend on Christensen for his wages.8 Articulate of speech and having no inhibitions, Raicoff became the spokesman for the group that challenged Christensen in an effort to gain control of the development. School attendance records attest to the effectiveness of Raicoff’s campaign. The school year 1931-32, before the arrival of Raicoff, attendance roll listed thirty-three names. In 1932-33, the only year Martha Raicoff was enrolled, students numbered forty-three. The following year, enrollment was down to twenty-six. The years 1936-37, and 1937-38, nine students enrolled. In 1940-41, the last year school was held at Kristenstad, only six students attended.9 These records reflected a clear pattern of disintegration of the community.
Christensen, himself a persuasive speaker, sought to reverse the trend of increasing dissension. Calling meetings at the school house, he attempted to explain the financial problems associated with the development and asked for the loyal support from those he had assisted. However, a nucleus of resisters expressed their opposition in various ways, the most serious was refusal to continue payment on their loans, even though they continued to live in the community. The group that refused to pay were called “copperheads” and Christensen’s supporters were dubbed “skunks.”10 The saddest part about these disputes was that friends and family members found themselves on opposite side of the controversy.11
In September 1936, agitation in the community became so great that one of the settlers came to the post office and “threw acid in the face of John B. Fortunately, most of it went on his shirt.” This incident convinced Mrs. Christensen that the project could not succeed as long as this division existed. Referring to Raicoff with a touch of bitterness, she remarked, “If he couldn’t run it, he wanted to destroy it.”12
Following the “acid incident,” the Christensens returned to Rainbow to live in the building that had formerly housed a commissary operated by Christensen in that community. The home they vacated when they moved to the Bend had burned.13 Christensen continued to supervise the development at Kristenstad while he attended the business of the Grange Mutual Life Insurance Company. As president of this company, he was striving to maintain his financial position. He had continued to meet the payments on the Bend property and he looked forward to an opportunity to reorganize and make another beginning. He had many other projects planned to bolster his financial standing.14
His untimely death on June 30, 1937, prevented Christensen from witnessing the fulfillment of his dreams. On January 14, 1938, the Bend property was returned to the Burleson and Johns heirs for non-payment of the promissory notes that secured the property. In the settlement, Mrs. Christensen regained control of the Rainbow property and the Sabine County land, though the heirs retained the mineral rights on the East Texas property.15 Christensen’s efforts to secure rural electrification was realized on June 12, 1938, when his widow signed an easement to Community Public Service Company.16 Hard-surfaced roads were provided by the State Highway Department crossing the Rainbow property in 1941.17 Possum Kingdom Lake, the “first of a series of Brazos River lakes he envisioned, was formed in 1941.”18 The dreams of John B. Christensen were not in vain. Many people have benefited from the tireless efforts of this dynamic gentleman.
Few men attracted such widespread attention as did John B. Christensen. His real estate development project known as Kristenstad was the primary object of curiosity. Efforts to analyze the socio-economic nature of the farming-industrial complex provided mixed reviews of the founder and project alike. The varied labels applied to the community reflected a general lack of understanding of the economic structure that characterized the settlement. While it was true that the colony contained utopian elements, the humanitarian goals of the transcendentalists were the same as those of Christensen’s “Americanism.” Only the methods of obtaining those goals differed. A product of America’s “age of enterprise,” Christensen sought what he considered to be the most effective application of capital resources. Ownership of private property and the profit motive were central features of his business activities. Kristenstad was a capitalist development that exemplified the element of risk encountered by all entrepreneurs.
|1||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.|
|2||Fort Worth Press, 17 November 1932.|
|3||Ficklen, “Texas’ Lost Utopia.”|
|4||John B. Christensen to Svend Waendelin, Aalborg, Denmark, 3 February 1936, in possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|5||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1978.|
|6||Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.|
|9||Texas, Hood County, School Records, District #34.|
|10||Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.|
|11||Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.|
|12||Ibid., 26 July 1977.|
|14||John B. Christensen to Svend Waendelin, 14 August 1936, in possession of Mrs. Christensen.|
|15||Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. 33, p. 549.|
|16||Ibid., Vol. 34, p. 420.|
|17||Ibid., Vol. 36, p. 286.|
|18||Ficklen, “Texas’ Lost Utopia.”|
Christensen, James, to Christensen, John B. University of Missouri Law School, 13 October 1894.
Christensen, John B., to John Anderson Publishing Company. Chicago, Illinois, 22 May 1902.
Christensen, John B., to Campbell, A.C. Grace City, North Dakota, 21 February 1933.
Christensen, John B., to Kristensen, Neils. Kjohenhavn, Denmark, 14 April 1902.
Christensen, John B., to Waendelin, Svend. Aalberg, Denmark, 3 February 1936; and 14 August 1936.
Christensen, Myrtle. Interview by the author, Dallas, Texas, 26 July 1977; 29 June 1978; 26 July 1978; 27 July 1978; 28 July 1978.
Cogdill, Raymond. Interview by the author, Granbury, Texas, 21 July 1977.
Collins, Cecil. Interview by the author, Glen Rose, Texas, 20 July 1977.
Conally, Eugene. Interview by the author, Glen Rose, Texas, 15 June 1978.
Flanary, Mrs. Billie. Interview by the author, Rainbow, Texas, 20 July 1978.
Gambrell, Zilpha. Interview by the author, Rainbow, Texas, 16 June 1978.
Garrett, Jenkins. Interview by the author, Fort Worth, Texas, 6 April 1965.
Maddox, Lester. Interview by the author, Fort Worth, Texas, 27 July 1978.
Raicoff, Anna, and Reilly, Mrs. Wallace. Interview by Dr. George Green, Arlington, Texas, 10 April 1975.
Raicoff, James. Interview by the author, Dallas, Texas, 27 July 1977.
Roberson, Emma. Interview by the author, Granbury, Texas, 21 July 1977.
Rogers, Ruth Harrison. Interview by the author, Granbury, Texas, 21 July 1977.
Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Press. Interview by the author, Granbury, Texas, 17 June 1978.
Texas, Hood County. Deed Records, Vol. 1, 54, 55, 60 and 67.
Texas, Hood County. School Attendance and Grade Records.
Texas, Somervell County. Deed Records, Vol. P, S, 28 and 33.
Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward. New York: Random House, 1951.
Carroll, H. Bailey, and Webb, Walter P., eds. Handbook of Texas, 2 Vols. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952.
Codman, John Thomas. Brook Farm. Boston: Arena Publishing Company, 1894.
Curtis, Edith Roelker. A Season in Utopia. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. American Note-Books. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1883. Quoted in Codman. Brook Farm, p. 21.
Junior Woman’s Club of Granbury, Texas, Hood County History in Picture and Story, 1970. Fort Worth: Historical.
King, Dick. Ghost Towns of Texas. San Antonio: The Naylor Company, 1956.
Kirby, Georgiana Bruce. Years of Experience. New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1887.
Murray, Robert K. Red Scare, A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955.
Parrington, Jr., Vernon Louis. American Dreams. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1964.
Sams, Henry W., ed. Autobiography of Brook Farm. New Jersey: Prentiss Hall, Inc., 1958.
Swift, Lindsey. Brook Farm. New York: Corinth Books, Inc., 1961.
Texas Almanac. Dallas: A.H. Belo Corporation, 1931, 1933, 1936 and 1939.
Thrall, William Flind, and Hibbard, Addison. A Handbook to Literature. New York: The Odyssey Press, Inc., 1960.
Wish, Harvey. Society and Thought in Early America. New York: McKay Company, Inc., 1964.
Ficklen, Mary. “Texas’ Lost Utopia.” Texas Parade, May 1971.
Baker, Ethel. “The Saga of Kristenstad,” Hood County News Tablet, 29 January 1970; and 5 February 1970.
Cleburne Daily Times, 15 November 1927.
Dallas Morning News, 3 April 1932.
Douglas, C.L. “Kristenstad Offers Haven to Jobless,” Fort Worth Press, 15 November 1932.
Fort Worth Star Telegram, 14 January 1938.
Granbury News, 2 July 1937.
Hammond, C.M. “Kristenstad: A Practical Utopia,” Texas Weekly, 29 August 1931.
Hood County News Tablet, 8 July 1937.
Landon, Francs O., and MacLennan, Verdi. “Kristenstad: A Novel Colony on the Brazos,” Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933.
Mart Herald, 30 March 1961.
New York Times, 23 August 1932.
Richhart, C.L. “Kristenstad Fulfills Modern Utopia Hopes: Colony on Brazos Has Own Store and Money,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, 11 October 1931.
Fort Worth and Tarrant County Council of Camp Fire Girls, Inc. Camping Brochure.
National Grange Monthly, June 1936; October 1936; November 1936; and December 1936.
Rainbow Reminder, June 1928.
Waples-Platter v. Rainbow Company, Inc. 65 S.W. 2d 391, 1936.
ILLUSTRATION – Map of Kristenstad, Hood County, Texas (not included here, but can be viewed at the Hood County Library in Granbury, Texas)
Copyright by Vaudrene R. Smith Hunt 1978 – All Rights Reserved
Written permission granted to the Hood County Genealogical Society for reproduction to its Internet web site