April 2, 1931 – Reminiscences of My Arrival and First Years at Fedor 1876-1879

This article by G. Birkmann, titled “Erinnerungen an meine Ankunft in Fedor and an die ersten Jahre daselbst – 1876 bis 1879” first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, Giddings, Texas on April 2, 1931.

Translated from the German by Bill Biar, Denver, Colorado, July 31, 1990.

As I write the following reminiscences, I do so with no intention of personal aggrandizement but that therewith I might display before the readers’ minds the conditions and circumstances of former times. One fondly remembers the good old times, the former years, and in the light of the past one may so much better understand and treasure the kindnesses and blessings of the present.

A decade had passed since the Civil War brought so many casualties and so much damage to the southern states in particular. Texas, for the most part, was spared the invasion of northern troops; no big, bloody battles were fought here, but many of the best men of this state had, nevertheless, lost their lives or their healthy limbs, and the land and people were impoverished. Ten years after the war the state gradually recovered and the influx of German immigration set in again and the Wendish Colony in Serbin and surrounding area improved and here and there in Lee County, in Fayette and a few other counties, Wends arrived and soon the organization of new Lutheran congregations followed. At that time, in Fayette County, Holy Cross congregation was the first to organize, followed by the congregation at Swiss Alp. And in Lee County, during the early seventies, the Fedor congregation was organized, which at that time was called the church on the West Yegua and in 1876 the old Ebenezer Church came into existence, which at first was served by Pastor Proft, but then from 1877 on was pastored for twelve years by Pastor Jacob Kaspar.

Journey to Texas: September 25, 1876

The end of June 1876 I, together with 25 others, passed the final examination at the theological seminary in Saint Louis, and then my instructors handed me the call documents from the congregation at Fedor. Originally, after Pastor Proft resigned in 1875, they first called Pastor Sommer from Baltimore, because he, as a Wend by birth, was suggested to them – during the first few years the Fedor congregation also had services and communion in Wendish besides in German. Sommer declined and then Pastor Biedermann from Nebraska was called. He also did not accept the call and then the congregation promptly applied for a candidate in time to the faculty in St. Louis. Thus I received the call and Pastor Henry Wischmeyer, the one from the Swiss Alp congregation. When old Pastor Brohm, who in 1870 was involved in the organization of the Fedor congregation, asked me whereto I was called and heard it was to West Yegua in Texas, he said that he had already been there and that there was a lot of wood land there. Now it was not unusual that our candidates were sent to the bush, therefore, I was not concerned. One of us even had the desire to be sent to Oregon and, at that time, that was about the same as nowadays asking for a call to the outermost part of Alaska. I had a vacation for three months because the people at Fedor let me know through Pastor Geyer that I should stay in the north during the hot summer months and I was not expected until the end of September.

I was very delighted by this decision. For I urgently needed rest. Wischmeyer took his vacation in Cleveland with his parents. He came to St. Louis the end of September and we left St. Louis on the 25th on the M. K. and T. Railroad, which just a few years back had been extended to Texas.

I remember that the first part of the trip took us through beautiful scenery along the banks of the Missouri River, here and there between hills which appeared to me like mountains: often we saw a stream like a wide glimmering band before us and in the next moment our train raced over the beautiful diversion. Then night came as we traveled through Kansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). During the night I had the misfortune of having a painful injury to my finger when Wischmeyer closed a door on it. The reader may think that such a trifle is not worth mentioning, but whoever experienced such ordeal will understand that this night made an impression on my memory.

Early the next morning we came to Muskogee and, because of the coffee that was served to us travelers there, I remembered the name. Wischmeyer and I were not spoiled as students, but we could not get over the bad coffee they served us at Muskogee.

Soon after noon of the second day we came to Dallas, Texas. The train stopped there for a while and we got off in order to stretch and flex our limbs. What did we see? All the people were gazing up into the sky and we naturally did the same. The sun was shining and filling the air and glittering in the sunshine were countless grasshoppers, which like armed warriors were moving out to conquer and plunder. Just how long this swarm of grasshoppers flew over Dallas toward the south I do not know, maybe for days, because similar swarms of grasshoppers have been seen in the west in past years, especially in Kansas and Colorado. I also know that these wanderers had already arrived in countless numbers at Fedor before my arrival, but they did not eat everything like they sometimes do in the west: they probably did some damage and deposited their next brood in the ground. There was the concern that there would be a plague the following year but this did not materialize.

In the evening of September 26 (Tuesday) we came to Hempstead and had to stay overnight because the next train for Giddings was not scheduled to arrive until before noon the next day. We went to a small hotel near the depot and there found a thick book on a table which told of nothing but murder and horror stories about Texas. And Hempstead received special attention in this book. Then Wischmeyer, after reading in the book a little, said to me, “Birkmann, what will happen to you in Texas? You will not be able to carry a revolver.” Of course, I had to admit that I could not carry a revolver; yet, I was not afraid and was completely unconcerned, including later, when in Fedor, I heard some similar stories resembling the ones mentioned in the book at the hotel in Hempstead. Forty to fifty years ago Lee County was more often known and mentioned because of notorious murderers than for the good peaceful citizens.

Arrival at Giddings

Soon after noon on September 27 we arrived at Giddings. Some people from Warda and Swiss Alp took Wischmeyer to Pastor Stiemke, who wanted to install him at Swiss Alp the following Sunday. My sister, Marie, who traveled with me in order to do my housekeeping, and I were met by people from Fedor who, first of all, took me to Serbin to Pastor C. L. Geyer, who was commissioned to install me at Fedor. The people who welcomed me in the name of the congregation were Jakob Moerbe and August Dube, Sr., and also John Wuensche and Carl Dube. All four of them had moved from Serbin to Fedor several years previously; there they vigorously cared and worked, not only for their own homes and property, but also for the church, and they energetically supported me, their young new pastor, and, especially during the early years of the congregation, rendered many services. Among the foremost and older hard-working members was Mr. Peter Urban, who did not live in Fedor during the very first years, but when I came had settled there and joined the congregation. He was a fine member of our congregation, in particular, as elder and custodian, discharged his duties with joy and was also a humble, mature Christian. This was also true of the other dear people mentioned previously. John Wuensche served our congregation very well as organist, before we had a teacher, and also later, during the times when the teacherage stood vacant. Mr. August Dube, in particular, deserves to be honorably remembered by the people of Fedor. He truly had the spirit of Nathaniel, guileless, sincere, forthright, not given to much beating about the bush. He willingly visited the sick and comforted them with God’s word. He was attuned to and well-trained in the school of affliction. He got to be eighty years old and did not miss divine services or voters’ meetings unless prevented from doing so by valid reasons.

All these have long ago deceased, these old dear members of the very beginning of our congregation. The first of those mentioned in this article was Carl Dube who died toward the end of 1893. The second one was Jakob Moerbe, who toward the end of 1893 moved to Thorndale, but who after only three years was laid low by cerebral apoplexy. John Wuensche, who in 1902 also went to Thorndale, died in 1908 and August Dube died in Fedor in 1911 and, finally, Peter Urban, in Fedor toward the end of 1912. It is self-evident that, besides those mentioned, we had other good, loyal members in Fedor, some of whom were referred to in a former article or I will come to them later.

I have to return to my subject and that is my arrival in Fedor in 1876. And so I was picked up. My sister made a few purchases at Neumann and Raube in Giddings, on the corner where the Knox building is now located , a store in which nearly everything was available customers desired to buy. We loaded some inexpensive furniture, cook stove, etc., and groceries on the farmers’ wagons, for only those things were used by our people at that time. It was Thursday. We stayed with Mr. Jakob Moerbe until we could make our house a little more habitable. That meant, until we could unpack our things. The stove and other things had to be set up. I put all my books on the floor along the wall, because I did not have any bookcases. The desk and wardrobe were made for me in Serbin by John Biar.

The next day was a Friday, Michaelmas [the feast of St. Michael the Archangel], the first time that I observed this feast with a congregation. Mr. Carl Dube, in an excellent manner, read the sermon from Walther’s Gospel Postila, which contained so much grandeur about the holy angels. The service was well-attended; I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Wendish congregations everywhere observed Michaelmas and the festivals of Mary, etc., and that the people were accustomed to this already in Germany and gladly came to the services, etc. It was still warm on this day but soon a norther came and this brought the desired cooling off for us northerners. On Sunday Pastor Geyer came and ordained and installed me. In the afternoon he returned to Serbin and I sat long into the night preparing a funeral sermon. Immediately after the noon meal at Mr. Jakob Moerbe the news arrived that Mutter Syrnmank, the wife of Andreas Symmank, died after a long chronic illness and that she should be buried the next day. Some place else (in the July 1930 issue of the Missionstaube) I wrote about this and what impression the whole ceremony had on me. And about my work in the church and school during the first few years of my ministry I reported in the district periodical five years ago.

I would like to point out that my call to Fedor was always dear to me. Above all else, I knew that my dear God and Lord of the church placed me there to serve those who are His; but, besides that, I found so much that I liked and never had the desire to live anywhere else. Firstly, the favorable climate, which was not so bitterly cold , for the cold winters in the north had at times affected me in a bad way. In addition, since I lived in Texas, I have always been interested in this state, the history of which I have read with interest, and where so much new and interesting is offered by its nature. And, in particular, am I glad that my call led me to a congregation composed mostly of Wends. And we also had in Fedor, especially about fifty years ago, a satisfactory growth through the active emigration from Germany and through the influx from Serbin. At that time there was still enough land at Fedor, enabling people to establish homes and farms. Land was inexpensive and whoever arrived had a church and school and fellow believers, who were glad to be of service. Thus the number of communicants grew from year to year so that already in 1881 the number was 267. Naturally, this could not continue to go on; the time came when the immigration decreased and finally stopped altogether and the land was fairly well occupied.

The time came when many members had to be removed from the roster at Fedor because they migrated to Thorndale and elsewhere. Karl Michalk was one of the first to move from Fedor to Thorndale; then John Moerbe, Andreas Urban and Otto Urban and his father, Peter Urban (who after a while moved back to Fedor and died there). Other Thorndale migrants were: John Melde and his brothers, Hermann and Henry, and Hermann Wuensche and his father, John Wuensche; Ernst Weiser (Jakob Moerbe’s son-in-law), Jakob Moerbe and his sons, Hermann, August and Karl. In addition, others came from other congregations in Lee County and after a few years a large and self-sacrificing congregation was organized. Their pastor was the late A. W. Kramer who died in 1920 after 25 years of blessed, effective service.

Occasionally, during this time, it was toward the end of the last century, I was overcome by a feeling of sadness, because it appeared that the congregation at Fedor was constantly harmed by the departure of many members, who, as a rule, diligently participated in the work of the church. One time a man told me, “This congregation will go out of existence.” But in the end his prediction was wrong. The congregation always replaced the ones who left, including the high number of children in the families, and the faithful work of the school and the church kept the congregation in good standing and for the past fourteen years always had two teachers (a male teacher and an assistant, usually a lady) and the preaching and pastoral care is now performed by Pastor Adolph Michalk. May God bless his work.

G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas