May 31, 1934 – My Visit to My Brother-in-law, John Falke, in Copperas Cove 42 Years Ago

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, first appeard in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on May 31, 1934. it was translated from German by Ray Martens.

            The first family from among our Lutheran congregations in Lee County who made their way to Copperas Cove, Coryell County and settled there was that of Christian Jakob from Fedor. He bought a tract of land there, and, naturally, he was pleased when others chose to be among those who followed him to that area. In February of 1892 Johann Falke followed him. [His wife was Birkmann’s older sister, Maria, who had come to Fedor with him in 1876 to keep house for him until her marriage to Falke in 1878.] Falke almost always had been sickly while he lived with his family in Lee County. Copperas Cove must have recommended itself to him as a healthier place. In hindsight, without a doubt he fared much better in his new home. But, with reference to the church, those who arrived there first had to do without quite a lot, as also in other places where no Lutheran church or school was yet to be found.

            At the end of the beautiful month of May in 1892, I decided to harness up and visit my relatives in Copperas Cove. I also hoped that my failing health would improve as a result of this trip and stay.

            The first day I came as far as Mr. Peter Zieschang on Brushy Creek, About eight miles south of Taylor. This trip was nothing new to me, for I had often already been with this man and preached in his house when the neighbors and people from Thorndale came there for the service. Now, however, in 1892 it was Rev. Gesterling from Thorndale who preached for Zieschang for the last half year in the newly built church dedicated in December of 1891. For six years, from 1885 to 1891, I had held services, alternating between Thorndale and Zieschang’s house.

            As I now arrived at Zieschang’s altogether unannounced, I already knew that a friendly welcome awaited me, especially from the good mother Zieschang, who was always hospitable, a good wife, now supported in her efforts by the wife of her son Carl, for Carl lived with his parents in the same house.

            The second day I came to Walburg and to Rev. Sieck, who had lived in Walburg only a short time. He was called there in the fall of 1890 and appeared in full youthful strength, about twenty-seven years old. The Feast of the Ascension was coming up, I accepted gladly the invitation of my dear brother in ministry to stay with him until after Ascension Day.

            Sieck preached to a full church, still the first little church, it is true, the one built ten years earlier when Rev. Maisch came there and in which also Rev. Ernst had proclaimed the Word of God for five years. But Rev. Ernst accepted a call to St. John’s in Lincoln in Lee County right at the beginning of 1889, and the Walburg congregation was without a pastor until the end of 1890.

            Those were a couple of enjoyable days that I spent with Sieck and his family, but it was now appropriate to move on. It was my intention to get all the way to Copperas Cove on the same day, and that happened, but with God’s help, for the road was often risky and adventurous. You have there what you may call a road, but to use this road required what only Texas drivers and horses are accustomed to. There were stretches before arriving at Florence in which one had to drive down rocky slopes, from step to step, from Boulder to boulder, just as though you were sliding down a big, wide stairway with horses and wagon. I wonder how today’s automobile would stand the test, but surely today that stretch of road would long have been changed and improved.

            Florence has a lovely lake in a valley not far from the Lampasas River. Soon I drove through a river, sometimes deep, but now low, and then stopped in order to consume my noontime snack and to allow the horses to rest a bit.

            I also saw new flowers, different from any I had known before, and I took my net out of the wagon to catch some unfamiliar insects, one a new kind for which Prof. Heinr. Friese provided a name and description, and until today no second example of the same kind is known. The days in May are long, and I still had five or six hours before me, but now I had seriously to get busy to arrive at my brother-in-law before dark. I still had twenty or more miles before me, and to ask where a new settler lives is not always accomplished so quickly.

            The road led westward through beautiful fields. Gates needed to be opened and securely closed again, but then I always had another corn field in front of me—the corn just then was fresh and green, about to tassel. So it went mile after mile until I left Bell County and entered Coryell County and Copperas Cove. Just how I managed to find my brother-in-law I do not know anymore, but I did finally arrive, and I believe that they were as happy as I for us to be together again.

            Falke, my brother-in-law, lived at the time in a very makeshift house with a new little building next to it, which served as my bedroom. The next morning, I inspected the area. South of Falkes was a stretch of land miles wide, a grassy prairie where horses and cattle were seen grazing, surrounded on its south and east sides by rather steep hills, or one could call them mountains. Those hills formed a closed barricade with no pass or opening. We could also, without hesitation let my horses graze there because good, rich grazing would take care of them for a while, and, if perhaps they wanted to go back to Lee County, they would be stopped by the mountains, which could not be scaled.

            So much was different in this area, and I welcomed explanations and reports during these days. My sister was also happy that we could speak with each other again about her new impressions and experiences in this remarkable place. Already in the first week that I was there she had what was certainly a very alarming new experience. At noon on the Saturday before Pentecost, there came a heavy rain with a storm which tore open the door to the room in which we were—Falke was gone just then—and my sister and I had to exert our full strength to close the door, and, beyond that, to keep it shut until the pressure let up a bit. The children screamed and yelled, and the room was entirely wet from the invading water. The next morning, we saw that the corn in the field was on the ground, but Mr. Falke told me that the corn would right itself again later, exactly what did happen, and Falke ended up having a good corn crop.

            What struck me especially was that I often saw in that area fences made of stones. There was no shortage of stones. One had only to pick up those on the surface and pile them up to build fences, instead of rail fences, as in Lee County and other places where wood was plentiful.

One day my brother-in-law drove with me to Lampasas, about twenty miles west of his home. The city lies near the Lampasas River and is the county seat for Lampasas County, and at the time had at least some renown because of its sulphur springs. Present there were bath houses, sanitariums, and the like.

I inspected the city with interest and decided to drive back later and to try the sulphur springs. Beyond that, I considered driving farther to the San Saba River and perhaps also to explore the area of the Llano River. I had horses and a wagon, of course, and feed for the animals and food for me I could certainly obtain on my way for some money, along with housing for the night and whatever else might be necessary. So I went to Lampasas for the second time without my brother-in-law, who, of course, had his farm and work to tend to. Upon arrival in Lampasas, I saw many people, for there that day was the Democratic convention of the State of Texas in order to nominate officials for the state. At first, I was taken to be a delegate and was directed to the reception area, but I explained that I was not a delegate, and I was left undisturbed. But I did attend the assembly that day and heard some speeches and saw how they tended to business at that time. Governor Hogg, who had already served one term, was named a candidate again and then elected in the fall.

My main business though was to drink the much prized water and to bathe in it. I received the drink at no cost, but, naturally, I had to pay a bit for the bath. For lack of experience, I drank freely and repeatedly. The result was that I had to seek out a pharmacy, and during the night following I was thoroughly cured of my desire for experimentation, and the next day I drove back to my dear brother-in-law and sister in Copperas Cove. It was getting dark already when I arrived. My sister soon recognized my voice and called out, “Oh, it is you. How is it that you already ended your trip?” I answered, “Yes, I gained from my experience, and now I will stay with you even longer.”

So then I spent several very pleasant weeks with these relatives of mine. My health soon became better. My sister provided for me in an excellent way out of her garden, and there was no lack of vegetables, eggs, milk, butter, and the like, for the milk cows at this time found plenty of the very best grazing out there among the mountains. During the day, I spent much time outdoors, that is, in the cool morning hours and in the afternoon as the shade lengthened, even from time to time took a gun and tracked a rabbit or other wild game, of which there was plenty to be found at the time. I have never seen so many jackrabbits as there at the Falkes. Obviously, we made good use of the animals we got. To scale the so-called mountains was somewhat too difficult for me, for they were almost covered with undergrowth and often steep, so that one could seldom reach the top without great difficulty. Places where rattlesnakes had their hiding places were shown to me. During the day, you seldom saw them, but they came out at night to look for their food. More than rarely they came near the residences, and there were many hair-raising tales to report about these unwelcome guests. Christ. Jakob brought me a rattlesnake which he had killed in a chicken nest. It was three feet long and weighed nine pounds, not a very large example, but yet as thick as the upper arm of a man.

I was interested in many things about the farm work at Copperas Cove, so different from that in Lee County. First, the rocky fields, from which the rocks had to be removed again and again when they were brought to the surface by the plow. And, in spite of that, the soil was not barren, but mostly loose dirt which produced a good yield. Beyond that, while in Lee County one saw the cotton plants in the fields already in April, I could notice that in the area of Copperas

Cove cotton was still planted at the beginning of June. There were other differences as well.

            A welcome change was offered us on the Sunday that the Rev. Adolf Kramer from Coryell City, Coryell County, appeared and delivered an edifying sermon for us. A year and a half earlier, he has been placed as a missionary or itinerant preacher, serving Clifton, Coryell, and other places, and so it was that he soon came also to the Lutheran families at Copperas Cove, though certainly not very often, perhaps only once a month because he had so many places to serve. But for that very reason, one was happy about his coming and about his fine preaching.

Since then, things have changed a lot in Copperas Cove. Rev. Hugo moved from The Grove to Copperas Cove and so became the first resident pastor of the congregation. Then in 1900, since which time the congregation has increased considerably in membership, Rev. Bewie was called there and served the congregation faithfully for about twelve years. Since his departure to Clifton, Louis Werner became the pastor and still continues in his prosperous work there.

            On June 20 I began my drive home to Fedor. My horses had also rested well in the pasture in the Copperas Cove area. They were able to complete the trip home in less time than previously on the way out. I returned for another night with Rev. Sieck in Walburg, and we had much to tell each other. On the second day later, I drove the whole stretch from Walburg to Fedor, with a stop of only a couple of hours with Mr. Peter Zieschang at Brushy Creek. It was a beautiful moonlit evening on which I had to pass through what is called a flat, a level, wet, treeless, deeply secluded stretch, and just there I saw a great number of copperheads on the road, first one, then another and another and another, and I felt a proper concern for my horses. But we got through this place without a problem. Then I met my family in good health. [Tragically, his young wife would die less than four months later after only six and a half years of marriage, leaving three children, the oldest of which was four.] My wife knew about my arrival. Like always when I had to be about, we exchanged letters regularly.