March 17, 1938 – Sixty Years Ago

This article by G. Birkmann, pastor emeritus, first appeared in German in the 17 Mar 1938 edition of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt. It is presented here transnlated by Ray Martens.

Sixty years ago was the year 1878. That year still calls to mind for me many memories. The first is that the Rev. Friedr. Koestering [from St. Louis] visited our congregations in Texas during February of that year and was also in Fedor in my own congregation. Soon thereafter, Ernst Winkler, a gin operator in Fedor, drove me to The Grove to his brother Wilhelm, who had lived there for several years without the support services of the church. This trip was about a week in duration. Beyond that, I first attended a conference with Rev. Braun in Houston after Pentecost, and then in the fall a conference hosted by Rev, Johann Kilian in Serbin. During July of the same year, my sister, who earlier had taken care of my household, entered the holy estate of matrimony with John Falke, a member of my congregation. Naturally, I had to take care of the wedding, and that was a major event for me, if for no other reason, because thereafter I had to manage on my own.

Furthermore, in that same year at the invitation of Rev. Stiemke, the one in charge of our district, I traveled to Dessau, near Austin, where Hofius had been pastor until he moved to Cypress. I was supposed to preach and to offer the Sacrament to the two families in Dessau who at the time still belonged to our synod.

We pastors of the Missouri Synod also had an assembly during this year with a number of pastors of the Texas Synod in order to discuss possible differences in doctrine. From the other synod were the pastors Lieb, Rudi, and Pfenniger, and from our group Stiemke, Roesener, Geyer, P, Klindworth, and I. The discussion took place with Rev. Klindworth in William Penn, Washington County. I remember that we went over, among other topics, the doctrine of Holy Baptism, and we were fully agreed, as we also in other points. In the following year came the beginning of the well-known predestinarian controversy [On what basis did God elect some to be saved?], which then divided the two church bodies more widely.

Further discussion of this matter does not belong here. My intention in this article is to tell of my association with brothers in the ministry of my own synod—only a few of us back then—but especially about a visit with my friend and classmate, the Rev. Heinrich Wischmeyer, at the time in Swiss Alp, Fayette County Texas.

Rev. Kaspar, my nearest brother in the ministry, wanted to take me there in his carriage, a so-called “hack” which he had, a comfortable wagon with springs, which means that there were steel springs under the wagon box and a black cloth cover over the top of it with a number of seats placed in the wagon so that a family, not unduly large, could find places.

Rev. Kaspar was a dear friend of mine, one that I visited often, for he lived only about five miles away on the San Antonio Prairie, and, as a bachelor, I had the need from time to time to be with a family where I was welcome and could feel at home.

His wife came from White Oak, near Houston, out of a congregation that belonged to the Texas Synod and was served by Rev. Krapf. In 1874, that congregation called the Rev. A. H. Th. Meyer from the Missouri Synod. Their little church building was destroyed by a storm in 1875, but was rebuilt with the help of other congregations. But Rev. Meyer went back up north already in the following year. The congregation in White Oak then went back to being served by the Texas Synod.

Kaspar had come to the area of Freiburg, Fayette County, Texas, already in 1867, served as a missionary there, and organized the Evangelical Lutheran Church there two years later, a church that has now existed for sixty-nine years and where the Rev. E. C. Knoernschild is the present pastor. Kaspar was called to Ebenezer congregation on the San Antonio Prairie in Lee County as Proft’s successor in 1877 and served there until 1889. Church and parsonage were under one roof. On the west side of the building was the room appointed for church services and also for school purposes. About a hundred people might have found a place to sit there. On the east side were several smaller rooms where the family of the pastor, not very large at the time, lived.

Apart from his work as preacher and pastor, he also had to conduct the school of the congregation, which he did gladly, and he had a relatively large number of students, robust boys and radiant girls among them from the Lehman, Schkade, and Kieschnick families, among others.

On Sundays, the pastor distributed in his cordial way the treasures which he had gathered during the week from Luther’s writings and Walther’s sermons. The organ—not a pipe organ—was played by August Wurm, and the congregation sang the beautiful hymns powerfully.

Those that occupied the parsonage also did not lack for physical exercise and activity. They had a rather large vegetable garden about three hundred feet south of their residence, where they grew vegetables, especially cabbage and potatoes for domestic use.

Kaspar’s oldest son was August, who, doubtlessly, had hardly started to school in 1978, Lydia the oldest daughter, then a son, Immanuel, who years later became a teacher, first in Rose Hill, Texas, and later in Peoria, Illinois, where he died five years before his father.

Kaspar and I rode together to Rev. Stiemke in Warda, a trip of about eighteen miles, and that gave opportunity for an exchange of thoughts. I liked to listen to Kaspar when he became enthusiastic about his home in Switzerland. Born in the canton of Aargau in 1842, he determined as a youth to become a proclaimer of the Gospel and entered the Chrischona Institution in Basel, which educated missionaries for heathen nations and also for the United States. There he also prepared himself in the carpenter’s trade—they had to learn a trade at the institution—a field in which Kaspar acquired real efficiency. This institution sent a number of candidates to Texas, where they were members of the so-called Texas Synod. So too with our Kaspar.

But then, when he learned to know Rev. Stiemke, who had served the congregation at Swiss Alp from Warda, he received much instruction from Stiemke and also from Der Lutheraner and other writings of the Missouri Synod. That was in 1875, when he entered our synod with his congregation. This matter was on his heart, and he did not tire of talking about it and praising the grace of God, who included him through the knowledge of true doctrine.

He clung strongly, as is said of the Swiss in general, to his old home country, could talk about the high mountains, the Alps, which he could see all aglow from his home in Aargau with their snow fields and glaciers, and about how those who lived in the Alps could yodel and sing so beautifully as they tended their herds of cattle, etc.

Our dear Buchschacher in Warda was also from Switzerland, Bern Canton, also in the midst of the mountains.

When he got together with Kaspar and they came to speak about their homeland, they both surely felt some homesickness for their Swiss home. After all, everything there was beautiful and good, more than anything also the cheese, Swiss cheese. Buchschacher told me that he sometimes cooked a Swiss dish for the sake of the experience.

We arrived at Warda with Rev. Stiemke. I had already come to know him at the college in Fort Wayne as he was in the topmost [of six] class when I entered [1867], then soon he went on to the seminary in St. Louis, yet served as an auxiliary teacher back in Fort Wayne after only one year and then sat out an additional two years. When I entered the seminary in St. Louis [1873], Stiemke was there again in the upper class [of three]. After the completion of his studies in 1874, he was sent first to what was then the Dakota Territory and served among German-Russians. He was called away from there and then came to Texas at the end of the same year to serve on Rabbs Creek, as was said at the time. His church was located on that creek, not far from Captain Schneider. His lodging was not in the church building like that of Rev. Kaspar. The parsonage and church both certainly were simple, as the people in Post Oak country back then and in part still today happily adapt themselves to simple conditions. At that time, Stiemke had a wife and two small children, a girl and a boy. In his flock at the time, there were still authentic Wends [Stockwenden], which means, people who understood only Wendish, and Stiemke found himself forced to learn Wendish, and he was successful to the extent that he could administer Communion in Wendish and also speak a bit with people in their time of need.

He was a sincere and faithful well-educated man. He had abundant knowledge and experience. He was esteemed and loved in his congregation and also in the circle of his brothers in ministry. Along with that, he was humble and friendly, full of love and confidence. He loved to talk and one like to listen to him speak, for he was full of life and also loved fun and humor.

So, it was that all three of us, Stiemke, Kaspar and I, drove the next day to Swiss Alp to

Rev. Wischmeyer. He had studied with me in Fort Wayne and St. Louis for nine years, and we came to Texas together at the end of September, 1876. Wischmeyer was granted a wife already during the next year, one who came from Cleveland, Ohio, just as he had. He invited us so that we might see how good it would be if one had a helpmeet to live in a congregation like his and in such a beautiful area. [Birkmann would not marry until eight years later.]

On the way from Warda to Swiss Alp, one first comes to La Grange, the old town on the Colorado River where many Germans, and also Lutherans, lived, but where they had no Lutheran congregation nor Lutheran preacher. Occasional attempts by the Texas Synod to found a congregation there had failed. That was already thirty years before we went through La Grange in 1878. Now, however, there is a congregation in La Grange belonging to the other synod and also a congregation of the Missouri Synod, along with the old Trinity Hill congregation near the town. Both exist under the leadership of our energetic Rev. A. E. Moebus.

We drove on to Swiss Alp. At the time, we did not know it by this name which brings to mind tall mountains, and, when you arrive, you ask where the Swiss Alps are. Rev. Wischmeyer’s address was High Hill, and we knew the congregation by that name back then. The place was also called Louis Settlement, as it had been known previously when the original Rev. Kilian, the grandfather, provided churchly services to the Wends in that area.

Even though there are no Swiss Alps, the entire way from La Grange to Rev. Wischmeyer’s congregation and much farther to Schulenberg is all a fine area. Nothing but open, wave-like prairie with beautiful farms on both sides of the road, good homes and much pasture land, with much hay already made. At every farm, we saw haystacks, a sight that we are not accustomed to in Post Oak country, where there is limited prairie and seldom any hay. And as we drove through back then, the whole landscape was lit up by the dear Texas sun, and one smiled and one’s mouth overflowed with praise for this region. And even though one of us said nothing about the area because of how seldom a tree was to be seen, perhaps this would have been precisely the person who was happiest about the beautiful view.

Wischmeyer had several people in his congregation who had come from Cleveland to settle there: Plackes and Hoelters. Back then, several who had moved there from Serbin when they continued to receive churchly service from there also still lived here: Knippas, Ritters, and others. A Kiesling and a Kaase family were also there, all these named families having many children, along with a number of names I never learned to know or have forgotten. In short, Wischmeyer had here a good number of people who were quite well acquainted with sound Lutheran doctrine and practice and were willing to support him in his work and also sent their children to the parochial school which he conducted, etc.

Certainly, he also took pains to win others and to establish and build his congregation correctly through faithful pastoral work, primarily through the preaching of the Word of God.

His household affairs were in good hands, for he had a wife who was very “proper” [he uses the English term], as one sometimes expresses it. Everything in the house was neat and interesting, and she is one who knows how to care for guests well. Later, when I went to visit the Wischmeyers in Rose Hill—he was called there in 1881—Wischmeyer told me, “My wife buys no “canned goods” [again, the English term] in the store, just fruit and vegetables that we do not raise ourselves. She puts it up [i.e., cans it] herself, and that is better.

We three visitors to Swiss Alp returned home a day later, a long way, perhaps forty miles. Stiemke got off in Warda, and we arrived at Kaspar’s home late at night. I stayed there that night, and my riding horse, who in the meantime had stayed at Kaspar’s, took me back to my congregation and my home the next morning. Sadly, a member of my congregation, had died during my absence, Wilhelm Wolf, a farmer and gin operator on Bluff Creek. He had also been buried already because they could not wait for my arrival in the summer heat. There was no ice and no possibility to keep a body longer. I then spoke the funeral address for this good man on the following Sunday