October 6, 1933 – Reminiscences of Fifty-Seven Years Ago

This article by G. Birkmann first appeared in The Giddings News, Giddings, Texas on  October 6, 1933.

I had finished my course at the Theological Seminary at St. Louis in June 1876, and was then presented with a call to the Ev. Lutheran congregation at Fedor, Lee County, Texas. Rev. C. L. Geyer of Serbin, who was then also supplying the Fedor church, had written me not to come to Texas during the summer as there was some danger of contracting fever in the heated season. I was to arrive not earlier than the end of September, so I started from St. Louis on September 25 over the M. K. & T. Railway to Denison, then by the Houston and Texas Central to Hempstead. At this place I spent my first night in Texas, in the Sloan Hotel, as it was called. My companion was the candidate for the ministry Henry Wischmeyer, who had been my fellow student at Fort Wayne, Ind., and in St. Louis. He had received a call to Louis Settlement, now Swiss Alp, Fayette County.

In the sitting room of the hotel there was a large book containing stories of Texas adventures, the heroes being mostly desperadoes, Indian fighters, and noted pistol men. This was not the kind of stuff which should have been offered to people just coming to the state, yet Mr. Wischmeyer seemed to have been quite unconcerned on his own account, but to me he said, “Mr. Birkmann, how can you expect to get along in Texas, as you have no idea how to handle weapons?” However, this kind of talk did not discourage me. I had been reading during the summer a better book on Texas, one that had made me feel quite safe in Texas.

We arrived in Giddings on Sept. 27, and Wischmeyer was met by some of the Swiss Alp folk, while I had the pleasure of being greeted by three or four of my Fedor parishioners. They first took me to Serbin to Rev. Geyer, who was to ordain me at Fedor on the following Sunday.

Now, I shall never forget the impression I received when being taken through Rabbs Creek and seeing the trees covered with Spanish moss I had never seen before. There was no bridge over Rabbs Creek at that time. We went down the bank with full speed and up again with a jerk.

Then we came to see the venerable preacher Geyer and his family, and saw the church building quite near, and there was another stone church near to Geyer’s, and that, I was told, was the church where they had Wendish services. This was Rev. John Kilian’s, who was of the same age as Parson Geyer and had been his fellow student at the University of Leipzig, Germany, over forty years ago. I did not, however, at that time make the acquaintance of Rev. John Kilian, but later knew him well, being much interested and benefitted both by Mr. Kilian and Mr. Geyer.

On the next day I was taken back to Giddings, and there purchased, as I said in a former letter to the News, my necessary household effects at the store of Neumann and Raube, which was then at the corner where the Knox building stood. The same day I was taken to Fedor, which was then called the congregation at the West Yegua, and the first house I entered was that of Jacob Moerbe. He had come from Serbin to Fedor three years before, together with several near relatives, among them being John Wuensche, Aug. Dube, and Carl Dube. Another brother of the Dubes, Ernest, came to Fedor in 1884. Mr.Jacob Moerbe and his brothers-in-law, the Wuensches and the Dubes, have been leading members for years in the Fedor church, being very well informed and pious people, who had daily prayers in their homes, attended every service, brought up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, gave liberally from their goods for the support of church and school, and led an exemplary Christian life. I was much impressed when I learned to know them well. I don’t think that I had ever known before any people that were more desirable as church members. Certainly, there were others of this type. I have mentioned the above only because they were among the first whose acquaintance I made.

When I came to Fedor, the congregation had existed for six years, and had been served by Pastor J.A. Proft from 1871 until 1875. I will mention some of the first signers of the constitution at the beginning: Aug. Polnick, who had bought his land from Rev. Cole, a Baptist minister, serving for a time in Lexington; Andrew Melde, who had settled on Bluff Creek already in the fifties, probably about 1856, and had a large family, among them Aug. Birnbaum, a stepson, who is still living in the Manheim community; Andrew Pillack, a brother-in-law of the afore mentioned Melde, who settled at Fedor in 1870; Boback, who had bought a league of land and donated to the church fifty acres (more or less), though after a year or two he sold out to Mr. Moerbe, after having disposed of his original league to other members of the church (Andrew Symmank, for instance, along with Matthes Domann and others).

I now continue my story of my first coming to Fedor. At first, when I arrived, it was terribly warm, but in the night there came the first norther I have witnessed. I suppose the thermometer went down about forty [degrees], and it seemed quite cold for us (my sister had come with me to keep house). Friday, Sept. 29, was a holiday, Michaelmas they call it in English. There was to be a service and a deacon was to read a sermon, as the preacher had not yet been installed. Mr. Carl Dube, the father of Herman Dube (now living in Fedor), was the reader, and read well and every one of the attendants seemed to be enjoying the fine sermon of Dr. Walther’s that treated on the topic: The holy angels as servants and protectors of the children of God. I am enlarging on this because I took much courage and strength for my coming labor from what I witnessed that day. The people greeted me with evident kindness and friendliness, and that was what a young minister is in want of, and which gives him the hope that his work will not be in vain.

Sunday, October 1, 1876, I was ordained and installed, Rev. Geyer first preaching a very impressive sermon, and then performing the rites of ordination.

The church at Fedor, which is still in use, was built in 1875. I know that Mr. John Biar of Serbin (the father of August Biar) was entrusted with much, if not all, of the work. In the year of 1889 the building was considerably enlarged, and in 1913 it was renovated and the windows and seats were improved, however, essentially the same old building is still doing service after almost fifty years.

After my ordination, Rev. Geyer and myself had dinner at Jacob Moerbe’s. After that, we received notice that an old worthy woman and mother of six children, Mrs. Andrew Symmank, had died an hour or two before, and that she was to be buried the next day. That was a great stunner. A funeral sermon was to be preached by me, and I had not yet held my initiatory sermon and had never officiated at a funeral before. This task kept me busy for the rest of the day and part of the night.

The next day there was a great gathering at the funeral obsequies [a most unlikely choice of term for “rites of burial,” suggesting that Birkmann may have been using a German-English dictionary and magnifying glass for English terms not immediately at hand]. All the people came in their farm wagons or on horseback. I would say there were about twenty-five wagons and fifty horses with riders, both male and female, for every young person in those days at least in the country districts was used to riding horseback.