Listening with Fathers and Mothers

I’ve enjoyed translating and reflecting on addresses and sermons delivered by Pastors Herman Kilian and later Theodore Schmidt at the 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries at St. Paul’s in Serbin. They encourage us to remember how sermon writing was different a century ago as well as to wonder what parishioners expected from a sermon.

Today’s preachers often use a technique called narrative preaching in which a story is used to capture listener interest as the sermon begins. Sometimes the story is too long or reveals too many secrets of the pastor’s family on too many occasions. The sermons from Serbin usually plunged right into the text, quoted many Bible passages as well as favorite hymn texts. Considered trite today, the sermon often concluded with a hymn, sometimes with the recitation of all the verses. However, given that the laity may have been unacquainted with any literature other than the Bible and hymnody, it was probably appropriate to use these references to draw applications to parishioner’s lives.

The Serbin anniversary sermons also make frequent reference to the importance of holding on to faith until death. Death was a more frequent visitor in Serbin families, and the cemetery adjacent to the church building in which regular worshippers could wander after worship on Sundays called its reality to mind. It’s hard to convince today’s younger generations to buy health insurance because they think they may never get sick, much less die. Members in Serbin understood some of life’s realities better than they are understood today.

Also, the separation between religious denominations was more definitive in Serbin’s early years because language and doctrinal issues tended to enforce it. The Schmidt pastors regularly emphasize the purity of the Word which alone would remain when things like language disappeared. Luther and Kilian were frequently referred to as those who had embraced this purity. Intermarriage and being transplanted to other parts of the U.S. have diminished the strength of this emphasis today, and descendants of the early Wends now living in more ecumenical families and environments throughout the U.S. may regard some of the language used in the early sermons as quaint.

Nevertheless, it’s worth listening to the words once again and listening with the ears of fathers and mothers who first heard and cherished such sermons. Their trust that in the pastor’s use of biblical language and hymnody there was a treasure to be kept is a precious insight. Their reality that life is not without its limits is instructive. And their notion that in the midst of many contemporary words, some of it just chatter, there is a Word worth hearing that is the truth to which faithful Christians still cling.

David Zersen, President Emeritus

Concordia University Texas


Die Schneewittchen und die Sieben Dwarfen

As the German communities moved from speaking German to speaking English, short plays were written to inject some humor into the situation. These short plays were acted out in schools, youth groups and churches. A popular play at that time was a dialogue between two farmers, one a German and the other American, about a cow that had jumped the fence for a rendezvous with a bull and what were they now going to do about it?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an example of one of those German-English plays in more modern times. The first time that we know it was presented was in a speech by Brice Kuhlmann when he was Principal at Zion Lutheran School in Walburg, Texas during the late 1960s or early 1970s.  Brice says, “I don’t remember where I got the text but I made  use of it several times during my days as a Lutheran school teacher.”

The last time the play was enacted in Walburg was at the 125th Anniversary celebration of Zion Lutheran Church with Ray Mickan narrating.

The way the play was usually acted out was for there to be a narrator with a real or faux German accent. Volunteer actors were picked out of the audience to participate: Snow White (a young lady), the stepmother (an older lady), the seven dwarfs (usually children of both sexes), the hunter (an older man) and the prince (a young man). As the narrator tells the story, the actors play their parts with little or no instructions from the narrator. As the actors play their parts the narrator often humorously coaches.

Thank you Brice and Ray!

With apologies to those who do not understand German, we present:

Schneevittchen und die Sieben Dwarfen.

Es var vonce upon a time eine schoene princess named Schneevittchen. (Snow White enters.)

Sie hat eine terrible queenie stepmutter, who vould nicht permitten that someone else more prettier and schoener than sie should ever live. (Stepmother enters.)

Every tag she asked her Magic Lookin-Spiegel diese questions: (Stepmother turns to imaginary mirror.) “Mirror, mirror auf der vall, am I die schonste babe of all?” And die Magic Lookin-Spiegel vould sagen, “Queenie, du bist really tops!”

Aber, after a vhile, little Schneewittchen hat prettier and prettier ge-growed, and one day vhen die stepmutter in her Magic Lookin-Spiegel ge-looked and ge-asked the question, the Magic Lookin­ Spiegel sagte, “Stepmutter, you ain’t so bad, aber Scheeewittcen really takes die kuchen.” (Stepmother makes a face at the imaginary mirror.)

Now, dis ge-made die queen sehr hot unter dem kollar, und sie vanted to put Schneewittchen out of der vay. So she called her bester hunter to come in. (Hunter enters, Bugle, etc.) Zu him she sagt, “Take das brat out in dem voods, and get rid of her.” (Hunter and Snow White move a little ways away.)

Der hunter ge-took das kid by der hand and ge-led her avay, aus in dem voods; aber venn he vanted her to ge-killen, he couldn’t nicht, because he was ge-chicken-herzlich. (Lifts knife to kill her, but cannot.)

Der hunter sagt, “Brat, ge-scrammen Sie!” Und Schneevitchen ge-scrammte. (Hunter & Snow White leave.- She slowly returns.)

Now var die little Schneewittchen all alone in der great big voods. Sie var sehr ge-scared. (Snow White wanders in woods.)

Aber suddenly sie saw ein little hauslein and ge-vent in. (Pretends to enter house.)

Es var die home of der seven dwarfen. Shneevittchen var ganz ge-tuckered out, so sie fell zu schleep auf die whole row of beds. (Folds hand and falls asleep.)

Dann ge-kammen die dwarfen home again. (As names are called, dwarfs enter, either Herr or Fraulein, depending on the sex of the child.) Diese varen: Herr/Fraulein Grumpy (Grumpy bows), Herr/Fraulein Sneezy (sneezes), Herr/Fraulein Bashful (acts shy), Herr/Fraulein Sleepy (snores), Herr/Fraulein Doc (anything appropriate), Herr/Fraulein Happy (laughs), and Herr/Fraulein Dopey (struggles for recognition).

When sie saw Schneevittchen auf dem bed ge-lying, sagen die auf Deutsch, Wheee-Whooo! (Wolf whistle). Now, mit dat loud vhistle hat she up-gevaked (Snow White wakes up) and denn hat she die dwarfen ge-told who she vas. Und die dwarfen hat her ge-told that she mit dem ge-living could. Und so hat she der ge-lived, and the haus fur die dwarfen ge-kept.

SCENE CHANGES – (Dwarfs leave, Snow White remains at house)

Meanwhile hat die stepmutter again her Magic Lookin-Spiegel dies question ge-asked: “Mirror, mirror, auf der vall, am I die schoenstes babe of all?” Und der mirror sagt, “Ja, du bist die schoenste hier, aber Schneevittchen, who now mit den dwarfen ge-lives, She ge-got it alles ge-over you.”

Den hat die stepmutter off dem handle ge-flown. Sie ge-put on some old clothes and ge-vent to das haus dem sieben Dwarfen. Schneevittchen thought dat sie ein old farmer’s wife var, and ge-let her in kommen. Die stepmutter hat Schneevittchen ein shoene little dress ge-broughten, and ge-put it on her and hat es so tight up ge-tied, das Schneewittchen could nicht ge-breathen, and so sie ge-fell down like tot. (Snow White dies, step mother leaves.)

Now in der ge-meantime, die stepmutter ge-asked her Magic Lookin-Spiegel die question again, und got der same answer, namelich, das Shneevittchen prettier var. Und so ge-made she herself into ein vitch, and vent back to das haus der sieben dwarfen. Da sie gave Schneevittchen ein ge-poisoned apple, and when de little kid hat die apple gegessen, fell sie ge-down like tot. (Stepmother brings apple and Snow White eats and falls down.)

Dann ge-laughs die stepmutter to herself. (Laughs)

Now die poor dwarfen ge-kommen back home again and found her ge-dead again. Then ge-mourned the sieben dwarfen sehr much for her. (Dwarfs cry.) And so they ge-maden her ein coffin, mit ein glass top and put her darin, Und all die little animals ge-kommen and ge-cried over her.

Dann, here kam den prince through die voods (Prince enters) and saw her da ge-lyin, er sage, auf Deutsch, Wheee-Whooo! (Wolf whistle). Er went zu die dwarfen and sagte, “Ge-sell mir das koffin. Ich vill dir ge-payen vhatever vorth ist.”

Aber die dwarfen said, “Nick fur all die bier in Valburg.” Und die prince sagte, “Denn ge-give her to mich, because ich kann nicht mit out Scheevittchen ge-liven. I will ge-vatchen and ge-guarden her fur always.”

Dann ge-gaven die dwarfen der prince den coffin mit Schneevittchen in it. Der prince ge-took die glass cover off and ge-kisst her auf die schoene lippen. Und vhen he that ge-done hat der prince var uber-joyed. (Prince makes motion of taking glass off the coffin and Snow White then sits up). Schneewittchen sagte, “Ach! Vas ist ge-happened? Ver bin ich?”

Der prince sagte, “Du bist mit mir, baby, und mit mir you ge-gonna ge-stayen.” Es var love zu firster Zeit, and they ge-fallen each other into der armen. And she ge-vent zu der castle mit der prince and ge-lives there happily ever ge-after. (They leave.)

Aber, was ist of die terrible Stepmutter be-kommen? Sie var so ge-anxious to ge-make herself schoene fur die vedding reception, that she ge-looked a hole in der Mirror, and got her Kopf ge-stuck in it, and var to death ge-choked.

(Then as the finale the dwarfs come in and holding hands move in a circle as they sing or hum a happy tune!!)


Wendish Language Gravestones at Serbin and Old Warda by Prof. Joseph Wilson, Rice University

First published in the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter, Vol II, No. 4 of July-September 1981.

 In Texas, as had been the case in Germany previously, the Wends used German as their more official language. Therefore it is not surprising that their grave inscriptions were also in German. Until about nine months ago, I believed that there were no Wendish-language gravestones at Serbin. The only use of Wendish I had found at all was on a bilingual German and Wendish stone in the Old Warda (Old Holy Cross) cemetery,[1] which will be described below. However, last fall, while completing an article on the Wends and their gravestones, I made a last search at Serbin cemetery for any use of Wendish — and was happy to discover a beautiful Wendish inscription, apparently the only one, and previously unknown. The stone is unfortunately broken at the base and in the middle, but could probably be easily restored. This grave is not one of the oldest, but rather is from 1889 — 35 years after the arrival in Texas. It is located in the easternmost row, approximately the 19th stone from the south end. The grave is that of a not-quite-eighteen year old young man, Emil A. Miertschin, (an uncle of the present Carl Miertschin), and even today we feel the sorrow of such an untimely death. The inscription which is in beautiful Old-German letters (called “Fraktur” or “Gothic”), reads:

Tudy wotpocžuje we tym Knesu

Emil A. Měrčin[2]

rodź. 20ty Nov. 1871 (rodźeny-born)

wumr. 15ty Okt. 1889 (wumrěł-died)

Krystußowe ßwjate rany, te ßu moja khowanka,

hdžež wšo budže nawakane, štož me wjěčnje wokřewja,

Krystus z ßwojim čerpjenjom, je nam prawdoć před Bohom.

Teho kiž to prawje wěri, njeńdže z njebjeß njewučeri.

The spelling is the 19th century Lutheran Wendish standard, as was used by the Wends in Germany and Texas. It was naturally based on German spelling and differs considerably from modern Wendish spelling, which looks more like Czech or Polish. The 1etter “ß” is the German letter for “s;” it is often transcribed as “ss” or “sz.”

The line before the name means “Here rests in the Lord.” The verses which follow are the third verse of hymn 488 of the old Wendish Hymnbook. This hymn is a translation of the German hymn 413, “Lasset ab, ihr meine Lieben, lasset ab von Traurigkeit,” which is apparently unknown in English.

In the German, the third verse reads:

In des Herren Jesu Wunden hab ich mich geschlossen ein,

da ich alles reichlich funden, wodurch ich kann selig sein,

Er ist die Gerechtigkeit, die vor Gott gilt allezeit;

Wer dieselb’ ergreift im Glauben,

Dem kann nichts den Himmel rauben.

A literal (non-poetical) translation of the Wendish verse would be: . . .

“Christ’s holy wounds, they are my refuge, there

where everything will be found, which will eternally refresh me. ­

Christ with his suffering is our justification before God

he who believes correctly in that,

nothing will drive him out of Heaven.”


The bilingual Old Warda inscription reads as follows:

Maria Schoppa[3]

geb. 23. Jan. 1840

gest. 15. Jan. 1881

Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen,

wen(n) ich in Deiner Liebe ruh’.

Kak ßbožny ßym, dyž wotpocžuju,

moj Jesu, w Twojej luboszi.

Here the verse, first given in German, then in Wendish is from hymn 262 of the German hymnbook and 441 of the Wendish. In this case there is an English equivalent, hymn 362, where these lines are rendered:

”My soul’s best friend, what joy and blessing,

my spirit ever finds in thee.”

A more literal translation of the Wendish would be:

“How blessed I am when I rest,

my Jesus, in thy love.”

It is noteworthy that these two Wendish-language inscriptions, probably the only ones in Texas, are from the 1880s a generation after the arrival here. The oldest stones at Serbin are from the 1860s, and are all in German. We unfortunately know nothing about the grave markers of the first few years, which have all been lost, possibly because they may have been made of wood.[4] We can only assume that they, too, were in German. The factionalism of the 1860s which was based partly on language preferences, was, in the 1880s, long past, so there seems to have been no external reason for the use of Wendish in these two cases; the motivation was, no doubt, simply the individual devotion of the two families to Wendish.


[1] Commonly known as Boon’s Creek.

[2] Emil August who died of kidney disease. No Kilian obituary exists for him.

[3] John Kilian obituary 181.

[4] There are approximately 150 gravesites not marked before 1868.


Contemporary Materials Concerning the 1853 Emigration

This article was first printed, with Dr Wilson’s permission and consent, for the Krause family history book, Shipwreck to Settlement, published in 1990 by Weldon Mersiovsky.

The following descriptions of various aspects of the 1853 emigration were written at the time of the events or shortly thereafter. The source and original language, Wendish or German, of each item is noted, and the item is then given in my translation, which is kept as close to the original as possible.

I have attempted to keep my notes to a minimum in these accounts, inserting them, as far as possible, into the texts themselves, in square brackets,'[]’, rather than as separate footnotes. Round brackets,'()’, are used as in the originals.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these items have been published, either in the original or in any translation (besides, of course, the original contemporary publication in the cases noted). George Nielsen’s book In Search of a Home utilizes the Kasper letter (Item E) and Kilian’s Lutheraner report (Item G), but does not give the actual text.

A. Pastor Johann Kilian’s List of the 1853 Wendish,German Emigrants to Texas

Pastor Kilian’s 1853 List.

Since the ship’s passenger list for the Ben Nevis was retained by Kilian and is still preserved (at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Sid Richardson Hall at the University of Texas at Austin), we know fairly completely who comprised that large group. The list is in relatively good condition; however, there are a few frayed or tom places, so that some thirty names are missing or illegible. Unfortunately, the only published form of the list (made by Anne Blasig for her Wends of Texas, and copied by others) contains many errors, even in the legible parts. I have been working for several years toward a corrected list and hope to publish it soon; besides correcting the misreadings, I have been able to fill in most of the missing or illegible names, using other sources.

On the other hand, just who the pathbreakers were who preceded the Ben Nevis group has been a matter of conjecture, since no direct listings have been known (see George Nielsen In Search of a Home, pp. 64f.). Evidently no ship passenger list has been preserved for the 1853 voyage, which was made on the two-masted brig Reform, sailing from Bremen. The embarkation records at Bremen were destroyed by American and British bombing raids in World War II, and the arrival records at Galveston were poorly made and poorly preserved (to a great extent destroyed by the Great Hurricane of 1900), such that entire years of the Galveston records are missing, among them the records for 1853 (See Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, v. I, pp. 2ff., 32ff.). Of course, due to the shipwreck, they actually entered the United States at New Orleans, before continuing to Galveston, but I have not been able to find them in the New Orleans passenger lists, either.

Wilhelm Iwan’s book Die altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts gives lists of Old Lutherans from Prussia (but not from Saxony) who emigrated to Texas, according to church records in Germany. While Iwan’s lists are valuable, especially for their mention of maiden names and other family relationships, many people given in them did not come to Texas and others who did are not listed. Apparently the lists are to be interpreted as comprising people who intended to emigrate, rather than those who actually did. Iwan’s lists are given in Clifford Neal Smith’s Nineteenth Century Emigration of Old Lutherans from Eastern Germany (German-American Genealogical Research Monograph No.7).

Hitherto unknown, there is, among the Johann Kilian documents at Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, a list of the 1853 emigrants, made by Kilian himself in Germany, before the people left. We can assume the list is accurate because Kilian made no later changes to the original list, while he did later (after coming to Texas) add notations to it about subsequent deaths and births. The list is a first draft; at the end, a few lines have been stricken, meaning they were not put into the final draft. This was Kilian’s standard method of writing letters and other documents to be sent away: he made a first draft, which usually included changes and stricken variants, and which he then copied to the final draft and mailed. The first draft was kept for his church archives. In this case, the list was probably made for the German government authorities, and the final draft sent to them. The list is in German; the following is my English translation. The pages of the original are tom around the edges and otherwise illegible in places. I have attempted to fill in (in brackets,'[ ]’) the missing information, using other records.

The villages mentioned are located in an area about twelve miles north-northeast of Bautzen; all are within a few miles of Klitten, which, with Weigersdorf, formed the nucleus of Kilian’s congregations. All can be found on modem (large­scale) maps, except Kolpen, which no longer exists (it was about halfway between Klitten and Hoyerswerda,and possibly Klein-Oelsa, which is very small and adjoins Klitten to the south. All were in the Kingdom of Prussia.

In regard to the occupations given in the list: a ‘cottager’ (Hausler) was a poor person who owned a house, but little or no land. The next step up was a ‘gardner’ (Gartner) or ‘garden-owner’ (Gartennahrungsbesitzer), who owned a house and a small amount of land. A person with more land was called a ‘small farmer’ (Halbbauer) or ‘farmer’ (Bauer), depending on the amount.

B. July, 1853: Wendish Families Intend to Emigrate to Texas

From the Wendish weekly newspaper, Tydzenske Nowiny (later called Serbske Nowiny), published in Bautzen, July, 1853 (p. 240; my translation of the original Wendish). I am indebted to the Institute for Sorbian Ethnic Research in Bautzen and to its Director, Dr. Martin Kasper, for granting me access to their archives, and for making photocopies for me of many documents which interested me, including items B, C, and E, below.

‘From the district of Rothenburg: Some eight families from this district and that of Hoyerswerda, followers of the so called Old Lutheran Church, intend to emigrate to Texas in America at the beginning of next month. It is reported that they previously had intended to go to Australia, but the high transportation cost as well as disappointing reports about the disagreeableness of the Australian circumstances are the reason that they now have chosen Texas as their new home.’

C. August, 1853: Wends Leave Home by Train, Bound for Texas

From the same newspaper, Tydzenske Nowiny, August, 1853 (p. 273; my translation of the original Wendish):

From Bautzen: Last Monday, Aug. 29th, thirty-five Wends boarded a train here in order to leave their homeland and seek a new home in Texas in America. They all are from Prussian villages of Upper Lusatia, namely Kaschel, Reichwalde, Mücka, Kolpen, and Weigersdorf. Poor reports from Australia frightened them away from emigrating to that land, so they now are seeking the happiness in Texas which they did not find in the Wendish homeland. We hope that they will not sometime come to regret their undertaking, as some have who sought the lost paradise in Australia.’

D. Nov., 1853: Wends reach Galveston after Shipwreck off Cuba

From the German newspaper, Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, published in New Braunfels, Texas, Nov. 25, 1853 (my translation of the original German):

‘New Braunfels, Nov. 20th, 1853: Letters from Galveston bring us the sad news that the emigration ship Reform, which had departed on Sept. 4th from Bremerhaven with passengers for Galveston, ran aground off the coast of Cuba. All the passengers were saved; they were picked up by a Spanish ship and taken to New Orleans, from where they proceeded with the steamer Mexico to Galveston. However, they had lost all they had, since of their possessions nothing or only trifles were saved.’

E. The Kasper Letter, Describing the 1853 Emigration

The following letter, written by the brothers Johann and Hans Kasper [Casper], is the only account of the 1853 trip that we have which was written by any of the people themselves. The letter was published in Wendish in the Wendish newspaper Serbske Nowiny in early 1854, pp. 85 and 92. The Kaspers were evidently writing to a friend, who turned the letter over to the newspaper for publication. The Wends usually wrote in German, and this letter, too, almost certainly was originally in German (there is internal evidence of this; also, in the few cases where letters were written in Wendish, that fact was mentioned in the newspaper). The newspaper editor (the famous Wendish intellectual Ernst Schmaler [Smoler]) evidently translated such letters into Wendish for publication in the paper. The following is my translation of the published Wendish version. I have included, in square brackets, supplementary information, in order to make make this account of the trip as complete as possible.

‘Letter from America:

New Ulm, Austin Co., Texas, Dec. 26, 1853.

Dear Friend,

Since now, with God’s help, we have arrived in America, we shall not delay giving to you and to all who remember us with love a report of our trip and of our circumstances. -We arrived in Bremen Aug. 31 [after leaving Bautzen by train on Aug. 29th, see Item C, above] and stayed there two days. On the third day, we were transported onto a ship on the Weser River. We put to sea on Sept. 4; there were 90 passengers on this two-masted ship[the brig Reform, as mentioned in the article above, from the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, and in Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, v. I, p. 33, which gives the captain’s name as P. Meyn and the number of passengers as 94, but does not list the passengers’ names]. Our voyage was very good, because we mostly had a good breeze. [About the birth of one child and death of another, see Kilian’s report, Item F, below]. But the 53rd day, Oct. 26th [Oct. 25th, according to Kilian’s report] at 11 o’clock at night, our ship hit a rock off the island of Cuba; its front part hung on this rock, but the back part was thrown back and forth by the waves and water was running with great force into the ship. As a signal of the distress that we were in, a lantern was quickly hung up, and since we were near the island, it was soon noticed. We had to stay in fear and danger on the wrecked ship for about four hours, and we would have had time enough to pull many things from the water, but nobody was thinking about saving possessions because no one knew if he would save his own life. At three o’clock in the morning, a small ship arrived which took us to land. Our possessions already were mostly in the water, and since the ship then soon sank, our possessions and trunks were all lost; only what we had on us and with us, such as clothes and bedcovers, were saved. – The island of Cuba belongs to Spain and is mostly inhabited by Spanish people. When we got to shore, we couldn’t communicate with anyone; we had to send for a [German] interpreter five English miles away. We were taken to the town of Neuwied [evidently the port Nuevitas], well cared for and richly bestowed with money and goods. After a three day stay, a steamer took us to the city of Havana, where we were very well received and given bountiful help by the German Society and by the [German] consul.

After three days, we were transported from Havana on a steamer to New Orleans and sent to the German society there. There, too, they looked after us well and clothed us from head to foot. The next day we traveled to Galveston, also by steamer [the Mexico, according to the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung article above]. On this occasion we also saw the famous Mississippi River. When we arrived at Galveston, each [adult] received six dollars from the [German] consul and each child three dollars, which money the German Society in Havana had sent there.

In Galveston we stayed a day and a night and then traveled on Buffalo Bayou to Houston. In Houston we quickly found wagons and [also] Mr. [F.G .] Seydler*, the master mason from Bautzen, and from there we traveled overland to New Ulm, where we arrived after a week. There are two Bautzeners [living] there as farmers, namely Mr. Seydler and Mr. [George] Helas [Helass]. We two brothers are working for Mr. Helas; we get half a dollar a day and good meals (meat and coffee three times a day). Christiana Kasper [Mrs. Hans Kasper] is also working for Helas and getting at present four dollars a month. Hanna Kasper [Mrs. Johann Kasper] with the children is living with a neighbor and is fine; her oldest daughter Helena is working for the neighbor and gets a dollar and a half a month and meals.

If anybody wants to come here, we would advise them not to travel from Bremen but from Hamburg. Generally it is said that the Hamburg ships are better provided with food than the Bremen ones. We experienced that, too, because the food was bad and there was little water. Our shipwreck must be attributed to the lack of order or the lack of skill on the part of the captain. As far as this area here is concerned, we like it; the earnings are good and there is great freedom in all things, both secular and spiritual. Everyone may exercise his religion according to his own knowledge and conscience, nobody asks you about your religion. The only thing everybody asks is if you can work. There are even churches and schools here. We also advise anyone not to drag along a lot of things, because you can get everything here; especially axes and such are better here than in Germany. It would be good to bring along clothing. Also, a person should not buy rifles unless they are very good. Here, everybody can go hunting, and rifles are both good and cheap. Whoever brings along a few hundred Thalers [German currency, roughly equivalent to dollars], can buy farms or real estate anywhere here, and whoever brings nothing along but his working hands can make his living.

Give our brother George our greetings, also all our good friends and acquaintances.

Johann Kasper, Hans Kasper

My address must be written in English: Mstr. Johan Kasper by Mstr. G. Helas, New-Ulm, Austin County, Texas.


*Three Seydler brothers from Bautzen had come to Texas in 1849 (see Ethel Geue New Homes in a New Land German Immigration to Texas, 1847 – 1861 p. 133). Since one of the signers of the letter published in Serbske Nowiny in 1855, pp. 212f, 220, criticizing Kilian and the leaders of the 1854 emigration, was ‘F. G. Seydler’ (the oldest brother), it is probable that he is the one referred to here. George Helas [Helass] and his family also came in 1849, with the Seydlers (Geue, p. 80), and he, too, signed the mentioned letter.

F. Pastor Kilian’s Description of the 1853 Emigration

From the Kirchenblatt fur die Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinen in Preussen (church newspaper for the Evangelical-Lutheran Congregations in Prussia), published April 15th, 1854 (pp. 98f.; the following is my translation of the original German) (Thanks are due to Bill Biar for finding this item and making it available both to Concordia Historical Institute and to me):

‘Pastor Kilian in Weigersdorf gives the following information about his former congregation members who emigrated to Texas in America in August of last year:

There have recently come from Texas, from these, our emigrated brethren, five consecutive letters, which give a fairly clear picture of their experiences and of their situation. Their voyage proceeded well, with favorable strong winds. The wife of the one brother [i.e., fellow Lutheran] gave successful birth on the ship on Oct. 6th [the birth of Agnes Matthiez; see Kilian’s list above, where the date of birth is given as Oct. 9th]; another brother lost a little son to death on Oct. 19th [this child is either Johann Krause, Johann Polnik, or August Seemann Polnik, all of whom died in 1853 or 1854; see Kilian’s list above]. They sailed past the islands of Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo towards the Spanish island of Cuba. Then the captain got off course and ran his two-master onto the rocks. On Oct. 25th [Oct. 26th, according to the Kasper letter above], at 11:00 o’clock at night, the ship ran aground so badly that it was wrecked and the hold filled with water, so that the boxes and beds were floating. Our people spent a most anxious night on the deck, fearing the worst at any minute, until towards morning a ship found them and rescued them. The wrecked ship, however, sank in the morning with the possessions. Our rescued survivors were first given shelter in the town of Neuwied [evidently Nuevitas] and then transported by steamer to the rich trading city of Havana. There they experienced an extraordinary amount of loving care. The German Society in Havana had the survivors transported by steamer to New Orleans and from there again by steamer to Galveston, paying $2,200 for their passage. Over and above this, the people then received another $500, which the German Society of Havana had sent there. Also, they were all outfitted with new clothing from head to foot in New Orleans. Now they are doing well in Texas.’

G. Pastor Kilian Reports that the 1853 Group gave the Impetus to the Larger 1854 Emigration

After arriving in Texas with the Ben Nevis group in 1854, Pastor Kilian wrote to Pastor C. F. W. Walther of the Missouri Lutherans, describing his trip. Walther published the letter in the Lutheraner (1855, p. 117; the following is my translation of the original German). Kilian preceded his account with a brief mention of the 1853 group and its influence:

‘It was in 1853 that thirty and some odd Wends, Prussian Lutherans, who had returned from the Prussian State Church Union to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, emigrated via Bremen to Texas, suffered shipwreck off the island of Cuba, but escaped with their lives. In the winter of 1854, they wrote such favorable letters to their friends that now a group of more than 500 souls has followed them…’


The Wends In Germany and In Texas

This article was first printed, with Dr Wilson’s permission and consent, for the Krause family History, Shipwreck to Settlement, in 1990.

The Wends or Sorbs of Germany are an originally Slavic group in what is now southern East Germany, in the area called Lusatia (Lausitz), around the cities of Bautzen and Cottbus. They were surrounded and infiltrated by the German expansion to the east in the middle ages, and consequently have been living in and among a German majority population for about six hundred years. Even in the most Wendish areas, the majority has been German for centuries. It was inevitable long since, that the Wends would be assimilated into what might be called the German melting pot, which has similarly absorbed Danes, French, and Poles. For the Wends, the Germans were not only numerically superior but also culturally: for several centuries, while Germany and the German language were among the cultural leaders of the world, the Wends did not even have a written language. It is not that the Wends had no culture; indeed, they did ­ they had a treasure of folklore, customs, and folksongs, but it was only oral. The lack of a written language was a critical disadvantage. Naturally, there also usually was considerable pressure from the Germans and the German government in the direction of Germanization of the Wends and other minorities (compare the similar pressures on minorities in the United States to become Anglicized). Thus, partially forced and partially willingly, the Wends quite naturally more and more took on the German language, German names and German culture.

As also is commonly the lot of minorities, the Wends were often discriminated against, in choice of professions, in housing, etc. However, by the mid-19th century their situation had greatly improved and was apparently little different from that of other rural Germans. As can be seen from the Ben Nevis passenger list and from the Serbin baptismal records, the Wends who left for Texas had been practicing many professions (pastor, blacksmith, locksmith, tanner, baker, etc., often with the prestigious title ‘master’ appended, as in ‘master miller’), and some were property owners (f. ex., ‘mill property owner’). They were not prohibited from using their Wendish language; it was used in churches, schools (at least to a limited extent), books, and newspapers. While many were emotionally attached to Wendish, there were many incentives to abandon it, since it was of little practical use, while German was not only the language of the majority, but also a major world language.

In Germany today, the word ‘Wends’ is felt, at least by some linguists and historians, to have a pejorative ring, and the word ‘Sorbs’ is often used instead. Neither term is very exact: many people are confused by the old German usage of’ Wends’ to mean any of the many different Slavs on medieval Germany’s eastern borders, and say that the present Wends are the remnant of a mighty race that controlled a vast region. Actually, the present Wends of Germany stem from two different small Slavic tribes which had settled in the north and south of Lusatia in the early middle ages. In Texas, the people have always called themselves Wends, if not simply Germans, and the rather artificial new term ‘Sorbs’ is completely unknown.

The Wendish language is closely kin to the other Slavic languages, linguistically situated, as its geographical location would suggest, between Czech and Polish. Like Czech, it accents the first syllable of the word. It exhibits the Slavic case system with even more than the normal complexity, and has preserved some features that other Slavic languages have lost, such as a full range of dual forms (that is, special plural forms for two) in verbs, adjectives, and nouns, and an aorist-imperfect simple past tense. There has of course been a great German influence, in a more obvious way such as in recognizable loan-words like sula ‘Schule’ (school) and farar ‘Pfarrer’ (clergyman) and less obviously in older loan­words (f.ex. bur ‘Bauer’ (farmer), srybar ‘Lehrer’ (teacher) from Schreiber), loan-translations, f.ex. horjewzac ‘aufnehmen’ (take up), and in word order.

Like most languages in Europe, Wendish is, of course, split into a multitude of dialects, almost with a different dialect for every village. These many village dialects then are grouped into the two major divisions ‘Upper Wendish’ (in the higher country of the south) and ‘Lower Wendish’ (in the lower country of the north), this linguistic division being a result of the derivation from two different tribes. While speakers of the two major dialects can understand each other, although often with difficulty, the differences are great enough that from the beginning, two separate written languages have developed. This has naturally been a serious impediment for the development of Wendish, which already had enough problems.

Since the Wends had essentially always been ruled by and surrounded by Germans, and since they had no written language of their own for such a long time, the German language had always been used for all higher purposes. Not until the Reformation, with its desire to proclaim the Gospel to the common people and with the rise of learning and the invention of printing, were there efforts to devise a Wendish written language. And even thereafter, right down until the present, the written language has been largely in the service of religion. Even after the Reformation, it was a slow and continuous struggle to develop a written form for what must have seemed to many to be useless dialects. This struggle was particularly acute in the 19th century, when, for the first time, really serious efforts were made to establish and propagate the Wendish written language. Various writing systems were tried, which mainly fell into two camps: a Lutheran one which adapted German spelling conventions to Wendish and used German (‘Fraktur’) type, and a Catholic one which based on Czech and used Latin type (with s rather than sch, for instance). Thus, two rather different spelling and printing systems developed (compounding the problems of the split into the different dialects).

In the mid-19th century, there were still about 150,000 people speaking Wendish (scattered in among over a million Germans). At the present time, there are only perhaps 20,000 speakers left (estimates vary widely), and all of them speak German also. The assimilation into the German mainstream has thus almost been completed. Since the end of the Second World War, the East German government encouraged the use of Wendish, and fostered the teaching of it in the schools, but the natural decline in usage has not been halted. There still are a few newspapers and books being published in Wendish, that is, either Upper Wendish (mostly) or Lower Wendish. Now only the Czech-type spelling is used.

The Wends who came to Texas in the mid-19th century are a unique group for several reasons. They were conservative ‘Old-Lutherans’ who were scattered throughout the Southern (‘Upper’) Lusatian area, politically divided between Saxony in the south and Prussia in the north. Pastor Johann (Jan in Wendish) Kilian had been serving as pastor of all the Wendish Old Lutherans in Prussian Lusatia who did not wish to be in the Prussian state church, because the state church was, by royal decree, ‘united’, that is, an amalgam of Protestant church bodies and consequently not purely Lutheran. Kilian’s headquarters were at the neighboring villages of Weigersdorf and Klitten (located about 18 kilometers or 10 miles northeast of Bautzen), each of which had its own church, and from there he traveled every few weeks to the areas of Spremberg (near Hoyerswerda) in the west and Muskau and Cottbus in the north, to serve his branch-congregations there. Each of these branch-congregations in turn was the focal point for the Old Lutherans of the surrounding villages. Thus, Kilian was the pastor of several thousand Lutherans in Prussia. Previously, he had served congregations in Saxony, so he was well known in scores of villages in both the Prussian and Saxon part of Lusatia.

Many Germans and other Europeans were emigrating at the time: most for the United States, but some also for other new lands, especially Australia. In the 1840s, some dozens of Wends had emigrated, mostly for Australia, where they joined other Germans.

In 1849 and in the early 1850s, a few individual Wends had come to Texas. Apparently they all had settled among the Germans in the area of lndustry, New Ulm, and Frelsburg.

The first small group emigration, comprising several Lutheran families from Kilian’s congregations, took place in 1853. This group departed from Bremen on Sept. 4th on a small sailing ship. Details of the voyage are given in the article, “Contemporary Materials Concerning the 1853 Emigration of Wends to Texas”, especially in the letter written by Johann and Hans Casper. The group suffered shipwreck off Cuba, losing all their possessions, but their lives were saved, and with the help of Germans in Cuba and New Orleans, they were able to finally get to Galveston and Houston, where they were met by one of the earlier Wends and escorted from there to the Industry – New Ulm area, where they settled, at least temporarily.

The 1853 emigrants wrote such favorable letters about Texas that, in 1854, over 500 of their fellow Lutherans, from many different villages, decided to leave for Texas. To this end they entered into a formal alliance, constituting their group as a new Lutheran congregation and as an emigration society (for mutual financial help), and called Kilian as their pastor. In September, 1854, they traveled by rail to Hamburg, then by ship to Hull, on the east coast of England, then by rail to Liverpool on the west coast, where they were to embark on the sailing ship Ben Nevis. Kilian, himself, and his family were unable, at the last minute, to go with the group, because he had to face charges of instigation of emigration. Luckily, he was able to clear himself quickly, and caught up with the group in Liverpool. Unfortunately, however, in Liverpool they got caught up in a cholera epidemic, which caused many deaths and pursued them all the way across the Atlantic. Their sailing from Liverpool was delayed by the epidemic, and when they did sail, so many still were sick and dying that the captain took the ship to Queenstown, Ireland, where they spent three weeks in quarantine aboard the Ben Nevis and another ship, the Inconstant. When they finally arrived in Galveston in December, 78 people had died.

They proceeded by steamer immediately to Houston, where some of the poorer ones stayed, lacking the funds to go further. Most, however, continued, on foot and in wagons, to the Industry area, where the earlier immigrants received them. Here, again, lack of money caused a number to remain, while the nucleus group, joined by some of the 1853 emigrants, continued westward to the land which became Serbin. Nearly all of those who stayed at first in the Houston or Industry area proceeded to the Serbin area as soon as they could afford it, usually after a few years. Even though the Industry area was about 40 miles from Serbin, the people who stayed there formed a branch of the Serbin church, and for 12 years Kilian regularly visited them approximately every five weeks, preaching and performing pastoral services.

The Wends who emigrated to Texas in the mid-19th century were already Germanized to a great extent. They were thoroughly bilingual in German and Wendish. We have indications that a few spoke only Wendish, and a few only German, but evidently nearly all were fluent in both languages. Similarly, their culture was a mixture of Wendish and German components. German was used for nearly all written language, even personal letters among family members. Wendish was used in church services alongside German, that is, usually every Sunday and holiday there was a Wendish service and a German one. Kilian taught the school in Wendish and German until the first teacher, Leubner, was called in 1868. Since Leubner knew no Wendish, the school became completely German; this was, however, not really a problem, because the Wends wanted their children to have German schooling. The congregational meetings, which also in a sense were the worldly government of the group, were apparently held mainly in Wendish for about ten years, at least the minutes of most of these meetings of the first years are in Wendish, nearly all written by Kilian himself. The other major surviving category of documents in Wendish is the Wendish component of the so-called obituaries. These were brief biographies, called in German Lebenslauf, about a page long, with an additional half page or page of expressions of thanks to friends and relatives for help at the funeral. These obituaries were read in church the Sunday after the burial. About 50 of those that are preserved are in German and about 200 are in Wendish.

Thus, in Texas they continued their bilingual Wendish-German life, continuing to mingle with other Germans, and continuing to use German for their more official language. Contrariwise, though they recognized the similarity of the Wendish language to Czech and Polish, there was no mingling with the nearby Czechs or Poles of Texas. They called their community Serbin, meaning ‘Wend-land,’ from the Wendish word for ‘Wends,’ Serbja, which is of course related to the word Sorbs on the one hand, but also to the word Serbs, again giving rise to confusion with the Serbs of Serbia, with whom the Wends are no more closely related than with any other Slavic group. Speaking of confusions, there is another one that should be noted: the Wends of Germany and Texas are not the same as the ‘Windish’ (German Windisch) Slavs of the old Austrian Empire (now part of Jugoslavia), who are usually called Slovenes. The major settlement of these Windish people in the United States is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are as different from the Wends as the Czechs are.

The Wendish-German culture of the Texas Wends should be appreciated as a unique double heritage. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to decide whether a given custom or saying is originally Wendish or German, just as it is often similarly difficult to determine whether a certain Serbin family was originally Wendish or German. The custom of the ‘birds’ wedding’ (usually called by the German term, Vogelhochzeit) was originally Wendish, but the ‘Rumplich’ (Santa Claus), sometimes touted as specifically Wendish, was German (Knecht Ruprecht). Nearly all the beloved Wendish hymns were translated from German originals.

Texas had a very large German population at the time the Wends came, and also the other Americans the Wends had contact with in other states, such as other church bodies, were almost always German. Even much of their business correspondence, for instance to shipping firms, was conducted in German. In their isolation in Texas from other Wends, the usefulness of the Wendish language was even more severely limited than it had been in Germany, so Wendish was used less and less, and German more and more. After about 1880, it was mostly only older people that still spoke Wendish, and the Wends no longer considered themselves Wendish-Germans but simply Germans. However, Wendish church services continued to be held (alongside the then dominant German ones) until1920. From 1920 until about 1940 the world of the Texas Wends was almost exclusively German. Only after the transition to German had been completed, did English begin to make any kind of impression on the group; the final assimilation to English began slowly in the 1930s, and a bilingual German-English life began to evolve. But German was the dominant language until the 1950s, and it was the language of the congregational meetings at Serbin until1966. Currently (1991) German is in about the same situation as Wendish was in 1919: still used for church services for the elderly, but the younger generation not speaking it any more.

Pastor Johann (Jan) Kilian, the leader of the Texas Wends, who guided the emigration and the formative years of the colony in Texas, was an educated theologian with a degree from Leipzig. He was a patriotic Wend but considered himself ‘just as much a German as a Wend’, as he once wrote. Thoroughly fluent in Wendish and German, before leaving Germany he had become a figure of some importance in the development of the Wendish language and literature, translating works of Luther and other theologians, writing religious poetry and hymns, and even making small collections of Wendish words, one of botanical terms (which are mentioned in Pfuhl’s outstanding 19th century Wendish dictionary). Kilian led the group in Texas for 30 years, from 1854 until his death in 1884. His oldest son, Gerhard, became his school teacher in 1872. Another son, Hermann, succeeded him as pastor and continued the use of Wendish, alongside the then-dominant German, until his own death in 1920.

The Wends and other Germans of the Serbin area prospered after the initial difficult years. Pastor Kilian had personally joined the ‘German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States’ (now called the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) soon after arriving in Texas. The congregation formally joined this Synod in 1866, after being delayed, in part, by the Civil War. Kilian was constantly plagued by squabbles in the congregation, and some members left and established St. Peter congregation in Serbin. In 1914, St. Peter was dissolved and its members returned to St. Paul’s. As the original congregation grew in the early decades, it spread for miles around the town of Serbin, and daughter congregations were formed: Fedor, Manheim, Warda, Loebau, Greens Creek, Winchester, and Lincoln. The Greens Creek congregation was too small to survive, but the others are still alive and well-especially the mother congregation, itself, St. Paul of Serbin, which is thriving.


* Parts of this chapter have been adapted from materials I have previously published elsewhere. For more details on the Wends in Germany and in Texas, see especially George Nielsen In Search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration (Texas A&M Univ. Pr., 1989).


"Dragons" and Other Supernatural Tales of the Texas Wends by Charles Wukasch

Originally published in Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, Vol LII, Number 1, 1987.

In the area around Giddings (between Austin and Houston), Texas live the descendants of the Wendish settlers who immigrated to Texas in 1854 from what was the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and who founded the community of Serbin west of Giddings.(1) The Wendish language is rapidly becoming extinct in Texas, and today the Texas Wends represent a culture in its vanishing stages. The originally trilingual, tri-cultural community (Wendish, German, and English) will no doubt soon become a monolingual, uni-cultural community.

Traditional Wendish folklore is a rich one, with interesting tales about supernatural beings and occurrences. The purpose of this brief study is to give a sampling of some of the supernatural tales of the Texas community. My choice of informants was one of the few remaining Wendish speaking individuals in the community. Mr. Carl Miertschin, aged 86, is a retired farmer living near Winchester (a small town in the Giddings area).(2) Fluent in German and English in addition to Wendish, and with a sharp memory, Mr. Miertschin has achieved a reputation as an informant who is knowledgeable about the Wendish language and the history and folklore of the community. An affable raconteur, he seems to possess an endless supply of tales and anecdotes about the community.

The traditional Wendish motif which seems to be best represented in Mr. Miertschin’s repertoire is that of the “dragon.” I have put the word in quotes since the English term dragon is not a good translation, dragon conjuring up the picture of a large, fire-exhaling beast.(3) In Wendish folklore, the “dragon” is a supernatural creature which attaches itself to people’s homes and brings them an endless supply of various things. Although “dragons” are seemingly benevolent creatures, the tales here clearly imply that it is wrong to make use of their powers.

I have given after the tales some of the Thompson motifs.(4) This is for the reader who may wish to compare the motifs here with those from other cultures. Items in brackets are my comments or explanations. Except where the informant provides a following translation in English in the text, words in Wendish or German are given with English translation after the tales. [W] or [G] means Wendish or German. (The tales were collected in English.)

A Graveside Exorcism

“That was in the Serbin cemetery. Well, the little girl–instead of tombstones, they had these pickets around there–and that girl always stuck her hands in there and she said ‘popajn mjen’ [W] ‘catch me, catch me.’ That’s when she got caught. And she hollered and she couldn’t see nothin’ and then they called the pastor [Rev. John Kilian, first pastor of the Texas Wends] over there and he prayed her loose. And when she got loose, she had the mark of a hand where she was held. She was mocking, you know, and the good Lord isn’t–he’s not mocked. Minnie’s [late wife of informant] grandmother told us that, She said she seen that. That was from the beginning when the Wends came up here.(5)”

E 235.6 Return from dead to punish disturber of grave; E 542.1 Ghostly fingers leave mark on person’s body;

E 443.2 Ghost laid by prayer; E 443.2.4 Ghost laid by priest (or minister); Q 22.0 Impiety punished

What Dragons Do and How They Arrived in Texas

“Bring all kinds of stuff , Money–if you want money, they bring you money. Just drag all kinds of stuff for you, like when you have–when you give ’em crush [feed], well, they drag crush for you, or cheese, they bring you cheese, or you want money, you give ’em money, they’ll bring you more money, That’s what I was told-I don’t know.

But it seems to me that none of these other ships that brought German people, they didn’t have nothin’–have that dragon. But the Wendish people had it.”

B 103.2 Treasure-laying animals; F 481.2 Cobolds furnish supplies to their masters

Dragon in Form of Chicken

“That was my grandfather, I think. We had a little–it was a little boy–he went in the pasture and he seen a little chick there shivering–it was the fall of the year. And so he brought it in and he set it back of the stove–they had those big stoves–cook stove–set it back there. And then her [his] father said ‘give her some crush,’ so they put some crush around there. And the next mornin’ there was a big pile of crush around there. It was that dragon brought that in there. So he told ‘you take that chicken-carry it where you got it from.’ And he carried it out.”

F 481.2.1 Cobold furnishes inexhaustible grain to grinder of handmill; F 481.0.1.4 Cobold accidentally acquired.

Dragon in Form of Heifer

“They had a maid. They had a lot of cheese–so she liked cheese–so she got herself a piece of that cheese. And she was eatin’ that cheese there–a big heifer showed up there in front of her and she seen that heifer and she threw that cheese into [at] the heifer and ran out, The heifer disappeared. That was a dragon, too. In Wendish you call that zmij, in Deutsch [German] Drache.”

F 481.0.1.4 Cobold accidentally acquired.

Dragon in Form of Light

“That was our neighbors there, Andreas Schubert’s. We’d always see light fly over there and flew in this gable–in the window- and then disappeared. And my daddy went over there and there was Andreas Schubert and his sister-in-law. They were eatin’ supper and Daddy told them what they’d seen and old man Schubert said ‘oh yey, oh yey, oh yey!’ And we didn’t see that light no more. He stopped it.

And the same light came over there from the other side from Johnny Mitschke’s, and I told him ‘where’s that light goin’ to?’ And he said ‘to Andreas Schubert’s.’ So there was a Hobratschk boy – his nephew – was there and he told him ‘that light is comin’ through here,’ and Hobratschk said ‘Well, when that light gonna come, I’ll go there and ask what it wants-what it’s lookin’ for.’ So Johnny said, ‘That light is comin’ there now.’ So he jumped up and ran in the kitchen and told his wife ‘Let’s go home!’ He chickened out.”

E 530.1 Ghost-like lights

yey is the first syllable of either W or G Jesus (spelled the same in all three languages, but with the first syllable in W and G pronounced yey)

Man Possessed by Dragon

“That was this old cow doctor. And he taken his rifle and shot hisself. He used to treat animals and stuff like that. And they say – I don’t know how true it is – they say that a person like that [possessed by dragon] – the onliest way that person can die – have to lay him on a manure pile and he’ll die. Well, I guess they can’t die. That’s why this fellow shot hisself.(6)”

Spectral Animals

“And then my daddy – they used to right over where Emil [informant’s brother] lives – there was the railroad track goin’ there. And across the track – there was my mother – that’s where she was raised. And then this horse would – he always would be shy. And Grandpa told him ‘Zapřnić sej tu staru kobwu’ [W] ‘Hitch that old mare into a buggy.’ And when he come there with the mare – with the horse – he had a single buggy and top down – and that horse started lookin’ – got frightened in the front and started backin’ up. And Daddy didn’t want her to back into that blackjack tree – it would tear up the top – so he jumped off and caught her by the bridle. And when he caught her by the bridle, she was goin’ forward and she seen that beast in the back. But my daddy didn’t see nothin.’

And when my papa was there visiting my mother, there were gates on each side of the track. And Momma would go there and open the gate for him. And when they went through that second gate, Grandpa said ‘There’s a dog on the track.’ And Momma said it come so close here, she kicked after him. She seen the dog aside of her legs and Daddy seen it on the track. That was just bad in this country.”

E 521.2. Ghost of dog

Spectral Handcars

“And Johnny Mitschke told me that – I said – ‘We heard that the handcar’ – you know, those section hands – they had these pumpcars and these section hands that drive. And I said, ‘We seen the section-hand car came down the track and we didn’t see no car right even with us. We didn’t hear no more noise – we didn’t see no car either,’ And John Mitschke told me ‘That happened to us – we got many a times – we got off the track – and we stepped off and no car didn’t come.”

E 535 Ghostlike conveyance (wagon, etc.)

The Water Troll

“I don’t know too much about that. That’s just like a human being, but he lives in water. It’s dangerous. Wódny muž – woda [W]-Wassermann [G]-muž [W] is Mann [G]. Well, they [informant’s parents] just said it’s a dangerous animal or looked like a human being, but lives in water.

F Water-spirit drags children into river

[W] wódny muž = water man, [W] woda = water, [G] Wassermann = waterman, [G] Mann = man

The Seventh Book of Moses

“Well, that used to be in the Bible, but people used to use that to make all kinds of hocus-pocus with, like Hexen [G] – or what you call Hexen. And so they taken that out of the Bible. There were sixth and seventh. They taken that out. I don’t think that they [informant’s parents] ever seen one.”

D 1266 Magic book; D 1273.l.3 Seven as magic number; G Hexen = witchcraft

The tales and beliefs presented here are merely a sample of the rich folklore of the Texas Wends. The folklore here represents two traditions: traditional Wendish folklore (e.g., “dragons”) brought to Texas by the original immigrants, and folklore which has its origins in the Texas Wendish community {e.g., spectral handcars). It is interesting to note also that some of the material here undoubtedly had at one time a didactic purpose: Children should not go swimming alone in rivers and ponds, children should be quiet and respectful in cemeteries, etc.


1.. There are several histories of the Texas Wendish community, e,g., Anne Blasig, The Wends of Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1954).

The terms Wend and Wendish require some explanation. The preferred scholarly terms are Sorb and Sorbian (not to be confused with the Serbs of Yugoslavia). The Texas Sorbs refer to themselves as Wends. Sorbian (Wendish) is a West Slavic language and therefore closely related to Czech and Polish. There are actually two Sorbian languages: Upper and Lower. The Texas Wends are Upper Sorbs.

2. The material here was collected on August 10, 1986, at the informant’s home.

3. An obvious explanation of the mistranslation stems from the fact that the German word is Drache. When the Wends learned English, they chose a word which was both phonetically somewhat similar and which was related semantically.

4. Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955-58), I-VI. The Thompson motifs do not necessarily match the motifs here exactly, but are for cross-reference purposes.

Collections of traditional Serbian (Wendish) folklore do not exist in English, handicapping the folklorist who knows neither Sorbian nor German. Examples are Friedrich Sieber, Wendische Sagen (Jena: Eugen Diederichs, 1925), Erich Krawc, Serbske Powěsće (Bautzen: Ludowe Nakadnistwo Domowina, 1959), and Jerzy Slizinski, Sorbische Volkserzählungen (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964). Although all three books give a good selection of traditional Sorbian folktales, they must be used by folklorists with caution. Sieber and Krawc are literary reworkings of traditional material (the latter intended for children). Although Slizinski gives informant information (e.g., informant’s name, when the text was collected), it, too, must be used with caution. The late Dr. Paul Nedo, the leading authority on Sorbian folklore, informed me once that Slizinski’s informants gave him material which they had learned from printed sources.

5. I once heard an urban legend with similarities to the tale here: As part of an initiation ritual; a sorority pledge must go to a cemetery at night and stick a fork into a grave. This is so the sorority can check the following day to see if the pledge really went there. They go the next morning to check and find the pledge dead of a heart-attack. She had accidentally stuck the fork through her clothing and pinned herself to the grave. When she got up to go, the fork held her fast and she died of fright, thinking it was the hand of a corpse holding her.

6. The “manure pile” motif is a strange one and I do not know if there is a similar one in the Thompson index. The tale here is confusing since the informant states that a person possessed by a “dragon” can die only by being placed on a manure pile. Yet the character in the tale died by self-inflicted gunshot.


The Seventh Book of Moses by Charles Wukasch

Originally published in Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, Vol LV, Number 2, 1991.

An interesting motif in Sorbian (Wendish) and German folklore is that of the Seventh Book of Moses, This is supposedly a magic book which Moses used for purposes of witchcraft. Interestingly, there was also the Sixth Book of Moses, but the motif is termed the Seventh Book. This is undoubtedly due to the magical properties of the number seven. (In other words, the motif should actually be called the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, but folk tradition enshrined the latter number.)

There seem to be few folktales involving the Seventh Book of Moses motif. The following example is from Nielsen (124):

“A story in Texas tells of a master blacksmith in Europe who went to church and left the apprentices alone in the shop. In their idleness they explored the building, found a book, and began to read. As they read, a crow flew in through the open window and alighted on a beam. The reading continued and more crows flew in. At that point the blacksmith returned, saw the birds, too the book, and read it backwards. The crows left in the order in which they had come.”

I had always acted under the assumption that the book did not exist. As Dr. Sylvia Grider expressed it during a conversation on the Texas Wends back in the summer of 1977, “the person talking about the book never actually possesses a copy. It’s always his or her neighbor down the road or someone in the next county.”

Imagine my surprise when I submitted an abstract to the Folklore Section of the South Central Modern Language Association for their 1991 meeting. In my abstract I said “the book did not exist, of course, anymore than elves, etc. exist.” Dr. Carl Lindahl, the chair of the section, wrote back:

I have a copy in my office, given me by a German-American in southern Indiana whose community entertained widespread belief concerning the Seventh Book. I’ve been told (though I have not confirmed) that Sears Roebuck used to market the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses in some of their mail-order catalogues. To convince you that I’m not pulling your leg, I’ve enclosed a xerox copy of the title page of my edition.”

I wonder if this motif is limited to German and Wendish folklore, or is it found in the folklore of other cultures? Does the belief exist, for example, among the rural whites of Tennessee? Additional research would be illuminating.


1. The term Sorbian should not be confused with Serbian. The Sorbs (or Wends as the immigrants to Texas were called) live in southeastern Germany, as opposed to the Serbs of Yugoslavia.

2. For a discussion of the motif, see the entry “Buch Moses” in Beitl and Beitl 114.

3. For another example, see Slizinski 59-60.

Works Cited

Beitl, Richard, and Klaus Beitl. Wörterbuch der Deutschen Volkskunde. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner, 1974.

Lindahl, Carl. Letter to the author. 8 March 1991.

Nielsen, George R. In Search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration. College Station: Texas A & M UP, 1989.

Slizinski, Jerzy. Sorbische Volkserzählungen. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964.


A Rock Against Alien Waves by Charles Wukasch

Copies of A Rock Against Alien Waves can be purchased at the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Museum, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 through its Executive Director, This preface was written by Dr David Zersen.


In teaching students about heritage, I have often made the comment that there is no such thing as a generic American. Everyone in this country – for that matter, everyone on this continent – came here from somewhere else. If the people of the Americas have any sense of curiosity at all, they will want to know something about these origins. Here in Texas, there are still to be found representatives of those first peoples whose arrival reaches back thousands of years. Large numbers of Mexican families here can also trace their roots back to a time when this territory belonged to Mexico. Countless explorers, pioneers and settlers came from Europe and Africa; in more recent years, many thousands came from India and Southeast Asia. The schools and cities of this State now comprise a rich diversity formed from these immigrants. To say that all are now Americans is to prize the unity sought for this people. To ignore the cultural, ethnic and linguistic heritage which underlies their place in this nation, however, is to court ignorance as well as psychological confusion. The differences which shape personal perspectives and world views here range on a spectrum from insignificant to profound. Studies which explore these differences make important contributions to the nation’s common life. This study of the Wends is such a contribution.

The Wends who arrived in Galveston in 1854 were unique in a number of ways. They came largely for economic reasons, although they had both religious and cultural views they hoped to encourage and preserve. As a Slavic minority group in the German country they left, they chose Texas because of the opportunity it offered. They came not by tens and twenties, but almost six hundred strong, as a veritable colony, seeking to kindle smoldering embers of ethnic consciousness into a radiant flame in the new world. The fact that Texas functioned somewhat trilingually (English, Spanish and German) in the 1850s made their hopes relatively naïve and, ultimately, led to their assimilation into the dominant German culture in Central Texas. However, this should not detract from the significant contributions that they made to the developing Texas economy, not to mention the moral and cultural heritage of Central Texas. The legacy lives on both in the traditions of many smaller communities as well as in the names of thousands of Texans whose Slavic spellings belie their Wendish origins.

A number of books in English have told the story of this Wendish experiment on Texas soil and two of the best by George Nielsen are still in print. However, there is no comprehensive and current work in English which provides the European history of the Wends, thus setting the stage for their presence in America. The one European work of significance by British Slavist, Gerald Stone, The Smallest Slavonic Nation, is out of print. For this reason, Charles Wukasch’s admirable review of the noble history of these little-known people is a significant contribution to scholarship as well as to the curious student or citizen who wants to know more about personal heritage or the valuable contributions to the United States of America from a proud and ancient people.

Concordia University Press is pleased to make this contribution available not only because of its value for personal and scholarly research, but because Concordia University at Austin is the only university in the world founded primarily by people of Wendish descent. In 1926, almost 75 years after the arrival of the Wends, thirteen Lutheran congregations in Texas which themselves had been founded by people largely of Wendish ancestry, established Concordia in the capital city. Today the University is proud to say to students and a much larger constituency of friends and donors that generic Americans did not found this institution, but rather a unique group of immigrants who took enormous risks to come here (almost eighty of their number died en route) and left legacies which continue to influence our contemporary world.

David Zersen, President Emeritus

Concordia University at Austin

Austin, Texas

(In the Sesquicentennial of the Wendish Immigration, 1854-2004)