Footprints of Fayette

These histories were written by members of the Fayette County Historical Commission. They first appeared in the weekly column, "Footprints of Fayette," which is published in local newspapers.

Lancelot Abbotts

by the Fayette Heritage Archives Staff

Lancelot Abbotts was born in England in 1812 and emigrated to Texas in January 1835. He worked as a printer and a clerk at San Felipe until he joined the Texas army in February 1836. Abbotts served as a camp guard during the Battle of San Jacinto. For this service he was awarded a donation certificate for 640 acres of land in 1841.This land was located in Austin County. In March 1849 Abbotts bought the William Toy League of land in present southwestern Fayette County. According to the July 1850 Federal Census of Fayette County Abbotts was now employed as a printer by the newspaper in La Grange known as the Texas Monument. Abbotts was also listed as being married on that census but it is unclear when he was actually married. Abbotts and his wife, Elizabeth, built a large home on his league of land about 1857 and raised sheep. It was a profitable if unusual business for this area. In 1860 his flock of sheep yielded 620 pounds of wool. Sometime between 1868 and 1870 Abbotts returned to his native England. His cousins, the Thomas Carter family were occupying the Abbotts home in 1870. There were several rumors as to why Abbotts left Texas including one of the more colorful ones that speculated that he had inherited land and a title in England which required him to give up his land holdings in Texas. In an 1874 letter to his old friend, Moses Austin Bryan, Abbotts states that he "has not willingly left Texas." He also states that he gave away his land in Fayette County to his nephew's family and that he gave away his other land to the relatives of his wife because he felt bound to give something to her family because he could not give it to her as she "has left me to weep." Abbotts never returned to Texas. He told Bryan that he would have done so the following spring had his wife not died. Lancelot Abbotts is best known in Fayette County for the house that he built. It is a three-story stone house constructed on an exceptional site. The orientation of the house creates a cooling breeze. The thickness of the walls retain heat in the winter while keeping it cooler in the summer. At present, part of the house still stands.

Melvin Adamek

At Home in Schulenburg—Vet Still Wonders How He made Parade Detail

A reprint from the Houston Post newspaper – March 5, 1953, submitted by Ed Janecka

By I.E. Clark - Post Staff Correspondent


President Eisenhower may have pinched himself a time or two during his inauguration to make sure it was really happening.

Sgt. Melvin Adamek of Schulenburg was black and blue from pinching himself.

A FEW WEEKS earlier, if Adamek thought anything at all about the inauguration between rifle shots on the Korean front, he didn’t think he’d be there.

Now he is back in Schulenburg, a civilian again, with vivid memories of marching in the inauguration parade.

Adamek was one of the 98 Korean veterans who formed the honor guard for the President.

He doesn’t know how he was selected.

“I was on the front line,” he said.  “I had been up all night, and around 6 AM I went to bed without any breakfast.  At 8 o’clock a guy came in and told me to get up – S-1 wanted me.

“THAT’S ALL he said, and I wondered what I was in for now.  They asked me a bunch of questions and then told me to come back at 12 for a special detail on the east coast back in the States.  I didn’t know what it was all about until I got to division rear.”

Adamek said the honor guard was chosen from men fighting in Korea with the grade of sergeant or better, height of 6 feet or more, a clear record, and who were due for rotation or separation.

How the 98 were picked from all the men eligible, Adamek does not know.

THE HONOR GUARD was composed of three men from each Army and Marine regiment serving in the Far East Command – a color bearer and two rifles to the colors.

Adamek was not a regular color bearer and he had to learn that job at Eighth Army Headquarters at Seoul.  On Dec. 22 he was sent to Japan.

“Christmas in Japan wasn’t like Christmas at home,” he said, “but it was a heck of a lot better than Christmas on the front line.”

After six days in Japan the 98 men were put on a ship headed for the States. The picture of the honor guard printed in the Jan 26 issue of Life Magazine was taken in Japan, he said.

“WE WERE TREATED royally in Washington,” Adamek said.  “The USO took us on a tour of Mount Vernon, the White House, the Capitol, museums, and other buildings.  It was certainly interesting.

“But the most impressive thing about the whole deal was the remarks we heard from the people as we walked down Pennsylvania Avenue in the parade.

“All the way you could hear mothers saying, “There go our boys.”  You know they didn’t mean you in particular, but the guys you were representing – the ones you had left in Korea.  A person kind of felt like crying.”

Adamek returned to Schulenburg and was separated from the Army after serving two years.  He had spent six months in Korea as squad leader of a rifle company with the 24th Infantry Regiment in the 40th Division.  Before going to the front he worked with Communist prisoners on the Koje Island.

ON THE FRONT he went out on patrol about every fourth night.

“I can only say I’m glad I didn’t have to stay any longer,” he said.  “It all seemed so useless over there.

“The position I was in, they had been sitting there two years – just patrolling back and forth and getting guys killed every night.  If they keep on going the way they have that thing will last a 1,000 years.  It’s disgusting.”

Adamek believes most of the men would rather push forward and try to end the war.

“IT WOULD BE ROUGH making a push, but I don’t believe we’d lose any more men, and it’s a cinch they aren’t accomplishing anything this way.

“Most of the boys believe that a settlement would be reached sooner by pushing on through and getting the Communists out of Korea.  It wouldn’t be easily done, but at least we’d be getting somewhere.”

Korea is the bleakest, least interesting place he has ever seen.

“NOTHING BUT HILLS,” he said.  “There’s one hill, and then another hill behind that, and then the next hill is still higher.”

Adamek hasn’t decided what he’s going to do now that he is out of the Army.  He had thought about going back to farming near Schulenburg, but he hasn’t’ been able to find a suitable place.

“One thing is sure,” he said.  “I’m already tired of sitting around doing nothing.”

Twenty-four years old now, Adamek farmed with his father, Emil Adamek, on the family farm two miles north of Schulenburg on Highway 77, after graduating from the Saint Rose Catholic Elementary School here until he was drafted into the Army.


Adolph and the Boys

by George Koudelka

During the heyday of Texas Polka Music in the 1930s, one Fayette County Orchestra became known statewide through its radio programs, recordings, and live performances. Originally known as Adolph and the Boys, the group later changed their name to reflect their sponsors.

It all started in 1935, when Julius Pavlas, an old-time musician and Engle resident, entered his band in a contest at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. They took first place. The band came to the attention of Universal Mills, a large Texas flour producer, who invited Mr. Pavlas and his band back to San Antonio for an audition. Many of his band members refused to go, so Mr. Pavlas had to hurriedly round up new musicians, plus an announcer who could handle network radio broadcasting. He invited Johnny Luecke, an electrician and ham radio operator, to be the announcer and Tom Hinton of Weimar as sound engineer.

The musicians added came from Lee Prause's band from Schulenburg. After considerable practice and an audition, the band was accepted for network performance. The first program went on the air on November 3, 1935 and was sponsored by Goldchain Flour. The band was known as Adolph and the Goldchain Bohemians.

The band wore original Tyrolean costumes and broadcast live from the stage of the Cozy Theatre in Schulenburg. The programs ran from 8 to 8:15 each weekday morning and Sunday afternoons from 3 until 3:45. The program was carried over TQN (Texas Quality Network), which included stations WOAI in San Antonio, KPRC in Houston, and WFAA and WBAP of Dallas-Fort Worth. The audio was transmitted over telephone lines.

During this time the band made a number of 78 rpm recordings on the Okeh and Vocalion labels. These recordings were later re-released on the Columbia Red label.

The band consisted of nine members, among which were Herbert Kloesel and Lee Prause of Schulenburg; Charlie Rainosek of Weimar; and Arthur Kloesel of Hallettsville. Scott Kirsch, a violinist with the Houston Symphony, helped with the band's tuning and balance. Henry Kubala, of St. John, was the solo clarinetist. Buddy Heyer, the pianist, wrote many of the band's arrangements.

The last radio broadcast of Adolph and the Goldchain Bohemians was heard on the last day of May in 1937, thus ending an era of musical history for Schulenburg and Texas Polka music.


The Seelig Alexander Family of La Grange

By Carolyn Heinsohn

There already was a Jewish presence in La Grange by 1851 when Seelig and Bertha “Bertie” Rosenfield Alexander arrived. They followed her brother, John Rosenfield, who arrived in Texas in 1844. Then Gabriel Friedberger arrived; he owned a dry goods store on the downtown square in the 1850s and was later involved in the cotton trade during the Civil War. Julius Cohen was a peddler, and Bernard Zander, who moved to La Grange in 1859, owned a saddlery. Seelig’s older brother, Abram, arrived in La Grange in the late 1850s. All of these early Jewish residents were Prussian born and involved in retail trade. Throughout the decades, more Jews arrived; however, the best-known were the Alexanders, especially Abram’s family, some of whom lived here much longer than the others.

Seelig “Sam” Alexander was born in 1826 in Thorn, Prussia, now Torun, Poland, the son of Sprinze Seelig and an unknown father. Listed as a shoemaker, he immigrated to the United States with his wife from Wiszig, Germany, arriving in New York City in 1850; they stayed in the city for a year and then moved to La Grange. Sam’s actual name was Alexander Seelig, but when he entered this country, an immigration official recorded his name in reverse. When his brother, Abraham Seelig, emigrated, he kept the Alexander surname to avoid further confusion; thus, he became Abram Alexander. Sam was listed as a grocery merchant in La Grange in the 1860 census, when he and Bertha were next door neighbors to her brother, John, his wife, Fanny, and their four children. By 1870, John Rosenfield had moved with his family to Columbus, Texas, where he eventually owned a wholesale beer and ice company.  

During the Civil War, Sam served as the Captain of Company A 4th Battalion Texas Infantry, Confederate Army. By 1870, he was listed as a dry goods merchant in La Grange.

Seelig’s mother, Sprinze Seelig Badt, and her husband, Joseph Badt, were living with Sam and his family by 1880. Interestingly, Sprinze, listed as age 93, was 28 years older than Joseph, whose occupation was sausage maker. Eventually, she moved to Austin, where she died in 1888. The inscription on her tombstone in the Oakwood Cemetery states that she was born in 1776 and died in 1888 at age 112. However, based on census records, she would have been 101, which is more plausible.

By 1884, Sam owned a wholesale tobacco and cigar business, Seelig Alexander, Sr. & Company, located on Main Street in Houston, although his place of residence was still in La Grange. He and Bertha had a total of 10 children: Gertrude (Sass), Seelig “Sam” Jr., Moris, Joseph, Rachel (Sass), Matthew “General”, Callie (Cramer), Jacob, Rosa (Heilig) and Jonas. Eventually, all of the living children left La Grange.

Moris and Jacob died as children; Joseph, who remained single, died of ulcerative colitis at age 30. Gertrude, who married Pincus Sass, lived in La Grange for a while after her marriage; however by 1910, she had moved to Seattle with her children after her husband died. They lived next door to her sister, Sallie, who was married to Max Cramer. Their single brother, General M. Alexander, lived with Gertrude for a number of years, but by 1920, he had moved back to Houston, where he worked as a dry goods salesman. Initially, his name was listed as Matthew, but later, he used the name General M.  He died in a Jewish home for the aged in Memphis, Tennessee in 1948 at the age of 85. Gertrude also left Seattle by 1930 to live closer to one of her children in Dallas, where she died in 1934 at age 92. Sallie and Max Cramer moved from Houston to Seattle by 1910, where Max worked as a real estate agent and then as an automobile salesman. Sallie died there in 1940 at age 76.

Seelig “Sam” Alexander, Jr. married Hannah Cramer and was living in Houston by 1900; he worked there as a retail grocery merchant and a cigar merchant. Sam died in Houston in 1934 at age 79.

Rachel married Herman Sass in 1878. The 1870 census lists him as 18 and working as a store clerk in La Grange, where he met Rachel. After they married, they too moved to Houston, where Herman worked as a traveling salesman. Rachel died in 1909 at age 49.

Seelig Alexander's gravestoneRosa married Gustav Heilig, who was an important businessman, public official and newspaper publisher in La Grange before he and Rosa moved to Dallas around 1916. Semi-retired, he worked as a real-estate agent. Rosa died in Dallas in 1952 at age 84. Jonas Alexander married Sadie Harris of Houston. They also moved to Dallas, where he worked as a traveling salesman; he died of a heart attack in 1933 at age 62.  

Seelig “Sam” Alexander, Sr. died in La Grange on September 16, 1896 at age 70 of heart failure. His wife, Bertha, died on December 28, 1908 at age 77 of a stroke following a hip injury, based on an obituary description of conditions leading to her death. Both are buried in the La Grange Jewish Cemetery, along with four of their children: Moris (1856 – 1867), Jacob (1866-1868), Joseph (1857 – 1887) and Gertrude (1852 – 1934).

In the early 1940s, the Jewish cemetery property was sold by the Ladies Hebrew Cemetery Association to a private buyer. The cemetery records were entrusted to Abram Alexander’s grandson, Bernard Sass, of Dallas; the whereabouts of those records after his death are unknown. The cemetery with only 33 graves is now on private land between the La Grange ISD football field and the Colorado River.

Had it not been for Seelig Alexander’s decision to relocate to La Grange, the legacy of Abram’s family here would not have happened; his story is next.

Photo caption: 
Seelig Alexander’s tombstone in the La Grange Jewish Cemetery; photo courtesy of
Alexander files; Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives; immigration, census and death records; family trees
Houston City Directory, 1884

The Abraham Alexander Family of La Grange

By Carolyn Heinsohn

Abraham AlexanderAbraham Alexander, the older brother of Seelig Alexander, whose story was previously published, was born in 1823 in Thorn, Prussia. The name of his first wife is unknown, but they had two children: Cecilia, born in 1850, and Sam, born in 1852. He left his two children behind when he immigrated to New York City in the 1850s, sometime after the birth of Sam. His two children later immigrated in 1866 as teenagers with a group of persons from Thorn to Galveston. Perhaps, his wife died prior to his decision to immigrate, so he left his young children behind with relatives. In 1870, Cecilia married Stanislaus Szmiderski of noble and rich Israelite parentage. She died in 1888, leaving no children, and was buried in the La Grange Jewish Cemetery. Sam Alexander married Annie Cohen and settled in Fresno, California; they had six children, one of whom died in infancy.

Abram had previously worked in a hat factory in Prussia, so for a few years after arriving in New York City, he worked as the head clerk in a hat making establishment that employed 2000 men. He decided to join his brother in La Grange in the late 1850s, where he operated a general merchandise store until 1860, when he moved to Winchester, where he operated another retail store. Because of his popularity in that community, he was given the nickname “Winchester”. In 1863, he moved his business back to La Grange.  Later that year, Abram married Dorothea Ackermann, who was born in 1846 in Kassel, Germany. She immigrated to Fayette County with her parents, Joseph Peter and Gertrude Rupersburg Ackermann, when she was eight years old. She was not Jewish, so when she married Abram and converted to Judaism, her parents disowned her. They died in the yellow fever epidemic in 1867, and thereafter, the Alexander family had almost no contact with their Ackermann relatives.

Abram also owned a factory that made hats for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. His factory, that employed approximately 100 men, was supervised by Julius Conrad Tips, who also died during the yellow fever epidemic. Some of the workers in the factory were very young   Confederate soldiers, who were assigned to work there rather than fight in the battlefields. In June 1865, a large group of disgruntled unpaid soldiers from Walker’s Cavalry Division went to Alexander’s Hat Factory and either seized or destroyed all of the government property, totally demolishing the business, amounting to a $10,000 loss. The next day, another group of soldiers robbed and pillaged a number of other businesses in town, amounting to an additional $20,000 loss.

Abraham Alexander homeSoon after they married, Abram and Dora moved to a small four-room house with an outside kitchen in the 100 block of S. Washington Street. As their family grew, so did their house until it became a large two-story Southern-style home with tall columns, a wide porch and a beautiful interior. They reared ten children in this house: Henry (1864-1923), Harry Benjamin (1866-1929), Charles S. (1868-1933), Esther “Essie” (1871-1968), Henrietta “Hattie” (1873-1950), Victor Dunn (1877-1932), Jacob “Jake” (1879-1953), Rachel “Rae” (1882-1944), Gertrude “Gertie” (1884-1968 ), and Jeannette Cecilia (1889–1977).

Abram’s general merchandise business that occupied a frame building on the corner of Travis and Washington Streets next to their home eventually became a grocery business. An advertisement in a May 1876 issue of a local newspaper stated that Abram Alexander was a dealer in fancy and staple dry goods, family groceries, lime, Calcasieu and Texas pine lumber, dressed and undressed, plus shingles made of cypress blanks to order. At one time, there were several storage buildings on his property which may have held his lumber.

Henry, the oldest son, started making candy in 1887 with the help of some of his brothers. In 1890, he purchased a lot on the corner of Washington and Crockett Streets, just south of the Alexander home, for a candy factory that employed 14 people. A year later, he renovated the building to include a retail confectionary and ice cream and soda parlor. By 1900, Henry had moved to Houston, where he married Mattie Jobe two years later; they had four children: Sam, Howard, John Lee and Dorothy. Henry’s wife died in 1919, and unfortunately, he suffered a severe burn that ultimately caused his death in 1923. He was buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Houston. Since his wife was not Jewish, he became estranged from his siblings.

After a lingering illness, Abram Alexander passed away in March 1898 at the age of 74. He was buried in the La Grange Jewish Cemetery, but later his body was exhumed and reburied in the Alexander plot in the La Grange City Cemetery. His obituary states that he once was a wealthy man, but suffered financial reverses late in life.

Harry, Charles, Victor, Jake and Rae turned the family grocery store into a wholesale grocery business that was incorporated in 1900 as the Alexander Brothers Grocery Co. It was moved to East Colorado Street, later the site of the Pat-Mac Produce Company and now the location of La Grange Farm and Ranch.  Because of its proximity to the railroad, the company was able to handle large amounts of merchandise and became one of the most successful wholesale grocery distributors in the area with branches in Flatonia, Giddings and Elgin. Harry, Charles and Victor were traveling salesmen, Jake was the manager, and Rae served as the bookkeeper. However, the Great Depression took its toll, so the business closed around 1937.

The matriarch of the family, Dora Alexander, died of hemorrhaging due to an ulcerated stomach at age 77 in 1923. Being a member of one of the most prominent families in town, a city ordinance was passed when she became ill just before her death that her home be designated a “quiet zone” for her rest and recovery. She was buried in the La Grange City Cemetery next to her husband.

Harry Alexander never married and continued to live in the family home until his death in a Houston hospital in 1929 of a kidney disease. Charles married Cora Jacobs of Houston and had one son, Charles S., who became a physician.  Charles, Sr. worked with the Alexander Wholesale Grocery for 30 years, eventually as the manager of the Flatonia branch and vice-president of the company. He succumbed to gastrointestinal cancer in 1933.

Miss Essie, as she was known, never married and also remained in the family home. She moved to Houston around 1965, a few years before her death, to live with her sister, Gertrude. Preferring literary activities, Essie was a charter member and president of the Etaerio Club when the women’s literary club donated their library building and books to the city for a public library. She also was a leader in getting the new monument covering the tomb at Monument Hill State Park. She died of old age in April 1968 at age 97.

Henrietta “Hattie” married Benno Hellman and lived in Houston; they had two children: Bertha and Alexander. Hattie died in 1933, the same year as her brother, Charles. Victor Dunn Alexander also remained single, living at home and working for the family business for over 30 years before his death in 1932 of Brill’s Disease, a delayed reaction to a typhus infection.

Jake married Carrie Westheimer, a daughter of M. L. Westheimer of Houston, a German Jew who purchased a 640-acre tract extending from what is now Bellaire Blvd. to beyond present-day Westheimer Road, which was established through his land as a shortcut to Sealy and Columbus. After several business ventures, Westheimer established the Houston Livery Stable. Jake and Carrie had four children: Michael, Carol, Richard and Jacolyn. Carrie, praised for her civic and charitable efforts in the community, died in 1934 at age 53 of post-operative shock. Jake moved to Houston in 1941 and became a life insurance salesman. He died there in 1953 at age 73 of coronary heart disease and was buried beside Carrie in La Grange.

Rae Alexander was briefly married to Harry Paul Limburg; after their divorce, he moved to El Paso and remarried. Rae assumed her maiden name and lived with her single siblings in their family home. She died of a cerebral vascular accident in 1944 in the La Grange Hospital at age 63.  Gertrude “Gertie”, who also remained single, enjoyed painting as a pastime like her older sister, Hattie. She eventually moved to West University Place in Houston in the 1960s, where she worked as a secretary and cared for her older sister, Essie. She died there in April 1968 at age 83 of metastatic cancer.

The youngest daughter, Jeannette Cecilia, who never married, was probably the best- remembered of all the Alexanders. She was a well-known piano teacher for almost 50 years, beginning in 1909 when she graduated from college. Her recital program from 1910 shows that Verna Letzerich (Reichert) was one of her pupils. Ironically, years later when a large branch fell off of the large live oak tree in front of the Alexander home onto a parked car, and city officials ordered the tree to be removed, Verna became involved. Upon learning that the city was planning on removing all of the live oaks that were in or very close to the streets, Verna circulated a petition that was signed by hundreds of citizens to stop that effort and save the trees.

Jeanette played the organ or piano for almost every church in town and was the organist at Temple Israel in Schulenburg for years. After the death of Gertrude, Jeannette moved to Houston to care for Essie, who died six months later. Jeannette remained in Houston to be closer to her nieces and nephews and died there in 1977 at age 88 of a heart attack secondary to colon cancer. All of the Alexander children, except Henry, were buried in the La Grange City Cemetery.

It seemed that there was a genetic thread in both the Seelig and Abram Alexander families for gastrointestinal disorders and cancer, as well as cardiovascular diseases.

Because there was no synagogue in La Grange, the Alexanders, who were Reform Jews, traveled to Houston by train to attend services at Temple Israel, especially for High Holy Days. In 1936, a congregation of Jewish people from Fayette, Colorado and Lavaca Counties organized a Tri-County Section with services held in Schulenburg. The Alexanders became active members of this group, helping to contribute to the building of the Temple Israel in Schulenburg in 1951.

The Alexanders were also active in the Masonic Lodge like many Jews in Texas. Abraham, who joined the local lodge in 1864, and all of his sons except Jake were members. Jeannette was the first person in La Grange to join the Eastern Star, a Masonic auxiliary organization.

The Alexanders, who lived in La Grange for over 100 years were very respected and involved members of the community. According to family recollections, they did not suffer any anti-Semitism other than from Dora Alexander’s family. Their beautiful home was eventually sold and razed. The Fayette County Record office now occupies the site of the old Alexander home.

Photo Captions
Upper : Abraham Alexander; photo courtesy of
Lower: The Abraham Alexander home on South Washington Street, La Grange; photo courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
Alexander files; Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives; immigration, census and death records; family trees
Fayette County Record; May 18, 1876; Vol. 4, Ed. 1
McMillion, Robin. “The Abraham Alexander Family”, Fayette County Past & Present; La Grange, 1976
Vogel, Vickie. “House of Alexander”, Texas Jewish Historical Society; November 2011

Taking a Train Ride for Piano Lessons in 1940s

by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether & Al Cordes

Miss Jeanette Alexander and studentReminiscing with my dear friend, Al Cordes, about piano lessons brought back memories of a different time.  Al’s story provides us with an enchanting memory of a time gone by.  Enjoy.

Al writes: “Back in 1946, we would catch the train in Fayetteville and ride it to LaGrange on Saturday morning around 10 o’clock.  There were three of us: Rose Marie Baca (11), Jimmy Sarrazin (12) and myself (13).  We would go into the Depot and Mr. Danchek, the depot agent, would sell us tickets.  As I recall, Rose paid only 20 cents for the one way ten mile trip (her dad picked her up after her lessons in LaGrange).  Jimmy and I paid 35 cents for a round trip ride.  It was exciting; the steam powered train came in with a lot of noise and shook the ground.  We boarded a nearly empty passenger car and were given an air conditioned ride straight through the woods past the ‘Blue Hole’ near Halsted.  It looked like a morning glory full of clear water about 80 feet across.  It only took about 20 minutes to get to the depot in LaGrange.  We would get off and walk past the Cozy Jr. Theater, the Corner Drug store and fountain and then across the square in front of Perry’s 5 and 10.  Finally we would cross Hwy 71 to get to the Alexander home behind the old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (not the present church location).

"The Alexander home was a classic Southern mansion, a full 2-1/2 story wooden structure that had not changed from the 1920’s.  We were received by Miss Essie, our piano teacher’s sister, and ushered into the study.  The study is where she entertained us as we were waiting our turn for lessons from Miss Jeanette Alexander. Miss Essie had us listen to the Texas Star Theater of classical music on her radio while we waited.

"Miss Essie and Miss Jeanette were delightful women and full of grace and goodwill.  They were very proud of their grandfather who had a factory that made hats for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  The house had many oil paintings hanging on the walls that had been painted by family members over the years.  It is truly a shame that this house was destroyed to make way for a brick office building (The Fayette County Record office).

"Miss Jeanette was a graduate of the Julliard School of Music in New York.  She had a Steinway Grand piano and she complained to me one day that she was afraid the Schwartz boy would wreck her piano because he hit the keys so hard.  The irony here is that he went on to become a concert pianist!

"Rose’s father normally picked her up and took her home.  When Jimmy and I finished our music lessons, we would go to the Corner Drug Store for a treat.  My favorite was a Black Cow (root beer with a scoop of Polar Bear vanilla) and it cost only a dime.  Then if the train was a little late we would go to the Cozy Jr. for a Grade B Western (Lash LaRue, Tom Mix….)

"As the Cozy owner became aware we were just killing time until our train ride back to Fayetteville, he would sometimes let us come in for free.  Sometimes we would have to sprint from the show to the train as we had cut it too close and the train’s whistle could be heard.

"We never missed a train, but we had to hustle a few times to keep from getting left behind.”

Thank you so much to Al for sharing his memory with me.  He is working on another memory as you read this.  

Photo caption: Warren O. Albrecht's photograph of Miss Jeanette Alexander and another sudent in the late 1960s, courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives [1997.40.3]


William A. Anders — Apollo Astronaut Who Once Lived in La Grange

by Carolyn Heinsohn

William AndersLa Grange has the distinction of being the home of one of the Apollo astronauts for several years.  Air Force Captain William Alison (Bill) Anders, the son of Cdr. and Mrs. Arthur F. (Tex) Anders (USN Retired) and nephew of E.F. (Smiles) Anders of La Grange, was one of three astronauts who were the first to circle the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. 

Anders was born in Hong Kong on October 17, 1933 while his father was stationed in the Far East.  After his father’s retirement from the military, the family moved to La Grange, where they lived from 1946 to 1950.  The two Anders brothers, Arthur and E.F., bought the Hermes Drug Store and operated it as a partnership. 

It was during this time that Bill Anders attended the local public schools, beginning in the eighth grade and continuing through his junior year of high school. He always remembered his academic training in La Grange, having written his uncle several times about how he valued his schooling here and especially singled out Superintendent Charles A. Lemmons for his counsel and guidance. 

The Anders family returned to California where Anders graduated from Grossmont High School in La Mesa in 1951. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1955.  Following his graduation, Anders took his commission with the U.S. Air Force and received his pilot wings in 1956.  He served as a fighter pilot for the Air Defense Command in California and Iceland, logging more than 8,000 hours of flight time.  He also earned a Master of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1962. 

In 1963, Anders was selected by NASA in the third group of astronauts and was the backup pilot for the Gemini 11 mission.  In 1968, he was chosen to accompany Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, Jr. for the Apollo 8 mission, the first mission where humans traveled beyond Low Earth orbit.  This historic manned space flight orbited the moon for ten revolutions.  Anders also served as the backup Command Module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, before accepting an assignment as Executive Secretary for the National Aeronautics and Space Council from 1969 to 1973.

On April 19, 1969, La Grange honored one of its own with “Bill Anders Day”.  Anders and his family attended the event, which included a parade, reception, barbecue and a program of film and slides on his space flight. 

In 1973, Anders was appointed to the five-member Atomic Energy Commission and was also named as U.S. Chairman of the joint U.S./USSR technology exchange program for fission and fusion power.  President Ford then named Anders to become the first chairman of the newly established Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which was followed by an appointment to serve as Ambassador to Norway until 1977.  At that time, he ended his career with the federal government after 26 years and began work in the private sector.  He joined the General Electric Company as general manager and became a senior executive of its nuclear energy products and aircraft equipment divisions.  He later joined Textron Inc. in Rhode Island as its senior executive vice president for operations, a position he held for five years. 

In 1990, Anders became the chairman and CEO of General Dynamics, a large military supplier and parent company of Electric Boat, that employed over 100,000 people at the time.  He retired in 1993, but continued to serve as president of the William A. Anders Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting educational and environmental issues.  He received a number of awards and honors, including being inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and having a crater on the moon named after him.

Anders married Valerie Hoard in 1955; they have four sons and two daughters and presently live in Washington State. He has a legacy of notable achievements and took part in the making of history during our time.  We are definitely proud that he called La Grange home for a short while!

Photo caption: William A. Anders, courtesy of (Public Domain)
Meiners, Carolyn. “Anders, William A.”, Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol II; Curtis Media, 1996
“William Anders”;


Texas Governor From La Grange?

by Katie Kulhanek 

Born in La Grange on January 18th, 1848, Reddin Andrews’ life was destined to be one of excitement. His profession carried the terms of soldier, college valedictorian, preacher, college professor, newspaper editor, Texas gubernatorial candidate, and even author. Four years after Reddin was born, his mother, Mary Jane (Talbert) Andrews, passed away. The young Andrews then lived in the home of J.L. Gay – his brother-in-law. When war broke out between the North and South, Andrews enlisted in the Confederate Army as a scout and courier. He enlisted in the year 1863 when he was only 16 years of age. Once the war had ended, Andrews returned to Fayette County and continued his schooling, eventually joining the Shiloh Baptist Church. He later enrolled in Baylor University and graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1871. He proceeded to join the Baylor University faculty and teach primary classes in exchange for the tuition costs accumulated over the past years. Not long after, he became ordained as a Baptist minister and left Texas to study at Greenville Seminary in South Carolina. He returned to Navasota in 1873 where he worked with churches in Millican, Hempstead, Calvert, Tyler, Rockwall, and Lovelady. By August of 1874 Reddin was married to Elizabeth Eddins, with whom he had 9 children – 2 died young. Andrews continued his teaching at Baylor University, becoming a professor of Greek and English literature. Due to financial troubles, however, he resigned in 1878 and became principal of the Masonic Institute at Round Rock. By 1881, Andrews had accepted the pulpit in Tyler where he became the contributing editor to John B. Link’s Texas Baptist Herald - a newspaper out of Houston that was published from 1865 to 1886. In Tyler, he had a “filial relationship” with the president of Baylor, William C. Crane. Crane was like a father to Andrews. After Crane’s passing, Andrews became the president of Baylor, and was also the first Texas-born president of Baylor University. In 1885, under Andrews’ presidency, Baylor University was moved to Waco and merged with Waco University – where it currently is today. A year later, Andrews became a member of the committee that merged the Baptist State Convention and the Baptist General Association – thus creating the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In 1889, Andrews decided to move to Atlanta, Georgia and work on editing W.T. Martin’s Gospel Standard and Expositer. He returned to Texas a year later, and quickly became an expert on the problems of rural congregations due to his work with Martin’s text. Andrews moved to Belton in 1892 to teach and become an organizer for the People’s Party or Populist Party. He was mentioned to run for a state office, but was never nominated. During these years, he worked both as a minister and politician. Andrews was involved in radical politics, believing that if one believed in Christianity, then they also must pledge an allegiance to socialism. He believed that the “ethics of Christianity and socialism were identical” to one another. It was during this time that Andrews also became editor for the Sword and Shield in Tyler, Texas.

As a socialist candidate, Andrews ran for governor of Texas in 1910. He came in 3rd in the race with 11,538 votes, behind Democrat Oscar Branch Colquitt (174,596) and Republican J.O. Terrell (25,191). Andrews did come in ahead of the Prohibitionist candidate, Andrew Jackson Houston, who gathered 6,052 votes. In 1911, Andrews took a break from politics and started working on a book composed of his own original poems taken from his sermons and other occasions. The collection was published and titled Poems. In 1912, Andrews entered back into politics and tried again to beat out the incumbent (Colquitt). This time, Andrews came in 2nd with 25,258 votes. Colquitt was re-elected and continued to serve as governor of Texas until 1915. Considering that Andrews was a socialist, it is interesting that he was able to come in 2nd overall in the 1912 gubernatorial race. But it is worthy to note that the numbers in his county of birth, Fayette County, were not as impressive. In the 1912 election, 2,709 votes were cast – but only 96 of those went in favor of Andrews – only 3.5%. In 1916, Andrews moved to Lawton, Oklahoma and lived there until his death on August 16, 1923, he was 75 years of age. He was one of the most prominent Texas Baptists of our time.


Early Archeology in Fayette County

by Gary E. McKee

History is the term applied to events occurring after written records have been kept. In Texian terms, history began with Cabeza de Vaca publishing a journal of his visit to the Texas coast beginning in 1527. All events happening before this time is referred to as prehistory. Archeology is the reconstruction of history prior to written records. For milleniums the area bordering the Colorado River has been a cultural oasis. Traces of early human culture have been identified at numerous locations.

In 1966, work was underway at the Frisch Auf! golf course when workers digging a trench unearthed skeletal remains. The owners contacted the State Archeologist, who soon arrived with a small crew to investigate and perform salvage archeology. Excavations were begun and the ground yielded parts of at least four skeletons, fragments of a fifth, and quite possibly a sixth. The bones were at a depth from 16 to 30 inches. Placement of the remains indicates that burial times differed.

The skeletons were removed from the pipeline trench to be studied. Analyses of the first pair of skeletons show them to be adult males. During excavation, two Scallorn arrowpoints were found lying between the males. The presence of these flint projectile points suggests that these two humans were interred between A.D.700 and A.D.1200.

The third proved to be a child, possibly a male lying, on its side.

The fourth was an infant. Accompanying the infant were three offerings for the next world. On the west side of the skeleton was an antler tine that was oriented in a north south direction. North of the skeleton and lying east-west lay a piece of petrified wood that had been shaped and smoothed. Adjacent to the smoothed stone lay one valve of a fresh water muscle with its concave surface up.

The other two skeletons appeared to be an infant and possibly an adult male. The construction equipment had rendered further identification impossible.

A surface survey was conducted turning up a shard of Leon Plain pottery. The reddish exterior and dark brown interior had been tempered with pulverized bone and grit. This type of pottery has been associated with a culture later than the Scallorn points. Several flint tools were also recovered.

The significance of the discovery is that this is the first Scallorn point found in a Central Texas burial, which greatly aids in identifying the age of the skeletons.


The Arnim Brothers

by Donna Green

In March of 1886 in the small frontier Texas town of Tascosa a huge gunfight took place. Bodies of the dead and wounded were lying all over the main street of town as residents came out to gawk after the shootout was over. One of the badly wounded men in the street was Charley Emory. His brother, Tom, had also been involved in the fracas but was uninjured.

What does this have to do with the history of Fayette County? The Emory brothers were not really named Emory. Charley and Tom were brothers but their surname was Arnim.

Tom had been born William Arnim. His parents were Alexander and Marie Arnim who owned a grocery store in Fayette County. William had been convicted at age twenty-two in Fayette County district court of theft of an ox and sentenced to two years in prison. William arrived at Huntsville on June 9, 1876 and was entered into the prison record as prisoner # 5339. He was described as having red hair, blue eyes, and being a slender young man. William escaped from custody on March 21, 1877 and headed west. He changed his name to Tom Emory and settled near Tascosa. His younger brother, Charley Arnim, joined him some time later and also adopted the Emory surname. Tom and Charley worked on ranches in the area, played poker in the saloons and sometimes worked as deputies with Pat Garrett. While working as deputies they once pursued Billy the Kid all the way to Nevada but then lost his trail.

In May 1896 a petition was sent to Governor C. A. Culberson for a pardon for William/Tom. Testimonials and affidavits backed the petition from both the county attorney who had prosecuted William/Tom and the judge who had sentenced him. Judge L. W. Moore wrote "The reputation of the convict since his escape from the penitentiary has been good. There is no family more esteemed than of this man and he is represented by those who know him as reformed and making a good citizen." Shortly afterwards, William/Tom surrendered himself to prison authorities at Huntsville on May 9 and his pardon was granted on June 16.

Released to the Schulenburg community, he lived a blameless life thereafter. He died on May 26, 1914 and is buried in Schulenburg. Charley died March 9, 1895 and is buried near Flatonia.


Compulsory Auto Insurance

By Marie Watts

By the late 1920s, automobile accidents were a routine occurrence in Fayette County. The La Grange Journal reported on November 29, 1928 that John Korenek Jr. was injured when a Ford he was driving was hit by a Ford roadster occupied by two men employed by the pipeline company west of La Grange. The other driver, L. A. van Brant, was taken into custody and charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Five days later, the Journal reported that Taylor Cage of Bishop was discharged from the La Grange Hospital after being treated for several days for injuries sustained when the auto in which he and G. W. Nanney were riding hit a freight car standing on the tracks between the two cemeteries east of La Grange. 

But, who was to pay? The driver who was responsible, of course. But what if he could not pay?

Connecticut took the first step to resolve this problem in 1925 by offering insurance and requiring drivers to demonstrate they had the means to take financial responsibility for injuries, deaths, or property damage. By 1927, the 40th Texas State Legislature had followed suit by creating the Board of Insurance Commissioners, composed of the life insurance commissioner, the fire insurance commissioner, and the casualty insurance commissioner. The legislature granted the insurance commissioner the power to approve or disapprove auto insurance rates and to promulgate uniform policy forms. However, Massachusetts went one step further that year, making auto insurance mandatory. 

Mandatory auto insurance was a tough sell in Texas as well as in the rest of the nation, however. The Flatonia Argus ran an editorial in 1925 disparaging required coverage. The editor feared the state would expand into the field of private business under the guise of preventing accidents. The state might establish state-run auto insurance or set up state automobile funds, collecting and expanding the funds as it had recently done with workers’ compensation.

Mandatory insurance, the writer warned, would open itself to fraud and carelessness. Poor drivers would no longer be held in check by fear of personal liability and responsibility; they would simply say “let the insurance company pay”. Then, too, compulsory insurance would force good drivers to pay higher rates than poor risks who required insurance.

The La Grange Journal reprinted a 1928 article from the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant discussing what was happening in Massachusetts and why mandatory insurance would not work. First off, Massachusetts had difficulty making their program run smoothly and satisfactorily. The state had set rates that were too low to induce private companies to write policies and then, when the legislature tried to raise rates, the citizens balked. The writer then commented, “…it has proved extremely difficult to keep politics out of the question. The opportunity for politicians to make capitol of an issue on which public feeling is strong is too great to be resisted”. The primary objection was that, the longer the program continued, the more it appeared to be pushing the state government into the insurance business.

Insurance Commissioner Dunham of Connecticut was quoted as saying, “I regard it as fortunate that this experiment has been carried on in Massachusetts, for if it has not worked there, how will compulsory automobile insurance be expected to work well anywhere else?”

It was not until 1991 that Texas mandated compulsory auto liability insurance. Today, New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state is the only one that still allows drivers the choice to drive uninsured. The only requirement is that drivers demonstrate that they can provide sufficient funds in the event of an “at-fault” accident.

Photo caption: East side of La Grange square with Ford Model Ts parked and participating in a parade; circa 1920; photo courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
“Background on: Compulsory Auto/Uninsured Motorists” downloaded from on April 7, 2018.
“History of the Texas Department of Insurance” downloaded from on April 7, 2017.
The Flatonia Argus; January 29, 1925.
The La Grange Journal; November 29, 1928, December 4, 1928, and December 6, 1928.
“When Did Auto Insurance Become Mandatory?”  Downloaded from on April 6, 2018. 


The Baca Family Band

by Helen Mikus & Linda Dennis

The Beginning – Joseph, Frank J. and the original members 

In 1860, Joseph Baca came to Fayetteville, Texas from Bordovice, Moravia which was part of the Austrian/Hungarian Empire. The name Baca in English means shepherd and is pronounced with a soft “c” (Ba-cha). The name Baca for more than a century has been a part of Texas history along with the famous “Baca Beat.”

Joseph took on the difficult and dangerous job of hauling cotton to Mexico in a wagon drawn by six to twelve oxen. After the Civil War, he returned to the farm which was four miles east of Fayetteville. Joseph and his two sons, Frank J. and John, helped their neighbors build a school for the community. Since many had come from around the same area in Moravia, they named the school Bordovice.  Joseph was not musically inclined and never played in any of the Baca bands. His offspring and their children were born entertainers!

By the age of nine Frank J. exhibited a remarkable musical talent. He taught himself to play the clarinet. When Frank J. had the chance to study music, he wrote and composed music of his own. He arranged and composed music with organ rollers and played the alto and slide trombone.

Frank J. Baca married Marie Kovar who came to Texas with her family from Hovezi, Moravia. He composed music for the first Czech Orchestra organized in Fayetteville. He became known as Professor Frank J. Baca, leading the Baca Family Orchestra which eventually consisted of all thirteen of his children playing various instruments. This was the beginning of the famous “Baca Beat.”

Baca Bands have played for the Annual Tomato Festival, at Monument Hill, La Grange, San Jacinto Battle Grounds & Fairs, and numerous Fayetteville occasions. For many years on Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) Day in Fayetteville, the priest would go around the town square and stop at each corner to hold a service. Later the ceremony was moved to the parking lot of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church where it is still held today.

Throughout the years many of the original members have been replaced. The following were the original thirteen children of the Baca Family Band and Orchestra along with their birth year: Jennie Baca Scherpik 1882, Joe O. Baca 1883, Mary Baca Kubena 1885, Frances Baca Zapalac 1886, Frank A. Baca 1887, Anna Baca Stastny 1889, Rudolph Baca 1890, John R. Baca 1892, Raymond Baca 1893, Emilie Baca Kulhanek 1895, Julia Baca Chalupa 1896, Ludwig Baca 1898, and Betty Baca Tschiedel 1899.

Frank J. Baca planned to make a national tour with the band but died of a rare disease at the age of 46. His oldest son, Joe O. Baca, then took over the band. He was also a natural musician and began to play at an early age. He won first place in a La Grange music contest at the age of twelve playing the cornet.  He went on to win many music awards as an individual and with the Baca Family Band. In the early 1900’s, the band competed in a La Grange competition where each band was given a piece of music that they had never seen before. They were judged on how well they performed without practice. The Baca Family Band was the first place winner.

The dulcimer was used a great deal in the early days of the Baca Band. Joe Baca’s uncle, Ignac Krenek, made his first dulcimer in 1892 and later gave it to Joe. There were only a handful of dulcimers in the entire state of Texas. In Czech the dulcimer is called a cimbal. It is triangular in shape, consists of 120 strings and is played with two wooden mallets. Ignac’s dulcimer weighed 86 pounds. The instrument dates back hundreds of years before Christ and is shown in drawings from Assyrian Kings in Babylonia. If you have never seen a dulcimer or want to know more about the Baca Band visit the Fayetteville Area Museum.

Bands, Records, Celebrations, Orchestras

In 1912 the Baca Band and Orchestra was honored by the grandson of the famous Czech Composer Antonin Dvorak. While visiting Texas, he stopped in Fayetteville and played with the band under the leadership of Joe Baca.

When WWI soldiers returned home to Fayetteville, they were treated with the respect they well deserved. Uniformed solders were led by the Baca Band as they marched around the town of Fayetteville and to the SPJST Hall.

In 1920, Joe O. Baca died at the early age of 37. Everyone thought that would surely be the end of the band but thankfully, it was not. John R. Baca stepped up to the plate and became the bands new leader.

The Band played for the first time for Houston’s KPRC Radio Station in 1926 and 1927. With the recordings of the John R. Baca Orchestra made for the OKEH Phonograph, in 1931 for Columbia and 1935 for the Brunswick Corporation, he became known as the “Polka King of Texas.”

Baca's Brass Band, ca 1932
at the Fayetteville Precinct Courthouse Square Band Stage
Edward "Eddie" Baca, Frank A. Baca, Jr., Ludwig B. Baca, John R. Baca (Director), Raymond "Ray" Baca Sr., V. Kulhanek, Anton Kulhanek, Frank Gerik, Rudolph A. Baca, Frank Kulhanek, Lad Baca, Leonard Baca
The John R. Baca Band celebrated their 40th Anniversary in the summer of 1932 in Fayetteville Included with the twelve members of that day, three were members of the original Baca Band . They were: Joseph Janak of West, John Kovar of Fayetteville and Frank J. Morave of Robstown. A large parade was held with four other bands attending. The Baca Band led the way to the SPJST Hall where all parades concluded. The Baca Band also played at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church service that day. A feast of around 2,000 pounds of barbecue and tons of stew were served. Baseball games were played in the evening and music was played all day.

In 1932 the Fayetteville Courthouse Square Bandstand was built. The Baca Band gave Sunday concerts there for many years to the delight of townspeople and visitors.

The John R. Baca Band participated in the 1936 Centennial Celebration. The youngest member was John’s son Clarence who was playing the drums at age sixteen. In later years, Clarence and two others organized the SPJST Lodge #88 Concert Band. In 1962 he organized the Clarence Baca Band and played until 1998. They played at places like the Rice Hotel, Shamrock Hotel, Bill Mraz Dance Hall, SPJST Lodge #88, all in Houston, and the Buccaneer Hotel in Galveston while they were making records.

In around 1933, Raymond “Ray” Baca, Leonard Baca, Frank A. Baca, Jr., and Frank Kulhanek organized a band of their own with Ray as the leader. They named it “Baca’s New Deal Orchestra”. That year, the band won first place for their arrangement of “Rancho Grande” at the Yoakum’s Tom Tom Festival.

In 1937, John R.’s brother Ludwig “L.B.” Baca left John R. Baca’s band. He moved to Rowena and took charge of the Ripple Orchestra and renamed it the Baca-Ripple Orchestra. In 1938 he changed the name to the L.B. Baca Orchestra.

Ladislav “Lad” Baca was the son of Joe O. Baca and Louisa Krenek Baca. He was taught to play the drums at the age of nine by his father. He soon learned to play seven instruments and  had the ability to play any new instrument within five minutes of picking it up. At the request of Elo Rohde, the Fayetteville High School Superintendent, he taught the first Fayetteville High School Band. A deal was made with the school that his parents, not the school, would pay him.

The divided orchestras now consisted of John R. Baca’s Orchestra, Ray Baca’s New Deal Orchestra (later changed to Ray Baca’s Orchestra), and the L.B. Baca Orchestra. They all had that famous and very popular “Baca Beat.”

And the “Baca” Beat Goes On

Anna Baca, daughter of Frank J. Baca Sr., started the Anna Baca Stastny Family Band. This band consisted of her husband, Frank Stastny Sr. (bass), Frank Stastny Jr. (clarinet), Edwin (trumpet), Johnny (dulcimer) and Anna (drums). The sons were very young when they started playing. During the depression years they played for free on many occasions. People needed cheering up and didn’t have the money for entertainment. When WWII began, the band broke up and never played together again. Anna lived to the amazing age of 100. Frank Stastny, Jr. is still in Fayetteville and sings with his church choir.

In 1953, at the age of 60, John R. Baca, director of the Baca’s Original Band and Orchestra for 33 years, passed away. He was granted his desire to be buried in his band uniform. The town of Fayetteville honored him by closing all businesses during his services. The town marched from the funeral home, through town, to the church and to the cemetery led by the music created by the Bacas.

After John R. Baca’s death, his children Lee Edward Baca, Clarence Baca and Rosemarie Baca Rohde kept the band going along with the help of Joe Baca’s son Eddie. 

Next we see Ray Baca who started his musical career at the age of eight. He played with his Father Frank J. Baca’s Family Orchestra. In 1970 his band consisted of Emil V. Baca (sax & clarinet), Henry Hrachovy (accordian & trumpet), Emil Hrachovy (guitar), Donald Cernosek (trumpet), Norman Barnes (bass) and John Sumbera (drums).

Ray’s two sons were extremely talented and followed the family tradition. Gil began playing the piano at the age of fourteen and Kermit was nine when he started playing the drums. In 1949 Gil and Kermit went on tour with Tennessee Ernie Ford and then went on to join Hank Thompson’s group that toured the USA and Canada. In 1952 Kermit was drafted into the U.S. Army where he formed his own band while stationed in Alaska for two years. Gil appeared on the Kate Smith Show and other top TV shows. Later Gil and Kermit formed their own band. The played at various Houston clubs and made appearances on Channels 11 and 13. Initially, they played popular tunes but that changed when Ray Baca joined them. They added polkas and waltzes to their repitoirre. They recorded the famous Baca Waltz and Gil’s Polka. In 1967, they cut an LP featuring Ray Baca on the dulcimer.

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. invited Ray with Gil & Kermit’s Band to take part in the American Folklife 2nd Festival July 1-4, 1967. The Band left Houston International Airport with a big send off from SPJST #88 which was televised on Channels 2 and 11. As the 100 year dulcimer was so valuable, the Smithsonian purchased a ticket for it to ride in its own seat! To the enjoyment of all of the passengers, Ray Baca played his beloved dulcimer 33,000 feet in the air. The “Baca Beat” was so well received that they were invited to perform again in 1968 and many more times including one of President Richard Nixon’s Inauguration Balls. The Baca Orchestra was chosen for the Folklife Festivals for its ability to present the American survival of the Czech folk tradition in its most happy and authentic form. The Baca Band was again featured in this festival for the bicentennial year of 1976. in 1972, for the 80th Anniversary of the beginning of the Baca Bands, Gil Baca’s band featuring Ray Baca, returned to the home of their ancestors for a two week tour.

For a number of years, Gil Baca and Lee Edward Baca, Vernon Drozd and Alvin Minarcik along with various guest performers played at the historic Baca’s Confectionary in beautiful historic downtown Fayetteville. Rudolph Baca, proprietor, was a former John R. Baca Band member for 33 years. He played the tuba, bass and violin. Around 2005, the building was sold and can now be visited as Joes’ Place which is a restaurant.

Gil Baca’s final public performance was at the dedication of the City of Fayetteville to the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 2008. If you did not know it, Gil was critically ill as he gave the performance of a lifetime. He played his keyboard smiling and singing as Czech dancers swirled across the stage. Soon after that beautiful performance, Gil was lost to us but the Baca Beat will live in our hearts forever.

We now await the next Baca to please step forward . . .

Interviews with Gil & Flo Baca, Rosemarie Baca Rohde, Frank Stastny, Jr.
Baca Record Covers
Baca Musical History from 1860-1968 by Cleo R. Baca
Photos from Fayetteville Area Heritage Museum

An Early Fayette County Band

By Judy Matejowsky

Remembered by descendants of each entertainer, but obscure to others by now, I’d like to tell you about a group of friends who formed a band in the Nechanitz area in the 1920s.

Ninety-plus years ago, Edgar Edwin Frenzel, who played the saxophone, formed the ensemble. The other musicians, all in their 20s and 30s with differing talents, were: Ernst/Ernest Luecke (dulcimer), August Meinke (trumpet), Emil Albers (saxophone), Eddie Albers (clarinet), Gus Weber (violin) and three Matejowsky brothers, Anton (trombone), Alois (trumpet), and Elmo (drums). There could have been two to three others whose names are unknown to me. They collectively named themselves The Lion Tamers Band and Orchestra, sometimes adding the word “Brass” before “Band”.Fascination still exists about their puzzling name.    

Automobiles were the mode of travel in the mid-to-late 1920s when the band was active.  Gigs were booked in the accessible neighboring towns and communities of Winchester, Indian Creek, Waldeck, Warrenton, Dime Box, Oldenburg, Giddings, Ganttsville (now Prospect in Lee County) and even as far as Brenham. Events included weddings, feasts, community celebrations and school sponsored dances. These young men worked hard every day, but loved music enough to practice regularly and perform when requested.

The first commercially licensed radio broadcast in the United States went out in 1920. By 1922, there were 600 radio stations in the country. Families began purchasing radios, and there was an eager audience for listening to music. Change was in the air!

The 19th Amendment had given women the right to vote, but liberation did not stop there. The 20s was the age of the “flapper”, a time when women, who sought excitement, bobbed their hair and wore their skirts shorter. Songs reflected their behaviors and fashion. Perhaps a love for additional new songs and dancing helped the promotion of bands such as The Lion Tamers.

A brown-colored Sterling “D.E.Ledger” (12 x 7 inch, double-entry) owned by Charles and Anton G. Matejowsky has survived. Individual purchase prices for these ledgers were from 25 to 50 cents.  Their covers are very beautiful, now even highly collectible.
Over 130 different titles of sheet music, neatly written with black ink, provide a wonderful time capsule of the roaring twenties. Some delightful “oldies but goodies” in that ledger include “Blue Eyed Sally”; “Go Long Mule” (a novelty song, the cover of which says ‘the Dawgonedest Fool Song Ever’); “Wa Wa Waddle Walk”; “Red Hot Mama”; “Sweet Little You”; “West Texas Blues” (a fox trot); “Wabash Blues”; “Moon River” (a beautiful waltz),;“Flapper Blues” and “Hawaiian Nightingale”. One in particular, a waltz, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, was immensely popular.

An interesting side note is that Edgar Frenzel (mentioned above) married Miss Lillie Weber, who lived with the three Matejowsky band members’ family for a while prior to her marriage. Lillie had run away from home due to her parents’ disapproval of her choice of a suitor. However, the couple began a long, married life in 1919.

Band member Anton Matejowsky was the father of my husband, Lloyd.  Anton’s trombone, minus the mouthpiece, is a much-loved artifact still in our possession. We are hopeful that someday advertising fliers and/or news clippings and pictures of The Lion Tamers Band and Orchestra will surface. If there are any descendants of the band members who still have any of these items, please contact us at

Photo Caption:
Surviving double-entry ledger book and sheet music of the 1920s - 1930s era that were originally owned by Charles and Anton G. Matejowsky; photo courtesy of Judy Matejowsky
1920 –1930 Ledger Book belonging to Charles and Anton G. Matejowsky
Interview with Lorena Matejowsky Hannes; Giddings, Texas (sister to the three Matejowsky band members), 1980s


What Links St. Peter’s Lutheran to Bethlehem Lutheran

Carl Siegismund Bauer

by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether

Growing up in Spring Branch, a suburb of Houston, I went to Spring Branch Elementary School and played right next door to St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church every school day.  It was an old church with narrow windows, a tall steeple and was painted white.  We were active members at Holy Cross Lutheran only a few miles away, so only visited St. Peter’s when they held their open house at Christmas. So as a kid, I did not think about St. Peter’s other than to think it was a pretty church, and they had a beautiful Christmas program.

As a member and tour guide for Round Top’s Bethlehem Lutheran, the connection between the St. Peter’s and Bethlehem churches were brought to my attention by Judy Matejowsky.  She lent me her copy of the Bauer family book, “A Goodly Heritage”.  It tells the story of Carl Siegismund Bauer and his descendants.  It surprised me to learn that Bethlehem Lutheran was not the first church that Bauer had built.  Ten plus years earlier, Bauer had participated in the building of St. Peter’s in Spring Branch.  My elementary school memories now beckoned me to find out more.  

Carl Siegismund BauerCarl Bauer, his wife, Christiana Malzar Bauer, and four of their children, who lived in Saxony, Prussia (Germany), boarded the sailing ship Neptune in 1848 in search of a less turbulent place to live. Carl and Christina were in their mid-fifties when they set off on this journey.  August, their second oldest, and his wife Emilie (Ficke) had emigrated in 1847 and sent back encouraging word of all that was available in Texas. The hurricane encountered on their journey, the scurvy-like disease that caused deaths on board the Neptune and the trip inland after arriving in Galveston all proved to be exhausting and dangerous.  By 1849 they had made it across the mud flats and swamp-like land to a place approximately ten miles northwest of Houston that other families had named Spring Branch Creek. The Bauers, along with the other German families, including the Rummels, Kolbes, Ahrenbecks, Schroeders and Hillendahls, held a Thanksgiving service for their safe arrival in the wilds of Texas.   St. Peter’s Evangelical congregation had begun their plans. The oaks and giant pines were perfect for both their home and a church. William Rummel, who married Caroline Bauer, donated the land and cemetery for the building of St. Peter’s.

After the Christmas holidays of 1849, the men of those founding families went into the woods, cut logs and left them to season. These first logs were gone when they returned later to retrieve them. The next cut logs were kept under the watchful eye of the Rummels. The first church building was erected five years after the first service was held. In 1851, Carl Bauer left his Spring Branch property to his son, August, and moved with the rest of his family to Round Top, becoming one of the first settlers of the village.  

Carl and his family were deeply religious and faithful in their endeavors to build a place to worship their Maker. The Bauers lost one child as an infant; their son, August, had preceded his family to Texas; one son, Karl, remained in Germany with all his descendants; four children were with them on their journey; and two daughters arrived a few years later. Like so many other families in the area, they had their joys and losses in the family due to illness and circumstances. Carl was driven to help establish and build the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top. By the mid-1860s, Carl, now almost seventy, led his sons, Carl Ehrgott and Carl Traugott, as well as his son-in-law, Conrad Schueddemagen, to complete Bethlehem Lutheran. His daughter, Wilhelmine Schueddemagen, was a strong asset as treasurer.

These two Lutheran churches are miles apart, but are connected by a family searching for a better place. Strong religious ties to their German Lutheran faith gave them the conviction to complete this task. Take a tour of these churches and cemeteries and you will find many of the same names in both St. Peter’s and Bethlehem’s histories and cemeteries. We are fortunate to have so many families in Fayette County, such as the Bauers and their descendants, who came to help build churches as evidence of their strong faith in God and family.

Marler, Isla Bauer. “A Goodly Heritage”; Printit Office Suppliers, Uvalde, Texas, 1959
Obst, Rev. Martin H. and Banik, John G. “Our God is Marching On”; Von Boeckmann-Jones, Austin, Texas, 1966    


Charles Bauer

By Connie F. Sneed

Mr. Charles Bauer was born June 5, 1845, at Oberensingen, Wurtemburg, Germany, a son of William and Margaret (Hahn) Bauer. His father was born in May, 1810, at the same location and was given a fair education. The education of Charles Bauer was secured in the public schools of his native country, which he was apprenticed to the trade of carpenter, thoroughly mastering every detail of that vocation.

Instead of going to Kentucky with the rest of the family, he came to Texas and located at Round Top, where he engaged in work at his trade. He was industrious and thrifty, and after a few years had accumulated money enough to go to Burton, Texas, and, engage in the lumber business, being associated with his brother under the firm style of W. Bauer & Brother. They bought out the first lumber yard established at that place and conducted it successfully for a period of twelve years, after which Charles Bauer disposed of his interests and went to Pomona, California. He first engaged in farming in that community, later became the proprietor of a feed mill, and finally opened a laundry, but after seven unprofitable years he decided that his best opportunities lay in Texas, and he happily returned to the Lone Star state.

Here, in 1894, Mr. Bauer entered the lumber business, buying out J. C. Hillsman & Son and conducting a lumber yard until April, 1914, when he sold out and retired from active participation in business operations. He was a stockholder in the Carmine Creamery and in the Oil Mill and a director and one of the organizers of the Carmine State Bank. He had been a farmer by proxy, his property consisting of 174 acres and being located in the Obediah Hudson League, near Carmine.

He took out his first citizenship papers at La Grange, Texas, and his final papers at Brenham, Texas. Mr. Bauer was married at Round Top, Texas, November 17, 1871, to Miss Mary Ernst, a daughter of Fred and Mary (Krum) Ernst.

Source: A History of Texas and Texans


Robert E. B. Baylor

Politician, Soldier, and Preacher: Founder of Baylor University and Mary Hardin-Baylor University

by Katie Kulhanek 

Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor was indeed a remarkable and memorable man. Skilled in both politics and religion, Baylor was a double-edged sword who worked for the betterment of society. Born on May 10th, 1793 in Lincoln County, Kentucky to Walker and Jane Baylor, Robert Baylor received his schooling at a small country school and later at several academies around Paris, Kentucky. He served in the War of 1812 and afterwards studied law under his uncle who was a judge. In 1819, Baylor was elected to the Kentucky Legislature and then when he moved to Alabama in the early 1820s, he was elected to the Alabama Legislature. Finally in 1828, he was elected to the US Congress.

Hidden amongst Baylor’s political talents were some militaristic skills as well. During the tenure of US President Andrew Jackson, Native Americans were being relocated onto reserves into western lands such as in Alabama. The Georgia Legislature passed an act in 1829 requiring Native Americans living in Alabama to have permits in order to cross the Chattahoochee River and enter into Georgia. This act, coupled with President Jackson’s decision to station 1,000 US troops to protect frontier settlers, as well as a series of land scams that were directed towards the Native Americans, caused much unrest and disturbance, thus leading to the Creek War of 1836. In 1836, Baylor commanded and led a battalion of Alabama volunteers against the Creek Indian uprising.

In 1839, during a Baptist revival meeting in Alabama, Baylor was converted and became an ordained Baptist minister. In that same year, Baylor made the trip to Texas where he first settled in Biegel, which was southeast of La Grange in Fayette County. He later moved to Washington County. In the early 1840s, he helped to organize the Union Baptist Association, as well as the Texas Baptist Education Society. His political career continued when he was elected judge to the Third Judicial District of the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1841. He was elected to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas and at the Texas Convention of 1845, Baylor represented Fayette County as a delegate and served on three committees: annexation, judiciary, and general provisions of the constitution. He helped draft the Texas constitution and voiced his opinions on favoring “free public schools, homestead exemptions, annual elections, and the exclusion of clergy from the legislature”.

Also in 1845, Robert Baylor began to prepare his petition, which led to the establishment of Baylor University and Baylor Female College (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor). A year later, the Texas State Governor J.P. Henderson appointed Baylor as judge of the state’s Third Judicial District, a position he held until 1863.

His religious fervor was what brought him to preach every chance he had. It is said, that “while traveling through his judicial districts on horseback to enforce the law, Baylor held court by day and preached in the evenings”. Baylor had been a Mason since 1825 and in the mid- to late-1840s, he served as chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Texas Masons several times.

Baylor died a bachelor in 1873 at his home in Gay Hill, Washington County, and was buried on the Baylor University campus, but in 1917 his body was reinterred at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor campus.

Judge R.E.B. Baylor 

by Billye Beth Baker 

Judge R.E.B Baylor wasn’t always an arbitrator sitting behind “the bench”, but he was a very energetic, gifted, gregarious, devoted traveling man. 

Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor was born 1793 in Kentucky into a large family.  “He studied law in the office of his uncle and in 1819 was elected to the Kentucky Legislature, then to the Alabama Legislature in 1824.  He converted to Christianity and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1839.”

“He came to The Republic of Texas and to Fayette County, “the heart of Texas at the time”, in late 1839 at age 46.  Fayette County had been created in 1838 out of the counties of Colorado and Mina (Bastrop).  The first census in 1847 indicated Fayette had 2886 inhabitants. 

R.E.B. Baylor briefly settled in La Grange where “he fretted over the lack of education of many locals”, thus he opened a school for anyone willing to listen and learn.  “Judge Baylor’s school was the first known to have existed in La Grange.  The small log “school” house stood amongst a present set of large stately Live Oak trees at 453 E Fannin Street.  The main trail/road through La Grange in 1839 was about a block away, at present La Fayette Street. 

Baylor probably did not teach at his school any longer then 1841, if that long, since he was elected Judge to travel the Third Judicial District of Congress; then he became an associate justice of the Supreme        C ourt of the Republic of Texas from 1841-1845.  He also was a delegate from Fayette County to the Convention of 1845 where he served on three committees, viz: (1) Annexation, (2) Judiciary, and (3) General Provisions of the Constitution. 

Traveling through his judicial districts on horseback to enforce the law, Judge Baylor held Court by day and preached in the evenings.   In 1840, Reverends Cox, Morrell and Baylor found time to ride to Linville, near Victoria, to fight Indians in the Battle of Plum Creek.

R.E.B. Baylor did not divulge he was a licensed minister during the first weeks of living in Texas for fear someone would think he sought favors, until in February 1840 when Revered Z.N. Morrell visited Baylor in La Grange and encouraged him to follow his calling.  Rev. Morrell was one of two Baptist missionaries appointed to Texas and was the first to hold services in Fayette County.  In the winter of 1838, William Scallorn, an early settler, asked Morrell to hold service in his log cabin home.  Then Morrell held a Baptist service in La Grange where R.E.B. Baylor assisted him.

From 1839-1869, Baptists held activities at the Baptist Church of Christ at the first Plum Grove site near West Point.  The official church was organized in February, 1840.

The church minutes in 1842 show that Brother Baylor and Morrell acted as presbytery in the first ordination of a preacher, Richard Ellis, in Texas.  The church, located in the Wood League, was between Criswell and east of present West Point, probably near the La Bahia trail. 

In October 1841, 35 rugged Texas Baptist pioneers gathered in a small building near Rutersville for the first anniversary meeting of the Union Baptist Association represented by nine small churches.  Judge Baylor presented a report that concerned educational needs of the citizens of Texas.

Union Association minutes show on August 29, 1844 that the introductory sermon was delivered by Elder R.E.B. Baylor from Romans, “For none of us liveth to himself”.  He was elected Corresponding Secretary and also served on a committee to arrange business of the Association and encouraged Bethany Baptist Church’s petition for reception into the Union.  Elders R.E.B. Baylor and William M. Tryon were elected as alternates to preach.   Three Baptist churches were listed in Fayette County by the Union minutes:  (1) La Grange and (2) Plum Grove with Pastor R. Ellis – post office La Grange and (3) Bethany with Pastor R.E.B. Baylor – post office Shelby.  

Baylor and Morrell organized a church on Col. Jarmon’s plantation about 17 miles SE of La Grange.  Religious services were held under brush arbors and even in the La Grange Courthouse.  By 1860, there were eight Baptist Churches in Fayette County.  By 1858, Fayetteville had a congregation of 148 Methodists.

The “Colorado Citizen” news on Saturday, March 20, 1858, near Long Point, reported Judge Baylor was alive “in an improving state of health”, despite hearing “that his disease had terminated fatally”.

For more than 20 years, Baylor traveled on horseback with the laws of Texas in one saddlebag and the Holy Bible in the other, organizing courts and churches by the scores.  “At night to attract a crowd, he would tune up his fiddle and give a concert, then preach a fiery sermon.

Judge Baylor died December 30, 1873 in Washington County, where he had established his home near the University at Independence. 

Fayette County has been blessed with reverent, honorable judges ever since.

Bermuda Valley Racetrack

by Donna Green

Wagering on horse races was legal in the state of Texas before World War I and racing was a very popular sport. One of the most widely known racetracks in Texas was the Bermuda Valley racetrack. The remains of the site can still be seen southwest of Schulenburg on the St. John Road. A few men who enjoyed horseracing and who were interested in making money started the Bermuda Valley Farm Racetrack. The main promoters of the track were Dr. I. E. Clark and his son, Harvey, along with William Cornelson, H. Graf and several other Schulenburg men. The organization was chartered by the state of Texas as the Schulenburg Livestock and Fair Association.

The construction of the track was most unique. In 1897, Dr. Clark laid out the track. His associates gently suggested to this headstrong man that perhaps he should hire a surveyor to lay out an oval track that would be half a mile in distance. The doctor said "Oh I don't need a surveyor!" He then hopped in his buggy and drove it in what he thought was an oval shape. Men followed him laying out stakes as he went. As it turned out the track was five-eighths of a mile and egg-shaped. The shape and size were not exactly correct but he had come very close.

The races at Bermuda were held semi-annually and were the social event of the year. The races were the main draw but there were also agricultural exhibits, carnival activities, home demonstration competitions and games. The grandstands held up to fifteen hundred people and there was room for more visitors to stand. Average attendance was around three thousand. Folks came from as far away as San Antonio and Houston for the race days. They arrived by train and were taken to the track by horse drawn hacks.

The horse races themselves were for thoroughbreds. Any breeder of thoroughbreds could race at Bermuda Valley. The Farm was also known for breeding horses. One of the most famous horses bred there was named Orb. He set a world record in a horse race in Mexico. Many people were employed at the track as jockeys, horse trainers and stable boys.

When the last race was held at the track in unknown. As far as can be determined it was probably sometime around 1919 or 1920. A historical marker was dedicated at the site in 1968.


Annie Webb Blanton - Suffragist

by Cathy Chaloupka

Just a short time ago, women of any age had absolutely no rights, none. They could not been seen alone in public, drive, work (except to be a mother and housekeeper), or, least of all, voice their own opinion. For some time, early censuses only listed males—females were not significant. Only a short time ago, women became individual voices thanks to people such as Annie Webb Blanton, a native of Fayette County.

Annie, born on August 19, 1870, was a graduate of La Grange High School in 1886, taught in a rural school in Fayette County, and understood the need for women to proclaim a voice in America, thus becoming a acknowledged part of history. One of seven children of Thomas Lindsay and Eugenia Webb Blanton, Annie moved to Austin upon the death of her father in 1888 and taught elementary and secondary schools, supporting herself by teaching while attending the University of Texas, where she graduated in 1899.

As a strong believer in equal rights for women, and already having written several grammar books, Annie Webb Blanton was the first woman to hold the position of president of the Texas State Teachers Association in 1916. Her election as State Superintendent in 1918, where Texas women exercised their voting rights for the first time thanks to Governor William P. Hobby, was won via a bitter campaign including Annie being accused of atheism. She was a Methodist and retaliated by charging the incumbent Walter Doughty with close association to the former impeached governor James Ferguson and the breweries.

Annie Webb Blanton's early career included establishing a system of free textbooks for students, revising teacher certification laws, raising teachers salaries, and efforts to improve rural education. In 1920, upon her reelection, voters passed the Better Schools Amendment, Annie's proposal, which was a means of removing constitutional limitations on tax rates for local schools districts. She returned to the University of Texas in 1923, where she received her master's degree, taught at UT, and then took a leave of absence to earn her PH.D. from Cornell University. Upon her return to UT in 1927, she remained a professor of education there for the remainder of her life.

During this time, Annie published several books, founded the Delta Kappa Gamma Society (an honorary society for women teachers), was very active in national educational groups, and remained concerned for the needs of rural schools.

She died in Austin October 2, 1945 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Several public schools carry her name as well as a women's dormitory at the University of Texas in Austin.


Annie Webb Blanton

by Connie F. Sneed

Annie Webb Blanton, teacher, suffragist, and the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office. 

Annie Webb Blanton was born in Houston, Texas, the daughter of Thomas Lindsay Blanton. Blanton, a native of Virginia, came to Houston with his mother at the age of twelve. Her mother was Eugenia Webb Blanton, of LaGrange, Texas, granddaughter of Asa B. Hill and daughter of General William G. Webb, names well known in Texas history. She received her early schooling in a private school in Houston. Her secondary training began in the Houston High School and ended in the high school of La Grange, where the family made their home after the death of her mother. After teaching one session in a rura1 school in Fayette County, she moved with the other members of her family to Austin. After she moved to Austin, where she taught in both elementary and secondary schools, she supported herself by teaching while studying at the University of Texas, where she graduated in 1899.

After graduation she joined the English faculty of North Texas State Normal College in Denton. While in Denton she authored several grammar textbooks, joined women's organizations, and rose to head the Texas State Teachers' Association. In 1918, when Texas suffragists realized that they had a political friend in Governor William Hobby, they sponsored Annie's candidacy for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, otherwise known today as the Texas Commissioner of Education. After a hard campaign, she defeated her opponent in the Democratic primary and subsequently sailed to victory in the general election. Annie Webb Blanton thus became the first woman to be elected to statewide office in Texas. She had been teaching in one way or another since 1886. Blanton was passionate about women's rights as well as education.

Blanton felt that one of the most important ways to ensure the children of Texas had a good education was to provide them with good teachers. She felt that teachers' salaries were too low to ensure the best quality.

In 1929 Annie founded Delta Kappa Gamma, an honor society for women teachers. She stressed professionalism to the group, calling for leaders “of strong personality, unimpeachable honor, unselfish nature and fine professional attitude.” Annie is remembered as a warm, caring teacher who inspired her students by example.

Blanton, who never married, was a Methodist. She died in Austin on October 2, 1945, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Public schools are named for her in Austin, Dallas, and Odessa, and a women's dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin bears her name.

Blizzard of 1888

by Kathy Carter

Snow scene at the Lester Hotel, on the corner of Washington and Colorado Streets in La Grange
January 11, 1888 was an unseasonably warm day across the prairie states. Children walked to school without coats. Farmers worked in the fields without gloves or scarves. But in the early afternoon, completely without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, completely and violently changed. A massive blizzard containing hurricane force winds and a wall of raging horizontal snow swept across the area. By the next morning more than five hundred people lay dead on the prairie. The majority of the dead were schoolchildren who had been sent home as soon as the storm struck and then lost their way in the blinding snow and howling winds. Some tried to make their way home by following fences but were later found frozen with their hands still holding on to the wires. This event is known as “The Children’s Blizzard.” The massive storm continued on its path of destruction and swept through Texas and into Mexico, through Vera Cruz, and into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The temperature in Galveston fell from 62 to 29 in a short time. Winds of more than forty miles an hour drove snow and ice. In Corpus Christi the temperature dropped from 53 to a low of 16 degrees and snow fell all day. Wind speed could not be measured there because the anemometer froze. In Brownsville, ice more than an inch thick covered trees, houses, and fences and brought down telegraph lines. People and livestock suffered greatly. For the first time in recorded history, the Colorado River froze over with ice more than a foot thick. The storm blew into Fayette County on Saturday evening, January 14th, with sleet and snow. Some of the windows in the Methodist Episcopal Church were blown out and Sunday services were cancelled. In La Grange, three inches of snow fell over two days and the temperature dropped to 12 degrees. Communities across the county reported that they were ice and snowbound and that schools were closed. Families with poorly insulated homes were forced to “go to bed” to stay warm under a multitude of blankets and quilts.  Stray horses and cattle froze to death. Travelers were stranded. The roads were so bad that La Grange had very little communication with the rest of the county for nearly a week. The one good note, if there was one, was that for the first time in 30 years there was enough snow on the ground for sleigh rides, snowman building and snowball fights.

The Herman Ludwig Loessin family home at Black Jack photographed by Louis Melcher.
Neither the Lester Hotel or the Loessin house, which was located off FM 609, is still standing.
Both photos courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives

Old Blue

By Lillie Mae Brightwell

Old BlueI was a baby when I walked into the Livestock Barn in Giddings.  Lillian Tobias saw me and immediately wanted to take me home with her.  It was the luckiest day of my life!

Ed helped me to get into the trailer for the trip to Ellinger while Lillian made sure I was okay.  The trailer ride was bumpy.  Lillian looked back at me in the trailer to be sure that I was taking the ride with grins.

When Ed helped me walk off the trailer in Ellinger, the dogs met us looking at me as if I would harm them.  The peacocks were feeling fear, but after saying hello, they flew into the trees as if they thought I would step on them.  A few weeks later, the dogs and peacocks became my friends, and they walked in the pastures with me every day.  We were Buddies - even in the rain, hot or cold weather.  We drank a lot of water.

I tried not to be troublesome.  My most endearing trait was my personality.  I was tamed, docile, gentle and loved children.  Like a mother, Lillian wanted to be sure I was healthy, so she called the vet over to check me out.  The vet assured her that I was fit as a fiddle.  I had no common cattle disease.  He also informed her that I had an innate resistance to some parasites and bacteria that were common to some cattle.  This I was to be thankful to my parents for.

Every day when I came in from the pasture, Lillian fed me wonderful grains of food.  She would hug my neck, scratch and stroke my body, talk to me, and check my skin to be sure everything was okay.  We developed a strong emotional bond for each other.  I loved her.

Lillian finally let Ed, who was Deputy Ed Tobias, ride me.  He rode me in the Ellinger parades.  Once I was photographed alongside Sheriff Jim Flournoy riding on his horse.  They put the picture into the “Ellinger Yesterday & Today” History Book. We led the Ellinger Tomato Festival parades.  To find out more on my history, a trip to the archives at the La Grange Library revealed the following:

Unlike most breeds of cattle, no one set out to develop Texas Longhorn cattle as a breed.  Instead, they evolved in North America as descendants of the Corriente cattle brought into the Americas by the Spanish in the late 1400s and early 1500s (the first ones were brought into Hispaniola in 1493).  When Texas Longhorns became more popular, breeders went into Mexico to bring back wild descendants of the original Spanish cattle to help correct the inbreeding problems that were evident with the evolved Texas breed.  The original Corriente cattle were smaller than their longhorn descendants and had shorter up-curved horns compared to the very long widespread horns of the contemporary longhorns.  I seem to be a genetic throw-back to my Corriente ancestors with my up-curved horns that turn backwards.  However, I have the body size of the longhorn – a result of later cross-breeding.  That makes me unique and special – one of a kind.

Longhorns were considered mature at 10 years and were hearty and self-reliant, and their meat was known to be lean like venison. These traits were passed down from their Corriente ancestors.  Longhorn cows continue to have calves until they’re 15-20 years old; the oldest on record is 33.

By the Mexican War, 1846-1848, the Texas Longhorn had become a recognizable type, but only appeared in South Texas.  They had few predators.  Indians preferred buffalo hunting, and wolves were wary of the longhorn’s mean nature and wicked horns.  As the buffalo numbers declined, prairie grasses from Mexico to Canada helped fuel an explosion in longhorn population.

During the Civil War, unattended longhorns bred so freely that by 1865, between five and six million unbranded cattle were roaming the Texas plains, including Old Blue’s ancestors.

Most longhorns had no brand and little value.  A scrawny longhorn might bring a dollar or two in Texas.  However, cattle were worth $40 a head in the market towns of the beef-starved north.  The era of long cattle drives was about to get under way.

Lead steers showed signs of natural leadership and were bossy and wanted to go first - like some drivers encountered today on modern highways.  According to one historian, one famous Old Blue was the proudest animal that ever switched his tail at flies.  Because of his gentleness and intelligence, he was spoiled by the cowboys.  While other longhorns grazed on grass, he stayed in camp and ate scraps of meat, cornbread, corn, biscuits and dried apples.  The next day, he took his place at the point and held it.  He helped corral wild cattle, cross turbulent rivers and calmed stampedes.

Upon my death, Lillian and Ed had my head with trophy-size horns mounted on a plaque by a taxidermist.  My mount was presented in 1979 to the Fayette County Public Library and Archives, where it is displayed occasionally for the public to see – “Old Blue”.    Some people have erroneously referred to me as Bevo, the University of Texas mascot.  There have been multiple mascots named Bevo, but just one of me.  A person whose father graduated from Ellinger High School came all the way from California asking about me. What an honor!

I had a good life.  I am proud of my heritage and my wonderful life with Ed and Lillian in Ellinger. 

Interviews with Rose Tobias, Lucile Tobias and Joe Smidovec, who still works on the Tobias Ranch
Photo – Fayette County Heritage Museum & Archives
Texas Longhorn and Corriente cattle information from online sources

Blume's Orchestra—"The Big Band" of Fayette County

By Carolyn Heinsohn

For everything there is a season, but with time, everything changes.  The senior citizens of Fayette County and its environs fondly remember the music of the big band era that had its beginnings in the mid-1920s. Soon, the big band sound became the most popular style of music in the United States with hundreds of big city and small town bands emulating the recorded sounds that they heard on their radios and Victrolas.  The swing era, which oftentimes is referred to as the “big band era”, peaked from 1935 to 1946, although big bands continued to be popular through the 1960s.

Those were the days of recognizable lyrics and melodies that enticed couples to dance together with fluidic movements around the dance floors of their favorite venues.  Their attire ranged from their Sunday best to more formal clothing for holiday dances. Unlike the present, casual clothing was never worn to dances, weddings, funerals or church services. The combination of beautiful people and beautiful music set the mood for elegant evenings when friends could come together to enjoy socializing and dancing with one another.

Blume's Orchestra - early 1970sBlume’s Orchestra, considered “The Big Band of Fayette County” was one of the best-known and best-loved area bands and continued to perform well beyond the peak years of popularity for their style of music.  People who started attending their dances when they were young continued to be loyal followers for decades.  The orchestra was so popular that it was not uncommon for them to have 10 to 15 bookings per month, especially during the prom and holiday seasons and popular wedding months. They played for almost every prom in Fayette County and the surrounding counties. Generally, they averaged about 85 to 115 bookings per year in the early 1960s.  One year, they had 21 dance bookings in the month of December, and during another year, they had a total of 135 bookings. In the late 1950s, each musician earned an average of $15 per dance; however, by the early 1990s, they were making an average of $100 per booking.  The most money was always made on New Year’s Eve.   

In 1928, the late Lawrence Eckels of La Grange decided to give up the band that he had organized quite some time before.  Fortunately, three musical Blume brothers, Robert, Walter and Ed, decided to take over the Eckels Band.  Another brother, John, had been playing with the Eckels Band for a number of years before the changeover. In 1933, their youngest brother, Leslie, more commonly known as Les, joined the group.  By 1954, Les had become the leader of the orchestra.

The talented musicians in the orchestra, who seemed to genuinely enjoy playing together, loved the old tunes and big band sounds made popular by a number of big band leaders, including Benny Goodman, Harry James, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Guy Lombardo, as well as other similar artists.  Wilbur Zapp was able to do a fine imitation of the voice of Louie “Satchmo” Armstrong, which amused the attendees. The style of music played by the orchestra was more commonly called “modern” music here in Texas versus the “polka” music made popular by other local bands. They kept their particular musical style alive for over 50 years. 

“Big bands” usually consisted of saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a four piece rhythm section, comprised of drums, piano, an acoustic or electric bass and a guitar.  Other instruments, like clarinets, baritone horns and vibes were occasionally added for certain arrangements.     

Usually the bands that recorded or performed in big cities, on tours, or in the movies had from 12 to 25 musicians. However, in smaller towns, the availability of that many qualified musicians was limited, plus the various venues could not afford to pay for that many musicians without increasing the price of admission.  That in turn would have resulted in fewer attendees, so the local bands had to rely on fewer musicians who could play multiple instruments and still provide the big band sound.  Blume’s Orchestra generally had eight musicians, although on occasion, they had as many as ten. 

One of the most popular dance halls in the area where the Blume’s Orchestra frequently played was the Fair Pavilion Hall in La Grange.  For a number of years, V.A. Hrbacek, the owner of Cottonwood Inn Restaurant and Motel, leased the Fair Pavilion and hired the orchestra to play on the first Saturday of every month.

Built in 1925, the hall is now an iconic relic that still serves the community for a variety of purposes.  Tables and chairs were placed around the perimeter of the dance floor, and lighting was subdued for a romantic ambiance.  A slightly raised platform on three sides of the hall offered space for additional seating.  The only cooling features during warm weather were large fans in a rectangular cupola in the roof of the hall, welcome breezes that came in through unscreened windows that opened with cantilevered shutters, and fluttering hand fans.  Eventually, more electric fans were added to provide additional comfort, but air conditioning was never feasible due to the hall’s old-style construction.  Nevertheless, lovers of good music were not dissuaded by the lack of creature comforts. 

During the big band era, patrons could bring their own liquor and order mixers and “set-ups” of crushed ice, lemon wedges and maraschino cherries that were served by Emmett Johnson, who worked for years as a waiter at the Pavilion. He always wore a white uniform and cap and provided his services with a smile and impeccable manners. The band members, however, never drank alcohol or smoked while playing, so that they could maintain a respectable reputation.

Ads for dances featuring Blume’s Orchestra were published in area newspapers and on placards that were distributed to various businesses and dance halls.  In 1956, an ad in the Bastrop Advertiser stated that Blume’s would be playing at the Fair Pavilion in La Grange for a New Year’s Eve dance. Admission was $2.50 per person, but advance tickets had to be purchased at the Cottonwood Inn Restaurant in La Grange in order to reserve a free table.  In 1958, Blume’s Orchestra was again playing at the Fair Pavilion for a Christmas dance with a $2.00 admission. In the early 1960s, the orchestra played at the American Legion Hall in La Grange for Christmas dances for four or five years. 

In 1978, the orchestra produced a 33 1/3 rpm recording of some of their favorite tunes to celebrate their 50th anniversary.  The musicians who played for this album were Les Blume, Wilbur Zapp and Rudolph Ryza, sax and clarinet; Floyd Nicholson and Andy Anderson, trumpet; Roy Giesalhart, bass; Lucien “Sarge” La Course and Bob Pratka, sharing drums; and Claude Marty, piano, accordion and vibes.  Some of the musical selections were: “White Sport Coat”, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain”, “Spanish Eyes”, “Love Letters”, “Bill Bailey”, “San Francisco”, and a “Strauss Waltz Medley”, all of which had been popular tunes for years.

Throughout the years, there were many fads and styles of dance music that were popular with the different bands in the area, but the style of Blume’s Orchestra changed very little. The orchestra had a loyal following who preferred it that way! Why change a good thing?

Once In a While Band - early 1980sIn the early 1980s, the Blume brothers decided to retire, so there was a period of dormancy when their style of music was not being heard in the area.  So when the Fair Association asked for a band that could play “modern” music at an upcoming fair, Gus Lindemann, who joined Blume’s Orchestra as a trumpeter in 1958, decided to organize a combo band that he called “The Once In A While Band”.  He utilized many of the Blume’s original arrangements and introduced newer ones for a mixture of old and up-to-date sounds. Les Blume, the leader of the former Blume’s Orchestra, played with the group for a short time, but then retired again due to health reasons.  After several years, Gus decided to organize a full band that he re-named “The Gus Lindemann Orchestra”.  His musical and business acumen attributed to his orchestra’s continued success.

Mike Gest, a musician and vocalist with the Gus Lindemann Orchestra, acquired the orchestra and became its leader in 2005.  The name was changed to the Moonglow Orchestra, and it continues to be one of the more successful and popular dance bands in southeast Texas, especially in the Houston area.  The orchestra features a variety of music that ranges from ballroom, big band, jazz, pop rock, country and a selection of Latin tunes and rhythms.    

So actually, Blume’s Orchestra somewhat morphed into three other bands that continued to play some of the original band’s old familiar arrangements – music that kept people happily dancing for over five decades. The memories of their music can still be mentally conjured up by many of the senior citizens of the county as they reflect upon the “good old days” when attending a dance with the Blume’s Orchestra meant a night of dancing and romancing with a favorite partner, as well as socializing with friends. Nostalgic recollections seem to be a favorite pastime with age, when fond memories resurface from the depths of our gray matter, stay with us for a while and then fade away again.   

Blume’s Orchestra, early 1970s; left to right: Wilbur Zapp, Floyd Nickolson, Rudy Ryza, “Sarge” Lacourse, Les Blume, Roy Giesalhart and Claude Marty – Photo courtesy of Leslie (Butch) Blume
The Once in A While Band playing in the German-Czech Mart, Fayette County Fair, early 1980s; front: Chris Janca, Gus Lindemann, Les Blume; rear: Norbert Strmiska; not seen – Bob Pratka and Melvin Jurica – Photo courtesy of Gus Lindemann
Interview with Gus Lindemann, Nov. 16, 2015
Moonglow Orchestra website
The Blume’s Orchestra Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary, album cover story; 1978


The Bridge Valley Settlement

by Carolyn Heinsohn 

The Bridge Valley Settlement was located in a large bend of Buckner’s Creek about three miles west of La Grange on the Flatonia Road, now known as FM 609.  The area was first settled by Colonel John W.S. Dancy and Edward Manton, who came to Fayette County in the 1830s. They both had large land holdings in the area and were instrumental in trying to establish the town of Colorado City on the west side of the Colorado River at the La Bahia Crossing. This venture failed after John Moore successfully advertised for settlers to move to the new town of La Grange that he founded across the river, and flood waters inundated the proposed town site, which never progressed past the planning stage.

German settlers came to the Bridge Valley area in the 1880s, farming the fertile land. At one time, the community had a mercantile store, a post office, blacksmith shop and a saloon, all owned by Anton Legler, the first postmaster, who later moved to Plum, Texas, where he established a gin, mercantile store and lumber business. A native of Bohemia, Legler first became a farmer in the Bluff area, worked at the Kreische Brewery, and eventually became a successful businessman. He was a skilled musician, who organized the Bridge Valley Band that won first place in 1892 at the Battle of Flowers’ festival in San Antonio.

There was a one-room school in Bridge Valley that operated from circa 1880 until 1940. Some of the teachers were Walter Stierling, Jesse Jochec, Gilbert Jochec and J.J. Sula.

In addition to Anton Legler, some of the earlier Czech-Moravian settlers included Joseph and Barbara Mozisek of Janovice, Moravia, who purchased a 250-acre farm. Joseph Bordovsky, the son of August and Rosie Bordovsky of Trojanovice, Moravia, who had settled at Cedar, married the daughter of Frank Baca, a native of Bordovice, Moravia, who also had land holdings in Bridge Valley. They settled on her father’s farm, eventually buying 100 acres of land from him. Joseph Bordovsky was a man of many trades, ultimately becoming very prosperous. In addition to being a watchmaker, he was a carpenter, farmer, blacksmith, gunsmith, craftsman, and trustee for the school. He also played the organ in the Catholic Church at Hostyn and was a musician in the Bridge Valley Band. Franz and Johanna Rainosek of Frenstat, Moravia were also early settlers.

A few old homes belonging to the early settlers are still standing in the community that is now predominantly comprised of small farms and newer homes built on acreage carved out of the larger, older farms. All that is left of the Bridge Valley Settlement, as it was known, are the memories of a few older persons who had ties to the community that eventually disappeared off the map.


William Oscar Brown

by Judy Pate

For a community of its size, Cistern seems to have produced more than its fair share of distinguished people, and perhaps none more so than William Oscar Brown.   

Oscar, as he was most commonly known, was born in Cistern in 1899 to Robert Brown, a tenant farmer, and Josephine Darling Brown.  Oscar’s father was a hardworking, but taciturn man.  His mother, with what was considered to be “egalitarian” principles, proved to be a very strong influence on Oscar.  In a community composed of nearly one third African Americans (mostly sharecroppers), a smaller number of Mexican Americans, and a white population falling into two distinct economic classes of a few well-to-do land owners and their renters, Mrs. Brown once insisted that a school prize be given to a Mexican boy with the best marks, even though the teachers and the other parents were ready to pass him over.  Another great influence in Oscar’s life was his maternal grandfather Socrates Darling—a talkative man and self-described socialist. 

Oscar proved to be the “pride of the family scholastically, though some of the members soon failed to understand the direction of his interest”.  He very likely received his early education in Cistern, and graduated from Flatonia High School in 1918.  After earning a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Texas in 1921, he received a Master of Arts in Sociology at Southern Methodist University in 1924.  While there, he was chosen out of sixteen candidates to represent SMU in debates with major universities throughout the south.  He was also listed among four nominees for an appointment to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Though he also obtained a Bachelor of Divinity at SMU, his mother’s hopes that Oscar would become a minister were to be disappointed.  He found his true destiny in sociology rather than religion, where he devoted himself to changing the iniquitous system of caste and class by rational means. 

Oscar left Texas to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Chicago where he became increasingly absorbed in the concerns of urbanization and race relations; his thesis was entitled Race Prejudice, A Social Study.  In 1933 he took a leave of absence from the University of Cincinnati and paid his own way to Africa on a research trip.  Based on his first-hand observations there, his career took on new dimensions as he began publishing his findings regarding race relations in South Africa and in the United States.

Following close upon these experiences, Oscar found himself much in demand, taking positions at prestigious universities such as Howard and Cornell, at the same time forming close and lasting associations with members of their distinguished faculties. In 1943 he entered federal government service as Chief of various African branches for both the State Department and the Office of Intelligence and Research.

In 1953, Oscar returned to the private sector and joined the Boston University faculty as Professor of Sociology where he founded the African Studies Center, which became a model for African studies programs at other universities.  Traveling extensively during the 1950s throughout Africa, building an immense library collection of Africana, serving on numerous committees and conferences on Africa, Oscar’s knowledge of Africa was considered encyclopedic.  Indeed, he served as a consultant on Africa to the Encyclopedia Americana.

William Oscar Brown retired in 1965 from the directorship of the African Studies Center at Boston University, but continued to teach there as Professor Emeritus until his death in 1969.  He may have only returned for rare visits to his family in Cistern, but it is clear that he was shaped by his early life there.  It is equally clear that through his own blend of scholarship, talent, interests and energy, he traveled an interesting road to make his mark in the greater world beyond.

The preceding was almost entirely based on a biographical sketch of William Oscar Brown by Daniel F. McCall, African Studies Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Apr., 1969), pp. i-vi.  Further credits go to The Flatonia Argus, March 1, 1923 and November 8, 1923, and to John J. Beck, a distant relative of William Oscar Brown, for his research.


Robert Tecumtha Browne

Submitted by Connie F. Sneed

From Black Bibliographies, 1863-1918. New York: Garland Publishing:

Robert Tecumtha Browne was born on July 16, 1882 in La Grange, Texas. He attended local public schools and graduated from the all-Negro Samuel Huston College, founded by the Freedmen’s Aid Society and the Methodist Episcopal Church in nearby Austin, where he became an assistant teacher. A blurry photograph of the unidentified members of the student body in 1900 shows 23 women and 4 men , one of whom is probably Browne. In 1904, one year after graduation, he married and was blessed with a son, Robert Jr. He was also involved in various religious and youth education projects and served as vice president the Texas State Teachers’ Association. After a stint as a high school teacher in Fort Worth, he entered the U.S. Army at San Antonio. By 1911 he was a widower. Circa 1914 Browne was living in New York City’s Harlem earning a respectable salary—at least for a Black man in a large northern city—as a records clerk in the Quartermaster Corps, U.S. War Department. He devoted many off-duty hours to the Methodist Church, the Y.M.C.A., the Equity Congress and the Negro Civic League of Greater New York, oftentimes in a leadership capacity .

Possessed of a restless intellect that demanded investigation into all fields of learning, Browne enrolled in such diverse classes as experimental chemistry and literature at the College of the City of New York and indulged a love of books by becoming a collector. Keeping in mind all of the foregoing enterprises, it is hard to imagine that Browne’s transcendent gift to posterity was slowly, meticulously taking shape as World War I approached.

Forever searching to reconcile his understanding of the phenomena of the material world and his own spirituality, Browne eventually found the mysticism, respect for diverse religions, and acceptance of scientific inquiry in theosophy.

Through higher mathematics he acquired a deep appreciation for the ethereal. Apparently, he had read considerably about these matters and spent countless hours synthesizing what he knew. This was the other, private world of Robert T. Browne which hardly any of his neighbors and co-workers could have suspected.

By 1914 he had put his thoughts down in an unpublished manuscript titled "Hyperspace and Evolution of New Psychic Faculties." The dedication to his late wife, born Mylie De Pre Adams, was followed by the preface in which, early on, Brown revealed both his respect for and skepticism about the possibilities of the mathematical method interpreting much beyond the physical universe. Today we are faced with the unsettling circumstance that Robert T. Browne, at age 39, seems to have abruptly disappeared from the face of the earth just two years after the publication of his book.

The last we hear of Browne is in reference to committee work he performed with historian Carter G. Woodson in July 1921 to revise the constitution of the American Negro Academy.


A Bloody Month in 1888

by Marie W. Watts

Prior to the end of the Civil War, the right to bear arms in Texas was absolute.  However, fear of armed freedmen brought the first legislation limiting the unrestrained possession of weapons.  In 1871, the Texas legislature passed "An Act to Regulate the Keeping and Bearing of Deadly Weapons” (Law of April 12, 1871, ch. 34, § 1, 1871 Tex. Gen. Laws 25, 6 H).  Section 1 stated, in part:

Any person carrying on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddle-bags, any pistol, dirk, dagger, sling-shot, sword-cane, spear, brass knuckles, bowie knife, or any other kind of knife, manufactured or sold, for the purpose of offense or defense, unless he has reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack on his person, and that such ground of attack shall be immediate and pressing; or unless having or carrying the same on or about his person for the lawful defense of the State, as a militiaman in actual service, or as a peace officer or policeman, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor .... Provided, that this section shall not be so construed as to prohibit any person from keeping or having arms on his or her own premises, or at his or her own place of business, nor to prohibit of their official duties, nor to prohibit persons traveling in the State from keeping or carrying arms with their baggage.

Apparently, the citizens of Fayette County ignored the prohibitions.  The February 16, 1888 issue of The La Grange Journal chronicled the violence: “On Sunday, two customers got into an argument at Matula’s store on the Bluff.  When a deputy sheriff attempted to intervene, the two pressed him to the wall and cut at him with knives.  A fight ensued while one attempted to disarm the deputy, who had drawn his firearm in self-defense.  The weapon discharged into the thigh of one of the assaulting parties, Henry Pribyl, severing a femoral artery and killing him.”

The next incident was on Thursday when Ammannsville residents, Maurice Lueders and Hans Kahlden, got into a fight.  Lueders shot Kahlden about three inches above the right nipple.  The injury was not fatal.  The shooting was ruled self-defense. The Journal’s editor remarked: “Shooting and killing it would seem are liable to become epidemic, judging from what occurred the past week.  There are too many persons in the county who have the privilege of wearing six-shooters.  Their number should be curtailed.”

However, the shootings continued unabated.  The March 1, 1888 Journal reported that the previous Saturday a group of three men attempted to assassinate George Harris by shooting him several times in the torso with turkey shot when he opened his door. 

That same night an argument erupted between Tom Edwards and Willis Julleks during a dance.  Edwards shot Julleks with a pistol, the ball entering his chin and ranging around his jaw before lodging under the skin at the back of his head.  Julleks lived to tell the tale. Others were not as lucky!

Halbrook, Stephen P. “The Right to Bear Arms in Texas: The Intent of the Framers of the Bills of Rights” downloaded from on January 16, 2017.
The La Grange Journal, February 16, 1888.
The La Grange Journal, March 1, 1888.


Roy Bucek

Schulenburg Ties for Second in the State Meet

by Judge Edward F. Janecka

In 1938 there weren't class designations and all high schools competed on the same level. The state track meet in Austin featured such powerhouse Houston schools as Milby and Reagan High, Brackenridge High from San Antonio and other schools from Abilene, Austin, San Angelo and Port Arthur. The small high school of Schulenburg was included and finished second in the state against all the larger schools. What made this feat even more remarkable is that one man scored all the points for Schulenburg. That individual was Roy Bucek.

Roy Bucek was born in the Freyburg area and was an exceptional athlete in his 4 years at Schulenburg High School. He was quite sensational in both track and football. In the 1938 state tournament in Austin, Roy scored many points but he broke the state record for 120 high hurdles. After high school, Roy attended Texas A&M University where he continued his enthusiasm on the football field and the track. Roy was a guard on the National Champion Football team that beat Tulane in the Sugar Bowl in 1939. A&M continued its prowess on the gridiron becoming Southwest Conference Champions in 1940 and 1941.

But Roy really shined on the track. After winning many meets, 1942 was his banner year where he recorded the fastest time in the low hurdle in the U.S. with a time of 22.5. He was the high point man at the Southwest Conference track meet. That same year at the Drake relays, he helped break the world record for the 480 yard shuttle relay—a record that still stands today, but his crowning achievement was being voted "All American in Track"—the first all American in track in the history of Texas A&M.

Unfortunately, there wasn't an Olympics in 1942 because of the war, but if there had been, Roy would have been there. After graduation, Roy was given a commission and played football for the Eastern Armed Forces All Stars who were competing against professional teams such as the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions. He later served with the 7th Army in Europe where he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. In 1946, he was asked to try out for the Olympics, but with the loss of an eye, Roy had a difficult time competing. Roy moved back to Schulenburg where he became a successful businessman and still resides today.


Aylett C. "Strap" Buckner

by Annette Ruckert

He was a husky, red-haired giant of a man. As if he didn't know his own strength, he playfully slapped men on the back with such force as to cause bruises and injury. With no provocation at all, he knocked men down without the least intention of doing them harm. He hunted the strongest game with no other weapon than his bare fists; and the wildcat, wolf, and bear soon became scarce in the Colorado lowlands. With just one blow, he turned back Triste Noche, the huge black bull that had been striking terror among the settlers&emdash;after pausing just long enough to secure a red blanket and garner an audience. Emboldened by this feat, he even challenged the devil himself to a duel. Or so the stories go.

His name was Aylett C. Buckner. Nicknamed "Strap" because of his monumental size and strength, Buckner was one of the first permanent settlers of Fayette County. The history books describe him as a filibuster, Indian fighter, Old Three Hundred colonist, soldier of fortune, duelist, rebel, physical prodigy, and folklore hero of colonial Texas.

Born of Anglo ancestry in 1794, in Virginia; he first traveled to Texas in 1812, as a member of the Gutierrez-Magee expedition, an early filibustering expedition that took place against the backdrop of growing unrest in Mexico against Spanish rule.

He returned to Texas in 1816 under Francisco Xavier Mina, a Spanish revolutionist and filibuster, and again in 1819 with Dr. James Long, a Mississippi native who twice attempted to claim Texas for the United States. It is thought that Buckner spent the intervening years in the Natchez, Mississippi, area.

Between 1821 and 1822, Buckner returned to Texas with Peter Powell and Oliver Buckner. They settled on the west banks of the Colorado River in Fayette County, in the area known today as Buckner's Creek. Lotto, in his book Fayette County: Her History and Her People, described the early settlers this way:

"The character of the first white settlers was like that of all other men who undertake to wrest a country from a wilderness: adventurous, energetic, brave, and self-reliant. No other men would undertake hard jobs like that. Men who look to friends, relatives, and the government for support and comfort, or men who appreciate the bonds of friendship and affection higher than the excitement to risk, act, and conquer, men who prefer peaceable pursuits to a life of toil and danger are not elements that undertake to settle a new country. They were not needed here and they did not come."

The independent and formidable "Strap" Buckner certainly fit the profile.

The 1823 census record lists Buckner as a twenty-nine-year-old farmer. He became one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred settlers when he received the title to one sitio (a league or 4428.4 acres) of grazing land and two labores (354.2 acres) of cropland in 1824, all in Matagorda County. But the early relationship between Buckner and Austin was marked by violent quarrels over Austin's refusal to grant Buckner the land he desired.

An Early History of Fayette County, written by Weyand and Wade, reports that Buckner threatened to take his claim over Austin's head to the all-powerful Mexican government in San Antonio. He wrote a letter to the "Father of Texas" in which he set forth his argument.

"I was one of the first men to build a cabin, the first man who had a plow stuck in the field," wrote Buckner. "I have kept a house ever since I have been settled in your colony. I have never asked the first cent for a man eating under my roof and have fed as many and I believe more people than any man in this colony, yourself not excepted, and have not received the first cent. I have lost as much and I believe more property by Indian depredations than any man on this river or perhaps in the colony with very few exceptions."

When his letter did not produce the expected results, Buckner became openly defiant of Austin's authority. In fact, he became such a nuisance that Austin ordered Buckner to answer charges of "orderly and seditious conduct against the authorities of the Government." But that never happened. Andrew Rabb, who was commissioned to deliver Buckner to Austin, delayed carrying out his orders due to an illness that suddenly developed upon receipt of Austin's command.

In the meantime, Austin consulted with two men, the wealthy Jared E. Groce and John P. Cole, as to how the Buckner problem could best be handled. Apparently Austin and his advisors adopted a policy of leniency, as shown in a letter to Fayette County Judge James Cummins. In this letter, Austin states that Buckner's "exceptionable" acts arose from a misunderstanding, and the misunderstood Buckner compromised to conform to the laws of the colony.

Eventually all was forgiven and forgotten. Buckner and Austin buried their difficulties and worked together to solve the most pressing problems for the colonists: protection from the Indians and resistance to arbitrary Mexican government.

In the summer of 1824, Austin sent Buckner and a commission of five other men to an area near the present site of Waco. They were successful in drawing up a treaty with the Waco and Tawakoni Indians. However, in accordance with the unwritten policy pursued by both races, the treaty was not kept.

In 1826, Buckner was named commander of the militia against the local Indians. In the winter of that year, he made a retaliatory expedition against a band of Karankawas thought to have murdered the Flowers and Cavanagh families, members of Austin's Old Three Hundred colony. Buckner commanded another attack against the Karankawas at Live Oak Bayou in 1831.

In 1832, Buckner led a company of volunteers from the areas of present Fayette and Matagorda counties at the battle of Velasco. There, in June of 1832, Buckner was killed. He was one of seven Texans who died in the battle, the first battle of the Texas Revolution.

Legend has it that the Indians, impressed by his strength, nicknamed Buckner the "Red Son of Blue Thunder" and offered him marriage with the Indian princess Tulipita. Nevertheless, Buckner died a bachelor and a hero in Texas history and folklore.


He Should Not Be Forgotten!

[Aylett "Strap Buckner]

by Allen G. Hatley 

The earliest settler (Anglo or Tejano) in Fayette County was probably Aylett "Strap" Buckner, a warrior by any standards, a strong defender of personal rights and a well-known early Texas pioneer, who was killed in one of the earliest battles of what turned out to be the Texas Revolution. Unfortunately, Fayette county has forgotten this pioneer, for nowhere in the county can I find a historical plaque, celebrating his accomplishments and even the name of that Colorado River tributary where he first settled, Buckner's Creek, which is unmarked where it crossed two of our highways. Surely we can do better than that?

For those who are not familiar with Strap Buckner, let me briefly tell part of his story. In 1821, Stephen F. Austin arrived in San Antonio de Bexar to claim the land grant awarded earlier to his father by the government of New Spain. Austin's grant included all or part of the land in what would become 17 Texas counties, including one that over a decade later would be named Fayette County.

But, even before Austin was awarded his grant, another Anglo-American settler had taken possession by "squatting" on a tract of land that would be located inside of Austin's Colony, and a few miles outside of present La Grange. That man was Aylett C. "Strap" Buckner, a man, who when put upon was not afraid to defend his rights.

Strap Buckner, 18 years old, had first come to Spanish Texas in 1812, to fight against the Spanish authority. He had joined a group of men called "patriots" by those fighting Spain and "filibusters" by those supporting the crown. They had formed what was called: The Republican Army off the North, consisting of Mexican and American men fighting side by side for the liberation of Texas from Spain. They were surprisingly successful, defeating the Spaniards, in Nacogdoches, again at La Bahia and on April 1, 1813, Spanish Governor Salcedo surrendered San Antonio de Bexar and all of Texas to the filibusters.

Spain was not about to ignore the loss of Texas, and a strong punitive expedition was mounted to take Texas back from those revolutionaries. This they did by defeating The Republican Army of the North in the bloody battle of el encinal de Medina, south of San Antonio de Bexar, in 1813. Aylett Buckner may have already left the army before that final battle, but he was back in Texas by 1816 and again in 1821, with two more revolutionary armies fighting Spain. By the time a treaty was signed between Mexican revolutionaries and the rulers of New Spain liberating Mexico, Buckner was in Central Texas living on that tract of land near the Colorado River and Austin had his land grant. A few years later, the Mexican government would acknowledge Aylett Buckner's role in the fight for the liberation of Mexico.

Over the next decade, Strap Buckner would survive a nasty personal conflict over Fayette County land with Stephen F. Austin that would provoke Austin to set the sheriff on Buckner, who would refuse to serve Austin's complaint on Buckner. Fortunately the conflict would soon be forgotten. A few years later, Buckner would become a trusted member Austin's inner circle when he was appointed to command Austin's militia and in 1831.

Buckner was killed in 1832 at Velasco by Mexican soldiers, in what some call the first battle of the Texas Revolution.

No less an early Texas hero that Travis or Crockett, Fayette County's history and its roots are ill served when even Buckner's Creek remains unmarked!

For more on Strap Buckner see Maggie Van Ostrand's article, "Strap Buckner: The Tallest of Tall Texas Tales", at

Jesse Burnam

by Katie Kulhanek

Jesse Burnam was born on September 15th, 1792 in Madison County, Kentucky. His father had passed away when Burnam was young, and when he was sixteen he and his mother moved to Tennessee near a town called Shelbyville. Burnam was raised in poverty, as his mother had to tend to the seven children that her husband had left behind. While in Tennessee, Burnam met Marie Temperance Null Baker, an orphan girl, and he married her in September of 1812 when he was twenty years old. Though they continued to live in poverty, Burnam found work making rails for a blacksmith. In order to buy a set of plates for her family, Temperance sold the stockings that she was married in. The couple owned a small piece of land and began their life together.

Burnam served in the Tennessee Militia in the War of 1812 during which he contracted an illness that required him to move to a warmer climate. He and his family, along with nine other families, left Tennessee and came to Texas in 1821. Burnam brought his three horses and loaded everything on them, including Temperance’s spinning wheel and weaving apparatus.

Sometime along the journey into Texas, the family came to be out of bread. Burnam became feeble and was unable to hunt; he employed an old man to hunt for animals and keep the family supplied with meat. When the man failed to kill any deer, Burnam took matters into his own hands. After hearing one of his children say, “I am so hungry”, Burnam pulled himself together and loaded his gun. In his “Reminscences of Capt. Jesse Burnam”, Burnam described what his hunting experience was like,

“I listened all the time for the old man’s gun. I didn’t feel as though I could walk, but I started on my first hunt. I had not gone far when I saw two deer, a fawn and its mother. I shot the fawn first, knowing the doe would not run far, then I shot and killed her. ‘Oh ho!’ said I, ‘Two deer in one day, and my first hunt!’ I took the fawn to camp to my hungry children, and took William, my oldest boy, and a horse after the doe. My wife had dressed a skin and made William a shirt, but it lacked one sleeve, so she dressed the fawn skin that day and made the other sleeve.”

They settled at Pecan Point, a small settlement on the Red River. After staying there for several months, the Burnam family continued further into Texas. They stopped where the present town of Independence is located and made camp. While there, Burnam had his first encounter with an Indian. He was in the process of butchering a deer when an Indian came up and tried to take it from him. Burnam carried the deer to his camp where he found other Indians there dividing up pieces of meat. He told them that he “would not give them a piece to save [his] life”. After staying there for about four or five months, Burnam and his family finally settled down in Fayette County along the Colorado River in 1823. Burnam was listed as the thirteenth of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred settlers, and because of that he had received a league of land in Fayette County. His land was one of the highest points along the river and was unprotected from the Indians. Due to this, Burnam moved his family down closer to one of the settlements. He built a blockhouse to fight the Indians.

The family was still out of bread at this time, so Burnam traded one of his horses for twenty buschels of corn, and they were able to make bread. The family also kept honey wrapped in a deer skin because they did not have jars: “I would take the skin of a deer whole, except having to cut it around the neck and legs, and would tie the holes up very tight. Then I would hang it up by the fore legs, and we had quite a nice can”. Sometimes it was hard to find cotton and material to make clothing. In his narrative, Burnam noted how his oldest daughter’s dresses were so worn out that she had to wear a dress of buckskin. Burnam also proudly notes that he “had pants and a hunting shirt made of deer skin. [His] wife colored the skin brown and fringed the hunting shirt, and it was considered the nicest suit in the Colony.”

There was an incident in which Burnam was called upon to take a man’s leg off. A man by the name of Parker asked Burnam and three other men to cut off one of his legs that was “terribly diseased”. The man stated that if he died, he didn’t want to take it [the leg] with him. Of the four men, Tom Williams was to cut the flesh, Bostick would cut the bone, Burnam would hold the flesh back, and Kuykendall was to do the sewing. When Kuykendall began to shake with nerves, Burnam took the needle and finished the job. After the surgery, Parker was fine for several days, but he soon began to complain about the heel on his other leg hurting. He died on the eleventh day. This could quite possibly be the one of the only surgical reports on record at this time in Texas.

Throughout his narrative, Burnam often tells of the fights he took part in against the Indians. He states that the first fight he had with the Indians was at a place called Skull Creek. Eighteen men led by Bob Kuykendall killed fourteen Indians without losing a man. The next fight that Burnam took part in was when he had to recover horses that had been stolen by fleeing Indians. Burnam took off on his horse after the Indians; he was armed with a pair of holster pistols and a rifle. He tried to fire on them, but they “jumped about so that it was impossible to get a true shot at them”. Burnam was fired upon by a gun and many arrows, but he wasn’t hit. After keeping up the chase, he finally recovered all eight horses.

After being told of more Indians threatening settlers at the mouth of the Colorado, Burnam quickly assembled twelve men and headed for the Indians. Captain Rawls who had been assisting Captain Jones on the Brazos River joined Burnam and brought twelve more men. The party finally reached the mouth of the Colorado after traveling 120 miles. The men waited until dark and when first light hit, Burnam fired at and killed one of the Indians rowing in a canoe. In about five minutes, Burnam’s men had killed eight Indians. After more fighting, the settlers defeated most of the Indians and returned home without losing a man.

One of the last raids Burnam took part in was under Colonel John H. Moore in 1840. The expedition consisted of ninety men from Fayette and surrounding counties. In the attack, 110-150 Comanche Indians were killed, thus ending the organized attacks of the Indians, although the Indians still harassed smaller settlements.

In 1824, Burnam established a combination trading post and ferry that quickly became known as Burnam’s Crossing or Burnam’s Ferry. The ferry was located at the La Bahia Crossing on the Colorado River. For many years, it was the northernmost outpost along the Colorado River. The ferry was under constant attack by Karankawa Indians, and Burnam had to constantly guard the crossing until the Indians ceased attacking. During the Runaway Scrape of the Texas Revolution, Sam Houston ordered the ferry to be destroyed after the Texas army had crossed it so that the Mexican forces under Santa Anna could not use it. The Burnam family homestead and trading post were also destroyed and never rebuilt. Burnam valued his loss at $35,000 and never forgave the act that was made to destroy his ferry, store, and home. He believed that Houston had done it out of personal spite towards Burnam. 

Later, Burnam moved downriver to Colorado County, where he established another ferry crossing. He represented the future Colorado County at the Convention of 1832 and also at the Consultation of 1835. He was a member of the General Council of the provisional government of the Republic of Texas and later became a Colorado County representative in the First Congress.

Temperance Burnam passed away in May of 1833, leaving Jesse with nine children to tend to alone. Later that same year, he married Nancy Cummins Ross, with whom he had seven more children. In 1855, he and his family relocated to Burnet County where they established one of the first sheep raising operations in the area. They also maintained a large wheat farm. The 1860 census showed Burnam owning thirteen slaves. In 1864, he split his fortune among his surviving children and retired. He passed away on April 30th, 1883 at the age of ninety-one. He is buried in the Burnam-Smithart Cemetery.

From 2008 to 2010, the Fayette County Historical Commission worked to bring the infamous Burnam Ferry Historical Marker back to Fayette County from Colorado County where it had been placed due to a misunderstanding about the original location of his first ferry.  It will be placed at Highway 155 at Holman where many visitors, tourists, and citizens can see it. The dedication of the marker will be held on November 18, 2011.


A Letter From Burnham’s Crossing

by Gary E. McKee

Historians have characterized William B. Travis as being many types of person: hero, rabble-rouser, martyr, self-absorbed narcissist, and womanizer. One of the most conspicuous characteristics of Travis that this author admires is his ability to write stirring prose. The best example is the “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo.

In December of 1835, Travis was gathering volunteers and supplies at San Felipe to go to the assistance of the Texian troops at San Antonio de Bexar, which the last dispatch had the Mexican troops trapped inside the Alamo. This situation would soon reverse itself in two months. Travis and his party left San Felipe and arrived at Burnham’s Crossing on the Colorado River in present day Fayette County. He sent this dispatch:

Headquarters, Camp at Burnham’s Colorado Jan. 28, 1836.

To His Excellency, Henry Smith, Governor of Texas

          Sir: In obedience to my orders, I have done every thing in my power to get ready to march to the relief of Bexar, but owing to the difficulty of getting horses and provisions, and owing to desertions, I shall, however, go on and do my duty, if I am sacrificed, unless I receive new orders to countermarch. Our affairs are gloomy indeed. The people are cold and indifferent. They are worn down and exhausted with the war, and, in consequence of dissentions between contending and rival chieftains, they have lost all confidence in their own government and officers… Money must be raised or Texas is gone to ruin. Without it, war cannot be again carried on in Texas. The patriotism of a few has done much; but that is becoming worn down. I have strained every nerve, I have used my personal credit, and have neither slept day nor night since I received orders to march, and with all this, I have barely been able to get horses and equipments for the few men I have.

I have the honor to be,

Your Excellency’s obt. [obedient] servant,

W. Barrett Travis

Lieut.-Col. Commd.

An interesting side note, as Travis was penning this letter to “His Excellency Henry Smith” from Jesse Burnham’s house, Burnham was in San Felipe casting a vote to impeach Henry Smith.


One Branch on Jesse Burnam's Family Tree

by Carolyn Heinsohn

People come and people go—they pass through our county, leave their footprints and then move on.  Rarely do we know about their lives and families after they leave.
One of our most noted early county pioneers, Jesse Burnam, an early settler from Tennessee, has been featured in our local news within the past two years because of the controversy over the historical marker for his first ferry that he built in 1824 at the lower La Bahia Road crossing on the Colorado River south of La Grange in Fayette County. The state marker erected in 1936 was moved a number of years ago from Fayette County to Colorado County and then was moved back to Holman Valley in Fayette County after negotiations were made between the counties and the Texas Historical Commission. The marker was re-dedicated in early 2012, and many descendants of Jesse Burnam attended the impressive ceremony.  Articles were written, history was documented.  End of story! Or is it?

Burnam, one of Austin’s Old 300, was granted a league of land that was located in both Fayette and Colorado Counties. After Sam Houston ordered all of his dwellings and his ferry to be burned during the “Runaway Scrape” in 1836, Burnam moved downriver from Fayette County to another part of his property in Colorado County and built a new home and ferry. Some sources dispute whether Houston actually burned Burnam’s holdings; however, his move downriver is what caused the confusion regarding the location of his ferry.

His first wife died, leaving him nine children to care for, so in 1828, Burnam married Nancy Cummins Ross, the daughter of James Cummins and widow of James J. Ross, who lived across the river from Burnam’s property.  The Cummins family and Ross traveled together to Texas in 1822.  Jesse and Nancy had an additional seven children.  When the population of the county increased, Burnam decided in 1855 to move to Burnet County, a less populated place, along with his wife and remaining children and grandchildren who were still living at home.

He helped found the community of Double Horn, located on the headwaters of Double Horn Creek south of the Colorado River, where he had a large wheat farm and sheep raising operation.  In 1860, Jesse was living with Nancy; his son, Waddy T., age 16; Gideon, age 13; Adalia, age 10; Sarah Townsend, age 18; and James Townsend, age 16.  In 1864, Jesse split his fortune among his surviving children and retired.  He died in Burnet County at the age of 91 in 1883 and is buried in the private Burnam-Smithart family cemetery. This is where the story previously ended.

A book that was purchased on a trip to west Texas gave an account of the lives of some of the early ranchers in the Big Bend area and mentioned that there were Burnam/Burnham families living in the area before the Big Bend National Park was established in 1944.  Those names piqued my interest, setting the wheels in motion to do more research on these families to learn if there was a connection with “our” Jesse Burnam.  It was soon established that they were his descendants, although the names were spelled two different ways.  So a story about one of his sons and some of his  grandchildren evolved.
One of Jesse Burnam’s children, Waddy Thompson, born in Colorado County in 1844, was ten years old when the family moved to Burnet County.  In 1871, he married Sarah Louise “Sally” Hubbard, who was born in Fayette County in 1849.  They had seven children: Jessie, Millie, Emma, Charles G, Nannie, Sadie Lee “Nena” and Waddy Thompson, Jr.  

In 1873, when their daughter Millie was born, Waddy and Sally Burnam were still living in Burnet County.  However, they moved to at least four other counties by the time they arrived in Brewster County in 1908, where Waddy continued working as a stock rancher. Apparently, Waddy moved from ranch to ranch in search of employment.
Most of their grown children were enumerated in the 1910 census as still living with them: Jesse, age 38, a ranch hand; Emma, age 34; Charles G, age 32, a ranch hand; Nannie C., age 30, a public school teacher; Nena, age 28; and Waddy T., Jr, age 26, a ranch hand.  Their oldest daughter, Millie, age 35, who had married Edwin H. Todd, was the only adult child no longer in the home.

By 1920, their oldest son, Jesse, had married a woman named Zula and was living in the Alpine area with their three children, ages 9 to 13.  At that time, he was still working as a stock rancher.  However, by 1930, he was a house painter, and Zula was the manager of a boarding house.  They remained in Alpine for the remainder of their lives.  Jesse’s sisters, Emma and Nannie, remained unmarried and worked as teachers in the public school in Marathon, Texas. 

Three years after his move to Brewster County, Waddy Thompson Burnam died in the Santa Rosa Infirmary in San Antonio of cancer of the stomach on July 24, 1911.  His wife, Sally, then went to live with her single daughters, Emma and Nannie, until her death in Brewster County in 1922 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  Both Waddy and Sally are buried in Marathon, Texas. 

Three of their children, Charles, Nena and Waddy T., Jr. were the siblings who lived on ranches in the Big Bend area in the era before it became a National Park and the ones whose lives were discussed in the book, Beneath the Window.  Photos of some of their family members, their homes and brief accounts of their lives as ranchers are also included in the book, Big Bend National Park and Vicinity.

Charles Gideon Burnam, born in 1877, married Adele Haskell in 1914 in Brewster County.  Adele, a teacher, was born in Minnesota. She possibly was working as a live-in teacher for one of the Burnam families, because she was shown in a picture as a single woman at a picnic with a group of Burnam family members.  Some ranchers hired live-in teachers for their children, because of a lack of nearby schools. 

Charles and Adele had two daughters: Dorothy, born in 1917, and Evelyn, born in 1918.  They purchased a large ranch in 1919 in Big Bend on the west side of the Chisos Mountains, where isolation and necessary self-sustainability were part of a ranch family’s daily lifestyle.  However, they enjoyed wide-open spaces in the beautiful mountainous region with abundant wild game, clean dry air, incredible sunsets and starry night skies.

The Burnam home, which was situated in a beautiful oasis place called Oak Creek in the middle of Oak Canyon, was a Sears and Roebuck mail order house that had been shipped by rail to Marathon by its previous owner, who originally assembled the house at his ranch north of Study Butte. He later disassembled the house and moved it to Oak Creek on his new ranch, where it was reassembled.  The two-story frame house, which was probably the nicest one in the Big Bend area, stood on a terrace formed by a three-foot wall that was shaded by several tall willow trees.  It was located one mile below the “Window”, a natural opening that framed the cliffs of Casa Grande on the west side of the Chisos Basin in the high mountain areas of the northern Chihuahua Desert. Their ranch was comprised of 50 square miles of mesas, desert grasslands and distant lowlands. Water from springs in Oak Canyon were routed through an irrigation canal that provided adequate water for the willows, a fig tree, a salt cedar tree, blackberries, vegetables, flowers, and eventually a fruit tree orchard, allowing them to flourish at Oak Creek in what would otherwise be very arid land.  Cattail Falls, located about a mile south of Oak Creek, poured clear water over a 70-foot cliff to a lovely pool fed by a stream lined with yellow columbine and ferns.

In a letter written by their youngest daughter, Evelyn, she explained that her mother was frequently ill and had never quite adjusted to their isolated Texas life.  Her father spent a great deal of their money, so that her mother could go back to her folks in Minnesota to have an operation.  After returning to the ranch, she developed a mental problem, so she returned to Minnesota for another visit.  After only five years on the ranch, Charles Burnam had to sell everything, including the ranch, to pay for medical, travel and hired-help expenses.

Thereafter, the ranch was resold a couple of times until it was purchased by Homer and Bergine Wilson, whose daughter, Patricia, wrote her book, Beneath the Window, about ranch life in Big Bend.  The Wilsons, who were friends with the Burnham families, had a successful Angora sheep raising operation.  They were also forced to move by 1944 when all of the ranch lands had been purchased for the national park.  Their home was moved again to a site outside of the park during the 1950s when the park was being restored to its natural state.  However, the site of the old Burnam/Wilson homestead nestled in Oak Canyon can still be accessed by a hiking trail from Ross Maxwell Road in the park.

By 1930, Charles was working as a ranch hand elsewhere, and Adele was living in Alpine, where she was working as a school teacher and living in a rented house with their two daughters, ages 11 and 12, so that they could attend school in town.  If live-in teachers were not available, it was quite common for the wives to leave their remote ranch homes to live in Marfa, Alpine or Marathon while their children were attending school.  There were two schools in the Big Bend area, but they were on the other side of the Chisos Basin and much too far away. Their husbands remained at their ranches with hired hands and occasionally household help.

Adele Burnam (also spelled Burnham) died in 1939 in the San Antonio State Hospital, where she had been hospitalized for 15 months prior to her death.  In 1940, Charles was listed as a rancher, widowed, and living alone in the same house where he lived in 1935. Both of his daughters moved to El Paso, so Charles Burnam eventually went to live with his oldest daughter, Dorothy.  He died there in 1962 and was buried next to Adele in the Elm Grove Cemetery in Alpine, TX.

About two miles west of the Burnam/Wilson home at Oak Creek, Sam and Nena Burnham Nail, a younger sister of Charles, lived in their adobe home on a sizeable cattle ranch.  She spelled her maiden name with an “h” after she became an adult.  Nena (Sadie Lee) Burnam was born in 1881 near London in Kimball County, Texas.  She married Samuel Robert Nail, whose original family name was Naille, in 1918 in Marathon.  Sam was born in 1878 in Arkansas, and by 1910, he was listed as a 32-year old rancher who owned land in Brewster County. 

Their home was nestled among willow and pecan trees at the foot of Burro Mesa.  There was a shaded patio of flagstones at the back of the house and flowerbeds around a hand-dug well lined with rocks that was located on Cottonwood Creek. A wind mill and concrete water storage tank, that was also a “swimming pool” for many of their family members and friends, was located nearby.  The interior of the house had white-washed walls with pine beams and sotol poles for the ceiling, which helped keep the house cool in the heat of the summer. Nena Nail was a quiet woman of great strength who always welcomed visitors to their home with an abundance of well-prepared food, much of it coming from their large garden.   They also had a fruit tree orchard, milk cows and chickens.

Sam and Nena had two children: Robert Thompson Nail, born in 1919, who died at age nine from complications of the measles, and Julia, born in 1921, who attended Sul Ross College in Alpine and married John M. Moss.  Samuel Nail died in 1958, and Nena died in 1970 of cancer of the stomach, the same malady that caused her father’s death.  Both are buried in the Marathon Cemetery.  

The Nail homestead was one of the few ranch complexes that was not removed by the National Park Service in its efforts to return the land to its natural state.  The Nail homestead, which also seems like an oasis in the middle of the desert, is still accessible from Ross Maxwell Road in the park.  A walking trail winds around the old home, that is hidden under a number of tall pecan trees and encroaching vegetation.  Springs, which are abundant on the west side of the Chisos, probably keep the trees alive.  The old wooden windmill is still standing, although it is now leaning and will someday fall over.  After the roof of the home collapsed, the adobe walls started “melting” into the earth.  Only a very small part of the house remains.  A few deteriorating animal pens can also still be seen in the brush.  The house was built with materials from the land and will eventually return to the land in its entirety.

The third child of Waddy Thompson Burnam to live on a ranch in the Big Bend area was his son, Waddy Thompson Burnham, Jr., born in 1883.  He too spelled his name differently than his father and grandfather, Jesse.   In 1918, Waddy married Dessie Ferol in Alpine; she was born in 1893 near Waelder, Texas.  They lived near Government Springs in the northern part of the present-day park.  Their ranch extended north from the Chisos Mountains to Paint Gap Hills, east to Grapevine Hills and west to Croton Springs. Natural springs on the ranch had to be dug out occasionally to provide surface water for livestock.  Waddy raised Hereford cattle, because the hardy breed endured the harsher desert conditions better than other breeds. 

Waddy and Dessie’s simple frame home sat out in the desolate desert with no shade trees; however, they did have a vegetable garden and some peach and fig trees. In 1920, Dessie’s parents were living with them on the ranch.  Like some other ranchers, they were able to sustain themselves, but with difficulty.  Compounding their financial problems, it was also necessary for Dessie to maintain a household in Marathon for their children to attend school, leaving Waddy to tend to the remote ranch with a hired hand.  They had two sons, Waddy III, born circa 1919, and William Jesse, born circa 1924.  In 1930, Dessie was living with their two sons and her father, William Hopkins, in Marathon, where she was teaching in the public school. 

Life was not easy.  Once, while looking for a stray cow, Waddy, Jr. slipped and fell into a deep ravine, breaking his leg.  It was quite some time before he was rescued by ranch hands, who pulled him out of the chasm with ropes.  On another occasion, a cow hooked one of his eyes; after a ten-hour bumpy ride in a wagon, a physician in Marathon put his eyeball back into its socket and saved his vision.

After their first home burned, Wally and Dessie Burnham built a larger stucco home with two fireplaces and a screened porch.  After their land was purchased for the park, their home was used by park service employees for social functions until a shortage of operating funds for upkeep resulted in the building being razed in the 1970s.
During the summers, all of the Burnam/Burnham cousins went home to their respective ranches.  Social activities, including picnics and occasional swimming parties at Sam and Nena Nail’s ranch, gave them the opportunity to visit with one another.  Unfortunately, traveling over the harsh desert and mountainous terrain was not conducive to frequent visits.

Waddy, Jr. died in rural Brewster County, more than likely at his ranch, in June 1947.  Dessie died in Marathon in November 1967.  Both are buried in the Marathon Cemetery.

It seems that it was a familial Burnam trait to move westward in search of wide-open spaces with few people.  Their forced moves by the acquisition of their lands in Big Bend by the National Park Service ended a legacy of ranching life for this branch of Jesse Burnam’s tree.  However, the story of their interesting journey westward began in Fayette County, so it is noteworthy to our history.

Alex, Thomas C. Big Bend National Park and Vicinity; Arcadia Publishing, San Francisco, CA; 2010 birth, death, marriage & census records.
Carter, Kathy. “Jesse Burnam”; Footprints of Fayette, The Fayette County Record, February 28, 2012
Clothier, Patricia. Beneath the Window; Iron Mountain Press, Marathon, TX; 2005. online burial information
“Jesse Burnam”; Texas Handbook Online

Bygone Byways and Towns

by Dennis Geesaman

Regular travel through southern Fayette County started well before I-10, US-90, or even the train.  Some of our current roads were established along pre-historic trails.  The Bahia Trail was a Native American and probably buffalo trail that ran through Fayette County from the southwest to the northeast.  The French explorer LaSalle documented this in the 1680’s.

Later, in the early 1700’s the Spanish established some routes called the Camino Real for travel to their missions and forts in Tejas—in part to keep the French from coming back.  What is called the lower branch of the Camino Real ran along the Bahia Trail in Fayette County.  This lower branch, via Cuero, was used instead of a more direct route from San Antonio to east Texas, to try to keep distance from raiding Apaches and later Comanches.

This portion of the route through the county, though no longer called the Camino Real was used for many years-- through the Texas Republic period and statehood.  The trail in this area was part of the major route for German and Czech settlers making their way from the port of Indianola and Victoria to settle in Fayette County and beyond.

Both the Camino Real and the Bahia Trail in this area probably ran near current Highway-95 south of Flatonia coming from Lavaca County.  The “new” Flatonia blots it out a bit and the trails probably pick up just east of Flatonia where FM609 turns northeast and run in the vicinity of this road to the west of La Grange.  Neither of these trails were clearly defined as a roadway early on, but probably were traveled by foot, horse, wagon and herd along the high ground near these current roads.  There are some water crossings and possible wheel ruts as evidence, but the real evidence is the communities that developed on either side of the route.

From the south along the route (some communities long gone) starting by the Lavaca county line is the Castleman cemetery (with Jack Castleman, a veteran of San Jacinto buried there), Scott’s Community (remnants of Scott’s School playground), Old Flatonia (damaged cemetery remains), Praha (previously known as Mulberry and Hottentot till the Czechs made it respectable), Oso with its Pine Springs School marker and cemetery (signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence William Menefee was buried there for many years until he was moved to the State cemetery), on to Black Jack (school marker and cemetery) ,  O’Quinn, Rabb’s Prairie, Warrenton, Round Top, and Carmine.
Each of these communities has a fascinating story to tell, but focus here is on the long gone town of Oso.  The first recorded settler was William Menefee and family in 1846.  A town grew here along the trail and what was probably a Native American campground before recorded history.  By 1858 there was a post office, several stores, a voting precinct, a cotton gin, tannery, blacksmith, and a population of about 900 by 1860.  A Methodist church, cemetery and school were built on a plot of land in the community and called the Pine Springs Methodist church and Pine Springs School.  The church burned down in 1880, but the town was already rapidly declining.  The G.H. & S.A. Railroad came through the county three miles south of Oso in 1873/1874 and the town was moving to the “new” Flatonia.  The Pine Springs School hung on until the 1940’s but was then consolidated with Flatonia.

The only evidence of a once thriving community is the overgrown cemetery, the school marker and some stone work along Rocky Creek.  Some of the residents and those buried there include names like Menefee, Lane, Harrison, Byler, Faires, Crockett, Campbell, Burke, Cobb, and many more.  Work was done to restore and preserve the cemetery in the 1930’s by the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps.) and by Mrs. Gregg Ring in the 1960’s.  Age, undergrowth, cattle, parties, and vandalism have taken their toll.  If you have any additional information to share about Oso or Pine Springs cemetery, please call Loretta Ehler (who is heading a cleanup and preservation project) at her cell: 979-820-0528.


The Day 24 Educated Canaries Came to Town

by Marie Watts

Oh, if the walls of the Casino Hall could talk!

They would tell you that Fayette County was weary in 1870.  The ravages of the Civil War, the 1867 yellow fever epidemic, and the 1869 flood no doubt left citizens in a deep funk.  Every man, woman, and child must have been excited about the announcement in the New Era in May that Professor Louis Haselmayer known as the "Prince of Prestidigitators, Magician, Necromancer, Musician, and Educator of Birds" would give two performances at the Casino Hall in La Grange.

And what a performance to chase the blues away!  It was worth every bit of the admission price of $1 for adults — nearly $18 in today’s dollar — and $0.50 for children.

One of his fetes of magic included the goblin drum.  The mechanism was suspended on an iron pedestal after the audience gave it a thorough examination.  The drum was then placed among the spectators and drummed out answers to questions such as the number written down on a piece of paper, the number the roll of the dice would be, and the number on a card that was drawn from a deck.  

For the hard to impress, Haselmayer presented his 24 educated canaries.  The birds appeared in uniform and rode horses, performing strange and funny stunts that appeared to require intelligence and human reasoning. 

During the performance Haselmayer also played the stylocarfe, the forerunner of the modern xylophone, which he invented.

Haselmayer was born in Vienna, Austria in 1839.  From 1857 to 1861, he entertained aristocratic families of the Austrian capital, in giving his "Soirees de Magique."   Among his distinguished customers was Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria.

In 1865, Haselmayer took the United States by storm.  He opened at the Academy of Music, New York, in September.  President Andrew Johnson, who was in the midst of impeachment proceedings, invited Hasselmayer to entertain at the White House on May 21, 1868.

After exhibiting in New York, Haselmayer made a tour of the country, which included the stop in La Grange.  He then took his act to the rest of the world, visiting Australia, the East Indies, and South Africa.  In 1884, he ended his world tour at Calcutta and stopped in Egypt to rest.  While there he developed a lung inflammation and died in 1885 at the age of 45.

“Louis Haselmayer”.  Retrieved June 11, 2012 from ""
Louis Haselmayer - MagicPedia
“Professor Haselmayer”, The Golden Era, p. 4,  April 16, 1871, San Francisco, CA.
Advertisement.  The New Era, La Grange, Texas.  May 20, 1870.
“Professor Haselmayer” Auckland Star, Volume III, Issue 665, 28 February 1872, Page 2.


John Caragee

by Donna Green

John Carragee was a man of vision - a man of vision who came to this country when he was only a boy of seventeen from his native Ireland. He made his way west as soon as he could. He settled in Mississippi where he met and married his wife, Martha, in 1858. They would eventually have two children, Thomas and Hattie. 

John was a merchant for more than twenty years in the community of Coffeeville, Mississippi.  He was a well-respected and valuable member of the community. More than once, he was elected to serve in valuable positions in the community.  It was in Mississippi that he made the acquaintance of a man named Victor Thompson. Mr. Thompson soon moved to Texas and in particular to La Grange. He became the editor of the States Rights Democrat newspaper and encouraged Mr. Carragee and his family to follow him to La Grange. The opportunities seemed endless in a growing community such as this one. John and his family arrived in La Grange in May, 1867.

The May 25, 1867 issue of the newspaper carried an article welcoming the little family to town and encouraging people to shop in the store Carragee was opening. Carragee and J. C. Kelley opened their store on the west side of the square in the location of the current Colorado Valley Bank building. They sold every kind of dry goods.

The store was on its way to becoming a great success when the yellow fever epidemic began to rage through the area. John became ill at the beginning of the summer, but he continued to work as long as he was able. On the 16th of September his little daughter, Hattie, became ill. John’s wife, Martha, thinking she was giving her child a dose of quinine mistakenly gave her a dose of morphine. Little Hattie died as a results of the overdose.

John, having worn himself out with grief and work, became sicker than ever. He died on the 27th of September. John and his little daughter were buried within days of each other in the Old City Cemetery. Because of the mass burials at the time, neither one of them has a marker.

Daily life in La Grange practically came to a standstill during that terrible time of sickness. It was not until March, 1868 that an obituary appeared in the paper for John and little Hattie.

Note: John and Martha Bridger Caragee had four children. A son, Tommie, died before they arrived in La Grange. Joseph Corbry Kelly, also from Ireland, was Caragee's half-brother. Martha and her surviving son and daughter returned to Coffeeville soon after Caragee's death. J. C. Kelly and family left La Grange for Galveston in 1870.

Dr. John Wesley Carhart

Minister, Author, Inventor, and Physician

by Marie Watts

John Wesley Carhart had lived a fascinating life prior to his arrival in La Grange in 1894. Born in New York in 1934 into a religious family, Carhart attained the positions of minister, writer, poet, inventor, newspaper publisher, and physician.      

Early on, he hired out as a farm hand to earn money to pay for his education. The physical exertion and the extreme weariness of manual labor, Carhart claimed, “produced depression of spirits until the habit of melancholy fixed upon me, to some extent, against which I have been obliged to contend all my life”.

Carhart began his ministerial career at age seventeen and by age twenty was an ordained Methodist minister who delighted in preaching at camp meetings. His hunger for learning led him to earn a Doctor of Divinity degree at age twenty-seven. A prolific writer, he wrote poetry, essays, song lyrics, and biographies for which he received compensation.

The life of a minister was difficult; the Carhart family moved to different churches in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts every one to three years, possibly because Carhart preached fervently against alcohol and tobacco use. Always in need of money to support his wife and eight children, he sporadically took on extra work. He served as an insurance agent and, at one point, worked for the Temperance Society in Racine, Wisconsin.

Naturally curious, Carhart became interested in mechanics and invented and patented an oscillating valve for steam engines in 1865. Additionally, he was awarded a patent along with Thomas Huckans for a needle protector for sewing machines in 1869. However, perhaps due to his lack of business knowledge, Carhart was never able to capitalize on his inventions.

By 1871, Carhart had moved his family to Wisconsin. He continued to preach while turning his interest towards the automobile. In 1873, he drove his self-propelled “steam buggy” called Spark through Racine. The city council later banned his contraption because horses and people were frightened by the smoky, noisy, cinder-belching creation. Horseless Age magazine named him the “father of the automobile” for this invention. Additionally, he was awarded a certificate of honor and cash at the International Automobile Exhibition held in Paris in 1905 and given the title, “Father of the Automobile”.

Meanwhile, his preaching career was hitting a rough patch. While a pastor in Racine and working for the Temperance Society, he helped convict a leading druggist in 1871. He was subsequently transferred to a church in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Under his leadership, the church purchased the old opera house because their sanctuary could no longer hold all the worshipers. Carhart’s minor children rented (at a pittance) a store front in the building and established a bookstore and newspaper, the New Dawn. Carhart had an office in the bookstore and frequently wrote editorials for the newspaper. The congregation was not, however, able to raise sufficient funds to cover the purchase, causing discontent among its members. In 1876, Carhart was promoted to “presiding elder” and had oversight of several churches.

His financial woes came to a head in 1878. A judgment had been rendered in New York in 1872 against Carhart for $334. In 1876, he gave his private and professional library, valued at around $200, to his minor children (Minnie T. – 17 years old, and Edwin E. – 12 years old). The children then put the books up for sale. The New York faction sued, believing that the books were no longer exempt personal property. The case wound its way through the court system and in 1878 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled in favor of Carhart.

Carhart was expelled by the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1880. He was reinstated, however, upon appeal. But, since he had no appointment by the Bishop who refused to transfer him out of the district, Carhart left the ministry. Sure that his life’s work had ended, he wrote his biography, Four Years on Wheels.

Soon, John Wesley Carhart pursued another passion – medicine. He received his medical degree in 1883 and did post-graduate studies at New York Polyclinic in 1884.

After his studies, he and his wife moved to Texas to join his brother and some of his own children who had settled in Texas and entered the newspaper business. He first visited and fell in love with Texas in 1887 when he came to the dedication of his brother’s church in Sherman, Texas. Carhart soon started a weekly newspaper, the Teacher, in Lampasas. Additionally, he wrote a serial for the other Lampasas paper, the Leader.

Eventually, he established a medical practice and became a respected member of the Texas medical community.

Among his accomplishments in the field of medicine were:

Carhart espoused positions such as:

Shortly after his wife’s death in 1894, the sixty year-old John Wesley Carhart arrived in La Grange where he set up a medical practice and began to use the novel format to convey his viewpoints. The first topic he took up was whether homosexuality was caused by nature or nurture.

A national dialog on homosexuality had arisen in 1892 surrounding a sensational murder in Memphis, Tennessee. Alice Mitchell, daughter of a wealthy retired merchant, killed Freda Ward. Mitchell explained she took the action because she loved Ward desperately and could not live without her (Ward had fallen in love with another man and distanced herself from her old lover, Mitchell).

By 1894, Austin physician F. E. Daniel was advocating surgical “asexualization” as a “therapeutic measure” for women inclined to indulge in sexual “perversions”. Carhart fired back in 1895 with a novel entitled, Norma Trist: A Story of the Inversion of the Sexes. The book used La Grange and the Kreische residence (now Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historical Park) as a setting for the book.

The heroine of the story, Norma, grew up a tomboy and fell in love with her former music teacher, Marie LaMoreaux. Her music teacher, however, rejected her. Norma then non-fatally stabbed her love under the Muster Oak in La Grange. At trial, the judge agreed to allow an alienist (psychiatrist) to treat Norma with hypnosis. The alienist had recently moved to La Grange and every other physician in town was jealous. His treatment worked; she was cured and married a male, living happily ever after.

It was a shock to many in La Grange at how Carhart used their town for such a controversial topic. To further infuriate the citizens, the book had two subplots. The first involves Ms. LaMoreaux marrying a Mexican soldier who is in search of a buried treasure left by a Spanish mule train massacred by Indians. The second has to do with the man Norma subsequently marries. He finds the buried treasure before the Mexican soldier can locate it and hides the booty among the bones in the run-down tomb of the Dawson-Mier men until he can cash it in.

Homosexuality! Interracial marriage! Desecration of the Texas Heroes’ tomb! The citizens of La Grange were outraged! Local physican F.A. Schmitt paid for an ad in the La Grange Journal in November of 1895 in which he strongly criticized the book. Schmitt printed a commentary of the book from Dr. Daniel who said, in part:

“We can conceive of no motive, other than the hope of pecuniary gain, a most unworthy one,” (at such a cost of public morals) “which could have actuated him in committing such an outrage upon decency, unless, perhaps, he thought to advertise himself as a physician skilled in the new fad, hypnotism, still more unworthy. Why, the book is scarcely fit for a doctor to read!”

Undeterred, Carhart (perhaps mindful of his failure to capitalize financially on his earlier inventions) sold his book right out of a boxcar.

Despite a temporary move to Luling, the long arm of the law located the doctor and, in January of 1896, Carhart was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshall and charged in the San Antonio federal court with sending obscene literature through the mail. He escaped incarceration, however, by posting a bail of $1,000. Eventually the charges were dropped.

Indignation over the novel simmered, however, only to bubble up five years later. The La Grange Journal published an article regarding the benefits of carbolic acid in the treatment of asthma, to which Carhart objected. His rebuttal was printed in a competing journal, the La Grange News.

The Journal responded caustically, ending the response by stating, The Journal editor never dips the pen into the licentious and soul-destroying lava, for the purpose of corrupting the young and unsuspecting.” The good doctor did not take kindly to the attack and sued; later withdrawing the litigation upon receipt of an apology.

Ever a seeker of knowledge, Carhart became an early member of the Texas State Historical Society, joining in 1897-8. In 1899, Carhart married Mollie McGregor Cole in Fayette County. In that same year he published his last novel, Under Palmetto and Pine, which dealt sympathetically with African Americans.

By 1912, he had moved to San Antonio where he was involved in the San Antonio Art League; acting as chair at the organizational meeting. His last medical paper regarding the benefits of rocks and minerals to man’s health was presented in San Antonio in 1914. He died in that same town at the age of eighty on December 21st, 1914.

Norma Trist is quite tame by twenty-first century standards and would barely raise an eyebrow today. However briefly he resided in La Grange, Dr. John Wesley Carhart did leave his mark. The town now has the dubious distinction of being the setting for one of the first known works of fiction to deal with homosexuality published in the United States.


The First Catholic Church in Fayette County

by Carolyn Heinsohn 

First Moravian Wedding at Live Oak HillIn the early 1850s, settlers in the Ross Prairie area of Fayette County, who were primarily of German and Czech origins, were gathering together in their homes for religious services. In spite of their language and cultural barriers, these early settlers joined together to find comfort in God’s Word. They felt that God had not only provided them with the courage to make the drastic change of leaving their homelands for an unknown future, but also the opportunity to achieve a better life in the New World.  In spite of having undergone countless adversities in taming their new land, including difficulties in providing food, shelter and clothing for themselves, hostilities from Indians and weather extremes, they were still thankful for their newly-found freedoms and ability to acquire land.

Two priests, Reverends. J. Anstaett and Peter Victor Gury, were recruited by the Bishop of Galveston to serve the needs of the early immigrants in Central Texas. Rev. Gury helped found many churches, especially in Fayette and Colorado counties. Both priests celebrated Mass in the homes of the Zapalac, Hoelscher and Scheel families, who were early settlers in the Ross Prairie area. It was decided that a church should be built, so 28 ½ acres were acquired by Bishop J.M. Odin of the Galveston Diocese from Carl Hillman and his wife. A small log church, named St. Joseph, which these families built, was dedicated on May 10, 1855. It has the distinction of being the first Catholic Church in Fayette County.

A cemetery was established near the church, most probably soon after the first church was built. A few of the early parishioners were buried in this cemetery, including Anton Hoelscher, Sr., who died circa 1857, and possibly his teenage son, Franz. The names of other burials are unknown, although Hoelscher family recollections indicate that several graves were still evident prior to World War II. This small cemetery also has the distinction of being the first Catholic cemetery in Fayette County.  

Anton Hoelscher, Sr. and three of his four sons, Anton, Jr., Josef and Wilhelm, who  emigrated from Westphalia, Germany to Texas in 1846, all owned land at Ross Prairie, where they were hoping to establish a town. According to family tradition, Anton, Sr. had drawn up plans for the town, which included a church, school and businesses essential to support the needs of the local residents. The population in the area increased, so by 1859, the settlers felt that it was necessary to replace the crude log church with a small frame church. However, it seems that the visionary plans for a town ended with the death of Anton Hoelscher, Sr.       

Charles Ehlinger, an early settler in the area, had set up a sawmill, blacksmith shop, gin and general merchandise store at Live Oak Hill, two miles south of Ross Prairie, so some members of St. Joseph’s parish decided that it was not advantageous for their future to remain at that site. After the decision was made to relocate the church circa 1861, Charles Ehlinger moved the church to the top of Live Oak Hill, a beautiful site with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. In October 1864, Charles Ehlinger, for a consideration of $275.00 and 28 acres of the original land at Ross Prairie, sold approximately 33 ½ acres of land to St. Joseph’s Church at Live Oak Hill, which is still the land on which the present church and cemetery are located. The one-half acre on which the cemetery was located at Ross Prairie was not included in the transaction. Earlier deeds of transactions for the surrounding acreage always excluded that one-half acre as a Catholic cemetery, but by the 1920s, it was never mentioned again. The Hoelscher family marked the burial site of Anton Hoelscher, Sr., presently located on private land, with a tombstone placed there in 1954, as well as erecting a marker on Wecheta Road in 2006, commemorating their immigrant family’s contributions toward establishing St. Joseph’s Church and settling the area.

As the Catholic population continued to increase, the small frame church that was moved from Ross Prairie became inadequate. It was replaced by a larger church that was completed in 1865. The first parochial school and home for the nuns were built in 1866, followed by the first rectory, which was constructed in 1872.

More businesses were established at Live Oak Hill, including a post office, which was located at the foot of Live Oak Hill. The community was eventually named Ehlinger after its founder, Charles Ehlinger, a prominent businessman and benefactor. After the railroad was built two miles to the west in 1881, the station was named Ellinger, a variation of the name Ehlinger, due to a clerical misspelling in some legal transaction. All of the businesses from the foot of Live Oak Hill were moved adjacent to the railroad and became the present town of Ellinger. The church, rectory and school remained at Live Oak Hill.

As more Moravians moved to the area, they began to call the beautiful hill where the church was located “Hostyn Hill”, after Hostyn in Moravia, a pilgrimage place dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the most revered of all their holy places. This site closely resembled the original Hostyn, so the settlers originating from that area lovingly attached the same name to this hill. Later, this proved to be confusing when Rev. Paul Kaspar changed the name of the community of Moravan, located six miles southwest of La Grange, to Hostyn in 1925 for the same reason – its resemblance to Hostyn in Moravia. Thereafter, the original Hostyn was referred to as Hostyn Hill near Ellinger.

The Catholic population continued to grow, so St. Joseph’s Church was replaced by a larger, more elaborate church in 1879, which was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. This church was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday in 1905. While a new church was being constructed, a severe storm almost completely demolished the building, leaving only the tall tower and steeple standing. The parishioners, undaunted and determined, completed another church by the fall of 1906. Eventually, the name Immaculate Conception evolved into St. Mary’s Church near Ellinger.

Throughout the years, changes were made to the interior and exterior of the church, most notably to the steeple, which was lowered due to instability. Several years ago, the parishioners restored the church to its original splendor, as well as restoring a shrine built in 1928, which was a replica of one of the Stations of the Cross at Hostyn Hill in Moravia, Czech Republic. The old school and rectory are no longer there, but the beautiful church sitting high on a hill in southeast Fayette County still serves as a reminder of the dedication and faithfulness of the early Catholic settlers in this part of Texas.

Photo description:
The first Moravian wedding in Texas in 1860 (actually May 7, 1861). Joseph Lastovica is taking his bride Frantiska Horak to the church at Live Oak Hill, Fayette County, Texas. The second couple following the bride and groom are Jan and Elizabeth Hruska (woman on white horse). Photograph of a drawing by A.M. Koniakowsky. Henry Tauch took the photograph of the drawing. Courtesy of the Fayetteville Heritage Museum and Dybala Photography, Fayetteville, Texas.
The History of St. Mary’s Church near Ellinger, Texas
Recollections of Hoelscher family traditions
Fayette County Deed Records. Researched by Carolyn Heinsohn

Cattle Dipping

by Andrea Weishuhn

In the early 1890’s the “Texas Fever” began to run rampant among cattle in the United States. Consequently, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture placed quarantines on the majority of thirteen southern states including Texas, which soon threatened to put an end to cattle production in the south. Shortly after, the government began to take steps to begin the removal of the tick species, which carried the disease, from southern cattle in hopes of restoring the cattle ranchers’ way of life. 

The method, which was the most widely used, was that of submerging cattle in a dipping vat which was composed of a concrete lined trench built at ground level. The dipping vats were, on average, about 3-4 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and 25 feet long with a ramp at both ends which allow the cattle to walk through the vat. They were then filled with pesticides which they hoped would eliminate the cattle tick. Although Fayette County was not known for having large herds of cattle at this time, every farmer had a few cows which they used for meat and milk products. For this reason Fayette County was not exempt from the dipping process. The county reacted quickly to develop a program that would enforce the law established in Texas, which they hoped would successfully eradicate the tick in the county.

Over 100 dipping vats were constructed in Fayette County during the years immediately following the quarantine, and they were each set on a schedule as to ensure the cattle were getting dipped on a regular basis. Notice was given to each community when it was their turn to dip their cattle, and then cattle were driven along the road to designated dipping vats located throughout the county. For this reason, in 1929, B. Mazac, T.J. Flournoy, and P. Cooper became the first group appointed as tick inspectors for Fayette County. These men were responsible for enforcing the dipping process throughout the county.

Many farmers were hesitant about the process of dipping cattle, fearing that the chemicals used in the dipping process would be hazardous to their cattle’s health. Another problem occurred while farmers began driving their cattle to the designated locations. With every farmer attempting to drive their cattle to the same place at the same time, one could easily imagine the possible chaos that might occur. Farmers would have difficulty keeping their cattle separate from the other herds, resulting in cattle becoming mixed up in another farmer’s herd. Another problem that would have arisen would be when bulls from different herds would come in contact with each other, resulting in a fight. These are just a few examples of the many obstacles the farmers would encounter.

With these problems in mind, many farmers began to rebel. There are even some reports of farmers blowing up dipping vats with dynamite. However, they soon began to realize that the obligation the law imposed upon them was firmly supported with the issuance of an immediate fine. If a farmer was found in violation of the laws put in place by the government, appropriate action was quickly taken against the farmer in question. After several years, the tick was completely eradicated from all of the cattle in Fayette County. Nevertheless, with the knowledge of the past, farmers are still conscious of the threat once imposed on this county and take adequate precautions in order to prevent its reoccurrence.

The majority of the dipping vats in the county have long been sold back to the original property owners, who soon after leveled many by filling them in with dirt. However, every now and then you can drive down a county road and get a glimpse of an old dipping vat still intact. These long forgotten vats remain there as a silent symbol reminding us of an epidemic that threatened the cattleman’s way of life not so long ago.

Unique Cemetery Art

by Lillie Mae Brightwell

Katerena Jaeickova and Matej Hajicek markers at Praha. Other Andera crosses are seen in the background.
Jan Polansky marker at Fayetteville
St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Praha, Texas has approximately four dozen or more of Charles Andera’s unique ornate, distinctive cast metal crosses that mark the final resting places of Roman Catholic Czech Americans. Andera’s beautiful grave markers have been found in cemeteries from Prague, Oklahoma to Bohemia, New York; from Pisek, North Dakota to Hallettsville, Texas. Most of the ones in Praha, Texas are marked with a "C", or "C Andera Tremont", or "#5 1897 C Andera Spillville, Ia", but some are not marked at all. Most of the markers were placed in the cemetery in the late 1800s to 1910.

Andera’s markers, which don’t rust, were sold in eight different basic designs. Usually they were put together in three chosen pieces. There is a very small cross on one of the graves in Praha. His crosses are also found in the St. John’s Fayetteville Catholic Church Cemetery. Upon entering the cemetery and looking towards the railroad track, one will see the cross that marks the final resting place of Anna Mikolaj, 1897, and down the road, the marker for Zofie Polansky, 1878, can be found. More crosses can be seen to the left and right in the old section of the cemetery.

Andera was an immigrant from Bohemia, who settled in Spillville, Iowa. One sole ad for his crosses has been found in a 25th anniversary history of the Catholic Workman.

Symbols and decorations used for the markers were a skull and crossbones, angels, cherubs, crucifixes, the Lamb of God, statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mother, the crown of thorns, quatrefoils and trefoils. Not much history has been found, and no one has his formula for his cast metal crosses. These Czech-American treasures cannot be purchased today.

Aromatic Plants and Herbs in Old Cemeteries

By Gesine Tschiedel Koether

Bethlehem Lutheran CemeteryRemnants of herbs, antique roses and cedars can be found in many of our Fayette County cemeteries. With 254 known cemeteries to visit here in the county, you will still have to look hard to find some of these small treasures of plants that still exist after years of neglect, weed whacking and drought.  The Bible tells us in Genesis that herbs were placed upon the earth by God for use by man.  Historically, the use of herbs was based on legends, fact and business. It would be nice to know some of their history and uses.  Apparently, specific herbs were planted in cemeteries because of their associated symbolisms.

Fayette County has an abundance of cedar trees, and for many it is a love/hate relationship. Visit a cemetery and you will often times find cedars, a most prevalent tree.  Good examples can be found in the Pine Springs Cemetery near Flatonia and the Cistern Public Cemetery that both have rows of large cedar trees lining their entrance paths. Good for shading and making a strong casket, cedars are also used for building shelters and homes, both yesterday and today. Their aromatic nature is good at masking odors and preventing insect infestations.

Garlic, leeks and onions were and are used for both food and medicine. It is noted that the chosen people in the Bible missed their leeks, onions and garlic during their wanderings, as these plants helped with thirst. Today, whether growing wild or in a planned garden, they are used in various recipes and help with heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Lavender is mentioned in the Bible, not by the name lavender, but rather by the name used then, spikenard. In fact, it is spikenard that Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus.  It has a pungent odor that you either love or find too strong.  It was often regarded as a holy safeguard against evil, and you might still find a cross of lavender hanging on a door for protection.

Mint (Rue) was of considerable value and was used for tithing and medicine, as well as being the symbol for sorrow and repentance during biblical times.  These herbs are thought to be the “herb of grace”. It easily grows wild in cemeteries and has a pleasant aroma. It is also found in many products today, such as toothpaste and teas.  In Round Top, the herb garden in the Bethlehem Lutheran Cemetery has been hit hard with the drought, but the mint there is tenacious enough to have survived.

On the edge of some cemeteries, little purple blossoms peek out here and there on a green carpet and when crushed, it is easily identified as thyme, which is a common plant found growing unchecked in the oldest of cemeteries, such as the Henniger Family Cemetery, located in southeastern Fayette County near Shelby.  Thyme is a fine addition in many recipes and a fragrant little plant that also helps mask odors.

Rosemary is a symbol of fidelity and remembrance. Legends tells us that it hid the Christ Child from Herod’s men. It is still used today in our weddings and funerals, as well as a flavoring in foods.

Wild roses are found growing at old home sites and in the Old Plum Cemetery, as well as in many other cemeteries throughout the county.  It is such a beautiful plant that grows with little assistance.  The petals are soft and fragrant, adding a sweet touch to the final resting place of our loved ones.

It is comforting to find these aromatic plants in our cemeteries.  Just a whiff takes us to a special memory.  Let us make sure that we respect these precious plants when we clean up the many neglected cemeteries in our county.  They hold not only a memory, but historic significance.  Take time to visit a cemetery, take a deep breath and enjoy the memories.

Reference: Herbs of the Bible; The Herb Society of America - South Texas Unit
Photo of Bethlehem Lutheran Church Cemetery, Round Top, TX; courtesy of Gesine Koether

Fayette County Cemeteries

Historic Resources That Should Not Be Forgotten

by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether

Michaelis gravestone at Bethlehem Lutheran CemeteryThere are 272 identified cemeteries in Fayette County and most likely more that we have yet to discover.  Some of these cemeteries cover many acres and some are only small plots; some are well-manicured and some are neglected; some are remembered and some are totally forgotten.  In writing the historical moments for this year’s 150th anniversary of Round Top’s Bethlehem Lutheran church, I took on the responsibility of updating our cemetery’s index.  I found myself drawn into trying to learn more about those found in our one-acre cemetery. 

There are 319 burials identified in our cemetery, but 326 sites have strong indications that a grave exists.  Cemeteries just like ours have both legible and illegible headstones.  Cemeteries might have an index that states the name of a burial, but its site is unknown.  And there are graves without names, and names without grave markers. Details were hard to find on some of the burials as it was not until the establishment of the State Department of Public Health and Vital Statistics in 1903 that births and deaths were required to be recorded.  Still it was years before filing these documents became a standard practice for many of our families. 

Details I found in our cemetery are most likely found throughout other cemeteries in Fayette County.  For instance, we thought we had three Civil War veterans.  With research, I found nine.  There are at least 90 children buried throughout our cemetery.  Some were born and died on the same day. Some lived a few months or perhaps only a few years, but none of these children ever reached puberty. Of those 90 children identified, approximately 20 of them are buried alone.  Based on my research, no other family members of these children are buried in our cemetery.  On the other side of our loss of the young, there are ten or more burial sites for those who made it to 90 or more years of life.  Such longevity is a blessing and a rarity in their time in history.  How many veterans, children and centenarians are in the cemeteries of your families?

Cemeteries often have a number of embellished gravesites worth mentioning.  Personal photos on headstones, ornate monuments such as tree trunks, wrought iron fences surrounding gravesites and engravings of quotes, poetry and religious sayings are most commonly found. In addition, small stones left on a headstone, flowers embellishing burial sites, flags, sea shells and wooden crosses are some of the ways that the living have honored the dead at our cemetery. Walk through your special cemetery and see what you find.

There are tragic stories of murders, suicides, accidents and illnesses.  My search found that just when our ancestors were arriving, so were cases of pneumonia, cholera, scarlet fever, smallpox, yellow fever and measles.  Some of these followed our ancestors from Europe to Galveston and other ports and then on to Fayette County.  Some were caused by unsanitary conditions, some were passed from person to person, and some diseases were caused by a small bite from a mosquito.  It isn’t surprising that we find so many children buried here in Fayette County – one cannot imagine the grief of their parents, who did not have an easy life.

Cemeteries belong to all of us and are valuable historic resources that should not be forgotten; the final resting places of our forefathers need to be maintained. My plans are to continue to give cemeteries the attention and time they need to NOT be forgotten. My hope is that you too will find it in your hearts as well.  R.I.P. can still be found on many tombstones in our cemeteries.  May we all understand those letters and may our buried continue to Rest In Peace and Be Not Forgotten.  

Photo Caption: Theo Michaelis’ ornate tree trunk tombstone in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church Cemetery, Round Top, TX; courtesy of Gesine Koether
Fayette County Cemetery Map; March 2015
Obst, Reverend Martin H. and Banik, John G. “Our God is Marching On”; Von Boeckmann-Jones, Austin, Texas, 1966


Census of Fayette County in 1887

by Ed Janecka

Sometimes it is interesting to look back and compare and also see how things have changed. Statistics for Fayette County which were printed in 1887 state the following.

There are 6 private and 1 national bank, 161 merchants, 21 lawyers, and 34 physicians.

Number marriages during 1887 was 275; divorces 13, births 989, deaths 291.

Improved land sells at prices ranging from $15 to $50 per acre, unimproved $3 to $20 per acre.

Population in 1887 was 34,040: males 17,678, females 16,362; Americans 5212; Blacks 8298; English 57; Germans 13,901; Danes 2; Hungarians 4; Irish 35; Wendish 284; Mexicans 82; Spanish 1; Swedes 7; Poles 57; Russians 4; Scotch 10; Chinese 2; Bohemians and Moravians 6084.

La Grange had a population of 2500; Flatonia, population 1800; Schulenburg, population 1500; Round Top, population 500; Fayetteville, population 400; Ellinger, population 350.

There were 3 weekly newspapers in the county.

Fayette County had a total school population of 7321 and 148 teachers. Average wages paid teachers: white - males $49.37, females $43.12; blacks - males 52.70, females $39.86.

The total number of pupils admitted to the schools in 1887 was 5848, average attendance 3718, average length of school term 98 days. Total tuition revenue from all sources was $38,066.85.

In 1887 there were 248,509 acres in prairies, 263,782 in timber, 183,325 in pastures, and 139,512 in cultivation. Corn, oats, rye, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, sugar cane, sorghum cane, millet, hay, broom corn, and cotton were all grown in Fayette County with cotton having the most acreage under cultivation at 82,804 acres. In 1887 there were 35,187 bales of cotton ginned in Fayette County with a value of $1,662,585. In 1887 15% of the cotton crop was destroyed by worms, and 30% of all crops were injured due to the drought. The farmers produced 382,840 pounds of bacon, 3055 pounds of lard, 36,196 bushels of corn, 20,598 pounds of honey, and 6974 gallons of molasses. They also produced peaches, plums, pears, melons, vegetables, grapes and 2757 gallons of wine valued at $2924.

Fayette County farmers also raised ducks, geese and over 140,000 chickens producing over 370,000 dozens of eggs. There were over 1,590,000 gallons of milk and 485,282 pounds of butter produced from 13,822 milk cows. There were 18,054 horse and mules in the county as well as 38,954 head of cattle, 29 jacks and jennies, 7280 sheep, 409 goats and 9000 hogs.

The assessed value of all property in 1887 was $7,478,164.

As you can see, Fayette County was a much different place in 1887 than it is today. It is interesting to note that our current population is estimated to be around 24,000. Fayette County hit its peak in the census of 1900 with a population of 36,542. The census in 1900 indicates that Travis County had a population of 47,386, Harris County 63,786, Galveston County 44,116, Fort Bend County 16,538, Colorado County 22,203, Austin County 20,678, Bastrop County 26,845, Washington County 32,931, Lavaca County 28,121 and Lee County 14,014. In 1900, Fayette County was the 17th most populous county in Texas.

Cesko-Slovanska Podporujici Spolecnost

by Lillie Mae Brightwell

The Czech names from which the initials were taken for the C.S.P.S. were CESKO-SLOVANSKA PODPORUJICI SPOLECNOST. According to the S.P.J.S.T., the C.S.P.S. contained all the features and earmarks of a genuine fraternal organization as it is defined and understood today, even in the various insurance codes and laws. It set up a lodge constitution, ritualistic form of work, a representative form of administration, and payment of benefits to its members in the event of death and sickness. One of the main purposes of the C.S.P.S. is " foster and preserve the Czech language in this new Nation and the general moral, spiritual, and economic well-being of our countrymen."

The C.S.P.S. was the first fraternal benefit Society of its type, but not recognized as such. There was a lack of communication between the Czech and English language.

In Thomas S. Hruska Sr.'s manuscript he writes: "We were a handful - six in number- in the vicinity of Ellinger who were convinced that in order to preserve the Czech nationality, it was necessary to organize". In 1897 there were 27 C.S.P.S. lodges in Texas. In Fayette County there was: Cechomoravan # 105 in Ellinger, organized April 6, 1884; Texan # 104 in Praha, organized April 13, 1884; Radhost # 114 in Schulenburg, organized August 24, 1884; Navidad # 117 in Dubina, organized March 19, 1885; Sam Houston # 137 in La Grange, organized December 21, 1893; and Velehrad # 209 in Engle, organized April 7, 1896. Hruska recorded many years later that if it had not been for the C.S.P.S. Chapter organized at that time in Ellinger, there would have been no Czech-English Independent School at Ellinger.

Bratri Svetla # 157 in Wesley, organized August 7, 1889 was envious of lodge # 105 Ellinger's building and cemetery. John Havlik, Sr. was preparing to donate land for a cemetery north of the Wesley Lodge building when it looked as if the C.S.P.S. was in trouble in Texas. The delegates from the Midwest and Texas, at the XIth Convention of the C.S.P.S. in St. Paul, Minnesota, made an effort to set up mortuary payments according to age and occupation and to secure mortuary benefits in the amount of $500 and $1000, seek insurance coverage for their wives, and to restructure the C.S.P.S. The majority of the delegates were opposed to these reforms. There were other reasons in Texas for a breakaway. A new Roman Catholic fraternal benefit Society had been formed and the Grand Lodge of a German organization, Sons of Hermann, was organized that same year. The Sons of Hermann had a lot of C.S.P.S. Czech members who spoke fluent German. "Texas Fever" - texaska horecka - rose to a high pitch.

On December 28, 1896, 25 Czechoslovaks met in La Grange for the purpose of organizing a new fraternal benefit Society in the state. This was the start of the S.P.J.S.T. in Texas and the exit of the C.S.P.S. Three days later, the main lodge of he C.S.P.S. convened in La Grange at which were present the following representatives of the lodges: John Hajek from Texan - Praha; Jakub Vackar from Radhost - Schulenberg; I. J. Gallia from Velehrad - Engle; Jos. Petr and Frank Tymel from Navidad - Dubina; J. R. Kubena, Lad Vanek and Frank Cihal from Sam Houston - La Grange.

The last convention held by the C.S.P.S. in Texas was conducted by the Main Lodge of he C.S.P.S. of the State of Texas, in La Grange on June 19, 1897. Delegates representing Fayette County Lodges were: Jan Michal, Texan; A. M. Konyakovsky, Cechomoravan; Jakub Vackar, Radhost; Frank Tymel, Navidad; L. V. Vanek, Sam Houston; and I.J. Gallia, Velehrad.

Most of the C.S.P.S. members did not drop their C.S.P.S. membership immediately, and many maintained their membership for a good many years but at the same time they purchased S.P.J.S.T. (SLOVANSKA PODPORUJICI JEDNOTA STATU TEXAS) insurance coverage. The Texas S.P.J.S.T. received the bulk of their enthusiasm and support.

The XXIInd and the last convention held December 28, 1932, under the banner of the C.S.P.S., took place in the Sokol Slavsky Building in Chicago. In that convention, final and formal approval was given to joining the new C.S.A (CECHOSLOVAK SOCIETY OF AMERICA" (CESKOSLOVENSKE SPOLKY v AMERICE). That marked the end of the C.S.P.S. in the United States and the beginning of the C.S.A. Only 2 or 3 original Texas C.S.P.S. chapters remain in the C.S.A. today. The C.S.A. does give itself credit for being America's Oldest Fraternal Benefit Society. Czechoslovak immigrants who wanted to provide some security for their widows and children upon their death founded it in 1854 in St. Louis, Missouri, as the Czecho-Slovanske Podporujici Spolecnost (Czecho-Slovak Protective Society).


William A. Chandler

Citizen of the Old Town of Lyons

by Norman C. Krischke

William A. Chandler was born about 1820 in Georgia. He married Susan E. Simms, born about 1829, on June 15, 1843 in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. William's brother, Pleasant B. Chandler, had been in Fayette County since 1846 and encouraged William and his family to come to Texas. They arrived some time between December 1851 and November 1853.

In December 1854, William Chandler bought 530 acres of land from Jesse Green, east of present Schulenburg and started a cotton plantation.

The Lyons Masonic Lodge No. 195 was chartered January 22, 1857, and William served as it's first Secretary.

In 1860, he donated an acre of land for "Educational and Religious purposes". It was not used for school purposes because it was too far, 3.5 miles, from the town of Lyons. The one-acre school land was located in the area that is now called "Bird House Hill".

In 1860, he loaned $300.00 to the Lyons Lodge to build a school and lodge. It was built in the southwest part of Lyons on 3/4 acre of land donated by A.M. Hanna and 1/4 acre of land donated by W.H. and Nancy Ann Fitchette, son-in-law and daughter of George and Keziah (Cryer) Taylor. The lodge and school opened March 22, 1861.

Typhoid fever was raging in Fayette County in 1861 and William contracted the disease and died July 26, 1861. He son, John B., died of the same illness September 17, 1861. Susan, the wife and mother died of the fever October 3, 1861. It is believed that all three are buried in the Navidad Baptist Cemetery, established in 1853, since it is the nearest cemetery and William was a Deacon in the Baptist Church. He was buried with full Masonic honors. P.B. Chandler, his brother, was a Baptist Minister and also administrator of the Chandler estate.

The probate record of William A. Chandler shows that 30,000 pounds of cotton was auctioned out of his estate which indicates, by the enormous quantity, that he had a gin and ginned cotton for neighbors as well as his own.

Pleasant B. Chandler lived at Fayetteville and moved to Coryell County in 1874 where he died in 1904. The Chandlers were important citizens of early day Fayette County.


Chapel Cars

by Donna Green

Railroad history and church history briefly intertwined in La Grange in the early years of the twentieth century. Traveling ministers using railroad cars converted into chapels spread their message throughout the western section of the United States.

These special rail cars were known as chapel cars. Most of them were elaborately constructed with pews for the worshippers, altars, pulpits and even stained glass windows at one end. The minister and his family had living quarters in the opposite end. Each car was given a nickname usually reflecting the sponsorship of the car.

Most of the chapel cars were affiliated with the Baptist ministry but Catholic groups sponsored at least three cars. The railroad generously transported the chapel cars from one location to another because they hoped to exert some influence over the rowdy railroad workers.

In late August and early September 1903 one such railroad ministry chapel car stopped in La Grange. Reverend G. E. Rogers brought the car, Good Will, to the Katy freight depot. Reverend J. D. Harling, who provided the music for the services, assisted Reverend Rogers. This car was sponsored by the American Baptist Society. It was built in 1896 and remained in service until 1938.

Gospel services were conducted twice a day. The Katy freight yard was such a distance from the daily lives of most people in La Grange that not many worshippers attended the services. It simply was not convenient for the worshippers to go that distance twice a day, especially since the last service began at 8 pm. Upon hearing of this dilemma County Judge George Willrich offered the courthouse to the minister as a more central area to conduct his services. During the worship services at the courthouse Reverend Rogers went into detail with the assembled worshippers about the history of the railroad chapel cars as well as their purposes.

After a two-week stay in La Grange Reverend Rogers moved on to Smithville with the Good Will car. Rogers would later write in his journal that his visit to La Grange was unsuccessful since it appeared that the town was full of heathens who were only interested in drinking beer.

The Good Will car traveled all over the western section of the United States until it was retired in 1938 and placed on a permanent foundation in Sonoma County, California. It is still at that location today, privately owned and in poor condition.

The Wonderful Chicken

by Lillie Brightwell

Every afternoon Master Casey rushes to his grandparents’ back yard to see if his favorite hen has dropped a surprise in the yard for him to find. He is looking for a green egg. She lays them anywhere. He knows the egg is nutritious, delicious, an excellent source of protein and a solid source of 11 essential nutrients. His grandparents help him prepare the egg for an afternoon treat. This is his treat alone. The hen lives with the family dog, Bubba, and the black cat. The three eat together and sleep together.

The last night the Fayette County Czech singers spent as guests in Roznov, Czech Republic, we were treated to a meal that was just like the last meal that the Czech immigrants ate before leaving Moravia, their homeland, for America in the mid-1800s. The main feature was a scrambled egg open faced sandwich, along with plenty of beer, candlelight & violin music. It was very impressive.

Pictures of Texas immigrants in Fayette County often contain chickens and horses. Some paintings even feature the chickens in the home around ladies sewing. How did the chickens get here? Prairie chickens did grace the Western Gulf Coastal grasslands of Texas but were wild.

The Polynesians sailed using wave and swell formations to navigate and took frigate birds with them to find other islands or land. The history channel claims they found the Americas’ 600 years before Columbus did. The kumara (sweet potato) was radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD and was found in South America. Archaeologist found bones in South America identified to the American chicken.

Nobody really knows when the first fowl was domesticated although Indian history places the date as early as 3200 B.C. Egyptian and Chinese records show that fowl were laying eggs for man in 1400 B.C. The chicken probably came from China to Polynesia, to South America, to North America. The Spaniards, in their travels, took their own poultry with them. It is believed that Columbus’ ships might have carried the first of the chickens related to those now in egg production in the America’s from Europe.

In Fayette County the chicken’s eggs were used for bread, kolaches, cakes, egg drop soup, noodles, and main meals. The feathers were used for pillows, and the chicken itself was used for a main dish, fried, baked or BBQ. At one time you could order baby chicks from Sears and Roebuck or the Montgomery Ward catalog to be delivered by the post office.

The amazing chicken has left footprints all over the world and most of all has left footprints in Fayette County. Thank goodness it is still leaving footprints.


Hugo Chotek—An Early Czech Journalist

Submitted by Carolyn Heinsohn

The following article was written in Czech and published in the “Amerikan Kalendar” Vol. XXXV in 1912 and was translated by Reuben J. Petrusek, Sr. of Fayetteville, Texas in 1985.  Although Chotek only lived in Fayette County for a few years, his involvement in the county and interactions with some of the noted families of La Grange are worthy of documentation.  This is an abbreviated version of the article.

Hugo Chotek was born on November 8, 1851 in Jindrichuv Hradec (Southern Bohemia – now the Czech Republic).  He came from a noble family, but his grandfather did not use his nobility title; neither did he have that much wealth to live according to his position.  Hugo was an only child.  His father, Hugo Jan Chotek, was a professor at the gymnasium (high school) in Jindrichuv Hradec.  He died at an early age leaving a widow with a three-year-old son.  Chotek’s mother was Baroness Marie Emilie von Steger, who was born in Cechy (Bohemia).  Her parents were of the Evangelical faith, but during the oppression of the Czech Brethren, they moved to Silesia where they joined the Catholic Church, and they died there.

After being educated in the town school and gymnasium in Jindrichuv Hradec, Chotek’s mother tried to get him to become a minister.  She often invited ministers into her home and with their influence, she became a very religious woman. However, her son did not want to pursue religious life, because he was inclined to be an independent spirit.  He wanted to be a doctor, so he went to Prague (Bohemia) where he entered the university.  During his vacations he traveled with his student friends through many small towns.  He was enthused about the Czech national causes of that time.  He did not continue his studies in medicine because of his sympathetic feelings—he could not deal with surgery and working with cadavers.

He served his year with the army as a volunteer.  Then he served as an assistant editor of various Czech papers for some time.  In 1876 he left for the United States full of youthful ideas.  He stayed in New York for a short time.  Then he accepted an offer from Detroit to work on a German newspaper Anzeiger…..After some time Chotek decided that he wanted to see some other states, so he accepted an offer from Mr. Frank Lidiak of La Grange, Texas to work on the weekly paper Slovan.  There he met Miss Annie L. Kalus, who was born in Frenstat pod Radhostem, Moravia, where her father was a master of travel and teacher of music, as well as a respected city dweller.  Chotek met her as an actress in a voluntary theater directed by Frank Glueckman, a friendly citizen of La Grange and well-known dealer in cotton.  To him Chotek had once said, “I like that girl, I will wait for her, she and only she will be mine.”  Chotek did not wait very long either.  After six weeks, he accepted her as his bride without even giving her enough time to receive her parents’ permission from Moravia.

He liked living in La Grange where about six Czech families were living at time.  They were Judge August Haidusek and family, Frank Lidiak and family, K. Mozig, Frank Glueckman and Chotek.  They all lived as one big family, peaceful and friendly.  Two thirds of the population of La Grange at that time were German.

Many families of German nobility were in La Grange at the time, like the family of Rosenberg, Judge Teichmueller, baron Mehrscheidt, who was the local postmaster, and others who had lived through better times before the revolution of 1848 in Europe.  Mr. Mehrscheidt was an officer under the reign of Major Edward Priese, who was a traveler of America and wrote articles for the newspaper Svornost and was murdered on a trip to Mexico.  Priese was a frequent visitor of Mr. Chotek as every time he came through La Grange he would rest a few days in the home of Mr. Chotek, who maintained friendly relationships with all of these families, because they were all highly educated.  He and his wife spent many evenings with them in music and entertainment.

Mr. Chotek was often invited to be the guest speaker at July 4th and Hus Day celebrations at Bluff, Ammannsville, Schulenburg, Praha, Flatonia, Fayetteville, Ellinger, Bryan, Wesley and other places.  Local Moravians celebrated a Hus anniversary day annually for there were many descendants of the Moravian Brethren.  Those were beautiful occasions, and every farmer came with his entire family from all around to enjoy the day.

Mr. Lidiak, the editor of Slovan, had problems with the paper.  It did not make much money, because the citizens were mostly poor beginners, so that the editor and printers barely made their living (including Chotek).

In the year 1883 Mr. Chotek received news from Cechy (Bohemia) that his mother had died and gave all of her property to the Catholic Church.  This was a great shock for him to find out that his mother gave all of her property to the church rather than to her own child.  Chotek then moved to Schulenburg and started a drug store, but could not compete with a German druggist who had settled there.  When Chotek started winning over all of the Czech customers to his business, the other druggist retaliated by selling all of his old goods for cost.  Within a year’s time, Chotek was finished with the drug business and in debt.

In 1885 he moved to Caldwell, Texas……where he wrote for Svornost and Spirit of Times, translated novels for Homestead and wrote stories for the Amerikan Kalendar.  Later he received an offer from Schuyler, Nebraska where a company was formed to put out a weekly paper.  He gladly accepted the offer in hopes of better times, and he also looked for the society of a large city…..Thereafter, he moved to Chicago and Cleveland, where he continued with his journalism efforts.  Finally he saw that he did not have a future in newspaper work, so he entered politics, was a notary and served on an equalization board until his death in 1911 at age 59, leaving his wife and five children.

A faithful Czech, a friendly individual and a folk story teller, Chotek tried with his pen to help his fellow men.  With his stories he brought a portion of the Czech-American life, especially in Texas and the central West, to his readers.  He painted their lives faithfully in every detail.  After many attempts, he finally succeeded in establishing a rewarding existence, but did not get to enjoy his comfortable life long enough.


Reverend Joseph Chromcik, the First Czech Priest in Texas

by Helen Trnovsky Mikus 

Czech Catholics who had settled in the Fayetteville area from the mid-1850s to the early 1870s were unhappy with the priests who had been serving them, because they all spoke languages other than Czech, making it difficult to participate in religious services.  Some of them had been communicating by letters with Reverend Joseph Chromcik of Lichnov, Moravia near Frenstat, located at that time in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  They decided to invite him to take over their spiritual care. In 1870, representatives visited Bishop Dubois of the Galveston Diocese to make preliminary arrangements; he sent an official request to the Bishop of Moravia, asking for Reverend Chromcik to be sent to Texas.

Known as “Little Father” (Taticek in Czech), Reverend Chromcik arrived by horse-drawn sled on Christmas Eve in 1872. He celebrated his first Mass in Fayetteville on Christmas morning, a joyous occasion for all those who had been anxiously awaiting his arrival.

He labored for the Catholic community in Fayetteville and the surrounding area, the perfect example of Christian virtues, friendship, humility, neighborliness and selfless service. He was compared to Father Miguel Muldoon, who was very instrumental in early Fayette County history; they both had exemplary traits of character. 

Besides the town of Fayetteville, Father Chromcik served at least a dozen other communities during his more than thirty years of missionary work in Texas, including parishes in Fayette, Austin, Washington, Burleson, Williamson and McLennon Counties. He built the Chromcik School in 1875 in Fayetteville and taught there for 15 years.

The best way to describe Father Chromcik is to quote some excerpts from the tribute by Fayette County historian Houston Wade:

If ever a man was entitled to the appellation ‘Father’, it was he; for most truly he was a Father, not only to his flock, but to every citizen with whom he came in contact. To those immigrants, newly arrived in our midst and unfamiliar with our laws and customs, he was doctor, lawyer and counselor. He christened them, married them and buried them. To him they all came with their troubles, their financial affairs, and to our certain knowledge he was never weighed in the balance and found to be wanting.

He was a man who cared little for pomp and pageantry. He cared less for the forms and ceremonies of his religion, and cared more for the good he could do than any pastor of any religious denomination we ever knew. Our staunch Baptist grandmother, our sainted Lutheran mother, and our father who had no religion were all proud to call him friend. If more religious leaders like him were alive today, there would be no such thing as religious intolerance.

Besides building a school, a rectory and enlarging the Fayetteville church in 1881, Reverend Chromcik was instrumental in establishing the KJT, the Czech Catholic Union of Texas, in Bluff, Texas in 1889. He died in 1910 and is buried in the Fayetteville Catholic Cemetery.

The Fayetteville Catholic Daughters of America honored Father Chromcik by naming their court after him, Court Chromcik No. 1440. A bronze statue of Father Chromcik, dated 1845-1910, was erected in 1932 between St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and the rectory in Fayetteville in his memory and honor on the sixtieth anniversary of his arrival in Texas in 1872. Two State of Texas Historical markers, one for the Catholic parish and its 125th anniversary and one for Reverend Joseph Chromcik, “The Little Father” and the first Czech priest in Texas, were dedicated in September 1995.


A Christmas Morning Surprise

by Lillie Mae Brightwell

Jan Hruska was accustoming to being summoned to pick up immigrants from Bohemia and Moravia at the train station in Glidden near Columbus.  It was a cold, freezing, rainy day, and the north wind was blowing this Christmas Eve in 1872.  He hitched up his wagon to oxen, bundled up and left his home near St. Mary’s Church at Ellinger.  On the way home, he found out that his passenger was the Reverend Joseph Chromcik from Moravia.  It was late in evening when they arrived at the Hruska’s farm.  Katerina came out to greet her husband and saw a man all wrapped up in a heavy coat.  She greeted him by saying, “Oh, I see one more newcomer.  Welcome and do come in because you may freeze here in the yard.” It was really cold, so she led him into the house.  When the light of the lantern shone on the guest, Katerina said, “Oh, oh son, you will be fought over, and the girls will be wailing with one another.  You will have five girls on each finger of your hands.  But don’t stand there, come in and warm yourself, because you are stiff from cold.  Come all the way to the chimney, and I will give you some supper.”  Just then Jan came in and said, “Look what a wonderful priest I brought for Fayetteville.”  Katerina started to laugh and said, “Look, a priest, and I was already matching him.  The girls will be disappointed again.  But that’s nothing.  The people of Fayetteville will like you.”

After supper, Father Chromcik asked if someone could take him to Fayetteville since it wasn’t far.  He was anxious to be at his destination.  So Jan called his sons, John and Tom, to hitch a mule to a gig.  Father thanked the Hruskas and asked how much he owed.  Katerina answered, “Owe?  That would be horrible to charge you something!  But wait a minute.  If you would freeze, what would the Fayetteville people have?  There would be plenty of weeping.  Here you take this featherbed, a pillow, and a quilt - my Christmas gift from Katerina Hruska just for you.  Keep well, remember us and pray even for us.”     

No one saw him until Christmas morning when he came to the altar and spoke in the Czech language.  It was as if a storm had hit!  Everyone present cried out loud.  Father Chromcik had to stop speaking.  Then he continued on how he came to his beloved people and to live with them, to share their joys and sorrows.  Joy had permeated the group.  The greeting after Mass was great.  Rev. Chromcik and Tom Hruska and his family became lifelong friends, even though the Hruskas were Protestants.  

Houston Wade, a former resident of Fayetteville and also a friend of Rev. Chromcik, paid him tribute and told it the way it was in his book, An Early History of Fayette County, co-authored by Leonie Rummel Weyand.

Briones, Sandra. “The First Czech Sermon of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church”. Footprints of Fayette, May 11, 2003
Fayette County Record, Sesquicentennial Edition 
Hruska Family Oral History 
Mikus, Helen Trnovsky. “Rev. Joseph Chromcik, the First Czech Priest in Texas”’; Footprints of Fayette, July 7, 2009
Polansky, Louis J. “Joseph Chromcik”. Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. II, pp. 73-74. Curtis Media, 1996
Wade, Houston and Leonie Rummel Weyand. An Early History of Fayette County. La Grange Journal, 1936

I. E. Clark, II

A Third-Generation Success Story

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Isaac E. Clark, IIIt seems that success and achievements are generational in certain familie—a combination of genetics, expectations, instilled work ethic, education and self-motivation. A third-generation descendant of a well-known Schulenburg family, I.E. (Isaac Edgar) Clark, II was born in Schulenburg on December 9, 1919, the son of Judge Harvey and Ruby Clark.  He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas in 1941 and his Masters’ degree in 1945. 

After his marriage to Lila Norwood in 1945, he began a lifelong career in the theatrical and publication fields.  From 1947 to 1977, he worked as a teacher, theater director, publications director and language arts coordinator for Schulenburg Public Schools. During this time, he also served as the advanced director of the 1st National Bank of Schulenburg and campaign chairperson for several Democratic politicians, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Lt. Governor Bill Hobby.

In 1956, he founded I.E. Clark, Inc. and began publishing plays and books for theatrical groups, especially secondary school drama classes. During the summers of 1961-66, he taught Newspaper Fund seminars at the University of Texas in Austin.  In 1969, Clark joined the Fayette County Historical Survey Committee.  That same year, he founded Backstage, Inc. Fine Arts Council for South Central Texas and served as its artistic director, officer and on its Board of Directors.  Backstage, Inc. made Schulenburg a center of theater activity in South Central Texas.

Clark authored many plays, including “The Fate of Fayette”, which was presented in 1986 as part of the Sesquicentennial events in our county.  He also wrote several one-act plays and three plays on the subject of AIDS aimed at the 13 to 24-year old age group.  These plays were produced by high schools, colleges, community theaters, health departments and other concerned groups throughout the United States and Canada. 

During his tenure at Schulenburg High School, Clark produced and directed ten productions that progressed through district and regional levels to the state competition.  He became one of two directors in the state to win five first-place honors in state competitions, one of which was “Ralph Roister Doister” produced in 1964.  One of his students, Leonard Schulze, was awarded best actor and outstanding performer in Class A schools and received the Samuel French, Inc. Award for his performance.  Another drama student taught by Mr. Clark was Alida Ihle, who eventually had a Hollywood movie part.

Clark’s father, Judge Harvey Robert Clark (1916-1956), was a lawyer, justice of the peace and commander of the Schulenburg American Legion Post for many years.  Clark’s namesake and grandfather, Dr. I.E. Clark, was a state Senator from 1911 to 1923, a civic leader and a physician who was best remembered for founding the Bermuda Valley Farm, the site of a noted race track laid out in 1889.  Famous race horses ran at this track during his active years. Dr. Clark also helped organize two financial institutions in Schulenburg, the First National Bank in 1908 and the Farmers State Bank in 1923, serving as a director at both banks. He was also the city health officer of Schulenburg for 30 years.  Hundreds of persons benefited from Dr. Clark’s philanthropic generosity; he distributed thousands of dollars and was reported to never turn away a needy person. 

Dr. I.E. Clark’s farm later became the home of his grandson, I.E. Clark, II, who passed away on May 28, 2007.  After his death, his wife continued operating their publication business.

Three generations of Schulenburg residents were influenced, helped, taught and advised by these three noteworthy men who definitely left a legacy of public service and outstanding leadership. Their contributions to the community were immeasurable. 

Photo caption: I.E. Clark, II, courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
Knapik, Jane. Schulenburg – 100 Years on the Road, 1873-1973; Nortex, 1973
Meiners, Carolyn. “Clark, I.E., II”, Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. II, Curtis Media, 1996


Clay:  Fayette County’s White Gold

by Judy Pate

Oil booms may come and go in Fayette County, but clay in one form or another, for one purpose or another, has been mined here almost continuously since the 1870s.  When the Galveston Harrisburg and San Antonio Rail Road began its western expansion through the southern part of the county the first structures in the towns that sprang up along the lines were made of wood.  But as the communities became more firmly established, some of the more prosperous merchants began building two story buildings of native stone or locally manufactured brick using local clay.

One such merchant, capitalizing on this need for building materials, opened a brickyard near Flatonia, advertising “100,000 FIRST CLASS BRICK” for sale in the Schulenburg Argus, August 10, 1877.  In 1878 Fordtran himself had two buildings erected on South Main Street that are believed to be the first of brick to be completed in Flatonia.  Brick production continued in Flatonia with F. W. Flato’s factory in the 1880s, the Flatonia Brick and Tile Company in the 1890s, and Allen Brothers (contractors) in the early 1900s.

But aside from providing the building blocks for much of Flatonia’s commercial district, there were other ideas for how this abundant local resource could be utilized.  F. W. Flato, for example, established a pottery just west of town.  The “Flatonia Flashes” column in The La Grange Journal of March 20, 1884, notes:  “On last Tuesday we took a stroll over to F. W. Flato’s pottery where we found two masons busily engaged building the oven, which is quite large and will soon be finished, while another was shaping clay into jugs, jars, bowls, and flowerpots, all of which will be manufactured upon a large scale, so soon as the oven is in readiness.”

The 1885 Bird’s Eye View map of Flatonia shows a factory just west of town—probably the F. W. Flato factory.  However, no examples of its production of jugs and pots have been identified.  It seems only its bricks have survived and they are quite clearly stamped “F. W. Flato, Flatonia, Tex.” along with a deeply incised star.

An even more ambitious plan in the early years of the 20th century involved the hope of producing, not just pottery or bricks, but fine china from area clay.  Local merchant Milton Cockrill was convinced he had large deposits of kaolin—the type of clay used in the manufacture of china and porcelain—on his property.  He attracted the interest of an outside developer, one Col. S. G. Grimshaw of Houston, to establish a kaolin factory in Flatonia.  A committee composed of Mayor J. D. Bunting, Milton Cockrill, E. A. Arnim, and Jonathan Lane negotiated a deal with Grimshaw for the city’s donation of 100 acres of land and exemption of the company from taxes for a period of 10 years in exchange for $10,000 worth of stock. 

The deal was announced in the Houston Post in March, 1904, followed by a good deal of crowing by Flatonia businessmen on the one side, and promises by Col. Grimshaw on the other.  Unfortunately it all too soon came crashing down with a terse comment under “Local News” in The Flatonia Argus:  “Goodbye Grimshaw”.  This was soon followed by an announcement that “All those who have subscribed and paid in money for the kaolin factory, can get it back by calling at the bank”. 

Reports of other entities with interests in mining kaolin and establishing kaolin factories locally continued for the next several years.  In 1906 it was reported that Mr. Brunnemann of Flatonia sent a small sample of kaolin to his brother in Silesia in Europe and received back “an elegant piece of chinaware” made from it.  The quality of the clay was declared to be very fine by an expert in Europe, and there was a general belief that there were large deposits in the county just waiting to be mined.  In any case, the future of our clay industry was soon to take a radically different course, as you will learn in the continuing story of Fayette County’s white gold.

Although interest in clay for the manufacture of fine china continued into the 1920s, by the 1930s the emphasis was beginning to shift to its use in manufacturing processes and the search was on for deposits of a type of clay commonly known as Fuller’s earth.  In 1935, R. A. Wheeler established the Flatonia Fuller’s Earth plant right in downtown Flatonia on South Penn Street.  This company invested $10,000 in new machinery, consisting of a dryer, grinder, separator and sacker, used for processing the wet Fuller’s earth into a fine powder to be used in oil and sugar refineries.

In 1936 a company called Fla-Tex Clay began building a large, modern plant just west of Flatonia.  Like the Wheeler plant, Fla-Tex too would be mining and refining Fuller’s earth and it was also investing heavily in its machinery and infrastructure.  Managed by J. F. Chupick, it was claimed that the Fla-Tex building at 65 feet high would be the tallest in Fayette County.  An all steel dry kiln was installed and when finished the plant was expected to be valued at $40,000 and would employ a large number of men in two or three shifts a day. 

The clay would be brought to the mill in trucks, sent though a dryer, and then taken by elevators to the top floor.  There it would be run thorough a mill consisting of corrugated rollers to crush and shave the dried clay into minute particles.  The crushed product would then be sifted through a system of fine screens and either sacked and stored for shipping or sent back through for further grinding.

Unfortunately all the hopes for the Fla-Tex plant literally went up in smoke with a fire that started on one of the upper floors shortly after construction of the plant was completed and while the new machinery was still being tested.  There were no human fatalities, but as it was insured for only $5,000 the building and all the brand new equipment were a total loss. 

Fire claimed yet another clay industry victim in the late 1940s, when Gus Ritchie built a plant on the old Flatonia Fairground, just southwest of downtown Flatonia.  When that plant burned, he moved north of Flatonia to found the Milwhite clay plant—this plant currently still operating as Mid-Tex.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Texas Company (later Texaco) mined clay near Muldoon, sent it to Houston for refining and then used it to filter jet fuels.  This operation ceased when the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency frowned on the fuel contaminated clay left at the end of the filtering process being dumped in the Gulf of Mexico.  Through the 1970s, Fayette County supplied oil field drilling mud made from local clay to the U. S., South America and Mexico.

The crash of the oil industry in the 1980s might have killed the clay industry here, if it weren’t for the development of new applications for its use.  In the 21st century the industry is not just surviving but thriving.  Balcones Mineral Corporation, located west of Flatonia directly across Highway 90 from the former ill-fated Fla-Tex Plant, mines Fuller’s earth from those same pits.  Founded in 1961, the plant has become one of the leading producers of cat litter as well as absorbent clays used in the industrial sector for cleanup of hazardous spills (large and small).

Another successful and fast growing operation is Muldoon Minerals, established in 1996 and located between Muldoon and West Point.  Muldoon Minerals mines bentonite and has found a very strong niche market selling its product as an organic fertilizer or as an additive for animal feed.  Although its use in animal feed has not yet been approved by the FDA in the US, it is widely used overseas--touted as an organic substance which studies have shown to bind deadly aflatoxins and then pass harmlessly through the animal.

While it has changed significantly, it is clear that clay has been a valuable resource in the southern part of Fayette County for 150 years or more.  Like any mineral mined from the earth, supplies are finite, but at present there is no end in sight for an industry that has provided jobs and livelihoods in the area for generations.

This article is based primarily on anecdotal accounts of the industry as reported in The Schulenburg Argus, 1877, The La Grange Journal, 1884 and The Flatonia Argus, 1903 – 1991.  Thanks also to Gene Oeding at Balcones Minerals and Ronnie Steinhauser at Muldoon Minerals, both of whom spent considerable time talking about the industry today.  Any mistakes in the text, however, are solely my own.

Photo caption: Herbert Steinhauser inspecting a seam of clay: 1940’s.

The Cockrills of Cistern, Texas

Submitted by Donna Cockrell and Gayle Clemons Newkirk

Max Marburger, the son of James and Mary Doss Marburger, was born in Cistern in 1879.  In 1969 at age 89, he wrote an account of some of his memories and stories about members of the Cockrill family, who were the first settlers of Cistern, in reply to a genealogical query made by Joe Cockrill, Sr.  These recollections are presented as he wrote them, other than italicized explanations and corrections added in parentheses. For clarification, a short biographical summary of the Cockrill family history prefaces the letter.

Starks Cockrill, Sr. was born in Virginia in 1795.  After his father’s death when he was very young, Starks accompanied his mother and several brothers who headed west at the turn of the 19th century.  Military records for the War of 1812 show that Starks Cockrill entered the Kentucky Militia at age 15 and eventually attained the rank of Corporal.  In 1817, he married Barbara Cotton with whom he had six children. By 1823, they were living in Missouri, where Barbara died circa 1830.  He married Hannah Williams in 1831 and had nine more children.  After Hannah died, Starks and several of his children headed to Texas in the early 1850s.  Starks appears in the 1860 US Census for Fayette County, Texas with his sons, Milton, Bluford and Edward living in his residence.  Starkes died in 1862 and is buried in the Cistern Public Cemetery. 

The five Cockrill sons named by Max Marburger in his recollections were Starkes’ sons from his second marriage: Newton M. “Newt”- died in Cistern, Texas in 1885 at age 52; Alton A. “Pod” – died in Fayette County in 1895 at age 62; Milton “Chig”- died in Dallas, Texas in 1914 at age 77; Bluford Elgy “Bush” – died in Cistern, Texas in 1914 at age 75; and Edward Harrison “Ed” – died in Jeddo, Texas in 1913 at age 70.

Bush Cockrill owned a two-story combination store and residence in Cistern, that was built for him by G.J. Michaelis, the husband of his sister, Mary Jane.  There was a long log barn behind the store, which is still standing alongside Hwy. 95.  It is not known exactly when the barn was built, perhaps before Starks died; the store was dismantled by the present owners of the property, and the lumber is in storage. The Marburgers had a store and home across the road from the Cockrill store, so Max personally knew many of the Cockrill family members. 

 Bush Cockrill's Store Cockrill barn

“A.A. (Pod) Cockrill told me that he came from Missouri to Cistern in 1852, led several pack horses.  He did not tell me how long it took him.  If it was 1000 miles and he rode 25 miles a day, it took 40 days, nor on what he lived, probably shot wild game, ate berries and had some provisions with him, such as flour.  Nor how he got by the Indians.  The date on his monument in Cistern Cemetery shows that at the time he was 19 years of age.  He had 4 bros (brothers), Ed, Chig, Milton, and N.J. (N.M. /Newt) (“Chig” and Milton were the same person; Bluford/“Bush” was inadvertently excluded.) Ed was a very peaceful man, he lived on a farm on Peach Creek, 6 mi S.W. from Cistern, got drunk on whiskey in Dan Shades saloon, walk out on front porch, lay down, his hat for a pillow and go sound asleep.

Chig Cockrill lived in Flatonia and conducted a general merchandise store.  Milton (Bluford/ “Bush”) lived in Cistern, where Mrs. Cora Cockrill now lives, her husband Tom was a son of Ed.  (Starks’ home was on the same property where Tom and Cora Cockrill later lived. Bush lived with his father before he built his combination store and residence.)

Pod was a good teamster, he drove 4 yoke of oxen and bulls hitched to a large, heavy wagon.  He lived 6 mi S.E. from Cistern.  He sometimes hauled lumber to Cistern, it took him 2 days to make the trip, but he would bring twice as much as anyone else.  The roads at that time were not like they are now, unimproved, and sharp curves.  It was an art to get around those corners with such a long team of oxen.  He always rode a horse along left side of them, and control them with a long whip.  It had a long wooden handle.

Bush …….accessed (sic) cattle from Bastrop County to La Grange.  The range was all free grass, no fences.  My father built the first fence rails around 2200 acres, it took 2 years 1880 – 1882.  Bush told me that Dutchman was crazy, but I found out later on who (it) was. Land was selling for $2.00 and $3.00 an acre.

Bush had some Negroes working for him.  He gave them 50 cents a head to brand anything had no brand.  When some would get after him for having branded his cattle, he would cuss out the Negroes.  He owned 3000 head.  He had them driven to Colorado, Tom Martin was foreman.  Pod branded his cattle, a rail all across one side and notched O.Z. below, cut dew lap (skin hanging below the neck) about 6 inches and let it swing.  My father James Marburger asked him why he did that.  He replied to keep Bush (sic) and Chig from stealing them. 

N.J. (N.M./Newt) was an entirely different man, drank very little, farmed and handled cattle on 1100 acres he owned 1 mile east from Cistern where the Charlie Freybert (Freberg) home now is.  The Cistern La Grange road ran through it.  A gate on west and east sides.  After he died my father bought the land for $12.00 an acre. His son E.E. (Bill) Cockrill was an expert rider and broke many wild horses to ride at $5.00 each. He gentled many in the 1890s and early 1900.  My father had 200 steers in the pasture, some longhorns and rather wild.  When he wanted to round them up, he would send one of us boys to get Bill, he was as good as 2 hands.  He taught me how to tie a rope around a post or tree so you could always get it loose, also how to tie it around your saddle knob so it would not pull tight when I roped a cow or steer, and how to throw one.  After he roped it around horns, he would ride along left side as fast as his horse could run, throw rope around right side of animal and throw it very hard so it would not get up at once. Jump off of his horse, which was trained to keep rope tight and tie 2 hind legs and one front one together.  I saw him rope in contest when you had one tied, you threw up your hands, the judge would time the rider.  He most of the time won first prize.

I often wondered how they crossed the rivers. One day I was riding in one of my pastures that has Buckner’s Creek running through it.  I wanted to cross, so I rode down a cattle trail to a crossing.  Then it flashed through my mind that they rode down buffalo trails. 

They found a nice high hill and settled there, it was then called Cockrill’s Hill.  Those days there were no mesquite trees, you could see many miles.  Later on more people settled there.  They wanted to give it a name.  Every home had a rock cistern so they decided to name it Cistern.”  (The water quality was poor, so residents collected and stored rain water in cisterns.) 

Photos: Bush Cockrill’s Store that stood alongside present-day Hwy 95 in Cistern, TX; photo taken in 1978 – courtesy of Donna Cockrell.
Old log barn built behind the Cockrill Store; photo taken in 1978 – courtesy of Donna Cockrell

Joel Alexander O'Daniel Cole, 1901-1999

by Terry Cole, grandson of Joe Cole

Joe Cole"The Berry brothers, Thomas Owen, Jack, and their Uncle Alf, come into Texas to overthrow the Spanish government.  They was told to go home but they got around where LaGrange is now and found some good thickets to hunt bear and started trading with the Indians so they just stayed.  When Austin come in he give the land they was ‘livin’ on to somebody else.  Ole man Zaddock Woods said to them...ʽya'll go file and ya'll can have either place, it don't make me no differenceʼ.  So that's what they done, and the one brother give half his land to the other one to go file because he couldn't read or write.

Ole man Dave Berry was 70 years old when the Dawson bunch come by his house at Blackjack Springs.  They had to come right by it. They didn't want to take him and the whole bunch had to wait while he wet a piece of rawhide to tie the lock on his rifle."

These are the kind of stories I grew up listening to from Joe Cole.  The same stories he grew up listening to.  His Mama was Rosa Berry Cole.  His Papa was Norman Richard Cole, named after Norman Woods, an early Texas hero. He was related to the two Scallorn brothers, Elam and Wesley.  John Wesley had fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.  Both brothers and Dave Berry died in the Dawson Massacre.  A great uncle Charlie Smith was a Texas Ranger killed in a gunfight with an outlaw.

Joe learned these old stories and had a lifelong love of Texas history.  He read every Texas history book he could get his hands on, saying, ''The truth is a whole lot more interesting than fiction.'' He also learned from former slaves things that weren't discussed around the dinner table. By age five he was helping his Pa herd cattle when he went on buying trips.  Before he could read and write, he knew every cattle brand in the country.  At nine he and his family had been to New Mexico in a covered wagon.  I'll let Joe tell you about his early education.

''We lived on a farm and ranch together. When you got big enough, you went to work. My Daddy had lots of cattle, and the farm raised cotton. School never did start til the fifteenth of September, and it was out the first of May. They needed the kids....picking cotton, chopping cotton. When I was thirteen years old, I could plow, yoke steers, work oxen.

I never went but one day to school. That ain't no lie. We lived eight miles from school and I had to walk. Well, the first day of school they got me up kind of late. They got me off in such a hurry, damned if I didn't forget my dinner.  When I got to school the kids were just turning out for dinner.  So I turned around and went back home and got it.

By the time I got back to school, they was 'turnin' out to go home.  Eight and eight is sixteen, sixteen and sixteen is thirty-two miles I'd walked that day. The next day I felt so drowsy, I just never went back to school. One day is all I went. If I hadn't forgot my dinner, I'd be President of the United States.

I'm pretty smart like it is. I guess it's a good thing I didn't get no education, cause everybody thinks I'm a damned rascal anyway.''

Joe had two brothers, Norman Richard II (N.R.), Berry Lee, and a sister Rosie.  When the boys weren't working, they spent their time in the woods, usually hunting with dogs.  Unknown to his parents by age ten, Joe started carrying a Colt cap and ball pistol.  He used it to put meat on the table and make money from hides.  As a teenager he worked on ranches in South Texas and the Big Bend.  Around WW I the family moved from Muldoon to Cottletown in Bastrop County because it was still open range.  Joe and N.R. drove a herd of cattle down the main street of Smithville across the Colorado River Bridge.

In his twenties Joe married Bessie Lee Robbins Armstrong from another early Fayette County family.  She had one son, Collis Armstrong, by her first marriage, and to this marriage Zane and Bessie Jo were added.

He made his living hiring out as a cowboy, trading horses, roping in rodeos, owned a string of bronc horses, and rode broncs in a wild west show. He brought in wild hogs from the Big Thicket to fatten on acorns in the fall of the year.  He traveled around the countryside fixing treadle sewing machines and clocks. One time he worked for the telephone company thirty days and was fired thirty-one times.  He started dealing in antiques and put seats in thousands of rawhide bottom chairs.

Joe owned the wildest, “fightingest” cattle in the country.  He ran longhorn cross cattle on 5,000 acres of the thickest brush you could imagine. It was eight miles on horseback from home to the pasture.  Usually just he and his son Zane, but sometimes anyone who thought they could keep up with them. His cow lot looked more like an army fort you see in the movies than anything you see today.  Anytime the dogs jumped a cow, you could figure on at least a two hour chase.  He showed me a picture of him standing beside a cow laying on the ground and said, '''See that cow there.  I had all four of her feet tied up and she was still trying to bite me.”

With his deep love of history and knowing most of the people in the country, he was the man to talk to if you had questions about family history.  With the skills he had learned over the years, you could learn a hundred different things, like how to build a log cabin and the furnishings, plait a rawhide bullwhip, make an ox yoke, or mount silver on a pair of spurs.

Perhaps his biggest contribution to Fayette County history was in the 1950s when he and Walter Freytag documented every cemetery in the county and all the lone graves they could find.  When they finished, they offered a reward to anyone who could find a grave that wasn't documented.  The reward was never collected.   

In the early 1950s, Joe bought an old log cabin.  He tore it down, numbered the logs and rebuilt it on his place.  He used this cabin for a trading post for his antique business.  In the 1960s, he still slept on a screen porch year round and continued working cattle.  At about age 65 his doctor told him to quit riding horses.  I guess I ought to tell you about a typical Joe Cole horse.  He picked his cow horses for toughness.  They looked more like what you see nowadays on a bronc string at a rodeo.  Always on the small size and on the wild side. He always said a quarter horse wasn't worth a damn, couldn't make it all day.  He wanted a horse with some Spanish blood.   He told me how to put a saddle gait on a horse. 

"You give 'em two ears of corn at night. saddle up before daylight, ride 'em eight miles to the pasture, then ride all day. When you start home about nine that night, that horse will start thinking about those two ears of corn and naturally hit a saddle gait.''

Growing up around Joe Cole you never knew what to expect.  You might saddle up or go coon hunting or rock hunting.  He knew all kinds of ways to keep kids entertained and the kids kept him entertained.  One of his famous things was - the treasure hunt.  He drew up a map which showed different landmarks all over the pasture. The kids went from spot to spot until they found the ''X''.  A freshly dug bit of earth that they knew held the treasure. By that time they were so excited they got down on their knees and started digging with their hands......they weren't too happy to find out the treasure was a fresh cow pile.  This is one joke he pulled on several generations.

There are some things that should be said about Joe Cole.  He was the only man I ever knew who was famous for being himself, not for what he accomplished or what he owned.  If you were poor or rich or famous you stood in the same stead with Joe Cole.  He took you for what you were, not who you were or what you had.

If you knew Joe Cole, you knew about his sense of humor.  He seemed to view the world in a comical light.  He told funny stories about people and animals and sometimes on himself.   ''Bessie was complaining about how wild the milk cow was. Bessie done all the ‘milkin’. I told her that cow ain't wild.  I'll saddle her and ride her.  I got a saddle on her and got on and Bessie ‘sicked’ the dogs on me and turned around and went back in the house.  I took a bad fall and was ‘stove’ up for a while.  The next day Myrtle Bradshaw (the neighbor across the pasture) called Bessie and said, ‘There's a cow out here with a saddle on her, do you know anything about it?’  Bessie just told her, ‘That's Joe's, he'll be along in a day or so to get her.’ ”If you got thrown off a horse or run over by a cow and weren't hurt too bad, Joe was going to laugh about it.  If you were the contrary type, he would laugh if you did get hurt.

Joe ColeIn 1976 my Dad, brothers and I broke a yoke of wild steers to work a wagon in parades.  Joe was in the big middle of it.  And he also might challenge the kids to a foot race.  In his seventies, he was still coon hunting.  He always seemed to prefer the company of kids.  I think he was closer to their age.

He followed doctor's orders and sold his horses.  Bought two little mules and kept on working cattle.  Said they were easier getting through the thick brush anyway.

In his eighties, he started using a cane, but could still bend over at the waist and tie his shoes. Here's something he told me….''I put up a fifty dollar reward on myself for anybody that could catch me working. One day I was up on the roof fixing some shingles when I heard a car coming.  I threw my hammer and nails just as far as I could and sat there and waited. This feller gets out and says, “ ‘Joe, it looks like I caught you’..... ‘Caught me doing what?’, and he says, ‘working’...and I told him that ‘I was just up here counting my chickens.’ ''

When he was ninety, he asked me, ''Do you know how it feels to be ninety years old?'' ''No Sir,'' I replied.  ''It feels just the same.''

Joe still told the old stories…. of “riding a hundred miles in a day” more than once..."I wasn't planning on it - I was just going someplace.'' ….of “riding in a five hundred mile endurance race”…of “wild cattle and the people he had known.”  Stories handed down from his Dad of wild mustangs and buffalo and Indians. In 1996 we broke another yoke of wild steers.  He wasn't able to help, but he gave us advice and told us what we were doing wrong.  He still traded antiques some, worked on rawhide bottom chairs, and he usually read at least one book on Texas History every week.  He had moved into his log cabin, and that is where he passed away.

Before Joe Cole died, there were some things he wanted.  He wanted the Rabb mill stones to mark his grave.  He wanted a funeral like the ones he remembered growing up.  And he told us, ''Don't let them preach me into heaven.''

Joe ColeHe died surrounded by family - his hand on a Bible and a Colt single action pistol.  He said they both gave him comfort.

When he passed, we called upon Pastor Y. J. Jimenez - a man that Joe had watched grow up in Smithville.  They were good friends, even making a few spur trades.  

We put four bits and a pair of dice in his vest pocket, thinking that it wouldn't take him long to get whatever else he needed.  On top of his casket was a lariat rope, a small rawhide bottom chair that he had made and a small gray rock, the first rock he had ever found at about age five.

Y. J. started the service - ''If you are ‘tradin’ a jackass for a racehorse, always ask for something to boot.  That was Joe Cole.''  Y.J. made us laugh that day, and he made us cry.  He paid honor to a man he loved.

The burial itself took place on Joe's ranch - down a long sand and gravel road.   We had gotten there early with a yoke of longhorn steers, a covered wagon and trailers of horses.  Before the hearse got there, we yoked the steers and hooked them to the wagon and saddled horses.  We rolled the casket onto the wagon bed on some short pieces of pipe.  We moved the wagon up and waited as more people arrived.   Y.J. was in the lead with a rider-less horse, followed by my Dad Zane, my brothers working the steers and friends and family on horseback.

But when the wagon moved, so did the casket.  Joe's nephew, Dickie, crawled in the wagon to keep it steady.  As more people came, we moved the wagon again to give them room.  These steers had been in a trailer for about two hours and they weren't happy. One of them decided to make a hard right and the wagon wheel wedged in deep sand causing the wagon tongue to break. It was only about as old as Joe Cole.  Dickie told us later that the casket had not been latched. It was probably Joe Cole laughing about the wagon wreck that caused the casket lid to move up and down.

My brothers tied the steers to a tree, and my Dad Zane took down his lariat, tied it around what was left of the tongue and dallied it around his saddle horn.  We continued on, the wagon being pushed by some of the richest men in the country and some of the poorest, all being richer for having known Joe Cole.

There were over two hundred people walking behind that wagon.  Friends and family, young people, old people, people carrying babies, people in wheelchairs.  The Austin paper was there.  People still talk about Joe Cole, his life and his death. People remember him.  It was said that when he died, he was the oldest cowboy living in the oldest house in the State of Texas.

Photos courtesy of Terry Cole

William Coltrin

by Donna Green

William Coltrin was born in Cayuga County, New York on April 30th,1801. He was the eighth of ten children born to William and Emma Coltrin. Not much is known about his childhood. By 1825 he was living in Indiana. It was there that he met and married Drusilla Crawford. He did not stay put for long. He left his wife and headed for Texas.

He arrived at Velasco on January 28, 1836 on the schooner, Pennsylvania. Coltrin had been recruited for the Army of Texas in New Orleans by Captain Amasa Turner and he was a member of Captain Turner’s Company at San Jacinto. For this service he was issued Donation Certificate No. 471 for 640 acres of land. A muster roll in the General Land Office gives his enlistment date as February 13, 1836. On another muster roll he is shown as having enlisted as a member of Company A, First Regiment of Regular Infantry on Galveston Island, February 26, 1837. The deed records of Harris County show that Coltrin was a resident of that county when he sold his Headright Certificate to John Belden.

Some time in between 1840 and 1842 he arrived in Fayette County. Coltrin joined Captain Nicholas M. Dawson’s Company and was present at the massacre on September 18, 1842, near San Antonio. Coltrin was one of the very few who survived the battle. He was captured and imprisoned in Castle Perote in Mexico. It was there that he supposedly died. None of his relatives ever heard from him again.

On October 29, 1850, F. W. Chandler of La Grange, was appointed as the administrator of his estate in Fayette County.  In his will, William mentioned two of his sisters, Lucy and Hannah, and a brother-in-law, John Holmes. Chandler noted that he wrote to these heirs but never received any response. At the time of the probate William’s estate was worth $169.37.

Coltrin’s wife, Drusilla, having never heard from William again, was later married to Bartholemew Durkee in Indiana.

Commencement Day 1858

Transcribed by Connie Sneed

From the July 1, 1858 Houston Telegraph:

The annual examination of the Students in the Texas Monument and Military Institute at Rutersville in Fayette County was held last week. There is a rapid advancement of the students in the institution. Their examination was lengthy and thorough upon the various studies through which they had passed and as a general rule they sustained themselves in a manner that would have done credit to any institution of learning in any country. The thorough discipline and gentlemanly bearing of the students is a striking feature in this school and the robust forms and well developed muscles of the cadets demonstrated the utility and benefit of the gymnastic exercises. These together with the military drill and fencing, constitute the course of physical training, an item of vital importance in training the young. For however well you may develop the mental faculties, without the proper degree of physical vigor they can be of little benefit, either to their professor or to his fellows. The thorough discipline and prompt discharge of duty on the part of the student, is owing to the military feature of the school, and is well deserving of the consideration of parents and guardians. There were three graduates whose addresses on Friday the 25th, which was commencement day, were certainly very creditable to themselves, as also to the able faculty of the Institution. One of the graduates was a native born Texan, the first as far as I am aware of in any college in the State. After the graduating exercises there was a very able and interesting address by Honorable J. E. Shephard, of Washington Co. Dr. Ashbel Smith addressed the Baconian Society of the Institute. His subject was the great vale of national power in connection with our present domestic difficulties, and it was certainly one of the ablest essays that the group found pleasure of listening to.

All in all the school is worthy of the consideration of the people of the State. Many citizens of Fayette County were happy to say that the prospects for an abundant crop of students was never better. 

From Unknown to Well-Known: How Our Communities Received their Names

by Katie Kulhanek

Do you ever think of how our communities and towns got their names? Often times, settlements had several names before finally deciding on an official name. This was seen quite often in Fayette County with many communities that are still in existence today. Perhaps it was brought about by a change in the community’s settlers, or it maybe due to the railroad being built nearby. Either way, new identities and histories were formed with the changing of a town’s name. For the ease of the reader, whenever the town name is mentioned (for the section it pertains to) I will have it in parenthesis, so as to easily distinguish it from a founder’s name.

Cistern, Texas
The community of “Cistern”, located in the far southwestern region of Fayette County, was first settled in 1852 by Starks Cockrill and his brother A.A. (Pod) Cockrill who came from Missouri. According to Juanita Beck in Fayette County, Texas Heritage Vol. I, the first settlers called their new settlement “Whiteside Prairie”. Cockrill became an businessman who soon built a general merchandise store. It wasn’t long after this that the community’s name was changed to “Cockrill’s Hill”. Ms. Beck also notes that in 1857, the townspeople applied for a post office permit under yet another town name, “Milton”, in honor of another prominent Cockrill (Starks’ son). They were denied, however, because “Milton” was already in use. Mrs. Beck states that according to local legend, the townspeople discussed other names for their community. They eventually settled on “Cistern”. Due to the minerals in the wells of the area, the drinking water did not taste good. Everyone in the area had to get drinking water from a large underground rainwater cistern located at the mercantile store in town. As Mrs. Beck casually states, “when people were asked where they were going, the most likely answer would be ‘to the cistern’.” On March 31, 1858, the Cistern Post Office was officially opened and the community began to blossom.

Hostýn, Texas:
“Hostýn”, Texas is situated on the western end of the Bluff, which beautifully overlooks the Colorado River and La Grange. The central area of the Bluff was initially settled in the 1830s by German and Anglo settlers who called the area “Bluff”. “Bluff” was a thriving community filled with names (some that are still around today) such as Willrich, Kreische, Hausmann, Loehr, Laux, Huebner, Fietsam, and Hensel to name a few. They were drawn to the area because of its rich river bottom soil, numerous springs, pools, and waterfalls, and scenic vantage points. In late 1856, a group of Czech families came across the Atlantic in search of a place to call home. Some of the group eventually formed and settled the town of Dubina, Texas. The other half ventured towards “Bluff”. As more Czechs came, they began to heavily settle the western section of “Bluff”. By the 1880s, that western section was known as “Moravan”. They called it this because of a hall for a Czech Catholic society there that had that name. But as Judge Janecka states in one of his articles, the name was officially changed from “Bluff”/”Moravan” to “Hostýn” in 1923 by Father Paul Kašpar. They chose this name because of the similarity to Hostýn, Moravia (in the current Czech Republic). The original Hostýn was a revered pilgrimage site with a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic Czech heritage of “Hostýn” has remained a fixture of the town since its beginning.

Kirtley, Texas:
The seemingly quiet and nearly empty community of “Kirtley” was at one time more populated with people and businesses. Located in far western Fayette County, near the Bastrop County border. The land “Kirtley” stands on now was used for farming and ranching as early as 1831. By 1840, a Dr. William Primm owned much of the land near the Colorado River. The community was thus first named “Primm” after him. Unfortunately, tragedy struck. A train wreck resulted from a misunderstanding in communication regarding the switching of trains between Plum and “Primm”. After this, the town name was changed to “Kirtley” to prevent an accident from happening again.

Ellinger, Texas:
Like the opposite of Kirtley, “Ellinger” is situated in far eastern Fayette County, near the Colorado County border. But interestingly, “Ellinger” wasn’t always located where it stands today. Joseph Ehlinger (from France) built a cabin in a live oak grove on a hillside about 1 ½ miles northeast of the present “Ellinger”. On his way to Houston to get his family to bring them to their new home, Ehlinger drowned in a bayou. His widow and son still moved to the area, as did other settlers. Joseph Ehlinger’s son, Charles, helped build up the area, which came to be known as “Live Oak Hill”. The community also went by the name of “Hostýn Hill” – not to be confused with present-day Hostýn, which was still part of the community of Bluff at the time. After a railroad spur line was built in 1873 connecting La Grange to Glidden, the business part of the town of “Live Oak Hill” was moved to a site nearer the railroad and renamed “Ellinger” in honor of Joseph Ehlinger. The change in spelling is due to a clerk who anglicized the name when a deed transaction had been recorded at the courthouse in La Grange. Today, the only remains of “Live Oak Hill” are kept alive by the historic St. Mary’s Catholic Church (which was previously named St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and had been moved there from Ross Prairie around 1860), the Catholic cemetery, and the parish hall.

Dubina, Texas
The history of “Dubina” (located on the southeast region of Fayette County) is steeped in rich culture and religion. “Dubina” is famous for being the first solely Czech settlement settled by Czechs. In late 1856 a group of Czechs came to Texas in search of a home. The Czechs who settled “Dubina” were on the same ship as the Czechs who settled in the western region of Bluff, the community now known as Hostyn. While one group of Czechs was settling into life in the already populated Bluff region, the other group ventured out into the unknown. On a stormy night in November of that year, that second group of Czechs spent their first night in their new home under a large oak tree in the area that was to become “Dubina”. These Czech settlers braved many obstacles from that first night. According to Judge Ed Janecka, the community they settled was first called “Navidad”, and later, “Bohemian Navidad”. When faced with coming up with a proper name for the community, August Haidusek said a simple word, “dub” – the Czech word for oak. Since coming over from Europe with his father in 1856, Haidusek had progressed into a very prominent citizen of the area. He served in the Civil War, was the first lawyer in the country of Czech descent, the mayor of La Grange, a state legislator for Fayette and Lee Counties, Fayette County Judge, and the publisher of the weekly Czech newspaper from La Grange, the Svoboda. Judge Janecka notes in his article that after Haidusek uttered the word, “dub”, someone else added the “ina”, thus giving us the name, “Dubina”, which means Oak Grove in Czech.

Freyburg, Texas
The small richly agricultural community of “Freyburg” (located in the southern region of Fayette County) was founded in 1868 by Frederich Thulemeyer who built his combination home and mercantile business there. The settlement was first known as “Thulemeyer”, but it didn’t really have a town setting, due to the community being spread out over a wide area. Over time, businesses, a couple churches, and a school were constructed, giving more structure to the small community.

High Hill, Texas
Confusingly, the community of “High Hill” was originally made up of three communities. In her article in Fayette County, Texas Heritage Vol. I , Carolyn Heinsohn explains the complex history of the little town of “High Hill”. She notes that the three communities that made up “High Hill” were “Blum Hill”, “Oldenburg”, and “Wursten”. “Blum Hill” was settled in 1846 by Robert Blum of Germany. Known as “Old High Hill” today, the only remains of “Blum Hill” is a cemetery where old family names such as the Baumgartens, Russeks, Nordhausens, and Seydlers are buried. The second community, “Wursten”, was a community famous for its delicious sausages made by the Anders Meat Market located in this community (“wurst” means “sausage” in German). “Wursten” also had one of the first beer breweries and was run by August and Adolf Richter. The third community, “Oldenburg”, was settled at about the same time as “Blum Hill” was. Today, this is the center of the present “High Hill”. These short-lived communities of “Blum Hill”, “Oldenburg”, and “Wursten” lost their identities in 1858 when they merged to become “High Hill”. Instigating this merge was Christian Baumgarten who bought fifty-eight acres north of the community of Lyons. According to Heinsohn, the name “High Hill” was given to the three settlements in order to open a post office. Heinsohn also states that when the railroad was established in a town south of “High Hill”, it is evident that the descendants of “Blum Hill” and “Lyons” took advantage of the business possibilities of this growing town to the south of them. These men eventually became political and business leaders in the town the railroad helped build, Schulenburg.

Praha, Texas
Another culturally rich community of Fayette County is “Praha”. Located in southern Fayette County and three miles east of the town of Flatonia, “Praha” provided a beautiful location for settlers and outlaws alike. In Rose Klekar’s article, Praha Community, she describes the first people in the area to be “outlaws and misfits”. The area was first settled by Anglos families by the names of Duff and Criswell. By the late 1850s, a few Czech settlers began to trickle into the area. In the 1880s, the town was known as “Mulberry” because of some mulberry trees along the creek where families were settling. The amount of Czech immigrants kept increasing and this had an impact on the renaming of the town. Ms. Klekar notes that when the post office was opened around 1886, the community was first recorded as “New Prague”. Not long after, it changed again to “Praha” in honor of the capitol of Bohemia. This was credited to Postmaster Ed Knesek.

La Grange, Texas:
“La Grange” is situated in the center of Fayette County. It is a crossroads town that helps to connect Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. Nestled in a beautiful and rich valley between the Bluff cliffs and the elevated lands of the Fair Grounds, “La Grange” was once the site of a large Indian camping ground. Alyett C. Buckner initially settled in the surrounding area in 1819. But it was John Henry Moore, who came to Texas in 1821, who settled the land we know now as “La Grange”. To better understand how early Moore came to Texas - his daughter was the first white child born in Texas. Moore was granted land from the Mexican government in 1831, land which has now become downtown “La Grange”. He built a cedar log home and a two-story twin blockhouse. Moore allowed nearby settlers to use the blockhouse with him against repeated Indian attacks which constantly plagued the settlers. Although Moore eventually moved his family further north of “La Grange” to Citzler and Mueller Roads, the league of land that “La Grange” sits in is called the John Henry Moore League. The naming of “La Grange” is thought to have been derived from the home of the settlers from Tennessee who settled the land in the 1820s along with Moore. The name “La Grange” is French and means “the meadow”. This was the name of the estate or chateau of General La Fayette – for whom Fayette County bears the name. “La Grange” was incorporated in 1837 and was designated as the county seat in 1838.

Schulenburg, Texas:
“Schulenburg”, the town the railroad built, is a bustling community located in the southern section of Fayette County, past the rolling hills of Swiss Alp and before the leveling plains of the southern coastal plains. Frank Lotto describes “Schulenburg” as being one of the richest agricultural sections of the state. Originally settled by Czechs and Germans, “Schulenburg’s” story began in 1870 when the president of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway sent an agent to the small community of High Hill (barely northwest of Schulenburg) with an attempt to run the railroad through the settlement. High Hill leaders refused, but those near the town of Lyons (barely south of “Schulenburg”) showed interest. In 1873 the agent bought 450 acres of land and a house from Louis Schulenburg who lived in the area. The town to be built was thus named after its benefactor, Mr. Schulenburg. He is not to be confused with Chris. Baumgarten, the “Father of Schulenburg”, who promoted the building up of industrial enterprises in “Schulenburg”. Other families whose land became what is now “Schulenburg” were the Baumgartens, Stanzels, and Wittbeckers. The town was incorporated on May 24th, 1875. During the time the railroad and city were being built, many citizens of the High Hill and Lyons area chose to move into the town and start businesses and build residences.

Flatonia, Texas:
The quaint town of “Flatonia” (another town the railroad built) is located in the southwestern section of Fayette County. Frank Lotto, in Fayette County: Her History and Her People, describes it as being situated by rich, black prairie lands to the south and east, and postoak to the north and west. The largest developed town in the southwest section of Fayette County, “Flatonia” sits in the best part of the mineral region of the county. The town came into existence at about the same time Schulenburg did. The land it stands on was bought from the Faires brothers (the league “Flatonia” sits in is the Wm. A. Faires League) by F.W. Flato, John Kline, and John Lattimore. This group of men gave half the interest of the land to the president of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. By 1872, the railroad was completed and the town began to grow with F.W. Flato selling land sites in and around the town. With the creation of “Flatonia” came the closing of two older communities, Old Flatonia (one mile southeast of “Flatonia”) and Oso (three miles northwest of “Flatonia”). There was mass migration in 1874 from these towns to the new town; people even moved their houses. The new town of “Flatonia” was named after F.W. Flato and was officially incorporated on November 10th, 1875, about six months after Schulenburg.

Fayetteville, Texas:
The picturesque town of “Fayetteville” is located in the eastern section of Fayette County and, like La Grange, had development earlier than most communities in the area. The area we now know as “Fayetteville” was first settled by three members of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred – John Crier, James Cummins, and James Ross. The settlement was first known as “Ross Prairie” after James Ross. It wasn’t long after that the first school (in what would eventually become Fayette County) was established in 1834 by the Breeding Family near the present town of “Fayetteville”. According to Louis Polansky in his article on the history of “Fayetteville”, the settlement was at one time also known as “Alexander’s voting place” due to being the home of Texas Revolution veteran, Jerome Alexander who was killed in the Dawson Massacre and whose family owned some land on which Fayetteville is located. Frank Lotto, in Fayette County: Her History and Her People, states that also “Sam Alexander’s” was used as a town name. Aside from the above names, “Fayetteville” also had the name “Lickskillet”, which is familiar to us today for its festival. It was called this because when citizens and visitors came to celebrations late, they were told to “lick the skillet”, because the food was gone. The name “Fayetteville” was chosen in 1844 because it was the birthplace (Fayetteville, North Carolina) of the founder of “Fayetteville”, Phillip J. Shaver, who platted the town and named the streets in 1847. Despite its early beginnings, “Fayetteville” was incorporated rather late, in 1882.

Round Top, Texas
Scenic “Round Top” sits along Cummins Creek in northern Fayette County. Like the other small communities of the first two parts of this series, “Round Top” also had a couple different names before settling on the current one. One of the earliest settlers were members of the Townsend family of the state of Florida – hence the church and cemetery, Florida Chapel. For a while, the area was known as “Townsend Settlement”. In her article on “Round Top”, Georgia Tubbs states that the area was also referred to as “Jones Post Office” after the postmaster there. In the early 1840s, Germans began arriving in Texas and many settled in this area. One prominent German, Alwin Soergel, settled in the “Round Top” area and brought many Germanic customs to this part of the county which still exist today. It was because of a structure he built – a white house with an octagonal tower – that the name “Round Top” came about. When the town was actually named “Round Top” is unknown, but as Tubbs states, records show it to be before the date of 1850. “Round Top” was incorporated in 1870.

Carmine, Texas:
Much of this section will be taken from Margaret Finke and Dorothy Rothermel’s article on “Carmine” in Fayette County, Texas Heritage. Another railroad town, like Schulenburg and Flatonia, the land that was to become “Carmine” was described by these two ladies as “not much more than a tangle of post oak trees and underbrush”. That was before the year 1871 when the Houston and Texas Central Railroad was built there. The first settler of the area was Dr. B.J. Thigpen, a prominent physician who occupied many positions. According to Finke and Rothermel, Thigpen, acting upon the advice of a former Colonel he served with in the Confederacy, platted a town which he named “Sylvan”. It was said that many people confused the name and called it “Silver” and “Silver City”. Thigpen changed the name to avoid the confusion and renamed it “Carmean” after Newt Carmean who owned much of the land around the town. The name was changed to “Carmine” in 1892 by the Postal Department of Washington D.C. because mail was commonly being incorrectly sent to towns that sounded and looked similar, such as Cameron and Carmona. “Carmine” is most recent town to be incorporated as such in Fayette County, being incorporated in 1973.


Confession Letter Exonerates Man Who Served Prison Term In Texas

Transcribed by Connie F. Sneed 

From the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:

Austin- 05 July 1922

The appearance in Atlanta, Ga., yesterday of an old letter purported to be the dying confession of H.M. Sharp to a murder in Texas 35 years ago, cleared up a death for which A.L. George served a prison term. George died a year ago after a futile attempt to have the State of Texas right what he claimed to have been a wrong inflicted upon him. George, at the end of his prison term, came to Austin last year seeking to appear before the State legislature in quest of having his alleged wrong righted, but death from a physical breakdown intervened.

Atlanta dispatches last night said Sharp, in a letter found in an old machine drawer, confessed that he killed Ed Konerick at Hottentot, Fayette County, Texas, in 1884 while the two were quarrelling over a can of sardines. The letter was dated Hallsville, Texas, June 20, 1890.

A.L. George, when he came here seeking reward from the State, said he was charged with the killing, that he was sent to the penitentiary and served his term, all the time protesting his innocence. Broken in spirit, feeble of body and scarcely able to walk, he was taken ill and lay for days at a small local hotel. Local relief organizations took charge of him and he was removed to the hospital where he died. His body was sent to Tennessee for burial. With the body was sent a small handbag which the aged man said contained papers through which he had hoped to prove his innocence. He died with his hope and dream unfulfilled.


Corn and Survival

By Lillie Mae Brightwell

Wittliff Seed Corn SackGoing through my late husband’s things, I came across a neatly-kept seed corn sack. That was a reminder about how corn meant survival at one time in Fayette County and throughout Texas. Corn not only fed humans, but also animals. Wheat flour was not available in the early days, so cornmeal became the basic ingredient for cornbread, Johnny cakes and cornmeal mush, which was frequently prepared with meat renderings as food for dogs and cats. Dogs were essential as guard dogs and to help with hunting, and cats were utilized as “mousers” to keep down the rodent population, especially in the corn crib.

There are many stories that have been documented about the importance of corn in the lives of the early settlers of Fayette County, as well as the lives of others outside of the county, who were the recipients of corn that was grown here. Had it not been for the shipments of wagon loads of corn grown on the Nassau Plantation south of Round Top sent to settlers in the Hill Country during the Adelsverein German emigration effort in the 1840s, many would have died of starvation. Corn is still an essential ingredient in many products consumed by animals and humans, as well as products like ethanol.

In 1824, William Rabb, one of Austin’s original 300, was awarded five sitios of land, equivalent to approximately 22, 239.6 acres, in an agreement to build a grist mill to help feed the colony. Part of his grant was located in present-day Fayette County along the Colorado River in what is now known as Rabb’s Prairie.  Rabb imported two millstones, each weighing one ton, from Scotland.  They were used as ballast on a sailing ship, and from the mouth of the Colorado River at Matagorda he transported them 100 miles inland by attaching an axle and a tongue and using them as wheels. The mill was in operation by 1831 with the controlled flow of the river water providing the power used to grind corn that was then dried for six to eight months. Unfortunately, the mill was destroyed by a flood in 1833. The millstones are now in a pocket park called Founders’ Park on the north side of the square in La Grange.  

In a “Footprints of Fayette” story written by Katie Kulhanek, she related how Jesse Burnam, an early settler, killed two deer.  His family then had meat to eat, but no bread, so he traded one of his horses for twenty bushels of corn.

In 1882, the Cernosek family settled in the Bluff area and suffered many hardships, but never hunger.  At times they ate just cornbread and molasses. This was a fairly good diet, because corn is rich in Vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron.  Molasses is a good source of iron, selenium and copper, all of which help maintain healthy bones.

In 1911, the Bauer family in the Swiss Alp area raised corn, cotton, cattle, chickens and hogs and grew a vegetable garden.  They belonged to the community beef club.  They traveled to Swiss Alp to sell their eggs and buy groceries. In 1925, during a severe drought, the vines that were growing on the corn stalks were pulled off to feed the cows and hogs before the corn was ready to be harvested. Nothing was wasted.

In 1914, the Bargas family was sharecropping in Winchester.  They planted corn and cotton in the old way, all by hand.  In 1921, there was no rain, so heavy snow from the previous winter was all the moisture they had; therefore, no crops were grown that year. Not having corn for feed or cotton for income was an extreme hardship.

In the early years of their marriage, the Citzlers’ income was derived from farming, with cotton as the chief money crop. It was a very dry year in 1925 with only two bales of cotton produced.  Corn had to be shipped in from the Corn Belt to keep their team of mules and the cows alive.  In 1926, a gully washer of a rainstorm came, flooding the fields; the top soil was gone, which greatly affected subsequent crops needed to feed their animals and provide income.

In 1951, Virginia Ruth Weikel Rice wrote, “We pressed sugar cane and cooked molasses from the juice.  We raised cotton, corn, sugar cane, hygear, sudengrass, peaches, and watermelons and had a very large garden full of vegetables.  Corn was removed from the cob by running it through a hand-cranked sheller for the chickens and turkeys.  Corn for baby chicks and turkeys, which we hatched in an incubator, was ground in a hand-cranked grinder…” 

Corn was very important for ranches, as well as for small farmers. Coy Gates, whose nickname was “Popcorn,” worked for Arnold Sladek, whose primary business was being a cattleman.  Cattle in the feed lots that were being fattened for market had to be fed, doctored, and nurtured.  Range cattle had to be monitored, doctored, penned, “Branded” (ear notched), and sorted to maintain a strong, productive and profitable herd.  Cattle drives had to be conducted – some long, some short.  Horses to work the cattle were in high demand.  Taming and training mules to perform in the field with various implements as well as doing other farm work was essential.  Because of the high demand for feed in the Sladek feed lot, much hay, corn and other grains were needed.  Coy was responsible for farming various parcels of land utilized for growing feed for Sladek’s animals.  He was also directly involved in preparing the feed for the feed lot cattle.  Arnold had a portable grinder and mixer to prepare feed, and Coy was his right-hand man in making this machinery productive. The nickname “Popcorn” was given to Coy because he could “pop “over a fence with amazing speed when chased by a crazy cow or bull.  He could also pop quickly on an untrained horse or mule to quickly tame the animal.

Some farmers say the wind picks up pollen from ripening corn and swirls it from field to field.  If neighbors grow inferior corn, cross pollination will steadily degrade the quality of corn.  If you grow good corn, it helps neighbors grow good corn. So, striving to grow the best corn possible was beneficial for everyone.

Today with our present pandemic and shortage of certain foods, it makes us realize that we have taken food for granted, wasting it as if there would never be a short supply.  People may now be humbled to the point where they realize that material wealth is insignificant if it cannot buy what our bodies need to survive.  We cannot eat money, so grow a garden in the back yard. Add a couple of rows of corn and enjoy the rewards of your effort.

Photo caption: Seed Corn, courtesy of Lillie May Brightwell
Fayette County Texas Heritage: Volume II – F45, 49, 70, 154, 170, 223, 312, 891
Fayetteville Area Heritage Museum and Annex
Green, Donna. “Mary Crownover Rabb”; Footprints of Fayette, Fayette County Record,
Heinsohn, Carolyn. “Rabbs Prairie Floods in the ‘30s”; Footprints of Fayette, Fayette County Record
Kulhanek, Katie. “Jesse Burnam”, Footprints of Fayette, Fayette County Record
Text of historical marker at US Hwy 77 and Rabb’s Prairie Road erected in 1996

Cottonseed Flour – Schulenburg Oil Mill

Transcribed by Connie F. Sneed

From the July 11, 1917 Times Picayune Newspaper:

One of the aftermaths of the war will be that human as well as animal life will thrive on cottonseed. Cottonseed bread is already popular and will become more so. Europe taught the United States the value of cottonseed as stock feed. Experiments gave cottonseed precedence as the source of protein, the principal feeding element, and Europe has been buying most of the meal and oil cake.

D.D. Colcock, veteran secretary of the Sugar Exchange and student of economics, was among the first to take up the cottonseed bread idea, and has conducted considerable correspondence upon the subject, and among his most satisfactory informants has been C.A. Baumgarten, proprietor of the Schulenburg, Texas oil mill. The latter has for a long time manufactured cottonseed flour by a process of his own. It is called Allison Flour, the Texas cottonseed crushers bestowing the name of honor of Joe W. Allison, who was at the head of the Interstate as well as the Texas bureau of publicity. That was seven years ago. The bread has obtained a great vogue in a number of sections and the flour is also widely used in cake baking. Mr. Baumgarten advises that three hours is time enough to allow for the rising of the sponge and that the dough should be put into the stove when about three-fourths up. There will then be no failures. The bread will finish rising in the hot oven, and will emerge so fine. 

The only surviving objection to the flour was that it might be affected by weevils. Basic in Mr. Baumgarten’s process is heating to 240 degrees for an hour and forty minutes, which disposes of the weevil and all other attacks. He was also able to extract the rubber or gum parts from the oil cells, without the use of any chemicals. That was the problem that took him nine years to solve. The flour now passes through the finest silk bolting which the gum prevented. It took him eleven years to get out all the hull bran and fiber, a process on which some large corporations have so far vainly spent half a million. The government chemists have been to his plant and learned a great deal. They are figuring on the use of the flour for the Army and Navy. The bread is as dark as Graham, and about as light. It is palatable, and there is no doubt as to its nutritive qualities. Texas was among the pioneers in its use, and mixed it with both corn and wheat.

The Journey of a School

The County Line Schoolhouse

by Helen Mikus 

The County Line School, Fayette County Public School No. 80, was built in 1900 by the parents of students, who attended this one-room, one-teacher country school. A typical school of that era, it was a wooden frame building with a porch and shingled roof. Located in the John Andrews League in southeastern Fayette County, the school was built on land donated by Leopold Schimek (Simek). It was situated near County Road 264 (now called Kovar Road) near the Fayette County-Colorado County boundary line. Local children, as well as those from the Pisek area of Colorado County attended this school. The children walked to school, except for one lucky boy who rode his Shetland pony to school.

At first water was brought by bucket from Kocurek’s farm across the road. In later years, a hand-dug well was excavated by Bill Plagens not far from the school, using tools made by John F. Mikus in his farm blacksmith shop, which was located on the neighboring farm. During the winter, parents would supply the wood for the pot-bellied stove. The students played in the woods near a branch of Allen’s Creek, not far from the school building. They also planted and watered a flower garden bordered with rocks around the school.

When the school closed after the spring term of 1943, the land reverted back to Leopold Schimek. Students were transferred to the Fayetteville Independent School District, as most of the small rural schools were being consolidated.

The former County Line School No. 80 had an interesting and varied “life”. After 43 years of being a one-room school house, it was moved to the Fayetteville I.S.D. school grounds where it was used for one year as a school lunchroom. When the Willow Springs School was moved to a site one mile east of Fayetteville, now Columbus Hall Lane, to be used as a colored school, the County Line School building was moved again to be used as their lunchroom. When schools were being integrated, those students started attending Fayetteville I.S.D., and the Knights of Columbus, Chromcik Council, bought the school building in 1965 along with the lunchroom building. The K.C. members used the former County Line School building for playing cards and dominoes and the former Willow Springs School for their meetings and socials. About 1980 the K.C.’s sold the County Line School to R.V. (Smokey) Renck of Warrenton to be used for the sale of antiques. In 1989, Mr. Renck sold the building to Maurice and Shirley Sacks, who moved it once again to Sandy Hill on County Road 2621, three and a half miles from Highway 50 near Brenham, Texas. It is now situated on a high hill with a great view and is well-preserved as part of a complex which includes two bed and breakfast homes called “Heartland”. The old school is used as a meeting room, for exercise and Yoga classes and even weddings.

Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Wotipka organized the County Line School reunion of the former students, teachers and trustees, which started in May 1986 and continued until the last one which was held in May 2007. Due to the deaths and advanced age of the former students, it was decided to discontinue the reunions and to donate the remaining monies in the reunion treasury to the Fayetteville Area Heritage Museum, where a replica of this unique school that was made by Harry Supak can be viewed.

Viola Spiess, a former teacher of the County Line School, who faithfully attended all of the reunions, was instrumental in having a commemorative sign erected not far from the original school building site; it can be viewed from Kovar Road.

Information provided by: Minutes of the reunions, former students, Knights of Columbus, Fayette County Texas Heritage, Vol. I, R.F. Renck, Maurice and Shirley Sacks, Wayne Schmidt. Photo shows a replica of the County Line School in the Fayetteville Area Heritage Museum


Extracts From the Fayette County Commissioner Court Minutes in the Republic of Texas

By Gary E. McKee

The following is a sampling of interesting resolutions and court orders issued in the early years of the county which gives a glimpse of life in the Fayette County of the 1840s in the Republic of Texas. As there are no explanations readily available for the orders, some are very cryptic while others offer straight forward explanations.

July 6th 1840: “Resolved that Jesse Burnam be required to move the family of Thomas C. Scidmore from the present place of abode to La Grange and furnish the family with a house and necessary means of sustenance and that he be required to present his account to the Commissioners court for liquidation.”

January 4th, 1841: “Resolved that a certain Negro man taken up as a runaway and committed to the County Jail who calls himself Henry be taken out of the jail as the responsibility of the County and hired for the benefit of the county until his Master or Owner takes him away or a Law enacted provides for runaway negros. And that W. B. Meriwether and William Nabers be appointed trustees to him said negro and report to the County.”

Feb 15th 1842: “Ordered by the Court that hereafter moneys paid into the County from Estrays must be paid in gold or silver in accordance with laws.”

January 1st 1844: “Ordered by the court that appropriation for building a Court House, for buying a Ferry rope, and for building a Poor House be cancelled.” “Ordered that Josiah O’Daniel be fined Twenty five dollars for absenting himself without leave and that R.B. Jarman, Francis Smith, W.B. Bridges and James Robinson be fined Twenty five dollars each for non attendance.” (These are county commissioners absent from a meeting Jan 1.) “Ordered by the court that Messr. H. Ferrill, A.A. Gardenier and J.S. Lester be allowed three dollars per diem each for four days during the time they were employed in making out the report out of any money not otherwise appropriated.” “It was ordered by the court to audit the claim of W. Fitzgerald for boarding a runaway negro in the year 1840.” “It was moved and seconded that the Sheriff be authorized to pursue the most practicable course so as to secure persons whether in jail or otherwise to be at his own discretion which being put to vote was carried in affirmative.” “It was ordered by the court to audit the claim of A.A. Gardenier (sheriff) for fifty three dollars for boarding, ironing (leg irons not laundry), and keeping prisoners and repairs on the jail.”

The majority of the records involved the altering of county roads, the running of the ferries, and payments to citizens for unexplained services rendered.

Thomas Washington Cox

Baptist Preacher and Soldier

by Connie F. Sneed

Thomas Washington Cox, Baptist preacher and soldier, was born in Alabama in 1815 and immigrated to Texas in 1838 or 1839. In 1840 he was living in Fayette County, where he owned 300 acres of land, a gold pocket watch, and one metal clock. He soon organized and was elected pastor of churches in the towns of La Grange, Travis, and Independence and was named the first moderator of the Baptist Union Association in the state. As moderator, he called for the first convention of Texas Baptists in June 1840. He became a follower of the teachings of Alexander Campbell, however, and, according to nineteenth century Baptist historian John B. Link, "serious reports of bad conduct followed him from Alabama." In 1841, therefore, after confrontations with Z. N. Morrell, he was excluded from the church in La Grange and retained the pulpit of the other two only by narrow margins. "He afterwards became more interested in horse-racing and gambling than in preaching," wrote Link.

Cox was elected justice of the peace for Fayette County on January 20th, 1842, but soon thereafter was elected second lieutenant in Capt. William M. Eastland's Company B of Brig. Gen. Alexander Somervell's Army of the South West. Cox participated in the Somervell and Mier expeditions, was captured at the battle of Mier, and took part in the escape attempt led by Ewen Cameron at Salado on February 11th, 1843. He was one of only four of Cameron's men to make his way back to Texas, the others being recaptured and subjected to decimation by firing squad after the notorious Black Bean Episode.

On September 16th, 1849, the anniversary of the release of the Mier prisoners, Cox introduced a motion to a meeting at La Grange to form a monument committee to raise funds for a memorial to the dead of the Mier expedition and the Dawson Massacre. He also proposed that the remains of Nicholas M. Dawson's and William S. Fishers's men be re-interred on Monument Hill.  He was the only Mier man named to the Texas Monument Committee. On September 16th, 1850, Cox, called "a man of great eloquence," met with the Mier and Dawson survivors at a reunion at Monument Hill and delivered the main address of the observation.

When Robert S. Neighbors returned from his reconnaissance into what is now New Mexico in 1850 and reported that area's intention of setting up an independent territorial government, the citizens of Fayette County appointed Cox to a committee to report on the "insurrectionary movements in the county of Santa Fe." Cox's committee considered New Mexico's actions "an outrage upon the State of Texas" and resolved to call upon the government of the United States to maintain Texas’ sovereignty there. Failing assistance from the national government, however, the members of the committee proposed to equip a "military force to put down the insurrection". They threatened to secede from the Union if the state's boundaries (the boundaries of December 19th, 1836, giving Texas all of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande) were not respected. Cox died in Bastrop County on February 6, 1852, of what the Austin Texas State Gazette called "congestion of the brain."

James Milton Carroll, A History of Texas Baptists
Compiled Index to Elected and Appointed Officials of the Republic of Texas
Telegraph and Texas Register
Texas State Gazette
Houston Wade, Notes and Fragments of the Mier Expedition

Crayon Portraits

by Rox Ann Johnson

Original and Crayon Portrait of Josephine HeinsohnDoes someone in your family have a large old picture of an ancestor that appears to have been drawn with charcoal? These are known as crayon portraits and were quite popular in our area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Perhaps they are abundant because of offers like the one photographer Louis Rice made in a Schulenburg Sticker advertisement on November 2, 1899: "A fine Crayon picture 16X20 given with each dozen cabinet pictures."

The term "crayon" does not come from the "Crayolas" children use, but rather from Conté crayons which are still used by artists and are more like sticks of charcoal or a dense pastel. (In case the term "cabinet photograph" that was used in the advertisement is also new to you, they were simply photographs mounted on 4.25-inch X 6.5-inch cardboard backing that often contained the photographer's name. They were extremely common at the time.)

Crayon portraits were enlargements of cabinet photographs or even earlier, smaller photos. The photographer made a negative and then projected that image onto light-sensitive paper. The weak photographic solution used to sensitize the paper produced only the basic shapes and outlines of the subject, which was then enhanced by an artist. The process was described by J. A. Barhydt in his 1882 book, Crayon Portraiture: Complete Instructions for Making Crayon Portraits on Crayon Paper and on Platinum, Silver, and Bromide Enlargements." It's likely that Fayette County photographers mailed off the original photographs and the crayon portraits were actually produced elsewhere.

Because crayon portraits might be made many years later than the original photograph, they can be extremely difficult to date. When the original photos can be located, it is interesting to see the kinds of manipulations made in the enlargements. A full-length subject might be changed to a bust portrait, as in the example shown here. Frequently, two individual portraits were combined into one enlargement of a married couple. One person might be extracted from a family portrait to make a larger individual portrait, especially after that person's demise. In my extended families, the recently deceased were often memorialized in crayon portraits.

Whether the end result was actually a life-like representation depended upon the skill of the artist who applied charcoal, Conté crayon, and/or pastels to make the finished portrait. If the artist wasn't particularly skilled, the portraits bore very little resemblance to the original photograph. In one case in my family where the husband died young and the wife was photographed much later, the artist softened her features in an attempt to picture her at the age her husband had last been photographed. Her clothing and pose in the original photograph alert us to the trickery and, otherwise, she bears little resemblance to the original.

Besides the common 16-inch by 20-inch portraits, many crayon portraits were adhered to paperboard mounts, which were then wetted and pressed into an oval convex shape. You will often find this style mounted in an oval frame with convex glass. Through the years, quite a few crayon portraits have been donated to the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives in La Grange and may be studied there.

Photo Caption:
The cabinet photo of Willow Springs’ resident, Josephine Heinsohn (1883-1902) compared to her unflattering crayon portrait. Courtesy of Rox Ann Johnson.
Observations from the author's personal photograph collection
Albright, Gary E. and Michael K. Lee, "A Short Review of Crayon Enlargements: History, Technique, and Treatment",
Paul Messier, "Crayon Portraits,"!resources/cvp0

Keziah Cryer

by Norman Krischke

Keziah Cryer (also spelled Crier) was one of the first women to be granted a league of land in Texas by the Mexican Government. She applied for the grant as a widow with three children. Her league (about 4 by 7 miles) was granted April 5, 1831. Thomas H. Borden surveyed the land.

Cryer was born January 19, 1779 in Arkansas. She first married William Hemphill in May 1816 and they had five children: Nancy, Andrew (who drowned in Galveston Bay), Rueben, Emily and Charlotte. Hemphill died about 1825 and Keziah married Thomas Jacobs. They had one child, Henry, born in 1827. Jacobs died shortly thereafter and Keziah married George Taylor in 1830. It is believed that Keziah and George came to Texas in 1832 and took possession of her land. Keziah and George had four children: John Crier, Nancy, Mary and George, Jr. Her league was in the southeastern part of Fayette County, near the future town of Lyons.

DeWitt Clinton Lyons established a trading post in the area in 1842 and the town grew and was named Lyons. Lyons was a thriving small town with a combination trading post, post office, general store and residence. The McKinnon General Store, Masonic Lodge #196, AF & AM, carpenter shop, school, cotton gin made up the town. During the Civil War, the Lyons Mounted Riflemen were formed with Capt. A. J. Murray in command to patrol the area.

George Taylor died in December 1862 and is believed to be buried in the Taylor Family Cemetery southeast of Schulenburg adjacent to the Navidad Baptist Cemetery. Two infants of John Crier Taylor are also buried there. Martha Lyons, whose husband James Lyons, was killed by Indians in 1837, lived with Keziah at Lyons until about April 1870, when Keziah moved back to Arkansas.

Charlotte Hemphill, daughter of Keziah, married Henry Clayton about 1841. Henry was a descendant of English aristocracy. Charlotte and Henry had six children: Anthoria, W.H. Eveline, Lucinda, Henry Franklin and Charlotte E. They operated a plantation at Lyons with a dwelling house, carriage house, smokehouse, cook house, slave cabins and corn cribs. The main crop was cotton. Charlotte, born in 1824, died in August 1857, and is buried in the Taylor Family Cemetery. Henry married a second time and died in 1863. He is buried beside Charlotte. The town of Lyons has a state historical marker on U.S. 77, one mile south of Schulenburg.

Note: The Taylor Family Cemetery is now considered part of the Navidad Baptist Cemetery, which has been restored since this article was first published in 2002. Additional research suggests that Keziah Cryer Hemphill Jacobs Taylor died in Fayette County circa 1880 and is also buried in an unmarked grave in that cemetery.


Crime and Punishment

by Kathy Carter

Fayette County was but six months old in July 1838, but she already possessed a jail. The building cost $460.00 and was sufficient for the keeping of prisoners in those early times for prisoners were ironed and chained then.

Ten years later, the jail was up for sale because "the jail is of no service to the county". It took a while for a new jail to be built so prisoners were boarded out to different persons. The charges for boarding a prisoner were extraordinarily high, $3.00 per day. The county was spending a disproportionate amount of their annual funds on keeping prisoners. It was time for a new jail,

At the same time, the Texas State Legislature passed a bill establishing the first state prison. A committee of three men, including, William Menefee of Fayette County, were appointed to select a site and purchase land. Why they chose Huntsville is still a mystery but the prison was built there. The first prisoner was registered on October 1, 1849 and was William G. Sansom of Fayette County. He was convicted and sentenced to three years for cattle theft. Sansom was only 18 years old but was a member of a gang of thieves. They were accused of stealing everything from horse and hogs to slaves. Sansom was delivered to the Hunstville prison on horseback escorted by the local sheriff and 5 citizen deputies acting as guards. Such protection was warranted as Sansom's outlaw gang had declared they would attempt to rescue him but did not do so.

In 1852, William Lewis' plan for a new Fayette County jail was accepted. Local stonemasons Ammann & Kreische received the bid for construction and built the structure on two lots on the corner of Main and Crockett Streets. This jail served the county for great many years until the simple old structure, though solid was deemed insufficient to "baffle the hopes of escape of the ingenious prisoner".

In 1882, a contract was issued for the construction of the third Fayette County jail on the same site as the previous building. The new jail was a solid, substantial, modern building that served the county for more than 100 years. It still stands at 171 S. Main Street in La Grange.

Sheriff August Loessin was in office for 26 years beginning in 1894. During that time he performed the duties of "Executioner" on two occasions. Gallows were constructed behind the jail building in plain view of the cellblock. Prior to this time, prisoners were hung from trees along the Colorado River bank.

In November 1898, Clay Ford brutally murdered Mathilda Winston and her little granddaughter in order to steal $37.00. The case was tried and the verdict "death by hanging" which was carried out in July 1899.

In June 1905, the Sheriff was notified that a pregnant woman living near Schulenburg had been attacked and raped. A local posse had been formed to find and hang the perpetrator on the spot. The Sheriff assigned his Deputy, Will Loessin, the task of going to get the suspect and bring him safely back to the jail. John Boyd was arrested and jailed to await his trial where he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. More than three years later on the morning of January 8th, 1909, Sheriff August Loessin hung John Boyd by the neck until he was "dead, dead, dead". It was the last hanging in Fayette County.

Two other cases stand out in the annals of Fayette County crime and punishment. In early February 1925, William Langhorne of Chappel Hill, Texas coerced two La Grange teenage sisters to accompany him on a car ride. Outside of town, he stopped the car and attacked the younger of the two. When the older sister tried to subdue Langhorne, he shot her fives time with a pistol, mortally wounding her. The younger girl survived and was able to make it to a farmer's house and call for help. The sheriff arrested Langhorne after a car chase across Fayette County. The murder trial commenced five weeks later and "spectators crowded into the courtroom." Some spectators even brought their lunches so they would not have to leave their seats because they knew they would not get them back. Nine days after the trial began the jury returned the guilty verdict with punishment set as death in the electric chair. Langhorne must have appealed his sentence because the State of Texas never executed him.

In February 1933, the Fayette County sheriff's office received a report that Henry Stoever of Schulenburg was missing. Marie Dach, the widow of Anton Dach, had employed him as a farm hand. After a two-month investigation, the remains of Mr. Stoever were found shot, burned and buried under Marie Dach's new hen house. She was arrested and brought to the jail in La Grange. Mrs. Dach's reasoning for the heinous act was the "cumulative result of a series of cruelties and indignities having for their beginning a criminal assault committed two months previously." On May 4, 1933, the grand jury indicted her for murder. The murder trial began on May 22, 1933. It took two venire of 125 men to select the twelve-man jury. Most prospective jurors disqualified themselves because they were opposed to inflicting the death penalty on a woman. Three days into the trial and "the courtroom was crowded and the heat fierce". The case went to the jury late in the day and when no decision came forth the jurors were "locked up for the night". They submitted their verdict the next morning, May 25, 1933. Marie Dach was to die in the electric chair. It was only the second time in the State of Texas that a woman had been given the death penalty. Marie Dach died in the Fayette County jail on August 23, 1933 due to voluntary starvation while awaiting an appeal to her death sentence.

The photo of the third Fayette County jail is courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives.

Crimes in Fayette County in 1877

By Ed Janecka

In 1877 Fayette County was a much different place than it is today.  It was just 12 short years after the end of the Civil War.  The immigration to Fayette County from Europe was in full force.  The population of Fayette County in 1870 was 16,863, and in 1880 it was 27,996, so one could venture a guess that the population in 1877 was around 25,000, which is roughly the same population we have today.  One can gain insight about the county and its residents by looking at the grand jury records for that year.  There were various crimes, including thefts, assaults and murders, much like today’s crimes; however, the things being stolen and their values were significantly different.   

The following is a compilation of incidents from the Grand Jury hearings from 1877:

Seven different thefts of geldings valued at about $30.00 each
Eight different thefts of hogs valued at $10.00 each
Theft of three bed quilts valued at $35.00
Theft of a mule
Assault with a pistol with intent to murder
Assault with a butcher knife with intent to murder
Aggravated assault with a knife
Theft of a yearling valued at $10.00
Theft of a heifer valued at $10.00
Theft of one cow valued at $10.00
Four charges for carrying a concealed weapon
Stealing a mark & brand
Four thefts of oxen valued at $45.00 each
Two attempted rapes
One assault and attempted rape
There were six murders committed that year.
Theft of a hide valued at $3.00
Aggravated assault upon an officer in the discharging of his duties
Three burglaries
Aggravated assault with intent to murder an officer
Ten thefts of cattle
Theft of a watch
Shooting two horses
Assault with intent to kill
Theft of a pair of spurs valued at $1.60
20 failures and refusals to make out and render lists of taxable properties
Defacing the mark & brand of a steer
Stealing cattle ox
Robbery of one shotgun valued at $11.00; cow valued at $12.00
There were several gambling incidents at a public place.
There were eight thefts of cattle.
Several drunk in a public place
Violating the Internal Revenue of the State of Texas
Theft of four cords of wood valued at $2.50 per cord
Several unlawfully carrying a pistol
Tom (no last name), but in parentheses (a Mexican) exhibiting a gaming bank
Several charges of adultery
Horse racing on a public road
Forgery by changing a figure on a cotton weight
Obstruction of a public road
Theft of a bale of cotton

Obviously, 1877 was a very busy year for the Grand Jury. 


William Vannoy Criswell

by Stacy N. Sneed

William Vannoy Criswell was the second son of John Yancy Criswell Sr. and Eleanor Vannoy. He was born in Knox County, Kentucky on April 15, 1815 and arrived in Texas in December 1830 with his parents and siblings.

He served with the Republic of Texas Army several times throughout his youth. He was in the Indian Campaign from 25 July to 13 September 1835. He served as a private in Captain J.C. Neill's Artillery Company from 28 September 1835 to 13 December 1835, including the Siege of Bexar. He also served in the “Come and Take It Battle” at Gonzales, Texas in October 1835. He was discharged in December, 1835 at which time he went home to help his father care for the family during which time the Alamo fell. The family got caught up in the “Runaway Scrape”. William enlisted again on 27 March 1836 and served until 27 June 1836 under the command of Col. Edward Burleson, 1st Regiment, known as the Mina Volunteers, later Company “C'. He was at the Battle of San Jacinto. His name appears on the bronze plaque inside the theater at the San Jacinto Monument and Battlefield in Houston, Texas.

He married, on October 12, 1844, a Miss Mary Elizabeth [Polly] McMicken. They had six children; Elizabeth [Bettie] Jane, Sarah Elizabeth, Mary [Mollie] Ann, John Henry, James Yancy [Yank], and Lillie Martin. All the children were born in Fayette County, Texas. William died January 19, 1858 and was buried in a small family cemetery known as “Criswell Cemetery” near his home at Mulberry Creek near Praha, Fayette County, Texas. In 1936, his bones were removed for reburial at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, where they now lie. His bones were intact at the time of reburial, as Polly had had his grave lined with limestone. All in all, William received five recorded Republic of Texas land grants.

The First Czech Sermon of St. John the Baptist Church

by Sandra Briones 

In the 1850s Czech immigrants began arriving at Ross Prairie. This area is located in the most southeast corner of Fayette County between the small towns of Fayetteville and Ellinger. At the time there was only one church in the area, The Evangelical Lutheran Church. Unfortunately for the Czech people all services where in German and most did not understand the German language. They were welcome to use the church, but it was hard for them to join in. Many spiritual difficulties haunted them. They were unable to go to confession because the priest didn't understand them. Those who attempted to go to confession were frustrated about the lack of communication and felt as if they were not absolved of their sins. The Czech ladies who longed to sing in their beautiful voices could not because their melodies where different from the Germans. They grieved deeply over this and hoped that someday they would have a priest of their own to lead them spiritually. Konstantin Chovanec and John Vychopen went to the Bishop in Galveston to plead for a Czech Priest. He allowed them to seek a Czech priest on their own. The two men hurried home with the news and talked about constructing a church for their anticipated new priest. Money was tight, but everyone pitched in what ever they could, even the Germans offered to help if the church would be built in the town of Fayetteville. Everyone agreed and the construction of the Czech Catholic Parish of St. John the Baptist church began. Finally in 1870 a simple but efficient church was completed. Soon Father Felix Dombrovsky arrived to lead them, but unfortunately and to their great disappointment he was Polish and they couldn't understand him. Once again they found themselves in the same predicament as before. They survived, but soulfully they yearned for a Czech-speaking priest. Many claimed it a miracle when a message arrived that a priest in Lichnov, Moravia named Joseph Chromcik agreed to come to America and serve them in spiritual matters. Months past and they had not heard a word about his arrival. On Christmas Eve 1872, Father Chromcik arrived in Fayetteville and officially took over the parish on Christmas Day. Indeed the joy of the Fayetteville people knew no bounds for they had yearned for so many years to hear the word of God in their own mother tongue. It was indeed a glorious Christmas for them when Father Chromcik spoke the first mass and preached his first sermon in Czech.

Czech Weddings of Yesteryear

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Joseph Hlubik and Frances Lanca, daughter of Tom and Teresa Matula Lanca, early settlers of Moravia, Texas, were married at St. John, Fayette County, Texas on July 24, 1910. Witnesses in the rear of the car were Frank Wenglar and Johann Rauluah. TCHCC Collection

The weddings for couples today have drastically changed from those of our ancestors, and with each generation, the traditions of the past are increasingly forgotten or eliminated.  Very few contemporary bridal couples incorporate the wedding traditions of days gone by into their ceremonies or celebrations because of modern conveniences, technology, marketing, the media, and most of all, the blending of ethnicities which dilutes  traditions. The wedding march is the only “constant” that still seems to prevail if one or both of the bridal couple has Czech ancestry. 

Weddings for Texas Czechs in the 19th and early 20th centuries were generally held in late October or November when harvesting was done, and the weather was still fairly decent.  Usually they were held on a Monday or Tuesday.  Wednesdays were acceptable only if the other two days were already taken by someone else in the community.  No invitations were sent out; instead, two or three groomsmen did the inviting in person.  They rode by horseback from house to house, firing a pistol to announce their arrival. After being invited into the house, one of the groomsmen made a speech inviting the family to the wedding.  They were then often treated to a drink of schnapps, homemade wine or beer before leaving.  Sometimes it took them several days to get around to all of the invited guests, who lived miles apart.  Of course, the extra added time that it took to visit and share libations affected their endeavors.

No matter the size of the wedding, it was always held at the home of the bride’s parents. Lumber was borrowed from a lumberyard in a nearby town to build a dance platform with benches all around the perimeter. Since meals were usually served outside, tables had to be built with benches, as well as a framework for canvas tarps to provide shade or protection from rain and unexpected cold weather.  After the wedding, everything had to be dismantled and hauled back to town. Lumberyards apparently had a used lumber section for wedding purposes.

Noodles were made a few weeks ahead of time for chicken noodle soup.  A calf for beef stew meat and a hog for sausage would be butchered. Fryers for fried chicken were killed and cleaned the day before the wedding, since there was no refrigeration. Also, kolaches, apple strudels, a wedding cake and other food had to be prepared the day before, so a large number of helpers were required.

On the day of the wedding before leaving to get married, the bride would kneel before her parents thanking them for the care and love given to her.  The parents would then give their final blessing, making the sign of the cross over her head. The wedding service generally took place at 8 a.m. at the local church if the couple had a church wedding. 

All of the guests would then travel back to the bride’s home for the all-day celebration, which began with a wedding breakfast of kolaches, strudel, bacon and eggs. The bridesmaids pinned sprigs of cedar tied with colored ribbon onto each guest’s clothing.  In the Old Country, rosemary, which is the symbol of fertility and good luck, was used. However, rosemary was not readily available here, so cedar was substituted.

A band played from noon until the wee hours of the next morning.  The musicians were treated to as much food and drink as they wanted, so one can imagine the musical acumen after long hours of playing.  Of course, no one really cared, because everyone was having a wonderful time.

Very late at night, the unveiling ceremony took place.  The bridal couple would generally sit on chairs in the middle of the dance floor, where the bride’s veil was removed by her parents and replaced with a bonnet. Sometimes, she was also given a doll to hold and an apron to wear. An old hat was placed on the groom’s head, and sometimes he was given a pipe to hold. The saga of how the bride and groom had to now leave their parents and be ready for the duties of a wife and mother and husband and father were expressed in a traditional song sung in Czech by the wedding guests.

In the early days, a farmer’s son was usually expected to continue farming. The couple had to begin looking for a rent house months before their wedding.  If a farmer had done well, he might have been able to purchase land for his sons, if he had any.  That land was then given to the couple when they married; however, this was not very common. The boy usually received a pair of horses and a plow from home for his start. The girl received the most essential furniture – a bed, a dresser, a wardrobe or armoire, a kitchen table with chairs, a kitchen safe and a cook stove, if she was one of the fortunate ones.  From then on, they were on their own.  Occasionally, the families would give the couple a cow and a few hens.  If the girl had saved money from chopping or picking cotton for others, she might have enough to buy a rocker, a sewing machine or a trunk for her new home. 

There were no bridal showers or honeymoons, and the gifts from guests were small.  The bridal couples of yesterday could not have ever imagined the expenses incurred for many present-day weddings, gifts and honeymoons.  How things have changed through the years – all except the basic vows! 


John Dancy

by Donna Green

John Winfield Scott Dancy was born in Greenville County, Virginia in 1810. Dance grew up in Alabama and attended college at Nashville University. He received a law license in Tennessee. He married in July 1835. His wife died soon after. Upon her death, Dancy decided to move to Texas. He became a citizen of Texas on January 13, 1837. He traveled throughout the new land. In 1838, Dancy purchased 640 acres of land in Fayette County. Dancy was an innovator in the area of farming and ranching. He introduced long-staple cotton to Texas and developed the first hydraulic ram in the state to provide irrigation for his plantation.

Dancy was elected to the Sixth Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1841. Later he would serve as Fayette County representative in the Senate in both the Second and Fourth state legislatures. Dancy ran for Governor of Texas as a Democrat in 1853, but placed last among six contenders. In February 1861 he was a delegate to the Secession Convention.

Dancy had a long-standing interest in and love for railroad development. During his tenure in Congress he worked to pass several pieces of legislation to promote the interest of railroads. This earned him the nickname of "the Father of Texas Railroads." He wanted to build a railroad from Texas to California. Dancy maintained a law practice in La Grange. Dancy planned to develop an area across the Colorado River from the current city of La Grange, which he intended to name Colorado City. He wanted to rival the promotion of John H. Moore's town of La Grange. The new town was to have 156 blocks set aside for commercial and residential property. Frequent floods along the Colorado River made the plan unworkable and it never progressed beyond the planning state. Dancy remained active in La Grange. He edited the newspaper, Texas Monument from July 1850 until June 1851. He was on the committee formed to raise funds to build a monument for the men killed during the Dawson and Mier expeditions. Dancy was a founding trustee of Rutersville College, the first college chartered in Texas.

John Dancy married again in 1849 to Lucy Ann Nowlin. They had a son and five daughters. Dancy died on February 13, 1866. He is buried in the La Grange City Cemetery in the family plot that is bordered by an ornate wrought iron fence. Additional history on the Dancy family and maps of Colorado City can be seen in the archives of the Fayette Heritage Museum.


Bettie Branch Davis

Contributed by Connie F. Sneed

From The Dallas Morning News, April 8, 1936: 


Mrs. Bettie Branch Davis was a world traveler and cultured pioneer Texas woman, who as a young girl made her social debut on the arm of Gen. Sam Houston when he was inaugurated Governor of the Lone Star State.

Mrs. Davis was the mother of J. Waddy Tate, former Mayor of Dallas, and was well known. She was the oldest living graduate of Baylor College at historic Old Independence, having received her degree in 1858. One of her classmates there was Mrs. Dora Pettus Hobby, mother of Former Gov. W.P. Hobby of Houston. She made sixteen trips abroad.

Mrs. Davis was born at Danville, Va., May 16, 1842, the daughter of Col. and Mrs. John Halifax Carter, who while as a small child migrated to Texas, settling in Fayette County. At an early age she became acquainted with General and Mrs. Houston, and other members of their family, the inaugural ball at which she made her debut remaining through-out her life one of her most treasured memories.

With General Houston she led the grand march that opened the dance. A supper was served at 11 p.m., but there was no ice cream because of the prohibitive cost of ice, she often said. Ice in those days cost $1 a pound, she said, and had to be carried wrapped in blankets. Light for the occasion was furnished by tallow candles. The musicians played “Home Sweet Home” at midnight and the dance was ended.

Sometimes referred to as one of the last of the matriarchs who had inherited an independence of spirit and mind from her pioneering ancestors, Mrs. Davis was widely known as a woman of refinement and courageous outspokenness. Though she never cared much for woman’s suffrage, it is said that when she read that a Houston woman registered as “maid to a dog” she immediately went out and registered as “mother of men.”

While Mr. Tate was Mayor of Dallas she once ordered him to come to Houston to have his mouth washed out after newspapers reported he had used a naughty word. As her son’s guest on a visit to Mineral Wells while he as Mayor of Dallas, she temporarily broke up a circle of domino players when she laughed at the slowness of one who was regarded as an expert and against whom she was more than holding her own.

In her later years, Mrs. Davis remained closely at her home, devoting most of her time to her flower garden, said to be one of the most active in Houston. Throughout this period, though, she kept up with all that was going on, reading several daily newspapers closely. Besides her son she had a sister, Mrs. Julia Meyenberg of La Grange, and two granddaughters, Mrs. Cornelia Gray, New York City, and Mrs. Ivor Morgan, Paris France.


Nicholas Mosby Dawson

by Stacy N. Sneed

Nicholas Mosby Dawson was born in Woodford County, Kentucky. In 1808 his parents removed to White Co., TN, where he was educated. In 1834 he came to Texas and located near his kinsman, W.M Eastland, in what is now Fayette County.

When news of Santa Anna’s invasion reached his vicinity, he volunteered and was elected Second Lt. of Company B of the volunteers and participated in the battle of San Jacinto. He served as captain of a militia company in 1840 during an Indian campaign in what is now Mitchell County. A short time after the battle, he quit the Army and resumed business and was residing in Fayette County in 1842, when Adrian Woll made his raid into Texas and captured San Antonio.

As soon as the news reached La Grange, he organized a company and hastened to the front on the day of the battle of Salado. While trying to lead his men into the Texan’s camp, he was surrounded by an overwhelming force of Mexicans. When about half of his men had been killed, he raised the white flag. It was fired upon and the fight renewed. He finally surrendered his pistol to a Mexican officer. He was then seized by the Mexican soldiers and put to death. There were fifty- three men in his company, many recruited from Fayette, Gonzales and DeWitt counties. In what became known as the Dawson Massacre, thirty- three were slain in battle, fifteen surrendered, five of whom were wounded and two who made their escape.

On September 18, 1848, Dawson’s remains and those of thirty-five other victims of the battle were buried along with casualties from the Mier expedition in a vault on Monument Hill near La Grange. Dawson County is named for Nicholas Dawson.


Government Destroys Private Enterprise

By Marie W. Watts

Today, we hear politicians decry that the federal government is killing the private enterprise of coal mining by imposing environmental regulations and supporting other forms of energy. 

This is nothing new. The same scenario played out when, in 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration was established by an executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The agency was tasked with bringing electricity to the rural areas of the country. Extremely effective in accomplishing its mission, the agency managed to bring the percentage of rural residents using electrical power from 10% in 1930 to 50% by the beginning of World War II. Fayette Electric Cooperative had its origins in this government initiative.

Delco-Light plantHowever, that move ultimately destroyed an entire division of General Motors known as Delco-Lights and other similar business that were already providing electricity to nearly 1,000,000 farms in 1935. Thousands of people who were employed in the manufacturing, distribution, sales, installation, and servicing of these products were affected. The last Delco-Light plant was manufactured in 1947.

The Delco-Light plant was first built in 1916. The plant acted as an automobile system does today by using power from a storage battery to crank its engine. Then, the system turned the engine into a generator and stored electricity in batteries, or it could be used for direct power or light.

The device could ultimately provide electricity for several days before a recharge was necessary.

Other manufacturers began to produce devices to run off the Delco-Light plant, such as shallow and deep well pumps and systems for running water, clothes washers, vacuum cleaners, coffee percolators, toasters, waffle irons, irons, mixers, sewing machines, and even a portable power stand to operate the belt driven farm and household equipment that was popular at the time.

Local merchants carried light plants and products.  Farmers & Merchants Lumber Company of Brenham, Texas sponsored an exhibit on January 30, 1923 at 3 p.m. featuring Delco products such as a light plant, washing machine, Frigidaire, and power stand.  It was held on a train parked in Flatonia, Texas.

The September 18, 1931 issue of the Schulenburg Sticker noted that Charles Adamcik was demonstrating a new Delco radio with German tubes that plugged into the plant and used little electricity. The sound was described as the finest they had heard in a long time.

Lastly, local farmers enjoyed these products. The 1935 issue of the Schulenburg Sticker entitled Rural News Items stated:

“Emil Treptow and wife of Hallettsville R 5 have six boys. All are single with the exception of one who lives in Houston. This farm is in good condition, with plenty of teams, hogs, etc. They milk ten cows and sell butter and use the rest of the milk to feed the large flock of White Leghorn chickens and Narraganset turkeys. A few years ago their home burned and this was replaced with a new mission style house. It is splendidly furnished with all modern conveniences. He does not have to worry about the cold weather as he can set (sic) by a warm stove, turn on the radio and be comfortable. His home is lighted by a Delco system. He sells eggs from his pedigreed flock to the hatchery at Schulenburg.”

Photo caption: 
Illustration of a Delco Light Plant; photo courtesy of
Https:// downloaded December 21, 2018.
Https:// downloaded December 21, 2018.
Http:// downloaded December 21, 2018.
The Flatonia Argus (Flatonia, Tex.), Vol. 47, No. 13, Ed. 1 Thursday, January 25, 1923.
The Schulenburg Sticker (Schulenburg, Tex.), Vol. 37, No. 45, Ed. 1 Friday, September 18, 1931.
The Schulenburg Sticker (Schulenburg, Tex.), Vol. 41, No. 13, Ed. 1 Friday, February 1, 1935


Missed Warning Signs

By Marie W. Watts

Fayette County, like much of Texas, paid scant attention to "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression.  The only mention was in the November 7, 1929 La Grange Journal, which said, in part:

“Coming over the radio and then, in the newspapers, the incident of the past week when the big bankers of New York had to come to the rescue of Wall Street and save the market, has given us nothing over which the small newspaper editor or small town citizen need worry.”

The Journal’s editor took a “serves you right” attitude to those who lost their fortunes:

“Somehow or other, we encourage little sympathy for the unfortunates who are fleeced and for the speculators and who believe they can take the bull by the horns and do something with him, when the tail is a better hang-on.”

Despite the ominous warning signs, The La Grange Journal, ushering in 1930, had this to say:

“Which changes not the hope that this year will bring a new scene and retrieve, or cause the most of us to retrieve our losses, if they were losses, and in the next twelve months make a new era of prosperity.”

The Schumacher WarehouseBy November 1932, however, the depression had a stranglehold on Fayette County. The Winchester State Bank failed, the Red Cross passed out flour to needy Fayette County citizens who could not afford to pay .37 for a 24-pound sack, and, of the 140 men in the county who applied for work on construction of Highway 71, only 10 were chosen. 

Burglaries of businesses were not uncommon.  That month Mr. Pape’s barber shop was invaded by intruders who entered by prying the lock off the door with a piece of metal while the night watchman was patrolling another part of the square.   Spies’ Confectionary was robbed of $40; the safe being pried open after the burglar entered the building by piling up wooden boxes to reach the 20-foot window in the back of the store.   Thieves visited the Schumacher Wholesale warehouse, and gloves were stolen from the Von Rosenberg Co. store. Schulenburg was hit by four women and two men who shoplifted two suits and feminine apparel from F. Brossman’s store.

Robbers wrecked a westbound mixed train two miles east of Ledbetter, derailing it by switching it onto an old, abandoned track.  The fireman died while jumping for his life. 

By far the most vicious criminals who terrorized a Fayette County business that month were the men who robbed the Carmine State Bank on November 9, 1932.  The pair entered the Carmine Bank at 11:15 a.m. and scraped $1400 together while holding the bank president, director, and two customers at gunpoint.  They escaped on the side road in what was believed to be a Chevrolet coupe. 

Residences were no safer than businesses.  Many transients knocked on doors looking for handouts and were fed regularly by some compassionate citizens of the county.  Others regarded these vagabonds with suspicion.  A pistol was taken from the home of J. H. Nails.  A calf was stolen from C.A. Bass, and Mr. August Kasper’s home was burglarized.

Desperation made people commit crimes that they might never have otherwise considered.

Photo caption:
The Schumacher Wholesale Co., Inc. warehouse, located near the railroad tracks on N. Main in La Grange, was burglarized in 1932; photo courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
Handbook of Texas Online, Ben H. Procter, "Great Depression," accessed April 27, 2017,  Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
The La Grange Journal, November 7, 1929.
The La Grange Journal, January 2, 1930
The La Grange Journal, November 3, 10, 17, and 24, 1932.


Did you know that…….?

by Carolyn Heinsohn

There once was a building at the corner of North Washington and West Travis Streets that is now the vacant lot next to Columbus Eye Associates.  In 1881, a one-story frame building housed a general merchandise store owned by Mrs. P. Scholtz and son, Henry.  By 1885, it was a divided into four rooms and housed a confectionery and grocery.  There was a porch on the Travis Street side, as well as a cellar that was later filled in when street paving was done.  By 1895, another owner, S.G. Blackburn, sold his interest in a grocery business to his partner, T.B. Lunn.  By 1897, a second floor was added, and Louis Rice, a photographer who also worked in Victoria, rented the building for his studio.  He apparently left town for awhile in 1898, so the building housed a clothing and shoe store for about a year until Rice returned in 1899.  

Katherine Stinson, an early-day aviatrix, flew from San Antonio to La Grange circa 1915 – 1917 and landed her plane during one of her exhibition tours at Coca Cola Park on North Main Street, where the housing project is now located.  Stinson was the fourth female in the U.S. to receive a pilot’s license.  A native of Alabama, she moved with her family to San Antonio, where they opened an aviation school and she gave flying lessons. Katherine was the first woman to perform a flying loop, which she performed 500 times without incident.  She was also the first female authorized to carry airmail in the United States.  The family aviation school closed in 1917 at the time of WWI.  Stinson Municipal Airport in San Antonio, which is the second oldest general aviation airport in the U.S., was named in her family’s honor, and the Katherine Stinson Middle School in San Antonio was named in her honor. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1977 at the age of 86.

The flood waters from the 1869 flood covered the square in La Grange with five feet of water. The waters came up to the dividing line between the properties on North Jefferson and North Franklin Streets south of the gradual rise going north from Fannin Street.  The flood waters went at least that far in 1913 as well.

La Grange Opera House
La Grange Opera House located at the corner of N. Franklin and E. Colorado Streets

La Grange had two opera houses—one on the northwest corner of North Franklin and East Colorado Streets where the La Grange City Hall is now located, and the other, known as the Homuth Opera House, which was located on the second floor in the old iron front building on the square on West Colorado Street that now houses the La Petite Gourmet Shoppe. Before being completely razed, the remaining portion of the opera house on the corner of Franklin and Colorado Streets housed students in the second, third and fourth grades when the nearby Casino School became overcrowded.

In 1906, there was a convict camp at Primm Switch, a railroad switch in what is also known as Kirtley between La Grange and Smithville.  Payment receipts found at the Fayette County Tax office show that the county paid $58.50 to Sheriff August Loessin for 39 days of guard duty by Bud Smith at $1.50 per day between September to November, 1906.  Sheriff Loessin was also reimbursed $1.35 for railroad fare for two prisoners from La Grange to Kirtley. The receipts are now in the Fayette Heritage Library Archives. Apparently, there was some type of industry being conducted in the area that utilized convict labor.  In the 19th century, Dr. William Primm had a large cotton plantation in the area, which was eventually divided into smaller acreage tracts, where farmers raised cotton, corn and sorghum cane. Later, gravel and sand began to be excavated in the area.  Perhaps the convicts were made to do work as farm or gravel pit laborers.

At one time, there were farm lots on the north side of La Grange above Pearl Street.  Residents in town purchased these lots for their milk cows, hogs, chickens, turkeys and for extra garden and orchard space.

The Bridge Valley area on both sides of FM 609 between Hwy 71 Business and Buckner’s Creek once was filled with fields of vegetables that supported truck farming businesses.

Exa Sterling Holmes played the piano circa 1912 for silent films at the Question Movie Theater operated by George Lidiak in a two-story building owned by Otto B. Sparks at 119 West Colorado Street in La Grange.  The theater was on the first floor, and a business college was on the second.  Mrs. Holmes would adjust the tempo and loudness of her piano music based on the action in the movies.  That building is now incorporated into the National Bank and Trust Building.

The first person in La Grange to own an automobile, the eighth in the state, was Henry C. Schumacher.  It was a very early one-seated model that looked like a buckboard with large wheels.  Eventually four more men, Leo Frede, O.E. Stolz, Julius Meyenberg and W.A. Caldwell, also purchased autos.  Since the streets in La Grange were unpaved, they were often too muddy for the cars to drive on without getting mired in the mud.  So those four automobile owners had Eblin Street graveled, so that they would have a stretch of “good” road to drive on and show off their new possessions.  O.E. Stolz had the first Cadillac in La Grange, purchased in 1914

The area along the river in the south section of La Grange in the Eblin League was once part of a 172-acre cotton and horse farm owned by John Halifax Carter in the mid-19th century.  It most probably extended from present-day Jefferson Street to Mode Lane. Enumerated in the 1850 census, Carter built his salt-box style home in circa 1848-1849.  Most probably the oldest remaining home in La Grange, it still stands at 929 South Madison Street.  Hugo Ehlers purchased the farm and home in 1893 and farmed there for many decades into the first part of the 20th century.  Most of the trees had been cleared off the land for fields and pastures.  That is why not many live oak trees are found south of Live Oak Street and east of Jefferson Street, except for a few here and there along the river and also near the entrance to White Rock Park. The majority of the trees presently growing in that area were planted after farming was discontinued.  The LGISD high school and middle school complex is now located on part of that farm.

La Grange Opera House
Camp Ehlers located at the end of present-day S. Madison Street, circa early 20th century

Camp Ehlers, which was named for Hugo Ehlers, because it was on his land, was a training camp for Company C, 5th Infantry of the Texas National Guard, that joined with the 3rd Infantry in September 1917 to become the 143rd Infantry in the 36th Division of the National Guard that later trained at Camp Bowie for WWI action.  The division was sent to France in July, 1918 from Newport News, VA.  Camp Ehlers was located under a grove of remaining very large old live oak trees at the end of what is now South Madison Street. Those trees were spared when the land was cleared for farming.

The old La Grange Jewish Cemetery is located on four acres of private land on a high bluff near the river at the end of present-day Vail Street.  John Halifax Carter sold the tract of land to the La Grange Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1868.  A four-year old girl, Alice Lewis, was already buried at the site in 1862.

There really is a “white rock” alongside the river; hence the name White Rock Park.  The “rock” is actually a large sandstone ledge that juts out over the river bank.  In the past, it was a great place to sit for pole fishing or just to watch the river flow by.  At one time, the site was part of the Hugo Ehlers farm, but was utilized by the public in the days when property owners were much more lenient about people being on one’s land.  The rock is now covered with vegetation and is no longer accessible.

Hugo Ehlers; his brother-in-law, Paul Sladyzk; and a Mr. Vogt owned a livery stable near the corner of West Travis and Main Streets.  They had a horse-drawn hackney “bus” that had enough seats for eight to ten persons that was used to take passengers over the Travis Street bridge and then Buckner’s Creek bridge up to the Bluff for activities at the Bluff Schuetzen Verein.  This was during the era before automobiles and long before the Hwy 77 bridge and winding drive up to the Bluff were built.

There once was a creek running from the northeast side of La Grange down along Jackson Street to the river.  Later, the section between Lafayette and Eblin Streets was made into a deep rock-walled drainage ditch known as Beef Head Ditch. The ditch from Eblin Street to the river was left in its natural state.  Concrete bridges were built over the rock-walled ditch. Eventually, large culverts were installed and covered over from just below Lower Line Street to Eblin Street, and the bridges were removed.  Part of the ditch still remains from just north of Lafayette Street to just below Lower Line Street. Runoff rainwater enters the river over a concrete spillway.

Live Oak Tree on South Washington Street, La GrangeA beautiful old live oak once stood in front of the Alexander Home on S. Washington Street, where the Fayette County Record office is now located.  After a branch fell on a parked Model T, the city removed the tree.  Verna Reichert, a member of the La Grange Garden Club, had a petition drafted that was signed by 700 people to not remove any more live oaks in town, including those in the middle of the streets.  The exceptions were two large, stately live oaks at 413 E. Travis Street, also once known as Hwy 237, close to the old Temple Lumber Company and present-day L.W. Stolz Memorials business; the trees were removed by the Highway Department when the street was designated to become Texas Highway 71, for fear that too many people might run into the trees on a busy highway.

Eblin Street originally ended at Franklin Street.  A footbridge crossed over a sluice that came up from the river alongside the City Park.  There was a path leading to South Jefferson Street.  Eblin Street eventually was extended all the way to Hwy 77 South.

The small abandoned houses located along a lane west of North Main Street and north of West Pearl Street were not slave houses, as they are popularly referred to.  Slave cabins would have washed away in the 1869 and 1913 floods.  Instead, they were houses for tenant farmers that were built in the 1930s by the Hermes family.

Several of the dry goods and dress shops in La Grange were owned by Jewish families.  Louis Klein, one of the Jewish merchants, came with his family from New York in the early 1920s.  His ladies and mens dry good store, that he opened in 1923, was located at 152 North Washington Street in the Kruschel Building that is now occupied by Cottage Gatherings.  He provided the first ready-made dresses for the ladies of La Grange. Prior to that time, ladies’ dresses were either self-made or tailor-made.  His business grew, and eventually all seven of his sons owned stores, called Louis Klein and Sons, that were located in other surrounding towns, including Schulenburg, Flatonia, Columbus and  Eagle Lake.  When Louis Klein retired, the business in La Grange continued under the ownership of his son, Larry, who operated the store until his retirement in 1970.

Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. 1, The History Book Committee; Curtis Media, Inc., 1996.
Fayette Heritage Library Archives
“Katherine Stinson”, Wikipedia – online encyclopedia

J. Frank Dobie's Link to Fayette County

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Abraham Byler's tombstone in the Pine Springs Cemetery – courtesy of Carolyn Heinsohn. Click on photo for larger view.

Two tombstones in the old Pine Springs Cemetery mark the final resting places of a pioneer couple who settled in western Fayette County and were a link in the lineage of ancestors for the famous Texas author, college professor and folklorist, J. Frank Dobie. 

The cemetery with many burials from the 1860s and 1870s was given its name from a lone pine tree that stood near some springs and was used by the residents of the nearby community of Oso that was founded circa 1850, but disappeared in the 1880s after a mass migration to Flatonia a few miles away after its establishment in 1873 on the new railroad line. In 1859, William Menefee, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and local resident, donated six acres of land for the cemetery, as well as for a public school that served the community and the area rural students until the mid-1940s and for a Methodist church that eventually burned in 1880. 

The tombstones of Abraham and Rhoda O’Daniel Byler, the maternal great-grandparents of J. Frank Dobie, have probably been covered over with vegetation for more years than they have seen the light of day.  Earlier in 2013, a group of volunteers cleared out dead trees, saplings, yaupons and briars to reveal their graves once again.  The couple’s connection to J. Frank Dobie deserves revelation as well.

Abraham Byler, the son of Jacob Byler, was born on March 3, 1792 in Buncombe County, North Carolina.  He was a true pioneer, who moved frequently, perhaps in search of a better life, better land or a new adventure. He also established himself as a leader in many of the communities where he lived. By 1824, he was living in Pickens County, Alabama, where he purchased 80 acres of land.  In circa 1828, Abraham married Rhoda O’Daniel, born in 1807 in South Carolina.  He became a popular local resident, who served as a legislator from Pickens County in 1836.  Wanderlust then took the couple and their children to Lownes County, Mississippi where Abraham purchased 160 acres of land in 1841. By 1847, they were off again to the Sequin area of Guadalupe County, Texas, where some of Rhoda’s brothers were living. The 1850 census enumerated Abraham and Rhoda as living in Guadalupe County with five children, including Rufus Abraham (the grandfather of J. Frank Dobie), who was born in 1834 in Pickens County, Alabama.  William O’Daniel, the brother of Rhoda, and a ranch hand were also living with them.   

In 1854, Abraham Byler was listed as a committee member to help organize a July 4th Fair in Seguin to raise funds to offset the debt incurred in rebuilding the Female Academy, once a part of the Guadalupe College, that had burned. The monies earned were not enough, so Abraham was one of several benevolent men in the community who formed a corporation that purchased the property.  He and the other owners changed the names of the two schools to the Guadalupe Male Academy and the Guadalupe Female Academy and became the first trustees. This documentation validates the fact that Abraham had become a man of means.

By 1860, Abraham moved again.  The census for that year enumerated Abraham and Rhoda with their 16-year old daughter, Sarah, as living in the Black Jack area of Fayette County, which at that time was the former name of Pin Oak.  Later, another nearby community was named Black Jack Springs. That same year, the Slave Schedule for Fayette County shows that Abraham Byler owned eight slaves.  The census record indicated that he had real estate worth $6,880, and that his personal property was worth $13,500.  However, no deed records have been found indicating that he had purchased land in Fayette County prior to 1860.  It is possible, however, that the referenced real estate was actually land that he owned elsewhere.

Their son, Rufus Abraham, was working as a stockman in 1860 in the Motts community in Nueces County on a ranch with his brother, Frank Jacob Byler. Rufus married Martha C. Fusselman, born in 1841 in Warren, Ohio, in circa 1860, presumably after the 1860 census enumeration, which does not list her as living with him at that time.  Her father was a physician who had first moved to Illinois and then settled in San Marcos in 1849.

Family stories state that Martha Byler and their children were living with Rufus’ parents in Fayette County during the Civil War while Rufus was serving in the Confederate Army.  Their oldest daughter, Ella Jane (the mother of J. Frank Dobie), was born on the Byler Plantation in Fayette County on July 13, 1861.  In September 1861, Rufus enlisted in Co. C, Terry’s Texas Rangers, 8th Cavalry in Fayette County and was discharged in January 1862.  However, on August 5, 1863, he enlisted as a private for six months in Co. C, Cav, 22nd Brigade under General William G. Webb.  A further note states that he was traded from the Texas State Troops to the CSA, and that he was enrolled in Co. No. 28 and mustered from William G. Webb’s command.  He was stationed at a camp near Columbus, Texas and detailed to hunt lost horses in Colorado County.

Rufus and Martha had two more children who were born at the Byler plantation - a son, Rufus Franklin, born in March 1864, and another daughter, Rhoda Frances, born in January 1865.  Family tradition states that Rufus Abraham Byler disappeared on the lower San Antonio River on August 16, 1865, presumably murdered for a fine horse and a moneybelt.  He had just left his family on the Byler plantation and was riding to his ranch on the Nueces River to restore his ranch home in order to move his family back to it.

After her husband’s death, Martha Byler moved with her young children to Rancho Seco, a ranch owned by W.W. Wright near Bluntzer, Texas, which was located approximately 24 miles west of Corpus Christi, Texas in northwestern Nueces County. Undoubtedly, she knew someone or was related to someone who was working on that ranch.  Martha married a sheep rancher, Friendly Hartwell DuBose, in 1869; Friendly was living in Chiltipin, San Patricio County with his mother and three brothers in 1860.  By 1870, Friendly and Martha were living in Precinct 2 in the Banquette area of Nueces County with Martha’s three children and their son, John W., who was a year old.  By 1880, Martha and Friendly had four more sons with no mention of John W., so it is possible that he died in childhood.  By 1900, they were living in Alice in Jim Wells County.  Friendly DuBose died in 1909, and Martha died in 1919; both are buried in Alice, Texas.

Deed records show that in 1867, Abraham Byler purchased 896 acres located in the W.H. Toy league in Fayette County from Lancelot Abbotts for $3136.  The tract of land on the waters of the Navidad was located approximately nine miles west of La Grange. The 1870 census for Fayette County shows that Abraham Byler had real estate worth $10,000, and that the value of his personal property was $35,000.  In 1872, he purchased 100 acres in Miquel Muldoon’s # 14 league for $1250 in gold; that tract was located about 21 miles southwest of La Grange.  In 1873, Abraham purchased another 150 acres in the same league for $2700, so his recorded land holdings in Fayette County added up to 1,146 acres. 

Abraham Byler died on January 31, 1875 at the age of 82 and was buried in the Pine Springs Cemetery.  After his death, Rhoda Byler purchased 171 ½ acres on Peach Creek located 25 miles southwest of La Grange in 1877 for $900.  Then in 1880, she gifted the southern half of the 150 acre tract purchased by Abraham in 1873 to their daughter, Elizabeth C. Hess.  Shortly before her death, Rhoda sold 116 ½ acres out of the tract that she had purchased seven years earlier.  Rhoda O’Daniel Byler died on June 13, 1884 and was buried next to her husband.

Ella Jane Byler Dobie –
mother of J. Frank Dobie

Ella Jane Byler, the oldest daughter of Rufus Byler and Martha Byler DuBose, became a school teacher, married Richard Jonathan Dobie in 1887 and settled on a 7,000 acre ranch near Lagarto in Live Oak County, Texas, where their oldest child, James Frank, was born on September 26, 1888. 

J. Frank’s father, Richard J. Dobie, was born in 1858 on a 1,000 acre ranch in the Lynchburg area of Harris County, Texas.  His father, Robert N. Dobie, was born in Virginia in 1818 and came to Texas in 1834. Robert married Amanda M. Hill in 1851; they had three sons when he died in August 1857 at age 38 and was buried in the Seabrook Cemetery.  Richard Jonathan, the youngest son, was born after his father’s death.  He had an uncle, Sterling Nevell Dobie, listed as a stockraiser in the 1850 census in Harris County, who married that same year; he was 34, and his wife was 17.  By 1860, Sterling and his wife were living at Casa Blanca in Nueces County.  In 1868, they purchased land in the San Patricio district of Live Oak County, and Sterling’s nephews, Nevell W., James M. and Richard J. Dobie were living with them, working as ranch hands.  The boys’ mother, Amanda Hill Dobie, had married A.H. White in 1863. However by 1880, she was widowed a second time and was living with her sons in Live Oak County. 

Ella and Richard J. Dobie had five more children after J. Frank, whose character and personality were significantly influenced by his ranching heritage.  His fundamentalist father read the Bible to his children, and his mother introduced them to the literary classics.  J. Frank described his mother as being an independent woman with much common sense who had a gusto for life and was not a complainer.  In 1904, at age 16, J. Frank moved to Alice to live with his DuBose grandparents, so that he could finish high school. In 1906, Ella and Richard J. Dobie decided to move to Beeville, Texas with their younger children.  J. Frank’s father, Richard J. Dobie, died on June 23, 1920, and Ella Byler Dobie died on November 22, 1948.  Both are buried in Beeville.

In 1906, the year that his parents moved to Beeville, J. Frank enrolled in Southwestern University in Georgetown, where he met Bertha McKee, born in 1890, the daughter of Richard A. and Ray McKee of Velasco in Brazoria County.  J. Frank married Bertha in 1916.

James Frank and Bertha McKee Dobie – permission to publish granted by submitter to Ancestry Family Tree”

J. Frank’s English teacher at Southwestern introduced him to English poetry and encouraged him to become a writer.  He worked two summers as a reporter and got his first teaching job in Alpine in 1910. He returned to Georgetown in 1911 and taught for two years at the university preparatory school until he decided to go to Columbia University to work on his master’s degree.  By 1914, Dobie had joined the University of Texas faculty, but left there in 1917 to serve in the Army in World War I until 1919. He resigned his position at the University of Texas in 1920 to manage his Uncle Jim Dobie’s 250,000 acre ranch, and while working there, his experiences with the vaqueros, the livestock and the land were instrumental in his decision to transmute this culture into literature – he had found his calling.  So he returned to the University of Texas in 1921 to utilize the resources there to write articles on Texas history, culture and folklore for magazines and periodicals. He became an active member of The Texas Folklore Society, serving as secretary, editor and compiler of their annual publications throughout his association with the organization.  Dobie’s first book, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, waspublished in 1929.  This was followed by Coronado’s Children two years later, which won the Literary Guild Award.  That award and his continuing success as a popular writer in Country Gentleman made Dobie a nationally known literary figure and the state’s leading spokesman and literary and cultural figure during the decade of the Texas Centennial, the 1930s.  His course, “Life and Literature of the Southwest”, was the most popular course at the University of Texas. He was also credited with creating the school colors for the University of Texas.

During World War II, Dobie taught American literature to the RAF, Royal Navy and civilian students at Cambridge, and then returned to Europe after the war to teach in England, Germany and Austria.  He was denied an extension of his leave of absence from the University of Texas and was subsequently dismissed.  Thereafter, he devoted all of his time to writing and “anthologizing”, including writing a Sunday newspaper column.  He was an outspoken critic of the Texas scene, including professional educators, state politicians, inappropriate architecture, bragging Texans, religious restraints on individual liberty and the mechanized world’s erosion of the human spirit, all of which made him a popular subject of newspaper stories. 

Dobie published seven books from 1949 to his death on September 18, 1964. He had been awarded the nation’s highest civil award, The Medal of Freedom, by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 14, 1964, only four days before his death. Dobie was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.  Bertha, his wife, who was also a writer, teacher and noted gardener, edited his posthumous publications. J. Frank credited her as being his best literary critic and editor throughout his career as an author. Bertha died on December 18, 1974 and was buried by his side. They had no children.

Seven buildings in Texas have been named in Dobie’s honor.  The Philosopher’s Rock, a bronze sculpture located near Barton Springs Pool in Austin, depicts Dobie’s relationship with two other well-known Austinites - Roy Bedicheck, a writer, naturalist and educator at the University of Texas, and Walter Prescott Webb, a United States historian, author of publications on the American West, and the “launcher” of the project that produced the Handbook of Texas.  The three would frequently meet at Barton Springs Pool for discussions that often led to arguments and “philosophizing”.

Noted for his outright frankness, J. Frank Dobie has been described as a “brash, blue-eyed scrapper” with a “wide Texas smile, a broad Texas hat, and a still wider Texas accent”.  He had a vivid and versatile personality and was known as “Pancho” to his friends. Although he was admired by many, he was disliked by some for his scathing criticisms. Nevertheless, he rose to the highest pinnacle of recognition and regard. His great-grandparents, who now lie in repose in a quiet isolated cemetery in Fayette County, would have been proud of his accomplishments.

Abernathy, Francis E. “Dobie, James Frank”. The Handbook of Texas Online; accessed October 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
Ancestry. com – birth, death, census, family trees, military and land records.
Branda, Eldon S. “Dobie, Bertha McKee”, The Handbook of Texas Online; accessed October 14, 2013. Published by The Texas State Historical Association
Fayette County, Texas deed records, Vols.S, 1 and 2 – burial sites
Meiners, Carolyn. “Ella Jane Byler Dobie”, Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol.II, Curtis Media, Inc., 1996


Donkey Baseball

from the Files of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives

Donkey Baseball is a vanishing piece of Americana. During the 1930s, a possibly new form of fundraising and entertaining was traveling throughout America.

The La Grange Journal, in May of 1934, reported that: "Under the auspices of the La Grange Fire Department, an "innovation in base ball" will be played at the Coca Cola park (ed.: now the North Side park at the end of Main Street) next Saturday, May 19, at 4:30 p.m. This means a "scream" for the baseball fans; for two reasons, the teams will be leans and fats, and they will be mounted on donkeys. Get ready for a real spill."

"The Fire Boys have been "scratching their brains" for something out of the ordinary to entertain the public, as they are in need of a few dollars in order to carry their delegates to the State convention at Mineral Wells, next month. They believe they have something that will take well. Price of admission to grounds will be 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children."

"The arrangement for the game was made with a Mr. Moore, who will furnish the donkeys." Editor's comment: Donkey baseball is played closely to regular baseball, except the defensive team is astride donkeys, as is the batter. The pitcher, catcher and batter, stand on their own two legs until the ball is hit, the hitter has to mount up, and navigate his donkey around the bases. The fielders have to ride to the ball, dismount, remount, and throw the ball to the appropriate player to make the out. The personality of the donkeys leads to hilarious interesting situations.

"No preparation has been made to supply towels to catch the tears, but there will be plenty of rolling space on the grounds where you can relieve yourself of a hearty laugh."

The following week the Journal reported that: "Something for the kiddies last Saturday when the "donkey base ball game" was played at the Coca Cola park, for the benefit of the La Grange Fire Department. The attendance was not as large, on the part of the grown-ups as it would have been, probably, had the event been held on any other day than Saturday. But the proceeds were such that after the expenses were paid, the percentage amounted to a small sum for the fire boys."

"Those who witnessed the game had their laugh; prior to the opening of the game the parade was staged about the public square; some of the donkeys, used in the game, were being ridden by the long-legged bunch as well as a few stouts; the owners of the donkeys and the trucks furnished radio music."

The editor fondly remembers Ralph Godfrey's Donkey Baseball and Basketball games in Schulenburg in the early 1960s. Yes, they played basketball in the gym with rubber shoes on the donkeys. The Internet lists two companies still in the business. There's no record of what the farmers, who had to deal with the orneriness of mules while plowing, thought of this.

Early Driving in Texas and Fayette County

By Ed Janecka

William Jurajda's license plateIt takes a while to adjust and sort things out whenever new technology is introduced into society.  Such is the case with the automobile, which was first built in 1886, but didn't become popular until 30 years later.  The first automobile in Texas was owned by Col. E.H.R. Green of Terrell.  It was reported that it “terrorizes the countryside”.  The first person in La Grange and the eighth in the state to own an automobile was H.C. Schuhmacher. The next four automobile owners in La Grange were Leo Frede, O.E. Stolz, Julius Meyenberg and W.A. Caldwell.

As ownership of this new form of transportation became more popular, there arose the need to have vehicles identified.  In 1917, the Texas House passed Bill No. 93 requiring all motor vehicles used on public roads to be registered with the County Clerk.  Vehicles received license numbers in the order of registration in their respective counties.  The license number was required to be displayed in a conspicuous place on the vehicle and to be at least six inches in height.  The first license in Texas, dated August 10, 1907, issued to W.B. Chenoweth of Colorado City, was for a bus. 

Vehicle owners provided their own license plates, often made from aluminum house numbers attached to leather, wood or tin.  Many motorists purchased a porcelain kit from a company in Chicago to make their vehicle plates.  Some motorists simply painted the license number on their vehicles.  Most plates displayed only the license number with no indication of the state or county name.  Fayette County and the City of La Grange both issued license numbers, which were recorded at the County Clerk's office.  Unfortunately, even after due diligence, none of these historic records have ever been located.  By 1910, there were 14,286 vehicles registered in Texas.

The State Highway Department, established in April 1917, took over the vehicle registration duties.  At that time, the white on dark blue embossed iron plates were not dated and were intended to be permanent.  There were also special plates for motorcycles and visitors to the state.  In 1920, dates were included on the license plates.  That practice continued until 1974. 

In the 1930s, license plate production was handed over to the prison system at the Walls Unit in Huntsville.  Forty years later, those duties were transferred to the Wynne Unit where they are still produced today.  At one time, the prison system produced plates for several different states and even some Latin American countries.  The State of Texas now produces a variety of vanity license plates and has plans to issue a style of plate reminiscent in form to the old black and white plates.  The new plates will include an extra number to accommodate the growing population. Today there are over 30 million license plates issued in the State of Texas.

Another thing that has changed since the early days of the automobile is the driver’s license.  There were no drivers’ licenses prior to 1935.  On November 15, 1935, Gov. James V. Allred signed a law requiring any person driving a car to have a license on or after April 1, 1936.  Those caught driving without a license were subject to a fine of $200.   Drivers were required to be 18 years old or older and were required to pass a driving test.  There was no fee for obtaining a regular license, which was " notarized free".  Chauffeur's licenses cost $4.  The Texas Department of Public Safety was in charge of the issuance of drivers’ licenses, and the county tax collector collected the fees.  There were also provisions for the suspension or revocation of drivers’ licenses in cases of manslaughter with a vehicle, drunken driving, failure to "stop and render aid" or committing a felony while driving.

Time, progress and the increase in population have all necessitated changes and improvements in the methods of identification for both automobiles and drivers in Texas.

Photo caption:
Fayette County license plate, circa 1907-1917; photo courtesy of William "Bill" Jurajda
“History of Texas Licenses Plates”; www. the
San Antonio Express-News; Sunday Feb 26, 2012
“Verna Reichert Reminisces”. Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. 1; Curtis Media, 1996; p. 367


Major Benjamin F. Dunn

by Connie F. Sneed

Major Benjamin F. Dunn was born on February 7, 1831 in Mississippi and from there came to Texas with his parents, who were among the early settlers of the State. His mother died when he was quite young, soon after their arrival in Texas. His father soon returned to Mississippi where he entered a second marriage and left his young son to fend for himself. He was determined and worked at whatever he could find to do, and as his opportunities for acquiring an education were very slim he spent all of his extra time reading books he could obtain and studying night after night by the light of the dim fire. With money that he earned, he purchased used books and in time was admitted to the bar.

Mr. Dunn and L.A. Seymour were associates and close friends who worked together at first on a farm and lasting a life time. He began his practice at La Grange, Texas which he remained until the breaking out of the Civil war, when he entered the Confederate service. During the war he was given command of Bate’s regiment, which was employed in the Coast defense. At the close of the war, Major Dunn resumed the practice of his profession, in which he was very successful until his death. He was also at one time in partnership with Judge Tuchmuller and later with J.C. Brown. He was recognized as being as one of the most brilliant and distinguished members of the Texas bar. He was also an influential figure in public affairs and was often urged to become a candidate for the governor of the state of Texas.

The Major married Mary Frances Holloway who was the daughter of John and Mary (Bass) Holloway.

Mr. Dunn was also the chairman of the Fayette County Immigration Society and a member of Fayette Light Guards. He died on April 26, 1890. He was 59 years old.

William Mosby Eastland

by Connie F. Sneed

William Mosby Eastland rarely passed up on an opportunity to join an expedition or to sign on with the Texas Rangers. The son of a veteran of the War of 1812, Eastland fought valiantly in the Texas Revolution and in every frontier expedition on which he embarked. In the end, two factors led to his demise: his willingness to defend Texas and an unlucky black bean.

William Eastland was born in 1806 in Woodford County, Kentucky. When still a child, he moved with his family to Tennessee, where he was educated. He entered the timber business as a young man but relocated his family to Texas in 1834 upon the advice of family friend Edward Burleson. Eastland settled in present Fayette, near what is now La Grange, with his wife; children; two brothers; and a cousin, Nicholas Mosby Dawson, who also became a Texas Ranger leader.

Eastland’s first Ranger campaign was with Colonel John Henry Moore in the summer of 1835. He served as first lieutenant of Captain Michael R. Goheen’s La Grange Ranger Company. The expedition gathered at Fort Parker and pursued Indians into the area of present Dallas-Fort Worth.

Once his unit was disbanded on September 13, Eastland quickly became involved in the Texas Revolution. He joined Captain Thomas Alley’s company, a part of the Volunteer Army of Texas, on September 28, 1835. He served with this unit through December 12, when he was discharged at Bexar. During his time of service, Eastland lost his black mare at the Bexar siege, which was valued by Captain Alley at sixty dollars.

Eastland enrolled in the Colorado River settlement’s volunteer company of Captain Thomas Rabb and was initially elected second lieutenant. He later advanced to first lieutenant when Captain William Heard took command for the departed Rabb. Eastland fought with Heard’s company on April 21, 1836, at the historic battle of San Jacinto.

Following San Jacinto, William Eastland soon became engaged in the Ranger business again. He joined Captain John G. McGehee’s Bastrop Rangers as a private on July 1, 1836. After four months along the Colorado River settlements without any major battles, McGehee’s Rangers were discharged by Colonel Edward Burleson on November 20.

On December 14, 1836, Eastland was appointed to take command of a mounted rifleman company to be organized in Gonzales County.

In October 1837, Eastland led a group of his Rangers out on what was later called the Eastland Expedition. They departed Fort Smith on the headwaters of the Little River in pursuit of Indians who had stolen horses. Eastland’s men penetrated Indian country between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers, living off the wild game that they killed.

Of his eighteen Rangers, ten were killed and three more were wounded.

A loyal supporter of the frontier fights that helped open the settlement of Texas, William Mosby Eastland had not felt that he was to die in vain. Shortly before he drew the fatal black bean, he was interviewed by a Texas newspaper editor who was also being held prisoner. “For my country, I have offered all my earthly aspiration,” stated Captain Eastland, “and for it, I now lay down my life.”

In 1848, the remains of Captain Eastland and the other Mier victims were moved to Monument Hill, near La Grange, for re-interment. Eastland County is named in his honor.

Eblin's League As a Competitor for the State Capitol

by Edward F. Janecka, Fayette County Judge

Texas has had many official government headquarters. Natchitoches held that honor from 1721 until 1762. After that date, the Spanish moved the capital of the Province of Texas to San Antonio and remained there until 1836. Stephen F. Austin chose San Felipe de Austin on the banks of the Brazos River as his sight until it was burned in April of 1836. The war between Texas and Mexico forced the Texas government to become migratory. The following towns, for brief periods, were the headquarters of the Texas government: Washington on the Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston and Velasco. The first Congress of the Republic of Texas met at Columbia, in October of 1836 and in a joint session decreed Houston to be the capital until 1840. When the second Congress of the Republic of Texas met in Houston in 1837, a Commission was named to "inquire into the propriety of selecting a site on which to locate permanently the seat of "Government of the Republic". On December 14, 1837, Congress chose a new Commission of five members to select several sites and make a report by April of 1838. In March of 1838, the Commissioners met at the John H. Moore Plantation in Fayette "for the purpose of examining such sites as may be deemed eligible and receive proposals for same". After a very short period of time, the Commission had selected the John Eblin League which made up most of what is today the city of La Grange. There were other landowners adjacent to the John Eblin League who were willing to donate part of their land for the new Capitol. Two days after the selection the Committee had made their decision. Congress met in joint session. On the second vote Eblin League received 27 votes out of a possible 40. After the balloting ended, the Speaker announced that Eblin's League in Fayette County had been chosen by a majority vote as the permanent site of government in Texas. Other provisions of the act were (1) the name of the site was to be called Austin; (2) land was to be reserved for a university (3) the seat of government was not be removed from Houston until 1840. There is no evidence that the people of Texas objected to the site, but President Sam Houston vetoed the bill, giving reasons that it was premature to select a new site and he felt it would require greater financial outlay than he was willing to grant. Most people felt he wanted the Capitol to remain in Houston because it bore his name.

El Camino Real de los Tejas

by Gary E. McKee

During the Spanish rule of North America, the King owned all facets of what would be considered public property today. Camino Reale, the King’s highway, was a designation given to the official government roadways of Spain. These were the paths that the official couriers of the King carried Royal dispatches from central Mexico to the remote posts, such as San Antonio and Nacogdoches. The roadways connecting seats of government were designated Camino Reale de [destination].

In the 1690s, Spain began being concerned about the encroachment of France from the Mississippi River area. To reinforce their claim, Spain decided to establish several missions and presidios in East Texas (Tejas). Their first attempt was a route (Camino Real los de Tejas) through San Antonio, San Marcos, east of Austin, and heading eastward through Milam County to Los Adaes, (now) Louisiana. The Apaches soon put a stop to their expeditions through their territory. Another route was attempted, this time further south, utilizing the pine forests and oak thickets to act as a buffer to the Apaches on horseback. This worked. The new route came up from Goliad, through DeWitt and Lavaca counties and entered Fayette County just south of Praha. The road continued northeastward just north of the Methodist Church in Freyburg, intersecting FM 609 at Peeler Road. The camino followed FM609 crossing Buckner’s Creek in the vicinity of the contemporary location. It then headed northeast in the prairie between Bordovsky Lane and FM 609. The camino crossed US 71 just west of where the bypass and the business 71 meet. The Colorado River was forded at Svrcek’s Riffles, it then turned eastward crossing Jordan Creek, and US 77 just south of Rabb’s Road. In the 1700s, the crossing was moved to between the bypass bridge and downtown La Grange bridge. Heading back northeastward, the camino paralleled SHs 159 and 237 joining the highway a half-mile just east of Round Top. The modern location crossing of Cummins Creek was utilized in the 1690s to enter present day Round Top, where it headed out FM 1457 several miles before curving back north towards Carmine and exiting the county there. The route then continued through Burton and on to east Texas. During its existence, which in some areas is still used, the trail has been expanded to other areas as needs dictated. It is also known by other names in these areas such as the La Bahia Road and Old San Antonio Road.

It must be noted that the Spaniards were not “exploring” or “discovering” routes to East Texas. They were following Indian guides who had been using these trails for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The caminos themselves were not precise roadways as we think of them now; in some areas, they could have been a half mile wide. The Spanish were driving several hundred head of horses and numerous pack animals on their supply trips to the missions. Throughout the trips, Fayette County was heavily populated with Native Americans who congregated in the area for trade and hunting.

The El Camino Real de Tejas was designated by Congress as a National Park System Historic Trail in 2004.

Entertainment in Days Gone By

By Carolyn Heinsohn

In the sparsely-settled countryside of Fayette County during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, neighbors welcomed one another into their homes due to a longing for social interactions. They mostly visited on the weekends and enjoyed sharing local news, talking about the weather, their crops and their families.  People had to travel for miles by foot, horse or wagon to see their neighbors or relatives, so it was considered a compliment to be visited.  Often visitors would stay most of the day, arriving after they finished feeding their animals or milking in the morning and leaving in the afternoon in time to do their evening chores before dark. Summertime, of course, was the best time to visit, because of the longer days and better weather. 

On Sunday afternoons in Czech homes, men oftentimes got together to play dominoes or card games like “taroky”, “durak” and “Cerny Peter” (Black Peter) while drinking homemade wine or homebrewed beer. German men played a card game called “skat”.  The women would do handiwork like crocheting or embroidering while visiting. It was customary to add crocheted trim to pillowcases and embroidered dresser scarves, or to make doilies for table tops, so there was always something to work on. 

In Czech homes, a “lunch” or “svacina” was served around 3 p.m.  It often consisted of kolace, strudel, rosettes, cake, cookies, pies, sandwiches or bread, butter and jelly, plus coffee and lemonade when lemons were available.  Having one’s own lemon tree, especially the large Meyer lemon, became popular among the farmers in the southern half of Texas where the weather was more suitable for growing citrus trees. The German version of the afternoon “lunch” was called “Kaffee und Kuchen” (Coffee and Cake) with similar foods, except that a German-style coffee cake and “koch kase” (cooked cheese) with homemade bread were often served instead of kolace and rosettes.

If someone in the household was a musician, a sing-a-long might have been another fun activity for the group. 

Children played marbles or other outdoor games like “Hide and Seek”, “London Bridge”, “Ring Around the Rosie”, Blind Man’s Bluff”, “Drop the Handkerchief” and leap frog, or just sat on the porch and sang their own songs. Girls dressed up in old clothing and played house and dolls together, while the boys shot their slingshots, chased each other with pea shooters or went cane-pole fishing.  

During the summer months, if they were lucky enough to have a swimming hole, the youngsters would have fun playing in the cool water, along with the tadpoles and minnows. During watermelon season, the adults and children would enjoy sharing that special sweet treat. 

Whenever there was a church feast, usually at one of the Catholic parishes, a July 4th celebration or an occasional dance, the entire family would attend.  Young and old alike all enjoyed music and dancing. There were no babysitters for children – they went along. Some halls had communal platform cribs in a corner, where multiple babies were bedded down on quilts, while their parents danced to the music of a local band.   

Sometimes people had house dances, where a room was cleared of furniture, and neighbors who played instruments were asked to play.  Many times, it might just be an accordion player or a couple of fiddlers.  A hat collection was taken up, which might have amounted to less than $2.00. But everyone went home tired and happy! 

Visiting with friends and family and attending occasional church feasts and community dances were a great reprieve from the everyday drudgery of farm work in that bygone era.  Unfortunately for most of us, the practice of Sunday afternoon visiting is a thing of the past.  We no longer feel the need to connect with others “face to face” due to the advanced technology of social media.  One wonders, however, if the pendulum might swing back one day when humans once again yearn for some “humanness” in their lives.