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Author: Subject: Herman Winkler’s Background
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[*] posted on 5-6-2015 at 08:36 PM
Herman Winkler’s Background

This Winkler family originated in the home country of the Wends. When we think of Wendish people coming to Texas, we are drawn immediately to the 500 who arrived in 1854 aboard the Ben Nevis. The August Winkler family was not a part of that group. I have heard Winklers suggesting jokingly that they simply missed the boat. But there is another and better explanation for their arrival to have been five years later 1859.

Let’s be aware of the history of Wendish immigration to Texas. The first four or five families of which we are aware came between 1849 and 1851 and settled in New Ulm, a German community in Austin County, north of Columbus. In 1853, they were joined in New Ulm by another 35, including some from Weigersdorf in Prussian Upper Lusatia, home village of the Winklers. These people wrote letters to their friends and relatives back home, praising the absence of state regulations interfering with their religious life, the opportunity to buy firearms for hunting, and the availability of jobs—all improvements upon the more problematic situation they had left behind in their home country. Such reports made a move to Texas seem attractive, and doubtlessly encouraged the big group (again including a number from Weigersdorf: e.g., Arldt, Kiesling, Neumann, Teinert) who arrived in 1854 and tempted a good many others to consider following that lead. My estimate is that August Winkler was drawn to this prospect, but was reluctant to risk the future well-being of his family based on what may have turned out to be a rash decision. Letters from Serbin about hardships endured during the first couple of years after that group settled in Texas probably made him happy that he had not been as adventuresome as they and that he had spared his family these difficult circumstances. And, yet, the issues which had led the larger group to emigrate persisted. The imposed demands of the Prussian and Saxon governments to unite Lutherans and Calvinists, along with German intrusion upon Wendish language and culture were hardships that Wendish Lutherans could hardly endure. Leaving it all behind to go to Texas (or to Australia, as others had done) seemed to be a way to resolve their problems.

Still interested, but cautious about making a decision he would regret, August sent 18-year-old Wilhelm, his oldest son, to Texas in 1858, quite an adventure for a teenaged boy who spoke only Wendish and German. His visit in New Ulm apparently led him to a favorable impression, which he conveyed to his family. Earlier reserve gave way to a greater sense of security and appeal now to make the move to join people with whom they had so much in common, now beginning to prosper in their new setting and attending services of worship conducted by the Rev. John Kilian, who had been pastor in Weigersdorf until his departure for Texas.(1) Nor was leaving elderly parents behind an issue. August’s father had been 46 and his mother 39 when he was born, and both had died at least 30 years earlier.

The decision having been made, August made arrangements for a party of nine to come to Texas in 1859.

The group included:
August Winkler (54 – b. 04/29/1805), great, great grandfather
Maria (Hoebel) Winkler (53 – b. 02/02/1806)
William Winkler (19 – b. 12/04/1839)
Ernst Winkler (17 – b. 12/23/1841)
Carl Winkler (14 – b. 09/22/1844)
Hanna Winkler (12 – b. 12/14/1846)
Johanna (Winkler) Gersch (26 – b. 08/27/1833) (Johanna, married and with a child, was August’s daughter from his earlier marriage to Johanna Christianna Seiber, 01/19/1807 – 09/04/1838.)
Peter Gersch (31 – b. 12/19/1827)
Amelia Gersch (5 – b. 12/11/1853)

Their trip included the thirty miles to Bautzen on wagons or carts of relatives or friends from Weigersdorf, travel by rail from Bautzen to Bremen, ocean voyage from Bremen to Galveston aboard the Adolphina, steamer from Galveston to Houston, and presumably oxcarts (like the earlier group) from Houston to Serbin. Their arrival made them among the last of the documented 600 Wends who arrived in Texas before 1860, but before the additional 600 who came later. Both the Winklers and the Gerschs established themselves in Serbin, although presumably not within the Delaplain League purchased and occupied by the earlier settlers, unless one or more of those already chose to move on and put their property up for sale. All records indicate that August and his sons, all said to be robust in build, engaged in farming, which typically included both livestock and planted fields and team of oxen, mules, or horses. Indications are that they were at least reasonably successful.

The Civil War, 1861–1865, brought considerable uncertainly and ill-at-ease to the Wendish settlers, largely because they judged that the conflict had nothing to do with them. True, once Texas seceded from the Union on February 1, 1861, they were citizens of the Confederate States of America, soon at war with the United States of America. But they were not plantation owners nor slave holders. Furthermore, in their earlier setting they had learned to be pacifists to the extent possible. In spite of their objections, some young men among them were forcibly recruited into the Confederate army. Stories survive about how other young men successfully hid from the recruiters, even going to the extent of dressing as women. William and Ernst, both in their early twenties, were clearly subject to being drafted, but all records indicate that they were not. Either they escaped notice or found an alternate way of serving the Confederacy. In later years, Ernst reported that he had made many trips to Mexico during the Civil War, carrying bales of cotton there with a team and a covered wagon. Because Union ships had blockaded the ports of Galveston and New Orleans, potential European buyers and Texas cotton producers had arranged to have cotton delivered by way of Mexico. Perhaps this was his assigned war time service, rather than simple entrepreneurship. And perhaps William was involved in the same enterprise. At any rate, when the war ended, the Serbin community continued in its isolated and independent way, with little sense of being either losers or winners.

August enjoyed many happy family celebrations in the ten years that he lived beyond his arrival:
Marriages of:
William to Hanna Lowke, 10/25/63 Ernst to Magdalene Symny, 06/03/1866 (but also her death, 08/04/1867)
Ernst to Anna (Hanna) Symmank, 11/24/67
Hanna Maria to Johann Herman Arldt, 01/17/1869

Births of eight grandchildren:

children of Johanna and Peter Gersch:
Johann August, 04/27/1860
Anna Louise, 01/04/1863
Maria Emma, 01/10/1866
Carl Ernst, 08/18/1869

children of William and Hanna Winkler:
Johann Carl, 10/31/1864 (but also his death, 04/07/1868)
Johann August, 12/16/1866 (but also his death, 12/18/1866)
Ernst, 09/25/68

child of Ernst and Anna Winkler:
Herman Samuel Winkler, 12/02/1868

August led his entire family to be faithful in attendance at and support for St. Paul Lutheran Church in Serbin, always loyal to Rev. Kilian when there were controversies in the congregation, even to the point of numerous families leaving. He witnessed the dedication of the Wends’ first house of worship in Serbin (12/25/1859), as well as the cornerstone laying for the second (and present) church building (1867), though that second church was not completed until late 1871, two years after his death.

August Winkler died on July 31, 1869, and was buried in the cemetery of St. Paul, Serbin, in a funeral conducted by his beloved Pastor Kilian.(2) Almost surely, he concluded before his death that the Lord had guided him well in his decision to come to Texas. He had been blessed, and his descendants were well on their way to making a significant impact in church and community.

Whether William and Ernst, both married with children at the time of their father’s death, had acquired homes and farms of their own is not known. It may well be that Ernst never bought farm land if one surmises that he earned his livelihood by working in a cotton gin in the Serbin area.(3) At any rate, these two and their newly married (02/08/1873) brother Charley sold their assets in Serbin, the larger part of which (if not all of which) consisted of the farm on which they had lived with their father and mother, pooled their resources, and purchased 2,000 acres of unimproved land on the border of Bell and Coryell Counties (The Grove, mailing address Moffat) for $1.50 per acre with enough left over to establish themselves before any of that land could be productive. (Surely they would not have left their 67-year-old mother destitute. She doubtlessly shared in the proceeds of sale, and approved the arrangement of being left in the care of her daughter, Hanna Maria, married to Johann Arldt, with two young children and living in Serbin.) The party of nine made its way in 1873,(4) perhaps in late spring, in two covered wagons over country still unfenced at the time, but also without the benefit of improved roads.

The group consisted of:
William Winkler (born 1839)
Hanna (nee Lowke) born 1845)
Ernst (born 1868)
Ernst Winkler (born 1841)
Anna (nee Symmank) (born 1849)
Herman (born 1868)
August (born 1870)
Charly (born 1844)
Catherine (nee Schott) (born 1852)

These six adults and three young children for the not less than three days which the trip would have required had to use what limited space was left in the wagon for their clothes, bedding, kitchen utensils, and maybe an item or two of furniture.

Perhaps in the second day of travel, as they approached Salado, Anna prevailed upon Ernst to abandon going on to The Grove and, instead, turning back to West Yegua (as it was called before it was named Fedor) so as not to endanger her and their young children by taking them to a place overrun with savage Indians instead of into an established community in which her father and mother (Andreas and Maria (nee Ritter) Symmank, both of whom came over on the Ben Nevis) already had taken up residence several years earlier and in which there was a Lutheran church. It was enough for Ernst to seek the cooperation of his brothers in buying him out and continuing alone, willing to endure a few comments about how hen-pecked he was. One wagon continued, the second turned back to West Yegua.

We cannot reconstruct the order of events, but in fairly short order Ernst acquired a home and farm, built and began to operate a cotton gin, steam driven rather than horse powered, and became a respected member of church and community. Known dates of note are 12/18/1875, the birthdate of a third child, Charly, 10/01/1876, and 10/08/1877, the birthdate of the fourth child, Emma. In the meantime, the lack of a Lutheran church anywhere in the area of The Grove was a continuing problem for William and Charly. Charly was able to come to a tentative satisfaction with a nearby Methodist congregation, but William persisted in making trips with his growing family back to Serbin, perhaps twice annually, to attend worship, to commune, and to have a child baptized. (So, for example, his son, Johann, was born in The Grove 10/25/1874 and baptized in Serbin almost seven months later, 05/17, 1875). It was Ernst who shared in William’s concern, and to a lesser degree also Charly’s, to the extent that he prevailed upon Rev. Birkmann to accompany him on a trip from Fedor to The Grove during February of 1878, two days each way for travel, and three days for ministering to the needs of these families, perhaps including the baptisms of several more children (William’s Anna, 11/19/1876, and Helena, 01/01/1878, and maybe Charly’s Ernest, 01/02/1875, and Andrew, 10/18/1876). (5)

The lasting impact of this trip on the 36-year-old Ernst and his 24-year-old pastor is that the two became dear friends as a result of what were days literally filled with conversation as they traveled. As a result, Rev. Birkmann was very emotional about being called during the night to the bedside of the gravely ill Ernst to absolve him and give him communion just more than a year later. He joined the Winkler family in their grief when on March 8, 1879 Ernst died, only a couple of months beyond his 37th birthday. The diagnosis was a condition of the lungs identified as inflammation of the trachea, an apparent risk of working in a gin. Anna, his grieving widow, was left with four children, with Herman, the oldest, only ten and his baby sister not yet two. Winkler family reports suggest that Herman quit school to help his mother with the farm work, which included plowing with a yoke of oxen, until it became clear that the better option was to lease the land to Traugott Faske. Anna’s mother came to live with them, helpful not only with household chores, but also with instructing the children, helping them when they could not make the almost six mile walk to school and making sure that they committed to memory a number of hymns and prayers, both Wendish and German.

By 1891, all the children had been confirmed, and by 1897, married. Three of the four found a spouse in Fedor, but Herman located his bride, Meta Penkert, at The Grove.(6) At or before the turn of the century, Anna went to live with her daughter, Emma, and her husband, Ernst Weiser. This arrangement, including a number of moves to different locations in the Fedor area, persisted throughout the time that nine Weiser grandchildren were born and even through the time that four of them were married. Finally, in January of 1929, she moved with Ernst and Emma and their five younger children to Schattel (well south of San Antonio), and there she died only seven months later, having lived as a widow for a remarkable fifty years. Her body was taken to Fedor to be buried beside her beloved Ernst.

Herman and his brothers, August and Charly, lived in Fedor their entire lives, farming on and near the Winkler “home place.” Herman and Meta had eight children, three sons and five daughters, our parents, baptized, confirmed, and in many cases married in Fedor, and most of whom never strayed far from Central Texas. Even in our generation a remarkable number of us have not strayed far away.

Prepared and delivered by Ray Martens for the Herman Winkler family reunion, April 11, 2015.


(1) The few Wendish Lutherans in Weigersdorf met in private homes until they built a church in 1845. In 1848, John Kilian accepted the call to be pastor in both Weigersdorf and Klitten, serving a combined membership of a few more than 100 members. In 1854, of course, Kilian accepted the call to be pastor of the group going to Texas. Eventually, the majority of the members of the Weigersdorf and Klitten congregations ended up in Texas.

(2) The present generation of the descendants of Herman Winkler will remember that funds gathered at these family reunions were used to purchase a stone for August’s previously unmarked grave, Herman’s grandfather, our great-great-grandfather.

(3) This prospect is suggested by the fact that he was transporting cotton bales to Mexico during the Civil War and that he owned and operated a cotton gin in Fedor after his arrival there.

(4) This date is used instead of Melvin Winkler’s 1870 based on information from the records of Trinity, Fedor, available to the writer.

(5) Rev. Birkmann and others made periodic later trips to The Grove, until a Lutheran congregation was established there in 1883, first served by a vicar and then by the pastor at Riesel. Not until 1895 did they have a resident pastor of their own.

(6) The writer has heard over the years that there is some French blood in the current Winklers because the Penkerts were from Alsace-Lorraine. The truth is that they came from Lusatia, as Wendish as all the rest.

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