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« St. Pauls, Serbin Pre… | Home | Wendish Christmas »

The Wends in Texas

Friday 09 October 2015 at 10:51 pm.

This article by L. S. Imm, Ph.D. was written in 1974 for an unkown publication which may have been something similar to The Lutheran Digest.

Note: The 35 Prussian Wends of 1853 did not settle in East Texas but in Central Texas in Austin, and Fayette counties.

Note: The Wends arrived in Galveston in December 1854, and while they had a church and services it was not known as St Paul Lutheran church until 1870. The original settlement in Bastrop County was known initially as the Low Pinoak Settlement or Rabbs Creek and was not known as Serbin until 1860.

Note: The two men who set out ahead of the group were John Dube and Carl Lehmann. They found that the Delaplain League had a clear title and purchased in for $1/acre, not 50 cents.

Note: Rules for decorum in the church were necessary because of the lawlessness that pervaded the Serbin area during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.

-0-

The Wends have figured prominently in the spread of Lutheranism in Texas and have made more than a little contribution to the development of the state. They constitute a substantiality despite the paucity of their present numbers. Texas has one of the two largest Wend colonies; the other one is in Australia.

You probably, with many others, will ask, "Who are the Wends?" Most people have never heard of them, even though there are many of their descendants in Texas.

Here's a bit of their history to acquaint you with them: "Wends" is the name of a group of Slavic tribes which, by the 5th century, occupied the region in Germany before World War II between the Oder river on the East and the Elbe and Saale rivers on the West.

During the course of centuries, they succumbed to German conquests and have been more or less "germanized." Henry I of the so-called Holy Roman Empire conquered them in 929 and extended German control over them to the Elbe River. But it was not long afterwards that the Wends rebelled. This was in 983 and they retained their identity after that until 1125, when under Lothar II the region was colonized by German peasants. Nevertheless the Wends were never completely "germanized" until quite recently. Even in recent times, they doggedly clung to their language and culture.

The original millions of Wends have been decimated by wars and absorption so that today there are only about 150,000 of them left in Germany and comparatively few in the United States. The last of them call themselves Serbs, Sorbs, or Lusatian Serbs.

By way of passing, it might be mentioned that the Wends today speak two Slavic dialects related to the Czech and Polish. They are so different to be mutually unintelligible. They use the Gothic alphabet. The so-called Wends are today being rapidly absorbed by their German neighbors. It is only a matter of a comparatively few years and all Wends will have been "germanized" over in Europe.

With the advent of the Lutheran Reformation in Europe in the 1500's, most of the remaining Wends converted to Lutheranism and became staunch Lutherans generation after generation. They proved themselves to be a religious people with fundamental and conservative convictions and beliefs. They were disinclined to accept religious compromise. But with the year 1817, official interference with their religious convictions and beliefs raised its head. Lutherans and the Evangelical Reformed were ordered to unite without doctrinal agreement.

This galled the Wend Lutherans no little. The climax was reached, when a group of them in Saxony decided to move to another part of the world to find religious, political and economic freedom. They selected the Rev. John Kilian as their pastor and leader to take them to "the promised land."

That was 120 years ago . . . back in 1854. Polk was president, turmoil was rampant and the United States was headed for a calamitous civil war. The Wends were unconcerned about the domestic situation on this side of the Atlantic. But it was not too many years before it caught up with them.

Five hundred and eighty-eight of them decided to leave their familiar surroundings and head for Texas, leaving most everything behind never to return again. It was a bold, adventurous and intrepid group that decided to emigrate to "the promised land."

The reason that Texas was chosen was due to the glowing reports about Texas which had reached them from a group of 35 Prussian Wends who had settled in the early German colonies in East Texas. The thought of possible hardships, sacrifices, disillusionments, sickness and even death was remote in their minds. They visualized instead religious and political freedom, economic improvements and a more satisfying life than they had been leading in Germany.

They left Germany in September, 1854, for Galveston, Texas. However, before they left they organized themselves into a Lutheran congregation, with the Rev. Kilian as their pastor and leader.

This accounts for the inaccuracy in the Texas historical records which say that the Wends arrived in Serbin and organized St. Paul Lutheran Church in 1854, when they actually arrived there in 1855.

Their voyage across the Atlantic was far from one of undiluted joy. Seventv-three of their number succumbed to cholera. This was traumatic for all on the ship. Yet, they fared better than the Saxon Lutherans who came over in 1839 to form the nucleus of the Missouri Synod. One ship of the Saxons was lost and never heard from again. The patience of the Wends was taxed severely on the voyage. Monotony was rampant because the voyage lasted 3 1/2 months before Galveston was reached.

Their troubles were compounded after their arrival in Galveston: a yellow fever epidemic broke out. It further decimated their numbers.

Nevertheless the intrepid band started out for its destination, which ultimately was Serbin, Texas.

In the meantime, two members of the group had been delegated to scout the prospective settlement area and buy land. Their names have been lost in history. They bought 4,400 acres along Rabbs Creek for 50¢ an acre, of which 95 were set aside for church purposes.

(Incidentally, time proved that to be a good investment. Today that same land is selling for $300 an acre, which is 600 times its original sales price.)

With the deal consummated, the group set out from Galveston with ox carts and on foot. In those days, there were no 4, 6, 8, and 10 lane super highways and automobiles to average 60 and more miles an hour. They trudged along through prairie land on uncharted roads and reached Houston by Christmas. Here they spent their first Christmas on a bleak prairie in their new homeland. Here also illness again descended on them in the form of typhoid and slowed their trek to Serbin.

Serbin is located 40 miles east of Austin, the capital of Texas.

When they finally arrived, they had to live under the open sky and off the land. Their provisions were few. Fortunately the Rabbs Creek and Serbin area was, and still is, wooded. The first thing these hardy pioneers did was to cut down trees to build log houses.

The typical Wendish home back in those days consisted of one room. It of necessity served as living room, bedroom, and kitchen for the entire family until later on a second room was added for a kitchen. In the meantime, cooking was done outside except during a few months in winter. The houses usually were not painted.

Much of Texas was still open country, when the Wends settled in and around Serbin. But the lawless, "wild and wooly" era with its boisterous saloons and women of questionable character in every town, gun fights, cattle wars and drives was on the way out. Danger, however, lurked and the Wends wore six-shooters like the "rootin and tootin" cowboys did.

This is apparent from rules posted in Serbin stores and printed in the Bastrop paper in 1866 - 11 years after the Wends had arrived. These rules forbade men to wear hats in church, to chew or smoke tobacco in the church building and to carry six -shooters or any other weapon in church. Refinement was not exactly a mark of the Wends at the time.

Upon their arrival at Serbin these pioneer Wends found life to be a battle for survival. They had to travel on horseback and lumber wagons to Brenham - a round trip distance of around 140 miles - for the essentials of life. It took days to make that trip.

According to a recent article in the Lutheran Journal, Darby N. Reinke relates that the Wend's manner of dress was unusual for the area. They wore shoes only to church mainly because the price of shoes was high. They wore sandals made of wooden soles and leather straps. The women wore long skits and loose fitting jacket tops. According to their beliefs, the women could not wear tight fitting clothes that revealed any part of their body or shape. Only the bride could wear the customary tight fitting wedding costume. it was so tight that she was in pain while wearing it. It was designed to symbolize the long years of suffering during marriage.

"The women wore black bonnets year around. The young girls and young women could wear white bonnets until a certain age was reached or children were born. The women lived under strict rules of dress."

But due to the industriousness hardiness and determination of these pioneers, it was not many years before Serbin had grown to some importance and had its own well-supplied stores. At one time it even had two medical doctors. After 1871, however, Giddings, Texas started to over­shadow Serbin because of its location...[remainder of article was not copied. If you know of it please send to the Wendish Museum.]

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