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  • Writer's pictureElaine Marie Carnegie

The Journey of Hanna and Ariela as Told Through the Eyes of Texas’ Immigrants

by Johnnie Bernhard

Please welcome Johnnie Bernhard to the Writers Journey Blog this week with a story that is close to my heart in the central Texas Hill Country!

As a traditionally published author with Texas Christian University Press and Texas A&M University Press, each novel I have written contains a Texas immigrant backstory. Texas’ rich cultural heritage mirrors that of the United States. We are all immigrants. These stories of loss, hope, and determination inspire me as a writer. My other writing muse is the physical beauty of Texas. Its vastness, its mountains, its prairies, flora and fauna, rivers and gulf serve as a setting unparallel in writing the immigrant backstory. Hanna and Ariela, my fourth novel, sprang from an area known as The Divide in Texas.

The Divide is a dispersed rural community located along several miles of State Highway 41 about thirty miles west of Kerrville in west Kerr County. In the early 1880s, settlers homesteaded along this strip of the Edwards Plateau. It functioned as a natural dividing line for rainfall run-off. This strip of land is five to fifteen miles wide.

My husband and I are fortunate to own a home on acreage in this area. My husband’s family, the Bernhards were German immigrants who settled in the Hill Country area. These men and women worked as merchants, butchers, and ranch hands. This included work on the YO Ranch founded by Charles Schreiner, born in 1838 in Alsace-Lorraine, an area between Germany and France. With the use of the windmill to pump water and the advent of barbed wire, the area became a preferred region for ranching cattle, sheep, and Angora goats.

The Divide is an area of little rain fall, soil choked with rock, and weather extremes. The people who have lived on this land are people who have shown great tenacity for hard work and endurance. These are the Comanches, the Spanish, the Hispanics, the European immigrant, and the Irish cedar choppers.

I thought of those people, and the people of nearby communities like Rocksprings and Junction, who have strived in the cultural diversity of this area. It is in that cultural diversity I developed characters for the novel, Hannah and Ariela.

Seventy-three-year-old Hannah Schoen Durand, a recent widow and ranch owner in Rocksprings, Texas, is of German descent. The other protagonist of the novel is Ariela Morales, a fourteen-year-old girl from Zaragoza, Mexico. Hannah and Ariela tells their story, a story of two women from opposite sides of the border and how their lives are connected.

Castroville, west of San Antonio, proved to be a city of rich cultural heritage with its founding by Henri Castro, (pictured left) a Parisian. Castro was born in France in 1786. He later served as one of Napoleon’s guards. In the late 1820s, Monsieur Castro's adventurous spirit took him to the United States, where he was appointed French consul at Providence, Rhode Island. He soon became an American citizen.

He was successful in obtaining a land grant in February 1842 from the Republic of Texas President, Sam Houston. Monsieur Castro recruited colonists throughout France, especially in the Alsace region.

His first group of immigrants left Le Havre, the Normandy region of northwestern France, aboard the ship L’Ebro and arrived at Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1843. Six more ships carrying French immigrants to Texas sailed the following year. Monsieur Castro was instrumental in introducing more than 2,100 colonists to Texas, second only to the "Father of Texas," Stephen F. Austin.

Monsieur Castro was approaching his late seventies when he decided to return to France. Travelling through Mexico, he became ill and died in Monterrey, Mexico on November 3, 1865. Monsieur Castro's spirit served as an essential backstory in the development of Hannah and Ariela.

Character August Durand is from Castroville, Texas and of French descent. He takes his young bride, Hannah on a honeymoon to Paris, where they discuss politics, food, and the Lost Generation of Writers who frequented the bars and restaurants of Paris in the early Twenties. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald are the most well known of the Lost Generation of Writers. In the novel, August and Hannah visit Shakespeare and Company, the same famous Parisian bookstore Hemingway frequented while living there.

Castroville is a little Paris in Texas with charming restaurants, shops, and a rich history. It has been my pleasure to know this lovely community outside of San Antonio, as well as the iconic Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris.

The I-10 corridor of Texas connects saints, demons, and victims as the ultimate decision of life and death are made by two strangers’ fate has bound together. They must decide to either follow the law or their conscience to survive. This is the story of Hannah and Ariela.

Hannah and Ariela launches nationally on August 1, 2022. The book is available on Amazon and at your favorite bookstore. It is also available through TCU/Texas A&M University Press at For more information about my work, visit me at

Bio: A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard is passionate about reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in the following publications: Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, The Texas Review, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America essays.

Johnnie was chosen as a selected speaker in the 2020 TEDx Fearless Women Series. She also supports young writers in public schools through the Letters About Literature program with the Texas Center for the Book and with the Write for Mississippi program. In 2021, she was named a teaching artist with Gemini Ink Writing Arts Center of San Antonio and the national TAP Summer Institute 2021. Johnnie enjoys teaching workshops for writing communities across the country.

For orders, Texas A&M University Press: 800-826-8911

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Baidha Fercoq
Baidha Fercoq
Aug 08, 2022

Johnnie, you write with such a richness of historical context! History is, indeed, fascinating! I have an appreciation for the fullness your characters must possess, given your regional knowledge. I hail from San Antonio (now residing in WA) and never had the depth of understanding immigrants played in the settlement and expansion of Texas. As the daughter of a french immigrant, I now can also appreciate the movement from Le Havre, from which my mother's family sprang forth, and their ultimate contribution to Texas. Thank you for writing your stories and a hearty congratulations to you!


Puneet Kumar
Puneet Kumar
Jul 11, 2022

Interesting. Thanks for sharing


Jun 27, 2022

I've got a sister in Houston area and when she moved there her sons were not yet school age. They are very proud of the history of their state. I love historical fiction. I'll be checking your books out.


Jun 26, 2022

I lived in Fort Worth for a while many years ago and really enjoyed my time there. Most interesting history you relate here. All the best when the book launches! 😊

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