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 Rev. G. Birkmann
A significant number of congregations in the state were founded or materially strengthened and enlarged by people from the Wendish colony in Serbin, Texas. I wish to share what I know about this subject. It is apparent that the report will not turn out to be as completely or perfectly satisfactory as it would have been had the writer more nearly been able to investigate the matter beforehand. But I will present it as I know it, and perhaps one or another reader can report to me or to the Volksblatt itself about this or that correction. That would be desirable.
When the Wendish colony came to Serbin at the end of 1854 and beginning of 1855, a number of people stayed behind in Houston and others in Industry (near New Ulm). Those who stayed in Houston joined dhe church of Rev. Caspar Braun, and those in Industry were visited from Serbin by Rev. Kilian from time to time. In 1856 Kilian himself confirmed a boy [apparently from Industry] named [Johann] Teinert (and surely also some others). This boy reached the age of about ninety years; he died in Copperas Cove with his son not many years ago. Among the Wends who remained near Industry was also E. A. Patschke, resident at Frelsburg who later moved to Fedor at the beginning of the seventies in the last century.
The community that is now called Swiss Alp previously was called Louis Settlement. Quite early at that very place a number of Wendish families settled, Knippa and Ritter and others, for example. These too the pastor in Serbin served. He was accustomed to making his way both to Louis Settlement and 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, Rev E. H. Wischmeyer [Birkmann's newly graduated classmate who accompanied him to Texas].
The congregation in Fedor was not actually founded by people from Serbin, but by people who already lived there, people like Andr. Melde, Andr. Pillack, Andr. Symmank, Matthes Domann, Ernst Lehmann, and some others. But these were all of Wendish descent and had first attended worship services in Serbin. After three years (1873), four families came directly from Serbin, people who were very zealous and did much to help the congregation thrive, namely, Jakob Moerbe, John Wuensche, Karl Dube, and August Dube. Then in the following year Andreas Falke, Sr., Peter Urban with his sons Hermann and Otto, John Zschech, Ernst Dube, and others. Then later, about ten years after the founding of the congregation, a major immigration of Wendish people from Saxony and Moravia set in. Rev. J. A. Proft, who began his ministry in Fedor in 1871, at first preached in German and Wendish and now and then distributed Holy Communion in the Wendish language. But after two years, the use of Wendish was ignored because everyone in the congregation understood German, and most could also readily express themselves in it.
Holy Cross congregation in Warda came into being about twenty years after the Wendish immigration, in 1873. At first they had a Rev. Zapf, who, however, died already after one year. Then they called Rev. Stiemke, who was installed at the end of 1874. This congregation, like St. Peter's a few years earlier, left the old St. Paul's (Rev. Joh. Kilian), a flaking off, as it were.
It consisted primarily of Wends, and, to be precise, in part of Wends through and through [Stockwenden], which means people who understood only a little German. Rev. Stiemke tried to get on intimate terms with the Wends and allowed those on the Vorstand [church council] who came to him at night to deliberate in their language, and even went as far as to distribute Holy Communion in Wendish and could speak and preach to some extent in Wendish. Of the older members, I remember the names Captain Schneider, Domaschk, Krakosky, Foerster, Stephan, Kasper, Kasperik, and Teinert (the same man who at one time served Rev. Johann Kilian in Germany as his cart driver when the pastor visited the widely separated houses of Lutherans in Prussia.) Also E. H. Falke belonged to the group of older members at Warda, as well as Bernstein, Kunze, Walther, Jatzlau, and more. When Stiemke left for Houston at the end of 1879, Rev. Buchschacher from Algiers, La., was called. He took up his ministry in Warda in 1881 and ministered only in German.
1882 is the next date of the founding of a congregation, one which unlike Warda was not brought into existence by Wends, but received a major influx from Serbin and Warda, especially thirty and more years ago, people to whom thanks are due for clinging faithfully to Lutheranism. The congregation in Walburg (earlier Corn Hill) was first visited by Rev. Maisch from Fedor, and he was present when they organized themselves, and then they called him. He was their pastor until 1883, when he accepted a call as Weisenvater [Head of the orphanage] in New Orleans. Rev. Ernst was pastor in Walburg from the end of 1883 until the beginning of 1889. Rev. J. A. Sieck, his successor at the end of 1890, is still active in service today.
The congregation in Giddings was founded by Rev. Buchschacher in 1883 with a few families, for the most part not of Wendish descent, but here too, as in Walburg, a number of Wends came there, especially from Serbin, and the surroundings of the town were settled by a considerable number of Wendish farmers. So it happened that a large part of the congregation had descended from Wendish parents, . . . . . many . . . . . and garages and blacksmith shops, etc. And in the country they own their own good farms to some extent, and the services at Immanuel (Rev. G. W. Fischer) are well attended by these farm people, and they contribute much to the promotion of the function of the church school.
The next congregation founded chiefly by Wends is St. John's near Lincoln. It is an offshoot of Ebenezer, just as the latter left from Fedor. But here, as in Giddings and at the other places, the services were only in German, with also some English later.
St. Michael's in Winchester was founded by Rev. Buchschacher in 1887. It surely consists primarily of Wends, mostly from Serbin, perhaps also partly from Warda, who settled there because of the fertile soil in the Colorado River bottom. It also has a rather large membership and operates two church schools. It is one of the few congregations which still today has a somewhat Wendish character, even though no preaching in Wendish, nor is that the language of instruction in school.
Now we come to Ebenezer in Lee County. This stood at first on the edge of the San Antonio Prairie three miles west of Lincoln. Rev. Proft in association with an Aug. Lehmann first gathered it. Proft resigned in Fedor in 1875, but caused another church to be built which was only five miles away from the Fedor church. The members of the new congregation came only in part from Fedor. Most had previously belonged to no congregation, partly because they had not been resident there for long, some on the prairie and some in the woods. Proft served this second congregation of his about one and a half years and then resettled in Sherman. His successor was Rev. J. Kasper. He served Ebenezer for twelve years, church, school, and parsonage all under one roof. Ebenezer at the time may well have been half Wendish and half German. Here follow names of members in the old says: Teinert (previously 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 Ebenezer congregation, at the time served by Rev. L. Ernst, decided to sell their church property and to build another church four miles southwest toward Paige. This step seemed to be prompted by the creation of the offshoot of St. John's congregation which took place four years earlier. The Ebenezer people hoped at the time that, if they moved their church farther to the southwest, they would gain new members, and their hope was fulfilled. Here too Wends had settled already many years earlier. I mention only the names Andreas Kieschnick, August Pillack, Koslan, Birnbaum, and others. For many years the Wends and the Germans had become so blended through marriage that one can hardly find his way through. Through marriage Germans became half Wendish, and the other way around.
To an exceptional degree, Thorndale became a gathering place for people of Wendish descent. August Polnick, Jr., established a new home there already in 1882. In 1884 Karl Michalk took his large family to Thorndale and there bought a large piece of land. Otto Urban and his parents, John Lehmann, John Winter, John Moerbe, Andreas Urban , and more, all from the congregation in Fedor. In 1890 the first church was built and the congregation organized. In 1891 Candidate Gesterling was called as pastor. He relocated in 1893, and Rev. A. W. Kramer was called. He entered his ministry there at the beginning of 1894, and it is well known how at that time Thorndale (which is to say, our congregation there) increased in size through the influx of families out of several congregations in Lee County. Especially Fedor experienced a great loss at the end of the last century through the departure of members to Thorndale. But people also relocated to Thorndale from the congregations in Lincoln and Manheim and from Serbin.
Twelve miles southwest of Thorndale, now served by Rev. B. Miertschin, is the so-called Hochkirch congregation, or "on Brushy," as often was said earlier because Brushy Creek is in the vicinity. Because the town of Taylor lies about eight miles north, the church at Hochkirch is sometimes called the church at Taylor. The earliest beginnings of the congregation may be traced back to Wends. Mr. Peter Zieschang first made his way to Australia, returned again to Germany after some years, but then came to Texas in 1870 with his family and several married brothers and sisters. After he stopped over for a time in Austin, he finally bought land on Brushy Creek. From there now and then he came to church in Serbin. But beginning in 1885 the author of this article held services from time to time in Zieschang's home, alternating between there and Thorndale. On Brushy (at Zieschang's) several other Wends were present from time to time, namely, Zieschang's brother and brother-in-law with their families and a Mr. Noack. But also Germans from the area took part, and people living in Thorndale and originating in Fedor also were present. At the end of 1891, the first church in Hochkirch was dedicated, and Rev. Sieck from Walburg (along with the writer) preached. Rev. Sieck at the time also brought along a brass band from Walburg, and they accompanied the singing beautifully.
Since the end of 1891 this place was served also by Rev. Gesterling, who lived in Thorndale, and Rev. Kramer after him did much here, until in 1896 the new congregation call Rev. Waech.
We have two fine, small congregations in Coryell County, about the founding of which I wish to report briefly. The one is at Copperas Cove, at the very south end of Coryell County, cared for by Rev. L. Werner. Here the first families to whom the founding is traced both are people of Wendish descent and first from Fedor, to be sure. Christian Jakob had come to this area already about the beginning of 1891, and after him came John Falke and Jakob's brother-in -law, Nerettig. Rev. Kramer, at the time a travelling preacher in Coryell County visited them and 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, although he was called away in a few years. Rev. Bewie came to Copperas Cove in 1901 and accomplished much good through skillful and diligent effort. The congregation experienced growth through Wends from Fedor, Warda, and Serbin. It is now functioning well under the pastorate of Rev. Werner and has its own teacher in the school.
The other congregation is located more than twenty miles north of the former—it is known as the congregation at The Grove. It is served by Rev. Boerger and Teacher Leimer. This one too was brought into being by Wends and has experienced much growth out of the congregations of Lee County.
The man who was faithful to his church (he had been a member at Serbin) was Wilhelm Winkler. Certainly he had roamed far away from his congregation, but he arranged to have a pastor of our Synod come at times, and he hosted a student (Wolfram) in his home for a year, one who then preached and held school, and, when the student had to continue his studies, helped him along in an excellent way with financial support. Rev. Friedrich Wunderlich served Winkler and his Lutheran neighbors for more than ten years (coming from Falls County, where he, Wunderlich, lived). In 1896 Candidate Huge was assigned to The Grove, and he tended the congregation for about a year, but then, as mentioned above, he became pastor in Copperas Cove. Wunderlich then entered service again at The Grove, but more recently several pastors have served here, Lammert and Behrmann and now Boerger. The Grove, too, is to be considered a planting which has roots in the Serbin colony.
And that certainly applies also to the congregation which we find in our state's capitol city, that of Rev. K. G. Manz. A Mrs. Savitzki, who earlier had been in Lee County, made Mr. Heiermann aware that over in Lee County near Giddings was a Lutheran pastor. Rev. Hermann Kilian was invited to come, and he often preached in Austin. Some families in Austin trace their origin to Serbin. I name Schultz, Wukasch, Swidom, Rieger, and there are more, but their names are not immediately at hand for me. Just about the entire posterity of the deceased Teacher Gerh. Kilian lives in Austin. So, even if perhaps the majority of the members are not of Wendish descent, yet one can see easily from what has been shared that our congregation in Austin owes a large debt of gratitude to the Wendish colony in Serbin.
Now there are still several congregations in Lee County to be name which were founded somewhere around 1895 and certainly more or less brought into being by Wends. There is Christ congregation in Loebau, which in 1896 called Rev. Schaf, who went to the trouble of learning to preach in Wendish, but to no avail. There was no need for preaching in Wendish, for the people always understood German very well. I believe that the Loebau congregation has as many Wends as some others in the named county. It is certain that the real founders, the Mattijetz's, for example, were Wendish.
Dime Box is Rev. Durow's (in Loebau) branch congregation. There too are Wends from Fedor and perhaps elsewhere.
Bethlehem congregation in Greenscreek, eight miles southeast of Giddings, was founded in 1895 by Rev. Buchschacher after he had preached earlier to the Lutherans there, people who first had belonged to his church in Warda. One of these families was that of August Wagner, and, without a doubt, there were others who came to Greenscreek tracing their ancestry to the Wends.
Now I shall mention congregations which received a strong boost in numbers, mostly from Warda and Serbin.
Vernon was begun, not by Wends, but by Germans, or, more precisely, Swiss. Rev. Schulenburg told me already in 1893 that he visited in Vernon from Fort Worth, where he lived, and that there he taught a number of Reformed Swiss the Lutheran Catechism. But Vernon has many people from Warda and Serbin, and some also came there from Fedor. The people from Warda who lived there invited Rev. Buchschacher a number of times to preach for their Mission Festival.
The influx of Wends into our church in Port Arthur was significantly strong enough to make a perceptible difference. People went to Port Arthur in dozens from Warda and Winchester and congregations in Lee County to gain more rewarding pay.
Similarly, Bishop did not develop without an influx of Wendish blood. Wends from Serbin came first to Fedor, then, as they to some extent came to . . . . ., they went to Thorndale, where they could buy more fertile land. From Thorndale they directed their view to . . . . ., and some of the Meldes, . . . . ., Wuensches, Michalks, and a whole group moved on to Bishop. And some also directly from Fedor, for example Karl Schubert, August Benovski, Walter Dube, etc.
Furthermore, several from Warda and Fedor made their way down to the so-called [Rio Grande] Valley.
We also hear about people who at one time lived in . . . . . or elsewhere in Lee County who are now living in Houston.
Also our congregations in . . . . . did not start out devoid of Wends, and wherever they may be, they are for the most part children of our Lutheran Church and count the worship services to be dear and valuable.
[The frayed edge of the original clipping has led to missing words in the text.]