Serbin During Reconstruction by Ken Kesselus with an Introduction by George Nielsen

Intro by George Nielsen

Serbin’s official beginning took place in 1860 when the government honored the community’s request and gave the little village a post office. From 1860 on Serbin experienced a modest growth until 1890 when the railroad builders bypassed Serbin and then began its decline and lost its status symbol—the post office—in 1909.

Much of Serbin’s fifty-year existence was uneventful, but during Serbin’s early years the troubles associated with Reconstruction spilled over and disrupted life in Serbin as well. Historians date Reconstruction from the conclusion of the war in 1865 until 1877 when all the seceding states were back in the Union.

Not all states were on the same Reconstruction timetable, but most went through similar stages. For Texas the first stage, from 1865 to 1870, was a contentious time as the Northern leaders set up a provisional government and established guidelines for readmission. Those uncertainties, in addition to the disruption of civilian life resulting from the war, provided an environment conducive for violence.

Texas was readmitted into the Union in 1870 and elected Republican leaders, but politics was often the cause for problems rather than a solution. The young Republican Party was northern party and Abraham Lincoln had won with Northern votes. The party leaders planned a national party by establishing it in the South as well. They envisioned a Republican Party based on the former Southern Whigs, immigrant Northerners who saw business opportunities in the South, and the Freedmen. The Democrats were not inclined to step aside and instead used methods, including violence, to regain political power. They elected a Democrat governor in 1873 and then wrote a new constitution in 1876.

Kenneth Kesselus, in his study of Bastrop County during Reconstruction, frequently refers to a German resident of Bastrop named Julius Schutze (Schuetze). His residency in Bastrop was brief—from 1864 to 1870. He had immigrated to Texas in 1852 and lived in various locations including San Antonio and Austin. He taught speech and music, tuned pianos, and was active in the Sängerbund.

He moved to Bastrop to teach school in 1864 but after the Civil War the Provisional Governor of Texas, Andrew J. Hamilton, appointed Schuetze to the position of Chief Justice of Bastrop County. In 1869 was elected to the state legislature as a Republican. After he left Bastrop County he edited a German newspaper in Austin, cultivated silkworms, and served as President of the Sons of Hermann. (Source: Handbook of Texas Online)

Schuetze’s brief political career serves as an example of a Texas German who during Reconstruction worked to build a Republican Party on a base of Germans, Freedmen, and Southern whites. It also illustrates the ultimate return to private life of Republicans as the Democrats regained political power.

Schuetze’s contribution to Wendish studies is a list of citizens, both black and white, that could be trusted to register former slaves and disenfranchise former Confederates. The requirements for such a position included taking an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and also the test oath that included the statement that they had not voluntarily supported the Confederacy. Schuetze’s list did not separate German from Wend, but Kesselus included the list in an Appendix so we can do it now. Information on Wendish political participation is hard to find and many never were naturalized so this list in valuable because it does name those Wends who were Unionists in 1867 and sympathetic to the formation of a Republican Party that included freed slaves.

John Dube, John Heohle (Hohle), J. Knippie (John Knippa), G. Mertik (George Mertink), M. Morasko (Matthes Mrosko), John Schoenig, M. Simmank, M. N. Trellop (Matthes Prellop), John Urban, M. Domaschk (Matthes Domaschk), A. Polnick (August Polnick), John Schatte, Mathias Schultze, J. Semme (John Symm), M. Wukash, Joe Deo, Ch. Lehman (Charles Lehman), M. Mitich (Matthes Mitschke), J. Schneider (John “Captain” Schneider), M. Schuster (Matthes Schuster), J. Schilling (John Schelnick), Jacob Urban, M. Wagner (Matthes Wagner), Adam Ritter, J. Schellneck (John Schelnick), J. Kilian (John Kilian)

Other Wends identified as dependable Union/Republican men: Carl Mischalk (Carl Michalk), Peter Persch (Peter Gersch), Carl Lehmann (The Godfather), Fred Sedyler (Fred Seydler), and Andreas Kieschnick.

Civil War and Reconstruction

by Ken Kesselus

Bastrop County was one of only nineteen Texas counties (another was Fayette County), out of 122, to deliver a majority against secession. Locally, there were some strong leaders who were in favor of staying in the union, but there weren’t many. The main group who voted against secession were the Germans. The county-wide totals were 335 for and 352 against. The secessionists lost by 17 votes. The pro union voters had 51%.

The Serbin area box, called Rabb’s Creek Box, cast 57 votes in the election, 56 against and 1 for. Without that box the vote would have been 336 (53%) for and 296 against. The other box that voted against secession was Bastrop, which had a sizable number of Germans, mostly merchants and tradesmen living in town.

It was the horrible time after the war that I have researched extensively and have written about in my latest Bastrop County book. (Bastrop County during Reconstruction.)

What I do know is that Serbin was the only town in that area, and before the railroad came it was the only place that you could really call a town besides Bastrop.

For example, in January 1866, Bastrop County commissioners designated thirteen roads that they would keep up–one of the main ones was the Bastrop to Brenham Road, via the Serbin Community. It closely followed the Gotier Trace.

In the late 1860s, St. Paul’s congregation remained one of only five church buildings in Bastrop county. All the rest were in the town of Bastrop. This is an important factor in demonstrating how developed this area was.

After the Civil War was a very difficult time in the South. The Emancipation Proclamation became effective in Texas when the Federal troops landed in Galveston in June 1865, as 5,000 soldiers enforced martial law. The Federal government made Texas an occupied territory (no longer a state).

There was a great deal of difficulty for the freed slaves because the conservative whites tried everything they could to maintain as much of the status quo that they possibly could. Eventually the Federal government put into place the Freedman’s Bureau and there was an agent in Bastrop who had the authority to call in Federal soldiers. Most of the Germans felt the desire to help the emancipated slaves with their new found freedom and not resist the changes that were going on. I know that this was true in this area.

Eventually most of the Federal troops were withdrawn, and the Texas government created a State Police force that was kind of like the Texas Rangers and under the control of the governor to help protect the African Americans, as the Army had done before.

An example of what the Freedman’s Bureau did was to promote schools for African Americans. In the Serbin area, a man named Solomon Fehr donated land and timber for a schoolhouse where he himself taught students before being replaced by an African American teacher.

What happened in the political realm was that the African Americans, and mostly German Americans, and a few Union supporters, people who had opposed the war, etc, were able to carry the day in the polls because a number of the Anglo whites were prohibited from voting and some of them opted out because they thought that the Federal government was going to make whatever it wanted happen and it did not matter if they voted or not.

In the outlying areas of Bastrop County, a frightening degree of violence occurred in 1868, just as blacks got the vote and the Republican coalition was able to gain control. “Raids on Negro homes became so numerous . . . that blacks . . . began sleeping in the woods for fear of getting caught or killed.” In addition, “masked riders kidnapped two delegates to the state convention of the Union League and hanged them.”

In the midst of this, Serbin Justice of the Peace Andreas Kieschnick wrote an extraordinary, articulate, blunt, confrontational, and desperate letter to Governor Pease about the violence and lawlessness in this area. It reflects the state of affairs in Bastrop County and illustrates the difficulty of changing the views and actions of many unreconstructed Confederates.

“Sir, Some weeks ago, while in the discharge of my official duties as justice of the peace, I was attacked by a band of outlaws, who had broken into our peaceable settlement, and severely wounded with a bowie knife by a certain Gorman, who with a number of men lives in the woods of this neighborhood committing depredations upon the quiet and peaceable German settlers of this vicinity. I appealed through Captain Porter [Freedman’s Bureau agent in Bastrop county] to General Reynolds [Commander of Texas for the military, ultimately in charge of everything about Texas] for protection and military assistance to arrest the offenders, but my petition was not noticed at headquarters. It may be proper to state here that it would be impracticable to summon a posse of citizens as the gang of desperados is too numerous to be caught at once and the remaining outlaws with their connections would certainly fall en masse upon every farmer who would obey such summons, when they find him alone in his field. It was therefore, that I most respectfully asked General Reynolds through Captain B. Porter, Sub Asst Commissioner of Bastrop County to send us a file of soldiers for the arrest of murderers and assassins. We have patiently been waiting for these troops, but in vain. Captain Porter informs us that he has not received a reply to the statement and petition sent by him to Headquarters and we have abandoned the hope that something will be done for our relief.

Allow me therefore, Governor, most respectfully to tender herewith my resignation as justice of the peace of this county, as I deem it incompatible with right and honor to serve a government that with all the power at her command is unwilling to protect even her most humble public servant in the discharge of his duties. Were I a General of this mighty republic and the Government would fail to protect me in my official duties I should readily break her sword under my feet and throw it with contempt before my superiors. Were I a judge and the government would refuse to lend me her strong arm to administer the law, I should trample upon my commission before I would be willing to dishonor the chair of justice.

I am only an humble magistrate. There is no salary connected with my office. It is merely the honor which every republican citizen should feel when serving his country even in the capacity of a justice or constable, but such service becomes a dishonor if that government presents a deaf ear to the appeals of her loyal officers.

Not doubting that the General commanding this District may soon find a citizen as my successor who may be willing to serve as magistrate under existing circumstances, I have the honor to remain, Governor, your very obedient servant. Andreas Kieschnick.”

In 1871, a gang terrorized northeastern Bastrop County, rendering the area “disorderly and deplorable.” Four men armed with shot guns and six-shooters disrupted a circus performing in Serbin. They drew down on Deputy Sheriff W. Miller and ordered him to leave, then turned on some freedmen, robbing them of pistols and money. Their leader, John Wilson, “well known as a desperado” and citizen of neighboring Burleson County, and another man named Long, boasted that they had recently shot a man named Paul Brice and stolen his horses. Arsonists acted near Serbin – burning another freedmen’s school, near Cunningham’s Post Office on the river. They also cruelly whipped the teacher. About the same time, in the Pin Oak neighborhood near Serbin “fifteen or twenty disguised men” took three elderly freedmen from their homes at midnight and “stripped and brutally whipped” them. Two of the freedmen, brothers Edward and Patrick Wormley rented land on Pin Oak Creek in far eastern Bastrop County, and the third freedman, Martin Bell, owned his place. The culprits whipped Bell “on the soles of his feet in the most inhuman manner” – so badly that an attending physician did not expect him to walk for a year.

A correspondent from Serbin wrote Austin’s Reformer on July 1 about worsening conditions there. “Last night twelve men, dressed in white, faces painted black and red, high hats and horns, rode into town making a great noise, shooting and hooting.” After forcing themselves into several cabins, they evicted the African-American residents and destroyed their furniture. With no law officers in the area and because “neither his life or property is safe,” the writer expected Justice of the Peace Jungmichel to resign his office.

Ku Klux Klan activity in the county involved beatings, lynchings, and burnings. An anonymous writer sent a note to the State Journal saying, that “the lynchers and school-house burners [had left] the condition of affairs simply desperate.” He insisted, as “absolute fact,” that armed men “in disguise” prowled at night, “burning school-houses, whipping school teachers, and beating colored men who patronize schools.” The perpetrators inflicted “terrorism” not only on blacks but also on Germans, “especially those of Serbin [who were] continually intimidated and outraged by these cowardly and infamous scoundrels.”

When the district attorney tried to gain indictments against such men, Serbin’s C. C. Jungmichel testified that a gang, “calling themselves the same name: i.e. ‘Ku Klux,'” came through Serbin more than once, frightening the citizens. Patrick Wormley, one of the freedmen recently whipped, and a man named Ryan stated that their tormentors called themselves “Ku Klux.”

When the grand jury failed to indict anyone, there was a large outcry across the state and especially in Bastrop county and the governor nearly declared martial law in Bastrop County. Falling short of that, however, he ordered additional state policemen to the area. The local lieutenant appointed Fredrick Milton and August Jeffers as special police stationed at Serbin.

Shortly after African Americans finally gained the right to vote, the commanding general ordered the local freedman’s bureau agent Byron Porter to suggest three places for registering voters and for polling places. He chose Bastrop, Walnut Creek (Red Rock/Cedar Creek, Rockne area) – and Serbin. He expected a majority in each to favor reform and support the new law so there could be a fair registration and election. He advised dividing the county with all residents of eastern Bastrop County to register and vote in Serbin.

Porter recommended those he thought most capable of ensuring a fair election in Serbin – Carl Michalk (who had left Texas to serve in the Union Army) and Peter Gersch; and Carl Lehmann, described as “always a good Union man.”

But the conservatives, bent on control blacks and maintaining the status quo, rallied around the Democratic Party to stop this – appealed to the pivotal German voters, including those in Serbin, but without much success. Failing that, they also used threats and violence to try to intimidate the Germans using “Ku Klux bands of nocturnal prowlers and marauders” to keep many of them from the polls by overrunning several sections of the county, including Serbin, burning schools, whipping teachers, and threatening “whites and blacks with impunity.”

Though a tentative Republican majority in Bastrop County provided some hope that freedmen could live there in relative safety, the political situation across Texas worked against them. In the January 1873 election, Republican Governor Davis lost to Democrat Richard Coke by a more than a two-to-one margin. Democrats also gained control of other executive offices and both houses of the legislature. This positioned the party, in 1874, to begin repealing the reforms carried out since 1869 and effectively ended the Reconstruction Era in Texas. The next year, after the Democrats regained control, a constitutional convention and the vote to affirm it erased much of the Republican policies and laws of a progressive nature.

The Republicans continued for a time to poll strongly in Bastrop County, but they were barely holding on, still winning most elections, with the Serbin area providing an important part of the majority.

Meanwhile, the railroad arrived in Bastrop County and the founding of Giddings on the rail line, only seven miles from Serbin, began to change the lives of locals. They turned more and more northeastward and away from Bastrop.

Residents in and around Serbin began to complain about their isolation from the rest of the county. In 1870, two petitions from citizens of the area sought relief through the creation of a new county that would include Serbin. The first, sent to Governor Davis from Justice of the Peace C. C. Jungmichel, along with S. Fehr, L. Sustry, C. A. Lottman, Carl Lehmann, A. Kappler, and F. Kessel. It included a map of a proposed county, combining sections taken from four existing ones – Washington, Burleson, Fayette, and Bastrop.

The second, a follow-up to the first, went directly to Davis from C. Munsenberger “in the name of the Settlement Serbin.” He represented “about 25 of our wealthy and influential citizens of this section.” Stating that they all strongly supported the Republican administration, he asked whether they could expect their proposed “county, named Serbin” or “whether we will yet and further on have to have 22-27 miles to our County seat.”

The effort did not prevail, but four years later J. L. Moore, John G. Hardemeyer and Thomas J. Nesbitte called for a meeting of citizens “of the west end of Burleson county, the west end of Washington county, the northwest end of Fayette county, and the northeast end of Bastrop county” to meet at Giddings “for the purpose of devising ways and means for the formation of a new county, to be composed of the above named territory.”

Once introduced in the 1874 session of the legislature, the bill had some difficulty making its way through both houses of the legislature but finally emerged with a consensus and the name “Lee County,” in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After the final vote in the House, the bill became law on May 2.

By July 27, 1874, the government of Lee County was organized and in operation. Taking away forty square miles of Bastrop County, 4.3% of its total, including Serbin and surrounding areas.

From the perspective of Bastrop County African Americans and other Republicans, however, a much more substantial loss came from the transfer of a sizeable number of mostly Republican German voters to Lee County.

In addition to the shift of some Germans to the Democratic camp, this development further threatened the tenuous majority Republicans had held for a number of years. This geopolitical change helped ensure a future in which Bastrop County would follow the majority of Texans into Democratic rule, resting on the strength of a solid majority of conservative white voters. It also guaranteed that the prospects for progress among African Americans would decline in its wake. The support and protection provided for freedmen by local Republican authorities would evaporate when Democrats regained control of all offices Bastrop County.

George Nielsen’s Response

Because race is such a critical matter today we look back and see everything tied to slavery. Slavery was not the only issue from 1820 on. Even more important were (1) the tariff (2) internal improvements and (3) western lands (cheap or free). And remember, the secession vote was not over slavery, it was over the question of the union. The Wends were just like the other white yeoman farmers and used their families in the cotton fields instead of slaves. There were more yeoman farmers than planters and it was a subsistence farm in which cotton provided the cash to buy the things they could not produce themselves.

Reconstruction should be associated with political parties. The Republican Party was young party that did not have a following in the South. In order to make it a national party it was necessary to bring in those Southerners who were former Whigs, add those Northerners who wanted to build up the South with railroads, factories, and enterprise, and add the Freedmen to provide the votes. The Conservatives were the Democrats who wanted to keep control of the state and prevent the Freedmen from voting Republican. (Low taxes, cotton economy.) Pease and Edmund J. Davis were the only Republican governors in those days.

We do not know if the Wends voted against secession or if they even voted. We do not know if the Wends were opposed to slavery or if they were too poor to buy a slave. Did the Wends display racial prejudice by not trying to convert the Freedmen to Lutheranism? It seems as if they pretty much bought into the segregated society, but thanks to Ken Kesselus’ study we now know that the Wends wanted to work with a Republican Party and the Freedman’s Bureau to improve education of the Freedman and integrate them into the political system.

Serbin Area Violence during Reconstruction

by Weldon Mersiovsky

Examples of violence during the Reconstruction Era evidenced itself in the death and burial records of St Paul Lutheran church in Serbin.

1. Jordan Krueger, farmer on the Bullfrog [Creek], died at 7 pm on Sunday, 10 July 1870. He was murdered by his renter. Jordan is survived by one son, August, in California; one son, Henry, here; one daughter, Minna, in Hannover; and one daughter, Emma, in Pennsylvania.

2. On July 9, 1871, a year less a day from which his father was killed, Henry Krueger, farmer near the railroad station in Giddings, died from fatal injuries received from an unknown person.

3. Carl Wilhelm Herman Muenzenberger, (mentioned by Kesselus) who died 15 May 1872, was a former merchant in San Antonio, then teacher at the public school that was founded at Serbin on 1 Mar 1872. He was 39 years and one month old and was survived by a widow living in New Braunfels and one son. No cause of death was given.

4. Dr. Johann Mollet died on 28 Jun 1875 and was buried in the St Paul cemetery. According to Pastor Kilian he was shot to death, “a vicious murder in Serbin Town.”

See also “Serbin in the News” in the Wendish Research Project blog.


Folklore of the German Wends of Texas by George Nielsen

Singers and Storytellers (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1961), 244-259, and later an abridged version was printed in Francis Edward Abernethy (ed.) The Folklore of Texan Cultures (Austin: The Encino Press, 1974), 290-300. For more information on Wendish folklore read Mato Kosyk’s letter found in the Johann August Urban entry in WENDS WHO BROKE THE PATTERN in George’s Journal at See also George R. Nielsen, In Search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989), 119-124.

ON THE MORNING of December 16, 1854, the immigration authorities at Galveston went out to meet the Ben Nevis, an English sailship, which had arrived in the harbor. On board they examined the papers and the physical condition of the five hundred Wends who had come to settle in Texas. Seventy-three had died since the band had left their homes in Germany; but since none on board were ill, the authorities permitted the settlers to land.1

Although these Wends came from Prussia and Saxony, they were not Germans, but descendants of the Veneti of ancient times and the Polab Slavs of the Middle Ages. They called themselves Serbes or Serben, but to avoid confusion with the Serbs of the Balkan region, anthropologists named them Serbo­ Lusatians or Wends.

These once numerous people had become more restricted in area until they were surrounded by Germanic tribes, and as far back as 1346 the Germanization of the Wends had begun. The Wendish culture was not related to that of the Germans. Their language resembled that of the Czechs, Poles, and Russians, and their dress, folklore, and literature were more Slavic than German. In 1815, however, the Congress of Vienna divided Lusatia, giving Upper Lusatia to Saxony and Lower Lusatia to Prussia. That was the beginning date of an organized and ruthless program launched by the Prussian government to make the Wends German.2

The most isolated part of the Lusatias, and thus the part that resisted Germanization longest, was the Spreewald, in Upper Lusatia, where the Spree River divides into hundreds of small streams, brooks, and marshes. Here the houses were built on islands, and flatboats furnished transportation during the warm months. The signboards gave the distances from one place to another not in kilometers, but in the time required for the pushing of the boat. In winter, when the canals froze, travel was by sled or skates. The occupation of the Wends here, as well as of those living outside the Spreewald, was mostly agriculture. They grew primarily vegetables and fruits, and in addition cared for domesticated animals and captured the eels which crowded the streams in the spawning season.

The folklore of the Serbo-Lusatians was among the richest in Europe, possibly as a result of their late conversion to Christianity. It was basically the same as that of other groups in Europe, but it was more varied. Included in their beliefs were remnants of the preceding centuries such as animism-the belief that all objects possess a natural life or soul-and the worship of early pagan deities, the personifications of forces of nature. Two of these gods were Beleboh and Cernoboh, the white and black gods standing for Life and Death, Light and Darkness, or the Good and Evil Spirits. As Christianity was slowly accepted by these people, this dualistic conception of good and evil was carried on, and the names were changed to God and Devil. The poetic temperament of the Slavic people molded their interpretation of life and nature into stories possessing great charm. These people also expressed themselves so freely in songs that the Wends had one song for every 150 people. The Poles were second in this respect, having one song for every 1,000 inhabitants.3

The only trait that the Wends and Germans held in common was religion. They were either Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Most of the Wends were Lutheran, but they were not united with the German Lutherans, because the writings of the church had been translated into Wendish and the services were conducted in that language. However, when a parish needed a pastor, and there was a possibility that a portion of the congregation would accept a German clergyman, the government would immediately send a German-speaking pastor. By 1848 there were only thirty-six Wendish preachers left.

The Germans also discriminated against the Wends in economic activity. The Wends had little capital for investment, and any attempt on their part to improve their lot was opposed by the Germans. The majority had to labor with their hands, only a few being able to break through restrictions to become professional men.4

In 1840 the 140,000 people speaking Wendish were dissatisfied and unhappy; and when the king, the “Pope in Berlin,” forced the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches, emigration increased and approximately 580 Wends under the leadership of Pastor John Kilian left their homes for Texas.5

After landing in Galveston, they quickly took a boat to Houston, thus avoiding contact with the yellow fever epidemic in the Island City. From Houston they crossed the fertile prairie until they came to the Post Oaks near Rabb’s Creek in what was then Bastrop County. For fifty cents an acre they got some of the worst land in Texas, whereas for fifty cents more they could have had the fertile prairie or bottom lands. They realized as much, but nearly all were completely without money. They had had little in Germany and after the trip they had even less. If they settled on the prairie, in addition to paying the higher price for land, they would have to buy wood for their houses, fences, and furnishings, whereas in the Post Oaks they could cut their own timber.6

Under these conditions it is not difficult to see why the Wends kept little European folklore. Much of their folklore had been associated with trees, animals, and land; so when they saw mesquite, scrub oak, and oleanders instead of birches, chestnuts, and alders, and coyotes, skunks, possums, armadillos, scorpions, and tarantulas instead of the few wolves, rodents, and deer of Europe, the stories must have lost their meaning. And how could one possibly imagine that spirits and fairies would exist in the same woods with, the wild Indians? Any costumes that were brought over were soon ruined by living’ under primitive conditions, and if there was money, it would be spent for land and not on new clothes.

As a result, the folklore which developed in Europe was almost completely lost in this new environment, with the exception of those customs which were practical and necessary, such as cures, planting and harvesting ways, and those practices associated with the church. This loss can probably be illustrated by an incident related by my grandmother. Once when her father was telling the children some stories, the mother interrupted the storytelling because she wanted the children to amount to something. By that she meant that she wanted them to work or learn something that would yield financial retums.7

Ironically, the Wends did not escape from German influence. There were Germans in Texas when the Wends landed in Galveston, and in 1860 a large migration of Germans brought many to the vicinity of Bastrop County. In this instance the church was the unifying factor for the two groups and fraternization and intermarrying resulted. The question of language was the only real problem, but the pastor and the people were bilingual, knowing both Wendish and German. Services were conducted in both German and Wendish until the 1920’s, when German became the only language used in public worship.8 Folklore, as a result, is also a combination of the two cultures, and it is impossible to separate the German from the Wendish folklore.

The most common and rich category of German-Wendish folklore is that of the folk cures. My first memories of these cures go back to my childhood when I stepped on a nail. In the hot summers of central Texas going barefooted was taken for granted, and along with the pleasure went the occasional injuries from grass burrs, mesquite thorns, and goatheads. A wound from a rusty nail, however, was a different matter, and in modern times the injured person would be punished further with tetanus shots. In the days when doctors were far away, and the transportation was slow, the remedies had to be applied at home. In this case the treatment was painless and effective. A piece of bacon rind was placed on the wound, and then the foot was set in a shallow pan containing turpentine. The combination of the two caused a drawing effect on the wound, and the strong odor of the turpentine had the desired psychological effect. This remedy was said to be good not only for wounds, but also for curing boils and chest colds. For curing the chest colds, strips of fatty bacon were sewn on a woolen cloth, saturated with turpentine, and then applied to the chest of the patient. The uncomfortable person had to sleep all night with the sticky, gooey, and evil-smelling poultice, but in the morning the cold was broken.

Our skins suffered not only from the sharp spines of the thorns, but also from the sharp stingers of the yellow jackets and bees, and the painful bites of the big red ants. These were unavoidable. Sometimes we asked for it by standing on the anthill while holding our breath, or by knocking down the yellow jackets’ nest from underneath the eaves with fishing poles, but at other times we were innocently playing or picking cotton. If we were near my uncle, we would go to him for aid, and he would remove part of his chewing tobacco cud and place it on the bite. If we were closer to the house, we would run in to Mother who would then place a teaspoon of baking soda on the wound and pour on a little vinegar. It fizzed, and the cooling relief was felt immediately.

Not all the remedies were from materials in the home; occasionally the adults ordered some from Germany or bought them in town. One such medicine, called Blitz Öl (Lightning Oil) , was, in my grandfather’s opinion, the final word in pharmaceutics. If any of the children hurt themselves, he would administer the medicine, even though it was hated and feared because its burn was worse than the pain of the original wound. One day, however, as Grandfather was splitting wood, the ax slipped and grazed his knee. Quickly he went onto the back porch, for this was his first opportunity to apply the medicine on himself. When he did so, the burning was as fierce as lightning and he gave the bottle a good heave into the pasture. Needless to say, the children were not sorry to see it go.9

If this medicine was not effective, there were others that were. The efficacy of one of them was proved by an injury suffered by my Great-grandfather Schneider. He was binding oats, and it took a great deal of skill to drive the four horses as well as operate the machine. In an attempt to obtain additional leverage, he wrapped the lines controlling the horses around his thumb; but on this occasion the trailing lines got caught in the big bull-wheel, and the thumb was wrenched off. All that held it was a bit of skin on one side. He went home, doused the thumb with Heil Öl (Heal Oil) , and wrapped it snugly with cloth. The thumb healed, and he regained its complete use.10

A very popular cure was the Lebenswecker (Life Awakener), which was used to cure sore muscles, stiff joints, strokes, mastoids, and nearly everything else. It was a contraption the main part of which was a handle with a head the size of a fifty-cent piece made up of hundreds of little needles. The instrument was placed against the ailing part and the handle was drawn back and then released, causing the many small needles to prick the outer layer of the skin. No blood was drawn, but the areas would be red from irritation. Then a little Lebenswecker Öl was applied with a feather. The patient was forbidden to get his hands wet for the next three days.11

The Lebenswecker Öl was also used internally, but with great care. A girl, by the name of Alma Leitco, was taken to the Hamilton hospital with a severe case of locked bowels. Drs. Beecher, Chandler, and Cleveland tried everything but finally had to give the case up as hopeless. When Oswald Melde heard of it, he got some of the oil from Great-grandmother, went to Hamilton, and asked for permission to use the oil. The doctors said that since they had given up twelve hours earlier, they would consent. The father hesitated, but then gave his permission. Several years before, he had had a constipated mule and had tried the Lebenswecker Öl. A few minutes after the application, the mule had gotten up, jumped, and run, but then dropped dead. The only reason Mr. Leitco now gave permission was that he had prayed for help only fifteen minutes before, and he believed that Oswald Melde was the answer to the prayer. Nevertheless, Mr. Leitco went home. Three drops of the oil were mixed with the yolk of an egg and administered orally. Several hours later the girl passed a tapeworm thirty feet long, and when the father returned she was on her way to recovery.12

Some of the cures that interested me, but were not used by my immediate family, were the numerous teas. The older women in the community placed great faith in them. For general health, tea made from linden, rose, or camellia leaves was good. As a specific remedy Schreck Tee (Fright Tea) was among the most popular. Anyone who was startled or shocked could get sure relief from a drink of this tea. About three heads of dried Schreck Kräuter (Fright Herb) were boiled for about thirty minutes in two cups of water. The patient drank the brew and went to bed, enjoying complete relaxation. The part of the plant that was boiled resembled the blooms of a thistle. It was not purchased, but usually grown in the comer of the garden, and after it was dried, stored in a fruit jar. 13 Some people say that for added effect, the patient should take part of the object that startled him and boil it along with the tea. If it was a dog, he should take one of the hairs, place it in a tablespoon, roast it, and add it to the tea.14

Few of the cures are as unpleasant as the cure for bed wetting. The ingredients are several newly born mice without hair. These are chopped up (without being cleaned), fried, and fed to the child. To keep the child ignorant of what he was eating, the cook would chop up steak in a similar way and give it to the others.15

Unpleasant in odor was the preventive measure used especially during epidemics. Asafetida was carried either in a bag around the neck or in the pocket. It was used to ward off the germs. Because it was an evil-smelling resin, the nickname for it was Teufel’s Dreck.16

Present in several of the cures is the element of mysticism. It is most difficult to find a complete recitation of one of the curing verses. Most seem to mention the name of Jesus and the number three. Here is one used to cure bleeding:

In meines Gottes Garten stehen 3 Blumen,

Die eine heisst Demut,

Die andere heisst  Wohlgemut,

Das dritte heisst Wille.

Blut halt stille.

In my God’s garden there are three flowers,

One is called Humility,

The second is called Good Attitude

The third is called Intentions.

Blood stop.

The bleeding would stop almost immediately, but this help should only be used in extreme cases, because while this verse would stop the bleeding, the healing of the wound would be slow.17

Since there was also a verse to promote healing of the wound, possibly these two should have been used together. The only line known is: “Es stehn drei blumen auf Christi grab . . .”18 (“There are three flowers on Christ’s grave . . .”). Many of the mystical cures of the Wends centered around Mutter Spielert, who lived in Giddings. Great powers were attributed to her, including the ability to cure erysipelas, a common Wendish disease.19

The cure for warts requires a person to hold a silk thread over the wart and tie a knot in it. The thread is then buried next to the house where there is moisture. When the thread rots, the wart will be gone.

The remedy for side-ache caused by walking is even simpler. To cure the side-ache, the person should stop, pick up a rock, spit on it, and replace it.20

When you ask the Grossmutter (Grandmother) if the cures are any good, she will smile and say, “Sie leben noch.” (“They are still living.”).

Home cures were also used on animals. There was usually a man or woman in the community who had power over the worms in animals. This was a helpful person, for young calves often get worms at the navel before the navel dries. In most cases the owner merely went to the person and described the calf. When he returned home the calf would be walking around the lot bleeding at the place where the worms were. The owner then applied some salve on the wound so the flies could not get to it. If the wound was at the navel, it would be necessary to pull some of the skin together with a string.21

In curing a sick horse, the healer drew blood from the horse, fastened cotton on a stick, and daubed the blood with the cotton. Then he placed this cotton in the hole of a tree.22

To prevent their stock from being stolen, the Wends called upon a Mr. Drosche for help. He made the sign of the cross on the ground in the middle of the lot and as he mumbled something he would make signs on the animals and on the ground around them. After this treatment the horses would throw the thieves or refuse to be driven by them. Another way to prevent the stock from being stolen was to nail horseshoes to the ground and drive the cattle over them.23

The immigrants had to have some kind of variety in their life of hard work, and that variety was supplied by the church. Sunday service or any function of the church was time for worship and everything else. The customs observed at marriages and funerals shed a great deal of light on the life of the people.

In the years immediately after the migration the marriage customs were almost identical with those used in Europe. Wedding celebrations usually lasted three days. Announcements and personal invitations were issued weeks in advance. The wedding party assembled at the bride’s home, and before they left for church, they would sing a hymn and say the Lord’s Prayer. The bride was dressed in a very tight-fitting black gown, which symbolized the sufferings of the new life ahead of her. (In the1890s gray was substituted for black, and after 1900 white was accepted.) Flowers were used generously on the carriages, the horses, the church, and the attendants. There were usually ten bridesmaids and ten groomsmen. After they had taken their places at the altar, the congregation sang a hymn, and the pastor preached a short sermon. The vows were then exchanged and the groomsmen laid money on the altar for the pastor and the organist.

After the ceremony, everyone rushed to the bride’s home for the celebration. Usually some children had the road roped off, and the groom had to bribe the children with small change so they would lower the rope. When the party and guests arrived at the house, the pastor and cantor led the people in hymns and a prayer, and the eating began. Since there were few tables, the wedding party ate at the first table, and then the rest of the people ate in shifts late into the night. The bride and groom remained at the table until midnight. During the course of the evening someone would pull off one of the bride’s shoes, which would then be passed around and the guests would contribute for another shoe. Beer and whiskey, bourbon for the men and Kümmel for the women, helped make the celebration lively.24

If the parents wanted to be sure that the daughter and son-in-law would never go hungry they would get a barrel (196 pounds) or four sacks of flour, and use it all for the wedding celebration. Every kind of pastry was baked; any not eaten was given to the guests as they departed.25

Good fortune was also indicated by drizzle or fine rain falling on the bride’s hair as she entered the house. Another saying favored marriages in cold weather:

Heirat in Januar wenn’s eisig und kalt

Erlangs du Reichtum wenn auch nicht halt.

(Marry in January when it’s icy and cold

Eventually you will become rich if not quite soon.)

Bad fortune, however, was indicated if the string of pearls the bride was wearing should break, for she would cry one night for every pearl on the string.2

At the present time the weddings held among the people in the rural communities have changed somewhat. The celebration now lasts only one day, but the relatives who have moved out of the community return for a few days before the wedding. The weddings continue to be held in the church, but with much smaller parties. After the ceremony, the guests follow the wedding party to the bride’s house in automobiles. After greeting the parents of the bride and all the friends the guests gradually work their way to the woodshed where the beer is dispensed. Soon the coverings are removed from the tables and barbecue and all the accompanying dishes are served. Later in the evening, with the beer still flowing, dominoes, 42, and Schafskopf (sheepshead) are played. Occasionally the Hungry Five, consisting of a trumpet, baritone, clarinet, trombone, and snare drum, played some old German songs, such as “Gerade aus das Wirtshaus.” When the players get thirsty, they play “Bier Hier” and the bartender answers immediately with five schooners. Most of the guests leave between twelve and three in the morning, but some celebrate much later.

Sometime after midnight the newly married couple will steal away and go to their home, or to some other home in the area. About half an hour later the young men will follow with plowshares, hammers, and any kind of metal that will produce vibrations. The “charivariers” approach the house quietly and suddenly begin the Katzenmusik (cat’s music). Sometimes they are invited in, but in most cases they give up and go back for more beer.

Many different customs are connected with death. In Europe one custom is to cover the mirror with a cloth and scatter the clothes of the deceased person over the floor and leave them for four weeks.27

Some of the people still cover the mirror when one of the family dies. Others have been known to keep the doors to the room where the person died closed for a period of one year and then get a neighbor to open it.28

The death of a person is signaled by the tolling of the church bell. It is rung for a minute, and after a brief pause, rung for another minute, followed by another pause, and then rung for a third minute. This practice symbolizes the Trinity. Then the age of the person is counted out with the bell strokes. The people in the community know who is ill, and from the number of bell strokes can usually guess who has died. At Serbin the burial usually took place the next day, in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the death occurred in the wee hours of the morning the burial took place the same day. The school children sing, and after the sermon the body is viewed. The procession to the Kirchhof (cemetery) is led by the pastor and teacher, who are followed by the pallbearers. At the grave another hymn is sung, led by the cantor.

There are other folk stories or customs which are without a doubt related to some in Europe. Great-grandfather Schneider was a blacksmith, but he learned his trade in Germany. Usually the Meister or teacher would take several boys and teach them the trade as they worked without pay. One Sunday when the Meister was at church the boys looked around the shop and in some of the cupboards which the teacher kept closed. In one they found a book, supposedly the Seventh Book of Moses, which they began reading. Soon a crow flew in through the window and lighted on a beam. The boys continued reading, and another crow flew in. More crows came until there were crows outside as well as inside the shop. When the boys noticed this, they became frightened and replaced the book. At the same time the teacher came out of the church and saw the crows. He went to the shop, took the book, and began reading it backward. As he did so the crows flew away in the same order in which they had come, and when he reached the first word all were gone.29

In Europe the folk place great confidence in the water dipped from a spring or stream on Easter morning. This idea also exists among the American Wends. One woman I knew would rise before sun-up on Easter morning, draw some water from the well, and make a small trail of water around the house. This would keep out insects the rest of the year. Another belief is that water dipped on Easter morning is healthful and that even though kept for some time it continues to taste good.

Other stories are definitely of American origin. Many of the Wends and Germans also came to America to avoid the draft. When they came to Texas they were faced with the draft for the Confederate Army. They did not want to fight, and if they did they would rather fight against slavery and thus eliminate the competition of slaves in agriculture. Many stories are told of how the young men evaded the draft. Most of them hid out when they heard that strangers were in the community. If work had to be done they wore dresses and sunbonnets in the fields. My Great-grandfather Moerbe was caught one day and was about to be drafted when they noticed his bowlegs. People say he was so bowlegged that a pony keg could have been placed between his knees. He could not be taken into the army, but when the officials discovered that he was a tailor, he was encouraged to go to San Antonio to sew uniforms. 30

A final major category of folklore is of dubious parentage. Many of the beliefs regarding planting and agricultural activity are also found among the English-speaking people, but since these sayings are widely accepted by the German-Wends, they should be included.

It is generally believed that the moon has a powerful influence on the earth, for no one questions the moon’s control of the tides. It is logical, therefore, that its power would be felt in other areas than the tides. If both plants and humans, as the scientists tell us, consist of a large percentage of water, why should not the moon dictate to plants and man the courses they must take?

People who are close to nature are strongly conscious of this influence. If, for example, the corn is planted on the decrease of the moon, the ears will be large, but if it is planted on the increase of the moon, the stalk will be large. It is also true that if calves are branded on the increase of the moon, the brand will grow, whereas if they are branded on the decrease of the moon the brands will either keep the same size or diminish in size. Farmers and ranchers also know that if trees are killed on the decrease of the moon they will not send up shoots as they would if they were chopped down on the increase of the moon. This influence is even true of hair. If hair is cut on the decrease of the moon, it will grow more slowly, and it will not be necessary to return to the barber so soon.31

The signs of the zodiac also regulate farm activity. Animals should be castrated under Pisces, but never under Cancer. Potatoes should be planted on February 22 and cucumbers on Maundy Thursday.32 If the cucumbers continue to grow too much foliage and not enough cucumbers, a shoe should be buried among the plants.33 Crops planted under Cancer will be injured by insects. Any pest, such as Johnson grass, is best killed under the sign of Cancer.34

Finally, there are some folk-sayings of various kinds:

“If you walk backward while talking you will push your mother and father to hell.”

“Do not burn old clothes, bury them.”

“Do not move a broom along.”

“Do not move or marry on Friday.”

“If a bird flies into the church or the house, it is bad luck.”

“If the procession bearing the corpse from the church to the graveyard is stopped, someone will die from the same house as the deceased.”

“Do not eat a lunch wearing your hat, even outside, or the devil will laugh.”

“After you eat, an angel waits for the prayer of thanks to take it to heaven.”35


1. Anne Blasig, The Wends of Texas (San Antonio: Naylor Co., 1954), pp. 27-29.

2. George C. Engerrand, The So-Called Wends of Germany and Their Colonies in Texas and Australia (University of Texas Bulletin, No. 3417; Austin: University of Texas, 1934) , pp. 11, 22.

3. Ibid., pp. 14-17, 47-58.

4. Ibid., pp. 29-31.

5. Blasig, op. cit., pp. 17, 18.

6. Ibid., pp. 29, 30.

7. Interview with Mrs. E. F. Moerbe, Pottsville, Texas, November 2, 1958.

8. Blasig, op. cit., p. 82.

9. Interview with Mrs. Esther Gromatzky, Pottsville, Texas, November 2, 1958.

10. Interview with Martin Moerbe, Taylor, Texas, November 16, 1958.

11. Ibid.

12. Interview with Mrs. Eleanore Schneider, Austin, Texas, December 10, 1958; interview with Oswald Melde, Aleman, Texas, January 11, 1959.

13. Interview with Arthur Moebus, Serbin, Texas, October 18, 1958; interview with Mrs. Mitschke, Serbin, Texas, October 18, 1958.

14. Interview with Robert Malke, Serbin, Texas, October 18, 1958.

15. Interview with Oswald Melde.

16. Letter from Mrs. Wm. H. Nielsen, Vernon, Texas, December 2, 1958.

17. Interview with Oswald Melde. Mr. Melde did not know the names of the trees, but believed that no other names could be substituted.

18. Interview with Martin Moerbe.

19. Interview with Oswald Melde.

20. Ibid .

21. Interview with Arthur Moebus.

22. Blasig, op. cit., p. 59.

23. Interview with Oswald Melde.

24. Blasig, op. cit., pp. 54-56.

25. Interview with Oswald Melde.

26. Ibid.

27. Engerrand, op. cit., pp. 49-51.

28. Interview with Oswald Melde.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Interview with Arthur Moebus; interview with Robert Malke.

32. Interview with Otto Schneider, Austin, Texas, September 3, 1958.

33. Interview with Mrs. Arthur Melde, Aleman, Texas, January 11, 1959.

34. Interview with Otto Schneider.

35. Interview with Oswald Melde.


Identification of Wends by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the April 2007 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

Several people have raised the issue of using the black wedding gown as evidence for identifying Wends. I am cautious when it comes to fashion, and those who know me would say I am justified in doing so. However, I have consulted Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and her comments make me feel more secure.

Wendish brides did wear black, but so did Germans and other ethnic groups. Both of my wife’s grandmothers, who were as German as you can get, wore black wedding gowns. Evidently in the distant past when Wendish Trachten (costumes) were widely used, there was a distinct wedding gown, but it was not black. Even if the Wendish brides in the late 19th century continued to wear black while non-Wendish brides were changing to lighter colors, it could be construed as a reflection of Wendish conservatism or thrift rather than a mark of ethnic identity. (If Wendish brides followed fashion, how reliable is another oft-repeated statement that says that Wendish brides wore black, tight wedding gowns which symbolized the hard life ahead of them?)


The primary purpose of this list is to identify those individuals who came from a Wendish heritage.

The secondary purpose is to specify the date of migration. If you can verify information on the following lists, notify me at or 1132 Enchantment Rd. Rapid City, SD 57701.

1910 Lee County

The 1910 census enumerator asked individuals to identify the country of their birth. Germany would have been the country for Wends, but for some people, the enumerator, Robert A. Falke identified them as “German/Wendish.” The assumption is that the individuals supplied the information and he entered it. Even so, there could be errors. Some individuals listed as “German” could be Wendish, and some listed as “German/Wendish” could be German. Some names I have always considered German are marked with an asterisk (*), so I would appreciate verification.

The first number in each entry is the line number on the census. Following the name is the age of the person in 1910; www means the person and both the parents were Wendish, and ww means the parents were Wendish, but the person was born in Texas. The last date is the date of migration.

Anything in brackets is added from other sources and an empty [ ] means the information is needed. Ben Nevis immigrants are omitted unless the information is helpful.

2. Edward Lehman 68 www 1859; Christina [ ] 64 www 1869

4. Carl Lehman 62 www 1859; widower

7. John Pietsch 29 www 1880; Selma [ ] 25 mother was Wendish

9. Michial [Michael] Schulze 68 www 1873; Magdalena [ ] 68 www 1878

10. Traugott Zoch 47 www 1867; Anna [ ] (2nd marriage) 44 www 1881

12. Andreas Urban 55 ww; Magdalena [Noack] 56 www 1864 [or 1873?]

14. John Jeremias 83 www 1859

15. Andreas Schatte 52 ww ; Maria [Zimmerman] 55 www [1869]

Rosina Wukasch 87 (wd) www 1858??

17. Peter Mickan 60 www 1858; Maria [Deo] 59 www 1869

19. August Kalbas 58 www 1869; Anna [ ] 51 WWW 1873

20. Anna [ ] Berg 75 www [migration ?? ]

21. August Farack 43 www 1882; Mary [Greilich] 42 www 1871

22. Maria [Schneider] Synatschk 76 [73] (wd) WWW 1881

John 43 WWW 1881; Theresia [ ] 34 www 1883

24. Paul Kappler 46 ww [2nd marriage]; Theresia [Deo Matthiez] 45 www [1869] [3rd marriage]

*27. Herman Mersiovsky 27 ww; Martha [ ] 26 WW

28. August Hohle [adopted] www 1867

30. Anna [ ] Kappler 62 www 1864

32. Gottlieb Roensch 60 www 1890; Anna 60 WWW 1890

Emil Litke 44 www 1872 (hired hand)

34. John Schiwart 57 www 1869; Agnes [Schubert] ww

39. Matthes Tschatschula 45 www [ ]; Louise [Winzer] 43 www [ ]

40. Herman Schulze 43 ww; Magdalena [ ] 44 www 1875

43. Andreas Schubert 66 www 1854

Maria Ziesche [Zschiesche] (sister-in-law) 52 WWW 1867

*46. Henry Dunk 34 ww; Mary [ ] 34 ww

50. Anna [Schneider] Zoch 91 www 1869

Michael Zoch 55 www 1868; Agnes [Herenz] 38 (second wife) www 1876

*51. Gerhard Menzel 32 ww

52. August Wukasch 52 ww; Emma [*Fehr] 49 ww

53. John Malke 50 ww; Theresia [ ] 48 ww

54. Mathis Jacobic 57 www 1881; Magdalena [Bohot] 55 www 1881

*55. Emil Preis 31 ww; Mathilda [ ] 31 ww

56. Maria [Schubert] Schautschick 69 www 1869; John Schautschick 50 www 1869

Maria [Arldt] 39 www 1875

58. John Noack 72 www 1877; Maria [ ] 61 www 1877

61. John Bigon 55 www 1869; Christiane [Zwahr] 56 www 1854

62. Mary [Birke??] Schubert 82 (wd) www 1868

Herman 40 ww

66. Anna [ ] Lehman 62 (wd) www 1855

67. Mina [ ] Symank 59 www 1855 Theresa 22 ww

68. Ernst Hilscher (German); Amalia [Foerster] 46 www blank

*73. William Brabandt 47 www 1885; Mary [ ] 32 www 1880

74. Andreas Lorenz [Lorentschk] 68 www 1855 [1854]; Anna [Nickel] 50 www [ ]

75. George Schmidt 67 www 1855; Mary [ ] 65 www 1855

77. Paul Kessel (German); Johanna [ ] ww

82. Herman Noack 40 ww; Flora [ ] 30 www 1884

84. Mathis Krause 49 ww; Helena [Schurk] 52 www blank [1882?]

86. John Vogel 43 www 1881; Magdalena [ ] 43 www 1868

88. Ernst Synatschk 48 www 1881; Maria [Teinert] 43 ww

89. Christoph Mitschke 63 www 1857; Anna [Schubert] 55 www 1857

90. August Budshig [Budschick] 58 www 1877

*95. Oswalt Raufer 26 www 1892

96. Johana Gersch 76 www 1859

97. Maria Jannasch 58 www 1874

98. Andreas Moerbe 53 www 1874; Selma [Kessel] 47 ww

99. Johanna [ ] Groeschel 76 www 1860

107. August Schulze 60 German Maria [ ] 53 www 1869

115. Lena [Mersiovsky] Kubsch 37 ww

121. Anna [Winkler] Arldt 63 (wd) www 1860

122. Herman Arldt 33 ww; Martha [ ] 25 WW

126. Ernst Kappler 51 ww; Maria [Nowak] 44 www 1869

128. August Kasper 51 ww; Agnes [Jurk] 41 www 1881

129. Adolph Mersiovsky (German); Mary [Lorentschk] 36 ww

131. Anna [Nowak] Liberty 69 www 1880

1920 Fayette Co. Pct 4, Dist.60

The 1920 census also called for the place of birth but it added a request for the “mother tongue.” Ernst Kunze was the enumerator.

24. John Stephan age – 58 www migrated – 1868; Theresa [ ] 39 mother was Wendish

146. John Noack 46 www 1883; Christine [ ] 45 www 1880

171. John Reinhard 43 1880; Emma [Bigon] 39 ww

180. Maria Jurischk 71 (widow) www 1882

182. Karl Schulze 66 www 1883; Maria 69 [ ] www 1883

183. Reinhold Goebel 30; Martha [ ] 26 ww

185. John Noack 48 www 1882; Mary [ ] 46 WWW 1884

186. Andrew Wieder 70 www 1884; Anna [ ] 72 WWW 1882

192. Gerhard Lehman 31 ww; Esther [ ] ww

193. August Lehman 39 ww; Martha [ ] 35 ww

194. Gustave Unger 42; Amalie [ ] 39 ww

195. Emil Benedix 44 mother was Wendish 1883; Christine [Droigk] 43 ww

Anna Droigk (mother-in-law) 82 www 1872

202. Gerhard Kasper; Minna [] 36 ww

207. Karl Schmidt 36 father w; Selma [ ] 35 father w

213. Henry Spretz 39 ww

Mathias (brother) 56 www 1870

214.H. Symank 45 (wd) www 1879

Anna Spretz 76 (mother) www 1879

215. John Bensch 44 ww 1883; Emma [Hannusch] 42 ww

247. Ernst Franke 44; Emma [ ] 42 ww

248. August Lowke 54 www 1880; Anna [] 42 WW

254. Andrew Pietsch 28 ww

255. John Karisch 53 ww 1881

Marie Nitsche 75 mother (wd) www 1884

262. William Tschatschula 34 ww; Theresia [ ] 23 ww

263. Adolph Tschatschula 34 ww

Martha Tschatschula (sister) 25 ww

272. Alvin Teinert 23

Selma [ ] (sister-in-law) 25 ww

273. Anna Wacker 48 (wd) www 1876 husband was Wendish.

Willie Babrandt 15 (nephew) mother was Wendish

274.Walter Arnold

Theresia Domaschk 58 (wd) (mother-in-law) ww

276. Gerhard Biehle 39; Theresia [Tschatschula] 39 ww

278. John Hobratsch 46 1811; Hulda [Mitschke] 43 ww

281. M. Kasper 69 www 1854; Christine [Zimmerman] 63 www 1867

Dela Hempel 10 (grand-d) father w

284. Gottlieb Zoch 60 www 1869; Marie [Domschk] 59 www 1869

285. John Mitschke 43 ww; Emma [] 35 ww

1920 Bastrop County Precinct #4; District 28

The enumerator, Henry C. Brahm, listed the home village for some of the Wends. On occasion he wrote Windish instead of Wendish. Some people around Bethlehem, Pennsylvania are Windish, but that is a different ethnic group.

4. Robert Bibas 34 father from Zschorna; Martha [ ] 27 father from Pomnitz [Pommritz]

5. Andrew Bibas 67 Zschorna 1879; Mary [Groeschel] 62 father from Zschorna; mother from Waesche [Wurschen?]

19. Ernst Wukasch 38 parents from Buchwalde

70. Fritz Zingelman 43; Alma [ ] 39 born Spinberg [Spremberg] 1883

Christina Karisch 79 (mother-in­ law)(widow) Spinberg 1885

73. Paul Toebel 36; Augusta [ ] 40 Kingwater [Koenigswartha] Windish 1882

74. Paul Hannusch 33 both parents Spinberg – Wendish; Annie [] 24 father Windish

John Hannusch (brother) 43 (wd) b. Sprinberg Windish 1882

88. John Malke 62 both parents Windish; Theresia [ ] 60 both parents Windish

97. August Schubert 58 (wd) www 1886

109. Henry Mitschke 41 both parents Saxon Windish; Mary [ ] 41 1881www Spremberg Windish

128. Herman Hohle 46 ww; Minnie [Schatte] mother Wendish

141. August Nietsche 64 (wd) www 1889 (or 1869) Oregoel [ ] Wendish


Excerpts from Emilie (Woelfel) Michalk’s "Reflections on my Life" by Edward Bernthal and George Nielsen

This article appeared in the October 2008 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

Emilie (Woelfel) Michalk was born in Thorndale on January 31, 1898, to Nicholas and Magdalena Woelfel. Eighty-six years later, she told Edward Bernthal the story of her life. Although her heritage was German, she married a Wend, Adolph Michalk. Mr. Bernthal, now living in Waupun, Wisconsin, married Emilie’s daughter, Bernice.

After graduating from Concordia – River Forest, Mr. Bernthal taught at Lutheran schools in Galveston and Racine, Wisconsin and served as Director of Christian Education in Waupun. (Conrad Bernthal, the pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Serbin from 1892 -1906 was a relative.) Edward was gracious enough to permit me to edit sections of Emilie’s life’s story for the Newsletter. Many of the names and places she mentioned in her story were part of the Wendish experience in Texas and in addition her “Recollections” tell about a third generation Texas Wend who became a missionary to France.

Recollections on My Life

We lived on a farm about three miles west of Thorndale. I started school when I was seven. The school was in two buildings, one for the lower grades and one for the upper. Teacher Werner’s son, who was a seminary student, and the pastor [A. W. Kramer] helped with the teaching. All the classes were in German. Later on English was taught in the afternoon. There were more than a hundred children in the school. Very few went to high school.

On the farm I had to help gather broomcorn to start the fire in the stove, gather the eggs and feed the chickens. I also learned how to chop cotton, pick cotton, chop and gather corn. We also raised potatoes. Since I was the oldest girl I had to help take care of the younger brothers and sisters. When the others had the measles I had to milk the cows too. We had a favorite cow we called “Schakah” (because she was a speckled cow.) [Schakah is the Wendish word for a speckled cow.] The washing we had to do on a scrub board.

We drove to church in a two-seater buggy. Father and mother sat in the front seat holding the smaller children. The rest of us sat on the second seat. The services were in German. We had our first English service in 1913 when the Texas District met in Thorndale. They had English services in the evening during the convention. I was confirmed in 1911.

My mother died in 1912 of pleurisy and pneumonia. Mother was 38 when she died and my youngest brother was less than a year old. Later my father talked about getting married again but we did not want that to happen. And he never did.

In 1913 our family moved to Bishop, Texas. Father and mother had decided on this just before mother died. The reason we moved to Bishop was because the land down there was being offered for sale by a developer F. Z. Bishop, after whom the town was named. He had built a fine hotel where he entertained and housed the people that came on the train and were interested in buying land. Other families from Thorndale were moving to Bishop to buy land. Among these were six Michalk brothers. They were John (who later became my father-in-law), Willie, Henry, Charlie, Robert, and Sam. Sam became a land agent for Mr. Bishop.

… How did we move to Bishop? We had to move all our household things, farm machines, and animals by train. There were four horses and two cows (including “Schakah”). Mr. Kap pler, a neighbor of ours who was moving with us, went along in the train that brought the two families. Father went along in the train that was moving the things of the two families. It took three days for the train to arrive with our things. We lived in the rented farm house about eight miles from town. We grew cotton, com, and some small grain. The area settled by the group from Thorndale was called “The Concordia Settlement.” The settlers built their own church which they named Concordia Lutheran Church. Our first pastor was Rev. [E. J.] Moebus who was married to a daughter of John Kilian, the pastor of the Wends. We lived about a mile from the church.

Father bought 160 acres of land and rented a farm home. Unfortunately, he lost the land by foreclosure within two years. But he remained to farm some land that he rented. We had to haul our cotton to the gin in Bishop. The round trip by wagon and mules took most of the day. We children had to be picking cotton while Father was going to town. Father told us “When you are lazying around the devil is riding you” so that we wouldn’t play around in the field instead of doing our work. We had a fair crop in 1914 and 1915. But one year a hurricane and another year the drought ruined the crops. [Pastor Moebus noticed that many of the Lutherans who bought land in the Valley, lost the land and moved away. An estimated amount of $500,000 was lost by Lutherans who hoped to make the Valley their home. H. W. Bewie, Missouri in Texas (Austin: The Steck Company 1952), p. 84]

Uncle Steve Woelfel had farmed in West Texas and wanted our family to move up there. Father took a train trip up there and was persuaded to leave Bishop and move to West Texas. Father and Paul went up alone to build a smokehouse and dugout home. They lived in a tent. Meanwhile I was left in charge of the rest of the family in Bishop.

While we were living on the farm in Bishop (1916) I got interested in Adolph Michalk. We had gone to school together in Thorndale. We were both in the bridal party for Walter and Lydia Moerbe’s wedding. After the ceremony everybody gathered at the house for the wedding celebration. People sat in the parlor and sang songs. I remember that Adolph played the violin. On the 4th of July there was the church picnic in Moerbe’s Woods. The young folks gathered at the church to shoot off their fireworks. They had about 40 Roman candles to shoot. We were told that when you see a shooting star you should make a wish and it would come true. I did. The next Sunday the youth got together for a house party. We played “Looby Lou” and other games like that. Each boy had to choose a partner. Adolph chose me. That fall Adolph left for St. Louis to go to the seminary. He asked me to write to him. Over the years there were 99 letters in all. I saved them for a long time. I think they were buried in a barbecue pit at Riesel many years later.

In 1917 father asked us to come up and meet him in Dallas. He had decided that the family would try to make a living by picking cotton. He had two mules and a covered wagon in which we slept as we moved from place to place picking cotton. There was Father, Paul and I, and three sisters and three other brothers in the group. In the fall father hired himself out with the wagon to haul goods for other people and we girls got jobs as housemaids in Dallas. The next summer father decided to return to Bishop to pick cotton, and after the season was over, we moved to a rented farm in West Texas between Wilson and Tahoka, about twenty miles south of Lubbock. I lived there until I got married.

Upon graduation from the seminary Adolph got his first call which was to Galveston. I wanted to be a June bride, but we had to settle for July 1 as our wedding day. It was the custom in those days to have the weddings on Tuesday. We were married in our house near Wilson. Rev. [John] Kollmeyer, a classmate of Adolph, performed the wedding ceremony. The next day I packed my trunk and got ready to leave on the train for Bishop. We got to San Antonio by noon and to Bishop by the 4th of July. On Sunday afternoon all the people got together at Adolph’s house to celebrate the wedding. It was a large gathering with much food but no beer. The county had gone dry on July 1. We stayed at Bishop for the rest of the summer and left for Galveston on August 28. I still remember the fish smell in the air when we got off the train.

After we had been in town just one week Galveston was hit by a hurricane. We stayed in the house overnight but the next morning the landlord persuaded us to go to the courthouse for safety. At first we rented a Baptist church for

$1O a month and later the third floor of the YMCA. The church and parsonage were completed in 1921. We had lived in the new parsonage for about six weeks when Bernice was born.

In 1930 when we were expecting another baby (Dorothy) we received a second call to Fedor. I remember arriving at Fedor. When I first saw the house we were to live in I didn’t want to get out of the car. The yard was overgrown with weeds. There was one big room that was to serve as the bedroom for the whole family. I asked Adolph for permission to talk to the elders about the house and they agreed to make some changes. The bathtub was moved into the pantry and new cabinets were built in the kitchen. But the congregation was helpful too. The members invited our family out to meals. They brought us fresh produce. We had three gardens in which we grew most of our own vegetables. We also had two hogs to butcher and one cow for fresh milk. When the war broke out, Paul (b. 1923) joined the Air Force and became a navigator. He was shot down over Germany during the last days of the war and was listed as lost in action.

In 1946 Dad [Arthur] got a call to Riesel. I was glad to get to live in a better house. It was also easier for Dad to get to his Mission Board meetings which were held in Waco.

[In 1948] Dad got a call to go to Alsace and Lorraine in France to serve a group of the Free Church [independent of the state church] congregations there. [Alsace and Lorraine became part of Germany in 1871 but reverted to France in 1919. A large portion of the population spoke German.] That was a laugh! “You want to go there?” I said. But Dad felt that it was a call from the Lord and he decided to go. He had been recommended since he could preach in German. We sailed on September 24, 1948 after Dad had a meeting with the Mission Board in New York. I was seasick for the first three days of the trip. The steward told me to eat apples. We lived in the parsonage at Schillersdorf. The parsonage was built of heavy brick and not very modern. I cooked on a woodstove and we heated the house with coal. Half of the house served as the church. It seated about 100 people. Dad served four congregations. Besides Schillersdorf there was Obersoulsbach, Woerth, and Lembach.

We came home for three-month furloughs in 1953 and 1956. We returned home to stay in 1958. Before we left for France in 1946 we had three grandchildren. By the time we returned in 1958 there were about a dozen.

After returning Dad served a congregation in Smithville from 1958 to 1962. He retired on January 1, 1962 and we decided to move to Giddings. We had the New Year’s Day service in Smithville that morning. The young people of the congregation helped us load our things after the service. By 4:00 in the afternoon we were drinking coffee in our house in Giddings. We lived at 1208 E. Austin Street from 1962 – 1974. Dad was assisting the pastor at Immanuel in Giddings but had problems crossing Highway 290 in front of our house. After Dad had two accidents we decided to buy a house closer to the church.

We lived at 427 N. Leon for two years before Dad died on June 12, 1975. He had preached at the nursing home on that Wednesday. After listening to the news we went to bed as usual. He died in his sleep of a cerebral hemorrhage.

[Emilie died on February 11, 1992 at the age of 94.]


Wendish Postcard by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the July 2009 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

The postcard pictured here is part of the Anne Blasig Collection which was donated to the Wendish Museum in 1991 by Carolyn Walther. The collection, along with other significant items, is stored in the museum’s vault, which provides a protective environment. The postcard is important because it first of all illustrates handwritten Wendish and also shows that the Texas Wends maintained ties with the European Wends well into the 20th century.

The person who wrote the card was Professor Dr. Ernst Mucke (Karol Arnost Muka). Mucke was born in 1854, the same year the Ben Nevis sailed for Texas. Until his death in 1932 he lived and breathed things that were Sorbian (Wendish). He was an editor, writer, teacher, linguist, folklorist, ethnographer, demographer, and founder of theSorbian Museum in Bautzen. The postcard is dated November 6, 1922 and the address is Wilhelmstrasse 16.

Both of the persons to whom the postcard is addressed were second generation Wends and were born in Texas. They would have learned Wendish in the home from their parents and from Pastor Kilian’s instruction in grade school.

Messrs. [August} Wukasch and [J. Herman] Bjarsch [Biar]

Church Council of the Ev.-Luth. Church

Giddings near Serbin, Texas, North America

Very honorable fellow Countrymen!

Do not be concerned that I, as unknown to you, am asking you for a favor. The matter of Rev. (emeritus) Matthaeus Urban leads me to do this. He permitted to let a large Wendish book to be printed , which ‘ cost a lot of money, and on which he worked fourteen years. Now the printer would like to be paid and there is no money. He has already written about this in the spring but received no reply. As brothers in the faith you certainly will want to help and I ask you to send him 100 dollars, perhaps from each person 10 or perhaps from others of our fellow country men in Texas 10 or 5 dollars each and send it to the “Serbske ludowu banku” (Wendish Peoples Bank) Bautzen, Saxony and please let know when the money was mailed . This is a noble thing to do.

With high regards, Your Dr. Ernst Mucke

[Thanks to Jan Slack for calling the postcard to my attention; to Trudla Malinkowa for translating the note from Sorbian to German; and to Bill Biar for translating the German to English.]


Johann August Proft by Robert Proft and George Nielsen

This article appeared in the April 2012 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Historical Society of Serbin, Texas. (

Even though Johann Kilian is the one pastor who is readily identified as a Wendish clergyman in America, there were at least seven more who fit the classification. These are Hermann Kilian, Andreas Schmidt, Johann Pallmer, Gottfried Lehnigk, Wilhelm Matuschka, Mato Kosyk (Kossick), and Johann August Proft. This last pastor, Proft, often receives a passing reference, but deserves a biographical sketch of his own. His great-grandson Robert Proft, a member of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, has provided the following sketch.

A special thank you to George Nielsen who greatly assisted in refining content and blessed this article with his editorial guidance. Bob Proft.

Johann Proft was ten years old when Wends from his neighborhood boarded the Ben Nevis for Texas. His parents were Adolph and M. Grahl Proft and he was born on June 19, 1844, at Maltitz, Saxony. Maltitz was just a few miles from Kotitz, Kilian’s first parish, and within an area that provided many Texas settlers.

Following the traditional elementary education, Johann went to Bautzen where he completed an apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker. But he was also interested in becoming a missionary, so he enrolled at the Hermannsburg Mission Society School in the province of Hanover. There Theodor Harms was training young men for mission work around the world. After a short period of instruction Proft and a group of missionaries boarded the ship Saxonia and arrived in New York on September 2, 1869.

He then traveled to St. Louis and enrolled at the Practical Seminary where the focus was on the bare essentials of the parish ministry and not on extensive theological and linguistic studies. In January 1870, Proft introduced himself to Pastor Kilian in a letter. At about that time a widow in Serbin gave Kilian a sum of money designated for the education of a pastor. Her cotton crop the previous year had been better than expected so she gave him 100 gold dollars – the value of the seventh, and last, bale. Kilian sent the funds to St. Louis for Proft’s expenses.

Proft visited the Texas Wends in January 1871, most likely during the school vacation period, and spent some time with Kilian. During his stay he taught school at West Yegua (Fedor) for several weeks and preached Wendish sermons in both Serbin congregations. Both congregations were busy with building projects and Proft assisted with the construction skills he learned in Bautzen. The Serbin people were impressed and after Proft had returned to St. Louis to resume his studies, Kilian wrote a letter to C. F. W. Walther praising Proft and described him as a gentle and modest person. Kilian also suggested that Proft should be considered as the pastor for the Wendish settlement at Fedor. The congregation was too small to properly support its own teacher or pastor, but Johann could supplement his income with his joinery skills.

Walther took the advice and Proft was ordained at Serbin on September 3, 1871, and then installed as the pastor at Fedor. Proft initially preached in both Wendish and German, but as time went on, German became the dominant language. During the year he was ordained, 1871, he married Dorothea Bertha Elizabeth Koch and their first child, Bertha Elizabeth Proft was born Aug. 31, 1872. Tragically, he lost his daughter on September 3, a few days after her birth, and his wife three days later on September 6. The cause of death has been given as malaria, an illness that also plagued Proft. One inconvenience associated with the Fedor parsonage and a possible health factor was the absence of a source of good water. There was no cistern and it was necessary to haul a barrel of water to the parsonage three times a week.

In April 1872, Pastor Proft’s sister, Magdalena, and her husband, Johann Gruetzner, emigrated from Europe and joined Proft in Texas. (Some sources imply that the Gruetzners preceded Proft to Texas, but immigration records show that they came later.) Together they purchased a parcel of land on the other side of the Yegua, about three miles from Fedor, and that is where he buried his wife and daughter. Proft married again on July 20, 1873, with Dorothea Margaretta Henriette Stahmer in Washington County, Texas. An infant son from this marriage died in 1874 and Kilian’s two children, Gerhard and Theresia, baptismal sponsors for the baby, attended the funeral.

That same year, 1873, Proft built a two-story house for his family near the place where he had buried his first wife and child. Kilian supported his decision and described the Fedor parsonage as “miserable.” Kilian’s son, Bernhard, had been an apprentice in woodworking under Proft and helped with the construction. Proft also continued to work as a joiner and in 1875 built the baptismal font for the St. Paul, Serbin congregation. Apparently, the change of residence and his work as a joiner created a controversy in the Yegua congregation and Proft resigned his position at Fedor in 1875.

Other Lutherans, however, had settled on the San Antonio Prairie near Proft’s home and they formed a congregation called Ebenezer. The congregation called Proft as their pastor and Kilian installed him on April 2, 1876. He continued his ministry there until 1877 when he accepted a call to Sherman in northern Texas.

The bond of friendship that had formed between Kilian and Proft never wavered. Kilian even suggested that Proft could assume the St. Paul pulpit in the event of Kilian’s death or departure from Serbin. Proft, in turn, eased Kilian’s burden by presiding at services at St. Peter in Serbin, such as the funeral of Pastor Pallmer and the installation of Pastor Greif.

Proft served Zion Lutheran, Sherman, from 1877 to 1879. He then accepted a call from St. John in Stringtown, Missouri and served there from January 4, 1880, through 1888. At Stringtown, Proft’s second wife also died during childbirth, leaving him with three children to care for. His third wife was Magdalena Maria Lehmann, from Lincoln, Texas whom he married on December 27, 1882.

In August of 1888, Pastor Proft accepted a call to St. John church in Corning, Missouri where he served until shortly before his death on Dec. 22, 1896, at the age of 52. Pastor Proft was buried in Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Lincoln, Missouri. His wife Magdalena died fifty-two years later on July 11, 1949, and was buried beside her husband. Pastor and Mrs. Proft were survived by ten children.


Emma Moerbe Nielsen: A Memoir by George Nielsen

I began writing this sketch of my mother many years ago and came back to it recently – in time for my sister’s eighty-fifth birthday. Her immediate family had planned a celebration and she wanted something for the children and grandchildren to read about the environment in which she was raised. While I try to restrict references to my personal life in the little pieces for the Newsletter, I thought by including it that somehow it would encourage people to write for their children and grandchildren. Often the recorded family information is limited to the dates and places of births and deaths, and extraordinary events or significant accomplishments. Children in this new century think of mothers as persons who drop them off at daycare and then continue on to an office job. Do they realize that our parents and grandparents did not go to KFC but raised and dressed the chickens they ate? So, please accept my apologies for talking about my personal life but read this sketch and consider writing for your own loved ones.

Mother did not always wear braids. A photo taken on her wedding day shows her with short wavy hair, in keeping with the style of 1926, the date of her marriage. She was only nineteen at the time and her youthful beauty shows through no matter what the hairstyle might have been. The photo shows her looking down on an armful of roses, not the usual pose for a wedding shot. But she was suffering from a summer cold, and the photographer suggested the downward gaze to mask the watery eyes.

As far back as I can remember I can only envision her in braids. Sometimes she wore a single braid down her back; at other times there were two, and when she dressed up, she wrapped the two braids around her head like an olive wreath on a Greek athlete and pinned them with large plastic pins and small metal bobby pins. She never went to a hairdresser. Every morning she brushed her hair and every week she washed them and let them dry in the Texas air. We did not have a shower or fancy bath facilities, so she washed them in a white enamel utensil scarred by a few chips. The wash and rinse water she used was never from the city water tap treated with chemicals, but it was always soft rainwater from the cistern. (In Aleman we had a windmill instead of city water or cistern, so Mother collected water in containers when it rained.)

The only time someone did her hair was in the winter of 1944 when she was in the hospital for a hysterectomy. She was gone for about a week and when we came for a visit, she said a nurse had done her hair, but that the nurse did not know that long hair needed brushing at the ends first and then advance in small stages toward the scalp. The nurse had started at the scalp and before she reached the ends, the knots had been jammed together. Evidently there was some concern about the operation and Mother’s recovery, but I was too young to understand. My biggest fear was that during her weeklong absence the household could not function without her.

Mother was born on October 10, 1906, in Giddings, Texas, the county seat of Lee County. Her father was a Lutheran pastor and had taken the parish there in 1895. He belonged to the large Slavic ethnic group in Lee County called the Wends, but he spoke and preached primarily in German and English. One of Mother’s maternal grandparents was also Wendish, and the other one was German. There were quite a few congregations in rural Lee County so when the pastors brought their families into town for Saturday shopping, they stopped to visit Grandfather while the pastors’ wives shopped.

Grandfather enjoyed the collegiality, and the pastors discussed the sermons for the next day and other problems related to their parishes. He was a good host and prevailed on Grandmother to provide some food. He also handed one of the girls some money and an empty bucket so she could go to the tavern and get some beer. Mother’s older sisters were not attuned to the value of collegiality but were more aware of the skimpy leftovers that they faced on Saturday night dinner table as well as the drain on the family budget. Mother was an infant during this time and blamed some of her scrawniness on her mother’s neglect in order to serve the guests. When Emma was two, in 1909, her father accepted the call to a rural parish in Hamilton County; the nearest little village, about three miles away, was called Aleman. Aleman, the Spanish word for German, was the name given to the settlement by the Mexican workers as they were building the Cotton Belt Railroad.

In 1938, when Mother was thirty-one the family moved to Nebraska for a year and lived with Grandmother Nielsen on the family farm. It was a difficult year for Mother because the five of us were crowded in with Grandmother, two maiden aunts, and an adopted son. And it was not Texas. The next year we moved to Thorndale, a small town in central Texas, population 898, which provided shipping access to the Missouri Pacific Railroad for agricultural goods. In 1952 Mother and Father, empty nesters since Flo’s marriage, moved to Vernon, the county seat of Wilbarger County in northwestern Texas. In 1971 they retired in Stephenville, also a county seat and the home of Tarleton College. So with the exception of one year, Mother spent her entire life in Texas. She occasionally traveled out of the state, but when her time would come, she fully expected to die in Texas.

The home in rural Aleman, where Emma grew up, stood on a gentle slope of a hill along a gravel road. Across the road was the brick church with a steeple, and on the side with the parsonage were the cemetery, a barn, and garage. Further down the road, about one hundred yards away, was a two-room school and a house for the teacher. Like the parsonage, the teacher’s house had a barn and some small sheds for chickens and also for the auto. The only trees in the area were around the homes or along Mustang Creek. The remainder of the land was either in pasture or under plow. Mother attended that school for her elementary education, and in 1920, when she was thirteen a new teacher arrived from Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska to help staff the school. William Nielsen, only eighteen years himself, later, in 1926, became her husband.

When they were married six years later, they knew each other well because William lived in a room at the parsonage and ate the meals with the family. He paid for the lodging, and after the two agreed to marry, Emma’s mother gave her the money she had saved. One twenty-dollar gold piece was to pay for the wedding expenses, and the other was for her to keep. Later when Franklin Roosevelt took the country off of the gold standard, Emma secretly kept the gold piece and did not tell me about it until I was in college. She thought it was a crime to have retained the coin, but I relieved her conscience by informing her that keeping it in a collection was not illegal.

William was Emma’s teacher during her last year of elementary school and after graduation she continued her schooling at high school in Aleman. After high school Mother attended a Norwegian school, Lutheran College of Clifton, thirty miles away. She graduated high school on May 24, 1923, at the age of 16. Some of her sisters such as Annie and Esther had also attended Clifton and then taught in Lutheran schools. The cost of schooling was covered by rental income from a farm that Grandfather owned in Thorndale. Emma remembers that college year fondly and used the opportunity to improve her skills on the piano. She told me of an incident that took place in the little school illustrating the ingenuity of the students. After some athletic exercises several young men, wrapped only in towels, left their rooms for the shower room. While they were showering, guests of both genders gathered in a reception room that separated the shower from the dormitory rooms. Their showers completed, the young men realized their quandary. They were too embarrassed to wrap themselves in the towels to parade in front of the guests, yet if they waited any longer they would miss the evening meal. Their solution was to wrap their heads in the towels to preserve their anonymity and streaked through the reception room.

She attended Clifton for a year and then taught school for one year at a Lutheran school in Bishop, Texas. It was during these teenage years that Mother “bobbed” her hair. Wearing hair short was considered rebellious and met with objections from her father. The act was postponed for a time – but not for long.

Grandfather insisted that Emma would not get married before she was twenty, so during some of the summers of waiting for Emma, William supplemented his income by working at a feed mill in a neighboring town called Hico. During other summers he attended the University of Texas. They were married on July 4, 1926, and then moved into the newly built teacher’s house next to the school. The fiftieth anniversary of their wedding coincided with the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976. Eleven months after the wedding Flo was born, and Emma became fully occupied with the traditional role in a woman’s life.

The hair was symbolic of her life style-simple, efficient, and thrifty. She had grown up in a home of eight children. Money was scarce, and thrift was a prized virtue. The older daughters were expected to help with the young ones and they learned the household skills. Mother was the fourth daughter and contributed the most by getting out of the way. She learned to cook, but she never really enjoyed it and her meals showed it. Her cooking also was simple, thrifty, and efficient. You could almost tell the day of the week by the menu. In those days we all ate the evening meal (supper) and often lunch (dinner) as a family. Monday was washday, so that was the simplest meal, usually hamburger meat in gravy served in a volcano-shaped helping of mash potatoes. (She peeled a lot of potatoes and when she peeled, she sort of pursed her lips and made the peelings very thin). Tuesday was for ironing, and dinner was a bit more elaborate. She also liked cottage cheese and canned peaches. Sometimes she would make clabber from sour milk and hang it in a cheese­ cloth bag from the clothesline. She had to eat that herself.

Sunday was the big meal and much of Saturday was spent getting the meal ready. ln Thorndale we lived on the edge of town so we had a large gar­ den, two cows and a flock of chickens. Saturday afternoon Mother would nab two fryers from the fenced chicken yard and butcher them. We had raised the fryers ourselves. Every spring father ordered a few dozen of baby chicks that usually arrived on the highway bus, which stopped at the Mobil station. The chickens had been “sexed” which means that their gender had been identified. We wanted males, but in each batch of males there were some females – wrongly identified. We kept the chicks in the house in an area heated by an electric light bulb and fed them rolled oats. As the outside temperatures warmed, they were taken outside and when old enough, added to the flock of hens. As the chicks grew, the larger comb on the heads identified the true males, and marked them for the table.

When they were of suitable size, Mother took two of them to the woodpile and hacked off the heads. Although Dad had grown up on a farm, he rarely participated in such chores, Saturday afternoons usually being his time to practice the organ for Sunday services. And he was chicken-hearted. So Mother, with her skinny arms, would grab the hatchet and hack away. She quickly released the headless birds and watched as they flopped around in their death dance, and then scalded the feathers so they could be plucked. The most fascinating step was dressing the remains. It was a weekly anatomy lesson. Mother saved the liver, heart, and gizzard. Because chickens have no teeth, the breaking down of the food takes place in the crop, a bag of muscles in the chicken’s chest. Chickens peck up small stones that remain in the crop and the muscles grind the stones and food for digestion. The crop is eatable, but to make it a gizzard, it must be cut open, skinned and cleaned. We often checked through the contents of the crop, hoping that one of the stones would be a diamond. (Dad ate the gizzards and gnawed the cartilage off the bones.) The final step was cutting the fryer into pieces and then refrigerated until Sunday.

She baked the bread, and a pleasant memory is returning home to the smell and getting the freshly cut end of the loaf for a peanut butter and honey snack. Later when they retired, Dad helped her with the kneading. A sound I remember is her sharpening the butcher knife on a ceramic crock, and a smell I often woke up to was burned toast. We had an electric toaster that was by no means automatic. It had two wings on either side that held the

bread close to the elements. When one side had browned you opened the sides, flipped the slices, and then toasted the white sides. Mother would invariably leave the bread in too long and burn it. She would then take the toast to the back door and scrape off the burned part before serving it.

Mom liked gardening more than she liked cooking. She seemed to enjoy getting up early to work with her flowers. I remember waking up to the sound of her hoeing outside my window. She usually took care of the garden plants with little seeds while the rest of us took care of the potatoes, beans, peppers and black-eyed peas. When we planted the potatoes, we bought seed potatoes and she would cut out the eyes for planting and then make potato pancakes with the rest.

Mother was “green” before the green environmentalists were even born. She did it not to save the planet but because it saved a few pennies. It was called thrift, or Sparsamkeit. And in those days pennies made a difference. She made her own laundry soap by boiling lard and lye together and after it hardened, I had to shave it into flakes. She canned garden products, churned butter, and when she washed dishes, she saved the water in the dishpan and carried it outside to water her roses. She was handy with the sewing needle, and she sat – lips pursed like she was peeling potatoes and the “coolie” braid down her back-at a sunlit window with a green accountant’s visor over her eyes. The slogan on the visor read, “I’m a jazzin’ kid,” hardly the motto of an accountant or for her. She sewed dresses (three printed cotton cloth feed bags for a dress), patched pants, darned socks, and mended just about anything. And she loved making quilts with other women as they rehearsed relationships and who-married-who.

Florence, the oldest child, was born when Mother was twenty-one. There already were several grandsons in the relationship, so Florence’s birth was cause for celebration. Flo was the poster child of the Aryan ideal, glowing cheeks and straight, flaxen hair cut in a Dutch style with bangs across her forehead. When she was old enough to walk, she became the frequent choice as the flower girl in weddings. She was also Grandmother’s only granddaughter in the Aleman area so she became grandmother’s favorite grandchild.

Bill was born twenty-six months later. He was given my father’s name, and became father’s favorite. I was born twenty-one months later and being the last child, enjoyed Mother’s attention and hence “Mother’s baby.” Except on school days, Flo and Bill were the only children around, so until they went to school, we were playmates.

Giving birth and caring for three children within four years taxed Mother physically. Even though Dad’s school was a short distance away and he helped to an extent, Mother’s working conditions were primitive by our standards. To wash clothes, Mother built a fire under a black kettle in the yard and added water, homemade soap, and the soiled clothes. After stirring the clothes in the boiling water, she twisted them dry and rinsed them and pinned them

to the clothesline. She breast-fed all of us, although I was weaned early after I thanklessly bit her. But then she had to make her own baby food by cooking and straining the food. She also made dresses for Flo and shirts for us on the foot-powered Singer sewing machine. We did have electricity and when Bill was born they bought a Maytag wash­ ing machine (with a wringer) that was sheltered in the washhouse. But she still needed to heat the water in the black kettle and carry the buckets of boiling water to fill the machine. Electricity also powered a new refrigerator that simplified the preservation of milk and food.

The demands on her were too great and Mother experienced what she called a “nervous breakdown.” I don’t remember it, but friends came to help, and eventually we kids grew up and became easier to handle. Mother’s poor health, nevertheless, was something I always sensed. She talked about her high blood pressure and tired easily, so whenever she had a moment she stretched out on the couch or bed. Cold temperatures bothered her and she wore long heavy stockings and a jacket all the time. When she went out, she tied a bandana over her head. We teased her about her Texas thermostat, but she was the first one out of bed and was the one who started the fire in the kitchen wood stove. Later in life, when air conditioners became common, she was the last one to suggest turning it on, and often, instead of looking for the off switch on window units, she just pulled the plug. Her frail condition we accepted as part of her – just as we accepted her braids. After we moved to Thorndale, Mother thought drinking a malted milk might give her energy, so I pedaled the bike to the drug store with a fruit jar in a bag. I brought the malt back and never asked for a taste. Mother, not I, had the energy problem.

Mother was the early riser. She was a light sleeper and things needed to be done. In winter it was the stove, and in summer it was the garden, both flowers and vegetables. In Aleman the neighboring farmer permitted Mother to garden on a terrace closest to our house. The topsoil had been scraped together in the creation of a terrace, so plants grew best on the terrace. Getting up early for outside work was also a good way of avoiding the sun and heat of a Texas day. Gardening also meant more work because the vegetables needed to be canned and the heat from the cooking and the pressure cooker made the kitchen unbearable.

Other than a little powder, rouge and lipstick, Mother did not spend a lot of time or money with make-up, and when I studied history and saw photographs of the Oklahoma women during the Dust Bowl days, I thought of Mother. She was not exactly like these gaunt flat-chested women with the bony fingers touching the sunken cheeks and gazing into the distance with their vacant stare, but she was close. Her everyday clothes were sewn from feed sacks just as the Oklahoma women, and the physical demands along with the Texas sun had robbed her of her youthful beauty all too early. I wonder how she would have looked if she had stopped with one child or lived in the city.

Mother never commented, much less complained about her lot in life. Her role in life was what she was doing. It was largely nurturing with a daily task of looking after the family. It was more than just having babies and feeding them. It was enriching the family life when the means of enrichment were limited by rural isolation and limited resources. Music was her first love, but the music was either classical or religious. Jazz was anathema because it was not uplifting, contemporary music was frivolous, and country was, well … country. Once when Florence brought home some Frank Sinatra sheet music, she was firmly reminded that it was not worth the money. The radio seldom carried religious music, and if it did, it would be the revival kind – anything but Bach. In 1945, when Roosevelt died, Mother finally heard her kind of music as the nation honored the president. We always had a piano, and Mother had become proficient with it at Clifton, but I never remember her practicing and performing. She did, however, give lessons to us and other kids. But that illustrates her mentality. Playing the piano for her enjoyment was not time well spent.

As thrifty as we were, the outside world was not ignored. In Aleman we subscribed to the Dallas Morning News and the comics brought entertainment. At one point we agreed to give up the newspaper and replace it with a radio. The decision was not hard because we could go up the hill to Grandmother’s house and she read the comics for us. The same is true of reading. Mother helped us read school books and occasionally we received books for Christmas, but I never saw her read a novel or anything for her own enjoyment. Music and literature was weighted toward religion. Religion was not only at the center of the family, it was the center of the community.

Mother not only played the traditional woman’s role, she did what she could to show that she did not wear the pants in the family. She and Dad divided responsibility. Mother took responsibility for the home and Dad looked after national concerns such as the New Deal, the foreign policy toward China, and the Republican Party. She was the epitome of a back-seat driver, but tried everything to keep from being obvious. Dad bought a Ford Model A when I was born and sold it when I was in college for the same amount of money. As a youngster I was embarrassed by the car because it showed our lack of money, but by the time I realized that it had become a classic, it had been sold. The car was in sound condition because from time to time Mother gave it a new coat of black paint. The Model A was the one car Mother learned to drive, even though she never held a driver’s license, so when Dad bought a Rambler, we all rejoiced that her driving days were over. No matter who drove or where Mother sat in the car, she helped the angels protect the family. She called attention to potential threats, and to bring variety to her warnings, spelled out STOP instead of saying it and making it sound like a command.

She did what had to be done, and never made an issue of it. Dad suffered from eczema and during allergy times or periods of stress the ailment flared up and he withdrew from public activity as much as possible. Bill and I were at boarding school in Austin and just at the time when our school year ended, and we needed transportation home, Dad’s eczema worsened. Mother showed up at the school with the Model A, and brought us home at the speed of thirty-five miles an hour. She had an expression for something going very fast, “Going like sixty.” She never went sixty.

Like other mothers, she remembered birthdays and other occasions. These observations were never elaborate, but they were not overlooked. At Christmas her brother, a druggist in a neighboring town, brought rum flavor and Emma provided the eggs and milk for eggnog. She bought the Easter candy and filled our decorated Easter nests. (Our nests were not baskets, but small boxes lined with grass and flowers and placed on the screened back porch.) And for birthdays she came up with the weird custom of tying one ankle to the bedstead with a rope. You always knew when it was your birthday from the moment you woke up and tried to get out of bed. It never had the same status as a wrapped present, but you went along with it because you knew it would happen again next year.

She also kept the calendar for the cows. Because she was the first one up, she was the first to know when one of our two cows was thinking about a family. On those occasions Mother woke me up early and I placed the chain around the horns of the restless cow and took her across town to the man with the Hereford bull. It was a highly embarrassing chore because I knew that everyone who saw me knew what was happening. When I returned Mother went to the calendar and counted nine months and wrote down “Rosie” or “Bossie” and almost to that date the Jersey cow produced a white-faced calf.

While Florence remained at home and attended the local high school, Bill and I left home after grade school to attend Concordia in Austin. We were deprived of parental care during those four years, but each week we sent dirty clothes home by parcel post and each time they came back clean along with some cookies. Even during the summers we were not home the entire time because Bill and I went to help uncles on their farms. We usually made it back in time for picking cotton, the dreaded August activity. Mother actually liked picking cotton. She did not pick as frequently as we did, but when she found time, it gave her an opportunity to visit with friends as they picked. She always wore her bonnet, sewn out of feed sacks, and stiffened with little slats of cardboard.

Even though Dad was my teacher for the last three grades of grade school, Mother was my tutor. When we moved from Nebraska to Texas, it was time for second grade. The teacher in Thorndale was a huge man who used the chord from windows to keep order, while the teacher in Nebraska, Miss Kaiser, had been sweet and lovely. I was also timid as usual, so I did not go to school voluntarily. It was Mother’s task to escort me in the morning and at noon until I realized the futility of resistance. When I got to third grade the next teacher discovered that the class had not learned the multiplication tables, so Mother worked with me through that agony. And she also helped me with German and with memory work.

The worst punishment I ever received from her was the deprivation of the Lone Ranger radio program for several weeks. It was on for thirty minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I cannot remember any physical punishment from her. On one occasion I was outside and she was on the back porch and I did or said something that irritated her. She grabbed the nearest thing, which happened to be a baseball bat, and came after me. By that time I was bigger than she, and the sight of this frail woman coming after me with a bat was so funny that I collapsed in laughter.

For Mother, her reason for being on this earth was completed in 1950 when I left for college. My sister had a husband to look after her, my brother had joined the Air Force, so she let Jesus know that she was ready. But her time was not God’s time, and she remained earth-bound for another twenty-three years. Finally the doctor reported that he had found cancer. Without hesitation, Mother decided against any therapy. In her mind she was too frail for the treatments and why should she go through the pain and expense for a few more months on earth. When I suggested that modem medicine could now cure the cancer she suggested that I should time my visit to coincide with her doctor’s appointment. The doctor examined her and then as Mother lay on the table, the doctor displayed the X-ray negatives showing the spread of cancer. When he finished, there was silence as my throat tightened and tears began to well up. Instead of the comforting voice I had always heard, I now heard Mother say in a clinical voice, “Well, George, do you have any questions?” She died a few months later-at home, on her bed, in Texas, after she and Dad had read their German daily devotions.

I always felt that distance between Texas and Illinois and my occupation had deprived me of being with Mother during her last days. A number of years later, Aggie, the woman across the street, lost her husband. Aggie was a front porch sitter and often on my way home after class I joined her and Bob. She was almost the opposite of Mother: profane, attended church only for funerals and weddings, and kept her hairdresser appointment each week. During the years of Aggie’s widowhood I helped her by doing things around the house so she could remain in familiar surroundings. It was therapeutic for me and her Italian food more than compensated me for my efforts.

Emma was buried in a commercial cemetery on the outskirts of Stephenville. We had never discussed the place for burial because I assumed that she would be buried in the church cemetery in Aleman where her parents and so many of her relatives were buried. But I think that she and Dad did not want to inconvenience anyone and therefore bought a pre-planned funeral package. And, I suspect, she thought that issue was not important – what mattered was the way she lived her life.


Name Calling by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the October 2013 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

In an era of political correctness we have learned to be aware of how groups choose to be named. It was not always that way and on occasion. The very group that had been labeled with a derogatory term later adopted that term as an acceptable name for its identification.

The first example is the use of the name “Lutheran.” Dr. von Eck first used it in a negative reference toward Luther’s supporters in July 1519 during the Leipzig Debate. Soon the followers of Luther used it to identify themselves. The same is true of the name “Wend.” “Wend” was not the name the Slavic people of Eastern Europe used to identify themselves, but a term first used by the Germans – and it was also derogatory. However, by the time of the Wendish migration to Texas, the term lost its sting and the Wends accepted it as a legitimate name. (In contemporary Europe the Wends prefer the term “Sorbs.”)

Another term associated with the Texas Wends is the term “Old Lutheran” (Alt lutherisch). The term arose during the forced union of the Calvinist and Lutheran faiths by the Prussian ruler. Even though most Lutherans eventually participated in the transition to the state church, some did not. They wanted to preserve the Lutheran teachings and practices and were therefore identified as Old Lutheran. The name stuck and even the loyal Lutherans accepted it.

Kilian’s letter to Pastor William Passavant is the only instance I know of where he objected to the term. On other occasions he had used the term himself to identify his parishioners. The letter itself is significant because it is the first example of Kilian writing in English. Even though the use of a dictionary is obvious, one must be impressed with Kilian’s linguistic talent.

The letter also shows how Kilian was aligning himself with a Lutheran synod. By 1857, Kilian had established ties with the Missouri Synod and, in tum, rejected affiliation with those Texas Lutherans who had ties to the General Synod – a synod Kilian thought was too similar to the Prussian state church. Passavant also was a member of the General Synod and, with his letter, Kilian gently distanced himself from Passavant. In the letter, Kilian requested that his name be removed from the mailing list of “The Missionary” and then freed himself of any obligation of writing an article for that journal. And in the comments on “Old Lutheran” Kilian spelled out his guiding principle of synodical affiliation.

[Draft of letter to Rev. Passavant, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania]

Wendish Settlement, Cunningham’s P. 0. Bastrop Co. Texas

May 16 A. D. 1857

Reverend Dear Sir!

One whole year is gone, since I received your kind letter dated the 20th day of April 1856. Excuse the long delay of my reply, which was difficult for me, because by my very little knowledge of the English language I am prevented from fully expressing my mind and because I am too much engaged in business as preacher, schoolmaster and farmer. My congregation of this place amounts now to fifty families. Every fifth Sunday I preach in my second Wendish congregation of twenty families in Austin Co. forty miles from here. Besides I must travel sometimes to other less parties [smaller groups] committed to my ministerial care. Under such burden of various occupations I can’t gain time to read all papers which come at my hand, however interesting they may be. The sheets of the “Missionary” I received hitherto regularly, but I was seldom able to peruse them. My domestic comfort also has not yet increased so far as to favor any diffuse [extensive] reading. By such experience I am compelled to beseech you: Send me no more numbers of “The Missionary.” For the received numbers I enclose here-in one Dollar, the balance of your donation gratefully accepting. No party-views oblige me to that course. My only motive being the wish to disengage myself from this distracting and embarrassing super abundance of periodicals, however instructive. Under my present circumstances my motto must be: “Non multa, sed multum.” [not many, but much.]

Your request to get a letter for the Missionary about our Settlement in Texas, I can’t comply with. Such a publication seems me too responsible and untimely, because the civil and ecclesiastical development of our congregation has not yet reached a mature and sure steadiness [stability] this our juvenileness [in this early stage] we will deem be best provided in silence and retirement, especially as being afflicted by the failure of the crop in the last one year and by other mishaps.

You say: “I am not an old Lutheran in the historical sense of that term.” That term is used in Germany by our enemies only, that is, by the defenders of a wrong union with Calvinists, which union Dr. Luther detested. What means the term “old Lutheran”? Are there any new Lutherans? Where [can] I find their confession faith unanimously and solemnly published? Till I find such public confession of a “New Lutheran Church” I adhere to the distinction of “Lutheran” and “no Lutheran” reproving the term “Old Lutheran” and denominating [assigning] “unfaithful brethren” [to] all so-called Lutherans who are blunting the sound Lutheran antithesis [arguments]. But I hope that by the grace of God the progressing time [future] will cure the unionistic as well as the Romanistic boils of our beloved Church. Meanwhile I must walk in my solitary path with patience.

Lastly I express my delight in your report, that little orphans of our heavily disciplined [stricken] company with Mrs. Richter found a home under Your care in Your city. I am greeting them. We are not yet able to send them a ‘Scherflein,” [small amount or mite] because we not yet got one crop in Texas, wherefore my people sometimes struggles with difficulties of ailment. The merciful God bless You and Your Orphan’s Home with everlasting goods.

In our Lord Jesus Christ I am Yours, John Kilian, minister.

The original draft cannot be found and the copy used is based on a transcription by Dr. Joseph Wilson. To read more about the state church of Prussia go to, click on Wend Blogs, click on Stockwendish and scroll down to Old Lutheranism and the Wends.


Zombie Ideas by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the October 2014 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

A working definition of the word zombie would be “the walking dead.” If such a being or beings could actually exist, I suppose there could also be zombie ideas. These would be ideas that are not valid and previously had been duly buried, but continue to emerge in general usage. In Wendish studies there are some zombie ideas that should be brought out of the shadows and debated, and then with appropriate incantations, given a final resting place.

Kolonie or Siedlung or Gemeinde

One of these often-used words to describe Serbin is “colony.” Words are symbols for reality and when you encounter a particular word an image appears in your mind. What image comes to mind when you read the word colony? Many Americas would think that a colony would be like Jamestown with a stockade protecting starving people because they spent their time searching for gold instead of cultivating crops. Serbin had no fort, stockade, or gold miners.

Another example of an American colony is the Amana colonies in Iowa. Amana is a better example than Jamestown because it had a religious foundation and the members were pietist Germans who, like the Wends, had problems with the established church.

And the first Amana colony in Iowa was founded in 1855, the same year the Wends arrived in the Serbin area.

Both Jamestown and Amana enjoyed a formal, legal existence. Jamestown was called a corporate colony because it was an incorporated business enterprise financed by stockholders with the idea of getting returns for their investments. The stockholders owned Jamestown and the residents were employees. There were no family farms and searching for gold made sense because gold would yield dividends greater than acres of corn.

Amana was not owned by stockholders but by the faithful. Everything was held in common: the textile mill, the butcher shop, the gardens, vineyards, and orchards. Everyone contributed and everyone received. Even the meals were eaten in communal kitchens. Like Jamestown, the Amana Society did not permit privately owned farms. Serbin, whether refer ring to the town, the church, or the Delaplain League, was not a communal entity.

Even though the word colony does not describe Serbin, the 1854 migration on the Ben Nevis set the stage for a potential colony. In that year some Prussian Wends completed the legal requirements under Prussian law and formed a corporation for the purpose of migrating to Texas. Prussian jurisdiction did not extend to Texas, so the formation of a colony in Texas was not the issue. Instead, this group limited its scope to migration and then negotiated a contract with a shipping company to transport the emigrants. The leaders also set the ticket price and made provisions for Wends who were unable to fund their own transportation. Even so, some people in Europe envisioned the endeavor as a colony. The reporter for the Leipziger Zeitung, for example, in his account of the Wends gathering at the Bautzen train station, referred to the Texas settlement as a “Colonie.”

On their arrival in Bastrop County in 1855, a colony could have been founded when the leaders purchased a league of land. They could have incorporated under Texas law and held land in common as the Amana colonists did. The leaders, however, sold parcels of land to individuals who in tum built homes on their land. The fields of the Wends on the Delaplain were side-by-side but the settlement pattern followed the Texas pattern. Unfortunately, the records and documents of this period have not been found and we do not know the details of why individualism triumphed over collectivism. Carl Lehmann and Johann Dube were at the center of the decision but their records have not been uncovered. Even Pastor Kilian, the master record-keeper, does not shed light on this topic.

Instead of a colony, Serbin became a settlement or a community. The center of life was the church, and the founders conveyed that idea by staking out the church and church lands in the geographic center of the league. But the houses were not clustered around the church and instead the families traveled from their isolated homesteads to attend church services. While “colony” is not helpful for an American who attempts to envision early Serbin, the term “settlement” (Siedlung) is better because it conveys the image of a cluster of scattered houses and farms. “Community/congregation” (Gemeinde) is also appropriate because it suggests a common, unifying element that led people in a small geographic area to work together and look after each other.

Debating the difference between colony and settlement may seem like nothing more than splitting hair, but it is worthwhile. “Colony” implies a scheme or model (such as a Wendish, Lutheran village), central authority, concerted planning, and formal action, while “settlement” implies minimal or loose coordination, no grandiose scheme, but ordinary immigrants searching for a home.


It Pays to Advertise – and to Read Ads by George Nielsen

This article appeared in the January 2015 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (

Robert Wuchatsch, a researcher of and writer about the Australian Wends, found about a dozen notices placed in the classified section of the 1854 Budissiner Nachrichten several months prior to the departure of the Ben Nevis migrants. These little advertisements show once again that every bit of evidence, no matter how arcane, can provide details for family histories and also for the story of the Texas Wends.

Extracting the information from these sources is complicated by the use of measurements that are not the equivalent to ours, as well as to terms referring to practices of an agricultural society more than 150 years ago. Fortunately I received valuable assistance from Christian Symmank who lives in Braunschweig/ Brunswick, Germany, and is employed as a software test engineer.

While most contemporary societies have adopted the metric system, efforts to implement it in the U.S. have been largely unsuccessful. Someone has theorized that the metric initiative failed in the U.S. (other than the two liter bottle) because the football field is measured in yards. Assuming that the football field was that influential, maybe we can use it to help visualize the size of land held by Wendish emigrants. A football field covers about 1.3 acres, or a bit more than 5,351 square meters. Even so, the problem is complicated further because measures of land were not identical among all the German provinces. Therefore the numbers given in American acres are approximations.

The smallest measure used in these notices was the square Ruthe that in Saxony measured about 18 square meters. A Morgen was about 2,550 square meters. And the Saxon Acker is approximately 5,500 square meters while the American acre is 4,047 square meters.

The dates of these first advertisements placing property up for sale are significant because they illustrate the planning required for the journey. The ads began appearing on March 4, 1854, more than six months prior to the migration. The description of the property also provides a general idea of the possessions and equipment owned by some of the migrants.

Two Moerbe brothers, Ernst Adolph and Jacob, placed the first advertisements. Ernst was one of the leaders of the migration and was identified as a gardener. He owned about 18 U.S. acres of tillable land and about four U.S. acres of pasture.

A garden property in good condition, with 13 Acker of farm land, 2 Acker 285 square Ruthen of pasture and an excellent wooded pasture and bedding [for animals} in the pond, is/or sale by private contract. Mörbe in Klix.

Ferdinand Jacob Mörbe, whose occupation on the Ben Nevis list is given as a tailor and gardener, owned about 21 U.S. acres of tillable land and four U.S. acres of pasture and orchard.

A garden property in good condition with 15 Acker of farm land, 3 Acker of pasture and an orchard, all properties quite nearby, is for sale by private contract. Mörbe in Neudorfel near Guttau.

The ad placed by Carl Lehmann is in the March 11, 1854, issue. Lehmann, whom I call the Godfather, because he was frequently asked to be the baptismal sponsor at Serbin baptisms, was also one of the congregational leaders. In addition to the mill, he owned about 6 U.S. acres of field and pasture, a millpond the size of an acre and a half, and half an acre of forest.

Mill for Sale

A water mill property in good condition in Royal Prussian Upper Lusatia, 5 hours from Löbau and 4 hours from Bautzen with a milling gear for grinding, a milling gear for pearling, 5 millet and pearl barley stampers; as part of the purchase are 9 Magdeburg Morgen 171 square Ruthen of field and pasture, one 2 ½ Morgen size mill pond with all rights of use, and approximately 1 Morgen of forest land, although compensation is required for the right to produce wood, bedding material, and pine sap, as well as any other living or dead products on some other forest land. All details can be obtained from the owner of the aforementioned mill property, the master miller Lehmann in Dauban near Nisky.

The Ben Nevis list identifies Benjamin Herbrig as a saw smith.

For Sale

In the Benjamin Herbrigs blacksmith shop in Weissenberg a complete set of smith’s tools, a small fire extinguisher pump, a lathe, a loom and various other objects are immediately to be sold cheap because of change of ownership.

Also the saws and drills that over the years have been brought to the shop must be picked up by July 1, 1854; otherwise they would have to be sold. Weissenberg, June 7, 1854. Benjamin Herbrig, master smith.

The final advertisement placed by a Ben Nevis emigrant was that of Pastor Kilian. His departure had been delayed because someone had lodged a legal complaint charging him with inciting someone to emigrate.

Following a hearing, the Royal District Court in Rothenburg found the complaint lodged against me to be without merit, so my family and I depart today on a journey to the new home in Texas. I herewith take leave and extend best wishes to all my friends who remain behind.

Weigersdorf, September 13, 1854
Johann Kilian, Pastor