This article by Sigman Byrd first appeared in the "Bird's Eye View" of The Houston Chronicle on February 1 and 2, 1956.
Note: Moerby, a form of Moerbe, is a Wendish name as is Mitschke.
Note: Rev Johann Kilian preached in both German and Wendish.
Six miles south of Giddings on Farm Rd. 448 are two highway signs only .2 mile apart that read "Serbin." Between the signs a road cuts off on the west to Milton Moerby's store. About a mile south on a red sandy hill shaded by post oaks and cedars, is St. Paul's Lutheran Church, a parish school, a parsonage and a few other parish buildings. Between the store and the church are some scattered farmhouses with their windmills and barns.
This lonely countryside is the heart of what Johann Kilian, the Moses of the Texas Wends called Wendenland, a place of refuge for his people. Of all the Texas pioneers, the Wends are probably the least remembered today. Yet more than 500 of them came here in 1854 from Prussia and Saxony, founded a thriving colony, flourished for a while, then gradually scattered and all but vanished. Today the Texas Wends have lost their racial identity by being absorbed by the Germanic Texans - an ironic fate, since they had fled to Texas to escape persecution by Germans in the old country.
As far as I knew, I had I never in my life laid eyes on a Wend, and I was curious to meet one. So I began at Milton Moerby's store.
A cold rain was letting up as I pulled over on the red dirt road in front of the big brick building. When I cut the motor I could hear hundreds of frogs singing in the ditches. In the store it was warm and cheerful. Mounted deer horns hung on the walls. Six men sat at a big table, playing dominoes and drinking beer. Milton left off candling eggs in the back of the store and came to the bar to see what I wanted.
"Well, I'm looking for a Wend," I said.
"Ain't no Wends here," said Milton. "Only us Germans. How about a beer?"
"Jawohl," I said. 'But where can I find a genuine Wend? Aren't there any left around here?"
"Maybe Pastor Arndt up on the hill, would know," said Milton, pulling a bottle of Texas lager. Then he called to one of the domino players, "Uncle Alvie, do you know anybody that's a Wend?"
Alvin Moerbe left the game and came to the bar. "I believe Old Man Synatschk is a Wend," he said. "But no use going to see him. He's plumb deef."
"How about John Mitschke?" asked Milton.
"He talks Wendish," said Alvin. "But then I can talk it myself, and I ain't one. Anyway, John lives away the other side of Northrup. I expect your best bet is to go back to Giddings and see Mrs. J. A. Proske. Her husband used to put out a newspaper in Wendish."
Having made a note of the lady's name. I said good-by and set out for the church on the hill.
It was midafternoon when I pulled up in the churchyard. School was letting out, and some children were standing under the roof of a big well house drinking water dipped from a bucket in mugs that were fastened to the rafters by long cords. In the nearby churchyard, dozens of big, old cedar trees had been trimmed into curious cylindrical shapes - a custom brought from Europe, I was told later. The beautiful little stone church had a keystone over the front door inscribed, "SDG, 1867. ("Soli Deo G1oria," meaning "Glory to God Alone.") And the weathervane on the steeple was topped by a Texas star.
From the outer sacristy door a walk between great hedges of old cedars led to the parsonage, a big one-story frame building with curiously carved porch cornices.
Pastor Arthur Arndt, a rugged and hearty man, received me in his study, where he had a hot fire going in the stove. We sat down.
"The Wends," he said, "are a mystery, like the Jews. Nobody really knows where they came from. Some authorities say Martin' Luther's wife was a Wend."
Perceiving that the pastor was a man with a sense of humor, I slyly asked, "Which wife?"
"Luther had only one wife," he said firmly.
The 5 Godly Rules of Serbin's Wends
The Rev. Arthur Arndt, fourth pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church at Serbin in 102 years, says his pulpit is the highest in the Missouri Synod. In it, he stands 11 feet above the floor of the church
St. Paul's is one of the prettiest churches you'll ever see. The stone walls are 30 inches thick. The interior is painted in Wendish blue, which is about the color of robins' eggs. The woodwork is stippled with black paint, applied with turkey feathers so that it resembles marble. Two beautiful old bronze chandeliers hang from the cedar beams, and back of the altar is a fine oil painting of the Resurrection.
The Rev. Johann Kilian, the first pastor, preached only in Wendish, which is a Slavic language of unknown origin. His flock consisted of about 600 souls, mostly Wendish, but partly German. Following a parish meeting in 1869,
Pastor Kilian reported:
My congregation is separated into two parties. So intense is their antagonism that they quarreled the entire afternoon. Since the congregation is split, they did not choose a delegate, and since the congregation is in such a precarious condition, I will not attend either."
The following year, the German minority pulled out of St. Paul's and built a new church, St. Peter's. The schism lasted until 1914, when each member of St. Peter's made a public apology, returned to the mother church and promised to obey the following "Five Godly Rules" at all parish meetings:
1. Only one person may speak at a time.
2. Anyone who wants to speak must announce himself first.
3. Stick to the subject under discussion.
4. Do not speak of personal matters.
5. No one may speak when he is angry.
Pastor Arndt now counts about 500 souls in his congregation, and they still stick to the Godly Rules. Probably because they are practically all of German extraction. The pastor holds two services each Sunday, one in English and one in German. Average attendance is 200 at the English service, 220 at the German.
The Wends, as reported yesterday, have all but vanished from Serbin and from this former Wendenland on the west bank of Rabb's Creek. I did eventually find one Wendish lady, Mrs. John Proske, who lives with her daughter, Mrs. Hattie Hilsberg, on Caldwell St. in Giddings.
Mrs. Proske is 89. She came from Saxony with Johann Kilian's 600 colonists, and she speaks not a word of English - only German and Wendish. But hanging on the wall in her home is a beautiful sampler decorated with bells and angels and bearing the motto: "Alles Vergeht nur die Liebe Besteht."
Which means "All is forgotten and only love remains."