Ths article by G. Birkmann and translated by Ray Martens was originally written in German for the Texas Distriksbote (Messenger) of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in April 1926. It was also published in English for the Texas Lutheran Messenger supplement to the Lutheran Witness.
A letter from old Rev. G. Birkmann to a friend who wants information about the beginnings of our synod in Texas.
October 22, 1924
It made you happy that Der Lutheraner and, even more, The Lutheran Witness, have drawn attention lately to how good it would be if we studied with more enthusiasm the history of our own synod and to that end preserved documents, minutes, and reports of boards, instead of allowing them to be lost.
Especially older people, including pastors, are frequently challenged to note down their memories. In fact the stipulation is made that they should have the aptitude for that. But perhaps it is also not unwelcome if they can merely tell something in a general way about what they have seen and experienced in the walk of life. And even if no complete report exists, yet even individual pieces are not worthless.
You, dear friend, are not unacquainted with the history of our congregations in Texas, but you would like to know more about the beginning times and about what congregations and pastors and teachers were here fifty years ago. So you turned to me, I would wish that you had written instead to Doctor Baepler, or to Rev. Wischmeyer or Rev. Roesener, who also lived in Texas fifty years ago, or at least nearly so.
You would like to have a somewhat detailed account. I cannot do that at this time. That is too much to bite off at one time. The first thing that I want to do, therefore, is to see to it that you have an overview of the first period, namely from 1855 to 1882. The first convention of the newly founded Southern District was held in February of 1882 in New Orleans.
Until that time Texas belonged to the Western District of the synod. This letter will not treat what happened in Texas after that first convention in New Orleans.
I am taking you, dear friend, by the hand, so to speak, and letting you see for yourself what I see. One travels better in company, the way that allows one to point out what seems to him to be important or new. [The paragraphs above are the friend-to-friend introduction to the lengthy historical account which follows and which appeared serially in both the Distriktsbote (German) and Texas Lutheran Messenger (English) between 1926 and 1928. The sectional headings are taken from the articles as they appeared in the Texas Lutheran Messenger.]
The Trip to Fedor
My companion on the journey from St. Louis to Giddings, Texas, at the end of September, 1876, was the Rev. (at the time candidate) Henry Wischmeyer. We were classmates in Ft. Wayne as well as in St. Louis. Both of us were assigned to Texas, Wischmeyer to Swiss Alp, Fayette County, and I to Fedor, Lee County (Burleson County at the time). We wanted to arrive in Giddings in order to be installed around the first of October. Wischmeyer's congregation was about thirty-five miles south and mine twelve miles northwest of Giddings. Our trip went from St. Louis to Dallas via the M. K. & T., thence via the H. & T. C. to Hempstead. A branch line covered the last miles over Giddings toward Austin. It took us three days to make the journey. People from Fedor welcomed me, and Wischmeyer's people came to get him. Pastor Stiemke, who had served Swiss Alp from Warda, ordained him; and since Pastor Geyer had served Fedor from Serbin, about 18 miles distant, he was the one who ordained me. I may surely say that I liked going to Texas. I was glad to receive the call there. I looked upon it as a proof of divine goodness, and because of that was freed from various doubts and uncertainty. To whomever the Lord gives work in His vineyard, he it is that He wants for His servant. Him He has accepted.
The Beginning at Fedor
My congregation in Fedor received me kindly. It had been vacant for a year and had repeatedly sent out calls in vain. It was founded in 1870. The vice-president of Synod, the Rev. Theo Brohm, Sr., at that time visited the Rev. Kilian, Sr., in Serbin, along with his congregation, and on the same occasion came to Fedor because he had heard that Lutherans were living at that place. Under his direction a small band of people there joined to form a congregation. In 1871 the congregation called Candidate J. A. Proft, after having been served by Pastor J. Palmer of Serbin. Proft for a time had been in Hermansburg with L. Harms and had then studied in the practical seminary at St. Louis, and, because he was of Wendish extraction, the congregation, which almost entirely was made up of Wends, called him. At first, Proft preached both German and Wendish and distributed the Lord's Supper in both languages.
You would like to know, dear friend, what is meant by the word “Wends.” They hail from Germany, from Saxony or Prussia, but they are descendants of the Slavs, hence are not originally of German stock. Germany in olden times was inhabited in part by Slavs. Remnants of them survive in Upper and Lower Lusatia till this day. The Reformation found a ready welcome among the Wends. The Bible, the Catechism, and the hymns were translated into Wendish. Pastor John Kilian, who in the latter part of 1854 emigrated to Texas with 500 Wends, was himself a Wend and had translated Luther's Large Catechism into Wendish and composed hymns in that language. He preached and ministered more frequently in Wendish than in German, because he had only a few people in his congregation who were unable to understand Wendish.
No Insistence of Wendish
The Wends whom I found in my congregation, some of whom had come from Serbin and some of whom had but recently found their way in from Germany, understood and spoke also German. They had for this reason, already before I came, given up Wendish as the language of worship; and they gladly contented themselves with German preaching, all the more since some exclusively German people were affiliated with the congregation, and since some of the Wends themselves preferred to hear and speak German.
Pastor John Proft
Pastor Proft was a practical sort of a man. He was able to draw up the plans for a church and parsonage and, on occasion, do carpenter work himself. He was interested, moreover, in building up the congregation in the Word of God and in faith, but in governing he was not successful. He met with resistance and opposition, not wholly without cause. He suffered much from climatic fever, through it losing also his first wife. After some years he resigned and accepted a call to Ebenezer, a congregation which he had just founded. It was situated five miles south of Fedor and consisted in part of people from the older congregation, who now wanted to be released from Fedor. After serving this congregation for a year and a half, he moved to Sherman, Texas, where we shall meet him again.
My first stay in Fedor, 1876-1879. I shall never forget. Such opportunities for work! Quite enthusiastic Christians, most of whom had come from Serbin, set the pattern, diligently coming to church and sending their children to school and catechetical instruction. (Christenlehre). Immediately I had a class to prepare for confirmation, ten catechumens for whom much of what for lack of attendance they did not know had to be made up, but they were willing and diligent. I also found pleasure in the people as I learned to know them in visits to their homes. How friendly they were, obliging, willing to listen to their pastor and to smooth the way for him.
Economic and Climatic Conditions
The living conditions were simple compared to those up north, as I had been accustomed to them. In my home state (Illinois), the people were twenty years farther advanced. They had better houses and farms and orchards. Agriculture and commerce were better developed than in Texas. But here, too, one could feed and clothe himself and find a roof for protection against wind and weather. The industrious and such as formerly were used to better conditions soon established themselves in a manner sufficiently homelike and comfortable.
The roads of that time, which took a more direct course because the country was sparsely settled, were much more to my liking than those of a later date, at which one drove back and forth between fences in ruts worn deep by much traveling. Today paved highways are built for automobiles, and one gets somewhere quickly. People are in a hurry. Formerly, fifty years ago, you took your time and lived simply, quietly, and comfortably.
My church in Fedor had to serve at the same time as school building. The church benches served as school benches. We had a little stove, but the room was large, and the walls had no ceiling. Above we could see the rafters of the roof. It was often rather cold there in winter, but we endured it, and later, of course, things improved.
The cold days in the South often are welcome. They have an invigorating effect, and offer a change after the hot season. Even in winter in Texas one has mostly sunny and often very mild days, on which windows and doors stand open, and the men work in shirt sleeves. The days on which the heat stove is put to use are very few.
Early Days of Serbin
When I first saw Serbin, it was a colony about twenty years old. They had bought land in February, 1855, and then assigned to the individual families their share. In 1857 and the following year it was hot and dry, and, as a result, crop failures and scarcity set in. Cornbread and bacon could be had only at high prices. Sweet potatoes and syrup were a rare treat. But there were also good years in which these provisions of the settlers were available in rich supply. The parsonage built right at the start served as a church as well. In 1859 the first church was built of boards. The dedication took place on Christmas Day. The resident pastor preached in Wendish, German, and English (in the latter language for the American neighbors). Soon the Civil War came, and everybody knows that the South had to suffer more because of it than the North. Manpower and livelihood were all but wiped out. But Texas was favored over the other Southern states in not being overrun by hostile forces.
Teacher G. A. Kilian
Soon after the war, in 1867, teacher Ernst Leubner was called to take charge of the school, which until then had been conducted by the Rev. John Kilian. That very year the first college student from Texas entered our institution at Addison. He was the future Teacher G. A. Kilian of Serbin, who in 1872 became teacher in his father's congregation, and then served there 44 years. In September, 1916, he was taken away at the age of 64 years and entered into rest with Jesus.
In 1867, the Rev. Herman Fick came to Serbin in the capacity of visitor, and then took young G. A. Kilian along to the north that he might receive his education in the Teachers' College. Since at that time there was no railroad from Texas to St. Louis, one had to travel to Galveston, take a ship to New Orleans, and then a Mississippi steamboat to St. Louis.
The New Church Building
The Serbin congregation in 1867 undertook the building of a new church. It was constructed of quarry-stone, very solid and durable, to be sure, with the walls of the church three feet thick. It is also spacious and serves yet today as the place of worship for the congregation. The construction, however, did not progress quickly. Various difficulties were encountered, and not until December, 1871, was the church completed and ready for dedication.
The Division - St Peter
In 1870 many families separated from the older St. Paul's congregation (that of Rev. John Kilian), and founded a new congregation, St. Peter’s, which called the Rev. John Pallmer as its first pastor. St. Peter’s built a church and personage in addition to a dwelling for Teacher Leubner, who became the teacher in the new congregation. Rev. Pallmer had served in the "Rauhe House" in Hamburg, had then come to St. Louis and studied there in the Practical Seminary of our Synod, and had for a year been the pastor of a congregation in North St. Louis (an area called Baden). Because he was born a Wend, he was called with the provision that he preach in both languages, German and Wendish. People were used to this and claimed that they could not exist without Wendish. But as time went on it became evident that they could get along quite well even with German only. For most of the families of this congregation were Germans, and, even if of Wendish descent, they nevertheless could speak and understand German with ease. But in Pastor John Kilian's congregation, the great majority were very much attached to the Wendish language, some being even so-called Stockwenden, that is, such as habitually spoke Wendish, and only with difficulty could understand German. Kilian had the larger congregation, numbering almost 600 souls. About half as many belonged to St. Peter’s. The members of the two congregations lived mixed together with no parish boundaries, and the churches stood not far apart, in fact, immediate neighbors side by side. In 1914 both congregations united again, and now there is only the first old St. Paul's congregation.
Pastor John Pallmer
Pastor Pallmer was a very faithful and industrious man. He expended much effort to care for his congregation, and this in both languages. As stated before, for a year he also preached in Fedor. In the year 1873 his wife died of a climatic disease, whereupon he also took sick, and after several weeks followed her, leaving behind a little son, who was adopted by Teacher Leubner and his wife, and was brought up and treated as their own dear child. He later became Teacher Pallmer, who passed away last summer in St. Louis.
Pastor Adolf D. Greif
After Pallmer's death, the congregation called the Rev. Adolf D. Greif, who for the previous three years had been pastor in William Penn, Washington County, Texas. Greif was ordained in St. Louis in the summer of 1870, and was the second pastor of our synod who came to Texas from the north. John Zimmerman was the first, entering his labors in Texas already in 1868, as will be pointed out again later.
Greif took charge of the congregation at William Penn, which had existed already ten years, but had not yet joined our synod. Greif was a capable, quick, and skillful man, and an effective preacher. In Washington County a few miles north of Brenham, he gathered a congregation, called Prairie Hill, which he then served along with William Penn. Greif accepted a call to Serbin at the close of 1873, and the William Penn congregation called the Rev. Peter Klindworth, who in 1871 through Greif's efforts had come to Prairie Hill. So Greif was in Serbin at St. Peter’s, and Klindworth in William Penn, where at first he also served Prairie Hill. But the undertaking miscarried. The people of Prairie Hill had themselves ministered to from other quarters.
Two years, 1874-75, Greif was at work in Serbin, preaching occasionally also in the new little town of Giddings, where, however, no organization of a congregation was effected at that time. I once heard a man in Giddings express this opinion concerning Greif: "A good preacher, but he quotes too many Bible verses."
Geyer and Kilian Meet Again
At the beginning of 1876 Greif took a call to Little Rock, Arkansas. The Rev. C. L. Geyer from Carlinville, Illinois, was called to St. Peter’s in Serbin. So now two former fellow-students at the University of Leipzig got together in Serbin: Geyer, born 1812 (a cousin of Dr. Walther, who likewise studied simultaneously with Geyer at Leipzig), and John Kilian, born in the same year as Walther (1811), who too had been a student-mate of both Walther and Geyer.
Pastor C. L. Geyer
Rev. Geyer had arrived in St. Louis with the Saxon emigration of 1839. He was, as stated by Lindemann in his time in the School Journal, the first Lutheran parochial school teacher in St. Louis. He was one of those candidates for the ministry, who indeed looked ahead to a call to a pastorate, but meanwhile were ready to serve the church in any capacity. Geyer became pastor in Wisconsin in 1844, where he did much mission work and traveled and was the first to serve an entire series of currently flourishing congregation. He belongs with Lochner and others to the pioneers of merit our Synod had in the Northwest (Wisconsin). In 1860 Geyer became pastor in Carlinville, Ill. He was at work there for 16 years, until 1876, and then again in Texas for 16 years, from 1876 to 1892. Geyer was the first one of our pastors in Texas whom I learned to know. He did me many a good and loving turn. I must here set up a little monument to his memory. He was an extremely modest and humble, but at the same time an able and experienced man, faithful in every way. His sermons were transparent and simple enough that any child could follow him, apt at teaching, rousing, consoling. Even as an old man he still learned his sermons by heart word for word, and then delivered them as he had written them. He caused the Word of God to dwell richly in the congregation and the congregational meetings. The congregation exercised good discipline under his direction. His good discipline and love of order served effectively as a pattern for everybody. Although he did not seem to be any too robust physically, yet he was imbued by a strong will and a tenacious vitality, which enabled him to be active almost to the completion of his eightieth year. He was 73 years old when he preached a delightful pastoral sermon for us at the New Orleans convention. Only a few weeks before his end he always took part in the sessions of the Warda convention. His end came on a Sunday when, in administering the cup, he felt his strength failing him. He put down the chalice, staggered, was supported by the elders, and was carried into his house, where in the afternoon he commended his spirit into the hands of Jesus, literally fulfilling in his case the words of the hymn: "And so I stretch mine arms to Thee, And gladly hence betake me; Peaceful and calm my sleep shall be." With outstretched arms he greeted Him.
Pastor John Kilian
Already seven years before, Rev. Kilian, Sr., had died on September 16, 1884. During his last year, his son, H. T. Kilian, was in charge of the ministry in the congregation. His father had been in the ministry 48 years when he died, about 30 years in Texas. The first eighteen years after his ordination he had been pastor in Hochkrich, Saxony, and in Prussia. There he had ministered to those Lutherans who had left the state church. Kilian had witnessed against false doctrine and practice both orally and in writing. The Wendish congregation under Kilian therefore emigrated mainly because they felt religiously cramped and oppressed; that is why they rejoiced here in their religious freedom. The Church and the Word of God were, and still are today, regarded by the congregation at Serbin as first and most necessary, as they properly should be. In their old Pastor Kilian, called to lead them, first across the ocean, then through the hard initial times in Texas, they had a gifted preacher, a scholar well versed in the Scriptures, and a sociable, friendly, and genial man, and also to them the word applies: ''Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you" [Hebrews 13:7].
Pastor Timotheus Stiemke and his Congregation in Warda, Texas
Among my fondest memories of this time dating back almost 50 years are my recollections of my friend and colleague Stiemke. He had yet spent one or two years (Secunda and Prima [the fifth and sixth years of the program]) with me in Fort Wayne when I was in the lower classes. He had entered the Seminary in St. Louis, but did supply work for a number of years, including one year as assistant in the Fort Wayne College. In 1874 he finished in St. Louis and then entered work in South Dakota among German Russians. But no doubt for good reasons he soon thereafter accepted a call to Warda, Texas, where he was installed at the end of 1874.
The Warda congregation is situated some six miles east of Serbin. Most of the farmers there live along Rabbs Creek in Fayette Co., where the land in part is very good. The founders of the congregation likewise were Wends, who with Rev. Kilian, Sr., had immigrated to Texas and until 1873 were under his pastoral care. However, they founded a new congregation under Pallmer and Greif, and after their first pastor, Zapf (not a member of the Missouri Synod) had died, they called Rev. Stiemke. In Stiemke they had a man who offered them the Word of God clearly and richly, faithfully instructed their children, diligently cared for the sick and forsaken, and who even, for the sake of the Wendish fathers and mothers who as yet did not know much German, himself studied Wendish, and for this purpose had one or the other of the Wends of his congregation come to his house every week and teach him the language.
Stiemke, who, sad to say, died already sixteen years ago, was a very suitable man by virtue of his gifts and of his character for the state of affairs in Texas at that time. He was an eloquent man and gladly heard as a preacher, although he did not memorize his sermons word for word, but after thoroughly preparing himself, spoke freely. On practically all questions that emerged in State and Church, he was well informed, not only from what he had read, but through reflection on his own. The best thing about this man was his great friendliness, his open-heartedness and affability. Without ambition and without regarding himself of any special importance, he soon gained a high level of confidence and esteem on the part of his brethren in the ministry and of the congregations in Texas. And at the first convention of the Southern District, he was elected president and re-elected as long as he was in the South.
Pastor Stiemke, in 1877, hosted the Pastors’ and Teachers' Conference of Texas. The only Christian Day School teachers in the State were Kilian and Leubner, both in Serbin. The pastors present were: Geyer, Kilian Sr., Wischmeyer, Kaspar, Proft, Klindworth, Hofius, Maisch, Braun, Stiemke, Birkmann, eleven all told. All the pastors of the Missouri Synod active in Texas at that time are mentioned here. Information has already been given on Proft, Kilian, Geyer, and Stiemke. Now I want to give some report about the others.
Pastor Jakob Kaspar
Kaspar (Jakob) in those days served the congregation in which Rev. Bohot is now located, the one at Engle [i.e., Salem, Freyburg]. For about ten years Kaspar was a member of what was called the Texas Synod, one which took no firm standpoint on doctrine. Everyone taught what he deemed right, and even Reformed views were tolerated. Rev. Stiemke came to a clear knowledge of Lutheran doctrine and practice through Rev. Stiemke and by diligent reading of our books and Der Lutheraner. He stepped out of the Texas Synod and was received into ours in 1876. With him went his congregation at Engle. In 1877 Kaspar was called to succeed Proft as pastor of Ebenezer, about 8 miles north of Giddings and 5 miles south of Fedor, a congregation already mentioned. He directed the affairs of this congregation 13 years, working faithfully and diligently. Two other congregations came into being out of Ebenezer, which he served. St. John's congregation at Lincoln in 1886 and the new Ebenezer congregation at Manheim. The latter was founded in 1890 after Kaspar had accepted a call to Cypress. Since then the original Ebenezer has ceased to exist. The old church, which had done duty as the pastor's dwelling as well, was sold and for many years, perhaps to this very day, used by the buyer as a home. Since 1900 Kaspar has been retired and lives at Anderson, Texas.
Pastor E. H. Wischmeyer
Rev. E. H. Wischmeyer, the one who, as noted earlier, was my comrade in college and also made the trip to Texas with me, was pastor of the congregation at Swiss Alp, at that time called Louis Settlement (P. 0. High Hill), Fayette Co. In his congregation likewise the first impetus to organize came from Wendish settlers. Old Rev. Kilian and probably also Rev. Geyer had occasionally visited the little flock, and Stiemke organized and induced them to call a pastor of their own. Wischmeyer worked there until 1881, also doing mission work in Colorado Co. in the region around about Columbus. Without a doubt he worked well there and with good results. In 1881, he came to Rose Hill as Roesener's successor, and there had a great sphere of activity. He liked Texas very well, but family circumstances compelled him to leave Texas in 1888. Now he is a pastor Oil City, Pennsylvania.
Pastor Peter Klindworth
Rev. P. Klindworth was pastor in Prairie Hill from 1871 to 1873, and then successor to Rev. Greif in William Penn until 1890, where in the fall he resigned on account of illness and went to his relatives in Kansas. After his recovery, he served congregations in Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri until he died in 1913 at the age of 63 years. Almost half the years of his ministry he spent in Texas. He belongs to the pioneers of our synod in this state. Under sparse conditions he worked faithfully, and taught school regularly in Wm Penn. Also in Lyons and Mound Prairie in Burleson Co. he was the first one to seek out the people. Neither rain nor cold nor heat nor distance could keep him from going there in some conveyance or even on horseback.
It was in Klindworth’s house already in 1878 that the first free conference [apparently called “free” because the discussions were informal] took place between some pastors of our Missouri Synod and of the Texas Synod, which at that time still belonged to the General Council. On one side were Pastors Roesener, Klindworth, and others; on the other side, neighboring pastors of the Texas Synod, among them Lieb, Rudi, and Pfenniger. We deliberated on a number of doctrines of Scriptures, and also on holy Baptism. The controversy over the doctrine of Election was not yet in full swing. At another time in the same year, we met in Brenham in a friendly consultation. We agreed in almost all points with the pastors of the Texas Synod and had the intention to continue our free conferences. But because of changes in location by a number of our pastors soon thereafter (Stiemke, Roesener, etc.), the matter came to a halt.
Pastor Caspar Braun
The remaining three pastors of the eleven mentioned above were stationed in Harris Co. Rev. Braun had been a pastor in Houston since 1850, and in that year, with half a dozen pastors, a part of whom were as yet without congregations, founded the Texas Synod, and was elected to be its president. A year later Braun left that synod, and remained without synodical connections until 1876. The Kilian emigrant group came through Houston in 1854, and Rev. Kilian was received by Braun and taken in.
They continued to correspond with each other. By the end of the sixties Braun was quite attached to our synod. That is to say, he advised the congregation at Rose Hill, which until then had had pastors of another synod, to call a pastor of our synod. Thus it happened in 1868 that J. Zimmermann came to Rose Hill as the second pastor of our Synod in Texas. I would like to say more about Zimmermann’s work below. Here I must indicate something more about Braun's leaning towards Missouri, namely that he on January 7, 1872, installed the Rev. Andr. Schmidt in “Little Cypress” [later named simply “Cypress”] assisted by Rev. Zimmermann. (Andr. Schmidt in 1874 accepted a call to Osage County, Missouri.) Similarly, Rev. Braun on July 20, 1873, installed the Rev. A. H. Theo. Meyer in his congregation at White Oak Bayou, Harris County, Texas, likewise under the auspices of J. F. Buenger, president of the Western District. (Meyer reported in Der Lutheraner, volume 32, that his church, destroyed by a storm during September, 1875, had been rebuilt and was dedicated with a sermon by Rev. Braun.) (Rev. A. H. Theo. Meyer went to Missouri during September, 1876, and became pastor in Appleton, City, Cole Camp. Missouri.)
But Braun did not join our synod until May of 1876. He submitted to a colloquy examination by Dr. Walther in the presence of the gathered Western District convention. He was given the advice to study diligently, but he was taken in. He remained a member for several years. Then, already in 1879, he left, and that led to the dissolution of his congregation. About 20 families said that on account of certain circumstances (the visitor, Rev. Koestering reported about this in Der Lutheraner at the time) they wanted to be free of the congregation and Rev. Braun, or even more, that they would forfeit their share of the congregational property. So they built a new church [Trinity] and called Rev. Stiemke from Warda. Stiemke was installed early in 1879 and remained in Houston two and a half years. His successor was the Rev. Gotthold Kuehn.
Pastor John Zimmerman
The just named Rev. Zimmermann served Rose Hill from 1868 to 1876. His labors were extensive and very successful. The congregation was well taken care of by him, and he took charge of the Lutherans without churches from all around. From Cypress and from Klein, (called Big Cypress at that time) the people came to attend church at Rose Hill and had their children baptized there. Zimmerman also began to preach at Cypress and at Klein and to gather congregations.
Pastor J. M. Maisch
The Rev. J. M. Maisch was installed at the latter place toward the end of 1874. He had been the first German Lutheran pastor in Kansas City, installed there in 1872 by President Buenger himself, but already in 1873 we find him in Paola, Kansas, and by 1874 in Klein. He held this position five years, at the same time taking care of Cypress, until Hofius in 1876 took over Cypress. Maisch in 1879 became my successor in Fedor, Lee County. In 1882 he made a trip to Walburg, organized a congregation there, received a call there in the fall, and accepted it. A year later he became the first superintendent of the newly founded orphanage (Bethlehem) in New Orleans. In later years he served a number of congregations up north (Nebr. and Wis), and in 1912 departed this life as a member of the Wisconsin Synod. Maisch had an energetic, fiery disposition, at first carrying people along with him by his zeal, but we do not find in him a patient, persevering way of working.
Pastor August Hofius
At the conference which met with Rev. Stiemke at Warda in 1877, I learned to know the Rev. A. Hofius. His large frame and his genuine kindness and friendly nature caught one’s attention, and one was not disappointed on becoming better acquainted. Hofius was a man who, together with the other colleagues, made visiting conferences a delight. He came, in 1873, to Columbus, Texas. In the vicinity of this little town in Colorado County several Lutheran families had called him as their pastor. The little congregation, however, did not last long. They were served for a time after the departure of Hofius by Rev. Wischmeyer. Later the few who were still interested in church and school left that part of the country and moved to a place where they had both.
Hofius, in 1875, became pastor of a congregation near the state capital, Austin. The settlement was called Dessau. Already in the following year he left Dessau and came to Cypress, Harris County, Texas. When the people at Dessau sought a pastor from us [i.e., Missouri Synod] again in 1878, it became evident that they were concerned only about staffing the public school, alongside of which the pastor could add preaching a sermon every other week. That would suffice. How Hofius had come to serve Dessau and then why he had to abandon it so soon again, I have not found out.
At Cypress he then worked two years. We now had three young, vigorous pastors in Harris County; Maisch in Klein, Zimmermann (and soon after Zimmermann, Roesener) in Rose Hill, and Hofius in Cypress. Here in Cypress a greater zeal and love for God's Word and the church was also evident. Unfortunately as soon as 1878 we had to be informed that our Hofius accepted a call to Nebraska.
Pastor Paul Roesener
The name Roesener was mentioned above. I do not want to make a great fuss about him because he is still alive and surely he will obtain these lines to read. [Birkmann and Roesener were close friends. This comment may be tongue in cheek or an expression of concern that Roesener would be embarrassed by such generous praise.] On the other hand, his efficacy during the short time he stayed in Texas was so gratifying and so signally blessed that this must be emphatically reported. He came to Rose Hill at the close of 1877 as Zimmermann's successor. Zimmermann had planted there, Roesener watered and cultivated the garden, and God gave the increase. The number of members grew, the school received an able teacher (G. Hennig), and a large church was built with sufficient room to accommodate the large number of hearers. Pastor Roesener also worked outside of his congregation. After the departure of Hofius, he served Cypress and then also Klein beginning in 1880, and he helped out the new congregation in Houston by preaching and the like. At our conferences Roesener was a distinguished and popular member by virtue of his talents, education, and sunny disposition. Already in the early days Texas had excellent men. If only they had stayed longer! Yet they did not leave without important reasons. Roesener was called to Zion in New Orleans in 1881.
Pastor August Wilder
The congregation at Klein (P. 0. Spring) had received Candidate August Wilder as their pastor after Maisch, who had moved to Fedor. He, too, was a faithful servant of the Lord, and his activities were greatly blessed. His strength was consumed by incessant, patient, and skillful efforts in church and school. He was in Klein for nine years (until the end of 1889). He was very careful and conscientious, neglected nothing which he recognized as a duty of his, and was a diligent participant at conventions and conferences, always a friendly and dear brother and advisor to all of us.
Pastor Simon Suess
Different from those of us who came from St. Louis, in the course of both his education and life, was an elderly pastor in our conference by the name of Simon Suess. He attended the mission institute at Basel and then spent 17 years, from 1849 to 1866, as missionary in Africa, then came to America and became a member of the Illinois Synod, but then after the required colloquy in 1872 a pastor in our synod in Iroquois County, Illinois. At the beginning of 1877 he sought a new home in Texas. At first he lived for a while at Winchester, then accepted the call to the congregation at Black Jack (now the one near Engle). So it happened that he succeeded the Rev. J. Kaspar, who had assumed charge of Ebenezer congregation in Lee County. Suess labored in that congregation until his subsequent death in 1904. However, on account of old age (he was eighty at the time) he had resigned two years before. Suess at opportune moments, at mission festivals, for instance, could tell stories from Africa and about its savages and their remarkable language. He was rather well acquainted with Hebrew and once made the remark, not unimportant, that there is a striking resemblance to Hebrew in the language of the savages, as he had learned it. His congregation was small (he reports 14 members in the convention report of 1882), but at that time he had as many outsiders as children of the congregation in his school and catechetical instruction, and so ample opportunity was afforded him for profitable work. Unpretentiousness and contentment were peculiar to him and stood him in good stead.
The Beginnings of our Church in North Texas
The congregations referred to until now are all situated in South and Southeast Texas. The only congregation in north Texas being served by one of our pastors was the one in Dallas. The mission at Sherman had been started, but it did not become an established congregation.
During 1874, Visitor Tirmenstein traveled through Texas. He came also to Dallas, where some of his former parishioners (in New Orleans) were now living; namely, the brothers Carl and Louis Ax. Perhaps this visit by Pastor Tirmenstein was the reason that in the fall of the same year Candidate A. Baepler was sent as a missionary to Dallas. Rev. Baepler the following year went back north, and I don't know whether in the two succeeding years any Lutheran preaching was heard in Dallas. But in 1877 Pastor Proft came to Sherman, and doubtless soon took over the work in Dallas. At the beginning of September, 1879, I was called to Dallas, where by that time Proft had already gathered a number of Lutherans. There were about seven or eight families, and later, when services were being conducted regularly and school was being taught by me, about six or seven more joined. In the 1880 Western District report, fourteen voting members and thirty school children were reported by me.
Dallas was then a city of about 10,000 inhabitants. Besides our German Lutheran congregation, there were also other German congregations, one Methodist and one Presbyterian. Before long also a German Union church arose. So there was no lack of peop1e who took an active interest in the Germans who moved to Dallas or who already were already residing there for some time, and sought to win them for their church. Several families in our congregation already had been members in one of our congregations up north.
Mr. Karl Ax, a farmer who lived fourteen miles out of town, attended services every Sunday, and with his whole family, at that, if the roads and weather made that humanly possible. He was also friendly and, what is more, the one who advanced out of his own means the money for a small church and the required lot. Two little rooms in the rear of the church served as my dwelling. A second Mr. Ax (Ludwig) gave us a good organ, a “Melodion.” Here I spent three quite delightful and profitable years and had many experiences which proved of benefit to me later. In 1882 my first congregation (at Fedor) called me back, and I returned to my former setting gladly and with better insight.
Rev. Proft remained in Sherman until the close of 1879. He introduced me to his work there because he was about to accept a call to the state of Missouri. Proft had built a nice church in Sherman, which we lost, however, because the lumber had not all been paid for, and only a few people in Sherman cared anything for church. Nine miles northwest of Sherman there were about five families who were church-goers, but they wanted the services to be held in their own settlement so as not always to have to make their way into town, at least when the weather was cold. After Proft had left Sherman, I preached out there to these people, almost all of whom had been members of Missouri Synod congregations up north.
I preached repeatedly also in Honey Grove, but this was after February, 1882, and hence does not fall within the scope of this report. In 1883 Pastor Theo. Kohn began his work in North Texas.
The Southern District Organized in February, 1882
When the Southern District was organized in February of 1882 nine of the eleven pastors in Texas were present. Of 13 congregations, nine belonged to Synod (and three were taken up at that gathering). The following is the list of teachers: G. A. Kilian, St. Paul's Serbin, in office since 1872; C. F. Braun, St. Peter’s, Serbin, in office since 1879, moved to Michigan in 1883; Heinrich Nehrling, Houston, in office since 1879, Fedor, 1881-1882; G. O. Hennig, Rose Hill 1879-1883.
4 congregations in Lee County, all members of Synod (1882); 3 congregations in Fayette County, only Warda a member of Synod (1882); 1 congregation in Washington County, received into membership in 1882; 4 congregations in Harris County, three members of Synod, Cypress not yet a member; 1 congregation in Dallas, not yet a member of Synod in 1882.
The pastors in our Synod prior to February, 1882, listed by the year they first came to Texas, are:
1854 (at the end), John Kilian, died in 1884;
1868, John Zimmerman, Rose Hill until 1876;
1870, A. D. Greif, William Penn, Washington County, since 1874; to St. Peter’s in Serbin in 1875; to Arkansas early in 1876;
1870, John Pallmer, St. Peter’s, Serbin, died in 1873;
1871, J. A. Proft, West Yegua (Fedor) until 1875; Ebenezer at the edge of the San Antonio Prairie 1876-77; Sherman 1877-79; then to Missouri;
1871, P. Klindworth, near Brenham, then in 1874 at William Penn until he went to Kansas in 1890;
1873 Andreas Schmidt, Little Cypress (now Cypress) until 1874, when he listed his address in the Western District report as Black Jack Springs, Fayette County.
1873, August Hofius, Columbus; Dessau 1875-76; Cypress 1876-78; then to Nebraska;
1874, A. Baepler, Dallas until 1875, then to Missouri;
1874, Tim. Stiemke, Warda until 1879; Houston 1880-82;
1874, A. H. Theo. Meyer, White Oak Bayou until 1876, then to Missouri;
1874, J. M. Maisch, Big Cypress (later Klein) until 1879; Fedor 1879-82; Walburg 1882- 83;
1874, A. H. Theo. Meyer, White Oak Bayou until 1876, then to Missouri;
1876. E. L. Geyer, Serbin (St. Peter’s) until 1892, when and where he died;
1876, H. Wischmeyer, Swiss Alp until 1881; then in Rose Hill until 1888;
1876, G. Birkmann, Fedor until 1879; Dallas 1879-82; Fedor 1882-1922;
1876, Jakob Kaspar, Black Jack (Engle) until 1877; Ebenezer in Lee County until 1890; then in Cypress;
1877, Simon Suess, Black Jack (Engle), 1877-1902, where he died in 1904;
1877, Paul Roesener, Rose Hill until 1881, then to New Orleans;
1880, Aug. Wilder, Klein (Big Cypress) until 1889, then up north;
1881, G. Buchschacher, received into our Synod by colloquy in 1879, served a congregation in Algiers, La., until 1881; then to Warda as Stiemke’s successor; still serving in that congregation.
This list shows that from 1854 until February 1882 nineteen [20?] pastors entered service in this state. As noted above, 11 pastors were here already in the spring of 1877, and at the beginning of the Southern District there were still only 11 pastors. That is explained by the removal of several because they left, or, in one case, because of death.
As I began to write the foregoing report, it was my intention to be brief. But the material expanded while I was at work to the extent that that I still have not nearly exhausted it. I have been able to bring together the individual items only in a fleeting way.
If this or that is missing, then one should consider that this is merely a sketch. And, beyond that, one should always have in view that only persons and events before the reported date (Southern District Convention, 1882) could be considered.