The Comfort Freethought Cenotaph Dedication (December 2002)

Greg Krauter (left) stands by the lovely freethought cenotaph honoring “The Founding Freethinkers,” which was dedicated on Nov. 2 in front of his historic store in Comfort. Photo by Catherine Fahringer.

It was a chilly and rainy day but still over 100 people turned out for the Nov. 2 unveiling of the new German Freethinker Settlers monument in Comfort, Texas.

Although a five-year controversy preceded the dedication, the event went smoothly.

Originally, an impressively large, 32-ton limestone freethought monument had been placed in Comfort Park in 1998, with approval of the Chamber of Commerce and the proper authorities. The monument was later “kidnapped” in late 1999, following an outcry by some townspeople because part of the funding for the project had come from “atheists.”

All present were pleased by the new eight-foot tall limestone monument, constructed by Karl H. Kuhn of Boerne, which was placed in front of the Ingenhuett Store on High Street in Comfort.

The ceremony brought together atheists and freethinkers, who sponsored and paid for the monument, and others who respect freedom and history.

There were attendees from local “Hill County,” Kerrville, Austin, San Antonio, Abilene, Houston, and the Dallas area.

The German Freethinkers were a fiercely independent group of intellectuals who settled the Hill Country beginning in the 1840’s. Their settlements were called the “Latin Colonies.” They supported many progressive causes including abolition, women’s suffrage, and secular schools. Most were decidedly unreligious.

Don Lawrence, president of Freethinkers Association of Central Texas during much of the time of the Comfort “Rock” controversy, introduced the speakers, most of whom were descendants of the Founding Freethinkers of the area. Don has been the master of ceremonies for several of the “atheist invasions” that have taken place in Comfort.

Two representatives of local government spoke first. Eddie John Vogt, soon to become Kendall County Judge, and descendant of original area settlers, was followed by Rusty Busby, president of the Chamber of Commerce, which had approved the original cenotaph. Mr. Busby is a newly-elected Kendall County Commissioner. Irene Meyer Scharf, a candidate for the Texas Board of Education, and Bebe Fenstermaker added an intimate note to the speeches with poetry and histories of stalwart women freethinker settlers. Ms. Fenstermaker’s grandmother was instrumental in securing the vote for women.

The crowd was awed by the golden eagle put on display by the next speaker, John A. Karger, a descendant of original area settlers and Executive Director of a bird-of-prey conservancy. The eagle was seen as an appropriate symbol of the independence of mind of the freethought settlers.

At last, the cenotaph was unveiled by Ed Scharf, author of the booklet “Frontier Freethinkers in the Texas Hill Country.” Ed, currently a candidate for Congress, instigated the original Freethinker Cenotaph project after attending the re-dedication of the Treue der Union monument several years ago. That monument recognizes those men who were massacred in the Battle of the Nueces. Ed realized that a monument was needed to keep the story of all the freethinking settlers alive. Many in current-day Comfort were unaware of the amazing story of the Founding Freethinkers, and how some were slaughtered for opposing slavery and the Confederacy.

Greg Krauter, the descendant of six of the original freethinker founders, made the closing remarks. Greg owns and operates the Ingenhuett Store where the cenotaph was placed, a landmark that has been in his family and in continuous operation since frontier times.

The lunch at the Armadillo on the Creek afterward, attended by more than 70, was one of good cheer and celebration.

Freedom From Religion Foundation