George Noessel probably doesn't mean anything to you. But he does to me. He was a German
filled with a curious wanderlust
. This is what I know of him.
He was born in 1813 Hesse Cassel, Germany. His original last name was probably Nößel. In the Americanization it came to rhyme with “fossil.” He migrated to the United States in 1831, landing in Baltimore, Maryland. Within three years he made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana and was shipping cargo from New Orleans to Ciudad Camargo, Mexico, via Aransas Pass, Texas.
While chasing ponies on a shipping trip, (documents are unclear whether George was chasing wild ponies for taming or trying to recapture some of his that had escaped, but really, chasing ponies is enough) he was captured by Native Americans. (Most likely the cocoon-necklace-wearing Coahuiltec.) He escaped and reached Ciudad Camargo in safety.
Easy come, easy go
He returned to New Orleans to open a cigar shop on the corner of Canal and Charles Streets. He amassed a small fortune and attracted the attentions of one Thilka Werth. In 1839 they were married. They had one son, Otto, in Louisiana before moving to Bastrop, Texas that same year, where he performed duties as the river guardian for the Congress of the Republic of Texas in the Archives War. While in Texas they had two more children, Felen (Felix) and Sophia, before George lost his fortune and moved the family back to Louisiana by 1846.
In that year he was listed as a daguerreian in New Orleans, with a gallery at 18 Royal Street. In November 1846 he took portraits of Texas Ranger chiefs John C. Hays and Samuel Walker. These two were renown, and Noessel's display of their portraits raised his reputation above that of his competitors.
In early 1847 his gallery was listed at the corner of Poydras and Camp Streets. Pushed by the increasing competition in New Orleans, and aware of the opportunity that the recent U.S. occupation represented, in June of that year he moved his gallery to the bustling port town of Veracruz, Mexico.
Chasing las doñas
The site of his first location at the commercial arcade of Portal de las Flores was apparently a bit seedy, as ladies concerned with their reputation would not attend. Within a month he moved his gallery to the more reputable Palace, as the following text from a newspaper advertisement of the time shows.
The Daguerreotype establishment of the undersigned has
been removed to the Pallace [sic] as the same has the best light and is
a place where ladies can enter with the utmost propriety, all those
who are desirous of having their likeness taken, would do well
to call soon.
GEORGE NOESSEL, Portal de las Flores
Vera Cruz, July 9, 1847.
It was in 1847 that one Sebastian D. Allis sat for a daguerreotype for George. (It is this daguerreotype that survived the years to be found in El Paso, Texas by Dr. Lindsay Baker. Dr. Baker collaborated with daguerreotype historian Thomas R. Kailbourn to uncover the history of the image and of the image maker, from which comes much of this writeup.)
As of October 1847 the doñas were still reticent to patronize the Palace, so he again moved his gallery to the private residence of a Mr. Haas.
Mr. George Noessel has removed his Daguer-
reotype establishment from the Palace to the house
of Mr. Haas, and as it is a family residence, he
hopes that the Ladies of Vera Cruz who felt a
delicacy in going to the Palace, will now honor
him with a call.
Mr. Noessel will remain in the city only a few days.
What's this last bit about? By the last days of 1847, he was appointed principal conductor of the massive commercial contingent of a convoy bound for Mexico City. This part of the train would have 900 pack mules and 60 wagons carrying more than a million dollars in merchandise. (Adjusted for inflation, this is around $21,000,000 in 2005. It was a huge undertaking.)
The caravan to Mexico City
He wrote three letters to the Veracruz Free American newspaper with updates of the caravan's progress. In the first, two days out of town, he tells of the pack mules' and wagons' being bogged down in the sand hills west of town, at which time they were attacked by guerrilleros. Several members of the dragoon escort were killed. 350 of the mules were lost along with $100,000 worth of goods that they were carrying. The bandits dogged the caravan all the way to the foothills of the Sierra Madre, where it stopped at Jalapa to rest. Noessel took the time to admire the town and the lovely ladies. “If I was not a married man, I believe there would be a danger of falling in love.” Finally, on 22 January 1848, the caravan arrived in Mexico City.
Within two weeks Lt. Col. Dixon S. Miles published a letter of recommendation for Noessel in the Daily American Star for the post of wagonmaster on a caravan heading back to Veracruz. That same day the Mexico City Monitor Republicano published an affirmation that Noessel had been selected by the merchants.
That's the last we hear of George for a few years, until after he had moved and switched careers. Again.
The inexplicable switch to hotelier
In 1849, perhaps unable to ever convince the doñas of his credibility, he moved the family to Corpus Christi, where he purchased Henry Kinney's home from him. (Kinney is the founder of the city.) The family converted the home to a hotel and invited Thilka’s mother to migrate from Germany and live with them. During the 1850s many U.S. Army officers, (including pugnacious and pyromaniacal future-Union-general Philip Henry Sheridan), stayed at the hotel, partaking of the Noessel hospitality.
George Noessel died when he was 57 years old and was buried in the Old Bayview Cemetery. His white tombstone fell many years ago and is cracked in three pieces: the cross, and an upper and lower half. The text on the tombstone reads:
In memory of
June 4, 1870
We Miss Thee
The only known image of George Noessel can be found online at http://www.library.ci.corpus-christi.tx.us/oldbayview/noesselgphoto.htm
- The Daguerreian annual 1993, edited by Peter E. Palmquist
- History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846, Vol. II, p355.
- Family legend