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Author: Subject: History of the Wends in Texas
mersiowsky
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[*] posted on 8-12-2017 at 08:16 PM
History of the Wends in Texas


History of the Wends in Texas

Andreas Gersch and Family

Peter Gersch and Family

John Gersch and Family

Andreas Kappler and Family

by

William Charles Gersch

1890-1975



I remember -- the Wend settlement at Serbin. Around 1855 a group of some 500 Serbs or Slavs (preferring to be known as Germans), but generally called Wends, crossed the great Atlantic Ocean. Because of their religious beliefs (Lutheran), the Wends found it necessary to settle in a foreign country. These Wends ventured out on the wide-open sea to be free of religious persecution. They brought their Bible, pastor and teachers. They brought their songs and music. When the Wends decided to travel to and settle in Texas, they chose the Reverend John Killian as their leader.

Many of those who arrived safely at Galveston had suffered the loss of members of their family due to a cholera epidemic that started in England.

A country lane winds south from Giddings, Lee County, seven miles to a post-oak studded site known as Serbin. That is the home of the Wends in Texas. The hot days of summer and the whistling “blue northers” of winter surprised them the most. Any number of trees had to be cut down in order to build their cabins. A log church was built.

Droughts, epidemics, privations and “hard times” could not break the spirit of these God-fearing Wends. After a number of years they began to prosper. They would rather till the soil than do anything else. Occasionally, one of their members would operate a store. After the Civil War, a stone church building was erected at Serbin. They installed a bell brought over from the old country, later replaced by one weighing over 2000 pounds. It is still in service today. I'll never forget watching the men hoist the new bell up to its lofty perch in the steeple, around 1910 as I recall. As I write this --- 1968, one can still visit the old church on a Sunday morning and see scores of dark tanned men, women, and children, dressed in their Sunday best --- waiting for the belI to call them to the morning service.

Once inside, you will see quaint balconies on the north and south sides. The pastor’s pulpit is in the middle of the north balcony. Most of the men go upstairs to worship. The ladies, the young and very old men sit on the first floor; a number of older men sit near the pastors' pulpit. When a man becomes quite old, he is allowed to worship from the lower floor. The large pipe organ is located on the east end of the church building. It is very inspirational to hear the singing, the majestic organ and then, after three peals from the church bell, the congregation prays The Lord’s Prayer in unison. There are two services held each Sunday, one in German and one in English.

As mentioned before, Reverend John Killian was their spiritual leader and his son, Herman, later became the leader. Another son, Gerhard was a teacher. These three taught the Bible to one and all, especially the children. Near the church is the old cemetery --- where the shrubbery is trimmed European style and always reminded me of flat topped umbrellas.

There was a need for a store to serve the young community and my grandfather, Andreas Kappler operated the store along with his wife, Agnes. Grandfather Kappler was a husky, fairly large man. He wore a full beard and had fiery eyes. He and Grandmother Kappler raised ten children. They were Ernst, Paul, Bernhard, Herman, Otto, Theodor, John Gerhard, Marie, Emma, and Agnes, my mother, named after her mother.

Grandfather Kappler was a very energetic and hard-working person. He helped to build Serbin. One of the first buildings he constructed was his store building, which also served as the home for his family. As soon as the store was stocked with provisions, Grandmother attended the store. Meanwhile, Grandfather was kept busy supplying the goods for sale in the store. He bought two yoke of oxen and a covered wagon and hauled Irish potatoes, corn, cotton, eggs --- anything the Wends could spare --- to Houston and Galveston. He bought bacon, flour, sugar, coffee, barbed wire, and everything he could for his store. He would tell us boys about his trips to those distant cities. He had to cross many creeks and rivers. He told of bogging down --- but the oxen were big and strong and he would crack his bull whip -- hollering all the while and they would finally -pull out and keep going. He was on his journeys for several weeks before he would make it back home again.

In those days they built their cabins in a circle and his store was in the center for protection. Grandpa told us about the time some marauders came to Serbin and were shooting their guns while riding around the inner circle terrorizing everybody in sight. They even shot at the chickens or anything at random. They came into the store and took whatever they wanted at gunpoint. Grandma Agnes finally had enough and ran them off with a broom. They never harmed her and meanwhile Grandpa was in hiding.

Grandpa Kappler bought two farms. One farm was located on the east side of Rabbs Creek, and the other was on the west side. Later he moved to Giddings where he operated a brick factory. He also built a cotton gin. The farmers in Lee county were raising lots of cotton, so the gin filled a very great need to process the cotton for sale. I remember that we all visited Grandpa Kappler when he was ginning cotton and also grinding corn. Grandpa showed us how all the machinery worked and finally how the cotton was pressed into bales for shipment.

I wandered away from the rest into the engine room. I was very impressed as I watched a big two-foot wide belt driven by the engine. There was a four-foot gap between the upper and lower parts of the belt and I walked through the gap. Someone saw me do this and told Grandpa. He picked up some rawhide leather strips and gave me a good licking. I guess that's why I can remember this story so well after so many years. Grandpa used the leather strips to patch the belt together. I was looking for them later.

Grandpa Kappler and his sons worked hard and made a paying business of the cotton gin and the brick factory. Grandpa was always good to us kids - teasing us like Grandpas will.

Peter Gersch was my grandfather on my father’s side. He was born December 19, 1827 at Buchwalde in Lusatia, a tiny country next to Germany, and died on September 29, 1900. To my knowledge there is no record of him coming over with the other emigrants, but we do know that he had two other brothers. Grandpa stayed in the United States and his brothers sailed on to Australia. His older brother, Johann Gersch, born January 1, 1817 was married and had two children when he migrated to Australia in 1838. He was an experienced carpenter by trade. Among the Gersch family, a consistent thread of musical ability links many of the generations, and several Australian individuals have achieved public acclaim for their talents.

Grandpa Peter drifted into Serbin and lived among the Wends. He married Christina Winkler. He fanned by raising cotton, corn, and potatoes. He also had a very fine peach orchard. He also raised cattle, hogs, and chickens. Grandma Gersch churned the milk and made the best tasting butter I have ever had. My father always butchered some of the hogs and made the finest smoked sausages and “Knokwurst”.

His farm was several miles south of Serbin where he built a log house with two large rooms separated by the traditional open area we would call a breezeway today. Of course, he had a smokehouse. Grandpa Peter and Grandma Christina Gersch raised six children; John, Emma, Amalia, Otto, Herman, and Anna.

It wasn’t long before the Civil War broke out and the South’s recruiting officer came to Serbin. Grandpa Gersch enlisted. He fought for the South until he was wounded and captured by the Northern Anny. He endured much suffering but recovered from his wounds. He told us kids about the lack of anything to eat and the time they caught a big soft-shell turtle and how they built a fire and made some turtle soup. He served in the Army for three years. During that time Grandma was raising the children. She was well qualified to do that as she was trained in Germany as a nurse. She was also serving the community as a midwife and delivered many children during her lifetime. I know she delivered all of us in our family.

After Grandpa Peter Gersch passed away, I lived with Grandma. She was one of the sweetest person you would ever want to know. When I went to school she would always prepare me the best lunch you could imagine - always including good butter bread, smoked sausage and fresh baked cookies.

My father was John Gersch. He married Agnes Kappler and all his worldly possessions were a team of horses, a wagon, and a new wife. He moved into a two-room house on Grandpa Gersch's farm. On that farm Bernhard, Otto, and I, Wilhelm, were born.

Daddy raised cotton and com. Mother had a garden. Daddy’s specialty though was as a butcher. He butchered hogs for all his relatives and made his famous smoked pork sausage. However, fate dealt them a severe blow on one cold morning during hog killing time. Daddy had headed out for a neighbors' farm to butcher some hogs. A few minutes later our house caught on fire. Mother ran out of the house and yelled --- Houp! Houp! She was famous in our family for how loud she could yell.

Daddy heard her even though he estimated he had gone a mile already, so he came running back a mile-a-minute and arrived just as the ceiling was about to fall in on us. I was 6 to 8 months old and sparks began to fall on my face and I began to cry. Mother grabbed me and ran out of the house with Ben and Otto right behind her. Daddy was able to save a few chairs. Ben always remembered holding the yard gate open so Daddy could get the few pieces of furniture away from the burning house. .

Mom and Dad moved to Grandpa Kapplers' farm on the east side of Robbs Creek We had a good house, a garden, a cistern as our water supply, a large barn and a blacksmith shop. In a few years Dad and Mom had seven mouths to feed after Theodor, Bertha, C1ara and Selma came along.

Daddy told us a lot of his experiences as a boy growing up. He said there were no fences in those days and he had to drive Grandpas' cattle out into the hill seeking grass during the droughts for scant grazing. These hills were the Nobbs Hills (Knobbs Berge). One evening eh got lost in this wilderness area and in trying to drive the cattle home, soon realized he was trying to drive them in the wrong direction. He said he finally let the cattle lead him home.

He told about visits by friendly Indians to Serbin. They bought a large steer for slaughter and drove him around and around in a circle claiming that it would tenderize the meat. Dad said then the barbequed the steer and had a celebration for three days! Then they peacefully moved on to the hills.

One night he was awakened because his pillow felt warm --- or different than normal. He raised the pillow to investigate and found a five-foot chicken snake had decided to crawl into bed with him. I can image his reaction – I know I would have left fast!

Daddy was out in the field picking cotton one hat summer day and he told us that the cotton was very tall. All of a sudden, a bunch of raiders came riding down the lane shooting and yelling and took a shot at him. Being unarmed he did what any of us would do. He disappeared in that tall cotton taking a zig-zag path apposite the direction the raiders were coming from. I always heard people say someone was doing alright when they were in ''tall cotton." But somehow, I don't think this saying applied in his case.

Well, here is where I must tell off on myself and my brothers, Ben and Otto. Daddy was always a hard worker either in the fields or in his blacksmith shop. Also, we were clearing land for farming and Grandpa Kappler was living with us at the time, helping to clear the land and getting rid of large piles of unburned wood and brush. There were some other workmen helping Grandpa Kappler also. Well one afternoon Ben, Otto and myself wanted to help and we set fire to some of that brush --- unfortunately the workmen had placed their coats and jackets on that particular brush pile and you know the result. We departed the scene in a hurry. That night Grandpa Kappler came looking for us and told us in no uncertain terms haw bad we were - in fact the sheriff was going to come out and get us and put us in jail. We were in effect already in jail - - all three under the bed! Where else can little bad boys go?

They say bad events take place in three different occurrences. The second disaster for Daddy and Mother took place right after they had worked so hard to get enough money so they could buy a new surrey. We had been riding in an old rattling wagon drawn by our mules, Tom and Jerry, and it was so exciting to race along in that new surrey. A few months later a big storm blew up and uprooted a large post-oak next to the barn where the surrey was sheltered. That tree caved in the whole end of the barn and smashed that surrey to the point that all that was left was the seat and wheels. It was repaired as best Grandpa Kappler and Daddy could manage and we had to drive it for many more years in that condition.

Well, here is bad news three! it happened on a Saturday evening while Daddy was working in his blacksmith shop sharpening plow points and sweeps. I was sweeping the floor and looked up and to my horror our big barn was on fire! I hollered “Daddy, the barns on fire!!” He dropped his hammer and ran to the barn trying to extinguish the flames with nothing but his bare hands. He hollered at me "Wilhelm, get a bucket of' water quick!!" I ran to the cistern and pulled up a full bucket as fast as I could. When I turned back to the barn, I saw the whole thing was on fire .and Daddy jumping out of the inferno barely escaping with his life. I remember leaving that full bucket of water by the cistern and running back toward the barn where all we managed to save was what was left of that surrey. Daddy and Mother cried --we all cried! Grandpa Kappler was very angry. The barn had been full of corn and feed for the livestock. I still remember--- I will always remember that day.

After the barn burned, Daddy and Mother moved about seven miles south close to the little town of Winchester. Theodor, Bertha and I went to school in Winchester. Daddy and Mother were renting a house and some land from Mr. Ernst Hielscher. While we were living on the Hielscher place we boys began playing baseball and played for the Pin Oak ballclub. Our last season together we won six out of seven games. The boys that played on our team were Henry Brom, Johnny Syms, August Kessel, Gerhard Jacobic, Ernst Schultz, Henry Syms, Alvin Kurio, Theodor Gersch, my brother, and myself.

Then later we organized a brass band. We would practice sometimes during the week and always on Sunday afternoon. We played in Bastrop, Lincoln, Giddings and Serbin for barbeques and the Fourth of July celebrations. We had more fun at band practice and once a month we would buy a keg of beer and after band practice --- the real fun would begin!

Near to the house, we laid out a croquet court, 40 by 60 feet, that gave us a lot of fun -- also a lot of fights over the finer points of the game. Well --­ what did you expect from four brothers who all wanted to win!

Soon our playtime was over as Daddy and Mother bought a farm from Mr. Herman Lorenz. It was 1913 or 1914 as I recall and he paid $3,500 for 350 acres. Daddy decided that we boys were now big enough to do some real work --- like clearing land. The whole family, all nine of us, went to work clearing the land, cutting down large post-oak trees and grubbing out ·the little saplings and then stacking it all in cord dimensions. At one time we had accumulated 250 cords of wood. The rest of the great big logs and brush made a huge ban fire. A&M could have put some of those logs to use for their annual football bonfire.

We raised plenty of cotton --- making 18 bales the first crop. We had the land paid off at the end of three years of hard work. We built a new farmhouse. The existing house was a long way from being waterproof. Again, we began by cutting down the biggest and sturdiest trees we could find and cutting them into logs for transport to the saw mill to be shaped into foundation members for the new house. We all moved into the old barn while we were building the new house. I slept on a straw mattress and for covers Mother gave us a big feather cover that looked like a big balloon. That old barn had big cracks and when a “norther” came in our hair was standing in the direction of the wind.

Now we had a good farm. All of us worked in the field planting com, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and cotton. Our garden had cucumbers, cabbage, turnips, carrots --- no spinach! Mother raised turkeys and she was good at it. I remember one year she raised over 150 turkeys and when she sold them that was her money. But Mother really fed us good and we had more food than we could possibly eat, the results of all that hard work. It pays to have your own farm. We also raised cattle and hogs and in general I think we all had a good time doing it together.

Father and Mother were good to us -- but above all they made sure we received instruction from the Bible and the Christian religion principles of life. By now it was time for some of the chickens to fly from the coop. Ben went to Dallas to learn the barbering trade. Otto got married so that left five of us at home.

World War I was soon underway in Europe. Theodor and I got restless about our role in the war. We heard about the military draft call. Well, one morning we were out in the cow lot. I said to Theodor "I'm ready to go fight." He quickly replied, "So am I!" On September 19, 1917, we left Giddings for Camp Travis in San Antonio for basic training. Uncle Sam has never forgotten us. But then that is another story.

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