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Cleburne Brewery – Another Cleburne First

I was recently asked about a brewery that supposedly operated in Cleburne in the 1870’s.
The only thing that was known about the brewery is that it was operated by a John Geupel
(Guy-Pull) who was born in Germany in 1829, came to America, served in the Civil War
and came to Cleburne and opened a brewery. He later sold the brewery and moved to Palo
Pinto County where he died in 1919.

I receive a monthly newsletter from Randall Scott Erwin whose family had settled in Palo
Pinto County. He had been advertising a book he had written, “The Tinner”, about his great
great grandfather, John Geupel, who came from Germany, fought in the Civil War and later
settled in Palo Pinto County.

I wrote Randall and asked if his grandfather was the same John Geupel that had operated a
brewery in Cleburne. He wrote back saying that it was the same person. I made
arrangements to meet with Randall to get more information on the brewery. We met at the
Natty Flat Smokehouse on Hwy 281 a few miles south of I20. Here Randall filled me in on
John Geupel.

John Geupel was born in 1829 in Wunsiedel, Germany. His parents died in separate
tragedies and he learned tinsmithing as a trade. He came to the United Stated in 1848,
arriving in New York and then traveled to Alabama. He eventually wound up in Marlin,
Texas, where he joined the Texas Twentieth Regiment of the Confederate Infantry, and
fought in the Civil War.

He made it to Cleburne in 1868 where he started the Cleburne Brewery. The brewery faced
Main Street on Buffalo Bayou, the water source. (This was near Main and Brown Street
about where Mitchell Carpet Company is today.) John Geupel brought German lager recipes
to Texas. Originally, he sold his Old German Lager for ten cents a bottle. Then he had an
ingenious marketing idea: Package twelve bottles together for a one-time sale for $1.29. The
idea was so popular that, even though he still sold his bottles for ten cents, no one bought
them.

The family would not want to accept that in Cleburne he had one of the first breweries, not in
the state of Texas. Fredericksburg had the earlier brewery. However, the German lager beer
was introduced to north Texas first through Grandpa Geupel’s Cleburne brewery. That was
the first time that the people were able to enjoy the German blends. He had the recipe and
he knew how to brew it and sell it in Cleburne. We also give Grandpa Geupel credit for
having the first twelve pack.

You can go into the Cleburne public library and open up the micro-fish for the Cleburne
Chronicle newspaper of 1872 and the advertisement says that twelve bottles, the twelve
pack, could be purchased for $1.29. This is bottled beer in 1872, a long time ago. Cleburne
was the first one, it sure beat Ft Worth. It was the first bottle beer brewery in North Texas.

To the credit of Cleburne and how fast that small town grew was the success of Grandpa
Geupel. He sold the brewery and family members just didn’t like that. The T-totalers are
going to tell you in my family that was a tin shop in Cleburne. That’s not a brewery, that’s a
tin shop.

Now, being a tinner all his life, and a tinner in the Civil War in the Texas twentieth regiment,
he made tin cups, tin buckets; an army has got to have tin to operate. They cannot eat
without tin, they cannot drink without tin cups. So a tinner is valuable in an army, and such
was the case with the Texas twentieth infantry in Galveston, Texas. So his role as a tinner
played heavily in the success of that battle defeating the Yankees on January 1, 1863. That
success is what saved Texas. It could be very serious in those days when, on April 2, 1862
New Orleans fell to the Yankees. It was a very horrendous battle, but mostly it was the
civilians that were killed

We really think that Grandpa Geupel’s experience in the Civil War is what really made him
a good tinner. Taking those talents to Cleburne is what really gave him that ability to use his
skills to make a brewery. You can’t brew without the vats made of tin and make that one
landmark that belongs there in Cleburne that I think should be recognized by Johnson
County. It played a major role in Johnson County.

On the south wall of the Layland Museum is a large collage of photographs of Cleburne
businessmen of about 1872. On that collage is my Grandpa Geupel’s photograph. He was
owner of the Cleburne Brewery and an honored member of Cleburne business society of
that year.

And again, like I was telling you, it’s not going to happen, the T-totalers are not going to
allow that. It was a tin shop, don’t you understand.

It was definitely his idea to start the brewery and build it up there in the fact that was what
his father did in Wunsiedel, Germany and where he learned the trade.

Having sold the brewery in 1875, and I have a copy of the deed, he sold the brewery to the
Guffee brothers. John and Elijah Guffee owned a tin shop in Cleburne and of course
Grandpa Geupel would have started a tin shop in Cleburne had not the Guffee brothers
already started a tin shop.

John Guffee’s picture is on the same collage in Layland Museum.

Elijah Guffee, having gone into business with Mike Dickson, it was definitely a bad business
decision. Mike was supposed to have been a brew-master but his only talent was mass
consumption of the brew. He wasn’t exactly the brew-master he claimed to be. Just a couple
of years later the brewery didn’t have the ability to make money like Grandpa Geupel had.

They got into an argument on the square in downtown Cleburne. Mike Dickson and John
Guffee were arguing over the proceeds of the brewery. Of course Grandpa Geupel had
already moved to Palo Pinto County by then. The two men were arguing because business
was bad; they weren’t selling any beer. Having argued over the proceeds of the brewery,
John Guffee pulled out a knife and stabbed Mike Dickson. Mike Dickson pulled out his gun
and shot and killed John Guffee on the west side of the square by the Johnson County
courthouse. Having killed John Guffee, his brother Elijah, from across the square, saw the
murder of his brother; he dropped his rifle on Mike Dickson and killed him on the spot. I
mean, just dropped him right there on the boardwalk.

That event was seen by all the citizens and Mike Dickson, being from a good family, it
angered the citizens into mob violence. They chased old Elijah through town four blocks to
where Elijah barricaded himself inside the brewery to save his life from this mob violence.
The sheriff came up and said, “I’ll save you, but you have to surrender. These boys are
going to have a necktie party if you don’t” They were mad because, incidentally, Mike
Dickson was a ‘good ol’ boy’ and had just been killed by Elijah.

Well, they broke in and he gave up. The sheriff took him in and saved him right then but it
was short lived. There was a trial and a very unceremonious conviction because he was
hanged for the murder of Mike Dickson. That was the end of the Cleburne Brewery.

After leaving Cleburne John Geupel went to the little town of Cresco, now Santos, in Palo
Pinto County and put in a tin shop there. He lived in the Live Oak community and
purchased land from the sale of the brewery. That’s how he got his start.

A graveside ceremony was held on Saturday, May 20th of this year (2006) at 11:00 AM at
Landreth Cemetery to dedicate a plaque in John Geupel’s honor. (Landreth Cemetery is on
I20 about a mile east of Hwy 281.)

The Son’s of the Confederate Veterans, in full dress uniform, presented a spectacular full
Honor Guard military tribute to John Andrew Geupel. Terry’s Texas Rangers Camp #1937
of the Sons of The Confederate Veterans paid tribute with a 30 minute program.

You can read the latest gossip about Natty Flat and order the book, “The Tinner,” about the
life of John Geupel with several pages about his time in Cleburne, by going online to:
http://erwinandgeupel.com/venue/news/june2006.htm

John Geupel