Joseph Carl Petmecky, Hungarian American
"Pioneer Austin Notables"
By Jeanette Hackmiser, Volume II, 1980
Who Invented A Life Saving Device for Cowboys?
That man was none other than Joseph Carl Petmecky, son of G.G. and Anna Huebner Petmecky, who was born in Austria-Hungary on August 12, 1842. Petmecky is a Hungarian name that means "Little Turk Killer." (The emperor of Hungary bestowed knighthood upon the Petmecky family because of their valiant deeds during the War between the Turks and the Hungarians. Even though the family had thus been knighted, the G.F. Petmecky family preferred to live in a new country where freedom allowed persons to become whatever they chose to be.) When G. F. and Anna Petmecky with their children, Franz, Maria, Theresa, and Lisette left Germany and embarked at Antwerp, Belgium on the ship STRABO on September 11, 1845, for Texas, the land of opportunity, Joseph Carl was only three years of age. On November 20, 1845, the 169 Verein immigrants including the Petmecky family under the leadership of Prince Solms landed at Indianola (Galveston). On this occasion the ship made a comparatively fast trip with its passengers.
As the family started out for their exciting new home in the wonderful new land, who can imagine the thoughts and expectations of the bright and alert young man of four years? He saw the big land without roads, many animals among the threes and listened to stories of adventure after his exciting crossing of the great big ocean. From Indianola the group traveled two weeks by ox cart to arrive in Sequin where they camped and rested after their long trip. All were age to continue to their destination, their new home, on the banks of the Comal River, the first settlement. The location was ideal, for there was plenty of fresh water, wood for building homes to be and a mild climate. On March 21, 1845, with Prince Solms as a leader the families arrived at the Solms settlement, present New Braunfels. The Petmecky family received a town lot and 10 acres of land. At once they began to plant crops of corn and vegetables as to construct their log cabin homes. According to the contract a married man with a family was to receive 320 acres of land.
The pioneer family endured many hardships in the new land, but kept on working through trials and tribulations until they succeeded at their tasks. Sorrow came to the Petmecky family, for the young mother, Anna, died at the age of 35 years on March 19, 1847, during the winter scourge that swept the settlement. The father was left with two small boys and three small girls to carry on the household tasks as well as the farming operations. During this difficult time the boys and girls grew to assume responsibilities beyond their years. Their education was received at home and was of the practical kind.
After the remarriage of G.F., Joseph Carl and Franz left their home in New Braunfels. In 1851when Joseph was about nine years of age, he came to Austin and visited with Gunsmith Owens at his shop on Congress Avenue. When Owens observed the young man's interest in the trade of gunsmithing, he gave him an aptitude test; to file a rough piece of iron into a perfect square – an impossible job. Joseph filed and filed away but was unable to accomplish the task. However, his care and persistence moved Owens to offer to accept him as an apprentice. Joseph was such an excellent learner and worker that when Owens died in 1855, he only fifteen years of age, was able to carry on the business successfully under the name of J.C. Petmecky. He was skillful and talented young man – an inventory.
Probably, his most successful and remarkable invention was that of the spring steel spur which was made by hand tooled steel. He imported special workmen skilled in precisions iron work from Sweden. The steel spring spur was a most valuable invention, especially for cowboys who sometimes fell from their horses during round-ups or on cattle drives, because the spring would open up and keep the spur from injuring the legs. The Petmecky foot piece was symbol for all well-dressed cowboys. Among his other inventions were numerous improvements to guns, and help with parts of the Colt revolver. He had the skill to make a bullet mold and ammunition to fit many different kinds and sizes of guns – long and short barrel, pistols et cetera. He made and sold guns to many famous Indian fighters, as Big Foot Wallace and Texas Rangers.
Among his friends was the Texas Ranger Captain Sullivan Ross, whom Sam Houston had appoint5ed 1859 to protect the frontier and to stop the Indian raids on the settlers. Sul Ross asked Joseph to make him a gun with bullets that would penetrate the armor of the famous Comanche Indian Chief Peta Nocona. Accordingly Petmecky obliged and rebored the mold for a heavier bullet and a heavier charge of powder. Ross's attack on the Indian village at the head of the Pease River was successful, for the Indian chef was killed and the Comanche strength was shattered.
The J.C. Petmecky Store on Congress Avenue grew and prospered until the outbreak of the War between the States. For the duration Petmecky closed his store, volunteered his services to the Confederacy and served his country with the Sibley Brigade which was organized in June 1861 at San Antonio. He was among the 2,000 Texans who left from san Antonio via Fort Bliss, El Paso and headed for Fort Craig, New Mexico. On February 21, 1862 The Texans participated in the victorious battle of Valverde, followed the Rio Grande River and took Albuquerque without fighting.
While in Albuquerque Petmecky spent his time making molds and ammunition for the various kinds of guns used by the Confederate soldiers. Joseph had unpleasant memories of the city – very cold weather, small amount of food and poor housing conditions. As the Confederate soldiers moved onward in their march toward Santa Fe, they met the Federal troops on March 28 at Glorietta where they were defeated in hand to hand fighting. The Sibley Expedition retreated and returned to San Antonio on July 6, 1862. Petmecky was among this group of hungry, tired and poorly clad foot soldiers who returned to Texas. He continued to help in the war effort by making molds and bullets and by repairing and making new guns.
Upon his return to Austin Joseph C. served with a group of vigilantes who protected the families of men away in the service, homes and businesses. In 1863 he served with approximately fifteen vigilantes who stopped a group ob bandits who had been hiding in the hills west of Austin from robbing the State Treasury. The Austinites surprised the 40 or more bandits who had chopped out the bottom of the safe in the treasury department building. A gun battle ensued and one shot robber was so furious that he tried to bite the boots of the men who passed near him, and gold and silver coins were scatted on the floor. The bandits fled to the hills, perhaps with $17,000, but left behind about %400,000 because of the fast thinking and acting of these brave men.
Reconstruction days were indeed difficult times for all Austinites and Texans alike. J.C. Petmecky once more opened his store and continued making and selling guns and ammunition for various kinks of firearms. He learned to be frugal and kept producing the very best products possible. He followed his Golden Rule "Treat people the way in which you wish them to treat you." It worked most of the time.
On March 11, 1867 Joseph Carl Petmecky and Adolphina Helena Sterzing secured a marriage license at the Travis county Court-house and were married by William H. Carr, a Justice of the peace, who was Mayor of Austin. They established a happy home here in Austin. In the course of time Joseph and Adolphina had a daughter, Anna, and six sons, Fred, Walter, Joseph, Jr., Charles, Jake, and Howell – to join them in their home. Adolphina was kept busy caring for the home and the children while Joseph worked doubly hard in his business. He helped his family by developing a cooler to keep milk, butter, and cream fresh.
In the 1800's Dr. Carver's original Wild West Show came to Austin and had performances in the present Hyde Park area. For their act Dr. Carver employed real Indians and the other roles were filled by local men and women. The most exciting part was when an old stage coach entered the area, and the Indians attacked it. On one occasion during the feigned Indian attack Petmecky played the part of one of the defenders. When he was shot and fell to the ground, his playacting was realistic that his wife jumped up, threw her hands in the air and screamed, "My Go, they've killed by Joe." Immediately, he arose and said "Sit down, Phena, I'm not dead." In the excitement everyone laughed, clapped their hands and enjoyed this scene very much. Undoubtedly, Joe did too.
Petmecky who was an excellent marksman and hunter knew the value and use of guns properly handled. He was interested in teaching his sons the proper care and use of their guns. His on rule was: "Load you gun when you go hunting, but unload it when not shooting it." After his boys returned from the hunt, their father personally checked each gun to see if it was loaded or not. The punishment for forgetting to unload a gun was the removal of the gun from the son's use for a month, according to his son Howell.
The J.C. Petmecky Store on Congress Avenue grew and prospered under the Petmecky management. Probaly, the first biclycles, motorcycles, Victor Phonographs, outdoor motores, pistorls and guns of all descriptions ere sold at the J.C Petmecky Sporting Goods Store. In later years the sons worked with their father in the business. Even after Joseph C. retired, he was interested in the business during his entire lifetime. The Petmecky Store received the recognition as the oldest retail business in Austin – 123 years in business continuously except for the war years.
When he retired Joseph C. bought a farm four mils from Menard on the San Saba River where he and his wife spent many happy days with their family.. According to the report he donated half of the funds needed to finance the Irrigation Project and Dam on the San Saba River. He was interested in the development of the area. The Petmeckys traveled from the farm to their town home often by wagon. On the farm the young men had the opportunity to practice good care of their guns as well as hunting skills and marksmanship.
Petmecky enjoyed recreation with his friends, such as a fishing trip with Dr. Lightner, Superintendent of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railroad. The men had a fun time at the fishing hole at the junction of the Llano and Colorado Rivers, while the porters of the train prepared food and waited on them.
Even though retired Petmecky was interested in the city, state, and nation. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Austin in 1905, he saw a most unusual sight on the Petmecky store building on Congress Avenue. Joseph C. had made a large double barrel shot gun which extended the full length of the building with an ad that read "Teddy's Bear Gun." The president expressed hi enjoyment with many "Ha, H's" and Petmecky was delighted.
On August 16, 1929 Joseph C. Petmecky died at his home in Austin and was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, his daughter Anna (Mr. F.E. Bruce of Los Angeles, California) and four sons – Fred, Charles, Jake, and Howell of Austin.
To remember Joseph C. Petmecky is to recall a pioneer of Indian fighting, cattle trail riding and buffalo hunting period of frontier Texas. At the age of 15 years he began his business career and wisely used his talents and ski9lls to help persons of the city, state, and nation to protect themselves in the rough frontier times. His daughter and his sons were indeed his pride and joy for he lived to see and to enjoy the development of their talents and abilities. He was especially proud of the manner in which his 16 year old son, Fred, became a world rifle shot champion and in the ingenuity in which his son, Jake, at 25 years of age, founded the first skeet range in Austin, and in the marksmanship and business abilities of his sons, Charles and Howell. His grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren continue to contribute to the business, civic and professional affairs of the city, state, and nation.
'The Surrender of Santa Anna' by William Huddle Portrait of Josesph Carl Petmecky by William Huddle
Current price for a set of J.C. Petmecky spurs: $15,000 Book featureing J.C. Petmecky spurs.
Gulf Ship's Passenger List: Gottifried Joseph Petmecky Family

Ship: Strabo From: Antwerp Departure Date: 11/11/1845 Arrived: 20 November 1845 No. passengers: 169 Arrival port: Indianola, Texas

Indianola, Texas was founded in 1846 as Indian Point by Sam Addision White and William M. Cook. A nearby stretch of beach had been chosen in 1844 by Carl, Prince of Solms Braunfels, as the landing place for German immigrants brought into Texas sponsored by the Adelsverein. The town grew rapidly, changing its name in 1849 to Indianola. Until the devastating hurricane of 1875, Indianola was the second busiest port in Texas. Although rebuilt, Indianola was again devastated by the hurricane of 1886. By 1887, the town was abandoned.
Possible painting of the ship Strabo. Family photo