The Gotier Trace by James Woodrick

This document was created by James Woodrick. It was transmitted to Weldon Mersiovsky on May 8, 2015, with permission to post on the Wendish Research Exchange website. The author would appreciate attribution for any use of the information in this document. 

As you read this article, keep in mind that its importance to the Texas Wends is that it may have been the path that our ancestors traveled on or along as they made their way to what was called “The Camp” and then to what is now known as Serbin, Texas.

The Gotier Trace

The original Gotier Trace was an early road laid out by Stephen F. Austin’s colonists to connect the upper and lower portions of his new colony in Texas. Many historians today remain confused about the route of this early road, and significant differences in facts appear in various places in the historical record. This article will present historical evidence that James Gotier, a settler in the Bastrop region, laid out two routes, one in about 1832 and another in about 1835, both of which were called the Gotier Trace. The original 1832 route connected Bastrop to San Felipe and passed through unsettled wilderness; it saw significant use for only a short few years. This road left Bastrop to Gotier’s cabin east of town, then continued generally east, passing through the current town of Industry, whose founder Friedrich Ernst arrived with his family in 1831. From Industry it followed an existing road to San Felipe known as “Dotry’s Road,” named after Bryant Dottrey [Daughtry] who settled on the southern side of the West Fork of Mill Creek.

San Felipe was burned in 1836, eliminating this location as an important road destination. John Henry Moore’s fort built at the La Bahia Road crossing of the Colorado River grew into the town of La Grange by the mid-1830s, creating a need to reroute east-west travelers through this settlement. By 1847 a new route connecting Bastrop with Houston passed through the settled area closer to the Colorado River, then downriver to La Grange, New Ulm, Columbus and on past San Felipe to Houston. This new route closer to the river gradually displaced the western portion of the original 1831 Gotier trace, and is today Hwy 71 from Bastrop to the Smithville airport, then Hwy 153 to Winchester.

The second “Goacher Trace” was laid out by James Gotier in about 1835 from Bastrop to his camp and newer home on Rabb’s Creek in modern Lee County south of Giddings. This road is shown on an 1847 map of Bastrop County as ending at Gotier’s home at that time. Later this road was extended to connect with the La Bahia road near Burton, then to Washington-on-the-Brazos and became the best known route of the “Goacher Trace.” Washington (on-the-Brazos) grew rapidly after 1836 until the advent of railroads in 1858. In 1839 the official postal route went from San Felipe to Center Hill, Washington, Independence, LaGrange and to Austin. It was a longer route running through the more populated areas, bypassing the eastern portion of the original 1831 Gotier trace.

The first historical record of this road is its governmental authorization. The November 7, 1831 minutes of the ayuntamiento of San Felipe contains the following entry: “A petition from the inhabitants of the precinct of Bastrop living upon the Colorado praying for a division of the precinct and for permission to open a road from the crossing of the San Antonio road to this town, the body decided that it was impracticable to accede to the prayer for a division of the precinct but granted the privilege of opening the road.” At that time the upper part of Austin’s Colony was part of the precinct of San Felipe and thus governed by that ayuntamiento, the Mexican unit of local government roughly corresponding to today’s city council and county commissioners court combined. This is the genesis of the road that would be blazed through the wilderness to connect Bastrop and San Felipe, known today as the Gotier Trace. It significantly shortened the previous route which passed through the scattered settlements along the Colorado River.

No records of the road being completed are known to exist. Many accounts by later historians speculate that it was laid out by James Gotier in late 1831 or 1832. The “road” or trace probably consisted of little more than chop marks on trees and perhaps mounds in prairies to mark the way. With time, wagon ruts made during wet weather helped a traveler find his way. The route would have been situated to cross streams at advantageous locations and minimize travel through dense timber as much as possible. Gotier was illiterate, and only his mark “X” appears in one document. His name is spelled several different ways in the Bastrop County deed and other records – Gotier, Goacher, Goucher, Gotcher, Gocher. His descendants prefer the spelling Gotier.

James Gotier came from Alabama to Texas in 1829, settling in the Bastrop area. He had a cabin due east of Bastrop in the Lost Pine forest on Spaulding and Pin Oak Creeks in the Bastrop/Lee/Fayette County corner. He was apparently selected to lay out the road to San Felipe, although no records of this are known to exist. After completing this work, he went back to Alabama and returned with his family in January of 1834. Included in his family was his wife Mary Nancy, sons Samuel, Nathaniel, James Jr., and William Riley, and one daughter Jane with her husband Lemuel Crawford.

The route of this first road between Bastrop and San Felipe is shown on the Austin/Perry “Connected Map of Austin’s Colony,” prepared between 1833 and 1837 by surveyor Gail Borden from land records on file before 1838. Much of the road went through un-surveyed wilderness; Borden estimated the route in these parts of the map. A segment of this map showing the Bastrop – San Felipe road follows. This is the route taken by Mexican General Antonio Gaona in April, 1836 as he traveled from Bastrop to rejoin the main Mexican army at San Felipe. Gaona had several overloaded wagons containing supplies and goods looted by his army from the evacuated Texian settlers around Bastrop. He also traveled with two cannons on wheeled carriages which delayed his travel as the roads at that time were designed for a single traveler on horseback and not always widened through trees for large wagons. The only two settlements between Bastrop and San Felipe along the Gotier Trace at this time were Industry and Cat Spring in modern Austin County, and he looted and destroyed most of the property as he passed through.

Other maps of Texas from the 1830’s also show this road, as in the following segments of the 1839 Coulton map (TSL 0906) and the 1847 Coulton (TSL 0908). Note that the 1839 map shows a new road leading from La Grange to San Felipe which would later replace the eastern section of the original Gotier trace. The 1847 map shows a new road extending from La Grange along the Colorado river to Bastrop. This road, which passed through La Grange and by the houses of settlers along the river quickly became the preferred route for travelers. Also note that in the 1847 map the town of Industry is incorrectly located on the East Fork of Mill Creek.

By 1849, a detailed map of Texas (DeCordova, TSL 7826) shows the Bastrop to San Felipe route passing through La Grange, replacing the middle portion of the original Gotier trace.

When the Gotier family returned in 1834, they apparently settled at the place that Gotier had built his original cabin in Texas, on Spaulding and Pin Oak Creeks in the Bastrop/Lee/Fayette County corner. This location has been later identified as the homestead of Charles Spaulding, who married Gotier’s daughter Jane around 1840. Her first husband Lemuel Crawford had been killed at the Alamo in 1836. Presumably Spaulding obtained this land from his wife, it being the original Gotier residence. Gotier’s 1831 road ran nearly due east from Bastrop, passed by his cabin on a nearly direct line to San Felipe, then passed north of La Grange, near Warrenton and Willow Springs, then generally followed today’s Highway 159 into Industry. Once it entered Austin County it followed an existing road referred to as “Dotry’s Road” from Friedrick Ernst’s new home in Industry to San Felipe along the southern margins of the West Fork of Mill Creek.

The deed for 2/3 of a league of land near Cat Spring conveyed by Louis Von Roeder to Charles Amsler dated October 25, 1837, mentions the land being located on the road known as Daughtrey Road leading from the town of Austin to the residence of Bryant Daughtrey. It passed near the original site of Cat Spring, then along the edge of the prairie and woodlands south of Mill Creek to San Felipe. Bryant Daughtry was an early settler who was granted land on the west bank of Mill Creek in 1831, then bought additional nearby acreage in 1837 from Cat Spring founders Von Roeder and Amsler. He lived in the Star Hill area between New Bremen and Industry.

A survey for the Felix Wright league in Austin County (GLO Field Notes Book 2 p. 213) specifies the points at which “Dotry’s Road” crossed the boundaries of Wright’s grant.

A survey for the Samuel Douglas League in Austin County (GLO Field Notes Book 2 p. 214) shows Dotrey’s Road. Later records of the Austin County Commissioner’s Court call this road the “the San Felipe – Bastrop Road,” or “the Barstrop Road.” It was never called the Gotier Trace in Austin County.

The Gotier’s also owned land on Rabbs Creek in southern Lee County in which he had a “camp” and reportedly gathered lead from nearby outcroppings. At some time before 1837 James apparently laid out a road connecting this camp with Bastrop. Some historians have suggested this was his primary residence after retuning in 1834. It is shown on an 1847 Bastrop County map (#3275) in the files of the Texas General Land Office labeled the Goacher Trail and ended at his camp on Rabbs Creek.

The tract where they settled on Rabb’s Creek was patented to James’ son Nathaniel Gotier’s heirs as his 1/3 league granted to him as a single man. His grant is shown on modern Lee County survey maps as being about three miles south of the city of Giddings.

Samuel Gocher, son of James who came to Texas in 1834, was entitled to a grant of one-third of a league of land. He died in 1837 (see below) but his heirs remained entitled to his grant and selected their land in March of 1838 on the east bank of the Colorado River in modern Travis County. Most of the original city of Austin, selected and laid out as the new capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839, sits on the Samuel Gocher grant.

The Gotier family was attacked by Indians in 1837; James, his wife Nancy and two sons were killed, but two sons and their daughter Jane Crawford with her daughter were taken captive and held by the Indians for nearly two years. Jane and the children were traded to the owner of Coffee’s trading post on the Red River. Coffee recruited Charles Spaulding to escort Jane and her children back to Texas, and they married shortly thereafter. A day or so before the Gotiers were killed the same band of Indians had murdered and scalped brothers John G. and Walter Robison in Colorado County between their home on Cummins Creek and Industry. The site of the massacre of the Gotier family was apparently at the camp on Rabbs Creek since James Gotier was buried there.

At some point the second Gotier Trail leading to his camp on Rabb’s Creek was extended to intersect the La Bahia Road, one of the main early roads of Texas. Travelers between Bastrop and Washington (on-the Brazos) began to use this road, which in 1840 was a barely visible trace through unsettled woods frequented by hostile Indians. (See Harris’ account in the Appendix.) The 1858 map of Texas by Pressler (TSL 1201) shows both the original Gotier Trace and the second Goacher Trail. By this time the original Gotier trace through Industry had been replaced by a newer, more direct road that led through the newly created towns of New Ulm and Fayetteville.

 The following map shows the approximate routes of the two roads known as the Gotier Trace. The original, ca. 1831, is in green and the second, ca. 1835, is in light blue.

Appendix – Historical records related to the Gotier Trace

Kenneth Kesselus in his “History of Bastrop County, Texas Before Statehood,” (Austin, Jenkins, 1986, pp. 75-81) describes the debate over the route of the Gotier Trace, and suggests that in fact there were two such roads by the same name. He cites the work of Walter Freytag of Fayette County who found land records of this road into Fayette County in the direction of San Felipe. Freytag and the Lee County Historical Society favor a Bastrop to San Felipe route. Albert Busha of Lee County, Clyde Reynolds of Bastrop County and the Bastrop County Historical Society favor the route from Bastrop to Washington along the route of “the old Serbin road.”

This author thinks that both are correct. There were two different routes named the Gotier Trace.

The two articles below are taken directly from the Texas Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas Online:”

GOTIER’S TRACE. Gotier’s Trace, also known as Goacher’s Trace, was a pioneer trail built by James Gotier in 1831 or 1832 under the authority of the ayuntamiento of San Felipe. The road, which connected San Felipe and Bastrop, probably followed a curved route to take advantage of an easier crossing of Cummins Creek. As settlement progressed, the course of the trace may have been moved slightly to the south to follow a more direct route. A branch of the trace may have connected Bastrop with Washington-on-the-Brazos.

GOTIER, JAMES (?-1837). James Gotier (Goacher, Goucher, Gotcher), a native of Alabama, settled on Rabbs Creek in southern Lee County, Texas. In 1831 or 1832, under the authority of the ayuntamiento of San Felipe, he built a trail, later called Gotier’s Trace, from Bastrop to San Felipe. In 1835 he moved his family to Bastrop County, where he planted cotton and raised cattle. He is said to have built the first house in the county. The Gotier family was attacked by Indians in 1837. Gotier, his wife, son-in-law, and two sons were killed, but his daughter and her two children were taken captive and later released.

There are three state historical markers in the Texas Department of Transportation’s system marking the Gotier Trace:

1. Marker Title: The Gotier Trace. Marker Location: Entrance to Bastrop State Park, Loop 150 & SH 21 Marker Text: Originated in 1820s. Crossed the present counties of Austin, Washington, Fayette, Lee, Bastrop; joined San Felipe, capital of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, with Bastrop. Marked by James Gotier, a settler who (with several in his family) died in an Indian massacre near this trace in 1837. Like most early Texas roads, this was only a marked route which travelers could follow– dusty in droughts, boggy in rains. From such traces, wagon roads and cattle trails, Texas has developed over 67,000 miles of fine paved highways– a system recognized as nation’s finest. (1967)

2.Marker Title: Gotcher Trace. Marker Location: from La Grange take FM 245 NW about 12.5 miles then go NW FM 1291 about 3 miles. Marker Text: Opened about 1828 by James Gotcher from Alabama, a settler on Rabb’s Creek in present Lee County, as route from San Felipe, in Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, to Bastrop in second or “little” colony. A short, exposed route to the upper settlements, this trace shared with nearby Wilbarger Trace the title of “via Dolorosa” of early Texas, as both were marked by tragedies. Gotcher moved to this area, and in 1836 six people of his family were killed and several captured during an Indian attack. At this point the trace is crossed by a 20th century road. (1973). [Note: Ken Kessulus disagrees with this location, saying that this original cabin is on Spaulding and Pin Oak Creeks in Bastrop County, on the first road from Bastrop to San Felipe – the original Gotier Trace]

3.Marker Title: Early Roads to San Felipe Marker Location: Stephen F. Austin State Park, Park Road 38 (off FM 1458). Marker Text: During the mid-1820s, when Stephen F. Austin was founding this town, the only roads in the area were wagon ruts of beaten trails marked by notched trees. Within a decade, however, the village of San Felipe, one of the first Anglo settlements in Texas, had become a hub from which 8 or more roads projected. Many of these were small, intra-colony routes, but the main trails extended to major towns or joined “highways,” such as the San Antonio Road (El Camino Real). A main route which passed through San Felipe was the Atascosito Road, connecting Goliad with the United States. It took its name from Atascoso (Spanish for “boggy”) Spring near Liberty, which once was its main terminus. The Gotier Trace, another travel artery, was laid out about 1830 by pioneer James Gotier. It joined the northern and southern parts of Austin’s colony and was used for decades. The San Felipe Road proper, which ran to Harrisburg, transported goods inland from the Gulf Coast. Even the main thoroughfares, however, were dusty trails in the summer and impassable quagmires in the winter, often flooded by knee-deep water. Not until well into the 20th century did Texas begin to develop her present, outstanding highway system. (1969)

The following article is taken from Rootsweb.org: The James Gotcher Family: A Pioneer Family in Texas.

“James Gotcher came to Texas from Alabama in 1829 and by agreement with Stephen F. Austin, under the authority of the ayuntamiento of San Felipe, founded and marked a road or “trace” from San Felipe to the “colony on the Colorado,” also known as Bastrop. James led several wagons of settlers along this route and it was later known as the “Gotier Trace,” or “Gotcher Road.” Many original surveyors’ description of property in the counties the trace traveled through contains reference to the Gotier/Gotcher Trace. Once the road had been completed, James Gotcher returned then to his family in Alabama. In January of 1834, the James Gotcher family immigrated to Texas. The Stephen F. Austin Papers contain an entry of their immigration on this date. The James Gotcher family consisted of his sons Samuel, Nathaniel, James Jr., and William Riley. Mrs. Gotcher’s name was Mary Nancy. Also with the family, their one daughter Jane, and her husband, Lemuel Crawford. 

“The Gotcher and Crawford families settled and built homes near the Gotier Trace on Rabb’s Creek in Lee County. They were the first white settlers in that county. As you can imagine, James Gotcher was a very industrious and enterprising man. For farming purposes, he built a second home in the old Post Oak Community, located a few miles from his first home on Rabb’s Creek. Several historical accounts indicate that James either mined lead along Rabb’s Creek or was dealing in imported lead. Such an occurrence would support his need for two places to live. His home by the Gotier Trace on Rabb’s Creek would also afford more security if required. 

“In the winter of 1836, General Santa Anna was approaching San Antonio with his Mexican Army. David Crockett was at this time in the Alamo at San Antonio and had previously sent for the “Tennessee Volunteers” to come to the Alamo to join the new Republic of Texas Army. The Tennessee Volunteers with their Captain, William B Harrison, traveled a part of their way down the Gotier Trace and stayed with the Gotcher Family on their way to the Alamo. Gotcher supplied Captain Harrison with a large quantity of food and provisions to take to the defenders of the Alamo. Lemuel Crawford, husband of Gotcher’s daughter Jane, volunteered to go with Captain Harrison and his men and was subsequently killed in action at the fall of the Alamo. This left Jane a young widow with an infant child, a daughter named Margaret Elizabeth Crawford. In the month of March in 1837, a band of Comanche Indians approached the Gotcher homestead intending to attack the family. The family home was located on a hill about 400 yards east of Rabbs Creek and 100 yards north of the Gotier Trace. James and his two oldest sons, Samuel and Nathaniel, were cutting wood nearby. Mrs. Gotcher and James Jr. were in the cabin, while Jane, her daughter Margaret, and the youngest Gotcher son, William Riley, were bringing water from the creek. Mrs. Gotcher shot and killed five of the attackers before she died. She very bravely defended her home and her loved ones as best she could. Before she fell dead, many arrows pierced her body. Gotcher and his sons, hearing the shots, quickly ran to defend their family, however, they were all quickly killed. Jane, knowing immediately what was taking place, attempted to escape with her daughter and William Riley. However, they were captured and along with James Jr. 

“They were forced to watch the Indians scalp their mother, who was of German descent and known for her long beautiful golden hair – hair which they placed on a pole for their ceremonial “victory dance.” The survivors were forced to participate in the Indian ceremonial dance around their mother’s scalp. They then took their captives away, down the Gotier Trace. 

“Traveling along the Gotier Trace several days later, General Edward Burleson found the massacred family and buried them near their home by the Gotier Trace. A Texas State Historical Marker has been placed on the burial site. Colonel Burleson buried the Indians that Mrs. Gotcher killed near a large oak tree between the home site and the family graves. Jane, her daughter, Margaret, and two brothers, James Jr. and William Riley were forced to walk behind the Indians who were on horses. They were treated with extreme cruelty and were made to work for their captors who tied them each night. Upon reaching the Arbuckle Mountains in Oklahoma, the remaining Gotcher family members were traded to a Choctaw Indian village chief. The Choctaw people were not cruel to them, but did require them to perform hard work.

 “Near the city of Sherman, Texas was an Indian trading post operated by Colonel Coffee. In January of 1838 through the efforts of Colonel Coffee and Mr. Charles Spaulding, Jane, her daughter and two brothers were bought from the Choctaws. Charles Spaulding later married Jane and brought them all back to their old home in Post Oak Community.

 “James Gotcher Jr. enlisted in the Texas Rangers when he was of age, never married, and died of natural causes in 1846.

“William Riley Gotcher married Rhoda Margaret Hancock and built a home in Sugar Loaf Mountain Community, Coryell County.

“Jane (Gotcher) (Crawford) Spaulding died March 27, 1851. Her daughter Margaret Elizabeth (Crawford) Timoney died one year later, in 1852, with one daughter, Mary Jane Timoney, left to carry the Crawford family line.” 

A travel account of around 1840 by Lewis Harris appears to describe a little-known shortcut route from Washington to Bastrop that went along the second Gotier Trace through Lee County: “I stopped at a home in Washington on the Brazos. my proper route [Houston to Austin] was to La Grange on the Colorado River and then up the river among the settlements to Bastrop, but during the evening the landlord said that about 80 miles could be saved by taking the Goshen [Gotier] trace, which left his place and went straight through the country to a point on the San Antonio and Nacogdoches road near Bastrop, but that there was no habitation in the whole distance and that the country was the favorite haunt of hostile Indians. There were a couple of Mississippians there, who were on their way to Austin, and I persuaded them that it would be perfectly safe for the 3 of us to take this route, so the next morning we were put on the trail as soon as we could see, it was mid-winter – after we had been well provided with lunch. All went well for about 20 miles. We found a trail that far and then it gave out. Our route being through scattered timber we followed by the blazed trees for 15 to 20 miles farther, when they could no longer be found. I knew the course and told my companions that if they would trust me I would take then through all right, and struck out at a good round trot taking the sun for my guide. I had already cautioned them to observe the strictest silence and we made so little noise that we would sometimes come up to deer within 20 yards without disturbing them; but one of the men declared that I was bearing too far away from the river and he would strike out for himself. I divided the provisions and pushed on with my one companion, but I noticed the other man did not go off far from us and finally fell in behind. When the sun went down I took a star and traveled by it and kept my course and directed my companions to keep a sharp lookout for any appearance of a road crossing our path; this road having not been used for years I knew would be pretty hard to find in the night and everything depended on our finding it. About 9 o’clock we came to it and although covered pretty much with dried grass I made sure it was what we were looking for and took it and pushed on towards the river, feeling very confident that it would take us into Bastrop, and I was not disappointed. We got in there about 11 o‘clock. After putting up our horses we went into the Hotel and while getting something warm several men came up an as usual asked where we were from, and what news, etc. I remarked that we came from Houston, told some news about what had occurred in Washington the evening before; they looked at me and said “you can’t mean yesterday,” I said “yes.” They asked, “how could you come 160 miles since yesterday evening?” and when told we had come by the Goshen [Gotier] trace, they would hardly believe it. “Why,” they said, “the place is full of Indians, and yesterday they killed a family only about 20 miles below here on this side of the river, and you could not come through there once in 50 times and not meet Indians.”

It was a pretty hard ride of 80 miles, so next morning I concluded to change from horseback to buggy, and got one and put my horse in, and started for Austin. …” (Source: “Journal of Lewis Birdsall Harris, 1836 – 1842,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 25, Pp. 193 – 195.)

John Wilbarger, in his book “Indian Depredations in Texas”, (Austin, Hutchings, 1889) relates the story of the Gotier family and that after the Indian raid Jane and her children were released at Coffee’s Trading post on the Red River, “Mr. Coffee furnished them an escort under the control of a Mr. Spaulding, who conducted them to safety in Texas. On the journey Mr. Spaulding became much attached to the lady and eventually married her. … Mr. Spaulding also has been dead for many years. Her children, born to her after her marriage to Mr. Spaulding, are still living in Bastrop county on or near the old Goacher Trace.” A lengthy account of James “Goacher” is on pp. 15 – 18 in Wilbarger’s book.

The following excerpts from “Recollections of Early Texas – The Memoirs of John Holland Jenkins,” edited by John Holmes Jenkins III (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1958) relate traveler’s accounts of travel on both routes of the Gotier Trace. The 1836 and 1842 accounts describe travel along the original 1831 Gotier Trace, and the 1850 account appears to have been along the second, upper Goacher Trail.

1836:

“Captain William Hill organized a company of between fifty and sixty men at Asa Mitchell’s in July, 1836. We came along the Gotier Trace to Bastrop ….” (p. 193). Asa Mitchell moved to Washington-on-the Brazos from Brazoria sometime before July, 1835, where he helped organize the Washington Municipality and was elected a regidor. His route was probably down the La Bahia road to its intersection with the 1831 Gotier trace, then west on that road to Bastrop. The later road past Gotier’s camp near Giddings did not exist in 1836.

1842:

“… news came to us of another Mexican invasion [in 1842]. A fresh panic at once seized the families, and we had the Second Runaway Scrape. All of the families [from the Bastrop area] had gone in this escapade, … and they had crossed the river and camped at the Cunningham place, about fifteen miles below Bastrop [Jonathon C. Cunningham headright league in Fayette County east of Smithville]. At sunrise the next morning eighteen or twenty Comanches stampeded the hoses, running them off, and one of our men, Alex Harris, barely escaped being taken by them. Realizing the danger of the route, they decided not to go on by the Gotier Trace as first intended, but to come back and go down the river to La Grange.” (p. 47) They were on the 1831 Gotier Trace which, at Cunningham’s, had already left the Colorado River and was heading due west. They retraced their path back to the Colorado River, then went down that river to La Grange.

“[John Day] Morgan, with two others [in 1842], struck out [from Houston] for Bastrop County. Hatless, shoeless, and almost shirtless, they trudged homeward, finding along the road kind friends who gave them a warm and cordial welcome after their long exile. At last, footsore and tired, they found themselves at Sam Alexander’s, ten miles below Rutersville, where they found work.” Morgan returned to the Texas army, got captured in the Mier Expedition, sent to Mexico as a prisoner and was finally released and sent to Houston.

Beginning on page 140: “At daylight the boat landed at Houston and Morgan set out in search of friends, several of whom he found, all moneyless and friendless like himself. Resting one day, he started afoot for Bastrop County. He was nursed tenderly as a sick child along the road, indeed nothing of interest now came except kindness, but to be treated with consideration and confidence seemed the crowning glory of his regained liberty. Once more Morgan stopped at his home with Sam Alexander, among old friends. After a short rest he decided to come still further, and resting a while at “Aunt Lookie Barton’s,” he came to Wylie Hill’s. Thence after another short rest he went to “Mother Barton’s.” (p. 130)

Wylie Hill’s residence was four miles south of Bastrop, today known as Hill’s Prairie.

 c. 1850

“Some time about then [ca 1850], Bat Manlove and John Edwards started [from Bastrop] to Cole’s Settlement in Washington County. They were riding leisurely on the Gotier Trace, when, upon turning a short bend in the road, they found themselves face to face with ten to fifteen Comanches.” (p. 33)

Rev. Johann Pallmer by George Nielsen

This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society.

Johann Pallmer’s path into the ministry was uncertain and indirect. Johann Kilian’s, on the other hand, had been a smooth one. Kilian progressed directly from the elementary grades on to secondary school (Gymnasium), and through the university. Although an orphan, Kilian inherited the small property and used it to finance his education. Pallmer lacked the funds that could have provided him with the requisite education. Kilian became the pastor of his first church at the age of twenty-six while Pallmer became a pastor at the age of thirty-eight.

When Pallmer arrived at Serbin in 1870 Kilian was sixty-one years old and a veteran of a storied ministry. Pallmer was almost forty and could claim only one year of experience as pastor. Instead, his adult years had been spent working in a number of different occupations.

Pallmer was born on April 4, 1831, at Bederwitz, near Bautzen, into the family of Michael Pallmer, a Gartennahrungsbesitzer. That term indicates that the family owned a house and enough land to feed the family, but not enough for being a farmer. Another source of income was necessary. Very little documentation is available about Johann’s early life and schooling, but the records that remain indicate that he satisfied his military obligations and was released from further service in 1851. In 1848 he also began a three-year program of learning the carpentry trade and in 1851 he was declared a journeyman carpenter.

The remainder of Pallmer’s life is remarkable in that it shows upward social mobility. He progressed from one position to another and the gardener’s son eventually became a teacher. His intellect, disposition, and dedication made it possible. The appraisals of his supervisors were always favorable. Words that often appeared in his evaluations were “dedicated,” “dependable,” “pious disposition,” “blameless life,” and “faultless.” The only inconsistency in his work documents was in his military report and his journeyman’s passport. He was released from the military due to “lack of fitness” yet his passport described him as “big and strong.”

He worked as a carpenter for a year in Bautzen and then on April 29, 1852, he obtained his Wanderbuch (journey book) and a recommendation from August Wildenhahn, pastor of Petrikirche in Bautzen. The physical characteristics in the Wanderbuch describe him as blond with blue-grey eyes. The book spells out all the rules a journeyman was required to follow, including a police stamp in his book whenever he traveled to a new locality. He was first released to Dresden and then traveled from 1852 to 1855 working in localities such as Magdeburg, Bautzen, Hamburg and finally Herrnhut. With the exception of Hamburg, where he spent much of his time, most places were short stays. (To see the translation of the journeyman’s book go to www.wendishresearch.org, click on Forum, and then Rev. Johann Pallmer or click on the underlined link. 

In February 1855 he obtained a position as overseer at the Royal Institute of Gross Hennersdorf (now incorporated into Herrnhut) and remained there for eight years until March 1, 1863. In this position he not only supervised and taught, but he utilized his carpentry skills and worked in the garden and orchard.

He was then transferred to the Institute at Braunsdorf to serve as director of the Family Group where he served for about a year. From Braunsdorf he moved to Dresden to attend Friedrichstaat Seminary for teachers from July 1, 1864, to Easter 1865. He scored well on his exams—although his scores in singing and violin were somewhat lower. He took a second exam on March 5,1867, and again received good marks. 

Beginning at Easter, 1865 he served at an orphanage at Pirna. His review on April 20, 1867 was also a positive one. His final occupation in Europe was in 1868 as a teacher in Bautzen.

In spite of his achievements, the holy ministry was beyond his reach because he did not have the necessary academic credentials. He therefore became geographically mobile, and in 1868 migrated to the United States on the steamship Holsatia. The large German-speaking population in the United States needed pastors so he enrolled in the practical seminary in St. Louis, an institution that taught the essentials of ministry. The next year, 1869, Pallmer graduated and accepted a call to serve the newly created Ebenezer congregation in Baden, now in St. Louis, Missouri.

On June 24, 1870, St. Peter’s congregation in Serbin sent a call to Pallmer even before the formal separation of the congregations had taken place. The call specifically asked him to work with Wendish. In his acceptance letter (12 Aug 1870) Pallmer cautioned the congregation not to expect too much from his Wendish skills. He had been born a Wend, but since the age of eighteen his exposure to Wendish had been limited. He felt comfortable with his colloquial skill, but he had not read a Wendish book during that time and he had never attempted to teach or preach in Wendish. With God’s help, however, he fully expected to regain his skills in due time.  

Once he accepted the call, the first issue facing Pallmer was his installation. He handled it with tact by writing a letter to Kilian (31 Aug 1870) requesting Kilian to install him into the St. Peter ministry. It was customary for a neighboring pastor to install a new pastor and, in addition, a synodical official who also authorized Kilian to perform the rite, strengthened Pallmer’s request. In the same letter Pallmer expanded on the common goals he and Kilian shared. Pallmer’s gracious letter pleased Kilian and he consented—although Kilian informed Pallmer that Kilian’s congregation would not make the church available for the installation.

Pastor Pallmer and his bride of three months arrived in Serbin in October 1870. (Pallmer’s marriage to Anna Helena Herrmann had been officiated by the C. F. W. Walther, the noted synodical leader.) Gerhard Kilian, then a student in the Seminary, reported that Palmer was viewed as “a gentle, humble, and skilled person” and that Mrs. Pallmer was a nurse and considered to be a good wife.” A new church building for St. Peter’s had not been built, so between September 20, when the new group obtained ownership of the church building built by the first St. Peter, and the time of ordination, the little church was dismantled and the material was used to build a parsonage. So the installation was performed in the new parsonage on December 11, 1870.   

Following Pallmer’s installation there was little contact between the two pastors for a time. Both congregations were busy building churches. St. Peter needed a church as quickly as possible and built a wooden building that they dedicated in April 1871. Kilian did not attend the dedication because Pallmer’s invitation had not come soon enough to enable Kilian to make arrangements with his own congregation. The morning service was conducted in German and Pallmer preached a Wendish sermon in the afternoon service. St. Paul had already started constructing the stone church, but the project had languished during the controversy. In 1871 the efforts were redoubled and the stone church, still currently in use, was completed before Christmas that year.

The competition between the two congregations may have stimulated church construction, but it had a negative effect on the relations between the two pastors. There were occasional rubs, especially over the transfer of members and at times Pallmer wrote messages to Kilian that Kilian ignored. Kilian complained that he could see the St. Peter steeple from his house and that Pallmer had a “domineering” personality. So even though both pastors held identical views on theology, they kept a respectful distance.

That distance disappeared on July 4, 1873, when Helena Pallmer died from a stroke. Her death came eleven days after the giving birth to Martin Theodore Heinrich who was born and who died on the same day—June 23, 1873. Pallmer asked Kilian to conduct the burial. Kilian did so and from then on they became intimate friends and visits between Kilian and Pallmer were open and frequent.

Shortly after the death of Mrs. Pallmer, Pastor Pallmer experienced several attacks of yellow fever. He recovered and on August 20 visited Pastor Kilian and Mrs. Kilian served him a bowl of barley and hops soup. But the next day Pallmer’s fever returned and a week later Kilian also was stricken by a fever so severe that Kilian could not leave the house. Pallmer, in the meantime remained in the care of members of his parish until he succumbed on September 1, 1873, in the morning at eleven o’clock. Kilian, still confined to his home, could not even attend the funeral conducted by Pastor Proft of Fedor. Pastor Pallmer was buried next to his wife in the Serbin cemetery.

The Rest of the Story

The child associated with Mrs. Pallmer’s death was the Pallmer’s second child. Their first child, Johann Gerhard, had been born in Serbin on October 28, 1871. On his deathbed, Pastor Pallmer asked the teacher, Ernest Leubner, to look after two-year-old Gerhard. Leubner added Gerhard to his family and took Gerhard with him to Illinois when he became employed at the orphanage in Addison. While Leubner wrote that they adopted him, Martha Jahn, Gerhard’s daughter, said he was not adopted. Evidently Gerhard went as Gerhard Leubner until he began to study at the Teachers’ Seminary, when he changed the name to Pallmer.

Weldon Mersiovsky, our tenacious and tireless Wendish researcher, set his sights on learning what became of the only Pallmer child and eventually located Richard Jahn in Chattanooga, Tennessee—Pastor Pallmer’s great-great grandson. He initially provided Mersiovsky with digital copies of the Pallmer and Leubner documents. After Mersiovsky had them all translated Jahn sent the originals to Mersiovsky and the Wendish Museum in Serbin for safekeeping.

After graduating from the Teachers’ Seminary in Addison in 1892 Gerhard became a teacher in various Lutheran schools in the Midwest. His final parish was Ebenezer, the congregation his father initially served. Gerhard and his wife, Janna Meyer had five surviving children and one of the children, Martha, wrote the memoirs and mentioned the locations where he served. She married the Rev. Richard C. Jahn, and her memoirs, as well as other Pallmer and Leubner documents, were eventually entrusted to her grandson, Richard P. Jahn, Jr.

The descendants of Johann Pallmer are aware of their Wendish heritage and several have visited the Serbin cemetery and the Wendish museum.

A PRAYER – from my desk drawer

            In my desk drawer I find a scrap of  paper on which I had scribbled out a prayer that I had composed several years ago; it reads thus:

 

Dear Jesus,

            You are the Truth!  Since Truth cannot lie, I will trust You completely, for You will never forsake or leave me.  Since Your Word cannot deceive, my salvation remains irrevocable into all eternity!  Amen.

 

            So there you have it to pray with me… I no longer have any talent for composing prayers.

 

In Christ,

 

Elmer M. Hohle

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