This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in the Texas Lutheran Messenger of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in July 1931. Subsequently it was published in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly of the Concordia Historial Institute, St Louis, Missouri in October 1934 and October 1935.
An Outline of the History of the Texas District
By Gotthilf Birkmann
The Texas District was organized twenty-five years ago February, 1906, in Houston. However, the origin of our synod in Texas must, of course, be dated much farther back. As early as 1855 the congregation of Wends which had but recently immigrated and settled at Serbin joined the Western District with their pastor, John Kilian. Up to 1882 all pastors and teachers coming to Texas and all congregations, so far as they were affiliated with synod, belonged to the Western District. There were 20 pastors (successively, not simultaneously), five teachers, and six or seven congregations. As only a few of these were able to attend the synods of the Western District, we Texans welcomed the permission to form a District of our own with Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – the Southern District, which assembled for the first time in New Orleans in Zion Church (P. Roesener; February, 1882.
President Schwan was represented by VicePresident Otto Hanser, who delivered the sermon and led in organizing the District. Pastor Tim. Stiemke was elected President, Pastor Paul Roesener, Vice-President; Pastor G. Birkmann, Secretary; and Mr. G. W. Frue, Treasurer. Prof. F. Pieper, the essayist, delivered an excellent paper on the impotence of man in conversion. Aware of the importance of missions, synod resolved to start the work by sending one missionary to Texas. The mission board consisted of President Stiemke, Pastor Wischmeyer, and Mr. Jacob Scherer.
Half of the 48 members of synod were from Texas: 12 or 13 pastors, 8 voting congregations,
3 or 4 teachers. Pastors: Geyer, Maisch, Kilian, Sr., Kaspar, Buchschacher, Suess, Klindworth, Stiemke, Wischmeyer, Wilder, G. W. Behnken, at that time a student in charge of Cypress. Teachers: C. F. Braun, Gerh. Kilian, H. Nehrling at Fedor. Congregations: Two in Serbin, Fedor, Ebenezer, William Penn, Rose Hill, Klein, Houston. All these were from four counties of the southern part of Texas. In North Texas there was but one congregation – Dallas (Pastor G. Birkmann), and this had not as yet joined synod.
Our First Missions in Texas
Pastor J. Trinklein was the first missionary of our synod in our state. He was active and successful. He reported to the synod in Houston that he had found many an opening, and related at New Orleans in 1885 that he had ceded a number of congregations to other pastors, but still retained several congregations and ten preaching stations and had more work than he could do. Pastor Wunderlich in 1884 was called to Perry, Falls Co., and thence supplied also Kurten and The Grove. Trinklein had his headquarters at Hamilton, and from here he used to go to Cisco, Abilene, and other places on the Texas & Pacific. In South Texas he visited White Hall (Yarboro), Hempstead, Sealy, Patterson, Cat Springs, and other places.
In 1883 Theo. Kohn came to be the missionary of North Texas. He had charge of the congregation at Dallas as well as of eight stations. (Arlington, Plano, Pottsboro, Choctaw, Denison, Honey Grove, etc. ) All told he took care of 85 families as reported by him in 1885.
In 1884, Pastor M. Leimer was employed as missionary for “West Texas.” Living at Swiss Alp, he served Mill’s Creek and other communities in the neighborhood of Weimar, where Pastor Schwoy had been a few months. Leimer made long trips on horseback also in a westerly direction, thus reaching Shiner, where he did the work preliminary to the founding of a congregation and the building of a church.
In 1885, Pastor Trinklein accepted a call to Houston where he stayed four years and then left Texas. After him John Barthel, in 1886, took charge of the mission work in Central and Northwest Texas. He was installed at Hamilton, but ministered besides to a dozen other places, to Pottsville and Indian Gap west of Hamilton, to the rather inaccessible places northward on the Texas & Pacific, to Jonesboro, Coryell, McGregor south of Hamilton. Riding to all these places periodically, preaching, teaching the children, getting on his horse again and riding in the glaring sun, say twenty miles, dismounting and mounting again to open as many gates, to meet an engagement to preach that evening at the next place – all this day after day for a space of three years; and on finally reaching home, he taught school at Hamilton, in his own house at that. He also took care of Clifton and Hubbard (Malone). Once he went to El Paso, and as far as I know he was the first one of our pastors to do mission work at Olney.
In 1889 he accepted a call to Houston, and Candidate R. Seils succeeded to the extensive mission field vacated by Barthel. However, before long Kramer, who later came to be president of the District, very ably assisted in this mission. Kramer lived at Coryell, but took charge also of Hubbard (Malone) and Clifton. When Seils after a stay of but a year and a half moved out, Kramer temporarily filled his place, and jointly with Richard Oertel, who became pastor at Clifton in 1891, he did much in behalf of our missions at Hamilton, Clifton, Hubbard, Copperas Cove, etc.
Oertel preached also in Waco. To this place C. W. Rische in 1892 was called by the mission board. There was a nucleus of four families, and it was hoped that a school might be successfully conducted. This hope did not materialize, and after some time Waco became vacant. In 1892 we were fortunate in getting five ministerial candidates. These were, besides Rische, Emil Moerbe for the T & P parish, Hopmann for Malone, Foerster for White Hall, Zoch for the new congregation at La Grange, – Schumacher in 1891 was installed in Hamilton Co.
As to North Texas, Aug. Ruhland came to Dallas in 1886. He started by serving, like Kohn before him, also Honey Grove, Arlington, Plano, etc., but later he extended his operations to Wichita Falls, where his uncle Ramming lived. Furthermore he called on the Lutherans in Archer Co., and at Olney in Young Co., to whom Barthel had called his attention. But two years later he had to leave this field for reasons of health, and Pastor Heyer replaced him, coming to Dallas in 1889 and taking charge of six places besides Dallas. Pastor H. Schmidt, about 70 years old, assisted him. Schmidt preached at Olney, Wichita Falls, and Iowa Park. To the latter place he called special attention as very promising at the synod of 1892. There were 15 families at Iowa Park who made use of the means of grace. In that very year John Schulenburg of Minnesota, an able and popular missionary, was called. He made his home in Fort Worth and there gathered a small congregation, but his parish embraced also Bridgeport, Decatur, Wichita Falls, Iowa Park, Olney and Vernon. He told me in 1893, when I traveled with him over a part of his territory, that he was instructing Reformed Swiss in the Lutheran catechism. In the following year, 1894, Candidate Melhorn was installed at Wichita Falls, who died a year and a half later. Schulenburg had meanwhile returned to Minnesota and this field became orphaned until in 1896 Francis Rudi arrived. He worked hard and well and reported faithfully, but the conditions prevailing in his district were very unfavorable. The mission board had to furnish him with money to buy feed for his horses, for even this much the people in his charge could not give him, nothing having grown in that part of the country for several years.
About this time the following men labored in South Texas: Foerster at Hempstead, Howth Station, White Hall, and Patterson; August Wenzel, who in 1893 became Heckel’s successor at Cat Spring, Sealy, and Patterson.
Let us now attend a synod in New Orleans in February, 1894. Twelve years have elapsed since the founding of the Southern District. The members of synod total 94, 55 of these being from Texas, to be exact 33 pastors, 6 teachers, and 16 voting congregations. Of the thirty-three pastors, eleven are so-called missionaries. Twelve years ago we had in the present North Texas Conference District only one pastor, the one in Dallas. Now, in 1894, there are about sixteen, but only four congregations belonging to synod, while in South Texas there are twelve of these.
Wegener was elected president in 1891 and continued to be president fifteen years while Texas still belonged to the Southern District, and after the separation of Texas he remained president of the Southern District twenty-one years. He has always sought to further our interests and to supply us with men to take the place of those who left our State. From 1882 to 1906 seventy-three pastors through resignation, death or removal, quit the service, but in these twenty-four years 101 pastors came to Texas. Among the teachers we find a similar, though not quite so striking, ratio. From 1884 to 1930, 275 pastors were installed in Texas and 199 left again, most of them through removal to the North. 87 teachers entered the service of our District and 55 left it again.
Organization of the Texas District
The first convention of the Texas District was held February 14-20, 1906, in Pastor Waech’s congregation in Houston. Of the 76 members 66 were present. 23 congregations belonged to synod, 15 in the southern and 8 in the northern part of Texas. There was a total of 42 pastors, 20 odd of these advisory; 11 teachers, all of the southern part of the State; 39 congregations not belonging to synod; 23 preaching stations; some 14,000 souls, over 7,000 communicants.
It is worth-while here to list the missions in our State at that time: Vernon (P. Holtzen), Wichita Falls (P. Deffner), Olney (Obenhaus), Bowie (Bohot), Ft. Worth (Roehm), Big Springs (vacant) , Clifton (F. Rudi), El Paso (Huebotter), Kingsboro (Sauer), Lexington (Hellman), Lyons (Liepke), Yarboro (Manz), Beasley (Neumann). Beaumont and Port Arthur were still under the mission board of the Southern District. At Shelby, Austin Co. Pastor A. Wenzel was stationed, but with his departure to Arkansas the following year, Shelby disappeared from the list of our missions.
Officials elected in 1906 : A. W. Kramer, president; Waech and Wunderlich, vice-presidents;
H. Studtmann, secretary-treasurer, Mr. H. W. Lottman; mission board, E. Moerbe, H. Kilian, Mr.
E. J. Neitsch. This year is Pastor Moerbe’s twentyfifth anniversary as a member of the mission board. Pastor H. Kilian, who died in 1920, is worthy of honorable mention here. Deeply interested in missions, he served synod gladly and well as a member of the board, also making many a trip in behalf of our missions. Mr. Neitsch was re-elected repeatedly to a position on the board.
District Convention at Thorndale in 1912
A few remarks on the congregations who so generously extended their hospitality to synod from 1882 to 1931 are in order. The Southern District convened alternately in New Orleans and in Texas: eight times in New Orleans and eight times in Texas, twice in Houston and twice at Serbin, once in Klein, Rose Hill, Warda, and Fedor. Synod then met only in the southern part of Texas. However, after Texas had itself become a District, congregations in the central part of the State entertained synod nine times, viz., Malone thrice, Perry (Riesel) twice, Walburg twice, Thorndale twice. And also the southern congregations have since then housed synod again eight times, viz.: Serbin once, Houston twice, Giddings twice (inclusive of the approaching synod), Warda, Wm. Penn, and Klein once each.
President Kramer, who devoted his fine gifts to the service of synod, managed the affairs of the District well, but out of deference to the urgent wishes of his congregation deeply concerned about his health, synod relieved him of his presidential labors. His successor, Pastor Waech, likewise served as president only three years, for in 1912 he accepted a call to Illinois.
At Thorndale the following officials were chosen: G. Birkmann, president; Kilian and Kramer, vice presidents; H. Studtmann, secretary; Mr. H. Hielscher, treasurer. As to this latter office, our first treasurer, Mr. Lottman, was succeeded by Mr. Paul Nerger, who served in this capacity long and capably, but in 1912 requested synod not to re-elect him. So synod elected somebody else, who, however, could not accept, whereupon Mr. Hielscher was prevailed upon to assume the laborious duties of this office. He served till the synod at Giddings in 1913 when Teacher Griebel was elected, who was succeeded by Mr. G. B. Miertschin.
By 1912 the District had grown to 114, of whom 94 were present. The statistics were encouraging. Synodical congregations 32; advisory pastors 33, sum of all pastors 65; teachers 18; souls 16,000; communicants 8,000.
The mission report submitted by Pastors Fischer and Kilian and Mr. Biar was full of good news. In the Panhandle the number of our parishes had grown to five and were in charge of the efficient workers Werner, Lehmann, O. Schmidt, and Recknagel. Werner had two parishes to look after. In the southern part Pastor Stelzer had begun work in Palacios; Hoemann was in Sealy and Patterson, Krause in Wallis, Stoppenhagen in Wharton; a candidate had been stationed at San Antonio, Hueschen, who took care also of La Pryor ; Pastor Brust was at work at Premont and Riviera, and the experienced missionary Pastor E. J. Moebus at Mercedes. So we had advanced on the northern and the southern front and held our ground in the center. Waco had again been supplied with a missionary (Urban) , vacancies at Lyons and at El Paso had been filled by Candidates Walter Geisler and Paul Birkmann, respectively, and Candidate A. R. Moebus had been put in charge of Bishop. In the southern part we had in 1912 eight brand new places: Palacios, San Antonio, La Pryor, Bishop, Kingsville (Pastor Eickhoff), Premont, Riviera, Mercedes.
District Convention at Serbin, July, 1918
Voting pastors and lay delegates, 38 respectively, advisory pastors 35, 18 teachers. Total 127, present 105. Souls 17,769; Communicants over 9,000, Mission stations 35, the following new since 1912: Galveston (P. Budde), Battle (P. Zabel), Menard (P. Karcher), Hooks (P. Lueker), Kress and Littlefield in the Panhandle, a new mission in Houston. Receipts for our Home Missions from 1916-1918 $49,000 in a round sum, inclusive of a subsidy of more than $12,000 from the General Home Mission Treasury. Six years before $23,000 were collected for home missions in Texas while a subsidy of $6,000 was received. The Student Fund had received from 1916-1918 $987, eight students being supported. Result of elections: G. Birkmann, president; Studtmann and Kramer, vice presidents; G. A. Obenhaus, treasurer; F. Stelzer, secretary. Mission board: Pastors Moerbe, Studtmann, Gaertner, Messrs. Kluck and Geisler. Visitors: Rische, Sik. Osthoff, Robert.
District Convention at Riesel, July, 1924
Congregations belonging to synod 53, advisory pastors 38, teachers 27. Total 176, present 140.
When the former incumbent resigned on account of eye trouble, in 1930, the vice-president, H. Studtmann, succeeded to the presidency. As evident from the figures presented, synod and its work experienced a steady growth. In 1921 it was resolved at Warda that a director of missions be employed, and Pastor W. H. Bewie was chosen for this position. He has discharged this office ten years, g1vmg his entire time and strength to it, reporting regularly on the work he is doing. The report of 1924, however, contains no account of individual stations, but only the statement that there are 107 places and that 17 parishes consist of only one congregation each.
There were other important transactions in Warda. A college committee advocated founding a college in Texas. The convention of 1922 at Houston decided to put this matter before the general body, and at Ft. Wayne the resolution was passed to grant the Texas District a “gymnasium.” Austin was selected, and in 1926 an imposing building was erected there. The institution opened with an encouraging enrollment. President Studtmann was called to the directorship and several instructors were employed. The college looks back on five years of successful work, in the course of which a goodly number have graduated to enter either Secunda at Winfield or our teachers’ college at Seward. In the past year 40 students were enrolled. The faculty consists of Director Studtmann, Professors Viehweg and Neeb, and of two assistants from Concordia Seminary.
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In this connection I want to give a few figures concerning our parochial schools. To be able to do this, I have compared various reports. I find that in 1918 38 pastors taught school and 18 teachers, the number of pupils being 2,004. In 1924 the school board (Pastor Manz, Teacher Wilkening, Mr. H. Fehr ) reported 2,500 pupils, taught by 28 pastors, 27 male and 6 female teachers, and by several vicars. In the year preceding 1,747 pupils were recorded.
Also financially the District made progress. By 1924 the District had a committee on finances composed of President Studtmann, Pastor C. M. Beyer, Pastor Bewie, Messrs. H. Fehr, Ramming and Telger.
District Convention in Houston, July, 1930
Voting congregations 70, advisory 34, teachers 44. Total 229, present 188.
When President Studtmann assumed charge of the college at Austin, the presidency of the District devolved on Pastor J. W. Behnken, then the first vice-president. In 1929 he was elected to serve as one of the vice-presidents of the general body, and Pastor C. M. Beyer succeeded him as president. The latter was therefore chairman at the synod in Houston.
New additions: San Angelo, Brady, Cisco (city), Denton, Oak Cliff, Texarkana, Pottsville, Marlin and Temple. Especially gratifying is the progress made in Houston. Several congregations have become self-supporting, and there are these flourishing missions: Central Park, Denver Harbor, South End, Lindale, and Goose Creek. In San Antonio two new missions have been started besides the Mexican mission. Other new missions are: La Pryor, Vanderbilt, Three Rivers, Harlingen and Alamo. Also in the Valley several congregations have become self-sustaining.
The field secretary reported on 41 stations besides our mission in Mexico and among the Mexicans. In the Panhandle the following places are occupied by us: Amarillo, Rhea, Littlefield, Plainview, Lubbock and Sparenberg.
The school board (Pastor H. Schmidt, Teacher K. Dube, Mr. G. Steglich ) reports 57 schools, 2,831 pupils, 38 teachers, 10 lady teachers, 23 pastors teaching school, and 14 students.
31 students receive support. Expense 1928-29 $4,365.81.
Officials: Beyer, President; Osthoff and Heckmann, Vice-Presidents; Secretary, Stelzer and (English) Dorre; Assistant Secretary Michalk; Treasurer A. T. Kramer; Financial Secretary, P. J. Klenk.