September 27, 1934 – Memories of Experiences in Fedor in 1883

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, written while in retirement in Hufsmith, Texas, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on September 27, 1934. It was translated from German by Ray Martens.

First, however, I wish to report what happened already at the end of 1882, namely, my return trip from Dallas after I accepted the call to Fedor and my second installation in Fedor, done by the Rev. G. Buchschacher with the assistance of the Rev. Jakob Kaspar. The first time, I was ordained and installed by the Rev. C. L. Geyer in 1876. I was then in Fedor for three years and then called to Dallas in the fall of 1879, where I likewise spent three years.

Meanwhile, Rev. Maisch worked very diligently in Fedor and carried on mission work. During that time, the first teacher of the congregation’s school also came, namely Heinrich Nehrling. In the summer of 1882, Maisch visited the area of Corn Hill (now Walburg), was present for the organizing, and was called there somewhat later. Teacher Nehrling also accepted a call to Freistatt, Missouri, when I came back to Fedor at the end of 1882, so I found both the parsonage and the teacherage unoccupied. Since the parsonage was being partially renovated and having an additional room added, I was to settle briefly in the teacher’s house. It consisted of two rooms along with a kitchen and porch, everything cheaply and simply made, built by the people of the congregation themselves. For a month or two, as I did once before, I received my meals from my neighbor, Jakob Moerbe and his wife, and they showed themselves to be very obliging and pleasant, for which still today I am grateful.

I conducted school for several more months, but I was able to make the congregation aware of a teacher who was temporarily not serving in ministry and who was staying with his parents in Pottsboro, near Sherman, Texas. He was the well-known Teacher G. M. Schleier, who is still living in La Grange, and who, after four years of teaching in Fedor, managed the school of the congregation in Warda for another thirty years.

Teacher Schleier was installed in Fedor at the beginning of 1883. He lived with me for several months until the parsonage renovation was complete, or, more precisely, I lived with him in the teacherage.

Later, when I could move into my own house, he took his meals with us [Birkmann and his sister Hermine] until the end of the year. Around Christmas he traveled to the area in which his parents and bride-to-be lived, and then moved back into his Fedor home as a happy married man.

I especially remember three weddings in 1883. One was that of Mr. August Moerbe to a sister of Karl Michalk, who still lived in Fedor at the time, but, in the following year, went to Thorndale as the second to move there from Fedor. August Polnick had already moved, as it is sometimes spelled [his “German” word is gemuvt], one year earlier.

The second wedding in Fedor in that same year was the one of Ernst Moerbe with Miss Maria Urban—this occurred in April, the previous one in February. Both of these couples are still living, Ernst in Fedor and August in Thorndale for years. Both celebrated their golden wedding anniversaries last year.

I shall here identify also the third wedding which I remember from 1883, this one in the fall. It was that of a Mr. Simms of Serbin, who took as his wife a daughter of Johann Jack in Fedor.

It was the custom that, as people approached the altar after the marriage, everyone placed two coins, one on one side for the teacher, who played the organ so well, and one for the pastor on the other side. Back then they were almost entirely silver coins, not nickels, which were more often in use later at these celebrations.

The first convention of our district in Texas also fell in April of 1883 in Houston. This is the first convention held in the spring that I attended; the others fell in February, when, as a rule, it was cold and often raining, and, in order to get warm, one had to look for the stove in the school building and fill it to the top and keep stirring it in order to be at least a little warm.

Of those who attended the convention, only a few are still alive. Our good President Schwann, Professor Hoppe from New Orleans, who prepared students at our Gymnasium [preparatory school], the deserving Prof. Dr. Pieper, the well-known Negro missionary Bakke, and many more have all died. But I want to name some who are still alive, among these Teacher Schleier and Teacher Hennig, along with the Rev. Paul Roesener, who now lives in retirement in Illinois.

I had my lodging in Houston with a Proetzel family. Teacher Sauer, who stayed with me at the Proetzels, died several months ago at the age of almost ninety. And the first President of the Southern District, Tim. Stiemke, died long ago, but still living in Buffalo, New York, is the Rev. Gotthold Kuehn, who was pastor of the church in Houston in 1883. Also still alive is the first missionary in our district, the Rev. J. J. Trinklein, now in Detroit, but then also present at the convention in Houston.

In June of 1883 there occurred a unique ride which I made back then on a donkey, a ride to the Danish Settlement about ten miles northwest of Lexington. In the heat of the sun I rode for twenty miles to get there on the laziest donkey in that part of the country. He had to do, however, to allow me to respond to a very urgent summons, for I could never have made my way there on foot.

In August of the same year I drove to The Grove with Karl Krueger, subsequently a member of mine in Fedor, in a borrowed buggy and with Krueger’s horses. We visited the Winklers in The Grove and August Polnick in Thorndale. I wrote about this ten-day trip earlier in the Volksblatt.

Now I must write about several experiences which were important and which affected me quite significantly. A man in my congregation became mentally ill. I was summoned to comfort him, in the hope that such encouragement could calm him. But he became worse, and he suffered seizures during which he became very agitated and loud, a time at which he could not be kept in his room. He would run out, and during the night from time he got up and rode away. I heard about that, and every time I went to bed at night during that time, the thought came to me, “How [would you react] if the man came to you tonight in his agitated state?” In fact, he did come, wanting to visit his pastor during the night. I heard the yard gate open, after which he walked through the yard and came to the steps of the porch, which, after a few steps, brought him to the door of my room. There was a loud knock, and a familiar voice cried out loudly, “Wake up, pastor, and open up!”

I got up quickly enough, to be sure, and clothed myself scantily, but to open up seemed to me to be unsafe. I decided first to ask for the advice of a neighbor and hurried out the back door and went to Mr. Jakob Moerbe, who lived about 500 steps away. Dawn was now breaking, and Mr. Moerbe was already up, and he and one of his sons accompanied me to the parsonage. We found the man still there. He had not tried to break in, and it was obvious that he did not know how to proceed. But, yet, he did say some confusing things, and then wished that I pray with him while kneeling at the altar. I followed his wish, and, as we approached the church, I saw that a kind of path or track had been trampled around the church by the hooves of his horse. The man must have ridden around the building a hundred times, always calling out loudly, “It has to change!”

Later, as we were discussing the matter at the parsonage, a relative of the man came and took him home. In the next several weeks, he had some more bad seizures and often also lay in bed talking nonsense, but finally he did improve and never again suffered such seizures. And now, about six or seven years ago, he moved and helped in the establishment of a church in the area to which he went, always showing himself to be calm, and respected and loved by all.

In November of the same year, we had another even worse event, the murder of Keuffel and Mros. These two managed the store in Fedor for Soder, who lived in Paige. On a late, dark, rainy night, while they had the store open, someone came in and demanded that they hand over the money. While Keuffel was trying to pull open the drawer, he was shot in the face and was dead on the spot. Mros tried to escape, but he too was killed by a murderous bullet. A boy, John Schneider by name, managed to save himself.

On that night, Teacher Schleier was with me. We heard the shots but did not take much notice because we often heard shooting at the store, especially at night. The next morning, we asked what had happened. People had tried to locate and track down the murderer, and, in fact, a man was brought to trial, but he talked his way out of it. Keuffel and Mros lie in the Fedor cemetery buried next to each other, and, forty years later [i.e., in 1923], on the grave of the former a monument was erected by his brother.

I have one more thing to report for the year 1882, and that is, happily something good which cheered me up and encouraged me, namely, the ordination and installation of the Rev. L. Ernst in Corn Hill (now Walburg). I traveled there to represent our president [of the Southern District] Stiemke, but this time in vain, for Ernst was not there yet. So I had to make the trip again through Austin and Georgetown, and this time everything would go well. Ernst then spent five years in Walburg and then about fifteen years in Lincoln. Admittedly, the name Lincoln came into use for the first time later in 1888. During that time, Ernst was my neighboring pastor and good friend.