Charles S. Demontel

CHARLES S. DEMONTEL (1812–1882). Charles DeMontel, colonizer, lawyer, engineer, soldier, and public servant, was born in Königsberg, Prussia, on October 24, 1812. He attended the University of Heidelberg, where he was a member of a student military guard unit. He probably first gained an interest in Texas while attending the Sorbonne at the University of Paris. Although most accounts of DeMontel’s arrival in Texas indicate that he left Pennsylvania in 1837 for Indianola, there is some evidence to suggest that he was present at San Jacinto in 1836, although not during the battle. During this time, he changed his name from Scheidemontel to DeMontel. In 1837 he bought property and lived in Palacios before taking residence at the Lockmar Inn in San Antonio in 1839. There he met Henri Castro, who convinced him to join his colonization efforts as an aide, guide, and land surveyor.

DeMontel traveled to Indianola in the employ of Castro to help lead the original Castro colonists to San Antonio, where, on September 1, 1844, he and the colonists joined Castro’s first trek to his land grant. DeMontel was present at the founding of Castroville on September 3, 1844. On November 13, 1845, he was married to Justine Pingenot, a daughter of one of the Castro colonists whom he had met late in 1844 at Port Lavaca and had romanced on their way to Castroville; seven children were born to the DeMontels.

In 1848, at the conclusion of the Mexican War, DeMontel commanded a company of Texas Rangers camped on Seco Creek near D’Hanis; in 1849 the site became Fort Lincoln. In 1853 he acquired 15,000 acres of land in the Hill Country in partnership with John Hunter Herndon and John James. James had surveyed Castroville in 1844. Together James and DeMontel surveyed and plotted a townsite, constructed a commissary, sawmill, and cabins and helped to sponsor many of the Polish settlers in what soon became the town of Bandera. DeMontel subsequently returned to Castroville to continue farming and ranching. He had great success raising cotton and had earned the nickname Cotton Planter by 1858.

He was the first county clerk of Medina County and was one of the three petitioners in the move to establish the first public school in Castroville. He was the Medina County delegate to the Secession Convention in 1861. Convention records indicate that DeMontel was forty-eight years of age, a lawyer, and the owner of nine slaves and slightly more than 30,000 acres.

He was appointed by Brig. Gen. Hamilton P. Bee to the position of provost marshal of Bandera, Uvalde, and Medina counties. By appointment of Governor Francis R. Lubbock he also served as captain of Company G (later changed to D), Mounted Rangers, for Bandera, Blanco, Medina, and Uvalde counties in the Frontier Regiment. He was discharged from service on February 9, 1863, and commissioned by Jefferson Davis on March 14, 1863, as commander of the steamer Texas, a privately owned vessel of the Confederate States. In 1864 DeMontel returned to Medina County and raised a company of cavalry to serve under Col. John S. “Rip” Ford. William “Big Foot” Wallace was his lieutenant.

 Photograph, Grave of Charles DeMontel in Medina County. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

After the Civil War he traveled to the Mexican border to sell cotton and other farm products produced in part by Polish farmers. He frequently attended social and cultural functions in San Antonio and served as a master Mason of the Alamo Lodge. In 1871 in Medina County he organized the Charles DeMontel Company, which combined his business interests in real estate and lumber and shingle production. In the late 1870s DeMontel led the unsuccessful drive to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad through Castroville. His last act of public service was as Indian advisor to Company G of the Texas Volunteer Guards. The company, known as the Montel Guards, was organized at Montel, Texas, in August 1881. DeMontel died on August 3, 1882, at Castroville and was buried with Masonic rites in the family plot on the old Montel ranch north of Castroville.