Zizelmann House at Government Canyon – Massey

By Cynthia Leal Massey

Along the old Joe Johnston route through Government Canyon in northwest Bexar County and near a flowing spring is a two-story 19th century building of large hand-chiseled limestone blocks. Johnston was an officer in the US Army, and in the early 1850s was commissioned to lay out a military supply road to frontier posts throughout Texas. The road is rocky and steep, but it is near a water source and perhaps that is why it was chosen as a supply route.

What is not known is why in the early 1880s, German immigrant Christian Zizelmann (1840-1891) decided to erect a substantial limestone building along the route, far from “civilization” and on a very rugged landscape.  He and wife Emelie Tausch (1851-1915) had purchased the 160-acre property from Jacob and Caroline Hoffmann in 1880 for $500, with the stipulation that the Hoffmanns would have water rights. The water alone made it a prime piece of property.

Why would the Hoffmanns who had been gobbling property up for their own sprawling ranch sell this prime piece of property to the Zizelmanns? Who were the Zizelmanns to the Hoffmanns? Christian was the brother of William, husband of Jacob’s niece Mary Hoffmann, daughter of Jacob’s elder brother Nicolas and wife Maria Agatha Bendele. There may have been other family connections through Caroline Hoffmann.

Did Christian, who listed his occupation in 1880 as a baker, decide to become a rancher? Zizelmann registered his livestock brand on April 2, 1883 in Bexar County.  Married to Emelie since 1872, the couple had two children: Agnes born in 1873 and Emelie Pauline born in 1874. The family was settled on Rivas Street (now Houston Street) where their residence and bakery were located. Nevertheless, Zizelmann continued to purchase and sell ranchland in northwest Bexar County, accumulating 1400 acres.

Was this new property and building to be a family homestead for a ranching operation or an extension to his bakery business, perhaps an inn for travelers? It is a mystery, as there are no historic documents related to the Zizelmann house that have been located. It is unclear if the family or hired help actually lived in the house.

Some problems occurred between the Hoffmans and Zizelmanns as indicated by two suits in District Court filed by Jacob and Caroline against the Zizelmanns, one in March 1886 and the other in September 1890.  Whatever occurred did not prevent Emelie from selling the property, including all 1400 acres, to Jacob and Caroline Hoffmann in 1893, two years after Christian’s death.

The Zizelmann house is an impressive building, despite more than a century of neglect. At 1,100 square feet, the homestead’s 18-inch walls are crumbling and stairwells to the loft and basement are broken or missing. Nevertheless, it is a testament to the German pioneers who immigrated to Bexar County, an edifice worth appreciation and conservation.

Cynthia Leal Massey is the award-winning author of Death of a Texas Ranger, A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, winner of a 2015 San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award and a 2015 Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for Western Nonfiction, and several books on the history of Helotes, Texas.  Visit www.cynthialealmassey.com for more information.

October 6, 2016