August 12, 1937 – My First Ride to Serbin, Texas

This article by G. Birkmann first appeared in two parts in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on August 12 and 19, 1937. It was translated from German by Ray Martens.


I had lived in Fedor a half year and had become somewhat accustomed to being there when Rev. Geyer wrote to ask whether I would preach and celebrate Holy Communion for him in his congregation in Serbin on Sexagesima Sunday [in old worship service agendas, the name assigned to the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday, typically in late February or early March]. The occasion would also allow both of us the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament. I accepted the invitation happily and prepared the sermon. I did not need to seek the help of any of my members to get to Serbin because for several months by that time I had my own riding horse, a so-called Mustang pony, a very serviceable animal with hooves like steel (no need to have shoes). The price which Mr. Whitfield asked was thirty-five dollars, although my Rattler, as the horse was named, cost me additional dollars a number of times if I wanted him back when he jumped the fence and ran back to the range on the East Yegua from which he had come. The saddle cost almost as much as the horse, thirty-two dollars, but that because I bought it from a good friend [a little sarcasm?]. I was asked from time to time where I bought the horse. “Is it from a Caewiyard?” [The reader will recognize in what follows that the term is spelled in various ways and that it is not a German word at all.] (The reader will not know immediately what a Caewiyard is. I did not know either and often tried to imagine exactly what a Kaewiyard could be. Finally, I hit upon it. The Spanish word [of which this is a corruption] is cabalado and means “herd of horses.” In earlier years, herds of horses roamed around and were offered for sale.) I did not get my Rattler from a Kawiyard, but from a farmer on the East Yegua.

So I rode to Serbin on my “handle with care” horse and on the expensive saddle, to which saddle bags were attached. The ride was no stormy gallop. I took my time and in these written lines wish also to give the reader time to participate with me in considering what there was to see along the way. At first my path took me along the left bank of the West Yegua for a couple of miles. (I passed by Wagners and by Peter Urban, who actually only later moved here to the place at which Hermann Urban had lived for so long.) So, after several miles along the creek, I crossed over, without a bridge, naturally, for bridges were almost non-existent.

Rev. Proft lived not far from this creek on property he had bought three years earlier and on which he built a two storied house after his wife and newborn daughter had died during the time he still lived in Fedor. These deaths had occurred in 1874 (or 1873). Proft himself was often sick with a fever and never fully recovered even at his new place. In 1875 he resigned from his ministry in Fedor and then gathered a congregation beside the West Yegua where he lived. This was Ebenezer congregation, which dedicated its church in 1876. I also want to mention about Proft’s two storied house that he had gathered there during 1875 a conference of pastors of the Missouri Synod in Texas. At exactly that time, a powerful storm came up from the Gulf across Texas. (The town of lndianola was completely destroyed and never rebuilt.) During those days, the pastors there naturally could not make their way home, and so they stayed, a harmonious group, and worked with each other on their sermons for the following Sunday.

My path carried me farther along over what was then the beautiful San Antonio Prairie. Now one sees only fenced fields and pastures where cattle graze and hay is made, though the area is still pleasing to the eye as one comes out of the monotonous post oaks to the open vista extending for miles. I think, however, that the region was even lovelier in its original condition sixty of more years ago, before Mr. H. Schkade and others bought barbed wire and began to fence their land, forcing us who wanted to make a quick trip to Giddings to go around the long way instead of going straight through, as before.

We arrived in Giddings after being underway for three or four hours. There I tied my horse to a tree and looked around the town a bit. For a town only six years old (it was founded in 1871 when the railway was laid there, about the same time that Lee County came into existence), the place was marked with active life and doings, with its stores and residences. The houses were mostly quite primitive, made of logs or lumber, but the businesses fared quite well, with farmers coming from all around to buy and sell, bringing along their wives and children to spend a few enjoyable hours, to meet acquaintances, and in general to have a pleasant day. Mr. Soder, the merchant from Paige, once told me, “People gladly go to Giddings, where they gather as though at a fair.”

One can name a few industries which were in Giddings at the time, the brewery belonging to a Mr. Umlang and the gingerbread that one could get from Hardmeier and the ginger beer from Mr. Joekel. You could certainly buy coffee, but not so easily a cup of coffee. I do not believe there was a restaurant, or “cafe,” as we now say, in Giddings back then. In spite of numerous businesses and considerable sales of wares, there was no bank. I once received a check from up north but could not cash it here in Giddings, with the result that I had to travel to Austin to get my money. People from Serbin and elsewhere who wished to deposit their money in a bank perhaps went to Mr. Engelke, who at the time was a banker in Brenham.

[PART 2]

I rode on to reach Serbin, first to the home of Rev. Geyer, who extended the invitation. I arrived at the oak forest along Rabbs Creek, the place from which twenty­ two years earlier Rev. Kilian, the leader and founder of the Serbin colony, wrote to Prof. Walther in St. Louis and asked him to send his reply to a certain blacksmith in Round Top named Vetter “because here in the oak forest along Rabbs Creek the mail will not find me.” Kilian knew Walther well, had studied at the university with him. Soon after the Wends had immigrated to Texas, Kilian sent a lengthy account to Walther, subsequently printed in Der Lutheraner. Kilian also became a member of the Missouri Synod already in 1855.

Serbin made a lasting impression on me already on my first visit, but it has always seemed to me to be noteworthy, even worthy of special honor, as the place where our church was planted in the middle of this mighty state of Texas, undeveloped as it was at the time. When I first came to Rev. Geyer before my installation in Fedor and saw the two churches of our synod so near each other, one a massive stone church, the other quite new and beautifully painted, even if built of wood, and was told that both were filled on Sundays with people listening to their respected pastors and that both were having their children instructed by able teachers, I could not help but wonder and rejoice at this. (Nothing was said about the regrettable separation that had occurred in 1870, six years earlier.)

St. Paul’s (Rev. Joh. Kilian) had about seven hundred members, about twice the size of Rev. Geyer’s congregation, named St. Peter’s. Only six miles away was the Warda church, made up of Wendish people as well, with about the same number as that of St. Peter’s. And if you add Fedor and Ebenezer on the San Antonio Prairie, then you see that the original colony of only 500 had raced upward to about 2,000 in only twenty years.

I had in my congregation many people from both of these Serbin churches, and they often told me about their experiences: the trip on the sailing ship; the seventy­three snatched away by cholera even before they had managed to leave Europe behind; their time in Houston, where Rev. Braun took in as many of the large group as possible, while the others had to camp out in the open; the first difficult times for the settlement and the limited accommodations in Serbin; years of drought and bad harvest during which one had to pay more than a dollar for [a bushel of ] corn [maize?], besides having to go get it from far away; the Civil War, a bad time for the wives as well, in that they had to do men’s work in the fields and the like along with the spinning and weaving for clothes, taking care of the meals in spite of having very little with which to work.

As I arrived at Rev. Geyer’s home, I was almost embarrassed by the friendly welcome and attention intended for my pleasure. The parsonage was simple and not even as large as mine in Fedor. But Mrs. Geyer made her house a virtual jewel box. Everything was altogether tidy, and the tables and other furniture were covered with white cloths. At mealtime everything was refined and orderly, the table prayer spoken while we were standing. The mother stood beside the daughter, Helene, who later became the second wife of our Rev. Buchschacher and still now lives in Austin. A son too, the future Dr. Geyer, was still at home with his parents. At the time that I first learned to know him, he was helping at St. Peter’s school temporarily, after Teacher Leubner was called to be director of the orphanage in Des Peres, near St. Louis.

What a festive Sunday morning that was in Serbin, when both church bells sounded and one could see the colorfully clothed crowds hurrying in! Rev. Geyer paid careful attention to decorum, good order, and accepted customs in the church service, and he gave me faithfully the hints and instruction so necessary for a young preacher. I had learned my sermon, based on the parable of the four types of soil, well, and was sure that my interpretation [of the text] agreed with that of Walther in his Evangelium postille [sermon studies on the Gospel lessons].

To the left of the chancel sat the directors [Vorsteher], just as in Fedor. In that way, the directors could observe the congregation and, on the other hand, the congregation sees the directors and finds a good example in their conduct.

The service closed with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Afterward, I received a good dinner at the Geyers’ and conversed with them for a short while. But then I needed to hurry home to marry a couple in Fedor on the same day. It was the wedding of father Andreas Symmank, whose first wife had died on the very day of my installation in Fedor, October 1, 1876. The bride was a woman recently immigrated from Germany, whose name, sadly, I have forgotten, though I knew her later as a faithful wife for Mr. Symmank and a good mother of the daughter which the Lord had given her when her husband was already quite old.

I rode to Serbin slowly, but rode back as quickly as my Rattler could run because the marriage had to take place before dark, and it was expected that I be on time. I did not disappoint them in their expectations.