This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on February 2, 1939. It was translated by Ray Martens.
Whoever came do Texas years ago had to know how to ride or else soon learn to ride. Conveyances did exist, farm wagons and also buggies and carriages, but they cost money, and the roads were not improved and fully passable, as most are today, and many people were not able to get around at all other than on a horse or on foot, for they lived in the brush, and no roads had been laid out.
Among the first necessities, especially for a pastor in the country, was a riding horse, saddle, bridle, and saddlebags. So it was that I also soon bought a horse and so for many years rode whenever I needed to go somewhere, though certainly not always with the same horse—I had three riding horses, one after the other—until after ten years I could call my first buggy my own [i.e., 1886, the year he married].
I said above, “We rode with each other.” In the first days of my tenure in office sixty-two years ago, if I had a burial and the body was being brought from the house to the cemetery next to the church, I would ride with the young men and women at the back of the procession. I could not very well ride away all alone at the front, but I joined my contemporaries, which at times were fairly large groups of young men and women—for the latter did ride back then, and almost every young woman had her horse and what went with it.
But even more often, I rode side by side with someone, that is to say, in the company of someone else—I am not now talking about a burial and the procession with a body. It was, in fact, a necessity at the beginning of my ministry to have someone with me as I rode, for I still was acquainted with very little about which ways to take. Some of these rides are in my memory, and I would like to tell of them. The first is the ride that I took with my elderly friend and neighbor, Jacob Moerbe.
Specifically, we rode to Warda in the spring of 1877 to a conference of our pastors in Texas. We were housed with Captain Schneider on Rabbs Creek. He lived near the first church in Warda, which was very close to the creek. There were eleven pastors present and, if I am not mistaken, also both teachers, the only ones of our Missouri Synod then in Texas, namely, Ernst Leubner and Gerhard Kilian (1872). The eleven pastors were Joh. Kilian and C. L. Geyer from Serbin; Joh. Proft from Ebenezer on the San Antonio Prairie; G. Birkmann from West Yegua; Tim. Stiemke from Warda; Peter Klindworth from Wm. Penn in Washington County; E. H. Wischmeyer of Swiss Alp; Jakob Kaspar from Freiburg; Kasper Braun from Houston; J. M. Maisch from Big Cypress (now Klein); and August Hofius from Little Cypress. The Rev. Simon Suess had come from up north shortly before and first lived in Winchester, but was installed there a few weeks after the conference as the first pastor in Winchester (see Der Lutheraner, 1877). However, I do not recall whether Suess already took part in the conference. Later in 1877, Proft moved to Sherman, Texas. Jakob Kaspar was called to Proft’s former congregation (Ebenezer on the San Antonio Prairie), and Suess then came to Kaspar’s place in Freiburg, only a few months after his installation in Winchester.
Mr. Jakob Moerbe, as a young man of twenty-six, came to Serbin, Texas, with the Wendish group of immigrants under the leadership of Joh. Kilian, and then in 1873 bought a farm on the West Yegua from Boback. Twenty years later he moved on to Thorndale. He allowed one of his six sons to study for the ministry, now the Rev. E. F. Moerbe in Aleman, Hamilton County, Texas. He has been chairman of the mission board in Texas for thirty years.
Another son, Ernst Moerbe in Fedor, allowed a son to prepare to be a teacher. This is Paul Moerbe, teacher for thirty years at Zion, New Orleans. Father Ernst Moerbe is still alive in Fedor, already more than eighty years old. When he was still a young lad, he once rode horseback with me an entire day. I asked him to accompany me to the area where I had gotten my horse. I bought it from a Mr. Whitfield, who lived about six miles east of Lexington on the Caldwell Road. My horse became unfaithful to me and had run back to his old range in the East Yegua bottom, where it had lived previously. So it was that we rode together, Ernst Moerbe and I [one assumes both on the same horse]. We came through Lexington where the area opened up into a large prairie, which I believe was called the Long Prairie. I have always found this area to be pretty. The land was fertile, and one saw many beautiful farms there, and I often wondered why not more of our Lutheran families settled there. Finally, we called on Mr. Whitfield. It was exactly noon, and we were invited to the table. Mr. Whitfield told us that, if we wished to look for and catch the horse, it would be an exercise in futility. We would not find it and certainly not get it. Instead, he would deliver it to me later.
That was good information to have. We made our way back, and after a few days Mr. Whitfield came with my horse and took his usual catching fee, five dollars. My Rattler was now kept in better, as I looked after the fence and maybe added a rail here and there.
We rode with each other. This time it was father Andreas Melde and I going to see the old Evergreen. There was to be an auction sale there, and Mr. Melde asked me whether I would ride with him. I accepted the invitation happily. Melde has his farm on Bluff Creek, where Reinhold Melde, a son of his, still lives today. The father settled there in 1856, two years after the Wendish immigration to Texas. The road which went to Austin passed alongside his farm there. The way that all those who traveled from Houston or Brenham back then went right past the Meldes. During the Civil War, this road took on great importance for officials of the Confederate government who drafted troops for the war, as well as for members of the state legislature, and others. Melde was always in danger of being taken away by the recruitment agents during the war years and to have his family snatched away.
He had married a widow Birnbaum, a sister of our Andreas Pillack, who died in 1910. She bore him nine children, of whom seven are still alive. She had died about a year before I came to Fedor. Mr. Melde then entered a second marriage to a Miss Handrick from Serbin, and, likewise, from this marriage nine children were born, of whom seven are alive. So, in total, fourteen are still living, six in Fedor, five in Thorndale, a daughter in La Grange, a son in Hamilton County, and a son in Bishop, Texas.
Mr. Melde liked to tell stories, especially also from his time in Germany. He came from Hochkirch in Saxony, and he knew quite a lot about “old Fritz” (King Frederick the Great), for example, how the battle at Hochkirch had gone on, and Napoleon too had fought at Hochkirch. Mr. Melde said to me about the ministers in Germany that they were fine and distinguished people, but I had him think about the fact that the pastors in this country, even if not so fine and distinguished as those abroad because they had to live in primitive conditions and mostly serve poor congregations, as it is with those who must first establish a home, nonetheless, are proclaiming the Word of God purely and correctly and in that way are sharing with people real, eternal possessions.
We rode with one another to Evergreen, came past Ebenezer on the San Antonio Prairie, and, a couple of miles farther, we were in Evergreen. A beautiful name, not inappropriate, for present there are evergreen trees, the old live oaks, and also much other green, the bushes and shrubs which thrive there. The soil obviously is richer than that over which we had ridden earlier in the prairie. It is said that Evergreen is a very old little town, or, maybe better, a settlement including the nearby surroundings. Mr. Stockton from Giddings told me that his father, Dr. Stockton, had settled there already in the 1850’s and had married a daughter of a Dr. Reb, who had been a resident there for a long time. One has to suppose that the first settlers came to Evergreen more than one hundred years ago.
As we, Mr. Melde and I, arrived there, we certainly found barely enough houses to be able to talk about a town. There was a store, a blacksmith, and several residences. The so-called auction was at one of these, but, yet, we found nothing desirable to us. It was a doctor who wished to leave there and wanted to auction off his few household contents.
Yet, this experience was also interesting for me. I had now seen the oft-named little town and had had a good talk with my companion, and such rides are also useful to one’s health, especially for one who was so much tied to his room as I was.
I want to report one more ride. This time it was the beloved Mr. Johann Zschech who invited me to ride with him to Jungmichel on Rabbs Creek, where Zschech wanted to order some leather from the tannery. Zschech was originally a shoemaker, and back then sixty years ago still made shoes occasionally, and probably more often patched them. He had first come to Serbin and then, about four years later, in 1875, to Fedor. His start in Fedor was full of heavy sorrow: his wife died, then also a promising son, and, besides, he suffered a bad broken leg. When I saw him in 1876, he was in better condition again and had taken a second wife, and these two enjoyed an entire row of blessed years. God also gave them a whole number of children, most of whom still live in Fedor.
When I rode to Jungmichel with Mr. Johann Zschech, he was in good health, strong and happy, about forty-one years old. He loved to talk and shared many of his experiences with me. After we had settled the business with the tannery, we came to Serbin, where Zschech had a sister, married to a Mr. Janasch, who was a tailor and lived there in a small house. He had two daughters, Therese, who married John Zieschang on Brushy Creek, and the other daughter was Maria Janasch, whose name we often saw on receipts for religious objects [or church supplies?].
We stayed in Serbin overnight, and the next day we rode back home together.