September 22, 1932 – About the Wendish Colony in Serbin

This article by G. Birkmann appeared in two or three parts in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 22 September, 29 September, and 6 October 1932. It is presented here translated by Ray Martens.

About the Wendish Colony in Serbin

Submitted by the Rev. G. Birkmann

            A rather large number of congregations in the state were either founded or materially strengthened and increased out of the Wendish colony in Serbin. I would like to communicate what I know about this matter in what follows. It is to be understood that the account will not turn out to be as completely and perfectly satisfactory as it would have been had the writer previously been able to investigate the subject more fully. But I do wish to share what I know. Perhaps one reader or another can report to me or to the Volksblatt itself something more exact about this or that. That would be desirable.

            When the Wendish colony traveled to Serbin at the end of 1854 and beginning of 1855, some of them stayed behind in Houston and others in Industry (near New Ulm). Those who stayed in Houston became members of Rev. Kaspar Braun’s congregation, and those in Industry were visited from Serbin from time to time by Rev. Kilian. In 1856, Kilian confirmed a boy named [Johann] Teinert there (and probably also some more). This boy reached the age of almost ninety years and died only recently in Copperas Cove, while living with his son. Among the Wends who remained in the vicinity of Industry was also C. A. Patschke, resident in Frelsburg, who later moved to Fedor at the beginning of the 1870’s.

            The region that is now called Swiss Alp formerly was called Louis Settlement. Already at an earlier time, a number of Wendish families settled down there, for example, the Knippas, the Ritters, and others. The pastor from Serbin served these people as well. He repeatedly made his way both to Louis Settlement and also to Industry on horseback. The congregation in Swiss Alp was later served by Rev. Stiemke and Rev. Geyer, but in September of 1876 received their own pastor in the person of Rev. E. H. Wischmeyer.

            The congregation in Fedor was not really founded [in 1870] by people from Serbin, but by people who already lived there, like Andr. Melde, Andr. Pillack, Aug. Polnick, Andr. Symmank, Matthes Domann, Ernst Lehmann, and some others. But these certainly were also of Wendish origin, and, at first, they went to Serbin for church services. And, three years later (1873), four families came to Fedor for the first time directly from Serbin, people who were very zealous and who contributed much to the success of the congregation. They were Jakob Moerbe, John Wuensche, Karl Dube, and Aug. Dube. Then, in the following years, Andreas Falke, Sr., Peter Urban with his sons Hermann and Otto, John Zschech, Ernst Dube, and others. And, about ten years after the founding of the congregation [i.e., ca. 1880], a major immigration of Wendish people from Saxony and Moravia took place. Rev. J. A. Proft, who entered the ministry in Fedor in 1871, preached in both German and Wendish at first and also distributed the Lord’s Supper in the Wendish language. But, after two years, the use of the Wendish language was abandoned because everyone in the congregation certainly understood German, and most could also readily express themselves in that language.

            Holy Cross in Warda came into being in 1873, almost twenty years after the Wendish immigration. At first, they had a Rev. Zapf, who, however, died after one year. Then they called Rev. Tim. Stiemke, who was installed at the end of 1874. This congregation, like St. Peter some years earlier, left the old St. Paul (Rev. Joh. Kilian), breaking away from it, as one might say. The Warda congregation consisted overwhelmingly of Wends, and, to be sure, in part of Stockwenden, which means, of the kind who understood only a little German. So it was that Rev. Stiemke sought to gain the confidence of the Wends and allowed himself to be instructed in their language by the council members, who came to him at night, achieving success to the extent that he could distribute the Holy Sacrament in Wendish and speak and preach to some extent in the same language. Of the names of the older members, I remember Captain Schneider, Domaschk, Krakosky, Foerster, Stephan, Kasper, and Kasperik, and Teinert (the same person who served Rev. Johann Kilian as driver in Germany, when he visited the widely-separated houses of Lutherans in Prussia). G. A. Falke also belonged to the older members at Warda, as did Bernstein, Kunze, Walther, Jatzlau, and many others. When Stiemke moved to Houston at the end of 1879, Rev. Buchschacher from Algiers, La., was called. He entered his ministry in Warda in February, 1881, and carried it out entirely in German.

            1882 is the next date for the founding of a congregation which, unlike Warda, was not brought into being by Wends, but enjoyed a significant influx from Serbin and Warda thirty and more years ago, people who deserve much credit for their adherence to Lutheranism. The congregation in Walburg (earlier called Corn Hill) was first visited by Rev. Maisch from Fedor, and he was present when they organized. Then they called him. He became their pastor until 1883, but then took a call as director of an orphanage in New Orleans. Rev. Ernst was pastor in Walburg from the end of 1883 until the beginning of 1889. His successor at the end of 1890 was the Rev. J. H. Sieck, who still today is at work there with blessed results.

            The congregation in Giddings (Immanuel) was founded by Rev. Buchschacher in 1883 with a few families, most of whom were not of Wendish origin, but here, as in Walburg, a number of Wends soon came there, especially from Serbin and from the surroundings of the town, occupied by a considerable number of Wendish farmers. So it happened that now a large part of the congregation descended from Wendish parents [. . .] much of their [. . .] garages and blacksmiths and the like, and, out in the country, good farms of their own, for the most part. The services at Immanuel (Rev. G. W. Fischer) shortly thereafter were well attended by these farmers, and they contributed much to the furtherance of the parochial school as well.

            The next congregation [1886] established chiefly by Wends is St. John, near Lincoln. It is an offshoot of Ebenezer, just as the latter came out of the Fedor congregation. But here, as in Giddings and in the other places, preaching in the services was only in German, later also in English.

            St. Michael was founded in Winchester in 1887 by Rev. G. Buchschacher. It surely consists in large part of Wends, mostly from Serbin, perhaps also in part from Warda, people who resettled there because of the fertile soil in the Colorado River bottom. This congregation also boasts a rather large membership and conducts two parochial schools, one of the few congregations which still has a rather Wendish character, even though Wendish sermons were never preached there, nor was school ever taught in that language.

            Now we come to Ebenezer in Lee County. This congregation first (1876) stood on the edge of the San Antonio Prairie, three miles west of Lincoln. Rev. Proft together with a man named Aug. Lehmann gathered it. Proft resigned in Fedor in 1875, but then had a new church built, which, admittedly, was only five miles distant from the Fedor church. And the members of that new congregation came only in part from the one in Fedor. Probably, most had previously belonged to no congregation, which is to say that they partly had lived on the prairie only briefly and partly had been resident in the woods. Proft served this second congregation of his for about a year and a half and then made his way to Sherman. Rev. J. Kaspar was his successor, serving Ebenezer for twelve years, church, school, and parsonage all under one roof. Ebenezer at the time may well have consisted about half of Wends and about half of Germans. I submit the names of members out of the early days as follows: Teinert (earlier in Serbin), Hy. Schkade, Aug. Schkade, John Schkade, John Kieschnick, August Birnbaum, two Meissners, Wachsmann, Werner, Exner, Proske, Andr. Noack (called Sobe), Behrens, Aug. Wurm, Theo. Tonn, etc.

            In 1890, this congregation, at the time served by Rev. L. Ernst, put their church property up for sale and had another church built, southwesterly toward Paige. The move seemed to be predetermined by the offshoot of St. John, which took place four years earlier. The people of Ebenezer hoped that, if they moved their church further toward the southwest, they could win new members, and their wish was fulfilled. Here too Wendish people had settled already many years earlier, of whom I mention only the name of Andreas Kieschnick, August Pillack, Koslan, Birnbaum, and others. For many years already, Wends and Germans have become so mixed through marriage that one can hardly find his way through it. Through marriage, Germans become half Wendish, and vice versa.

            Thorndale became a gathering place for people of Wendish descent to a remarkable degree. August Polnick, Jr., established a new home there already in 1882. In 1884, also Karl Michalk with his large family moved to Thorndale and bought a large piece of land there. Otto Urban and his parents, John Lehmann, John Winter, John Moerbe, Andreas Urban, etc., all from the congregation in Fedor. The congregation was organized and the first church built in 1890 [until which time all these people were still members of the church at Fedor and Birkmann regularly went there to preach]. In 1891, Candidate Gesterling was called to be pastor. He was transferred in 1893, and Rev. A. W. Kramer was called. He began his ministry at the beginning of 1894, and it is well known how Thorndale, that is, our congregation there, grew through the influx of families out of a number of congregations in Lee County. Fedor, especially, had a significant decline at the end of the last century because of the departure of members to Thorndale. But people also resettled in Thorndale from the congregations in Manheim and Serbin.

            The congregation at what is called Hochkirch is twelve miles southwest of Thorndale and now is served by the Rev. P. B. Miertschin. In earlier times, we called this place the congregation on Brushy, because Brushy Creek is near it. The town of Taylor lies about eight miles north, and so the congregation at Hochkirch sometimes is said to be at Taylor. Its earliest beginnings go back to Wendish people. Mr. Peter Zieschang first made his way to Australia, but, after several years, went back to Germany and then came to Texas with his family in 1870, accompanied by a number of married brothers and sisters. After he stopped for a brief time in Austin, he finally bought land on Brushy Creek. From there, he attended church in Serbin now and then. But, from 1885 forward, services were held from time to time in Zieschang’s home, conducted by the writer of this article, who alternated in conducting services at Zieschangs and in Thorndale. At times, a number of Wends gathered in Brushy Creek (at Zieschang’s), namely, his brother and brother-in-law with their families, along with a Mr. Noack, but Germans in the area also took part, and people who lived in Thorndale and those who had come from Fedor were not lacking. The first church in Hochkirch was dedicated at the end of 1891, and Rev. Sieck from Walburg preached (as did also the author of this article), and Rev. Sieck brought along from Walburg for the occasion a brass band, which accompanied the singing beautifully. Since the end of 1891, this place was also served by Rev. Gesterling, who lived in Thorndale. Then, after him, Rev. Kramer did much good there, and in 1896 the congregation called Rev. Waech as its own pastor.

            We have two fine, small congregations in Coryell County, about the origin of which I wish to report briefly. One is at Copperas Cove, at the far south of Coryell County and cared for by Rev. L. Werner. Here too the first families to which the founding goes back were people of Wendish descent and, indeed, primarily from Fedor. Christian Jakob moved to this area already at the beginning of 1891, and John Falke came after him, and then Jakob’s brother-in-law Nerettig. Rev. Kramer, who was a traveling pastor in Coryell at the time, visited them a preached from time to time. Later, Rev. Oertel from Clifton did this, then Paul Riedel, and, a year or two later, H. Huge became their pastor, but he was called away after only a few years. Rev. Bewie came to Copperas Cove in 1901 and accomplished much that was worthwhile through his skillful and diligent work. The congregation enjoyed growth by way of Wends from Fedor, Warda, and Serbin. With Rev. Werner as their pastor, their situation now is good, and they have their own teacher in their school.

            The other congregation in Coryell County is located more than twenty miles north of the previous one, that is, the congregation at The Grove. It is served now by Rev. Boerger and Teacher Leimer. This one too was called into existence by Wends and gained much growth out of congregations in Lee County. The man who stood faithful to his church (he had been a member in Serbin) was Wilhelm Winkler. He certainly had roamed a great distance from that church, but he made arrangements for a pastor in our synod to come from time to time, and for a year hosted a student (Wolfram) in his house, one who preached and taught school, and then helped him financially in an excellent way as he had to continue his studies. Rev. Friedrich Wunderlich (from Falls County, where he lived) served Winkler and his Lutheran neighbors for ten years. In 1896, Candidate Huge was assigned to The Grove, but then, as stated above, became the pastor in Copperas Cove. Wunderlich then resumed serving The Grove, but later a number of pastors have been there, Lammert and Behrmann and now Boerger. The Grove can also be considered to be a plant which has its roots in the Serbin Colony.

            And that probably applies also to the congregation which is found in the state capital, the one served by Rev. K. G. Manz. A Mrs. Sawitzki, who had been in Lee County earlier, made Mr. Heiermann aware that there were Lutheran preachers there in Lee County near Giddings. Arrangements were made for the Rev. Hermann Kilian to come, and he often preached in Austin. Several families in Austin traced their origin back to Serbin. I name Schultz, Fehr, Wukasch, Swiedom, Ritter, and there are more whose names are not immediately at hand. Almost all the descendants of Teacher Gerh. Kilian live in Austin. Even though perhaps the majority of the members of St. Paul do not have a Wendish origin after all, yet, it is easy to see from what has been shared that our congregation in Austin had much for which to thank the Wendish colony in Serbin.

            There are still more congregations to name in Lee County which came into being around 1895, and which, certainly, were more or less called into being by Wends. There is Christ congregation in Loebau, which called Rev. Schaaf in 1896, who also took pains to preach in Wendish, but with little success, for, in that the people there always understood German quite well, there was no need for Wendish sermons. I believe that, proportionately, the Loebau congregation has as many Wendish families as do a number of other congregations in this county. What is certain is that the real founders, for example the Mattijetz family, were Wendish.

            Dime Box is a sister congregation of Rev. Durow in Loebau. There too are Wends from Fedor and perhaps from elsewhere.

            Bethlehem congregation in Greens Creek, eight miles southeast of Giddings, was founded by Rev. Buchschacher after he had preached there, for the people were Lutherans who previously had belonged to the church in Warda. One of these families was that of August Wagner, and, without a doubt, others in Greens Creek had Wendish ancestry.

            Now I still wish to mention congregations which received a significant increase in membership, mostly from Warda and Serbin.

            Vernon was not begun by Wends, but by Germans or, more precisely, by Swiss. Schulenburg told me already in 1893, that from Fort Worth, where he lived, he also visited Vernon and that there he was teaching the Lutheran Catechism to a number of Swiss Reformed. But Vernon has many from Warda and from Serbin, and some from Fedor also went there. Those from Warda who lived in Vernon often invited Rev. Buchschacher to preach for them on Mission Festival.

            Of considerable importance was the perceptible influence of Wends also in our congregation at Port Arthur. They went to Port Arthur by the dozens from Warda and Winchester and our congregations in Lee County in order to obtain more lucrative jobs.

            Similarly, Bishop did not remain without an influx of people with Wendish blood. Wends from Serbin first went to Fedor, then, as they to some extent, had become […], they moved to Thorndale where they would buy more productive land. From Thorndale, they directed their gaze farther, and some of the Meldes, Moerbes, Wuensches, Michalks, and a number of others made their way to Bishop. Some went directly from Fedor, for example, Karl Schubert, August [. . .], Walter Dube, etc.

            Beyond this, a number of people from Warda and Fedor relocated to the so-called “Valley.”

            We also hear about people in the city of Houston who had lived in Fedor or elsewhere in Lee County.

            Even so, our congregation in Fedor did not end up being depleted. And wherever these Wends may be, they are, for the most part, faithful children of our Lutheran Church who love and value the worship services. 

[The frayed edge of the original clipping has led to missing words in the text.]