Hood County Texas Genealogical Society





The failure of Kristenstad could not be attributed to a lack of business experience on the part of the developer. Although to say he had suffered some financial reverses in the past, Christensen had a broad range of credits attesting to his ability. His educational background and persuasive personality enhanced the promise of successful conclusion of his development in De Cordova Bend. Other interests in water conservation, rural electrification, and hard-surfaced roads were inextricably tied to his land development projects. Although not realized in his lifetime, his tireless efforts in behalf of these interests left an indelible mark on Central Texas. Circumstances beyond his control signaled the doom of his Hood County project. World-wide depression, misleading news coverage and internal dissension all contributed to the decline of the development. Had he lived, Christensen might have been able to recoup his losses and salvage his dream -- his dream of financial security based on capital accumulation.

Extensive planning, careful preparation and financial backing were all for naught. What went wrong? The community could not isolate itself from the effects of the great depression. While news accounts of Kristenstad it its apex in 1932-33, indicated that the community fared better than surrounding areas, declining markets for products of their industry created a strain on local economy. A series of severe winters and droughts that destroyed crops aggravated the problem and prompted Christensen to seek assistance through a government canning project at Granbury to help sustain the residents. With an abundant supply of canned meats, the residents of Kristenstad did not suffer as badly as some.1 Another symptom of distress was Christensen's plan to provide jobs for welfare recipients in the Fort Worth - Dallas area. Though beneficial to the agencies of public assistance, the plan had a two-fold purpose. It would provide needed funds to keep his development afloat.2 Though Christensen's vested interest was reflected in the proposal, it was not without altruistic consideration. This humanitarianism was revealed in stories from old-timers who reported he allowed no one to go hungry.3 He "grubstaked" more families than the financial structure of the project could absorb.

Christensen found other causes to be responsible for the difficulties at Kristenstad. In a letter to Svend Waendelin, an archivist in Denmark, he outlined the source of trouble. Including tearsheets of articles about the development, Christensen described the adverse affects of this publicity. He explained that feature articles appearing in the Fort Worth Press were turned over to United Press and published throughout the United States in metropolitan papers. This resulted in vast numbers of destitute people coming with the expectation of having a secure life provided. Other undesirables, such as "criminals, communists, fanatics, and rattle-brained cranks of every description" were influenced by the publicity to think that Kristenstad would be the place to experiment with their "half-baked theories." A folder, describing the true nature of the settlement, had been widely distributed in an effort to offset the destructive publicity. Yet, many "nuts" continued to "blow in" there without any correspondence, arrangements or invitation. A few gained a "toehold" before their real purpose was revealed. They came pretending to be decent, law-abiding people, but in a few months, they started their "communist propaganda." Christensen found it quite difficult to get the "immoral" element out of the community.4

Other reports from former residents of Kristenstad confirmed that Christensen did not overstate the magnitude of the dissident movement in the community. The dissent was expressed in many forms. Mrs. Christensen related an incident that reflected the ideological differences in the community. Passing the school on her way to the post office, she noticed that the American flag was not flying. Upon questioning the teacher, Miss Tovrea Garnett, she learned that James Raicoff had demanded that the flag be taken down. Raicoff stated that he did not want his youngest daughter indoctrinated. He felt that his oldest daughter, then twelve years of age, was mature enough to know the difference, but the youngest child was vulnerable. Raicoff told the settlers that "John B." only wanted them to work like slaves, not to own their land or make money off their work. Several believed him and demanded their money back on their land purchases.5 Unable to refund the money at that point, Christensen was tagged with the reputation of being a swindler.

Statements from Raicoff confirmed his communist leanings and the role he played in disrupting the community. He viewed the people in Kristenstad as helpless victims. "They were inveigled to come there and bring everything they had in life. But Mr. Christensen controlled the capital. When I got there, I spoiled the whole thing." Certainly Raicoff had past experience in using these disruptive tactics.6

A native of Bulgaria, Raicoff came to the United States just prior to World War I. Quoting Lenin extensively, he boasted of being jailed for expressing his views at a union meeting during litigation of a steel strike in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Supporting the Socialist Labor Party, Raicoff considered himself to be far more radical than the stated position of the party. He felt that capitalism exploited the laboring man and promoted political corruption. "Capital is the profit of labor, produced by labor, then in turn, used to exploit labor." Raicoff believed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was a promise not yet fulfilled.7 This dissident, Bulgarian printer gathered many followers at Kristenstad and caused a schism among the residents that was never resolved.

The screening system employed by Christensen failed to exclude the most disruptive element in the settlement. Yet, circumstances that permitted the entry of the Raicoff family could hardly be foreseen. Peter Molyneaux hired Raicoff, a union printer, to help build a print shop and set up a press that he would operate in the publication of The Interpreter and editions of the popular classics. Raicoff felt no loyalty to Christensen and boasted that he could speak his own mind because he did not depend on Christensen for his wages.8 Articulate of speech and having no inhibitions, Raicoff became the spokesman for the group that challenged Christensen in an effort to gain control of the development. School attendance records attest to the effectiveness of Raicoff's campaign. The school year 1931-32, before the arrival of Raicoff, attendance roll listed thirty-three names. In 1932-33, the only year Martha Raicoff was enrolled, students numbered forty-three. The following year, enrollment was down to twenty-six. The years 1936-37, and 1937-38, nine students enrolled. In 1940-41, the last year school was held at Kristenstad, only six students attended.9 These records reflected a clear pattern of disintegration of the community.

Christensen, himself a persuasive speaker, sought to reverse the trend of increasing dissension. Calling meetings at the school house, he attempted to explain the financial problems associated with the development and asked for the loyal support from those he had assisted. However, a nucleus of resisters expressed their opposition in various ways, the most serious was refusal to continue payment on their loans, even though they continued to live in the community. The group that refused to pay were called "copperheads" and Christensen's supporters were dubbed "skunks."10 The saddest part about these disputes was that friends and family members found themselves on opposite side of the controversy.11

In September 1936, agitation in the community became so great that one of the settlers came to the post office and "threw acid in the face of John B. Fortunately, most of it went on his shirt." This incident convinced Mrs. Christensen that the project could not succeed as long as this division existed. Referring to Raicoff with a touch of bitterness, she remarked, "If he couldn't run it, he wanted to destroy it."12

Following the "acid incident," the Christensens returned to Rainbow to live in the building that had formerly housed a commissary operated by Christensen in that community. The home they vacated when they moved to the Bend had burned.13 Christensen continued to supervise the development at Kristenstad while he attended the business of the Grange Mutual Life Insurance Company. As president of this company, he was striving to maintain his financial position. He had continued to meet the payments on the Bend property and he looked forward to an opportunity to reorganize and make another beginning. He had many other projects planned to bolster his financial standing.14

His untimely death on June 30, 1937, prevented Christensen from witnessing the fulfillment of his dreams. On January 14, 1938, the Bend property was returned to the Burleson and Johns heirs for non-payment of the promissory notes that secured the property. In the settlement, Mrs. Christensen regained control of the Rainbow property and the Sabine County land, though the heirs retained the mineral rights on the East Texas property.15 Christensen's efforts to secure rural electrification was realized on June 12, 1938, when his widow signed an easement to Community Public Service Company.16 Hard-surfaced roads were provided by the State Highway Department crossing the Rainbow property in 1941.17 Possum Kingdom Lake, the "first of a series of Brazos River lakes he envisioned, was formed in 1941."18 The dreams of John B. Christensen were not in vain. Many people have benefited from the tireless efforts of this dynamic gentleman.

Few men attracted such widespread attention as did John B. Christensen. His real estate development project known as Kristenstad was the primary object of curiosity. Efforts to analyze the socio-economic nature of the farming-industrial complex provided mixed reviews of the founder and project alike. The varied labels applied to the community reflected a general lack of understanding of the economic structure that characterized the settlement. While it was true that the colony contained utopian elements, the humanitarian goals of the transcendentalists were the same as those of Christensen's "Americanism." Only the methods of obtaining those goals differed. A product of America's "age of enterprise," Christensen sought what he considered to be the most effective application of capital resources. Ownership of private property and the profit motive were central features of his business activities. Kristenstad was a capitalist development that exemplified the element of risk encountered by all entrepreneurs.



Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1977.


Fort Worth Press, 17 November 1932.


Ficklen, "Texas' Lost Utopia."


John B. Christensen to Svend Waendelin, Aalborg, Denmark, 3 February 1936, in possession of Mrs. Christensen.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 26 July 1978.


Interview with James Raicoff, 27 July 1977.






Texas, Hood County, School Records, District #34.


Interview with Lester Maddox, 29 July 1977.


Interview with Mrs. Christensen, 28 July 1978.


Ibid., 26 July 1977.




John B. Christensen to Svend Waendelin, 14 August 1936, in possession of Mrs. Christensen.


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


Ibid., Vol. 34, p. 420.


Ibid., Vol. 36, p. 286.


Ficklen, "Texas' Lost Utopia."

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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