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« Part II: Johann's Emi… | Home | Pulling the Red Wagon… »

The End of Johann's Emigration Journey; The Beginning of a New Life

Monday 26 June 2017 at 01:30 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 22, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            This week, I am sharing the last section of the poem I have written about my great grandfather’s emigration journey from Germany to Texas in 1871. The poem is to be published in a book, so this is not the final version of it, as I need to work more on the sounds of the words.

The second week of Johann’s journey brought unhampered joy,

The weather was warm and clear, with no rough seas to fear,

And folks scampered for shade on the sun-splashed deck.

Women dashed about under the inverted cloth bowls of their umbrellas,

Large and small, Regenschirm and Sonnenschirm.

Barefoot children padded sprightly, and adults dressed as lightly as modesty would allow.

Much later, the full moon added beautiful light as it bathed the deck and set it aglow.

Music and dancing, games and entertainment, and reading and singing

In many different languages went on late into this enchanted night

Of bright moonlight during which many new acquaintances came to pass,

Some were even romantic underneath the full moon and on a sea as smooth as glass.

The great ocean had a mind of its own, too soon the sailing was not smooth.

Staying below in steerage, Johann thanked God his berth was at the forward part of the ship,

As those built-in cots amidships near the engine were stifling hot.

Yet, when the sea billowed up, dipped and rose, bow-ward was worse than stern-ward.

At one moment, it seemed as though the vessel was flying into the clouds,

And the next, plunging back into the sea, which was roiling, moiling, and boiling.

When the ship would reel from side to side, everywhere it seemed it would keel over,

And Johann had to flop on his bunk, gripping the sides so tight his knuckles were white.

Otherwise, he would have been propelled out of the berth which held him.

Land ahoy! Land in Sicht! Ahoy, what strand is this?

Eine Inselgruppe! Es ist eine Inselgruppe! Bahamas ahoy!

On Friday, November 11, Johann could see the waves slamming on the rocks,

A splendid scene, the sea was serene, the sun was soon ascending on the opposite side.

By noon, the vista was ever-changing, as they skirted past lighthouses and little chards of land. On an isle no longer than a mile, we glimpsed people strolling near the yard of a lighthouse.

On Saturday, continuous land mass and more lighthouses drifted by, as our steamer proceeded, The sea as smooth as glass, allowing this shorter pass without an unneeded stop in Cuba.

Finally in the Gulf of Mexico, the weather was consistently good for smooth sailing,

But the heat so intense, so searingly hot, Johann, and a few others, abandoned their cot, And slept on the deck without covers, as America, the new homeland, was nearing.

On Monday, the first pilots came toward the Frankfurt, to escort it into port,

But the captain refused their support, and they veered away and disappeared.

As they steamed nearer to the mouth of the bold Mississippi,

The sea was transfigured from a deep blue to a yellow-gold green.

Shortly after noon that day, as they passed the so-called sand bars at the mouth,

Their view metamorphed, and a little Dorf appeared, said to be where the pilots lived.

Soon land could be seen on both sides, vast and flat with rushes and tall grass but no bushes.

Floating near the mouth were thousands of trees that the River caused to fall and amass.

Farther up-river, the voyage to New Orleans was delightful with nice houses and orange trees,

It was too bad it took place partly after nightfall when Johann could not quite see the sights at all.

So Johann, eager to observe every sight, saw little when docking in New Orleans at night,

And when they passed down the River from there to Galveston, again, darkness blocked sight.

Now I must leave my Johann, as no other account survives after that hapless situation,

And join his daughter and wife on their rude transportation from Brenham to a new life.

The train from Galveston ran as far as Brenham, but not to the frontier area of Lee County,

With the only available carrier a spare freight wagon pulled by three pair of oxen.

The distance was fifty miles, and it took them three days, galling days, appalling days.

They went only a few kilos the first day, and spent that night in a dreary, windowless house,

So unlike the bright, cheery home they left in Deutschland with plastered brick and white walls.

The ox-driven wagon took a side road to a flour mill to take on a huge load of flour in barrels,

Weighing two hundred pounds each, the hefty kegs of flour displaced the family’s belongings,

Which were relocated on top of the flour, as their boxes and cases became hard benches.

When they arrived in Giddings, Wendish folks met them and moved them into a log feed-house,

Which they occupied until a place was found for them on the second floor of a bona fide house.

In just six months, Johann’s wife, Anna, died, barely in Texas, barely 36 years old.

Johann was beside himself with grief and woe, his daughter Helene also felt unending despair.

More distress would follow at the end of this long emigration journey to the “promised land.”

Turning Johann and Helene’s prose letters into poetry has been a delightful challenge.


Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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