Hood County Texas Genealogical Society





Headlines are molders of image. "The Saga of Kristenstad" emphasized the truth of this statement. Articles recounting the activities in the Hood County settlement contained many salient points covering the true nature of the development; yet, the term "utopia" was consistently associated with the community. Geographic isolation was equated with clannishness. Cooperative effort was viewed as socialistic. The initial plans announced for a Danish colony were repeated in subsequent reports and superimposed upon the developing settlement when the description no longer applied. Identical terminology used in many sources revealed the practice of news writers copying each other. Repetition and building on previous accounts resulted in a general acceptance of the narrative as factual information. If seen in print often enough, it was accepted as truth. The lack of documentation for news stories contributed to recurring misrepresentations; however, the news coverage provided a indispensable tool when accompanied by research of public records and interviews with those individuals closest to the unfolding drama.

Termed a development venture by Mrs. Myrtle Christensen, the capitalist nature of the project was revealed in the terms of the contract transferring ownership of 6,000 acres of land from the Burleson and Johns families to the Rainbow Company on January 1, 1928.2 The purchase price of $120,000 was to be paid and secured to be paid by the Rainbow Company in a series of seven promissory notes of $15,000 each coming due on even numbered years with a maturity date twenty-five years following the initiation of each note. This arrangement included a down payment of $15,000 and forty years to complete the retirement of the debt. Interest at five percent per annum would be charged on the unpaid balance with the condition that no interest would be levied for the year 1928, providing that $10,000 worth of improvements were made on the property.3 A contract accompanying the recorded deed outlined agreements not contained in the sale of the property. Twenty-five percent of the net profits from the sale of lumber taken from the acreage would be applied to the seven notes. Income from the production of charcoal would be similarly allocated. Total compensation for any land condemned for public usage would be applied to the debt. Finally a release from the vendor's lien on the property securing the notes would be made for such acreage on which $30 per acre was paid.4

The intricate financial arrangements of the transactions indicated that Christensen was aware of the necessity to maintain a favorable cash flow. However, the last provision of the agreement also proved to be a most important detail for the historian. It refuted allegations of duplicity on the part of Christensen in his land dealings with the settlers. Many observers believed that Christensen sold land with the knowledge that he could not provide clear title to the property.5 It was the inability of settlers to pay for the land that resulted in default and forfeiture of their holdings.

Extensive advance planning of the real estate development project was evident. Bearing the same date as the deed of transfer, a plat of the surveyed townsite was filed. Located in the central part of the 6,000 acre tract, blocks, 8, 9, 14, 15, 23 and 24 from the original J.W. Moore Survey comprised the boundaries of the map of Kristenstad.6 (See a copy of the survey in the pocket.) The plat was similar to that of Washington, D.C., with the main streets converging on a central plaza. These main arteries bisected the townsite diagonally and were named Washington Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue. Other main streets approaching the central plaza at right angles were Kent, Johnson, Crockett and Zanco. Horizontal streets skirting the perimeter of the town on the north were named Oden, Johns and Houston; on the south, they were named Austin, Doris and Mitchell. Connecting streets running north to south of this rectangular survey were Olaf, Tonkaway, Seminole, Kickapoo, Cherokee, Burleson, Cordova and Rjukan. Eight blocks, two lots deep, plus eight triangular pieces of land, were divided into small business lots that surrounded the plaza. Two additional tiers of lots completed the proposed downtown business district and residential lots. Tracts of about two and one-half acres completed the central section of the survey. Larger tracts were located on the outer radius of the area proposed for development.7 Less than one-third of the 6,000 acres was earmarked for resale in the first stage of development.

The financial arrangement for purchase of the De Cordova Bend property was only one aspect of the capitalist intent of John B. Christensen. In order to raise sufficient capital for the down payment, Christensen deeded certain lots in his Rainbow development to members of the Burleson and Johns families and gave them a mortgage on the remaining portion plus a mortgage on two plots of land, two hundred acres and twenty acres, he owned in Sabine County, Texas.8 His long-time friend and financial backer, Homer Mitchell of Dallas, provided additional funds in the transaction that included the reorganization of the Old Rainbow Company into a new organization.9 Selling tracts from the De Cordova property at $40 per acre, Christensen charged six percent interest on loans extended to buyers. He bought the property for $20 per acre at five percent interest. As director of the colony, he expected to cover the purchase price of the 6,000 acres through these sales, leaving him "a profit of his individual farm . . . and rough timbered acreage unfitted for cultivation." The fact that the surplus land was not suited for farming did not indicate a lack of worth, since it was believed to be rich in natural resources and expected to make a nice return on the capital investment.10

Location of prospective buyers was the first order of business in the development. The original intent was to obtain from the American-Scandinavian classes diligent, thrifty families to people the settlement. However, other desirable buyers met the qualifications required of applicants.11 Strict examination of prospective tenants as to character and ability was maintained. A letter dated February 21, 1933, to Mr. A.C. Campbell of Grace City, North Dakota, reflected this diligence. Christensen requested the names and addresses of at least three people that would vouch for him as "a loyal, law-abiding, industrious person of integrity." The founder described Kristenstad as a common sense and practical business, based on neighborliness and old-fashioned cooperation. Christensen denied the existence of a dreamland, paradise, or "utopia" that had been projected in "pen pictures" of the settlement.12 In view of this candid description of the project to a prospective buyer, the allegations of perfidious conduct on the part of Christensen was proven to be without foundation.

The widely publicized announcement of the Central Texas project as a Danish colony left an indelible impression in the minds of readers throughout the United States. Realizing that Texas claimed many settlements distinguished by the ethnic origin of its residents, readers expected Kristenstad to be a Scandinavian community. Yet, only a few settlers of Scandinavian descent made their homes in Kristenstad. Most of the tenants came from Texas and many of them from only a short distance away.13 The seven family names of foreign origin reported in the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1932 were interspersed with many ethnically dissimilar names on school attendance records.14 The list, including such names as Whitehead, Buchanan, Wolske, Hinkle, Turner, Isreal, Thompson, Smith, Herring, Paxton, Mall, Phelps, Molder, Cogdill, Miller, Corbett, Kinkade, Maddox, Garnett, Aga, Caldwell and Long, reflected the mixed ethnic heritage of the community.15 The principal occupation of many of the residents was farming; however, Christensen sought people of other various skills and abilities to achieve a balanced and near self-sustaining society.16 Roy Corbett, a dentist, Mrs. Paul Long, editor of the Southern Dairyman, Mrs. J.A. Cogdill, a housekeeper, Francis Smith, who worked in the print shop, Tovrea Garnett, teacher, A.C. Campbell, engaged in trucking, and Peter Molyneaux, publisher, are all testimonials to the successful recruiting techniques used by Christensen.17

Personal contact and word of mouth added to the increasing numbers at Kristenstad. Mrs. Maude Smith and her daughter, Francis, came from Fort Worth. They were the contact by which Lester Maddox and his father learned of the project.18 Ruth Harrison Rogers came with her parents from Fort Worth.19 Raymond Cogdill formerly lived at Falls Creek, a community across the river from Kristenstad. His uncle worked for Christensen before his death and Raymond joined his widowed aunt and her children when they moved to the community.20 Mrs. Emma Roberson came from Erath County where she made contact with Christensen through the Grange Organization.21 As the depression deepened, many people hearing about the settlement came without invitation. Down on their luck, these unfortunate individuals posed a serious problem for the developer. Reluctant to turn them away, Christensen jeopardized the financial structure of the settlement. He later observed that these transactions created insurmountable problems for the development.22

The wide range of business activity of Christensen was generally unknown to residents of the Bend. This lack of awareness concerning the complexities of business arrangements relating to the project resulted in resentment and distrust of Christensen on the part of some. Working daily from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., he required the services of a secretary to help with correspondence.23 His secretary would become angry with Mr. Christensen for using the common language of the people with whom he was talking. She stated that he had the greatest command of the English language she had ever known and felt that he "lowered" himself by using the speech patterns of illiterates. Mrs. Christensen explained that her husband did "talk just like the farmers" when conversing with them, but used a more sophisticated approach with his peers.24 This effort to alleviate resentment among the farmers of Kristenstad contributed to the "Danish farmer" myth.

While Christensen was no farmer, he tried to encourage local farmers to diversify their crops. They often discredited his advice because he had little knowledge of the technical aspects of farming. Christensen depended on a hired manager to supervise his own farming operations. W.J. Phelps and his family from Palacios, Texas, were considered indispensable. They raised horses, cows, Poland China hogs, and turkeys, plus feed crops such as corn, maize, peanuts and garden products. Mr. Phelps diplomatically guided "John B." in making farm decisions about which Christensen knew nothing. The local farmers "resented this guy with a law degree coming down there and telling them how to run their business."25 This friction between Christensen and the farmers was a contributing cause of recurring accounts that depicted Christensen as a shrewd schemer who took advantage of the unwary.

Work opportunities for residents of the Bend had a two-fold purpose for the organizer of the development. Families had additional income from which to repay loans made when they purchased their homesites, and the profit from sales of the products allowed Christensen to maintain his business enterprise. The arrangement was mutually beneficial to Christensen and the tenants due to scarcity of available jobs. Descriptions of the industries in news accounts, however, implied that these were only for the mutual benefit of the settlers. Romanticized stories of complete utilization of resources also hindered a realistic appraisal of the enterprise. The often repeated narrative of using smaller, but good, parts of the tree discarded by the sawmill to make chairs was inaccurate. The arrangement for the production and marketing of chairs was widely misunderstood.

The primary operation was located in the cedar breaks up the Paluxy River, near Glen Rose, Texas, not in the Bend. Mrs. Myrtle Christensen's father, Thomas Caldwell, used machinery owned by Christensen to produce chairs from the heart of the cedar trees.26 As the market expanded, Caldwell was unable to produce enough to meet the demand. Christensen sub-contracted part of the work to the Gann Company at Lufkin, Texas, where hickory wood was used to make a full line of chairs from rockers to high chairs. Chair parts of at least two styles were brought into the Bend where they were assembled then shipped to wholesale buyers. The chairs with the cowhide bottoms were best remembered, but the split-bottom hickory chairs were a popular seller. Mrs. Myrtle Christensen still retains a price list from the operation.27 The cedar chairs made by her father were used until recently in the old Glen Rose Hospital waiting room.28

The production of charcoal had three phases. First, cordwood was cut -- not the remnants from the sawmill -- for burning. Next, the four foot timbers were stacked symmetrically with a layer of grass on top. Kindling was placed in the center with a tunnel to the outside by which to ignite. The stack was then covered with dirt. Once lit, the hole was plugged, then allowed to burn slowly. This step sometimes required as long as two weeks, requiring twenty-four-hour-a-day supervision to make sure no holes appeared in the mound.29 The burning completed, the charcoal was washed and screened. This process was reported to be very dirty work -- as dirty as working in a coal mine. Though hard, dirty work, the opportunity to earn a wage was appreciated by the settlers.30 The lime kiln and farm operations provided additional jobs, and combined with other Bend projects, were a tribute to the business acumen and managerial skills of John B. Christensen.

Unfortunately, Christensen's ability as an entrepreneur did not receive plaudits from all residents of the community. James and Anna Raicoff objected to the business arrangements they found at Kristenstad. While settlers could buy stock in the three corporations established to administer the business of the colony, the Raicoffs objected to what they viewed as monopolistic control of the industries and other business ventures. Mrs. Raicoff alleged Christensen would not allow anyone other than himself to operate a business within the Bend. "He wanted a cheese factory, and he wanted -- well, ever so many different kinds of industry to be brought in there, but be was going to run them."31 Mr. Raicoff stated that Peter Molyneaux was the one who wanted to establish a cooperative colony that would equally reward the residents, but Christensen wanted to "hold the peons to bondage." Christensen allegedly vetoed a proposed cannery that would divide profits on the basis of ownership. "He wanted to control it all -- wanted the cream and give the people skim milk."32

Other expressions of discontent shared by several families in the Bend were summarized in a narrative told by Lester Maddox. Maddox and his father went to Kristenstad in 1931. Due to the depression, living conditions in Forth Worth worsened. Mr. Maddox lost his job and the family desperately needed a place to go. Unable to care for his orphaned children, he placed the girls, all younger than Lester, in an orphan's home. Lester and his father had heard that one could buy a small block of land for nothing down and pay for it along as they worked for "the man." "As a drowning person would grasp for a straw," they moved there and contracted to buy five acres of land. Mr. Maddox, a former janitor for the Forth Worth schools, worked on Mr. Christensen's farm. At the end of the week, a percentage of their earnings was applied to the principal and interest of the note. Maddox claimed Christensen knew he could not give them a clear title to the land.33 The balance of their pay was made in aluminum coins that could only be used at the company store. If workers could not pay on the principal, Christensen accepted small payments against the interest owed. This would not increase their security or gain the resident any greater claim to the land, Maddox observed.34 The practice of charging interest for a debt and using the purchase as collateral to insure payment was standard procedure in the 1930's. It is unclear why this arrangement was considered fraudulent when applied by Christensen.

Other aspects of the business posture of Kristenstad entered around the community store. Popular news accounts left the impression that it was a communal facility established for the convenience of the settlers. However, inquiries about the commissary received mixed reviews from former residents of the Bend. Most respondents recognized that it was a business establishment producing income for the owner. Some felt that the store provided a necessary service, while others believed it was just another tool by which to control the money thereby control the lives of the people. The store was stocked with all kinds of odds and ends, bolts of fabric, clothing and groceries. Trips into Fort Worth for supplies were made by Christensen himself in an old 1927 Oldsmobile car stripped down to serve as a pickup. He reportedly shopped around for fire and bankrupt sales. On return to Kristenstad, he would clean and polish the merchandise for retail. Sale items included slightly damaged groceries and out of style clothing. Only salvage merchandise was remembered by Lester Maddox; however, litigation between the Waples-Platter Company and Christensen over payment of an account indicated that a significant volume of first-line stock had been purchased for the store.35

The importance of the post office to the business climate of Kristenstad should not be overlooked. It brought distinction to the community and provided much needed contact with the outside world. It also brought additional revenue for John Christensen, the first postmaster. Housed in the same building with the commissary, Christensen could attend to the store, the post office and business related to his development projects in a single operation. John H. Foss served as clerk and assistant postmaster in the absence of Christensen who made frequent business trips.36 Mrs. James F. Carey assumed postal duties following the death of Foss. Mrs. Carey moved from the Bend in 1935, and Lester Maddox became postmaster, serving until the post office closed in March 1937. The last day the Kristenstad Post Office was open, there was a flood of self-addressed, stamped envelopes to be cancelled. Stamp collectors from numerous locations over the United States had received "inside" information about the closing and mailed last day cancellation requests. Some of the requests were accompanied by "a little change" to pay the postmaster for his trouble. Mr. Maddox was more than glad to accommodate these collectors because he received 135% of 85% of total cancellations as his pay.37 In fourth class post offices, the postmaster was not paid a straight salary. Those operations were a losing proposition for the government as the percentage allowed in salaries was greater than the receipts.38 On a visit to the Granbury Post Office, Maddox expressed concern to Mr. Chevis Cleveland about the difference in cost of operations and receipts. Mr. Cleveland assured him that was not unusual and to "think nothing about it," since the larger postal operation in Granbury was also losing money.39

Many of the multiple-faceted business activities of John B. Christensen were misunderstood, but careful analysis of his endeavors refuted the utopian image of Kristenstad. While some historians regarded his humanitarian efforts as socialistic, he, in fact, projected the profile of an entrepreneur. The negative reports on his role as developer and leader in the community stemmed from the dissension that eventually destroyed the development.



Baker, "The Saga of Kristenstad," Hood County News Tablet, 29 January 1970.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.


Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 67, pp. 492-494.


Ibid., pp. 494-496.


Interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Press Williams on 17 June 1978; and with Lester Maddox on 27 July 1978.


Texas, Hood County, Deed Records, Vol. 60, p. 319.




Texas, Somervell County, Deed Records, Vol. 33, p. 549.


Ibid., Vol. 28, p. 317; and interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.


Frances O. Landon and Verdi MacLennan, "Kristenstad, A Novel Colony on the Brazos," Dallas Morning News, 22 January 1933, sec. 4, p. 1.




John B. Christensen to A. C. Campbell, Grace City, North Dakota, February 21, 1933, located in the files of John Campbell, Irving, Texas.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.


Star Telegram, 17 November 1932.


Texas, Hood County, School Attendance and Grade Records, located in the office of the County Judge.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.


Texas, Hood County, School Attendance and Grade Records; and Star Telegram, 17 November 1932.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.


Interview with Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977.


Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.


Interview with Emma Roberson, 21 July 1977.


John Christensen to Svend Waendelin, 3 February 1936, carbon copy of letter in possession of Mrs. Myrtle Christensen.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977; and identification initials on letter from John B. Christensen to A. C. Campbell, 21 February 1933, in possession of John Campbell.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.




Interview with Cecil Collins, Glen Rose, 20 July 1977.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.


Interview with Eugene Conally, Glen Rose, 15 July 1978.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.


Interview with Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977.


Interview with Anna Raicoff and Mrs. Wallace Reilly, conducted by Dr. George Green, 10 April 1975 (Transcript from the Oral History Project 1975 - Labor Collection, University of Texas at Arlington, OH54, pp. 17-31).


Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.


This allegation was refuted in an earlier section of the thesis.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.


Interviews with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977; Ruth Harrison Rogers, 21 July 1977; James Raicoff, 27 July 1977; Raymond Cogdill, 21 July 1977; and Emma Roberson, 21 July 1977; and Waples-Platter vs. Rainbow Company, Inc., 65 S.W. 2d 391 (1936).


Fort Worth Press, 15 November 1932.


This was the method of computation used to figure salaries in fourth class post offices.


Interview with Maddox, 29 July 1977.



Copyright 1978 by Vaudrene R. Smith Hunt. Written permission granted to the Hood County Genealogical Society for reproduction to its Internet web site.

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