Regarding Rev Eldor Mickan and Other Things


Announcement: Rev. Eldor Mickan (Emeritus, Bulverde), grandfather of Rev. Paul Goeke (CrossPoint, Katy), Rev. Aaron Goeke (Messiah, Boerne) and Rev. Tab Ottmers (Immanuel, Fairview), was called home to Jesus, September 17, 2018 at the age of 101.

Visitation was held Friday, September 21, 5-8:00 pm at Mission Park Stone Oak Funeral Home, 23645 US Highway 281N, San Antonio, TX 78258. His memorial service was Saturday, September 22, 11 am, at Cross Lutheran Church, 2171 E Common, New Braunfels, 78130. A reception followed the service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 29797 US Highway 281, Bulverde, TX 78163

We remember Maria and their extended family in prayer, and celebrate the victory we all have in Jesus.

David Goeke: I knew Eldor Mickan very, very well. You see, he was my former father-in-law. In point of fact, however, I still consider him my father-in-law to this day…and always will. I owe him a GREAT debt of gratitude not only for being an exemplary Christian father-in-law, but also for having been a remarkable colleague, having served in the same congregation with him for some 14 years. I shall miss him greatly, but am rejoicing that he now stands in the presence of Jesus, his Savior. Eldor was proud of being Wendish. His grandfather, Johann Mickan, came to Texas in the 1860’s as I recall. His mother, Theresa Zoch, was descended from Johann Zoch, one of the original immigrants in 1854. Eldor was a man used by God to impact the lives of many. After graduating from Concordia Seminary, Springfield, he was called to serve as a missionary to Argentina. He learned to speak fluent Spanish. This is remarkable because he already spoke fluent German (having been raised with that language in Copperas Cove, Texas), and, naturally, he spoke fluent English. He married in Argentina to a German girl who had moved from Germany to there with her parents. After a few years, he was called to serve a Lutheran congregation in Alice, Texas. Finally, he was called to serve Mt. Olive Lutheran in San Antonio, where he served for 29 years. He then served at Trinity Lutheran in Corpus Christi. After retiring in Kingsland, Eldor and his wife, Maria, began a Bible study in their home. From that small Bible study was born Genesis Lutheran in Kingsland. Eldor could preach just as easily in Spanish and German as he could in English. He was a humble man….and a giant servant of God.

Charles Wukasch: I recall that Mrs. Koepsell, the wife of one of my teachers, and the principal of, at Trinity Lutheran School in Austin (the school burned down several decades ago and the church didn’t reinstitute it) was a Mickan.

David Goeke: Charles, you made mention of Arnold Koepsell. It may be of interest to you to know that his wife, Lorine, was a first cousin to Eldor Mickan. And like you, Mr. Koepsell was also my teacher. What is really an odd twist, however, is the fact that Mr. Koepsell was also Eldor Mickan’s elementary school teacher in Copperas Cove, Texas. So, when Eldor and I worked with each other in San Antonio, we could truthfully tell folks that we both had the same teacher in elementary school. That wouldn’t be altogether odd except for the fact that Eldor was 31 years older than I.

Speaking of Mr. Koepsell, I had the great honor of serving as one of the pallbearers at his funeral. What a blessing. And, Eldor Mickan preached his funeral sermon. I did an audio interview with Mr. Koepsell prior to his death. Just a remarkable man! His very first call was to Copperas Cove, Texas, as THE teacher and principal, grades 1-8, and the church organist….not to mention having to start the fire in the wood stove in both the school and the church in the winter. His starting salary was $400.00 a year, but when the District President learned of this, he appealed to the congregation on behalf of Mr. Koepsell and the congregation raised the salary to $700.00 per year. Oh, and lest we forget, Koepsell got some “perks.” His final call (handwritten in German), after offering the $700.00 per year reads as follows: “Wasser, nebst Feuerung und Futter für das nötige Vieh,” which being translated means “water, heat (meaning wood for the stove), and feed for the necessary cattle.

Charles Wukasch: Yes, I was at the service and remember Rev. Mickan’s sermon. I also sadly remember that I had dropped by University Lutheran Church over in the UT campus area. I mentioned to Mrs. Born (Rev. Born’s wife – she served as his administrative assistant) that someday I’d look up Mr. Koepsell and say hello. She said, “You’d better make it quick – he’s in the hospital with cancer.” That same day, or maybe the next – I can’t recall all the details, I did go over to visit him. We just had a short talk since he was in his final days. He passed away a couple of days later.

Moral of story – Never put off visiting with loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc. As Grandma Wukasch (née Hannusch) used to say, “Tomorrow never comes.”

Dave Goeke: Back to Eldor, I’ve known few men like him. I remember him telling me once, “David, you have the gift of preaching. I have to work at it.” Well, this was one time when he was clearly wrong. His messages always properly distinguished between Law and Gospel…and believe me, he so stressed the Gospel. He led many people to Jesus. He was a man whose private life and public life were the same. I spent hours and hours with him and can say that without question.

Charles Wukasch: On my maternal (non-Wendish) side, my grandmother told me about an interesting tradition some churches had to help out the pastor. It was called “pounding the preacher.” I don’t know if it was once a year, or how often, but the largely rural congregation would bring the pastor and his family a pound of something: sausage, vegetables, etc. A pound of eggs? LOL

I’m sure many people brought more than a pound.

I also remember someone telling me that in Concordia’s early days, farmers in the Austin area would donate food items, like a big sack of potatoes, a number of links of sausage, etc. to help out the school. I imagine those hungry teenage boys appreciated that! Teenage boys are always hungry. Believe it or not, I was once a teenage boy.

Dave Goeke: Ich wünsche euch alles Gute…und seid Ihr alle Gott befohlen. (I wish you all the best…and for  you to be commended to God.)

David Goeke and Theodore Schuetze

According to Dr Annett Bresan (dr. Annett Brězanec) of the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, “Theodor Schütze was a well-known personality. If I’m properly informed, he will get in summer 2018 some tablet or monument in his birthplace.

Theodor Schütze / sorbian name: Božidar Šěca

* 15. 1. 1900 Rachlau (Czorneboh) / Rachlow pod Čornobohom    

† 16. 4. 1986 Bautzen / Budyšin teacher, scientist/biologist

Son of Karl Traugott Schütze / Korla Bohuwěr Šěca; Education as teacher in teacher training college in Bautzen;  1922 teacher in Großwelka / Wulki Wjelkow, 1925-1945 teacher in Großpostwitz / Budestecy

Nekrolog – Rozhlad 36 (1986) 6, str. 190-192

This picture by Jürgen Matschie (#79-27-39) was recorded in autumn 1979 in the park of Schmochtitz.

It was a guided excursion of the “Kulturbund der DDR” to monuments in Schmochtitz. Theodor Schütze was the district monument caretaker. On his left is Herbert Flügel and to his right is Erich Lodni (city archivist). The man with the hat to his right is unknown. The three gentlemen knew each other and have the same destinies. All attended the State Seminary in Bautzen and were trained as teachers. In 1933 they entered the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – National Socialist German Workers Party or Nazi Party) as junior teachers and were no longer allowed to work as teachers after 1945. Due to their good training, they found work elsewhere. Jürgen Matschie

From Dave Goeke:

In the past, I’ve mentioned my acquaintance with Theodore Schütze, the well known Wendish scholar and “Denkmalpfleger” who lived in Grosspostwitz long before the wall came down. He was often written up in a periodical called “Bautzener Kultureschau.” He was the first person to translate some of Kilian’s Wendish into German for me. I learned of him through Gerhard Simmank, a long time correspondent who lived in Frankfort am Main. For Schütze’s services, I sent him coffee, sugar, cloth, cigars, etc., which were smuggled in to him via Simmank. At first all correspondence with him went through Simmank. After a while, however, Schütze began to write me directly. I came across one of his letters to me, along with a photocopy of his picture which he sent me. Looking back, I really feel honored to have personally corresponded with one of the great 20th century Wendish scholars. I’m attaching the translation of one of the first letters I got from him along with the photo of himself that he sent me. There’s something that gives me a sense of pride to have developed a relationship with this Wendish scholar. He was in 80’s when I came to know him.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this with you.

Following is the initial correspondence between David Goeke and Theodore Schuetze:

DDR 8603 Grosspostwitz, 1/14/1979


Mr. David I. Goeke

110 Morning Valley

San Antonio, Texas 78227


Very honored Mr. Goeke!

I recently receive a letter by way of friendly exchange from Mr. Gerhard Simmank, Frankfurt/Main, which you had written to me on October 10, 1978 which aroused my interest very much. Mr. Simmank also sent me three photos about Serbin shortly before Christmas which you had intended for me. Many thanks for all of it! I had translated a number of obituaries by Pastor Jan Kilian for you which were important to you in your genealogy explorations and, that apparently gave you great pleasure. I want to assure you that it was a pleasure to do the translations since Pastor Kilian had a good grasp of the Wendish language and was precise enough in his writing. This was educational for me, as well. You may, if needed, send me copies. Be aware, however, that it will generally take some time with me before I can get to work on it. I have many assignments here on cultural subjects and also have widespread correspondence so, there is little time to attend to other things one might like to do. As a widower I also live in rather primitive conditions and I am currently not well and pressed hard by a severe winter.

I was surprised and delighted to read of your vivid interest in your Sorbian ancestry and that you are even proud of it. Your current family name, however, does not offer a hint of it. It is sad that Texas and Upper Lusatia are so far apart and that it is difficult to come together! The home of your ancestors is a beautiful land worth loving. I stayed here after 1945, even though I had to survive much difficulty, and have no thought of leaving. Do you have any pictures and books about Upper Lusatia? It is surprising that one still knows of many customs of the Wends where you are. With us the Vogelhochzeit (wedding of the birds) is still very much in vogue, the dear children make sure of it: the Vogelhochzeit is also well presented by Sorbian artists in very lovely musical form (Sorbian Ensemble). The Easter Ride is still performed by the Sorbian Catholics and the coloring of Easter eggs is practiced by the Evangelicals and in some places they are still fetching Easter water. The ancient Spring Fire, also known as the Witches Fire, is still lit most everywhere in the evening of April 30th.

Do you still have plans for a Sorbian Home Festival at your place this year? Mr. Simmank wrote to me about it once. I look at your three photos quite frequently and also show them to many people. I would be thankful if you had some more from Serbin or San Antonio. Picture postcards would suffice. As an aside, the pastor’s name was not John but Jan Kilian as it should have been scribed on his monument. He was born in Döhlen am Czorneboh, a small village an hour away from here. I have searched for ancestors of mine in the book “In Search of a Home” which was passed on to me through the graciousness of Mr. Simmank. I did not find any by the name of Schuetz. Ancestors of my mother, Albert in Rachlau, are among the Australian Wends. Only the ancestors of my daughter-in-law, Prochno in Rackel, are identified in the list.

I did not think that my letter would be this long. I hope that you did not regret the time it took to read it. I wish for you now a good year with splendid health and lots of pleasure.


Theodor Schuetze


Herrn Theodor Schütze den 20 März, 1979

DDR 8603


Sehr geehrte Herr Schütze,

Zuerst, möchte ich Ihnen recht herzlich danken für Ihren Brief von 14.1.1979. Sie können es kaum glauben wie erfreut ich war als ich Ihren Brief bekam. Haben Sie mein allerherzlichen Dank für die Übersetzung die Sie für mich angefertigt haben. Ich bin so sehr froh darüber. Es ist für mich eine Ehre dass Sie mir die Leichenpredigt übersetzt haben, weil jetzt weiss ich das alles in Richtigkeit übersetzt ist.

Unser Plan für das 125ste Jubiläum der Sorbische Einwanderung besteht noch. Wenn alles nach unser Plan geht, werden wir eine Fest an 24 Juni, 1979, feiern. Da werden wire in grosses Picnic haben. Auch werden wir einen dreisprächigen Gottesdienst haben (Englisch, Deutsch, Sorbisch). Leider gibt es nur einen Pastor der auf sorbisch predigen kann. Mehr schade ist es dass nur noch wenige Leute fliessend sorbisch sprechen können. Wir werden auch einen Film zeigen über Serbin und der sorbischen Einwanderung. Es wird sehr nett sein und ich sehe schon der Feier mit Freuden entgegen. Noch schöner würde es sein wenn Sie auch hier sein könnten. Ich möchte Sie gerne persönlich kennen lernen.

Ich lege einige Fotos und Ansichtskarten bei. Ein Foto ist von der Innenseite der Kirche zu Serbin. Die Kirche wurde zwischen 1867-1871 erbaut. Ein Foto ist von Herrn Pastor Jan Kilian. Zwei Fotos sind von der Glocke der Sorben die sie von Deutschland mitgebracht hatten und die ihnen bis 1915 gedient hat. Auf der einen Seite der Glocke steht folgendes eingeschrieben: “ Gottes Wort und Luther’s Lehr’ , vergehet nun und nimmermehr”. Auf der anderen Seite steht: “ Gegossen von Fr. Gruhl in Kleinwelke, 1854”. Die Ansichtskarten sind etliche Landschaftsbilder in Texas und besonders auch in San Antonio, Texas, wo ich wohne.

Herr Schütze, haben Sie von dem “Lebenswecker” gehört? Der Lebenswecker war eine Volksmedizin. Er wurde hier in Texas oft bei den Sorben benutzt. Die Sorben hatten er mitgebracht aus Deutschland. Er ist ein Apparat welcher ungefähr acht Zoll lang ist. An einem Ende gibt es ungefähr dreizig kleine Nadeln. Innenseits des Griffs ist ein Sprungfeder. Mann zieht den Griff, läs es los, und die Nadeln stechen die Haut. Dann reibt mann etwas “Lebenswecker Öl” in die Wunde und dann war alles fertig. Vielleicht war dies ein Vorgänger der Akupunktur. Ich möchte auch fragen ob sie von “Das Siebente Buch Moses” gehört haben. Mann sah es an als Hexenbuch. Die Sorben in Texas waren früher sehr abergläubisch.

Ich muss für heute schliessen. Noch tausendmal Dank für Ihre Freundlichkeit.

Mit freundlichen Grüssen,

David Goeke


Mr. Theodor Schuetze, 20 March 1979

DDR 8603


Very honored Mr. Schuetze,

First of all, I wish to thank you from my heart for your letter of January 14, 1979. You can hardly imagine how delighted I was when I receive your letter. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the translation that you did for me. I’m extremely pleased about it. It is an honor for me that you translated the burial sermon as I now know that it was done correctly.

Our plans to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Sorbian emigration is still on schedule. If everything proceeds according to plan, the event will be celebrated on the 24th of June, 1979. We will feature a large picnic gathering and intend to have religious service in three languages (English, German Sorbian). Regretfully, there is only one pastor who is able to preach in Sorbian. And it is even sadder that very few people are still capable of speaking fluently in the Sorbian language. We will also be showing a film about Serbin and the emigration of the Sorbs. It will be enjoyable and I am looking forward to the festivities among friends. It would be even nicer if you could be with us. I would love to get to know you, in person.

I am enclosing a few photos and picture postcards. One photo shows the inside of the church at Serbin. The church was built between the years 1867-1871. Another photo is of Pastor Jan Kilian. Two pictures are of the bell which the Sorbs brought with them from Germany. The following inscription appears on one side of the bell: “God’s Word and Luther’s teaching, will not wane now or evermore”. On the other side it is written: “Cast by Fr. Gruhl in Kleinwelke, 1854”. The picture postcards depict some rural locations in Texas and, especially, also San Antonio, Texas, where I reside.

Mr. Schuetze, have you heard of “Lebenswecker” (that which awakens life)? The Lebenswecker was a folk medical procedure. It was frequently used by the Sorbs in Texas who had brought it with them from Germany. It is a device about 8 inches long. There are some 30 small needles on one end. A spring is located inside the handle. The tension is released as one pulls on the handle and the needles penetrate skin. Lebenswecker oil was then rubbed into the wound which concluded the operation. Might that have been the precursor of acupuncture? Might I also ask if you have heard of “The Seventh Book of Moses“? It was considered a witching book. The Sorbs were very superstitious.

I will have to close for today. Again, a thousand thanks for your friendliness.

With friendly greetings,

David Goeke


Texas Wends and World War I

On this Memorial Day weekend, it causes one to wonder how the men who were sent overseas reacted to fighting against people from the Fatherland.

I recall how that on the 75th anniversary of the Texas District, I wrote a fictional scenario of a German/Wend by the name of Moerbe who was sent to Germany and fought in a conflict at Saarbruecken. In my fictional account this young man named Moerbe wrote a letter home to his mother in Lee County.  He stated that he had had to kill a German and how terribly it bothered him. After having killed the man, he ran over to the dead German and looked at the man’s dog tags. In his letter to his mother, he said, “Mama, I looked at his dog tags….and, Mama, his name was Moerbe, just like mine.”  Though it was a fictional story that I wrote, we put some slides from the war with it and I read the narrative. It was shown at the opening worship service of the 75th anniversary (the same one that Carl Miertschin sang at).  It was actually quite effective. I wish I knew what happened to the slides and the narrative.  They were put in the District archives, but, as we know, the District archives are ….  

The 75th anniversary would have been in 1981….and Glenn O’Shoney was the president. At that time, all of the archives were housed at the District Office.  Later, as you know, a large portion of the archives were placed in the basement of Behnken Hall at Concordia…and there was the subsequent water pipe burst that destroyed much of what was there. Then, I guess the balance of the archives were put into the storage facility that the District rents….with a few things being retained at the District Office.  HOWEVER, I am fairly certain that the slide presentation would have been stored in the basement of Behnken Hall where so many of the old photos were kept….and ultimately were permanently damaged and destroyed because of the pipeline break. Along with the slides, there was the audio tape that accompanied the slides. I wrote the narrative, but, as I recall, we hired a professional reader to actually make the tape. Back in those days we didn’t yet have all of the digital stuff that we have today, so we just used the technology that was available then, which were slides and audio tapes. 
I’ll never forget having written that narrative because we were literally in a planning meeting at the District Office (probably about ten of us), and suddenly the idea of this narrative popped into my mind. Then and there, while everybody else was talking about other aspects of the celebration, I jotted down a rough draft of the narrative. When I was done, I asked to have the floor and I read the narrative.  Everyone loved it and voted to make it a part of the worship celebration (even though it was a fictional narrative). The guy who helped me gather the slides and coordinate everything was Keith Loomans. Were he still alive, he might have known what became of it.  Anyway, I’ve gone on and on here in answering a simple question. Hope this helps.


From Wendish to German to English

This document was written by David Goeke in response to a question posed by Dr Charles Wukasch in his Blog, titled “Question on German Orthography.” It is presented here because it merits its own place in Dave’s blog.

I’m jumping into this conversation in a rather unorthodox manner (what else is new), but, I wanted to just add a bit of info regarding the question that Charles posed regarding the use of German in worship here in Texas, and when it ultimately died out altogether.

In the first place, I cannot speak with complete authority on when the language was no longer used in the various congregations in Texas. I can say with some authority, that German continued go be used in worship services where those congregations were located in Lee County, specifically, well into the 1950s and in some cases into the 1960s. There was such a heavy concentration of German/Wends in that area that German still remained the major tongue spoken in the home and in worship despite political and social pressures. Gradually, because it became so necessary that folk learn to speak English (from the perspective of business, etc.), that German gradually died out. I speak especially from the perspective of one Lee County congregation in particular, namely, Ebenezer, Manheim. I vividly recall attending German worship services in Manheim well into the 1950s. Gradually, the frequency of German services changed from every Sunday to twice a month…to once a month…to a total transition to English. It made sense because fewer children were speaking German, thus there were fewer “hearers” in the congregation who could understand German, and, finally, there were fewer pastors to be found who could speak/understand German…much less preach in the language.

I was blessed in a number of ways as I grew up. Having had German speaking parents (who, by the way were married in 1936…in Manheim…in the German language…and whose wedding certificate is in German), I was blessed to have had my German speaking, Wendish grandmother from Manheim, come to live with us on a “farm” (we lived a farm life, but with precious little land) on the edge of Austin. Being of an impressionable age (maybe six or seven), I was blessed to have German spoken to me on a regular basis. My responses were largely in English, because I had to use English in virtually every area of my life (school, church, stores, etc.). But, I was spoken to in German until adolescence.

But, I was blessed, too, to have had close relatives who were pastors who preached in German. Most notably was my uncle, August Horn, who pastored the Ebenezer, Manheim, congregation on two separate occasions…and who was the second to last pastor at Manheim who regularly preached in German. He did so up until the early 1960s. Another relative who regularly preached in German was my great uncle, Rev. Dr. J. A. Birnbaum. His story is somewhat different, however. He, too, grew up in the Manheim community. As a result of a “Mission Festival” sermon by Rev. G. Fischer, he became convinced that the Lord was calling him to ministry. This was well before Concordia, Austin, had been founded. He first attended a pre-seminary program at Clifton. Ultimately, he attended Concordia Seminary, Louis. In 1916, he received his first call to serve as a missionary in South America. The fact that he was considering this call greatly distressed his mother, Bertha née Kieschnick Birnbaum. J. A. Birnbaum declined the South America call and, instead, accepted a call to serve a newly organized congregation in Vernon, Texas, called St. Paul. This small congregation was made up of some Lee County Wends, with names like Teinert and Graf.

Dr. Birnbaum would be the first full time pastor of this congregation and would remain there for the duration of his ministry, 50 years hence. Dr. Birnbaum preached and taught school the German language…until.

I have been blessed and honored in many ways in my life. Among these are two occasions when I was asked to play an integral part in the celebrations of anniversaries of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, namely the 75th and 100th anniversaries. One of these occasions is germane to this email. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary, there were yet living a number of the “old timers”…teachers and pastors, who had wonderful oral histories and tales to tell of the early days of the district. I was tasked with the pleasant opportunity of interviewing a number of these old teachers and pastors. Why? Well, in the first place, I had a proclivity for that sort of thing. Secondly, I personally knew a number of these folks through their relationships and friendships with my family. Finally, I could converse in German, and some of these folks, in their old age, would revert to German instead of English. So, armed with a portable cassette tape recorder, I was sent around the state to interview some of the wonderful folks. Among them, was my great uncle, Rev. Dr. J. A. Birnbaum. It is from that perspective that I even mention all of this. One of the questions I asked him was regarding his preaching and teaching in the German language. The following is a transcript of a portion of that conversation:

Birnbaum: We had some excitement here in, you know, in 1918….war in Germany. One morning I stayed with Mr. Teinert, he lived only about ½ mile from the church. So, when I got there [to the church/school] I noticed that the windows had been knocked out…and a “ticket” attached to the front door of the school. [It stated] if you are wise you will leave Vernon. And, it was winter and I made a fire, to warm the school. I took that ticket and went to the Sheriff. And he looked it over and he said, ‘You just stay where you are.’ So, I went back and told the children to go home, it won’t be no school today. And, the sheriff told me, “Let’s go the editor, Mr. Nickleson, and see what he will say about this.” Mr. Nickleson, the Vernon Record editor, he told me, “Well, I’m going to put something, don’t know what it will be, but something has to be done”. He says, “This won’t happen. Nobody’s going to attack you.” And the next day the paper came out and the headline said (and I lost that piece of paper…I’ve looked high and low for it and I can’t find it). After that paper was printed, I got I don’t know how many calls…high officials of Vernon, preachers, editor of the newspaper, doctors, bankers…that I should stay right where I am. Nickleson made the statement in the paper, “The act of yesterday, destroying church property and giving threats, is in the highest degree un-American” and so forth and so on. I had no trouble ever since.

Goeke: “Was this because you were German?”

Birnbaum: “Ya, sure. Because I taught German school…taught German, preached German. But, that was the beginning. We had English services from that day on.”

Goeke: “And there was no more German?”

Birnbaum: “No.”

Birnbaum’s wife, Rosa, interjects: “Well, let’s see, did it break off entirely…right away, or for a while you had….

Birnbaum: “Well, we had a meeting. That’s when the editor of the Vernon Times suggested that we should pass a resolution to cease preaching German. We did.”

Goeke: “Simply because of outside pressure?”

Birnbaum: “Uh, huuh” [Then noticeable silence]

Birnbaum’s wife, Rosa, interjects: “It was quite bad during that time. People hated the Germans.”

Goeke: “Were you married at that time”

Birnbaum: “Ya.”

Birnbaum’s wife, Rosa, interjects: “No, not at the time when this happened we probably weren’t married.”

Goeke: “Do you remember your first Texas District Convention? Can you share anything about that?”

Birnbaum: “Let me see. I believe that first convention that I attended was held in Giddings. Rev. Moerbe was pastor in Giddings. You know that. I think that was my first.”

Birnbaum’s wife, Rosa interjects: “I thought that was in Serbin. We were just married.”

Birnbaum: “It could have been Serbin. I just don’t remember.” [There is some very short discourse between Birnbaum and his wife which is in quiet tones so that not everything discussed is not altogether intelligible.]

Birnbaum: “It was either Serbin or Giddings.”

Goeke: “Anything that stands out in your mind about that conference? Any memories that come to your mind when you think of that conference?

Birnbaum: [Birnbaum starts to laugh]. “Yeah,” and laughs even harder. “I maybe shouldn’t answer this.”

Goeke: “Aw, that’s fine. You go right ahead.”

Birnbaum (still chuckling): “Everything was in German, you know. That was, that was, uhh, understood. The Lord doesn’t understand English. (Continues to chuckle). We had a Rev. Allmann, a missionary at La Mesa. He was there. He had a delegate. The delegate had forgotten his credentials. And they wanted to join the Synod. But, they had to give credentials that they have the permission of the home congregation to become members of the Texas District. Everything went alright. And Allmann [next couple of words not intelligible.]. The delegate had forgotten his credentials…left them at home. And the committee decided that they will not take them in as members since they had forgotten, had no credentials. And they asked, the President asked (I guess Behnken must have been…no…was either Kramer or Studtmann). The president, the chairman, asked the pastor, Allmann, to give a little information about this matter. He [Allmann] got up and said in German (he answered in German…and he didn’t know any German).

Goeke: [ All those present at the interview, began to laugh] “He didn’t know any German? What did he say?”

Birnbaum: “Der Delegate hat vergessen sein Credentials mitgebringt.” [ Birnbaum, his wife and myself are now bursting out with laughter.]

Birnbaum: “And everybody laughed! And Allmann didn’t know why in the world they laughed. ‘Er hat sie nicht mitgebringt.”” [Birnbaum is laughing almost uncontrollably at this point in the interview.]

(End of this portion of an almost two- hour interview)

So, in the case of Uncle August Birnbaum, German preaching and teaching ended earlier than it did in Lee County. Again, I maintain that because of the large population of German/Wends in Lee County, the resistance against Germans was not as intense as it may have been in other parts of the state and/or country.

One other thing that I find of interest where the Wendish language is concerned is that it (the Wendish language in Texas) did not find its only home in Serbin. This is, of course, common knowledge. Chronologically speaking, the first “offshoot” congregation from St. Paul, Serbin (aside from St. Peter….which is, effectively, Serbin), was “Die Evangelische Dreieinigskeit Gemeinde zu Fedor.” I think that I am correct in stating that this was the name given to the congregation. I may be wrong about that, and, if so, I’d be happy if someone would correct me…but, I’m pretty sure that I’m correct. As said, it is common knowledge this congregation was made up of a goodly number of Wends.

In a history of the Fedor congregation, Rev. Michalk, in conjunction with the assistance of Rev. Gotthilf Birkman states the following: “Mittlerweile heilt John A. Proft, warscheinlich ein Kandidat des heiligen Predigtamstes, ein Wende, mit einigen Kindern Schule vom Herbst 1870 an. Er wurde dann der erste Seelsorger deer Gemeinde. Die Gottesdienst waren deutsch, aber vielmal des Jahres heilt er noch Abendmahlsgottesdienst in der wendischen Sprache.” Now, it is also common knowledge that due to health (and other) reasons, Proft would move to the San Antonio Prairie…and that a number of congregants from Fedor followed him and there organized the Eben Ezer congregation. Michalk, in his history of Fedor makes reference to this as follows: “Mancherlei kam in den nächsten Jahren in der Gemeinde vor, was Pastor Proft bewegte im Oktober, 1875 zu resignieren. Er hatte sich ein Pfarrhaus gebaut an der Lincoln Prairie [known later as the San Antonio Prairie], 5 Milen südöstlich von Fedor. Dort gründeten einige Glieder, die von Fedor mir Pastor Proft abgingen, die Eben-Ezer Gemeinde, die später sich auflöste.” Again, all of this is common knowledge.

Allow me to interject a bit of information here. Forty plus years ago, when I became intensely interested in not only Wendish history in Texas, but, also in the history of Serbin’s daughter churches, I made it a quest to learn about the daughter church that most interested me, namely, Ebenezer, because my forefathers were founders of this congregation. Way back then, I asked if I could see the old church records. Well, no one knew exactly where they were. After seeking these with the help of the then pastor and church leaders, the records were found…bedraggled, rat-eaten, etc. Back then, Rev. Reinhardt Wuensche was the voluntary archivist of the Texas District archives. I asked the congregation for permission to take those records to the Texas District in order to make copies, one copy for the District and one copy for me…and that I would then return the originals to the congregation. Permission was granted. This, then, became the catalyst for Rev. Wuensche to seek out other congregational records from early congregations and make copies of them. But, I digress.

Of particular interest in the Ebenezer congregation is the fact that the first congregation, located on the San Antonio Prairie, would ultimately go defunct and a “new Ebenezer” would be constructed in what is now Manheim (originally known as Schulzberg…though short-lived). Finally, I am coming to the point which I have been intending to make all along. In the original records of that earliest Ebenezer congregation, one reads the following: “Unsere Gemeinde soll den Namen führen: Deutsch-wendische Eben Ezer Gemeinde in Lee County, Texas“. Now, you ask, “So what?” Insofar as I know, this congregation was the only congregation, aside from St.Paul, Serbin, to have in her title the term “Wendish“…or “Deutsch-Wendische“. I find this significant in that both the Fedor and the original Ebenezer held to their Wendish form of worship…at least for a period of time. Ebenezer San Antonio Prairie was founded on April 2, 1876, and went defunct a few years later. But her name attests to the fact that Wendish was still practiced in places other than Serbin. I maintain, too, that it was because of this that the large number of Wendish immigrants from Germany in the late 1800’s, made the area around Fedor, Manheim and Lincoln their choice of settling. That’s my take, at least. Again, this may be common knowledge to all of you…and, if so, my apologies for taking up your time.

I’ll end this lengthy tome now. Seien Sie mir bitte nicht allzu wütend für meine Ausführlichkeit. (Please don’t be all too angry with my verbosity).


From Times Past…But Not Forgottten

Just came across this newspaper clipping from the September 10, 1981, Giddings, Texas News about the 1981 Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio. It used to be a four day affair, Thursday-Sunday. And we also had a time of worship on Sunday morning prior to the festival starting in the afternoon.

Here I’m leading in worship…and one of the original “old timers”…one of the “founding five,” Emma Wuensche. I fondly  remember Emma, with whom I always joked, and who never called me by my first name, nor a title, but just “Goeke.” “Goeke, come here!” “Goeke, go sell the people our noodles!” She would often proceed to tell me a story in German and almost always ending it by saying, “Das ist wahr!” (That is true!)…except that her German accent had been “Texanized,” saying “war” instead of “var.”

It was wonderful having those little worship services before the festival opened for Sunday afternoon (right across the walkway from where our Wendish booth now is located).  I’d print out an order of worship with hymns that we would sing (right there in front of God and everybody walking by)…and I’d have a short message and we’d pray the Lord’s Prayer in German.


The Centennial Moment of 2006

At the Centennial Convention of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in 2006, David Goeke and Ron Lammert set up a mini museum of Texas Lutheran History.

As a part of the mini museum, an interview was conducted and recorded on podcast by John Goeke, David’s older brother. Click the arrow in the middle of the screen to view the interview:

In addition, David wrote 32 vignettes which were called “Centennial Moments.” These vignettes were printed and put into bulletins… and which were ultimately placed on the District website. Here’s the link:


Accounts of some of Timothy Goekes’s Ancestors

This article by Timothy Goeke first appeared in Stirpes, Texas State Genealogical Society, Volume 34, Number 1, March 1994, Frances Condra Pryor, editor, Journal/Magazine/ Newsletter, March 1994. It can be accessed digitally at the Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas. ( December 10, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas State Genealogical Society, Tyler, Texas.

What follows is a portion of that account, slightly edited by Weldon Mersiovsky, to give you an example of fine and concise genealogical writing that would be of interest to a wide range of family and social historians. According to his father, David Goeke, Timothy did use some of his research, he also did much of his own research and he absolutely wrote the paper on his own.

Following the article is Timothy’s Ahnentafel (Table of Ancestors).


Accounts of Some of Timothy Goeke’s Ancestors

My Great-grandfather, John Joseph Goeke

John Joseph Goeke was born to Friedrich Wilhelm Goeke and Theresa Siedhoff Goeke on February 10, 1879, in Frelsburg. Texas.[1] He was the first of his siblings to be born in Texas.[2] His mother died either at his birth or very shortly thereafter (the exact date of her death is not known). Little is known of his childhood or youth except that he grew up speaking German. He was a very independent sort of person and tried his hand at a variety of occupations. He was a mail carrier (rural route). He farmed, raised tobacco, sold real estate, did carpentry work, etc. Prior to his first marriage, when he carried mail near Ft Sill, Oklahoma, he had an interesting encounter. He got to see and talk with Geronimo, the famous Apache Indian chief. Geronimo had been incarcerated at Ft. Sill. John Goeke often related how that for sport, soldiers would put gold coins in the street and have Geronimo shoot arrows at them with his bow, sometimes a hundred yards away or more. Each coin he hit, he would get to keep. John Goeke said that he never saw him miss.[3]

John Goeke’s life came to a tragic end, when in 1960, he lost his life in a fire.[4]

My Great great-grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Goeke

Friedrich Wilhelm Goeke was born October 16, 1845, in Borgentreich, Germany, the son of a farmer.[5] Borgentreich was a walled city. Farmers would have their houses inside the city wall, but the farm per se would be outside the city wall. As was the custom of the day, the oldest son usually inherited the homestead when the parents died. Friedrich Goeke had an older brother and, therefore, decided to learn another trade. He chose the trade of shoemaking.[6]

In June of 1866, the German State of Prussia (in which Friedrich Goeke lived) went to war with Austria and other German states (Hesse, Saxony and Hanover). Consequently, young Prussian men were conscripted into the military service. Friedrich Goeke, being of age, was also conscripted. According to the story passed down through the generations, Friedrich Goeke did not want to serve in the Prussian military. Consequently, with the encouragement of an uncle, he boarded a ship headed to America. According to oral tradition, this was something of a “spur of the moment” decision. The irony of the story is that the war (known as the Austrian-Prussian War or Seven Days War, 27 June 1866-3 July 1866) was one of the shortest wars in German history. Whether or not the details of this story are true, the fact remains that Friedrich Goeke sailed to America aboard the ship Locadia and arrived at the port of Baltimore, Maryland, on or about December 5, 1866.[7]

From Baltimore, he made his way to St. Charles, Missouri, for whatever reason. It was here, in 1869, that he married Theresa Siedhoff, also a Prussian immigrant from the city of Lippstadt, not far from where he had grown up in Borgentreich.[8] In 1872, Friedrich Goeke applied for U.S. citizenship. (Incidentally, it was in his application document that he first used the spelling of the name Goeke. In Germany, he spelled his name Göke. This change was perfectly normal, as the Americans likely would not know how to pronounce the “ö”, but in the German language the “ö” and the “oe” are interchangeable).

While in Missouri, Friedrich and his wife had four children. They then moved to Texas where their fifth child was born. In Texas, Friedrich was an itinerant farmer. His wife died either at the birth of their fifth child or shortly thereafter. He later remarried and had one more child. In 1905 his second wife died. In his last years, Friedrich was plagued with stomach cancer. This would ultimately take his life. He died on March 30. 1923.[9]

My Great great-grandfather, Leopold Alwin Oskar Horn

Leopold Alwin Oskar Horn was born on December 28, 1853, in Mulkwitz, Germany.[10] His father, Johann Karl Heinrich Reinhold Horn, was in the employ of the Prince [Pückler] of Silesia as a gamekeeper in the Muskau Forest which is located in the eastern part of Germany near the Polish border.[11] The sword which he carried for his protection is in the possession of one of his descendants here in Texas today. Oskar Horn did not follow in the footsteps of his father where his occupation was concerned. Rather, he became a weaver. However, when the Industrial Revolution began to take hold in Germany, it yielded the handwork of the weaver virtually useless. This being the case, Oskar Horn took a job on the railroad. The area in which he lived was a coal producing area. A large rail system was built between Berlin and Goerlitz. It was on this rail system that Oskar Horn worked as a plate layer.[12]

In 1876, he married Ida Schade, who was then a resident of Weisswasser, Germany.[13] About a year later, the couple had a son, Leopold Hugo Horn (who would become my great-grandfather). Not feeling particularly fulfilled, and knowing that many people were immigrating to America, and hearing glowing reports from Wendish families who had lived in the same area of Germany, but had, since 1854, been making their way to Texas in America, Oskar Horn and his wife decided to start a new life in Texas. In 1879, Oskar Horn and his family left their homeland to begin a new life in Texas. Oral tradition has it that the ship on which they traveled struck an object in the water and caused a hole to be formed in the vessel. With the ship taking on water, Oskar was to have told his wife that he would take their son and try to save him in the event that the ship would sink. The ship did not sink, however, and they made it safely to Texas. The only part of this story that can he confirmed is that they did, indeed, make it safely to Texas.[14]

Having arrived in Texas, they settled in Lee County, where a large number of Wends (from the same area of Germany from which he had come) had settled already in 1855. Oskar applied for and received U.S. citizenship.[15] He was a successful farmer and was very active in the Lutheran Church. He and his wife had four more children, all born in Texas. He died in 1930.

My Wendish Forefathers

The Families of Mickan, Neitsch, Symank, Birnbaum, Kieschnick, Pilak & Zoch

The Wends (or Sorbs) are a Slavic people who have inhabited about 1500 square miles in the southeastern portion of Germany since, at least, the ninth century A.D. Having never had a homeland of their own, they occupied this portion of Germany (which borders Poland on the east and the Czech Republic to the south). For centuries they have maintained their own autonomous language, which has similarities to Czech and Polish, but which is, nonetheless, autonomous. In fact, there are two dialects of the language. The Wends were “converted” by force to Christianity in about the twelfth century A.D. By the time of the Reformation in Germany in the 1500’s, they were more Christian by persuasion. The Reformation had a powerful impact on them and many endorsed that branch of Christianity around which the Reformation had been formed, namely, Lutheranism. In the centuries to follow the Wends became, in fact and in large measure, staunch Lutherans.

It was their strong religious conviction that led a large number of Wends to consider immigration in the mid 1800’s. When the ruler of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III initiated a program whereby two Protestant church bodies, the Lutherans and the Calvinists, would he united into a single church body, many of the Lutheran Wends could simply not abide it. They were ready to leave. They wanted to go to a place where they could practice their religion in freedom, maintain their mother tongue and enjoy their unique culture. The answer was Texas. About three or four Wendish families had migrated to Texas in 1853. Their letters, sharing their favorable impressions, led to a migration of some 600 Wends to Texas in 1854 under the leadership of Pastor Jan Kilian.

Of the more than 600 Wends migrating to Texas in 1854, among them were the families of several of my forbearers: Mickan, Neitsch, Symank, Birnbaum, Kieschnick, Pilak and Zoch. They made their way first to Hamburg. From there they took a steamship to Hull, England. From Hull, they made their way by train to Liverpool, England. When they got to Liverpool they encountered a plague of cholera. Fourteen of the more than 600 died of cholera in Liverpool. From Liverpool, the group boarded the sailing ship Ben Nevis. In route, cholera broke out on board and the captain decided to make port at Queenstown, Ireland. Here the healthy were brought ashore on the ship Inconstant while the sick were taken aboard the ship Elsa which had been turned into a hospital ship. On September 30, 1854, my great-great-great-great grandfather, Andreas Pilak, died aboard the ship Elsa at Queenstown, Ireland. He is buried there. Some two weeks later, On October 15, 1854, his daughter and Johann Birnbaum (my great-great-great grandfather) were married aboard the ship Inconstant at Queenstown, Ireland.[16]

On October 23, 1854, the Ben Nevis again set sail for Texas. The trip again had its harrowing experiences and tragedies. A terrible storm once threatened to capsize the vessel. Deaths due to cholera and other sicknesses continued to occur. A poignant narrative written by one Johann Teinert, who was a young boy on the voyage, tells of one such death:

“One night my mother also died. The following morning as I reached the deck, I saw several men lower a corpse slowly into the deep sea. That was my mother, which I have never forgotten.”[17]

Finally, on December 15, 1854, the Ben Nevis arrived at Galveston, Texas. It was here at Galveston that my second great grandmother, Maria Neitsch, was born on June 5, 1855. With few exceptions, most of the Wendish colony made their way to what was then Bastrop County, to the area where the 1853 immigrants had settled. Ultimately, a league of land called the Delaplain League, was purchased by the colony at a cost of one dollar per acre. One of the first duties to which the colonists tended was to construct a church.

The first church was a simple dog-run style log cabin structure. The second church was a simple frame structure built in 1859. The third church, a stone church with walls nearly three feet thick was constructed in 1871 in what is now called Serbin, Texas. The church building is still in use today.[18] My great great-grandfather, John Birnbaum, helped to construct this stone church building.

The Wends dreams of maintaining their religious freedom came true. They still worship as Lutheran Christians at Serbin, Texas, and countless other daughter churches throughout the State of Texas. The other dreams of the Wends did not meet with the same fate. The Wends in Germany were bilingual, speaking both German and Wendish. Wendish was their mother tongue, but they had to speak German in order to conduct business with the German neighbors. Unbeknown to the 1854 colonists, they settled into an area already steeped in German culture. So, while they spoke Wendish at home, they again had to resort to German as their “business” language. Gradually the Wendish language died out all together and German took its place. Then, in the early 1900’s, English had to be spoken in order to conduct business. Gradually, German died out and only English was spoken. My paternal grandparents, Albert Goeke and Helen Horn, were married in 1936 in the German language.

Of my Wendish forbearers, the families Birnbaum, Pilak, Symank, Zoch and certain of the Kieschnicks, remained in and around the Bastrop and Lee County area. Later, of course, as the families got larger (and they got larger very quickly what with families of ten to twelve children being started) they moved out of the area into the “big city.” The families of Mickan and Neitsch made their moves earlier, first moving to Williamson County (Walburg, Texas) and then to Coryell County (Copperas Cove, Texas). Others of the Kieschnick family, for instance, my great-great-great grandfather, Johann Kieschnick, moved to Washington County, then back to Lee County, and later to Williamson County. As a point of interest, it should be noted that this same forefather, Johann Kieschnick, fought in the Civil War.[19] He served for about two years as a member of Waul’s Legion.

My Great-great-great-great grandfather, Harm Harms Gerdes

Harm Gerdes was born on February 23, 1807, in Aurich-Oldenburg, East Friesland, Germany, the son of a peat digger, Gerd H. Harms.[20] Harm took up the occupation of his father, namely, peat digging. Peat was burned in lieu of wood and coal in East Friesland.[21] No doubt, the family income was also supplemented by farming. In any case, the family, like many East Frieslanders of the day, were very poor. In 1835, Harm Gerdes was married to Eite Ehmen. Five children were born to this union.

It was likely the poor economic conditions and dim prospects for the future that led Harm Gerdes to make his way, along with several other East Frieslanders and their families, to Texas. Harm Gerdes and his family arrived in Texas around 1856. They settled in what is now called Quihi, Texas, about thirty miles west of San Antonio. Here Harm Gerdes acquired land and farmed.

Perhaps one of the most memorable things about Harm Gerdes surrounds the circumstances of his death. In the 1800’s, Indians still roamed the Hill Country of Texas. They often stole from the early settlers and sometimes even attacked them. On the cold and icy morning of March 14, 1867, Harm Gerdes noted that some of his horses were missing. Thinking that they had simply gotten away, he went to look for them. He would never return alive. While looking for the horses, a band of Indians (probably Apaches) surrounded him. They had his horses. The Indians captured Harm, stripped him of his clothing and made him walk nude for several miles. He was a big man and when he objected, they prodded him with spears. Ultimately, he was killed by them. When Mr M. M. Saathof and a search party found him, he had from 18 to 28 spear wounds (the number has varied through oral tradition). According to one account, he was also scalped.[22]

It is both interesting and important to note that among the people of East Friesland, surnames, as we have come to know them, existed in a totally different format. The given or Christian name of the father became the surname of the children. For instance, in the case of the Gerdes family, Gerd Harms’ children all had the surname of Gerdes. This makes the task of tracing the genealogy of the family very difficult. It would have been impossible except for the very precise church records kept by the Lutheran Church in Aurich. The practice of the father’s given name becoming the children’s surname ceased when the East Frieslanders came to Texas.[23]

My Grandfather, Albert John Goeke

Albert John Goeke was born on September 26, 1912, in Quihi, Texas. He was the son of itinerant farmers. In his early childhood, he lived with his parents and siblings in Archer County, Texas. They lived on his grandfather’s farm. Here, already as a small child, he was expected to carry his load. One of the main crops raised was cotton. Already at five years old, his parents took a fifty pound flour sack, put a band on it, and he used this to pick cotton because he couldn’t carry the large sacks that the adults used. He also had to hoe the cotton. He told of their little dog that would follow them into the fields. This dog once saved him from being bitten by a rattlesnake.

At age six, he started school in a little one room country school called Black Flats. World War I was still fresh in the memories of most people. Albert and his family spoke only German at home and so when he started school, he knew no English whatsoever. He related how that the children would make fun of him by saying, “There goes that damn Dutchman.” When he brought home his books and some very simple assignments, he remembers crying and saying “Ich kann nicht. Ich kann nicht.” (I can’t. I can’t). His teacher, however, was very kind and helpful. It wasn’t long before he was doing very well in school. As a matter of fact, he did so well that by the end of the first grade, he was able to read third and fourth grade books. He always enjoyed reading very much.

In 1919, Albert remembered a very good cotton crop. It was not without its difficulties, however. There was a plague of grasshoppers which were devastating many cotton fields. In order to help stop the spread of the insects, they took dried horse manure, ground it up fine, and added some black strap molasses and strychnine. They put this mixture along the fence rows. The children were then given long ropes with newspapers tied to them. They would go to the middle of the field and drive the grasshoppers toward the fence rows. The grasshoppers would then eat the mixture and die. This, he said, is what saved their cotton crop.

A few years later, Albert’s father bought an unimproved farm near Seymour, Texas. His father had gone ahead of the family and built a small, two room house for the family to live in. The land had not been cleared for farming, so Albert, still a child, had to help clear the land. His father bought him a small three-pound axe, and while his dad would cut the trees down, Albert would trim them with his small axe.

Several years and several moves later, the family moved near Smyre, Texas, close to Lubbock. Here they lived in a one room house. They made a dugout about five feet deep which extended about two feet above ground. Here they did their cooking and stored their food. Albert also did his homework here by lantern light. Once a terrible storm started brewing and the family feared a tornado. They went down into the dugout and when the storm had passed they emerged to find that a tornado had leveled their house. They lived in a tent until they once again moved. They determined to head back south. They had no means of transportation except for a wagon driven by mules. So by this means they traveled from Smyre to San Angelo. All cooking was done out of doors and they slept in the wagon. When they got to San Angelo, the cotton crop was coming in, so they rented out as cotton pickers. After the crop was picked, they continued their journey and finally decided to rent a farm in Brady, Texas.

The farm they rented at Brady was owned by some people by the name of Cotrell. It was here that Albert saw his first radio. He said they often went to the Cotrells after work to listen to the radio. It was while in Brady that an old German lady invited the family to the Lutheran church in Brady. Albert was confirmed there and was so taken by the message of the Gospel that he determined to study for the ministry.

Concordia Academy in Austin was a preparatory school for students who wanted to study for the Lutheran ministry. It was a high school with quite high standards. But, it required tuition. So Albert worked a five acre plot of land, planting and picking cotton, so that he could earn enough money to start at Concordia. One of the difficulties that he faced upon attending Concordia was that he had to take Latin. Most of the other students had had the first year of Latin. Albert had to take first and second year Latin in the same year. And it was at Concordia that Albert took his first indoor bath with running water.

Having graduated from Concordia with high marks despite the difficult curriculum and despite having had to work outside jobs to pay for his tuition, Albert now set his sights on college. He would attend St. John’s Lutheran College in Winfield, Kansas. This was the next step in following through on this goal of the ministry. He attended two years and the Great Depression of the 1930’s took its toll. No longer could he afford the tuition.

From Winfield, Albert went back home to live with his father who was farming in Priddy, Texas. After a while, a man whom he had known in Austin offered him a job there. He worked for the man for a while and then took another job with a bottling company making $14 per week. He purchased an old car and rented a room with Hugo and Alwina Horn. One time Hugo and Alwina wanted to go visit Hugo’s parents who lived in Manheim, Texas, but they had no car. So they asked Albert if he would drive them. It was there that my grandfather Albert met my grandmother Helen. In 1936 they were married.

Albert pursued several occupations, but ultimately became a pipe fitter/welder. He even taught welding in a vocational school for several years.[24]

My grandfather was a great man. He was kind and really lived out his Christian faith. He died of cancer on February 18, 1987. I miss him.

My Great-great-great- grandfather, Ambrose Reitzer

When Ambrose Reitzer came to Texas, it was not yet a state. It was still the Republic of Texas when a man by the name of Henri Castro, of France, entered into a contract with President Sam Houston to settle a colony in Southwest Texas west of the Medina River. Castro purchased the river-bordered land from private sources. Between 1843 and 1847, Castro succeeded in chartering twenty-seven ships in which he brought 485 families and 457 Single men to settle in Texas.[25] The main settlement would be called Castroville. Several other small communities would be established from Castroville. Among the family brought to Texas was Ambrose Reitzer, his parents and his siblings. They left France on October 6, 1844, aboard the ship Probus. They first went to New Orleans and from New Orleans went to Galveston.[26] They arrived in Castroville in March of 1845.

The Reitzers settled near the Community of Quihi, Texas. There they farmed, as did the majority of the settlers who came to Texas with the Castro colony. Life was not easy. The land was altogether untamed wilderness. Indians were very much prevalent. But the hearty settlers managed to take the wilderness and make it productive. The Reitzers, as with most of Castro’s colony, were Roman Catholic. Worshipping meant a long trip by oxen or miles from Quihi to Castroville.

The Reitzers were, like most of Castro’s colony, Alsatian. That is, they came from that part of Germany called Alsace-Lorraine which borders France. They came from the small city of Niederbruck.[27] It is interesting to note that when Ambrose’s father was born, Niederbruck belonged to Germany. When Ambrose was born, it belonged to France. Now it belongs to Germany again. The Alsatian language is a mixture of French and German.

On March 25, 1868, Ambrose Reitzer married Ottilie Bihl.[28] She was an orphan girl who also had come with Castro’s colony. This marriage would be blessed with 13 children. Ambrose Reitzer chiefly farmed. However, he also concerned himself with civic affairs. From 1874 to 1876, he was a county commissioner for Medina County. During these same years, he also served as Justice of the Peace for New Vandenberg, Texas, a small community only a few miles from Quihi.[29]

As stated earlier, Alsatian was spoken by the Reitzers from early on. In later years, however, more pure German was spoken because there were so many other settlers from other parts of Germany who had come into the area. So it became more convenient to speak only German. While many held tenaciously to the Alsatian language, the Reitzers gradually moved to German only.

Aside from this, there is nothing especially spectacular about Ambrose Reitzer. But, I point with pride to his strong spirit and the fact that in being descended from him, I can truly say that I am a Texan.

[1] 1880 U.S. Census. Dept. of Genealogy, Texas State Archives, Austin, Texas.

[2] ibid. 1880 U.S. Census.

[3] Oral narrative as passed down to the author’s grandfather and father by John Joseph Goeke.

[4] Austin American Statesman, newspaper obituary in Helen Goeke’s possession, Austin, Texas.

[5] Birth/Baptismal record, 1845, page 104, number 57, St. Johannes the Baptist Catholic Church, Borgentreich, Germany.

[6] Wilson, Lena. Letter to Albert Goeke, 1977, in possession of David Goeke, San Antonio, Texas.

[7] Ship’s Passenger Lists of Vessels Entering the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, 1866. Microfilm from L.D.S. Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] Certificate of Marriage, St. Peter Catholic Church, St. Charles, Missouri.

[9] Wilson, Lena. Letter to Albert Goeke, 1977. In possession of Helen Goeke, Austin, Texas.

[10] Birth/ Baptismal Record, 1853, number 88, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Schleife, Germany.

[11] Ibid. Birth/Baptismal Record. In possession of David Goeke, San Antonio, Texas.

[12] Berlin-Goerlitz Railroad. Certification of employment, 1876, original in possession of David Goeke, San Antonio, Texas.

[13] Certificate of Marriage, 1876, Number 28, Muskau, Germany. Original in possession of David Goeke, San Antonio, Texas.

[14] Horn, Adolph. Letter to David Goeke, 1979. Original in possession of David Goeke, San Antonio, Texas.

[15] Declaration of Intent, on file at Lee County Court House, Giddings, Texas, October 12, 1879, page 26.

[16] George Nielsen, In Search of a Home (Texas A & M University Press. College Station, 1989) pp. 64-75.

[17] Anne Blasig. The Wends of Texas (The Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas. 1954) pp. 26-27.

[18] Ibid., Nielsen, p. 103.

[19] Civil War Muster List, Texas State Archives, Austin, Texas.

[20] Castro Colonies Heritage Association. The History of Medina County, Texas. (National ShareGraphics, Inc,. Dallas, Texas), p. 279.

[21] Ibid., Castro Colonies, p. 279.

[22] Ibid., Castro Colonies, p. 280.

[23] Church Records. Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Quihi, Texas. Research done by Richard Balzen, shows that surnames were not changed as had been done in Germany.

[24] Albert Goeke, Narrative on tape recording. Recorded in 1985, one year prior to his death.

[25] Ibid., Castro Colonies, p. 218.

[26] Ship’s Passenger Lists of Vessels entering The Port of Galveston, Texas, 1845. L.D.S. Library, San Antonio, Texas.

[27] Birth/Baptismal Records. Roman Catholic Diocese, Niederbruck, Germany.

[28] Certificate of Marriage, Medina County Courthouse. 1868. Number 366. Copy at Courthouse in Hondo, Texas.

[29] Ibid., Castro Colonies, p. 13.

Timothy Martin Goeke’s Ahnentafel Chart

1. Timothy Martin GOEKE, b. San Antonio, Bexar Co., Texas.

2. David Lynn GOEKE, b. Austin, Travis Co., Texas, m. at San Antonio, Bexar Co., Texas.

3. Martha Ann MICKAN, b. Alice, Jim Wells Co., Texas.

4. Albert John GOEKE, b. 22 Sep 1912, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas, d. 18 Feb 1986, Austin, Travis Co., Texas., m. 23 Aug 1936 at Manheim, Lee Co., Texas.

5. Alwina Magdalena Wilhelmina HORN, b. 5 Dec 1919, Manheim, Lee Co., Texas.

6. Eldor Leonard MICKAN, b. 27 Jul 1917, Copperas Cove, Coryell Co, Texas, m. 16 Apr 1952, Section Cinco, Argentina

7. Maria Margarita MARX, b. 2 Jan 1933, Posadas, Argentina.

8. John Joseph GOEKE. b. 10 Feb 1879, Frelsburg, Colorado Co., Texas, d. 14 Feb 1960, Austin, Travis Co., Texas, m. 14 Mar 1911, at Hondo, Medina Co., Texas.

9. Louise Ottilie REITZER, b. 23 Oct 1893, New Fountain, Medina Co., Texas, d. 29 Jun 1980, Austin, Travis Co., Texas.

10. Leopold Hugo HORN. b. 26 Jun 1877, Weisswasser, Germany, d. 2 Jun 1954, Giddings, Lee Co., Texas, m. 17 Nov 1898, at Manheim, Lee Co., Texas.

11. Emma Theresa BIRNBAUM, b. 3 Aug 1878, Manheim, Lee Co., Texas, d. 7 Nov 1961, Spicewood, Burnet Co., Texas.

12. Alfred Herman MICKAN, b. 24 Jun 1889, Walburg, Williamson Co., Texas, d. 9 Jan 1986, Copperas Cove, Coryell Co., Texas, m. 13 Apr 1910, at Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

13. Martha Theresa ZOCH, b. 6 Jun 1888, Winchester, Fayette Co., Texas, d. 8 Oct 1924, Copperas Cove, Coryell Co., Texas.

14. Bernhard Joseph MARX, b. 10 Jun 1902, Braunsberg, Germany, d. 23 Aug 1989, San Antonio, Bexar Co., Texas, m. 23 May 1931, at Missiones, Argentina.

15. Margareta SCHWEIZER, b. 9 Jan 1911, Wupperthal, Germany.

16. Friedrich Wilhelm GOEKE, m. 1 Apr 1869, at St. Charles, Missouri.

17. Helena Theresia SIEDHOFF, b. 11 Oct 1849, Lippstadt, Germany.

18. Charles A. REITZER., b. 28 Apr 1868, D’Hanis. Medina Co., Texas, d. 3 Feb 1957, Austin, Travis Co., Texas, m. 30 Mar 1891, at Castroville, Medina Co., Texas.

19. Anna Katharina SCHULTE, b. 23 Mar 1858, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas, d. 28 Sep 1928, Hondo, Medina Co., Texas.

20. Leopold Alwin Oskar HORN, b. 28 Dec 1853, Mulkwitz, Upper Silesia, Germany, d. 30 Jan 1930, Austin, Travis Co., Texas, m. 21 Aug 1876, at Muskau, Germany.

21. Klara Ida SCHADE

22. Johann August BIRNBAUM, b. 27 Oct 1855, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas, d. 2 Nov 1937, Giddings, Lee Co., Texas, m. 28 Oct 1877, at Manheim, Lee Co., Texas.

23. Pauline M.B. KIESCHNICK, b. 17 Nov 1858, Brenham, Washington Co., Texas, d. 10 Apr 1949, Manheim, Lee Co., Texas.

24. Johann MICKAN, b. 22 Dec 1845, Weigersdorf, Germany, d. 17 Apr 1894, Walburg, Williamson Co., Texas, m. 13 Feb 1872, at Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

25. Maria Magdalena NEITSCH, b. 5 Jun 1855, Galveston, Galveston Co., Texas, d. 9 Mar 1924, Walburg, Williamson Co., Texas, m. 13 Feb 1872, at Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

26. Traugott ZOCH, b. 22 Mar 1849, Spreewitz, Germany, d. 7 Feb 1928, Winchester, Fayette Co., Texas, m. 16 April 1872 at Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

27. Hanna VOGEL, b. 31 Aug 1851, Germany, d. 3 Jan 1940, Winchester, Fayette Co., Texas.

28. Anton MARX, b. 18 Sep 1867, Parlack, Germany, d. 13 Mar 1938, Braunsberg, Germany. 29. Anna HARWARDT, b. 28 Aug 1863, Neustadt, Germany, d. 29 Apr 1925, Braunsberg, Germany.

30. Friedrich SCHWEIZER, b. 24 Sep 1884, Buchenberg, Hessen, Germany, d. 24 Feb 1959, m. 4 Nov 1908, at Barmen, Germany.

31. Bertha Dorothea M. HUNOLD, b. 16 Sep 1885, Mengeringhausen, Germany, d. 22 Sep 1957, Obera, Argentina.

32. Johann Heinrich GOEKE, b. 6 Jun 1793, Borgentreich, Germany, d. 30 Mar 1853, Borgentreich, Germany, m. 7 Feb 1837, at Borgentreich, Germany.

33. Anna Maria Theresia JUERGENS, b. 25 Jan 1815.

34. Johann Conrad Anton SIEDHOFF, b. 25 Apr 1816, Steinhausen, Germany, d. St. Charles, Missouri, m. 23 Apr 1843, at Lippstadt, Germany.

35. Maria Elisabeth Dorothea FISCHER, b. 30 Jun 1822, Lippstadt, Germany, d. 3 Jul 1869, St. Charles, Missouri.

36. Ambrose REITZER, b. 7 Mar 1833, Niederbruck, Germany, d. 9 Apr 1889, Castroville, Medina Co., Texas, m. 25 Mar 1868, at Castroville, Medina Co., Texas.

37. Ottilia BIHL, b. 10 Nov 1852, d. 5 Sep 1929, Hondo, Medina Co., Texas.

38. Franz Friedrich SCHULTE, b. 27 Jun 1827, Dahlinhaussen, Germany, m. 17 May 1856, at Quihi, Medina Co., Texas.

39. Hilke Harms GERDES, b. 4 Sep 1840, Moorlage, Aurich, Germany, d. 11 Apr 1906, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas.

40. Johann Karl Heinrich R. HORN, b. 20 Sep 1817, Mulkwitz, Silesia, Germany, d. 27 Sep 1854, Mulkwitz, Silesia, Germany.

41. Johanna Luise HENTSCHEL, b. 8 Jun 1830, Reuthen, Germany, d. 22 Sep 1900, Gross Dueben, Germany.

42. Friedrich Wilhelm L. SCHADE, b. 25 Nov 1823, Ober Mednitz, Germany, d. 21 May 1902, Paige, Lee Co., Texas.

43. Blandina Clara CLOTT, b. 19 May 1833, Guben, Brandenburg, Germany, d. 17 May 1880, Fedor, Lee Co., Texas.

44. Joseph BIRNBAUM, b. Oberlichtenwald, Austria, d. 1 Nov 1855, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas, m. 15 Oct 1854, Ireland, Aboard Ship.

45. Magdalena P1LAK, b. 15 Aug 1830, Rodewitz, Germany, d. 16 Jul 1874, Fedor, Lee Co., Texas.

46. Johann KIESCHNICK, b. 8 Jan 1834, Dauban, Prussia, Germany, d. 14 Feb 1916, Thorndale, Texas, m. 14 Feb 1858, at Brenham, Washington Co., Texas.

47. Ernestine Auguste A. BARTEL, b. 2 Dec 1837, Neu-Vehlefanz, Germany, d. 23 May 1921, Thorndale, Milam Co., Texas.

48. Johann MICKAN, b. 21 Sep 1791, Weigersdorf, Germany, d. 29 Nov 1850, Weigersdorf, Germany, m. 22 Jan 1837, at Groeditz, Germany.

49. Magdalena PROCHNO, b. 13 Apr 1808, Rackel, Prussia, Germany, d. 1 Aug 1881, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

50. Johann Gottlieb NEITSCH, b 19 Apr 1829, Halbau, Saxony, Germany, d. 22 Apr 1902, Warda, Fayette Co., Texas, m. 18 May 1851, at Groeditz, Germany.

51. Maria SYMANK, b. 30 Jul 1824, Weicha, Saxony, Germany, d. 9 Oct 1905, Walburg, Williamson Co., Texas.

52. Johann ZOCH, b. 9 Sep 1814, Spreewitz, Germany, d. 24 Sep 1873, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

53. Johanna SCHNEIDER, b. 29 Aug 1818, d. 23 Mar 1912, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas

54. Carl VOGEL, b. 4 Dec 1822, d. 24 Dec 1906, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

55. Maria, b. 11 Feb 1820, d. 7 Jun 1899, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

58. Ferdinand HARWARDT, b. 1825, m. 9 Feb 1852.

59. Anna LANGKAU, b. 1826.

60. Johann Christian SCHWEIZER, b. 8 Jul 1853, Buchenberg, Germany.

61. Maria Katharina THIEL, b. 16 Apr 1855, Barmen, Germany, d. ca 1914.

62. Friedrich Heinrich HUNOLD, b. 26 Jan 1856, Berndorf, Waldek, Germany, m. 4 Apr 1880, at Mengeringhausen, Germany.

63. Wilhelmina Luise EBERLEI, b. 21 Apr 1857, Mengeringhausen, Germany.

64. Johann Crispin GOEKE, b. 5 Aug 1762, Borgentreich, Germany, d. 5 Jan. 1844, Borgentreich, Germany, m. 5 Jun 1792, Borgentreich, Germany.

65. Anna Maria Elisabeth CONZEN, b. ca. 1762, d. 16 Nov 1825, Borgentreich, Germany.

66. Joseph JUERGENS

67. Elisabeth DUERDOTH

68. Herman SIDTHOF

69. Anna Maria LOECKNER

70. Diedrich FISCHER

71. Catharina Charlotte KLARHOLZ

72. Ambrosius RE1TZER, b. 17 Mar 1804, Niederbruck, Germany, d. 27 Apr 1874, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas.

73. Marguerite MANIGOLD, b. ca. 1807, d. 28 Dec 1881.

78. Harm Harms GERDES, b 23 Feb 1807, Aurich-Oldendorf, Germany, d. 14 Mar 1867, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas, m. 2 May 1835, at Aurich-Oldendorf, Germany.

79. (Schmidt) Eite EHMEN, b. 2 Feb 1812, Aurich-Oldendorf, Germany, d. 16 Mar 1873, Quihi, Medina Co., Texas.

80. Johann Gottlieb HORN, b. 4 Jan 1785, Mulkwitz, Silesia, Germany, d. 9 Mar 1860, Schleife, Silesia, Germany.

81. Dorothea Elisabeth PFEIFFER, 12 Dec 1787, Tauchel/Sorau, Germany, d. 22 Jan 1883, Schleife, Silesia, Germany.

86. Johann Joseph CLOTT, d. ca. 1856, Metschmuehle, Germany.

87. Johanna Christiana C. SIMMANK

90. Andreas PILAK, b. 11 Mar 1798, Rodewitz, Germany, d. 30 Sep 1854, Ireland, Aboard Ship, m. 4 May 1819, at Baruth, Germany.

91. Maria URBAN, b. 11 Mar 1801. Weigersdorf, Germany, d. 1 Apr 1873, Fedor, Lee Co., Texas.

92. Johann KIESCHNICK. b. ca 1795, Dauban, Prussia, Germany, d. 21 Nov 1867, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas, m. 9 Jan 1825, at Buchwalde, Germany.

93. Agneta KOHLE, b. 28 Apr 1798, Buchwalde, Germany, d. 14 Oct 1876, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas.

94. Friedrich BARTEL, b. 4 Dec 1806, d. 9 Jul 1851, Eichstaedt, Germany.

95. Luise SCHENK, b. 10 Apr 1807. Neurippen, Germany, d. 12 Dec 1892, Eichstaedt, Germany.

98. Jan PROCHNO, b. 1762, Rackel, Prussia, Germany, d. 10 Oct 1817, Racket. Prussia, Germany.

99. Maria SOBE, b. ca 1770, Dubrauke, Germany, d. 30 Dec 1825, Rackel, Prussia, Germany. 100. Gottlieb NEITSCH, b. 30 Jun 1795, Haibau, Saxony, Germany, d. 17 Mar 1847. Haibau, Saxony, Germany, m. 15 Nov 1822, at Haibau, Saxony, Germany.

101. Maria Dorothea THOMAS, b. 21 Nov 1798. Obercunewalde, Germany, d. 29 Nov 1851, Haibau, Saxony, Germany.

102. Johann SYMANK, b 28 Jan 1794, Malschwitz. Saxony, Germany, d. 11 Jul 1874, Serbin, Lee Co., Texas, m. 6 Nov 1814, at Groeditz, Saxony, Germany.

103. Maria KSCHISCHAN Zieschang, b. 8 Oct 1782, Weicha, Saxony, Germany, d. 30 Dec 1850, Weicha, Saxony, Germany.

104. George ZOCH

105. Anna PETER

106. Matthaeus (Krautz) SCHNEIDER

107. Magdalene SCHIMAN

116. Franz HARWARDT

117. Anna

118. Adalbert LANGKAU

124. Johann Heinrich Wilhelm HUNOLD, b. 30 Sep 1827, Berndorf, Germany, d. 9 May 1868, Mengeringhausen, Germany, m. 24 Jul 1852, at Berndorf, Germany.

125. Christiane Louise WAGNER, b. 8 Feb 1834, Sachsenhausen, Germany.

126. Philipp EBERLEI.

127. Maria EMDE

144. Heinrich REITZER

145. Margaretha

156. Gerd HARS, b. 12 Feb 1778, d. 14 Apr 1855, Aurich, Germany.

157. Alke JANSSEN, b. 2 Jan 1779, Firrel, Germany, d. 6 Sep 1861, Aurich, Germany.

158. (Schmidt) Ehme GERDES, b. 4 Apr 1772, Aurich-Oldenberg, Germany, d. 27 Mar 1837, Aurich-Oldenburg, Germany.

159. (Duis) Hilke ALBERS, b. 12 Feb 1791, Aurich-Oldenburg, Germany, d. 16 Mar 1856, Aurich-Oldenburg, Germany.

180. Andreas PILAK, b. 20 Apr 1767, d. 11 Aug 1827, Rodewitz, Germany.

181. Agnes HETMANN, b. ca. 1771, Purschwitz, Germany, d. 15 Jan 1816. Rodewitz. Germany. 182. Johann URBAN

183. Hanno WAGNER

184. (Kieschnick) Jan KHJZNIK

185. Maria WIETSCHER

186. George KOHLE

187. Agneta Maria PA WEZ

196. Jan PROCHNO, b. 27 Jan 1729, Groeditz, Prussia, Germany, d. 17 Feb 1801, Rackel, Prussia, Germany, m. 21 Aug 1750, at Groeditz, Prussia, Germany.

197. Hanen

200. Gottlob NEITSCH

201. Anna Rosina HOEHNIN.

202. Gottlob THOMAS.

203. Anna Rosina MITSCHKIN

204. Andreas SYMANK, b. 29 Aug 1760, Malschwitz, Saxony, Germany, d. 31 Jan 1839, Malschwitz, Saxony, Germany, m. 15 Aug 1784, at Malschwitz, Saxony, Germany.

205. Magdalena CZISSLA, b. 15 Mar 1761, Malschwitz, Saxony, Germany, d. 16 Apr 1837, Malschwitz, Saxony, Germany.

248. Johannes Hermann HUNOLD, b. 10 Jul 1781, Berndorf, Germany, d. 2 Feb 1863. Hoeringhausen, Germany, m. 19 May 1824, at Helmscheid, Germany.

249. Johanette Caroline E. MEYER, b. 14 Mar 1804, Helmscheid, Germany, d. 3 Dec 1871, Hoeringhausen, Germany.

250. Georg WAGNER, b. Sachsenhausen, Germany.

312. Harm HINRICHS

313. Gelke GERDES

314. Jan Juergens KAISER

315. Frauke HARBERTS

316. Gerd P. POCKEN

317. Eyte LUEBBEN

318. Albert J. JUERGENS

319. Hilke HARMS

408. Paul SYMANK

409. Maria KUPKA.

410. Jurij CZISSLA

411. Hanza WANDRACK

496. Johann Wolrad HUNOLD

497. Catharina E. ZIESENHEIM

498. Johann Henrich MEIER.

499. Susanna Maria ZIESENHEIM


Of Beginnings and Other Stuff by Dave Goeke

This article appeared in the April 2011 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (


That was the year.

The “afterglow” of the World’s Fair of 1968 was still alive.

After all, people from all over the world had been to San Antonio, Texas. They experienced its ambiance … and still had reverberations of the excitement that had taken place there. Capitalizing on those feelings …calling people back to their ethnicity …calling them back to their roots, the folks at the University of Texas chose to host a celebration …a celebration of the similarities and of the differences of the many ethnic groups in Texas. What a melting pot!! So, it was determined to host this wonderful celebration of all these ethnic groups in one place and at one time. So what shall it be called?

“Let’s call it the ‘Texas Folklife Festival!”

Oh, wow, that means that first of all, all the ethnic groups have to be identified. That should be easy enough: German, Spanish, Mexican, Polish, Czech, Chinese, Japanese…and the list goes on. But, research shows that there’s another group. The Wends. The who??? A fairly large group of them settled close to Giddings, Texas and called the settlement Serbin. The who?? The Wends!! Never heard of them!! How do we find one? Well, let’s go to Serbin. This was likely very much as the conversation may have taken place back in 1971, when the Texas Folklife Festival was begun. And so it happened. While it was too late for the 1971 Festival and while it is not certain what individual was first contacted, nonetheless, an invitation was extended to become part of the Texas Folklife Festival the following year, 1972. And there began what was to be called the “Wendish Culture Club.” And how many members? Well, it started with five little old ladies: Lillie Moerbe Caldwell, Emma Wuensche, Laura Zoch, Frieda Wendland, and Gertrude Mitschke. So it was that, in 1972, the “Wendish Culture Club” made its debut at the Texas Folklife Festival and became what today is known as the “Texas Wendish Heritage Society.” Armed with a card table, some cookies, some fig preserves and not much else, these little ladies braved the brutal August heat, proudly proclaiming their “Wendishness” among the Germans with their bratwurst, the Cowboys with their stew, the Chinese with their eggrolls …etc.

Fast forward to the year 2011.

The Texas Folklife Festival is now 40 years old. And the Wendish presence there is 39 years old. If I were to try to mention all of the folks who made the Wendish presence known at the Texas Folklife Festival over the past 39 years, I would certainly leave out many important people so, I’ll not even try. But, memories do pervade my mind as I recall my own involvement, to a greater or lesser degree, with the Folklife Festival for, at least, 35 of the 39 years. In those early years, the primary fare was homemade noodles (and here I need to mention one person, namely, Evelyn Kasper, who is practically made of water, eggs and flour for the thousands of .noodle she’s made over these many years), pickles, and Shiner beer (we were and are one of the few booths who offer this Texas favorite) at the Festival.

If you’ve been to the Festival over the past decade or two, you’ll know where we are located. A lovely place, shaded, cool, large…a nice respite from the chaos going on around us. But, back in those early days, such was not the case. We had a tiny little comer, immediately across from where we are now. Hot, windy, and small. But, it was directly on the thoroughfare. Hundreds of people passed right before our eyes. How to get them to notice us? Well, why not “hawk” our products …and sing? While the really hard work of cooking noodles was being done chiefly by the volunteers who came from Serbin, Rev. John Socha and yours truly were unrestrained in our efforts to lure folks to try our fare. While Socha would sing in both Wendish and Slovak (one could never really tell which was which), yours truly would unabashedly (but, sometimes embarrassingly) shout “Homemade noodles!! Get your homemade noodles right here!” All the while the REAL workers were cooking, taking tickets, manning the beer booth, etc. As a sidebar, it is worth mentioning that, in those early years, on occasion, and because we worked on Sundays, the volunteers would even gather on Sunday morning, before the Festival opened, to hold a small worship service…to keep us focused on why we were there.

For all the effort put into the Festival, the primary work was being done long distance, via Serbin. We needed someone local. So in 1982, who should step up and take the lead but Ron and Cindy (Karcher) Knippa? And almost immediately, the whole Festival, where the Wends were concerned, took on a new and better perspective. From a booth that simply was trying to raise money through ticket sales, the Wendish booth became one of the most educational booths at the entire Festival. And that, after all, was the point of having the Festival – to promote not only the ethnic foods, but also an education into the culture. To this day, the Wendish booth at the Texas Folklife Festival remains not only one of the most unique fares with regard to palate, but, certainly, one of the most educational booths. And that is because of the efforts of Ron and Cindy Knippa. What was once just noodles, pickles and beer evolved into noodles, pickles, Koch kase sandwiches, pickled watermelon rinds, barbecued chicken legs (with Kieschnick/Knippa sauce), lemonade, ginger snap cookies and much more. Along with that, one will find crafts and books for sale. And virtually nowhere will one find, at the Folklife Festival, a booth so rich in ethnic education …with posters, photos and “on spot” individuals who can answer the frequently asked question, “Who Are The Wends?”. This brings up another individual who I dare not leave out of this article. Ron Lammert, a Wend, authored what is likely the most widely distributed publication on the Wends heretofore. One can only guess how many people have learned about the Wends from Ron’s brief publication. Ron not only authored the publication, but has “snatched from the fire” some remarkable photos of early Wendish life in Texas.

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to mention names. Forgive me. LOTS of names left out. It is not intentional. But, let’s get back to “basics”. Do you realize that had it not been for the initial invitation to these “five little old ladies” to participate in the Folklife Festival, what is now the Texas Wendish Heritage Society may never have been? Think of it! But, thanks to the “guts” of these ladies and the kind invitation from the Folklife Festival, we have grown from what was once just five members of the “Wendish Culture Club” to some 1140 members of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society!!

Today, as a result of the fortitude of those five ladies, we have an organized society, a museum and an annual Wendish Fest, to boot!! And if you go to the Folklife Festival these days, I promise that you’ll find people who stop by and say, “I had to get the noodles. It’s the first place I come when I get here” and “Who are the Wends?” What an opportunity to share our culture, our heritage and our faith!!

This year marks the 40’h anniversary of the Texas Folklife Festival. And right behind it, marks what will be, in 2012, the 40th anniversary of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. So why not celebrate?? Why not reconnect with your heritage?? Make it a point to visit the Folklife Festival this year.


Letter From Lusatia, 7 December 1947

The following letter was received from Mr. and Mrs. Johann Herzog in Copperas Cove, which was received from Germany and is, herewith, made public in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt.

It is presented here translated by David Goeke.

Neu-Spremberg, O/L (Ober Lausitz), Region of Loebau, December 7, 1947

Honorable Family Herzog!

You will be astounded to hear from an unknown person. I received a letter directed to a family in Spremberg. This same letter came by way of further determination to Neu-Spremberg. In the local postal index, this person could not be located. I had to give over the letter to the postal service for further investigation. Now, you will certainly wonder how I arranged to write to you. I am honest and open enough to share with you the facts. We find ourselves in bitter predicaments. I think that you will not believe it if I report how things look for us. My child, 15 months old, receives ¼ liter of good and ¼ sour skim milk per day. We grown ups receive none at all. We receive 25 grams of fats and the same of sugar. Nothing can be had without stamps (ration stamps *). Yes, we are happy when we get dry bread. Now Christmas stands again at the door. If there is no special exception made (likely flour, sugar or some other commodity **) , to 1 kilogram per person, we won’t have enough to bake a simple cake. You will certainly already have read in the newspaper how Germany is hungering. There are some people who have relatives or acquaintances in other countries. These people have the best luck and now and again receive a package of groceries or other things. Things such as coffee beans, chocolate, powdered milk and the like, which we don’t even know anymore because such things don’t exist for children. It is a hard and bitter destiny and it does not look like things will get any better.

I would to ask a great request in my letter to you. Do you perhaps have acquaintances who could collect an offering and send a package? God would reward you and it would be a great help for my wife and children in our great need. Please do not look on my letter as a “beggars letter,” because I am not turning to you in that manner. Should it not be possible for you or your acquaintances to come through with my request, perhaps you will hear of someone too whom you could pass the letter you have received from me on to. I would welcome further correspondence and would be happy to report more to you later.

I wish you a Happy Christmas and at the same time a prosperous, healthy New Year.

My deepest thanks in advance and until I hear from you again, I send you my heartfelt greetings.

Your Unknown,

Willie Geisler and Family, Neu Spremberg Ober Lausitz, Region of Loebau, Turner Street 254, Sorpj Garrison, Germany

Translator’s Notes:

* The term used here is “Marken,” which in the context of this letter likely refers to ration stamps.

** There is no direct reference to what the writer is referring, but, again, in context, it is likely ingredients , because he does make mention of baking a cake.

Note also, that in translating, one tries to stay as much as possible to a true word for word translation. However, to have the translation make sense and be readable, some license was taken…..without jeopardizing the true content of the translation.