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.

Stephen Scallorn, M. D.

By Josephine White

Stephen Scallorn was born on February 23, 1787 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  He died on December 24, 1887 in Bastrop County at his son, Francis’, home near Upton, Texas.  He was almost 101 years old.

In Stephen’s early childhood, his family moved to North Carolina, then to Kentucky where he met and married Mary “Polly” McClure on February 14, 1811.  The Scallorns moved on to western Tennessee where he and Polly settled.  Stephen began a successful practice of medicine for the next 25 years.  During that time, he had become a prominent member and a deacon of the Big Muddy Primitive Baptist Church in Haywood, Tennessee.  Polly died on March 10, 1833, shortly after the birth of her eleventh child.

On the 23rd of April, 1934, he married Martha Bullock with whom he fathered three more children.  Stephen and Martha moved to Fayette County, Texas in 1838.  In notes from Case #1171, Spring 1857 in Fayette County, Stephen Scallorn answered, “I came to Fayette County, Texas on the 8th of February 1838.”  (He was 51 years old when he arrived in Texas, and apparently did not hang out his shingle to practice medicine again, but he did continue to treat family, friends and neighbors for many years.)

Stephen Scallorn and his family came to Texas along with his brother, William Scallorn, his family and other relatives, following in the footsteps of Stephen’s oldest son, John Wesley “Wes” Scallorn.  Wes had come to Fayette County in 1834-35 with a number of his mother’s McClure relatives, including the Faires and Karnes families.  He fought in the Battle of San Jacinto and died in 1842 in Dawson’s Massacre along with his younger brother, Elam.

The first Baptist church west of the Colorado River was organized in the home of Stephen’s brother, William Scallorn, in 1839.  Stephen was the church’s clerk.  The name of the church was Hopewell Baptist Church, later changed to Plum Grove Baptist Church.  It was built on property located on Criswell Creek near the Criswell family cemetery, a short distance east of the community of West Point, Texas.  Only the graveyard, known as the “Old Plum Grove Cemetery”, that surrounded the church now remains. The New Plum Grove Cemetery is located closer to Plum, Texas.

While worshipping at the Hopewell Baptist Church, Stephen Scallorn and his brother, William, had a disagreement over missionaries and did not speak for 44 years, not until their children got them together again on Stephen’s 100th birthday.  They reconciled and talked all night.  They died eight days apart - Stephen on Christmas Eve 1887, and William on New Year’s Day 1888.

Stephen Scallorn is credited with building and helping to organize a total of three Baptist churches: The Hopewell Baptist Church, later known as the Plum Grove Baptist Church, on Criswell Creek in Fayette County; a church built on land located on Mulberry, Creek in Fayette County, Texas (Fayette County Deed Records: Vol. M, p. 264), in which Stephen gave the deed for land for a school and church; and lastly, a Baptist church that Stephen, who at age 98, was credited with founding; it was located in Bastrop County, where he had moved in 1884 to live with his son, Francis Scallorn.

Stephen is buried in the cemetery near where the old Primitive Baptist Church once stood near Upton in Bastrop County.  He is not buried in a Scallorn family cemetery as indicated on a nearby historic marker.  The cemetery where he is buried is almost inaccessible as it is located in a brushy pasture on private property, down a lane not far from where Stephen’s historic marker is located.

Stephen’s marker reads in part: “Maryland native, Stephen Scallorn (1787-1887) lived in Kentucky and Tennessee, where he practiced medicine and was active in the Primitive Baptist Church before moving to Texas.  He was attracted to the Republic by the favorable accounts of his oldest son John Wesley Scallorn, who served with the Texas army in the battle of San Jacinto.  Stephen Scallorn and his brother, William, came to Texas with their families in 1837-38 and settled in the vicinity of Plum Creek in Fayette County....”

The marker further reads: “Two of Scallorn’s sons, John Wesley and Elam, died in defense of the Republic.  Members of Capt. Nicolas Dawson’s outfit, they were attacked by Mexican forces near San Antonio in 1842 and died.”….

One of Stephen Scallorn’s descendants was Joe Alexander Cole, who was recently featured in a “Footprints of Fayette” article written by Joe’s grandson, Terry Cole.

Morrell, Zenus N. Fruits and Flowers in the Wilderness, pp. 107-108, 152-153; Boston, 1872 
Shook, J.W. Obituary of Stephen Scallorn    
The Scallorns, Walter Freytag Papers, Fayette County Library & Archives
Wells, Richard A. Scallorn, Stephen & Stephen Scallorn – A Biography; The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 5, pp. 907-908

Bernard Scherrer

by Connie F. Sneed

Bernard Scherrer was one of the first three settlers in the Biegel Settlement, the second oldest German settlement in Texas, which was located in Fayette County, Texas. He was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland, on August 20, 1807. He was educated there but left at the age of twenty-two and moved to America, arriving in New York.

He then went to St. Louis and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. There he joined Detlef Dunt, a German traveler and writer, and sailed to Texas. Arriving in Brazoria, Scherrer received a passport from the Mexican alcalde, Henry Smith, on April 29, 1833. From Brazoria he traveled on foot to San Felipe, where he applied for a headright and rejoined Dunt. From there, they traveled to Mill Creek, later called Industry.

Mr. Scherrer stayed for a while with Johann Friedrich Ernst, and while there he taught Ernst how to roll cigars, since tobacco was a major crop. Ernst then began a cigar business. Scherrer received a headright Certificate Number 27 in Colorado County for one-third league of land. Joseph Biegel had received a land grant from the Mexican government and persuaded Scherrer to buy one-quarter of a league of land from him and settle in what was later called Biegel Settlement. Since neither Biegel nor his wife could read or write, Scherrer was an asset to them and the community. He owned a freighting business and was a successful farmer and a leading citizen. During the TexasRevolution Scherrer served as a soldier in the John York Company of Edward Burleson's Regiment. Also, he served in the volunteer unit of the "Dixie Greys" during the Civil War. It was organized on June 8, 1861. After the republic was formed, Scherrer was appointed justice of the peace of Precinct Number 3 in Fayette County by President Sam Houston. Also, he served as county commissioner in charge of roads and bridges from Biegel to Rutersville along the La Bahia Road. He was appointed commissioner in 1842 and 1847. On February 3, 1845, Bernard Scherrer and Gesine Eliza Margarete Koch were united in marriage at Industry by his good friend, Friedrich Ernst. They had seven children. Bernard Scherrer lived on his farm in the Biegel Settlement until his death on November 15, 1892. All that remained of the Scherrer estate in 1990 was a little log cabin in Henkel Square in Round Top. The cabin was his first home in Texas. It bears a historical marker erected in 1992 with the following text:


(1807 -1892) Bernard Scherrer left his native Switzerland at the age of 22 for extended travels before reaching Texas in 1833. After serving in Burleson's regiment during the Texas Revolution, he received a land grant in Colorado County but settled in Biegel settlement (Fayette County) about 1838. Here he served as justice of the peace, county commissioner, and in 1845 he married Gesine Eliza Margarete Koch. He left his civic, farming and freighting duties to serve in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. This cabin, Scherrer's first residence in Texas, was moved to this location in 1975.

The land he owned is now covered by the waters of the Fayette Power Plant.

Sources: An Early History of Fayette County; La Grange Journal: Google Books


The Charles Henry Schiege, Sr. Family of Round Top, Texas

by Cynthia A. Thornton

Charles Henry Schiege, Sr. was born Carl Johann Rudolph Schiege on June 1, 1815 in Neisse, Silesia, a province of Prussia.  His parents were Carl and Johanna Wagner Schiege.

Charles traveled to Texas in 1847 and 1851, returning to Prussia each time.  On July 4, 1855 aboard the ship Franchisca, Schiege and his bride, Carolina Schubert, arrived in Galveston.  Carolina was born on August 6, 1820 in Neisse, Silesia.    

Carl Johann Rudolph Schiege became a citizen of the United States in 1855 and changed his name to Charles Henry Schiege.  Charles and Carolina settled in the Biegel Settlement in Fayette County, Texas.

Charles and Carolina had four children, with only one living to adulthood.  Their children were: Charles Henry, Jr., born on September 15, 1858; Gustav, lived 7 days; Selma, a twin, born on July 17, 1861, and lived 14 months; Otto, a twin, born on July 17, 1861, and died in 1866.   

In the 1860 United States census, Charles Henry Schiege, Sr. was listed as 45 years old, living with his wife, Carolina, and one son, Charles Henry, Jr.  His vocation was cabinet maker, chair maker, locksmith and machinist.  On September 2, 1861, Charles and Carolina purchased Lot 2 and 3, Block 29 in Round Top, Texas from G.C. August Bess for $100.00.  Later Charles, Sr. purchased one acre from his neighbor, Conrad Schuddenmagen.

Charles H. Schiege, Sr. served in the Confederate Army with Captain Martin Martindale’s Company of Unattached Infantry, Fayette County under 22nd Brig. General William Webb, Commander at Fayetteville for six months.  Charles is listed on the Confederate Army Veterans Pension Approval List #05275 from Fayette County, Texas, in Book 1 Comptroller’s Index Book.

Charles Henry Schiege, Sr. died on September 30, 1901 at 86 years of age.  Carolina Schiege died on June 4, 1893 at 72 years of age.  They are both buried in the Florida Chapel Cemetery outside of Round Top.

Their only surviving son, Charles Henry Schiege, Jr. was born in the Biegel Settlement near Fayetteville.  By 1860, he was living with his parents on Block 29 adjoining the small village of Round Top.  Charles, Jr. attended Pastor Johann Adam Neuthard’s School located on White Street in Round Top.

Charles, Jr. married Emma M. Frenzel on April 19, 1885.  Emma was born on August 18, 1864 and died on January 26, 1892 without having children.  She is buried in the Florida Chapel Cemetery outside of Round Top.

On November 30, 1893, Charles H. Schiege, Jr. married Marie Becker in Round Top.  Her parents were Heinrich and Katherine Truede Becker.  Marie was born on July 5, 1869 in Round Top.  Charles and Marie’s 10 children born in Round Top were:

     1. Henry Charles, born August 7, 1894 and died May 30, 1895.  He is buried in the
         Florida Chapel Cemetery.
     2. Charles Adolph William, born June 30, 1896.  He married Ida B. Treckmann on
         December 25, 1920.  Charles Adolph died February 9, 1953 and is buried in the     
          Florida Chapel Cemetery.
      3. Katherine Justine, born on November 26, 1897.  She married Oswald Gus
          Tempel on June 23, 1920.  Katherine died on February 21, 1987.
      4. Lina Marie, born on March 10, 1899.  She married Kinley Adam Ulrich on June
          12, 1920.  Lina died on May 15, 1988.
      5. Frederich Charles, born on November 11, 1900.  He married Migon Fricke on
          January 21, 1923.  Fred died on August 6, 1972 and is buried with his parents and
          brothers in the Florida Chapel Cemetery.
      6. Marie Emma, a twin, born on March 26, 1903.  She married Rudolph Joseph
          Legler, who was born on September 19, 1901.  Marie died on January 20, 1983,
          and Rudolph died on January 30, 1996.  They are buried in the Florida Chapel
       7. Minnie Louise, a twin, born on March 26, 1903.  She married William Luther
           Clark on December 11, 1929.  William was born on August 10, 1898 and died
           on March 19, 1964.  Minnie died on August 25, 1982 and is buried beside her
           husband in the Florida Chapel Cemetery.
       8. Annie Emma, born on November 5, 1905.  She married Hugo Edward Ulrich on
           September 12, 1928.  Annie died on December 18, 1983.
       9. Friedolin Gustav, born on March 25, 1908.  He married Lily Lehman on February
           26, 1931.  Lily was born on August 16, 1912.  Friedolin died on January 31, 1973.
           They are both buried in the Florida Chapel Cemetery.
     10. Frieda Marie, born on September 8, 1910.  She married  Edwin Herman Franke on
           January 3, 1932.

All the Schiege children spoke High German before they learned English in school.

Charles Henry Schiege, Jr. was called Squire Schiege for his many years of service in
Round Top.  Charles served as town marshal and alderman of the Round Top Town Council.  He was mayor of Round Top from 1903 to 1908 and served as the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 in Fayette County.  He was also a member of the Round Top Volunteer Fire Company for 30 years and was an active member of the Sons of Hermann Lodge No. 151.

The Schiege property on Block 29 in Round Top contained the family private house, a cigar factory, a cigar manager house, a carriage shed, a barn, stables and a large vegetable garden.

Charles H. Schiege, Jr. built a two-story grey and white frame house in 1885 before he married Emma Frenzel.  The house faces Washington Street or Highway 237 in Round Top as part of the Round Top Inn.  The house was built on a terrace and was surrounded by a picket fence.  The house has three cellars, one lined with rock with cement flooring for a cooling effect to preserve milk, butter and eggs.  The second cellar was for laundry and had a pipe that drained the washing water into a nearby gully.  The third cellar was an area for potatoes, onions and other vegetables.  The house also had a cistern that caught rainwater from the roof.  The interior of the house was painted blue.  There are large front porches on both levels of the front of the house with the ceilings painted blue.  It is said that Charles would sit for hours in the late afternoon listening to classical music, playing his Edison record player that he obtained by mail from New York.

The cigar manager house was located near the back of the Schiege property.  This house was for a single or a married man and his family, who managed the cigar factory for Charles H. Schiege, Jr.  The manager house was a cottage of German vernacular design built in 1885 of native lumber.  The house has 386 square feet downstairs with a small porch.  The finished attic is around 195 square feet.  This manager house was called the Schiege Dependency House, because it depended upon the use of other buildings.

The cigar factory building built in 1885 of native lumber was a one-room frame building with a porch facing inside the property.  The street side had stone steps from the front door down to the street below.  Inside the building, a curved counter separated a working area and tobacco bins from an office.  Several work stations were attached to one wall.  The attic was finished.  Beds lined the area for single men, who worked in the factory, to sleep at night. There was a ladder outside the building that allowed the men to enter the upstairs sleeping quarters.  The cigar workers would have their meals with the family in the main house.

Charles Schiege began making cigars in 1881 in Round Top.  His sign over the front doors of the factory building was “Segars & Tobacco”.  This spelling of “Segars” was common in the 19th century and appears in early laws of the Republic of Texas.  He used locally grown tobacco whenever possible and obtained shipments of tobacco from dealers in Missouri and Ohio.

Schiege cigars were made to sell between 6 to 7 cents.  The cigars were made by hand.  At the height of his business, Schiege had men working at seven work stations that were attached to the walls for each man seated at the table.  A low partition about 4” to 6” high separated each worker’s space from the other.  The workman’s tools consisted of a square piece of hardwood board that was incised with gauges indicating different cigar lengths, a knife and a pot of gum tragacanth or similar substance.  Each table had an attached sack of burlap into which the cuttings were deposited.  Some of the labels on Schiege’s cigar boxes were: Texas Star, Great Sport, J.J. Vacek’s Favorite, Concha Regalia, La Rosa Supurba, and in 1932, the 50th anniversary box, The Boss, contained his photograph.

Schiege was a cigar producer for 48 years and was one of 56 cigar makers in Texas in 1885.  In 1920, the United States had 9,778 cigar manufacturers.  In 1920, Texas had 158 manufacturers, and one of the them was Shiege’s factory in Round Top.  He was registered with the Internal Revenue Service as Factory #80, Third District.  Schiege closed his cigar factory in 1932.  He was 74 years old.  In the late 1920s, cigar manufacturing became automated and was impacted by the Great Depression in the 1930s. Charles H. Schiege, Jr. Cigar factory in Round Top stands today as the only original building of a once widespread industry in Texas.

The vegetable garden was located to the north side of the cigar factory building next to the property line separating Schiege’s property from the Pochmann property. The stables, carriage shed and barn were located between the cigar factory and the manager house on the property.

Charles Henry Schiege, Jr. died during the evening on Sunday, March 17, 1935 in his house on Washington Street in Round Top.  His wife, Mary, died on June 26, 1951.  They are both buried in the Florida Chapel Cemetery, which is to the south just outside of Round Top, Texas.

The property has had many owners since the Schiege family occupied it.  Historians owe a great deal of gratitude to one of the owners, Ted and Sandy Reed, for purchasing Texas Historical markers for the Schiege buildings.  Without those markers, who knows how or where the old historical buildings might exist.

Fayette County Deed Records, La Grange, Texas: Fayette County Clerk Office, Vol. R., p. 262
“The Cigar Industry in the Nineteenth Century”, Century Issue, US Tobacco Journal, 1900: 40
1880 United States Census, Charles Henry Schiege, Jr.
Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas: Charles H. Schiege Property
Fayette County Texas Heritage, Vol. II, pp. 414-415.
Wandke-Pochmann Collection, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas
Information from Lawrence R. Nutt, San Antonio, Texas
Interview with Sandra Ree, 2012

Early Schools in Fayette County

by Gesine Tschiedel Koether

My mother, Isabella (Henniger) Tschiedel, used to tell me about how she walked to the Willow Springs School each school day in the 1920s.  I found the Willow Springs Public School sign on Hwy 159 about seven miles outside of Fayetteville.  My mom’s home was on Hwy 159 at Cummins Creek, so my odometer indicated that my mom walked around five miles round trip to school each day.  My curiosity was piqued to learn more about the early Fayette County schools, but I also wanted to know more about the beginning of Texas schools.

With Texas becoming a state in 1845, public education was one of the primary goals of the early settlers.  It took until 1854 for the Texas Legislature to pass the Common School Law which provided state support for schools.  My search also found that a full twenty years earlier in 1834, John Breeding founded the first school in Fayette County in a log house on his land located between Fayetteville and Willow Springs. The first teacher at his school was a Mr. Rutland.  The Texas Historical Marker on Hwy 159, near Darden Loop, details information on both the Breeding Cemetery and Breeding School, but the dates of the school’s operation are not listed.  The Willow Springs Public School sign shows that it operated between 1871 to 1945.  I continued my search for other information on early Fayette County schools.

There it was - a photo and short article on the Fayette County Schools Project in the Fayette County Record dated July 16, 1996.  It stated that Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka had recently placed the first school sign at the site of the Oldenburg Public School. Those present at the placement were Leola Tiedt, former school teacher at Oldenburg; Fritz Lobpries, former County School Superintendent in Fayette County; Debbie Wied and Carrie Koenig, project researchers.  The sign shows that the Oldenburg school had operated from 1890 to 1944. 

There are over two hundred schools listed in historical files in the Fayette County Heritage Archives.  The list includes schools from 1834 forward, including rural community schools for both white and African American students, as well as parochial schools.
Funding for Texas schools was made possible by setting aside two million dollars out of the ten million that Texas had received in the Compromise of 1850 for relinquishing its claim to land north and west of its present boundaries.  The 1854 Texas Legislature based funding on an annual census. The first school census in 1854 showed approximately 65,000 students, and the state fund apportionment was 62 cents per student.  The state found additional funding for supporting the schools and their teachers in the form of local taxation.  

Fayette County is made up of approximately 614,000 acres, so with a poor road system in the 19th century, it is understandable that these early schools were founded in or near small communities.  The students and teachers walked to and from school.   As roads and transportation improved and laws changed, the small rural schools began to combine for both financial and staffing reasons.  Today in 2017, there are five Independent School Districts in Fayette County located in La Grange, Schulenburg, Flatonia. Round Top-Carmine, and Fayetteville.

Texas public schools have come a long way since those early days of Texas statehood.  Progress is great, but those small rural community schools served a vital role in educating our ancestors.  There must be hundreds of stories from both teachers and students about early school days.  I wish my mom was still here to tell me more about her early school days, but unfortunately, she isn’t.  I will continue my search at the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives and hopefully will gather enough information to write more stories about the schools in Fayette County.

Photo caption: Historical marker for the Breeding Cemetery and School
“Fayette County School Project”, Fayette County Record, p. 1; July 16, 1996
Rox Ann Johnson, Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
Texas Almanac – “A Brief History of Public Education”


School Days in Earlier Times

by Carolyn Heinsohn

School days in Fayette County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were far different than those of today.  There were many small one-room schools scattered around the countryside, usually within less than 10 miles of one another, so that the farm childen would have an accessible school to attend.

If two teachers were needed due to the enrollment, the one room was divided, sometimes with a curtain or sometimes with nothing at all.  The teachers placed their desks at either end of the room, and each class faced their respective teacher. Children were expected to be quiet, so generally it was a feasible undertaking.  Plus, a teacher had the authority to punish a child when he or she misbehaved.  The disobedient child either got a good spanking with a paddle, had to sit in a corner on a dunce stool, or had to stay in the classroom during recess or the lunch break and study or write sentences several hundred times, such as “I will not talk in class.” 

Children had to walk to school, some as far as four or five miles, rain or shine, hot or cold.  Some had roads to follow, but others had to walk along cow paths, through multiple gates, creeks and pastures, often having to go through tall weeds that were wet with dew. If it had been raining, they also had to trek through mud, so by the time they got to school, they were wet, muddy and often very cold, especially in the winter.  The school room was heated with a wood heater, so the first children to arrive in the cold mornings built the fire in the heater, which they then huddled around until they warmed up from their morning walk. At the end of the school day, approximately four children were expected to stay to sweep and clean up the school room.  

In the early days, there were no grades.  Instead, once a student knew one subject well, he or she would get the next book. A student could be advanced in arithmetic and still be in the first reader.  There were four readers to complete; then came more advanced subjects like geography and Texas history. In addition, writing and spelling were also required. Penmanship was an art form that most students had to master. Children first used slates for writing and mathematic computations.  Then tablets were added, but pages were not wasted, because only two tablets were provided during a school year, which was shorter than those of today. School materials were paid for with funds acquired in some type of fundraising activity, like box suppers or school plays. 

The length of the school terms were based on the various seasonal farm chores. For example, school did not begin until after cotton picking was over. Initially, school attendance was not compulsory, so children might miss weeks of school, and many only completed three or four years of education. The need for their assistance on the farm surpassed the need for an education.  School was definitely not always considered a necessity for girls.  It was a general consensus that girls just needed to know how to cook, keep house, sew and work in the fields.

There were no hot meals served at school, so each child carried a lunch bucket to school.  Usually, the lunch consisted of homemade white bread smeared with lard, or cornbread and butter, and maybe some jelly, molasses or honey. Occasionally, a special treat would be a baked sweet potato, a small piece of dried sausage, or a piece of cake.  After Christmas, an apple or orange might be included. Students would sit outside under the trees to eat their lunches if the weather was nice. Of course, they had to contend with the flies and ants that also wanted to share their lunch.

Recess was a time of free unstructured play, generally without adult supervision.  Various ball and tag games were popular, as well marbles, jump rope, hopscotch, mumbly peg and games like Red Rover, Flying Dutchman and Andy Over.  In the earlier days, playground equipment was non-existent.  Later, seesaws, merry-go-rounds and swings, built by the men in the community, were added to the school yards.   

Sometimes there was not even an outhouse available for the students.  The boys would head to the woods on one side of the school, and the girls to the other.  Having a decent outhouse was considered a nice addition to a schoolhouse.

There were school trustees who hired teachers, determined their salaries and collected whatever fees were deemed necessary from the parents to help pay the teachers.  The parents more than likely had little “say-so”, insofar as the disciplinary actions, rules and curriculum set forth by the trustees.  There were no parent-teacher conferences or organizations and probably very little communication between the teacher and parents, other than a report card.  Children were sent to school with the expectation that they would behave themselves, respect their teachers and get a basic “no frills” education.  It truly was the era of “School days, school days, good ‘ole’ Golden Rule days.”


Two Brothers Thrown and Killed by Same Horse

by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether

What are the odds that two brothers could be thrown and killed by the same horse?

Researching my Schmidt ancestors for a family book, The Portal to Texas History online offered up The La Grange Journal article of February 14, 1884 about the death of the two Schmidt Brothers. Were these my Schmidt ancestors?

Here is the article in its entirety: “The Journal learns from Mr. M. Zwernemann, who was in town yesterday, that a distressing accident occurred last Sunday in the Haw Creek neighborhood.  Mr. Henry Schmidt was thrown by his horse against a tree and his neck broken, causing, of course, instant death.  He leaves a widow and five small children to mourn his untimely death.  Mr. Zwernemann also informed us that a brother of Mr. Schmidt was killed a few years ago while riding the same horse.  It seems he [Wilhelm Schmidt] was running cattle and the horse fell, throwing him, and breaking his neck also.”

Yes, these were my family and to fully understand the magnitude of this article I needed more information.

Henry and Wilhelm were the sons of Fred and Mary Elise (Wunderlich) Schmidt of Prussia.  Fred and Elise had married and decided to immigrate to the United States in 1852.  Landing in Galveston the couple made their way to Shelby on foot and with their possessions on a wagon pulled by stock horses.  In Shelby they joined relatives who had preceded them.  Ultimately, Fred and Elise owned approximately 160 acres and had fourteen children of which eleven lived to adulthood.  However, Fred, the family’s dad, died in January of 1880. 

The 1880 census, taken in July 1880, showed only six of the widow Mary Elise’s children, were still home with her. Katy, the oldest, was listed on this census as blind.  Wilhelm was 24 and the second oldest of the sons and still at home.  All of the other sons (August, Rudolph and Frederic) were listed as farmers like Wilhelm.  Only the youngest daughter, Alvena, was still attending school.  Another loss came in April of 1881, with the death of Wilhelm, from the horse accident detailed above.

Henry Schmidt grave at Haw Creek CemeteryHenry Schmidt and his wife, Frances, had married December of 1871 and per the tax rolls, had 59 acres and two horses in 1881. The July 1880 census records of both Henry and the rest of his Schmidt family were only a page apart and appear to have lived close by.  Henry’s horses were valued at $25 each on the tax rolls.  It was in late February of 1884 when Henry was thrown from this horse and died, only three years after the death of his brother.

The Schmidt family needed horses to work the improved agricultural acreage and handle the livestock.  There were plenty of opportunities for hard work to keep this family fed, clothed, healthy and educated.  These horses would also have been useful for both transportation, farm work, hunting and delivery of products to another destination. 

Just like humans, horses of all breeds have differing qualities and faults. Perhaps these two accidents were of no consequence of what the horse did or did not do but the situation caused these accidents.  It would be interesting to know what became of this horse.  As well as, it is interesting to note that Henry’s wife, Frances, was apparently pregnant with their sixth child.  My research shows Frances never remarries but maintains the land with the help of her children, one servant and family.  Researching our ancestors sometime provide us with unbelievable and sad stories to pass onto their descendants.  These documents also show us nuggets of strong family ties. Rudolph Schmidt, my great grandfather, took care of his sister Katy, until her death in 1912.  I strongly encourage you to check The Portal to Texas History site for interesting stories about your ancestors.

Picture of Heinrich Schmidt grave in the Haw Creek Cemetery, courtesy of Fayette Library and Archives
The La Grange Journal, (La Grange, Tex). Vol 5 No 7, Ed 1 Thursday, February 14, 1884     


Emil Schuhmann—A Renaissance Man

by Carolyn Heinsohn

One wonders how the gene pools get blended through time to occasionally produce a person with an abundance of creative traits?  Some people are extraordinarily artistic; others have an engineering or mechanical mind, while others have innate musicality. 

Emil Schuhmann, born in 1856 in Waldeck, Texas, the son of Carl and Christiane Voigterl Schuhmann, was one of those fortunate people who excelled in all three areas. He was a true Renaissance Man – a man who did many things very well.  A talented musician, he was the guiding force for the well-known Schuhmann Band, popular in the late 1800s, that included his father, cousins and uncles, all members of several Schuhmann families who were early German settlers in the Waldeck and Walhalla communities. Their musical ability merited an invitation to the dedication of the State Capitol in 1893, which was quite an honor.  Schuhmann, who outlived all of the other band members, composed his own music and shared his musical expertise with others by teaching organ, accordion and concertina.

Schuhmann also had a talent for folk-art stenciling, so was occasionally asked to beautify area homes with his artistic designs.  He was very good at working with his hands in general and used his artistic ability, as well as his engineering skills, to complete a German-style Christmas pyramid in 1880, carving all of the figures and painting the settings himself.  

Schuhmann’s family emigrated from Oberscheibe, a village in the Erzgebirge Mountains in Saxony, Germany, known for its iron mining.  However, mining provided unreliable employment, so the miners supplemented their income by carving wooden toys, including the intricate Pyramide.  

Schuhmann's PyramideHis family’s origin and heritage more than likely influenced Schuhmann to build his pyramid.  Traditionally, it is a multi-story wooden carousel with a series of disks that are attached to a central axle.  Decorated with carved figures, the disks rotate as the heat from candles turn a propeller on top of the axle. 

For his more elaborate pyramid, Schuhmann carved a domed building surmounted by a cupola, similar to a town hall.  The two-story building is secured on top of a papier-mache mountain with “mine” tunnel openings; the mountain is made of lacquered German-language newspapers published in Galveston in 1872.  A large propeller made of painted pasteboard blades sits on top of the dome; it turns by rising hot air from thirteen metal oil lamps attached to the pyramid at its three levels. The lower platform that rotates through the mountain features miniature miners with carts of ore and axes. Soldiers in 19th century uniforms march through the building’s first floor.  Uniformed musicians occupy the second-floor platform. A “fenced-in front yard” is filled with carved animals and palm and pine trees that have branches made of painted wood shavings. A soldier guards the gate; a hunter aims his gun at a deer; and a shepherd herds a flock of sheep.

Schuhmann, who called his pyramid a “Baromet”, displayed it every Christmas for his nieces, nephews and other children in Waldeck, while playing Christmas carols on his concertina.  Although the initial purpose of his pyramid was to entertain, Schuhmann’s handmade creation is a charming, beautiful piece of folk art that exhibits his high level of craftsmanship, ingenuity and imaginative self-expression.

Since Schuhmann never married and had no children, his nephew, Robert Wenzel, inherited the pyramid.  After Wenzel’s death in 1969, his widow sold it to Miss Ima Hogg, the daughter of the famous Texas governor, James Hogg.  Ms. Hogg, a well-known Houston philanthropist and preservationist, began acquiring various historical buildings in 1963, had them moved to a complex around the Old Stagecoach Inn at Winedale and then had them restored. She donated the buildings and property to the University of Texas in Austin in 1967. Schuhmann’s pyramid, which is part of Ms. Hogg’s Texas Folk Art Collection, can be seen in the McGregor-Grimm House in what is now known as the Winedale Historical Complex, a division of UT Austin’s Briscoe Center.

Schuhmann disliked farming - his primary interest was his music.  Since he could not rely on his music lessons and band gigs to provide a steady income, he needed supplemental income from his farm. So, he entrusted his farming to a faithful Negro couple, Lufkin and Arizona Shelby.  When Schuhmann died in 1937, he left 50 acres of his farm to the couple.  His one and a half story German style home with cedar floors and stenciled walls unfortunately fell into ruins after his death. 

Another Schuhmann family home was moved from Walhalla to Henkel Square in Round Top and is now part of the Henkel Square Market. It originally was assumed that Rudolph Melchior, a skilled artist who stenciled the walls and ceilings in a number of buildings in the area around Round Top and Winedale in the mid-19th century, had done the stenciling in that Schuhmann home.  However, one source states that the stenciling was done by a family member, so that indicates that it more than likely was done by Emil Schuhmann.

Fortunately, professional conservationists with the Briscoe Center have helped preserve Schuhmann’s most outstanding artistic creation – his Christmas pyramid.   

Photo caption: Emil Schuhmann's pyramid restored by professional conservationists, courtesy of Sidney Schuhmann Levesque
Erwin, Ed. “The Texas of 1880s on Display at U.T.”; The Houston Chronicle, March 2, 2003
Taylor, Lonn. “The Great Pyramide”; Texas Monthly, December 2015
Photograph of Schuhmann’s pyramid; permission to reproduce from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin; Benjamin P. Wright, Assistant Director for Communications
Schuhmann, Sidney S. “Emil Schuhmann – Early Waldeck Resident”; Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. II; Curtis Media, 1996
Winedale, Texas. Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Vol. 1; Curtis Media, 1996

Sears Catalog Homes

By Barbara Arambula

Between 1908 -1940, Sears, Roebuck, and Co. sold approximately 100,000 homes in 447 styles by mail order catalog. After choosing and ordering a home plan from the catalog, within as little as two weeks the customer could expect to receive the 30,000 or so pieces of the new home in two boxcars at the nearest train station. These homes were sold in kits and included everything from pre-cut lumber, paint, nails, and shingles - everything except the labor to assemble the home. Each kit came with a leather-bound 75 page instruction manual embossed with the new home owner’s name. The 1908 Sears catalog gave a price range from $495 - $4115. Sears also offered the materials and plans for a schoolhouse.

I was recently told that a Sears home had been built in Fayetteville around 1926. One of the descendants of the original owner stated that the home was brought in on the railroad - which in Fayetteville was across the street from the building site. Being one of the largest plans available – the home took two years for construction to be completed. Are there others in Fayette County? When you think about the difficulty in those days of actually obtaining the lumber, tools, etc. to build your own home, it seems likely that many people in this area may have taken advantage of the Sears Catalog Homes. Being close to a railroad would make it much easier to transport the materials to the building site.

Home kits were offered by other companies such as Montgomery Ward and Aladdin, but Sears was the most successful at marketing the homes. One advertisement claimed that a new Sears home would improve the health and moral character of its owners. Bathrooms were often optional – the site where the home would be built would have to have the necessary utilities in place. No problem however, Sears also sold a dandy outhouse.

After the depression in 1929, it is said that the mail order home business began to decline, and many families lost their homes to foreclosure. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. had also offered mortgages. 

Identifying these homes is a difficult task. The lumber was “sometimes” numbered on each end according to the home plans. Many homes have now been remodeled or torn down. Approximately 1000 of these homes built across the United States have been identified—this is a small percentage of the total sold and built. The sources for this article listed below may be helpful in identifying a home as one from the Sears Catalog. 

If anyone has knowledge of a Sears Built Home within Fayette County, please consider sharing the information with the historical commission. 

Sources for the above information: “The Houses that Sears Built” by Rosemary Thornton and “Houses by Mail “ by Katherine Stevenson and H. Ward Jandl.

Sengelmann Brothers

by Connie F. Sneed

Among the thrifty and enterprising business men of Schulenburg were many who came from substantial German stock, and prominent among this number were Charles and Gustav Sengelmann, who were leading dealers in choice wines and spirituous liquors.  They were the sons of Henry Sengelmann, Sr.;  they were both born and reared in Sprenge, Holstein, where they acquired their early education.

Hans Henry Sengelmann, Sr was born in Germany on the 26th of October, 1820, and, having spent his entire life in the fatherland, died January 14,1907.   In Sprenge, which was also his birthplace, he learned the trade of a shoemaker when quite young, and made that his life occupation.   He took an active part in the revolution of 1848 and was one of the five survivors of the war in his locality. He reared five children:  Henry, Johanna, August, Charles, and Gustav.   Of these Henry and Johanna never left Germany.   August and Charles came to Texas when they were both young men, and from 1876 to 1887 were engaged in business together.

August and Charles Sengelmann resided with their parents until August was seventeen years of age, attending the local schools.   Immigrating to Texas , they first located at Columbus , where they were employed by their uncle, Henry IIse. Industrious and economical, they saved their earnings and in 1876 settled in Schulenburg, where Charles became actively engaged in business.

In 1885 August Sengelmann returned to Germany to visit his father, and on coming again to America brought with him his brother, Gustav, to whom he sold his interest in the business in 1888 and went back to the old country.   He was a man of much business ability, enterprising, and energetic, who became the proprietor of one of the leading hotels of Kiel , a seaport of Schleswig- Holstein, and he operated a large and profitable business until his death in an automobile accident on July 13, 1905. His wife and four children remained in Kiel .

In 1893, the business owned by Charles and Gustav Sengelmann was destroyed by fire.  In 1894, they erected a large, handsome, and substantial two story brick building on one of the finest blocks in Schulenburg.

In 1879, Charles Sengelmann married Elizabeth Arnim, who was a native of Texas , born in Moulton, Lavaca County, a daughter of A.A. and Von (Schaste) Arnim.   Mr. and Mrs. Sengelmann were the parents of the following nine children: Henry, Wally, Minnie, Molly, Charles, Lillie, Alexander, Klondike , and Hester.

Like his brothers, Gustav Sengelmann received excellent educational advantages in his youth.   As previously mentioned, he came to the United States with his brother,  August, in 1885, succeeding him in business and becoming an active member of the firm known as the “Two Brothers”.   He was once closely identified with the industrial and mercantile interests of Schulenburg.   Gustav Sengelmann's wife was formerly Bertha Sommer, who was born in Schulenburg, a daughter of Ferdinand and Augusta Sommer; her parents were both natives of Germany. Three children were been born of this union: Gustav Jr, Silva, and Wilbur.

Both Charles and Gustav Sengelmann were members of the Sons of Hermann. Charles was also identified with the Ancient Order of Workmen.   He took great interest in civic affairs and for a number years served as alderman.

Recollections of Charles Sengelmann, Sr.

by Carolyn Heinsohn

The following article, “Six Shooter Days and History”, was written by Charles Sengelmann, Sr. and published in the October 5, 1929 issue of the Schulenburg Sticker. It was found in the collection of newspaper clippings that the late Norman Krischke of Schulenburg had saved in multiple large scrapbooks that were donated by his family to the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives.

Charles Sengelmann, Sr. and his brother, August, emigrated from Holstein, Germany to Texas in 1871, first locating at Columbus. In 1877, they moved to Schulenburg, a new town built on the railroad line. They opened their first saloon there in the late 1870s. Another brother, Gustav, emigrated in 1885 and purchased August’s interest in the saloon in 1887. August then returned to Germany.

After the building that housed their saloon burned in 1893, Charles and Gustav built an impressive two-story brick building on Main Street. A saloon on the first floor, known as the Two Brothers Saloon, featured fine liquors, wines and cigars, as well as billiard tables, reading tables with a line of newspapers for entertaining the patrons and first-class cuisine. A large hall upstairs was used for public balls, meetings, theatrical performances and other types of entertainment. Today, the building not only houses a restaurant and full-service bar with live music, but also serves as a wedding venue.

Senglemann’s recollections were from the first twelve years of his life in Texas: “In the olden days of the eighteen-seventies, cowboys had this country ‘grabbed’. Our officers had very little to say. Everyone carried pistols. No one was arrested for this charge. Cattle and horses were not safe; one had to chain them to log, house or stakes.

Some people made it a business to find horses and cattle for a reward for $25 or more. In those days the Americans owned the land in big sections. Old Grandfather Franz Russek built an immigration house on the railroad track. He would go to Galveston and take charge of a shipload of emigrants and bring them here. He was agent for Corres [Karesch] and Stotsky of Bremen.

After the railroad was finished to San Antonio a man by the name of Haskel, a brickyard owner in Columbus, chartered a special train. He then engaged the celebrated professor, F.A. Rose band, of which I was a member. He paid us $50 and our dinner at the Menger hotel in San Antonio. He also invited the High Hill band to accompany the train to San Antonio; but this band was not paid, and its members had to take their lunch pails along. So many tickets were sold by Mr. Haskel that there was not room for everyone to be seated. The aisles were filled to capacity and even the tops of the cars. After the train passed Welder [sic], all of the tough cowboys from Gonzales and surrounding sections had a big time target practicing, shooting at the telegraph poles and rabbits in nearby fields. One man from Weimer [sic], who was considered quite bad in these parts at that time, had his wife on the train with him. He demanded that the cursing in the car be stopped. Instantly, a dozen or more pistols were thrown in his face, and he was ordered out of the car. He left in a hurry.

At midnight the train left San Antonio for home. Owing to the condition and toughness of the passengers, the conductor hid until the train was well underway, because the cowboys, finding no seats, knocked the glass doors and windows out of the cars with their pistols. Shooting never stopped until we got home.

As the train stopped in different towns to discharge passengers, some would run to nearby saloons, only to find their train leaving them. They would curse and shoot at the train, but to no avail. This was my first and last excursion.

The city council was, mayor, old father Henderson, Dr. Walker, and Carrol Upton’s father-in-law, who endeavored to get order in the city. They hired Mr. Jamison, a fearless man. He restored order in a short time. Before order was maintained, it was necessary for him to shoot and stab some of the bad men.

We had a chance one time to get the roundhouse from Columbus, but they wanted $30,000 bonus. A mass meeting was called in the Turner Hall. All of the citizens attended, but the deal fell through on account of not getting up the money, so the shops were moved to Glidden.

GHS&A meal tokensIn olden times the railroad paid its employees in red and black chips of 25 and 50 cent denominations, or so called meal tickets, good in any store or business house.  They were also good for paying freight charges.  [See note below.]

The railroad park was formerly kept up by the citizenship. Before being made into a park, however, this land was a ditch, ten to fifteen feet deep. About 150 convict workers were used to fill it up. Christian Bamgarten [Baumgarten] planted the big live oak tree which still furnishes shade.

Early railroad workers were all Irishmen. They were paid $1.25 per day.

The Bamgarten [sic] oil mill was built in 1883. At that time the cotton seed hulls were used for fuel in the oil mills.

In High Hill there was a brewery, owned by Aug. Adolf and Moritz Richter. They also had a Turner Hall and theatre, owned by stockholders. This was the only hall within a radius of 50 miles, with the exception of the old Baring Hall at Schulenburg, now the Southern Produce Co., which at that time was rented by C. & G. Senglemann, who operated the finest bar in town.”

Note from Ken E. Stavinoha:
In his seminal work "A History of Texas Railroads", S. G. Reed mentions this event which I am quoting directly from pages 193-4 and adding clarity in brackets where needed:

'Another difficulty [in the construction of the Galveston Harrisburg & San Antonio westward from Columbus] was in making change to pay off the day laborers. There was a great scarcity of small change. The 
Government had called in most of it [while switching from the silver standard back to the gold standard]. To meet this [need] General Manager H. B. Andrews paid the men off partly in gutta percha tokens about the size of a quarter [having] the value of 25 cents "good for meals" and which he agreed to redeem in full. These passed current at par not only at boarding houses but in stores all along the line until 
several years after the road was completed. It was a common saying at the time that [GH&SA President Thomas] Peirce was the only man who was smart enough to build a railroad with meal tickets.'
Photo Captions: 
Top: Charles Sengelmann, Sr.; from the Schulenburg Sticker, Oct. 5, 1929
Lower: G. H. S. & A meal token, courtesy of Ken E. Stavinoha
Lotto, F. Fayette County, Her History and Her People; Schulenburg, TX, Sticker Steam Press; 1902  
Sengelmann, Charles, Sr. “Six Shooter Days and History”; Schulenburg Sticker, October 5, 1929

Services, Trades and Occupations of By-Gone Days

By Carolyn Heinsohn

Watkins Products SalesmanNew inventions and technology, changes in our lifestyles, disposable commodities and the need for “instant gratification” have all contributed to the disappearance of certain services, trades and occupations, some of which were needed for daily living in the past. These services and occupations unfortunately have faded away into the annals of history.  However, some senior citizens still have memories of the people who provided these necessary services and products that were not readily available elsewhere due to a number of factors.  Transportation was slow, stores that could provide the needed supplies were few and far between and sometimes understocked, and the time that it took to seek out a source for those services and items meant time away from one’s work, so anyone who could fulfill those needs was truly appreciated.    

In the 19th century, there were “pack peddlers” – men who virtually carried mini-general stores in their wagons.  They sold everything from sugar, flour, salt, pepper and spices to pots and pans, utensils, small tools, nails, shoes, hats, fabrics, laces and ribbons and all things in-between.  Occasionally, there were also women, usually older single or widowed women, who traveled around selling millinery supplies, women’s corsets, bustles, shoes, dressmaking supplies, plus rose water and castile soap, which was much preferred over homemade soap for face washing and shampooing.

Before mass manufacturing of shoes, one went to a cobbler to purchase custom made shoes. Every family, however, generally had shoe forms, tack hammers, awls and shoe tacks at home with a supply of shoe leather, soles and heels with which to do minor repairs. As time moved on, one went to the local shoe shop to have soles and heels replaced or other repairs made to shoes and leather items.  Now shoes are discarded instead of repaired, and shoe repair shops are difficult to find.

Of course, every community had one or two blacksmiths who made and repaired anything made of iron.  Horseshoes, plowshares, branding irons, tools and wagon wheels were always in demand.  Many times, a farmer would learn the trade for his own personal needs, as well as providing for the blacksmithing needs of his surrounding neighbors, especially when a blacksmith shop was too far away to be convenient.

Before the era of electric refrigerators, people who owned ice boxes had to regularly replenish their blocks of ice.  A placard was placed on the front screen door to alert the ice man who drove throughout town looking for potential customers.  He brought in the dripping block of ice with large tongs and placed it in a small metal receptacle in the ice box.  If additional ice was needed for cooling beverages or making homemade ice cream, people went to the local ice house to purchase a block of ice.  There was no ice crusher – an ice pick and elbow grease did the job!

There was an elderly black man who lived in La Grange who was a “pot tinker”.  In the 1940s and early 1950s, he drove a wagon pulled by mules throughout town looking for interested customers.  He would actually repair holes in pots, buckets and other containers, mostly graniteware and enamel, which were more likely to develop holes where chips had occurred.  He also sharpened scissors and knives and did other minor repairs of household items.  

Some traveling salesmen in years past were sources of convenience items that made lives easier. They also provided medicinal products that could potentially save a trip to the doctor.  The Watkins Products salesmen sold extracts and spices, as well as liniments, tonics and salves that could be used on humans and animals.  Many of the early Watkins salesmen had wagons, some of which were enclosed, with the Watkins logo painted on the sides, so that they would be easily recognized as they approached their customers.  Later there were also Fuller Brush salesmen, who had a wide selection of brooms, mops, brushes, dusters and other cleaning tools, and the Stanley Products sales persons, who provided an assortment of cleaning supplies and tools.  There were door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen, as well as those who sold “waterless” cookware, encyclopedia sets, greeting cards and Bibles.

People who lived in cities also had the “luxury” of having milk and eggs delivered right to their front doors.  Sometimes, homes had small insulated boxes on the front porches where the milk and eggs could be placed to keep them cool until picked up by the homeowners. In fact, some of these deliverymen were so trusted that they were allowed to enter unlocked homes unannounced to place the milk and eggs directly into the ice boxes or refrigerators.

When mail order companies like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were created, they provided a tremendous source of readily available manufactured products, including furniture, heaters, cook stoves, washing machines, clothing, dishes, tools, musical instruments and decorative items. They even offered all of the materials needed to build houses, some of which are still standing.  The general merchandise mail order companies all contributed to the eventual decline of the pack peddlers and door-to-door salesmen.

Most of these services from by-gone days are now nostalgic memories for senior citizens and unknown entities to the younger generation, who cannot comprehend anything that is not disposable, purchased at a mall, a “big box” store or ordered online. 

Photo: Watkins Products Salesman from Carolyn Heinsohn's postcard collection.    

Enterprising Settlers

— John and Michael Short —

by L.J. Calley

You may have the impression by now that Fayette County in the 1830s and 40s was a far different community than it became after the major immigrations of the Czechs and Germans. Certainly Fayette County and its largest settlement, La Grange, had a devil's share of Anglo-American frontier types with colorful to dubious histories.

Today's article is about two more individuals of this ilk. Michael and John Short arrived in Texas in 1835 by way of Georgia and Alabama and joined Sam Houston's army in time to fight in the battle of San Jacinto. They soon located in the Muldoon area where they farmed, operated a mill, and generally made themselves unpopular by openly championing the abolition of slavery. At this time, the largely non-slaveholding German and Czech farmers were still a small minority. The brothers soon began an Underground Railroad that encouraged fugitive slaves in their efforts to move north.

A pair of the county's finest, most principled citizens, right? Wrong. It seemed that the slave runaways were always getting caught and resold, over and over again. Although never proven, rumor had it that the Shorts were getting long on money on each transaction. What the slaves may have gotten for their complicity is not known

Things were going so well that the brothers, with the help of younger family members, decided to diversify into cattle theft and later, counterfeiting. According to "The Huntsville Banner" their counterfeiting ring involved five states. Two relatives were tried and convicted for these activities. Michael's nephew, William, was hanged on October 6, 1849, and John's son-in-law, William Sansom, had the dubious distinction of becoming the first inmate of the recently completed state prison at Huntsville.

John Short died in 1847, and Michael died in 1859, both of natural causes. Michael and his wife, Permelia, and their two sons are buried in the old City Cemetery in La Grange. Prior to her death in 1867, Permelia Short lived at the corner of Travis and Crockett Streets, where H.E.B. is now located.

Today, Fayette County is known for its civic-minded citizens and peaceful, quiet orderliness. My, how things change.


Side-Wheelers on the Colorado

by Larry K Ripper

Today we think of the Colorado River as a gentle stream that meanders on its way through our town. For a brief period in our States history, however, it offered up the prospect of commercial river traffic and a future for a fledging, landlocked economy.

In 1840, William McKinstry published The Colorado Navigator, which was a full description of the "bed and banks" of the river. He believed that the Colorado could support commercial river traffic. Early traders in keelboats moved produce and provisions between settlements, but the lack of power made these boats ineffective against the slow but steady current.

In 1844 The Republic of Texas chartered the Colorado Navigation Company for the purpose of developing navigation on the river. Later that year, the first steamboat on the river was built at La Grange. The Kate Ward, a sidewheel steamer, had twin seventy horsepower engines. She was 115 feet long and 24 feet wide. Built to draw only 18 inches of water empty, she was capable of carrying 800 bales of cotton. In 1848, a similar craft, the Water Moccasin, was constructed at Bastrop.

The river offered many challenges to navigation; sandbars, rocks, log "snags", and low water were ever-present dangers. Three miles upriver from La Grange, boatmen would face the infamous Rabbs Shoals, a section of fast water and rocks. The greatest obstacle, however, was the "raft" at the mouth of the Colorado near Matagorda. There stood a massive logjam, which completely blocked the path to the Gulf.

After about 15 years of commercial steamboat operations, improved roads and the promise of railroads, along with the frustrations of an ever-changing river, contributed to its demise. Low water would ground boats for months; however, with good water they would make Austin. Next time you're on the river…listen carefully. That sound you hear just might be the echo of the Kate Ward's whistle as she steams round the bend with her homeport in sight.


Julia Lee Sinks

by Annette Ruckert

Julia Lee Sinks – a pioneer settler, historian, and author – wrote, "Folklore constitutes the only basis of history in the settlement of a new country—.I have let those as near as possible who have made this history write it themselves."

Indeed, as noted by Lonn Taylor in the book's foreword, Chronicles of Fayette is not so much a narrative history as a collection of sources, "a group of voices from Fayette County's past, recording their own experiences."

But it was Julia Lee Sinks who gathered these sources, who brought the voices together to tell a story. With her talent for writing, which she called a "taste for scribbling and recording," Sinks helped preserve the history of Texas and Fayette County.

A "loyal, enthusiastic, and valuable supporter," Sinks was a person whose "character and influence…manifested those high ideals of womanhood which were the finest products of the Old South," said The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association in April 1905.

Men respected Sinks and encouraged her to participate in various historic preservation projects - at a time when business and public meetings did not often include women. Though not a native Texan, Sinks revered Texas and respected the settlers who arrived during the Republic and early statehood periods.

Sinks was born on January 18, 1817, to George and Mary (Morse) Lee. In early 1840, her family left Cincinnati, Ohio, to settle in Austin, the newly selected capital of Texas. There she met George W. Sinks, the chief clerk of the Post Office Department of the republic. They married in 1841. In 1842, they moved to La Grange, where George Sinks pursued a career as a merchant. The couple eventually became parents of six children.

Julia Lee Sinks did not limit her activities to child rearing and housekeeping. She collected rocks and minerals, wrote stories and poems, and corresponded with well-educated friends. People who believed strongly in the success of Texas introduced Sinks to the Republic. Soon she began her new interest - preserving the history of Texas and the story of its heroes.

Her role in creating a burial site for the men who died in the Dawson Massacre of 1842 and the Mier expedition is an example of her efforts to preserve Texas history. At the dedication of the Monument Hill site in 1848, Sinks covered the coffins with black cloth and draped them with black velvet, clusters of leaves, and stars - decorative trimmings prepared with her own hands.

The preservation of Monument Hill continued to interest Sinks throughout her life, and she dedicated herself to establishing facts, writing articles, and raising funds to build a monument at the burial site.

In 1876, a Centennial Committee of seven prominent La Grange citizens decided to gather a history of the settlers of Fayette County. They agreed that Sinks should be the woman to write the book.

Sinks collected oral and written histories from many early settlers and their descendants. She included some of her personal experiences, as well. She also gathered information on topics such as pioneer life and the characteristics of early Texans, Indian battles, social institutions, transportation, cemeteries, and county organization.

Although parts of her manuscript appeared in newspapers and journals, the book remain unpublished until 1975. The Heritage Committee of the La Grange Bicentennial Commission published several hundred copies of Chronicles of Fayette as their first project. In 2000, the Fayette County Historical Commission reprinted the book in its original form.

Julia Lee Sinks died on October 24, 1904. According to the Handbook of Texas, she was a member of the Texas Veterans Association and was a charter member, vice president, and honorary life member of the Texas State Historical Association.

Her scrapbooks and journals contain handwritten copies of poems, short stories, religious writings, letters, and historical notes. Through the years, she contributed many of these items to various newspapers and journals. The University of Texas received her collection of miscellaneous documents relating to the history of Texas from 1837 to 1900.

An eventful life as a pioneer settler, a desire for historical accuracy, and a gift for writing - all served Julia Lee Sinks well in her effort to preserve Texas history. And her reminiscences in Chronicles of Fayette serve us well today, reconstructing for us our background - telling our story - through the voices of the past.


Sally Skull

by Sherie Knape

There have been many legendary female characters throughout Texas history and the most infamous was Sally Scull (Skull). Sally was born Sara Jane Newman in 1817 or 1818 probably in Illinois. She was the daughter of Joseph Newman and Rachel Rabb Newman. Her grandfather, William Rabb, moved his entire family - children, grandchildren and all - to a Spanish land grant site in now present-day Fayette County where he was a gristmill operator.

The women often found themselves at the mercy of the wilderness and the Indians when the men were away. Sally probably inherited her strength of character and spirit from her courageous mother Rachel. Legend has it that during one of Joseph's frequent absences; Comanches attempted to enter the Newman cabin. Rachel took offense and promptly chopped off one of the Indian's toes with a double bit axe. The Indians then tried to enter the home by way of the chimney. A feisty Rachel piled feather pillows in the fire grate and set them ablaze.

In spite of Rachel and Sally's well-earned reputation for self-defense, Indians of other tribes continued to raid the Newmans at every opportunity.

Eventually Rachel complained enough to her husband about the Indian raids that the Newman clan fled their initial settlement and took up residence approximately fifty miles southeast in the safer climate of Egypt about ten miles north of Wharton.

In 1833 Sally married Jesse Robinson. The couple moved into their house on Jesse's land grant near Gonzales. In March of 1836, Sally and her two-year old daughter very likely got caught up in the Runaway Scrape as citizens fled before the invading armies of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

In 1843 Jesse Robinson sued for divorce. He called his bride "a great scold, a termagant, and a adulterer." Sally countered and charged Robinson with cruelty and claimed that he'd squandered her inheritance. She wanted her dowry restored and custody of their two children, nine-year-old Nancy and six-year old Alfred. The jury split up the property but failed to render a verdict on the children. The couple's divorce was finalized on March 6, 1843. Later Sally placed the children in a Catholic School in New Orleans.

Within a heartbeat of Jesse's departure from her life, Sally remarried. The groom was George H. Scull, a mild mannered gunsmith. He and his new wife moved back to Egypt and lived on land inherited by her father. Although she remarried three more times, Sally retained the name Scull or Skull for the rest of her life.

For 5 years Sally Skull seemed to drop off the face of the earth only to reappear claming herself as a single woman. When asked on the whereabouts of her sweet natured, mild mannered husband, she snapped, "He's dead." Evidently no one cared or had the nerve to question Sally so poor Scull just passed into history.

For a few years Sally roamed the countryside. In 1852, she turned up in Banquete and bought a ranch. She married John Doyle and they started a highly successful trade and livestock business. Not long after arriving in the area she was involved in a pistol fight. The shooting took place in front of numerous bystanders and might be the reason for her quickly growing reputation of violence. The entire population of South Texas was said to recognize her as she rambled across the land with her mule trains and horse herds. She wore mostly pants even though it was considered unnatural for women. For formal occasions she hid two French pistols under her clothing but for everyday wear a gun belt and heavy revolvers worked fine.

Sally persuaded her cousin, John Rabb, and his friend to acquire land next to hers and they began running huge herds of cattle under the now famous Bow and Arrow brand. She traveled around the countryside acquiring livestock alone and carried large amounts of gold in a bag hanging from her saddle horn. Concerned family members warned her that such practices could be deadly. Sally just laughed, checked her loaded pistols, and continued on her way. Whispered rumors of horse theft often followed Sally, but no one had grit enough to accuse her openly.

Sometime between 1852 and 1855 John Doyle faded from the scene. Having two husbands vanish left neighbors with wild stories of how she must have killed one or both of them.

It is fairly certain that she didn't kill her fourth husband, Isaiah Wadkins. Her petition for divorce described a physically and mentally abusive union that ended when she abandoned him in 1856 after he beat her and dragged her behind a horse.

When the Civil War broke out, Sally had been living with her fifth and final husband for over a year, Christopher Horsdorff, at least twenty years her junior. During this time she stopped ranching and began the more profitable business of running cotton from Texas to Mexico and returning with weapons for the Confederacy. This added to Sally's already legendary status.

When the Civil War ended Sally again dropped out of sight. In 1867, a suit filed against her in 1859 ended with the puzzling note "death of Defendant suggested." Many believe Horsdorff killed her for her riches. Authorities never brought charges against Horsdorff or anyone else. Legends still persist that she simply abandoned her old stomping grounds and struck out to find a new life.

In the end it doesn't really matter how or when Sally Skull died. Her life of struggle, achievement, defeat, and success in spite of unbelievable odds should be what we take from her story. Sally Skull was never known to betray a friend and even during the rough times she still maintained close contact with her son and daughter. And although parents all over used the image of Sally Skull to keep their offspring from misbehaving, there is no evidence that she was anything but loving and concerned when it came to any child she ever met. In 1964 a historical marker in her honor was erected two miles north of Refugio, Texas


Mollie E. Hodge-Smith and J. Frank Smith

Winchester (Fayette County) and Doaks Spring, Texas Pioneers

By David L. Collins, Sr.    

Mollie E. Hodge, the daughter of Henry Hodge and Georgianna Hodge, was born in May 1870 in Winchester (Fayette County), Texas.  Her brothers and sisters included W.E., E.M., Clara, Valdie and T. H. based on the 1880 census.  Mollie’s father, Henry, was from Tennessee, and her mother, Georgianna, was from Maryland.

Before we get into the incredible story of Mollie and Frank, we want to go back to the birth of her mother, Georgianna Hodge, who was born in 1835 in Maryland and according to census records belonged to the Browning and Cracksaw Estate.  They owned a rope factory on Light Street in Baltimore, Maryland.  Georgianna was sold at a Sheriff sale for debt when she was 16 years old in 1851.  Once Georgianna was sold, the new owners apparently used her as a personal servant.  This assumption is based on a travel manifest in which she arrived back in the United States on December 14, 1863 from Aspinwall, Panama.   The passenger list showed her name as Georgianna Hodge, born about 1835, female, ethnicity - American, place of origin and destination - United States of America, port of arrival - New York, New York, and traveling on the Steam Ship Illinois.

Georgianna’s name was listed below J. Perry (merchant), Mary Perry, George L. Perry, Ellen T. Sealey, and below her name was A. S. Meade and Mary Hatch, both females. One can only assume that Georgianna was a servant to the Perry family or one of the other merchants who traveled on that same ship.

Georgianna’s future husband, Henry Hodge, was born in Tennessee in 1827 and by November 10, 1870 (enumeration date) was in Beat 1, Fayette County, Texas, USA, involved in agriculture.

Winchester (Fayette County), Texas

By 1880, Henry Hodge (age 53) and Georgianna Hodge (age 45) were living in Winchester, Texas and raising a family of six children. The census shows that their oldest child, W.E., was born in 1858 in Texas, and their second child, E.M. was born in 1866.  W.E.’s birth year dictates that he was born prior to emancipation, indicating that the Hodges must have come to Texas with their owner. Apparently, Georgianna traveled with her owners in 1863 prior to her second child being born in 1866.

Migration to Lee County, Texas

During the latter part of 1880s, their daughter, Mollie Hodge, married J. Frank Smith, who was born in July 1859 in Texas.  They settled in Justice Precinct 4, Lee County, Texas just south of Lexington, Texas along Highway 77 in the Leo Community and eventually migrated into the Doaks Spring Community by 1900, when the census lists their children as Shelton D. (11), William L. (10), James T. (7), Franklin D. (4) and Irene (1).  Mollie and J. Frank remained there for the remainder of their lives.

Based on my interview with John Smith of Minnesota, Mollie Smith’s grandson, J. Frank Smith died in 1909 from a very serious illness, and Mollie was left with the responsibility of caring for herself and their children.

From 1909 to 1966, Mollie amassed and added to her over 450 acre estate and raised and educated all of their children, many of whom became educators.  The 1940 Census indicated that Mollie was living alone with her son, Frank Smith.  The rest of her children had moved away and were raising families of their own.

In the late 1940s, when I was old enough to roam the countryside, I got to know Mrs. Mollie and her son, Frank.  They were very hard working people and were well thought of in the community where they were always willing to lend a helping hand.

Mr. Frank Smith owned a large tract of land on which Smith Creek ran through; he was gracious enough to allow the area families free access to fish there every weekend.

As I grew older, I also got to know Georgianna’s siblings who moved to Doaks Spring and built lives for themselves.  One gentleman was Mr. Tommie Hodge who would contract with cotton farmers in Hallettsville, Cuero, Refugio and Woodsboro, Texas.  Each summer he would load us and other families onto his big Ford truck and haul us from farm-to-farm at these places. He was a hardworking man and reminded me of his grandmother, Mollie Hodge-Smith.

I have been very fortunate to know and be a descendent of many great African American pioneers of Fayette County, who eventually migrated to Lee County, Texas, where they struggled and worked hard and made it possible for their children to create better lives for themselves.
There is much more to discover about Georgianna Hodge and her daughter, Mollie Hodge-Smith, who were two very strong African American women who went through a great deal to survive.

Mollie Hodge-Smith passed away in 1966, and each time I look at her picture, her hat reminds me of a halo of an angel.

David L. Collins, Sr. personal history
Hodge and John Smith family interviews
United States Census Records

Christian Ernst Soergel

by Neale Rabensburg

Ernst SoergelErnst Soergel, a 40-year-old Prussian immigrant, who settled in the northeastern reaches of Fayette County in the latter part of 1846 was a free thinker, an intellect and a theologian.  Less attractive qualities were his withdrawn manner and a rough exterior appearance.  He took employment with the Adelsverein (the German Emigration Company) as an assistant overseer of Nassau Plantation located in the Jack League.    

Ernst’s cousin, Alwin Soergel, who had arrived earlier that same year, purchased a 100-acre property in the Winn League, which was adjacent to Nassau Plantation.  This 100-acre tract included the landmark facility known as the Round Top House, which had been built earlier by Captain John York, a war hero for the Republic of Texas.  The Round Top House was designed as a way station and initially served teamster traffic, bringing provisions from the coast into the central Texas region.  Alwin, who attempted farming on his 100 acres for only a few months, soon took employment with the Adelsverein and continued with his writings and sojourn across Texas.  When he received news of his brother’s illness, Alwin made the decision to return to his homeland of Prussia in September 1847.  He placed his cousin Ernst Soergel in charge of the Round Top House and the 100 acres.  Ernst continued to manage this property for the next 28 years.

In December 1846, the Round Top House became the regional post office for northeastern Fayette County.  Ernst Soergel may have been part of the negotiations with US postal officials for its relocation.  In October 1847, one month following the departure of his cousin Alwin, Ernst Soergel was unfortunately a party to a gun battle at Nassau Plantation.  Two men were killed, and Ernst was arrested, indicted for murder, but later acquitted.  The repercussions from the ensuing trial, which lasted well into 1848, were felt not only in Fayette County, but at the State and international levels as well.  The exposure of the trial placed the reputation of the Adelsverein into a freefall, and in Europe, the Society’s directors and financial backers, who were the Prussian noblemen, were overwhelmed and dismayed.  Nassau Plantation, the Society’s only tangible asset in Texas, was soon lost to a creditor, Otto von Roeder, and the Adelsverein continued its decline until its final demise in 1853.

The arrest of Ernst Soergel, the murder charges against him and the trial which followed, most likely led to the loss of postal operations for the Round Top House during the summer of 1848.  Ernst, as the manager of the Round Top House, made an error in judgment when he allowed this facility, a United States regional postal center, to be used as the staging ground for the early morning assault on nearby Nassau Plantation in October 1847.  John Shults, a local land speculator, recognized the economic benefits of securing postal operations and solicited US officials for the role of postmaster.  Shults was successful with that effort and was thus able to rustle postal services to his home property located about 1 ½ miles to the south near Cummins Creek.  He renamed the post office after himself and placed postal services within his company store.  Shults later moved his store and post office a short distance to the west into the emerging village that would develop into “new” Round Top on Cummins Creek.  The former name of “Round Top Post Office” was restored at the request of postal officials; however, the change of name appears to have happened as late as 1851 as per von Rosenberg and Meerscheidt family correspondence.

In 1875, Ernst and Auguste Soergel moved into the town of Round Top on Cummins Creek to live with their adopted daughter, who was married to Walter von Rosenberg.   The von Rosenberg home was a two-story structure located near the banks of Boggy Creek.  Ernst died there in 1880 with pneumonia.  The von Rosenberg family contends that he was buried in the Soergel Hill Cemetery (now Richters Cemetery) close to the grave site of his sister-in-law, Amanda Fallier von Rosenberg.  Notice in the May 12, 1880 issue of the La Grange Journal newspaper said that Ernst Soergel, who was 74 years of age, died at the residence of Walter von Rosenberg on April 26, 1880.  The article also mentioned that the “number of weepers at the funeral was large.  The loss of deceased is very much regretted by the people of the community (Round Top).  He was one of the early settlers of Fayette County.”

Photo caption: Ernst Soergel; compliments of the von Rosenberg Family of Texas
Kearney, James C. Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation; University of North Texas Press; 2011
The Round Top Area Historical Society Archives
von Maszewski, W.H. A Sojourn in Texas 1847-48; German Texas Heritage Society, San Marcos; 1992
von Rosenberg, Charles W. Ancestral Voices, The Letters of the von Rosenberg and Meerscheidt Families (1844-1897), compiled in 1981, per the Committee of the (von Rosenberg) Reunion Association of 1978 
Weyand, Leonie Rummel and Houston Wade, An Early History of Fayette County; The La Grange Journal; 1936  


The Solomon Family Photos

By Rox Ann Johnson

Solomon Home in La Grange, circa 1895For twenty years, the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives has housed a large collection of photographs that were labeled, “Solomon Family.” Three or four key photos had names written on the back, but the remainder were unidentified. In attempting to identify the beautiful trove of photographs left behind by the Solomon family, I needed to learn their story.

The parents were William L. (usually seen as W. L.) Solomon, 1843 – 1926, a railroad engineer who was born in Wake County, North Carolina, and Francis Elizabeth “Fanny” Grimes, 1852 – 1924, born in Brooklyn, New York. Their sons were Lewis “Eugene,” 1871-1931, and Raphael Vetrivious, known as both “Ralph” and “Ray,” 1874-1961. Their daughters were Daisy, 1878-1918, Beulah, 1882-1938, and Lucy, 1883-1907, and all were born elsewhere in Texas.

On June 7, 1888, The La Grange Journal announced that “W. L. Solomon, engineer on the LaGrange Branch of the Southern Pacific, has purchased the T. Q. Mullen property and will soon occupy it.” This property was the northern half of Block 30, which lies on the south side of Travis Street between Franklin and Madison Streets. A photograph shows the Solomon sons posing with their horse-drawn carriage on Travis Street, with the Methodist church in the background. Unlike today, the tree-lined street was bordered by white picket fences. Another photo shows the entire family in front of their lovely one-story wood-frame home with three of the children holding musical instruments.

The Solomons joined in community activities. Several photos show the children participating in costumed productions and Mrs. Solomon joined the Ladies Cemetery Association. In 1915, the family took a month-long trip to San Francisco, where they saw the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, the world’s fair that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean, and showcased the rebuilding of San Francisco following its 1906 earthquake and fire. However, for the most part, the children’s lives were spent in La Grange.

Ray attended the University of Texas law school and, as several of the Archives’ photos show, he played a cornet in the University Varsity Band. Ray had a lazy eye, glass eye, or some other condition that makes him easy to spot in photographs. His left eye appeared more open than the right, so he often turned his profile to the camera. He practiced law, first, in Houston for about ten years and, later, in La Grange. Ray ran for Fayette County attorney in 1918 and again in 1926, but lost both times. He then ran for city attorney, making a point of professing his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, and served a couple of terms. The story was told that Ray wanted to marry one of the Kruschel sisters, but his mother objected. Supposedly, she locked him in his room and fed him only bread and water until he promised not to marry. In 1927, Eugene overturned his Ford auto into a drainage ditch with Beulah and Ray as passengers. All three were pinned underneath the car with part of  it resting on Ray’s head, but they escaped with relatively minor injuries. In June 1932 and now in his sixties, Ray began hallucinating. The La Grange Journal reported that, at his request, he was taken to the State Hospital in San Antonio for treatment. He was still there in 1940, but eventually was taken to the Confederate Veterans home in Austin.

Our look at the Solomon family quickly explains why no one in La Grange remembers them today. As previously mentioned, Ray’s mother had forbidden him from marrying one of the Kruschel sisters and he never wed at all. Two of Ray’s sisters, Lucy and Daisy, predeceased their parents, having never left home. Beulah did not marry, either. The same week in June 1932 that Ray was taken to San Antonio, she was tried for lunacy and her last six years were spent in the State Hospital at San Antonio.

Eugene, the eldest, worked first as a salesman at Frank Reichert’s furniture store on W. Colorado Street. Later, he was employed at the Southern Pacific depot in La Grange as a freight agent and, finally, as station cashier. Though census records show that he lived with his parents, Eugene bought a 27-acre farm just outside of La Grange where he raised prize-winning Poland China hogs. Eugene was the only one of the five to marry, and he waited until June 1926 after both parents had died and he was in his fifties. His bride, Dannie Carson, 1882-1968, was from Dallas and her sister, Pearl Sheeler, was a friend of his mother. Eugene brought Dannie back to La Grange to the old family home on Travis Street, where they lived with Ray and Beulah. The marriage produced no children, so there are no living Solomon family descendants.

An interesting side note is that Eugene served for a while as station agent at the depot after the previous agent, C. P. Jones, was shot through the screened window adjacent to where he was seated in his home. The murder investigation revealed that Jones’ wife had hired the killer, Pete Banks. Interestingly, with very short notice, Ray Solomon was one of the attorneys appointed to represent Banks, an African-American man, at his trial. In separate trials, Mrs. Jones was given a life sentence, while Banks was given the death penalty. Mrs. Jones was granted several furloughs to see ill parents, and in January 1928, her sentence was shortened to only five years by Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson just before she left office. Ray Solomon continued to work on Banks’ appeal, and although the date for Banks to die in the electric chair had been set for February 15th of that year, he was granted two reprieves. Finally, Governor Dan Moody decided it was not fair that Banks should die, while Mrs. Jones, who had persuaded him to commit the crime, went “practically scot free” and commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

Solomon House, 1950Eugene spent his last years in and out of railroad hospitals, and in 1933 after his death, his wife forced a sale of part of the Solomon property. By 1934, those lots were vacant and were used by traveling magic acts, Christian revivalists, skating rinks, flower sales, and the like. Around 1940, Dannie returned to Dallas, though she was still listed as the owner of the Solomon family home in 1950. In tax records from that period housed in the Archives, the condition of the 1430-square-foot house was listed as “awful.”

By 1959, the house was razed, and in October, a new 8,000-square-foot Super Valu grocery store opened at that location. Today, that building is a NAPA Auto Parts store. Besides the Archives’ photos, the only reminders that the Solomons ever lived in La Grange are the small block markers without dates in the new La Grange City Cemetery. The grave of Ray, the last to die at age ninety-one, was never marked.

Photo captions: 
Top: The Solomon family, circa 1895. From left are Daisy and Eugene, holding violins; Frances "Fanny" (Grimes), sitting in rocker and holding a fan; Beulah, holding a book; Ray, holding his cornet; William, seated in a wicker chair; Lucy, seated on the ground next to their cat; photo courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives.
Bottom: The Solomon family home at 232 E. Travis Street in 1950; photo courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives.
Census, death certificates, and newspaper articles. See Solomon family file 2018.20.7 and Banks family file 2018.20.9 at the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives.
Notes from interview with Mrs. Frankie Robson in Texas Parks & Wildlife archeology lab files on Monument Hill and the Kreische Brewery

Rudolph B. Spacek, Fayetteville Solid Citizen

by Irene Polansky

Rudolph Spacek's travels took him away from Fayetteville, but never more than a one-day train ride away.

Rudolph Benjamin Spacek was born in 1884. At the age of seven, he was enrolled in Father Chromcik's School in Fayetteville - now the site of St. John's Catholic Church. Czech was the language spoken at home, but everyday contact with Germans and classes at Professor Hill's German School made him proficient in that tongue as well. After graduation, he attended Hill's College in Waco and took night classes in telegraphy (sponsored by the railroad). He spent a year clerking in a store in tiny Hackberry, Texas before tapping into his telegraphy skills.

He worked at a variety of train stations- from Sealy to Temple. Other stations where he served were La Grange, Coupland, Taylor, Granger, Bartlett, Temple, Waco and Lorena.

After his Grand Tour of small town railroad depots, Spacek returned to Fayetteville, where he bought a millinery shop from a Mr. Otto Forres.

In 1905, he married Mr. Forres' daughter, Minnie. They moved to Granger, where they opened a general grocery store. Conditions there were poor and the local custom was to charge merchandise at the store against the cotton crop-which might come in, or might not. Discouraged, he sold out without realizing any profit whatsoever.

Returning to Fayetteville, the business climate was better. Rudolph Spacek wanted to make up for lost time. He went into the real estate business and also a partnership with a tailor. He became a notary public and an advisor on tax problems. While selling general insurance, Spacek bought and sold cottonseed and flour. He later became a Justice of the Peace with his office in the Fayetteville Precinct Courthouse. In 1916, Spacek petitioned the Texas Railroad Commission for a new freight platform, threatening a lawsuit. As the entry in a Fayette County history states: "Fayetteville soon had the best freight platform in the state."

During World War I, Mr. Spacek headed the local chapter of the Red Cross and tiny Fayetteville raised more money than any other town in Fayette County. He also served on the school board and won accreditation for Fayetteville High School.

From 1940-1954, Rudolph Spacek served as a Texas State Representative and once served seven consecutive terms without missing one day. Mr. Spacek died on November 26, 1963.

If Fayetteville had had four more people like Rudolph Spacek, the State Capital might be in Fayette County.

George Washington Speir

by Josephine White

George Washington Speir was born about 1796 in Georgia, the oldest son of John Speir, Jr. and Rachel Bagby Speir.  His documented ancestry goes back four generations from his father, John Speir, to his ancestor James Speir, who was born in Virginia in about 1660.  The Speirs moved to Alabama where George may have grown up.

The name Speir will be found in Texas records as Speir, a Scottish name correctly spelled SPEIR, but often misspelled as Spier, Spear or Speer.

The name of George W. Speir’s first wife is unknown. They had one daughter, Mariam.  George’s second wife was Rebecca J. Gilliam.

There are indications that George Speir may have been in Texas as early as 1825; that he may have come to Texas, looked around and went back to Alabama. In February 1835, he was here with his wife, Rebecca, and his daughter, Mariam.  The Register of Families, edited by Villamae Williams from the originals in the Land Office, Austin, shows George W. Speir from AL. in February 1835, a farmer with a family, wanting land.  He was quickly assigned responsibilities adding to the legend that he had been here at an earlier date.

Elected and Appointed Officials of the Republic of Texas, 1835-1846, State Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin, 1981, p. 114 shows that George W. Spear (Speir) was elected to the Associate Board of Land Commissioners, County of Fayette, 1838.  George W. Speir was also elected Justice of the Peace/Mina (Bastrop County) 1836-1839.  (The portion of Fayette County near West Point, Texas, where Speir lived, was in Mina (Bastrop) County before Fayette County was formed in 1838.)  On February 8, 1836, he appeared in San Felipe de Austin with a land claim to be audited.  (Speir may have also been a land commissioner in Mina County, and when Fayette County was organized, he was re-elected to that position.)

In Lotto’s Fayette County, pp. 178-180, published in 1902, he is shown as G.W. Speer, and was listed as a “Freeholder” of Fayette County at the time of the Republic of Texas.

Note from the library in Columbus, TX, November 9, 2006: Bastrop County Before Statehood by Kenneth Kessels, Austin; Jenkins Publishing Co., p. 187:

“The road on the west side of the river ran from the La Bahia Crossing on the Colorado to Gazley Creek, and from there to the Mina Crossing on the Colorado.  The Commissioners were Norman Woods, Montraville Woods, George Spier (Speir), Wm. A. Fairres (Faires), John McGehee, Elijah Curtis, James Stewart, Joseph Burleson, Sr. and John Harris.”

Of special interest are documents from the State Archives which tell of Speir’s military service to the Republic of Texas.  He participated in the “Battle of Bexar”, or sometimes called the “First Battle of the Alamo”, which was fought in the streets of San Antonio in December 1835.  Speir enlisted for 31 days in December 1835.  He came back home to what is now Fayette County.

In Julia Sink’s Chronicles of Fayette County, she mentions that during the “Runaway Scrape”, G.W. Speer was helping women and children cross the flooded Colorado River.  George W. Speir is also mentioned in Some Early Travis County, Texas Records; Southern Historical Press, Easley, N.C. by Rev. Silas E. Lucas, Jr., pp. 3, 15, 24, 33, 41, 53, 91.  Speir had considerable holdings of land in Travis, Bastrop, Fayette and surrounding counties.  The western part of Austin lies on the league of land he owned in Travis County.

George W. Speir died on December 29, 1838.  He is buried in the Old Plum Grove Graveyard near West Point, Texas.  Speir, his wife, Rebecca, and his daughter, Mariam, are buried beside him.

Speir HeadstoneIn 2000, a new tombstone was placed on his grave suitable for the placement of three medallions from The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).  On November 4, 2000, George W. Speir, his wife, Rebecca, and his daughter, Mariam Speir Scallorn, were honored with a grave-marking ceremony by the Monument Hill Chapter, DRT.  Speir’s Defenders Medallion is for a “Veteran of the Texas Revolution”, honoring his services in San Antonio in December 1835.  His wife and daughter’s graves are marked with “Citizens of the Republic of Texas” medallions.

The Estate of George W. Speir, Case #7, Fayette County, states that his only heirs were his wife and daughter.  (Case #7 is the first case mentioned in the Fayette County Probate records. Cases 1-6 may be found elsewhere.) Gifford White in his 1840 Citizens of Texas, Vol. 2, Tax Rolls, p. 197, mentions George W. Speir’s estate.  John Wesley Scallorn was the administrator.

Although George W. Speir only lived in Texas for a few years, he left a legacy of significant contributions and achievements during the early formative years of the new Republic and Fayette County.


Memories of a Founding Member of the SPJST

by Jan Husak
submitted by Carolyn Heinsohn

The following article was written in the Czech language for the Vestnik, the official newspaper of the SPJST, on July 8, 1953 with additional explanations by the submitter.  Translated by Reuben J. Petrusek, Sr. of Fayetteville, Texas on October 11, 1984.

Those of us who are still living and are founding members are often asked to write some of our life story.  I will attempt to do this and tell something about organizing our SPJST (Slavonic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas, a Czech fraternal organization founded at the courthouse in La Grange on July 1, 1897.) There were many of us Czechs who belonged to the lodge Czecho-Moravan CSPS in Ellinger. (The CSPS was the first Czech-oriented fraternal benefit society in American founded in St. Louis, MO in 1854. The Ellinger lodge No. 105 was the first one organized in Texas in April, 1884).  Our monthly dues began to rise, and our crops were small due to the boll weevil, so some of us started seeking new members for the new organization of SPJST. (In addition to rising premiums, two other reasons for the breakaway of the Texas CSPS lodges were the developments in 1889 of a new Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society, the KJT, founded in Moravan (Hostyn), and the Sons of Hermann founded by the Germans of Texas, which also was a breakaway from the national organization. Those developments helped some of the Czechs insured by CSPS to decide that they too could organize a new fraternal society.)  Those who worked most were J.R. Kubena, I.J. Gallia, Augustin Haidusek, and others who I no longer remember.

When Kubena married, he moved to Fayetteville and started a business there, but in addition, he worked for organizing the SPJST.  At that time, I was a member of a lodge of the CSPS in Ellinger, where we held our meetings on Saturday nights, because some of our members were business men.  In those days, the people from the farm went to town on Saturdays.  We heard that they were going to organize the first lodge of the new organization SPJST.  So several of us brothers of CSPS in Ellinger decided to go to Fayetteville on a Sunday and help them.  Thus Kubena had a few members assured.

That is how it happened that we started the first local lodge SPJST (in Fayetteville).  I do not remember who all joined that day, but there is a record of them somewhere.  I do remember the name for the first lodge of the SPJST was suggested by Jan Chupik, the father of the now secretary, J.F. Chupik, and that we have accepted the name unanimously.  The name given to the first local lodge was “Progress in Texas”.

I read somewhere that Gallia was the president of the first lodge, but I have never seen Gallia in Fayetteville.  He probably was president of the main lodge until all of SPJST was organized.  Kubena was president of the Fayetteville lodge, and he was succeeded by Krenek. Slavik was secretary for a few years.  I cannot think of the names of the other officers, but again I am sure they are all recorded in the books kept at that time. (The first officers of Lodge No. 1 were actually Thomas Hruska, President; Ernest Knesek, Vice President; and John Slavik, Secretary.  J.R. Kubena was president when the new SPJST Lodge Hall was built in 1910.)  My wife also joined the lodge in Fayetteville, where we were members until we moved to Ross (McClennan County) where we helped to organize Lodge Oak Grove No. 126 of which we are still members.

I will also write something about my own life.  I came to America in 1883 with my father, my stepmother and two stepbrothers.  I was born in Jablonec, Moravia.  At that time, there were no trains through Jablonec to Vsetin, so we had to make a long trip before we reached the station to get on the train.  I was 17 years old then.  From our old country, everyone who came at that time came to Ellinger to the Hruska family.  We really came to the Thomas Novosads who were renting from the Hruskas.  Grandmother Hruska was Novasad’s older sister.  They came to America before the Civil War.

My father paid for my journey, but I had to work off that debt.  I worked at my brother-in-law, Thomas Novosad.  My father was Josef Husak.  My mother’s maiden name was Frances Kadlec, and she came from Waldorf, somewhere on the Czech-German border.  I do not know how she got to Jablonec in Valachia.

I do not remember in which year it was, but Thomas Novosad bought a farm near Fayetteville, and I was working for him.  The Trampota family lived nearby, and they also had come from Jablonec.  Mrs. Trampota came from the Palacky family, who came from Hodslavice in Moravia.  Her uncle was Frank (Frantisek) Palacky, who was the author of the “History of the Czech Nation”.  They had a daughter, Anna, who was eight years younger than I was.  I married her in 1892.  We rented near Fayetteville for about 15 years, and in 1907, we moved to West, Texas, where we rented from Ignac Hutyra for four years.  Then we bought a little farm about three miles west of West.  In 1943, we sold the farm to our son, because we could not work it anymore, and we still live in a small house near our son on the farm.

We raised six good children, one died at birth.  John, Frank and Frances Mrkos live here close to West; Joe and Albina are in Houston.  Albina is married to Tony Koval.  Anna is way out in Virginia, married to Jan Lastovica.  That is how it is.  Children grow up, and then they are all over the world.  Each one follows his livelihood, and all have started their own households, but all care about us with sincere love.

I must also say something about my wife.  She was also born in Jablonec.  The Trampota family went to America two years earlier than we, the Husaks.  John Havlik came to Jablonec at that time from America.  The Trampotas were his uncle and aunt.  When John Havlik came to Jablonec, he had to hide somewhat to keep from being imprisoned for trying to get people to move to America.  The Trampotas had to go to their uncle in Frenstat (Moravia) first and from there by wagon to Studenka, where they could get on the train.  It was pretty hard to prepare to go to America at that time, but the whole Trampota family came and with them was also Josef Mikolas, a brother-in-law of grandmother Hruska.  So all of them came to Hruskas two years ahead of us.

Our beginnings here in America were not so good. To plant corn, the seed had to be dropped by hand, and cotton the same way.  There was only a plow to work up the land and a cotton hoe to cultivate the field with.  Today’s work on the farm is different – all is done with machines and inventions.  Today, women seldom go to the field. Then everyone who was healthy had to go in the field. 

So, brother editor, if you can pick up anything from this writing, then set it up so that the readers might find out something about the early founding members.  We are on the earth only as visitors now.  I was 87 years old on March 20th, and my wife was 79 on February 3rd.  This is a pretty good age, but we are taking care of ourselves and are satisfied.  The 61 years we spent together were not all bliss, but also some grief.  But that is the fate of man.  My mother died when I was three years old, but I received a faithful life companion with whom I lived many years. 

Hoping that I wrote something of a part of a life of one of those who helped organize the SPJST.                                                                                
                                                                      Jan Husak
                                                                      Member of Lodge Oak Grove No 126

Frank Stanzel, Jr. and Rosina Stanzel—Pioneer Benefactors

by Eugenia Reeves

Franz Stanzel, Jr. was born April 15, 1842 in Mahren, Austria.  He was the son of Franz Stanzel, Sr. born in 1809 in Austria and Theresia Anders, born in 1820 in Austria.

Franz Stanzel, Jr. left the Port of Hamburg, Germany on November 5, 1867 at age 25 and landed at New Orleans on November 25, 1867.  His citizenship was approved on July 22, 1887.  The elder Stanzels came to America sometime after 1867.

On December 5, 1867, Rosina Guenther, with her five children, came to America and traveled to High Hill by covered wagon.  She was the daughter of Karl Guenther and Anna Till Muller.  In 1848, Rosina married Karl Blaschke, Sr. who was a veterinarian in Austria.  They had five children:  Carolina, Rosalia, Karl, Jr., Maria and Franziska.  In 1865, Karl Blaschke, Sr. died of blackleg and, when the chance came to go to America, it was an answer to Rosina’s prayer.

After a short courtship, Franz Stanzel, Jr. and Rosina Guenther Blaschke were married by Father Kallik Joseph Bilkowski on January 27, 1868 in the old Wick cabin at High Hill.

Franz Stanzel, Jr. and Rosina Blaschke Stanzel had three children:  Edward Stanzel, Ferdinand Stanzel and Ludmilla Stanzel Kallus.

Edward Stanzel married Adelheid Stanzel, daughter of Franz Stanzel, Sr. from the Middle Creek area (no relation) and they had two children:  Edward, Jr. and Herman Stanzel,  After Adelheid’s death, Edward married her sister, Agnes, and they had three children:  Victor, Joseph and Reinhart Stanzel.

When the GH & SA Railroad came through the southern part of Fayette County in early 1873, the railroad originally planned a depot near High Hill.  However, the railroad needed $5,000.00 from the town for a depot.  The town rejected the plan since $5,000.00 was a lot of money in those days.

Three landowners seized the opportunity:  Christian Baumgarten, Louis Schulenburg and Franz Stanzel.  They offered to sell their land for about $20.00 per acre or, if the railroad would build a depot and township, they would trade half of their land to Col. Thomas W. Peirce, President of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad.  Peirce accepted the trade.  Franz Stanzel had 100 acres, Christian Baumgarten had 30 acres and Louis Schulenburg had 450 acres of which about 83 acres were used for the township.  Louis Schulenburg sold his entire 450 acres to Peirce for $8,000.00 who planned a roundhouse and shops on this land.  A plat map was filed at the county seat in La Grange on October 20, 1873, Deed Vol. 1 page 320.

As a result, Col. Peirce owned half interest in every lot in the town, plus all of Schulenburg’s land.  In addition, there were three additional land owners north of town who traded also:  John & Sophie Wittbecker, 16 acres, Fritz and Mary Zander, 8.5  and Franz and Theresa Stanzel 1.9 acres.

Franz and Rosina bought 100 acres from Julius Schreb for $1,080, Deed Vol. W pg 290, 24 Jan. 1870 and provided 250 x 1520, Right of Way, (8.72 acres) to GH&SA Railway Co. (later changed to 392  120 ft. 13.68 acres) Agreement, Vol. 1 pg. 309.  The first depot was on Franz & Rosina’s land, part still standing as the old Eastern Seed Co., 400 block of  North Main.  The 100 acre area: north boundary line starting from junction of  Summit St. and Lyons Ave., then east to 50 ft. beyond Herder Ave. then South to 111 ft. past South St., then West to Lyons Ave. then up to beginning consisting of 28 blocks.  Franz and Rosina also gave four acres to St. Rose of Lima Church for the church to be built.

The Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, Stanzel Brothers Factory Museum and the Stanzel Ancestral Home (original farm house) are now situated on the original 100 acres at 311 Baumgarten St.  The Ancestral Home has a wonderful family tree that documents Franz and Rosina Stanzel’s descendants.

Visitors are welcome to visit the museums and view the balsa wood models and space-age amusement rides, from replicas spanning World War I to the Space Shuttle, and relive the magic that earned the grandsons of Franz and Rosina Stanzel a stratospheric reputation in model aircraft excellence.

Franz Stanzel born:  April 15, 1842
Died:  January 4, 1928
Landed in New Orleans:  November 25, 1867
Citizenship approved:  July 22, 1887
Buried:  St. Rose Cemetery, Schulenburg, TX

Excerpts from Blaschke-Stanzel Family History & church records
County Record information from Franklin Krischke to Robert Stanzel

Joseph Sykora – 106-Year Old Resident of Fayette County

By Carolyn Heinsohn

What is the secret to longevity?  Is it genetics, one’s diet, lifestyle, or philosophy of life?   Joseph Sykora of Fayette County, who lived to be 106 years old, had no answer when asked that question.  According to certain standards, his lifestyle would not have been considered conducive to longevity.  He smoked a pipe, worked outside in the sun for decades and ate a diet high in fat and sodium. 

Sykora, the son of Josef S. and Katherine Pechal Sykora, was born on January 6, 1864 in Horni Lidec, Moravia.  He immigrated to the United States in December 1882 at the age of 18, arriving in the port of Baltimore.  He eventually made his way to Fayette County and worked for a landowner in the Ellinger area, doing farm work for $60 a year.  Being a young man far from home without his family and having to work long hours, he soon became very homesick.  Ironically, on the same day that he went into Ellinger to mail a letter telling his parents that he was returning home, he found a letter from his parents announcing that they were coming to Texas.  He was sick at heart, because he really wanted to go back home.  But being a dutiful son, he stayed, and his parents came to Texas, along with his younger sister, Marianna.  He never went back to Moravia.  Sadly, his mother died a year after arriving in Texas. 

In 1886, Sykora married Katherine Belota, also born in Horni Lidec, Moravia in 1865, the daughter of Martin and Marianna Hejtmancik Belota.  She had immigrated to Texas with her cousins in 1885.  Joseph and Katherine obviously knew one another prior to immigration, because their village of origin was very small. They very possibly corresponded with one another, and Joseph may have convinced her to travel to Texas with her cousins, leaving her immediate family behind.

Josef S. Sykora lived with his son, Joseph, and daughter-in-law, until his death in 1902.  Joseph and Katherine had five daughters: Josephine (Emil Urbanovsky), 1887-1955; Anna (never married), 1889 – 1978; Mary (never married) 1895 – 1978; Frances (Anthony Rally), 1898 - 1956; and Ludmila/Lillian (Charles Keith), 1902 – 1979. 

The couple worked hard and saved their money and eventually were able to purchase 207 acres of land with a house in 1906 from William and August Treybig on what is now Sykora Road off of FM 1291 in the Fayetteville area.  This is where they farmed and reared their daughters.  Joseph lived in that same house for 64 years. 

Their lifestyle was no different than any other Texas Czech farm family at the time.  They raised their own provisions, attended church, were helpful neighbors and generally tended to their own business. They had few material possessions, but had a love for their family and their land. 

Katherine Sykora died in 1936 and was buried in the Fayetteville Catholic Cemetery.  Joseph retired from farming in 1942 at the age of 78.  At that time, he sold 100 acres of his farm.  His two single daughters, Anna and Mary, continued to live with him and cared for their home and their father’s daily needs. Although their home was simply furnished, it was always neat and clean. 

In 1969, when Sykora was 105, a story about him was published in The Fayette County Record.  At that time, he enjoyed listening to his old radio and having his daughters read to him, especially The Record and the Novy Domov, a Czech language newspaper.  He still smoked his pipe, dozed in the sun and enjoyed his favorite meal of pork and sauerkraut. 

He spoke only Czech with his daughters, who called him “Tata” or “Tatinku” (Papa), and they responded to his calls of “Dcerusky!” (Girlies!).  Having his daughters translate for him, he said that he enjoyed life, although he admitted that years ago, work was very difficult.  He wondered why God left him here for so long? Sykora also stated that he had not been in a doctor’s office since 1945.  When the daughters were questioned as to how they were able to care for themselves, their home, their land and their elderly father at an age when most people were needing help themselves, they answered, “We are happy and busy, and so long as we have our father, we are the happiest people in the world.” 

Joseph Sykora died on June 2, 1970, leaving his farm to his three living daughters.  He had the distinction of being the oldest Czech American at that time.  Anna and Mary left the farm and moved to Dallas to live with their widowed younger sister, Lillian Keith.  Both Anna and Mary died in 1978, less than four months apart.  Lillian died shortly thereafter in early 1979. The farm was eventually sold, but their old home built in circa 1900 is still standing.

It seems that a combination of order, hard work, simplicity and love were conducive to Joseph Sykora’s long life.  There is a lesson to be learned from his lifestyle – simplify one’s life, avoid stress, work hard, get plenty of exercise and be happy.  That may be the secret to longevity!

Eugene Michalsky, Fayetteville, TX
Fayette County Deed Records, Vol. 82, pp 179-181
“Joseph Sykora in 1969”, Louis Polansky.  Fayette County, Texas Heritage Vol II, p. 475; Curtis Media, 1996
The Fayette County Record, July 19, 1969

Waldine Tauch, Sculptress

by Donna Green

Waldine Amanda Tauch was born in Schulenburg on January 28, 1892. Her father was the local photographer, William Tauch. She was a bright and curious child. When she was seven years old she saw a carved ivory bookmarker from Germany and fell in love with it. She acquired chalk from her teacher and proceeded to create the same intricate piece of artwork. She was encouraged by her family and friends to do more of the same carving in chalk and soap. Waldine and her family moved to Brady, Texas. Her talent was discovered by the Brady Tuesday Study Club and they voted to sponsor the young girl and help her develop her talent. At the age of eighteen Waldine went to San Antonio to study at the studio of famed Italian sculptor, Pompeo Coppini. He had been dubious about female students and exacted a promise from her that she would give up marriage and family so that she could give her complete devotion to art. This was a radical view in 1910, even for a determined young woman. She never broke this promise to Coppini. And it is said that she never regretted devoting her life to creative work.

When the Brady Tuesday Study Club could no longer afford to pay for her education Coppini and his wife taught her for free and raised her as a foster daughter in their home. Waldine developed a natural style that led her to sculpt public monuments and heroic figures. Her first public commission was a bas-relief for the Brownwood Library. In addition to sculpting she also taught classes at the San Antonio Art Academy and at Trinity University. Waldine and Coppini together founded the Academy of Fine Arts to discuss and exhibit art in museums and galleries throughout the state. She received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Howard Payne University in 1941.

She contributed statutes to many famous institutions around the state. Some of her more recognizable work includes the statue of General Douglas MacArthur at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Moses Austin in San Antonio City Hall Square, and Pippa Passes at the Armstrong-Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University. Her final creation, done in 1971, was a large World War I doughboy for the American Legion Department in Austin.

Waldine continued to sculpt until her eyesight began to fail her in her eighties. She died in San Antonio on March 31, 1989 and was buried in the same plot as Coppini and his wife.


Tenant Farming: On the Halves, Thirds and Fourths

by Harvey Meiners

In the economic system founded on the cash crop value of cotton, the sharing of production was a common factor. The tenancy rate in Fayette County was high in the early twentieth century, and many families depended on a sort of crop-lien system that benefited both the farmer and the landowner, although with severe limitations for both.

The common system for farmers who had their own equipment, which was mostly, horse drawn, was to share one-third of the corn crops and one-fourth of the cotton crops with the landlord. This was referred to as farming on the third and fourth.

For those families who could not afford basic equipment, teams and seed, furnished only their labor, relying on the generosity of the landlord. For them, farming on the halves was the standard. Both types of renters were furnished a very simple frame house to live in and some barn and storage of feed and shelter for the work animals.

The third and fourth renter was allowed a small pasture to keep a couple of milk cows for home consumption of milk and beef. The tenant usually raised a few hogs and chickens and was allowed a garden plot to raise vegetables for family use. The tenant usually cultivated from 40 to 75 acres, depending on the size of his family labor force.

Oral rental agreements were a one-year term, renewed in the spring, for the following year. In this type of economic system, it was difficult, if not impossible for families to move up to land ownership. They were constantly in debt to the landlord or their limited percentage of the crop kept them from saving necessary funds for land purchase.

There was little economic distinction among farm families, although those who farmed on the halves were considered at the bottom of the system, and those who owned land were considered near the top. Relatively little in terms of cash wealth, however, separated the two.

The elite, such as they were, was the store owners and gin operators. In the cotton culture of the area, they controlled the flow of money. Gin workers cut samples from each bale and the buyer, usually the storeowner, graded it according to fiber length and strength, as well as the amount of dirt and debris it contained. The cotton was graded: strict middling, middling or low middling. The buyer would pay the farmer figuring the weight and grade of the bale and subtract the ginning fee. Any merchandise bought on credit during the year would be subtracted. Oftentimes the tenant farmer did not realize any cash until after the second bale was sold.

Credit was the lifeline of the payment system. When credit failed, like through drought or storms causing low crop yields, foreclosure often followed. As a result, the area cotton brokers and storeowners frequently became large landowners and real estate brokers as well. This is not to imply that the storeowners were indifferent to difficult times. They really wanted their customers, neighbors and friends to pull through rough times and be able to continue farming.



By Gary E. McKee

When the first Anglo settlers reached Fayette County in the 1820s, the major inhabitants were the Tichanwa-tic (meaning “Real People”). The Anglos referred to these “natives” as Tonkawa. Tonkawa mythology gives their place of origin as Red Hill or La Tortuga (the turtle). Anglos refer to this hill as Sugarloaf Mountain, which is sixty miles north of Fayette County near Gause, in Milam County.

Native Americans are categorized more by linguistic traits than by blood. The Tonkawan linguistic family was once composed of twelve small tribes that lived in a region that extended west from south central Texas and western Oklahoma to eastern New Mexico. Life on the plains required a nomadic lifestyle following the buffalo herds and the changing of the seasons. Due to the changing weather patterns affecting the lifestyles of all Plains tribes, the Tonkawa returned to Central Texas in the late 1700s.

The Tonkawa were friendly to the Americans settling Austin’s colonies and worked on early farms as hunters and crop workers. They acted as scouts for the early militia units that later became known as the Texas Rangers. A force of Tonkawa raced alongside John Henry Moore to intercept a large Comanche raiding party near San Marcos. While Moore’s militia rode their horses, the Tonkawa trotted alongside on foot.

When Texas joined the “land of the free”, the U.S. decided that the Tonkawa, along with all other Native Americans, were a nuisance and could live a better life on a reservation in northern Texas. In 1859, the tribe was removed to a remote, desolate location on the upper Brazos River. The few Anglos settlers there resented this and any Indian depredation by the Comanche from the plains was blamed on the Tonkawa. After one raid, a Tonkawa hunting party that was legally off the reservation trying to find food was murdered in their sleep by the Anglos. The Confederate government then moved them to southwestern Oklahoma in 1862. This was their new “home” for twenty years till a decision was made to move them back to Texas just east of Lubbock. No sooner than they had make camp in Fort Griffin, near Cisco, they were loaded on a train and shipped back to Oklahoma. A child born on the train was named Railroad Cisco. When the railroad ended near Oklahoma City, the tribe spent a winter on the prairie with little shelter. In the spring, they were then marched to near Fort Oakland, a hundred miles north of Oklahoma City.

The original Tonkawa reservation, established in 1885, was 91,000 acres which was previously the home of the Nez Pierce, who had been relocated from Idaho and Wyoming. As the need for land for white settlers increased, the U.S. nibbled away at the land until the Tonkawa tribe now lives on 1,505 acres.

The tribe legally organized in 1938 under Chief John Rush Buffalo in order to protect their land. The tribe now has an enrollment of 588 people with a per capita income of $7,200 and an unemployment rate of 21.9%. They still maintain their culture though specific dances and tribal pow-wows.

Tickanwa-tic: Tonkawa Tribal publication.
Donald Patterson, Tonkawa Tribal President (2008-2011) interview with author.

Barnard Timmons — A Civil War Commander

By Carolyn Heinsohn

From practicing law to commanding hundreds of men with Waul’s Texas Legion during the Civil War, Barnard Timmons made a name for himself during his relatively short life that ended at age 49.  He was born on January 1, 1835 in Jefferson County, Kentucky, the eldest son of John and Elizabeth Timmons.  After attending the Kentucky Military Institute in Frankfort, Kentucky, he moved to La Grange, Texas in 1856 at age 21.  An enterprising young man, Timmons began practicing law, although it is not known where he acquired the knowledge to do so.  In addition, he used his military education to do surveying for the state boundary commission and also taught mathematics at the Texas Military Institute in Rutersville.

Timmons began his military career during the Civil War as a first lieutenant in Co. A of the Ninth Texas Regiment organized in Fayette County.  This regiment disbanded after only six months of service, but during that time, Timmons was promoted to captain, obviously because of his leadership skills.  In early 1862, he enlisted with Waul’s Texas Legion Infantry Regiment that was organized near Brenham, Texas. Waul’s Legion, raised by Thomas Nevill Waul, originally consisted of twelve companies of infantry, six companies of cavalry and a six-gun battery of field artillery with a total of 2,000 men. Within a few months, Timmons was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the First Infantry Batallion.  The author’s great-great grandfather, John Neimann (Neumann) of Fayetteville, served as a private in Co. K, Timmon’s Regiment, Texas Infantry from 1862 until the end of the war in 1865.

Waul’s Legion was first assigned to Arkansas and Louisiana, but owing to the difficulty associated with commanding mixed arms, it was stripped of its cavalry and artillery components.  In October, 1862, the infantry companies of the legion were transferred to Mississippi and reorganized into two battalions of six companies each.  The members engaged in several skirmishes and battles, including the battles at Fort Pemberton and Champion’s Hill.  By May 18, 1863, Waul’s Legion joined other Confederate forces to defend Vicksburg, Mississippi from the siege by General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces.  After 47 days of courageous fighting, Vicksburg fell into the hands of the Union Army on July 4, 1863.  Timmons and the other men in Waul’s Legion surrendered and were taken prisoners of war. According to an earlier agreement between the Union and Confederacy, prisoners of war could be paroled and then returned to their own side where they would refrain from military activities until they were officially exchanged.  Timmons and his men received their paroles on July 9, 1863. Officially, the Confederate soldiers were supposed to head east towards Demopolis, Alabama, where they were to await exchange.  Unofficially, many soldiers deserted en masse and returned to their families and farms.

Timmons, as well as the author’s great-great grandfather, followed orders and were officially exchanged in Demopolis by mid-July, 1863.  Waul, who granted his men a 40-day furlough after the exchange, received a promotion to brigadier general and was given command of the First Brigade of Walker’s Texas Division.  With Waul’s promotion, Barnard Timmons was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the legion until the end of the war.  The legion was reorganized in Houston in the fall of 1863 and was assigned to duty protecting the Texas coast in the region of Galveston until the unit was officially discharged on May 5, 1865.

Timmons then returned to La Grange, where he resumed his law career, partnering with Joseph Brown.  The 1870 census shows that he was a lawyer living alone, but by the 1880 census, he was married to Debra Gault of Kentucky.  The couple had no children.  Unfortunately, Timmons acquired tuberculosis, which ended his life at age 49 on June 17, 1884 at his home in La Grange.  His wife died in 1919.  They are both buried in the Gault family plot in the State Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  The Timmons and Brown law firm continued to carry his name into the 1890s.  Although Barnard Timmons only lived in Fayette County less than 30 years and left no descendants, his name is linked to Fayette County in the historical accounts of the Civil War, where he is recognized for his significant role in defending Vicksburg during a long, infamous siege.

Sources: – Rootsweb; Waul’s Legion.
James A. Hathcock and Bruce Allardice. “Timmons, Barnard.” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 1, 2012; published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Robert Janak. “The Czechs of Company D” Janaks Texas Czech Articles and Photos, accessed online July 31, 2012.    

Plinky Plinked it!

by Marie W. Watts

Forget Annie Oakley!  The real shooting was done by Elizabeth Servaty (Plinky) Toepperwein.  Plinky and her husband, Adolph (Ad) Toepperwein, toured the world in the first half of the 20th century as the “The World’s Greatest Shooting Team”.  In a career lasting 40 years, the duo shot while standing on their heads just as easily as lying on their backs.  Plinky could shoot marbles, metal discs, apples, oranges, and eggs thrown into the air.

Elizabeth earned the nickname “Plinky” when Ad, a native Texan, was teaching her to shoot.  Excited to hit a tin can which made a “plinking” sound, she exclaimed “I plinked it.”  After one week she was splitting playing cards held edgewise at 25 feet.  She quickly moved to shooting a one inch piece of chalk from between her husband’s fingers as well as empty shells off his fingertips.  While trapshooting was her main interest, she was equally proficient with rifle, pistol, and shotgun.

Flatonia hosted two shooting exhibitions by Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Topperwein—one in 1903 and the other on the afternoon of May 10, 1917 at a vacant lot east of the Bludworth residence.  The couple used Winchester ammunition and guns provided by their sponsor.  (Note:  Toepperwein was anglicized from the German spelling to Topperwein).

Plinky was the first woman in the United States to qualify as a national marksman with the military rifle and the first woman to break 100 straight targets at trapshooting, a feat she repeated more than 200 times, often with a twelve-gauge Winchester model 97 pump gun. She also held the world endurance trapshooting record of 1,952 of 2,000 targets in five hours and twenty minutes. The clock did not stop ticking during the time needed to cool the gun barrel by pouring ice water over it.  Plinky passed away at her home in San Antonio, Texas on January 27, 1945.    

Despite all Plinky’s skill and the fact that she contributed equally to the family’s income, Texas treated her as a second class citizen.  On that day in 1917 as she stood on that vacant lot in Flatonia, Plinky could not

At least, in 1913, the law forbade a husband from writing checks and withdrawing money from a wife’s account if the money had been hers before they were married.

Regrettably, Ms. Elizabeth Toepperwein would always be known as an extension of her husband.  She was inducted in the Trapshooter Hall of Fame in 1969 as Mrs. A.D. Topperwein. 

Donna P. Parker, "TOEPPERWEIN, ELIZABETH SERVATY [PLINKY]," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 27, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Elizabeth York Enstam, "WOMEN AND THE LAW," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 27, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Flatonia Argus, March 26, 2003 and May 11, 1917.
“Mrs. A.D. Topperwein” retrieved from on November 27, 2013.
"TOEPPERWEIN, ADOLPH," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 27, 2013.

The Tonkawa

by Gary E. McKee 

Fayette County was inhabited by many cultures in the last ten thousand years. Upon the arrival of the Anglo settlers in the 1820s, the Tonkawa was the primary culture in this area.

The Tonkawa tribe arrived in Central Texas in the late 1700s. Originally a Plains tribe, the Tonkawa was driven from their lands by the Apache. In Central Texas, the Tonkawa absorbed the local bands of natives such as the Mayeyes, Cava, Toho, and Yojaune, among others. The Spanish attempted to convert them by erecting three missions on the San Gabriel River, west of Rockdale, in 1746. This venture failed after many Tonkawa died from disease and Apache raids. The Spanish then tried to convert the Lipan Apaches by building the San Saba Mission in the Hill Country. The Tonkawa joined the Comanche tribe and destroyed the San Saba Mission in 1758. For the next several decades, the Tonkawa periodically raided the Spanish settlements. Stephen F. Austin's colonists were met cordially by the Tonkawa who sided with them against the aggressive Comanche.

During the Linville Comanche Raid of the Tonkawa were eager to get a chance to fight the Comanche. After a meeting with General Burleson at Bastrop, Chief Placido and his band of "Tonquaways" trotted nonstop along side the Texian's horses for thirty miles to the Plum Creek battle site, where the Tonkawa helped defeat the Comanche raiders.

The Tonkawa were scouts and soldiers for Texas and later the United States. In the 1850s, Texas set up a reservation for the Tonkawa on the upper Brazos River. The local settlers, distraught over recent Indian raids attacked the reservation and killed many of the innocent Tonkawa. In 1859, they were removed to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). When the Civil War began, U.S. troops left the reservation and the local Indian tribes attacked killing half of the 300 remaining Tonkawa. The survivors returned to Texas and settled on the upper Brazos, near Fort Griffin where they served as scouts for the U.S. Army during the Indian wars. After Fort Griffin closed they returned to Indian Territory to settle on a tract of land listed in Texas public record as thousands of acres of "natural, hunting land for all times." In reality it was less than 100 acres for the 140+ Tonkawa. Today, less than fifteen families live on the reservation.


Unfeminine Defiance

by Kathy Carter

John W. Dancy left his home in Tennessee and set out for Texas in November 1836. He kept a detailed diary of his life and travels for more than 20 years. He made his first visit to Fayette County in April 1837 and camped on the Colorado River. Dancy surveyed the area and when he reached the summit of the Buckner's Creek heights, today’s Monument Hill, and saw the beautiful land spread about before him, he knew he had found his new home. He promptly purchased 640 acres of land and just as promptly left on his way to more adventure. He traveled all over the place, as far as Alabama, before returning to Fayette County almost a year later. Never one to stay put for very long, he was soon on the road again and in July of 1838, he relates this story: “I started for San Antonio this morning. At Rocky Creek, about 15 miles Southwest of Colorado City, I overtook Major (William) Brookfield, Dr. (William) Shepherd, Mr. Musgrove Evans, Captain (John James) Dix, Major Richardson and Misses (Hannah Marie) Evans and (Frances) Trask. When I was introduced to the ladies I observed that Miss Trask had a Bowie knife swung round her waist by a handkerchief and that Miss Evans had a pistol in her belt. Their appearance was too masculine for the gentler sex. We traveled six or eight miles farther and camped by a clear pool in the prairie. We slept on the open prairie.” It took the group several days and nights to get to Gonzales where they found that a group of Americans had gone to trade with the Comanche tribe, but all had been killed and robbed by the Indians. Undeterred by this news, the group continued on to San Antonio, arriving there three days later. They visited with the Sam Maverick family, and Mary Maverick noted in her diary that they were all, ladies included, on horseback and armed with pistols and bowie knives. She rode with them to the head of the San Antonio River where they viewed the lovely valley below. She was certain that Indians watched their every move from the river bottom. 

The sight of two sufficiently armed and apparently fearless women riding sidesaddle while properly attired in long skirts and full petticoats, and who had no qualms about sleeping on the open prairies amongst Indian prowlers must have caused quite a stir all along the road to San Antonio. They were no shrinking violets. Hannah Marie Evans was raised by her father and four brothers after her mother died while she was still a little girl. Frances Trask was a 32 year old single woman who had come to Texas with the Dix family in 1834. Miss Trask was a proper schoolteacher, but was also known to be one of the best shots in the country and could ride a horse better than many men. She was also prone to give smart or satirical speeches and was criticized for her “unfeminine defiance”.

Hannah and Frances were well prepared for any challenge that came their way.

Joseph Vasut — Importer and Jobber

by Carolyn Heinsohn 

The large U.S. cities of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco were not the only places where goods were being imported in the first half of the 20th century. There actually were European goods being imported into Fayette County from the 1920s through the 1940s, even when the Depression had eliminated the purchasing power of most Americans. As unusual as it seems, Joseph Vasut owned and operated a successful retail store in Schulenburg, Texas that provided a wide variety of useful and unique items, many of them from Europe, especially Czechoslovakia, which had become quite entrepreneurial after its creation as a new country at the end of WWI. For the local German and Czech customers, finding items from their homelands not only fulfilled their needs, but also provided a connection to their heritage and customs. Where else could one find poppy seed grinders and long-stemmed pipes from Czechoslovakia, or specialty knives and cigarette cases from Germany?

Vasut, the son of Andrew and Frances Petrik Vasut, was born in 1886 in Horni Becva, Moravia; he immigrated to the United States in 1903 at the age of 17. According to family tradition, his baggage was either lost or stolen, so he arrived in the land of opportunity with only $7.00 in his pocket. No immigration records for him can be found, however. Nevertheless, he made his way to San Francisco, where he survived the devastating earthquake in 1906, and supposedly later helped with the clean-up. He traveled back to Moravia in 1912 to visit his family and brought his younger brother, Frank, back with him to California. The date of Frank’s arrival in the U.S. was obtained from census records.

While attending a World Fair, Joseph met Alfons F. Herzik and a Mr. Wolters, both of Schulenburg, Texas. A family member states that it was the 1918 World Fair; however, a WWI Draft Registration card for Joseph, dated in June, 1917, shows that he was already living in Schulenburg at that time. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in 1915 in San Francisco, where Joseph was living at the time, so that was more than likely the “World Fair” that was attended by all three of the men. During their visit together at the fair, Mr. Herzik encouraged Joseph to move to Schulenburg, Texas, perhaps because there was a large population of Czechs and Germans living in Fayette County, and Mr. Herzik felt that he could capitalize on that market with a store that would provide unique, ethnic items that would appeal to both groups. However, he needed a partner for his business venture, and obviously noted that Joseph was a “people person”. Joseph eventually decided to take him up on the offer, but Joseph’s brother chose to remain in San Francisco, where he worked at the shipyard docks. The 1920 Federal Census, taken in January of that year, lists Joseph as single, having immigrated in 1904, a dry goods salesman and living in Schulenburg, Texas as a boarder with Frank A. Bezecny, age 42, an automobile salesman; his wife Frances, age 34; their foster child, Emilie Vacek, age 6, who was later adopted by the Bezecnys; and another boarder, Cyril M. Havel, age 34, a beverage salesman.

The 1920 and 1930 Federal Census records list Joseph’s brother as Frank Vashut, who immigrated in 1912 at age 19, was married to a woman named Anna, and had two children, Lillian and Victor. They lived in Oakland, California across the bay from San Francisco. By 1920, Frank owned an automotive garage, and by 1930, he manufactured sheet metal fenders. His WWI draft registration records in 1917 indicate that he was married and worked as a tinsmith at Adam’s Wharf. When Anna became a naturalized citizen in 1942, she changed her name from Vashut back to Vasut. 

According to Joseph’s son, Joe, Jr., his father worked for the Wolters General Merchandise Company, owned by R.A. Wolters, after arriving in Schulenburg, sometime before June, 1917. He apparently had to work elsewhere prior to his new business venture in order to acquire enough money to become a partner. Alfons Herzik and Joseph Vasut opened their variety store circa 1922, according to a ledger now in the possession of Joseph’s son. Many items, including pictures, razors, razor blades and cigarette cases, had been shipped that year from Germany to the Herzik & Vasut store located on the corner of Main Street and Lyons Avenue. An old 1920s advertisement with a picture of their store that specialized in imported goods and unusual items, especially from Czechoslovakia, states, “Herzik & Vasut …Importers…Schulenburg, Texas….Jediny ryze cesky obchod na jihu (The only true Czech business in the south.).

Joseph also traveled to Czechoslovakia in 1922, which is verified by the SS George Washington’s ship manifest that lists him as a passenger. In addition to visiting family and friends in Czechoslovakia, he may have made contacts with exporters.

Invoices and ledger entries from 1922 to 1934 for Herzik & Vasut, importers and jobbers, reveal the various kinds of goods that their store provided for their clientele. In addition to those previously mentioned, some other interesting items included table linens and house shoes from Czechoslovakia, plus a large variety of musical instruments from Germany, Czechoslovakia and New York. There were Tarock cards from Germany; prayer books, rosaries and calendars from New York; and metal cemetery wreaths from Philadelphia. A large shipment of themed clocks with pictures of doves, fountains, dancers and garden scenes were shipped from Plzen, Czechoslovakia in 1925. Interestingly, there were annual shipments of beer-making supplies, including siphons, tubing, crown caps, malt, barley, hops and pear extracts from Nebraska, Chicago and San Antonio, as well as beer glasses and liquor bottles. They even sold novelties such as buzzers, rubber cigarettes, shooting fountain pens and toothless combs. 

In spite of the large shipments of house shoes being shipped to their store, Joseph and Mr. Herzik also made slippers out of felt, to be worn indoors or out, because those were the depression years, and money needed to be saved. Joseph had learned that skill in Moravia and left a huge inventory of shoe molds in his garage, which validated their shoemaking efforts. It has been documented that a customer thought that the slippers were too expensive and asked to purchase them for half price, so Joseph accommodated him. When the customer got home, he discovered that he only had one shoe. Approaching Joseph about the fact that he was “short changed”, Joseph replied, “You paid for one shoe, and that’s what you got – one shoe.”

The partnership between Herzik and Vasut ended sometime between June, 1934, when an invoice for crystal crucifix candlesticks was still addressed to Herzik and Vasut, and November, 1934, when Joseph Vasut and Co. received an order for crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary, indicating that the partnership no longer existed. 

After the two men dissolved their partnership, Joseph Vasut continued in the same line of business, importing goods for his own store, which was located in a smaller space behind the original Herzik and Vasut store. That space, which became 715 and 717 Lyons Avenue, is now divided and occupied by a beauty salon and an attorney’s office. Alfons Herzik remained in the large store on Main Street, where he operated a combination clothing and general mercantile store. That store space eventually became the Elkins Five and Dime and is now the Family Dollar Store.

In addition to some of the items mentioned above, Joseph also ordered sickles and scythes that were manufactured in Brno, Czechoslovakia and blank records. At one time, it was possible to personally record one’s music with the right type of equipment, so blank records were needed for that process. He also sold religious artworks, Czech china and dishes, plus round tin and glass boxes with artificial flowers for graves. Sometime between 1938 to1940, Joseph sold his store and became an outside salesman, wholesaling his products to various stores in the area. His son, Joe, recalls that his father had a series of strokes after 1950. Joe was given an emergency driver’s license in 1952 at age 15, so that he could drive his father throughout the local area, perhaps in a 50-mile radius of Schulenburg. They would visit hardware stores where his father sold poppy seed grinders, household utensils, knives, hand sickles, corn cob and briar smoking pipes, Tarock cards, ornately decorated calendars with business advertisements, Bohemian Christmas cards, accordions and harmonicas. They did this for perhaps a year, but then his father’s health declined, which ended this venture.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Joseph’s business ventures was his role in providing Czech language movies for the Czechs in Fayette and Lavaca counties. Apparently, he had already started doing this as early as 1939, because there was an invoice for poppy seed grinders from a company in Lipnik nad Becvou, Czechoslovakia that was addressed to “Joseph Vasut, Importer & Jobber, Czech talking pictures”. According to his son, Joseph possibly acquired the movies from a U.S. source, maybe someone in Chicago, where he had acquaintances. During WWII, exports from Europe were interrupted, only to resume again in 1946 or 1947. More than likely, Joseph was not able to continue his movie business during the war due to the lack of supply of new movies, as well as the fact that half of his audience was off fighting in the war. Also with gas rationing and a shortage of automobile tires, people were driving their cars as infrequently as possible.

Another invoice from the same Czechoslovakian company in 1947 was addressed: “Firm: Joseph Vasut, Czechoslovakian Motion Pictures, Schulenburg, Texas”. The dates on these invoices confirm the approximate era of Joseph’s movie business. The 16 mm movies were delivered to Joseph by railway express shipping. He would then personally deliver the films to theaters in Schulenburg, La Grange, Hallettsville, Shiner, Moulton, Flatonia, Weimar, Ellinger and Fayetteville to be shown for one night. He also had his own movie projector, so that he could show the films at various local halls. Joseph even developed advertising fliers for the movies that he would place in stores throughout the two counties. By circa1951, he had to give up this business venture due to his health, even though the movies were very popular with area Czechs.

Joseph Vasut became an American citizen in November, 1924. He married Adela Dobrava, the daughter of J.V. and Magdalena Vacek Dobrava of Ammannsville, on Christmas Day, 1926 at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Schulenburg. They had two children, Jeanette and Joseph, Jr. He died on August 25, 1953 at age 66 of congestive heart failure and is buried in the St. Rose Catholic Cemetery in Schulenburg.

As a first generation Czech American, who came to this country as a destitute teenager with an incomplete education, Joseph Vasut, with his great social skills, fulfilled the American dream of success and prosperity with hard work, honesty, diligence, and consideration of others. He truly was the epitome of the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”

California Naturalization Records –
Family tradition by Joe Vasut, son; and Kevin Hollub, great-grandson
Federal Census Records, 1920 & 1930 –
Knapik, Jane. “Schulenburg -100 Years on the Road, 1873-1973”, p. 111; Nortex Offset Publisher, Inc., 1973.
WWI Draft Registration records –


Peter Carl Johann Von Rosenberg

Veteran of Waterloo to Fayette County Pioneer

by Sherie Knape

Peter Carl Johann Von Rosenberg was born in 1794 in Germany.

Peter enlisted in the Prussian Army at a young age and was a lieutenant in the cavalry by the age of 21. He served with an elite Prussian Guard unit known as the Uhlans. Their primary weapon was the lance and their chief responsibilities were scouting, skirmishing and outpost duty. Peter Carl fought in the battles of Leipzig and Waterloo.

Peter was married twice and had ten children. All ten children, both males and females, had some form of the name Carl in their name. The names of his children were Carl Hermann, Carl Wilhelm, Johanna Carolina and Johannes Carl, Carl Eugen, Amanda Karoline, Carl Alexander, Carl August Walter, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm and Charlotte Wilhelmine.

Peter was known in Germany as a free thinker and was severely criticized for his political views. Because of the unrest in Germany and fear of war, the family decided to leave Germany and immigrate to America. Peter and Amanda, his second wife, packed up the family and set sail for America. They sailed from the German port of Bremen in 1849 and after 8 weeks and 3 days at sea they landed in Galveston. The trip was very tumultuous as the ship encountered a storm when trying to land and was swept back out to sea. When they were finally able to land and get off the ship, the Von Rosenberg's saw that the ship had lost all twenty-two sails and only the bare framework remained.

After reaching American soil, Peter moved the family to their new home near Round Top. He had bought the property known as the Nassau Plantation. In 1861 when the Civil War broke out, Peter felt it was his duty to support the cause since he had been received so graciously when he first came to Texas. He was to old to fight so he put on his old Prussian Uhlan uniform and rode through the streets of Round Top calling on all young men to enlist.

Eventually, Peter bought land in Round Top and he and Amanda built a small home there. In 1864 Amanda passed away but Peter continued to live in their home in Round Top. When he could no longer live by himself he moved to La Grange to live with his daughter. He died in La Grange of Typhoid fever on October 19, 1866 and is buried in the Old La Grange City Cemetery next to his daughter Amanda Karoline Meerscheidt.

Von Rosenberg family photograph contributed by Jon Todd Koenig

Bigfoot Wallace

by Norman C. Krischke

William Alexander Anderson Wallace, son of Andrew and Jane Ann (Blair) Wallace, was born in Lexington, Virginia on April 3, 1817. In 1836, when he learned that a brother and cousin had been shot down in the Goliad Massacre, he set out for Texas to "pay out of the Mexicans."

Wallace was a magnificent physical specimen who stood six foot two inches and weighed 240 pounds without extra fat. For awhile he tried farming in La Grange, but the occupation was not to his taste. In the spring of 1840 he moved to Austin where he saw the last buffalo of the area run down Congress Avenue. He later moved to San Antonio.

He was with the Texans who fought General Adrian Woll's invading Mexican Army near San Antonio in 1842 and then volunteered for the Somervell and Mier Expeditions. Some of his most graphic memories were of his experiences in Perote Prison. As soon as he was released, he joined the Texas Rangers under John Coffee (Jack) Hays.

In the 1850's Wallace commanded, as a captain, a Ranger Company of his own, fighting border bandits and Indians. At one time "Bigfoot" had a little ranch on the Medina River on land granted to him by the State of Texas.

The later years of his life were spent in Frio County in the vicinity of a small village named Bigfoot. He never married. He liked to sit in a rawhide-bottomed chair in the shade of his shanty and tell stories of his career.

As a folk hero he belongs more to social than to military history. Wallace died on January 7, 1899 and the Texas Legislature appropriated money to move his body to the State Cemetery in Austin.


Digging a Water Well

by Edward F. Janecka

Digging a water wellDigging a water well was a difficult process in the early days of Texas, but having a well was a necessity to survive.  It took a special breed of men to undertake the perilous process of digging water wells.   Before digging could commence, it was necessary that one hired a “well-witcher”.   Using a forked peach limb or willow branch, “well-witchers” could pinpoint the exact location where a well should be dug.  Some could even determine the depth that the well should be dug.  

A hand dug well was usually about 3 to 4 feet in diameter at ground level.  The depth of the well could reach 150 feet, although some were as shallow as 15 feet depending upon the water table.  When digging down to the depth of 150 feet, diggers would normally lower lit corn tops into the depths of the well to explode the natural gas that may have accumulated throughout the prior night.  Unfortunately, there were some diggers who lost their lives due to accumulated gas that had not been burned off, as well being buried alive due to cave-ins while digging. 

After the digging process was completed, bricks or stones were placed around the interior walls of the well and then it was ready for use.  The well was either surrounded by a circular mortared stone wall or a square wooden enclosure that often including a trap door on top to keep out vermin. Two posts were placed on either side of the well, and a log was secured across the top of the posts.  Next, a pulley was anchored to the log.  A rope placed around the pulley was tied to a bucket that could be lowered into the well and when pulled up, it was full of water.  Buckets of water had to be carried into homes for daily use, as well as to the wash pots, gardens and animals.

As technologies improved, the bucket was replaced by a hand pump along with galvanized iron pipes descending to a depth below the water line.  Before long, the hand pump was replaced by a windmill.  The wind turned the gears of the windmill which in turn pumped water up from the well into a cistern that stored the water. At first, well cisterns were made of vertical staves of cypress wood that were held together with metal bands. The cisterns were then elevated on a metal or wooden platform or built over a wooden cistern house.  Later, many of the older deteriorated cypress cisterns were replaced with galvanized metal cisterns.  With the introduction of the cistern, water could be released at any time, and by the simple use of gravity, could be directed into the house or animal watering troughs. A water hose could be attached to a faucet at the base of the cistern, which facilitated washing clothes and watering gardens and plants. 

Wells were not only used to supply water, but they often also served as a natural refrigerator.  Prior to the use of electricity, water wells were used to store meat for a couple of days when meat was brought home from the meat club.  Butter, milk and anything else that needed to be kept cool were also stored in the water well in the summertime.  Special containers were used to keep the food dry.  Cistern houses also provided a cool, dark place for storing canned goods and crocks of preserved smoked meats.

The water well was also a place to hide beer, liquor or wine when the revenuers came looking.   Contraband was often placed and tied tightly into a "croker" (burlap) sack that was submerged into the well.  When the all-clear sign was given, a three prong hook on the end of a rope would be lowered into the well to snag the sack and hoist it up.

Old windmills and a few cisterns can still be seen around Fayette County reminding us of the days when accessing water involved more than turning on a faucet and paying a monthly water bill. 

Photo Caption: Water well diggers in the Dubina area, circa late 19th century; courtesy of Ed Janecka

The Wild Adventure of a Man Named Shirley

By Rox Ann Johnson

livery stable in La GrangeThe February 14, 1895 issue of The La Grange Journal relayed the thrilling story of how a local man had been involved in the killing of Jim French, one of the last members of the murderous Bill Cook Gang, who had been terrorizing the Oklahoma Territory. French had taken on a new partner, Jess Cochran, aka Kid Swanson or Slaughter Kid. Bill Cook himself had just been apprehended and would spend the rest of his life in prison. The Journal’s editor and proprietor, P. E. Edmondson, printed the story of his 28-year-old stepson, Shirley G. Wilkins, who had traveled to visit an old friend:

 “I left LaGrange on Tuesday, the 6th inst., for Catoosa, Indian Territory, where I arrived about 5 o’clock P. M. Wednesday. After calling on a few friends and acquaintances, and obtaining my supper at one of the hotels of the place, I went by special Invitation of my friend, Mr. Sam Irvine, to pass the night with him, at his bed-room in the rear of his store. We sat and conversed until about half past nine o’clock p.m., when we heard footmen approaching the bed-room through the snow, which was about 10 inches deep. They arrived in front of the room and a man, whose voice we recognized as that of a good citizen of the place, demanded that we open the door. Mr. Irvine arose to comply with the request, and as he did so said to me: “there is my gun,” (a double-barrelled shot-gun) and I took it up, and as he was about to open the door a shot was fired through it, which blew it open, and as it did so it placed him in the rear of the door and I directly in front of it. There were two lamps burning in the room which lighted it up very brilliantly, which we neglected to turn down or extinguish, thus placing ns at a great disadvantage. As the door opened the light shone on the men in front of it, and I saw Cochran had his winchester and was in the act of raising it to shoot me and I fired on him, some five or six buckshot taking effect in his head. As this occurred Irvine started to his bed to get, as I now know, his revolver, and just as he passed one of the windows, French [jabbed] his winchester through the glass and fired, shooting him through the body, and he sank to the floor. I then fired my other barrel through the window at French, but missed him, and having no more cartridges I laid the gun on the floor near Irvine and secreted myself in the corner of the room behind a bureau and awaited events without anything to defend myself with. In a few moments French stepped in the door and said: “Come out with your hands up and I will not kill you.”

“I told him I was coming, which I did very promptly. As I appeared he stood near the entrance with his winchester in his left band and his 46 revolver in his right, cocked and leveled at me. He ordered me to stand and not come too close. I obeyed him. He then ordered the three citizens [French’s hostages] to pick up Irvine and place him on the bed, and to bring in Cochran and lay him on the floor. He then wanted to know if I killed his friend. I told him I did not, and he seeing the shotgun on the floor where Irvine was lying, must have believed me, else he would have killed me at once. He then ordered one of the citizens to take off Irvine’s watch and put it in his pocket, which was done; all the time I was hands-up and the pistol pointing at my head. He then ordered me to take off my watch which I did and gave it to him and he put it in his pocket. He then demanded my money, of which I had a dollar and some small change in my pocket, which he got. About this time lrvine had revived enough to get hold of his pistol, which was under the pillow, and fired, the ball striking French in the neck just front of the left ear and ranging forward came out below his right eye. lrvine fired a second shot which took effect, and French, in the meantime, fired a shot at him, but it struck the bed railing, doing no damage. French then retreated to the hotel, got on his horse, which was hitched in front of it and rode off.

“He went about a mile to the cabin of a full-blood Indian, who was living alone with his little child; ordered him to make up a fire, make a pallet for him, hitch his horse, then pull off his boots. This all being done, the Indian took his child and slipped out and went to a neighbor’s and told him about French being at his house. This Indian at once repaired to town and told the citizens, and in a short time a crowd gathered and went to the house where French was, and as they approached him he made some kind of a demonstration and a young man named Tom Tansel [or Tansley], from Tennessee, finished him by emptying a load of buckshot into his head.” [At this point in the story, other accounts say the citizens were too afraid to enter in the darkness and waited until morning, when they found that French’s legs had fallen into the fire and that his feet had been burned off.]

“I [stayed] with my friend Irvine until he died, and his remains were taken to Vinita and buried, and I then accompanied U. S. Deputy Marshal Taylor, who took charge of French’s remains, to Fort Smith, where they were fully identified as those of Jim French, the noted murderer and robber, for whose arrest, dead or alive, large rewards are said to have been offered. I arrived back here Monday, having been absent a week, lacking a few hours. “I can say that I never want to pass through another such scene or anything similar to It.”

Wilkins Brothers AdNow, we might wonder whether Wilkins had actually participated in this episode. Several accounts referred to the store manager, Irvine, as Sam Irwin and one reported that Irwin’s store clerk, Tommy Watson, was the person who unloaded his shotgun on Jess Cochran. One account named Wilkins, but describes him as the store’s watchman. The Fort Smith, Arkansas newspaper reported that “Shirley Wilkins of Abilene, who killed young Cochran,” and Tansley had arrived at Fort Smith with French’s body, but they would not return to Catoosa for fear of retaliation.

Finally, one account of the incident stated that a “Texas cowboy” had killed Cochran. Wilkins and his brother, Bushrod, had been brought up raising stock, so that was probably a fair description. In 1899, the brothers bought a lot on Washington Street, just south of the La Grange square, and erected a livery stable. Shirley Wilkins married Virgie Moore here in 1901. However, they would not enjoy a long marriage. In December 1905, tuberculosis claimed Shirley Wilkins at age thirty-nine. He now rests in the Old La Grange City Cemetery.

Photo captions:
Top: This livery stable on South Washington Street was erected by Shirley and Bushrod Wilkins. Courtesy of the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives [PHO 2019.42.5]
Bottom:1900 La Grange Journal advertisement for the Wilkins Brothers’ livery stable
Sources :
The Cherokee Advocate, Claremore, Indian Territory, February 6, 1895
Cleveland County Leader, Fort Smith, Arkansas, February 16, 1895
La Grange Journal, La Grange, Texas, February 14, 1895 and December 21, 1905
“James Kell “Jim” French, Sr., 8 Jun 1872 – 6 Feb 1895,” entry in the Citizens Cemetery, Fort Gibson, Muskogee County, Oklahoma on
William Bird Interview. Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma,
The Spell of The West: Bill Cook Gang,
The Cook Gang: Plaguing Indian Territory,


Wolff Case Tractor & Implement Company

by Lilliemae Brightwell

Reinhardt Wolff had land near Park, Texas. In the 1940s he decided that he wanted to open a Case tractor dealership, keep his farm, and work in La Grange. The dealership was located at 717 East Travis St. across from the elementary school in La Grange.

Mr. Wolff always whistled. You knew where to find him. He displayed one of the first lug wheel tractors in his showroom during the war. Due to wartime material shortages, it was realized that if tractors were to be built they would have to be built without electrical components and rubber tires. Price freezes did not affect new models and the price of a new lug wheel tractor could be slightly higher than previous tractors. The new tractor was built with steel wheels and magneto ignitions and had to be started with the hand crank because it didn’t have a battery or starter. It was a very rough riding tractor. It would shake your teeth out.

It didn’t take long to convince the government that the tractor was as important to the farm back home as the other war products were. Restrictions on tractor production were finally relaxed. Tractors again could be built with starters, batteries, and rubber tires. Chrome plating disappeared and was replaced with painted items. Area farmers were happy once again.

The family was deeply saddened when Mr. and Mrs. Wolff’s son, Melvin Paul Wolff, was gunned down by a German sniper in 1945 while serving overseas in Europe. He is buried in Florida Chapel Cemetery near Round Top.

When I was in high school, his daughter Arline, Dorothy Koliha and I played girls’ softball. Our pitcher was Doris Knipple. We had a wonderful time playing at the SPJST ball park in Fayetteville. Mr. Wolff was one of our best fans and supporters. He loved baseball and took great pride in our team and purchased all of the uniforms. Wolff Case Tractor was on the back of the uniforms and I remember the suits were very attractive and impressive. He transported us on the back of his flat bed truck to the different games. He never drove over 40 miles per hour. 

One night at a game in La Grange Mr. Wolff got so excited you could hear him yelling blocks away. We could not hit the balls the tough pitcher (Nootsie Markwardt*) was pitching for the Coca-Cola team. Arline was up to bat and hit a single over second base. That shook up Nootsie. After that everyone on the team started hitting Nootsie’s pitches. What a night to remember for the team as well as for Mr. Wolff who had waited for this victory for a long time. He was ecstatic.

It was at a tractor show that Arline met her future husband and the father of her children. They owned and operated the Friedrich Dairy Farm in Ledbetter.

Mr. Wolff sold the farm and in 1968 closed the tractor dealership when his health failed. He and his wife moved to Columbus to live next door to their daughter. Most of the farm is now part of the LCRA Lake and the beautiful oaks which were on the land are now under water.

Mr. and Mrs. Reinhardt Wolff are buried at Florida Chapel Cemetery beside their son, Melvin.

Arline Wolff Dippel, 979-732-3597
History of tractors, internet
Lillie Mae Vavra Brightwell
* Nootsie Markwardt and her mother owned the ABC Café on the square in Fayetteville close to the present Fayette County, Justice of Peace Precinct 2, Judge Sheila Coufal’s office in the 1940s.

The Arrival of Women's Suffrage in Fayette County

by Rox Ann Johnson

One hundred years ago, on August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation certifying the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution. This amendment extended suffrage, the right to vote, to women all across the United States and ended a long struggle begun several generations earlier.

Congress had passed the amendment the previous year, on June 4, 1919. However, three-fourths of the states were required to ratify it. Surprisingly, Texas had been the ninth state, and the first state in the South, to ratify the 19th Amendment. However, this was not without controversy.

Led by Wyoming and most of the West, some states had already extended voting rights to women when Texas Governor James E. Ferguson, a staunch opponent of women's suffrage, was impeached during the summer of 1917. He was replaced with the lieutenant governor, William P. Hobby. Texas suffragists (suffragettes was a derogatory term) promised Hobby they would support him in the next election if he would support the passage of a law permitting women to vote in state primary elections, which required only a simple majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature. A special session was called and Governor Hobby signed that law on March 26, 1918.

With women now able to vote in primaries, Annie Webb Blanton, who attended high school in La Grange, became the first woman to hold public office in Texas. As State Superintendent of Public Instruction, she instituted a system of free textbooks, revised teacher salaries and certification standards, improved rural education, and worked for equality for women teachers.

When Hobby recommended that the Texas Constitution be amended to offer full voting rights to women, things did not go so smoothly.  That statewide referendum was set for May 24, 1919. Most of the ensuing comments in our local newspapers were from groups or individuals in opposition. However, the April 10th La Grange Journal reported that a mass meeting of Fayette County African Americans had adopted a resolution supporting the amendment.

In the end, the referendum to amend the Texas Constitution failed statewide by 25,000 votes. The men of Fayette County, 86% of them, voted overwhelmingly against giving women full voting rights. The only two election boxes in the county to approve were Muldoon and Colony. The boxes with highest rates of rejection tended to be the rural areas that had been populated by German and Czech immigrants.

At this point, it should be mentioned that the same statewide election included a referendum for an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. This amendment passed statewide, but was also soundly defeated in Fayette County—although not by quite as large a margin as women's suffrage. (In case you're wondering, the men of West Point, Muldoon, and Colony were the only boxes to approve Prohibition.) Among other worries when considering women's suffrage, the local men may have been justifiably concerned about how their wives would vote in future referendums on Prohibition.

This setback for women's suffrage in Texas did not last long. On June 4th, the U. S. Senate passed the women's suffrage amendment and submitted it to the states. Less than three weeks later, the Texas Legislature convened in special session and, within days, both the Texas House and Senate had voted to ratify the amendment. Newspapers' editorials across Texas swiftly berated the Legislature for ignoring the will of Texans, as demonstrated in the state referendum only weeks earlier. Benno Harigel, editor of The La Grange Journal, wrote the following: "My vote at the recent amendment election was cast for the suffrage amendment, but I am a majority man, and believe that the majority vote should have been supreme." However, he recognized the Legislature's move as payback for earlier wrangling over Prohibition.

It took fourteen more months to get three-fourths of the states to ratify the Nineteen Amendment and, at times, the ratification process appeared ready to fail. However, with a narrow victory in its state legislature on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state necessary to ratify the amendment. That November, one hundred years ago, women proudly exercised their right to vote in the 1920 presidential election.

Amendment returns
Illustration caption:
Chart from the June 5, 1919 La Grange Journal, showing Fayette County results in the May 24 state referendum
Handbook of Texas Online, Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "BLANTON, ANNIE WEBB," accessed August 16, 2020, 
Handbook of Texas Online, A. Elizabeth Taylor, rev. by Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, "WOMAN SUFFRAGE," accessed August 16, 2020,
La Grange Journal. Vol. 40, No. 23, Thursday, June 5, 1919
La Grange Journal. Vol. 40, No. 28, Thursday, July 10, 1919

Women's Suffrage in Fayette County

by Sherie Knape

A women's right to vote in elections has been commonplace for many years but, in 1919, the idea was cause for much debate. The issue was both about the constitution and about life at home. A year earlier, in March 1918, a special session of the legislature gave women the right to vote in primary elections in Texas. When the primary was held in July 1918, Annie Webb Blanton, from Fayette County, was the first female officeholder in Texas. She was the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In 1919 the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would give women the same voting rights as men, was put on the ballot.

Fayette County had many viewpoints on the subject. In the April 24, 1919 issue of the La Grange Journal, one man said, "Let the women vote...they have no voice in the election of officers who run the county and the state and yet the only time they are equal to the men is when the taxes are due." The May 23, 1919 issue of the Flatonia Argus ran a petition to the men voters of the state from the women of Flatonia, asking them to vote YES on the Suffrage Amendment on May 24th. Of course there were also many that opposed the Suffrage Amendment. One man said, "There is no reason on earth why women should take upon themselves the duties civilization has awarded to men, and every proposal to that effect is a direct contravention of the laws of nature." Many men believed that giving women the right to vote would destroy their home-life. "Women must be the homemakers. They cannot do this if they are attending political meetings, holding offices, acting as jurors and serving on boards, without neglecting the most important thing in the world, which is bringing up children."

On May 24, 1919 the ballots were cast and the vote in Fayette County was an overwhelming NO. Of the 3,778 male voters in Fayette County, 535 voted for women's suffrage and 3,243 voted against. Every single precinct voted against the amendment. The vote in La Grange was 83 for women's suffrage and 257 against. While many Fayette County women were likely disappointed, the vote in the state was much closer and the amendment passed. Texas women finally won the right to vote in all elections when the Texas legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in June 1919.

Jan Stephan Wrba

Submitted by Carolyn Heinsohn

The following article was originally written in Czech in the “Amerikan Narodni Kalendar”, vol. XXIX, 1906 while Jan Wrba was still living.  It was translated into English by Reuben Petrusek of Fayetteville in 1985.  Additional information was researched by the submitter.

Jan St. (Stephan) Wrba (Vrba) was born (4/30/1853) in Frenstat pod Radhostem in Moravia (now the Czech Republic).  Wealthy parents gave their son a good education.  Originally he was destined for the ministry, but it did not materialize because of sound opposition by the son.  He finished central school in Novy Jicin and Olomouc (Moravia).  He received the highest honors in the agricultural school in Dobrovice, which gave him the privilege to serve as a volunteer in the Austrian army for one year.  He was the agricultural assistant in the estate of Prince Fuerstenberg, the bishop of Olomouc, in Dobromelich under the administrator Krepelka.  After a short time as he mastered the agricultural activity, he resigned his position in hopes of a promised place in the great estate of Hungary.

In the years of 1870 and 1871, there was an active movement of people from his area to America and especially to Texas.  The entire families of John Srubar, Stefek, Janak, Mojzis, David and Bartos moved as a group to the land across the ocean.  Also Wrba, instead of going to Hungary, decided to go to America and straight to Texas.  With him left many families from Frenstat, Stramberk and Pribor, a total of 80 people.  They were processed by the well-known agency of Kares and Stotzky of Bremen, and they left Bremen on November 4, 1871.  They left on the ship New York which sailed to New Orleans, stopping on the way at Havana.  They reached Galveston on Sunday, December 1, 1871.  Jan Wrba remained in Galveston while the others went to Fayette County. 

He stayed in Galveston for three months.  He worked as a delivery man for 50 cents a day and food for a man named Sasika.  Later he met a well-known friend from Cechie (Bohemia) who secured him a place as a salesman in a store in Fayette County.

In the fall of 1874, he married Julia (Juliana Karoline) Sladek (born 2/9/1850 in House No. 5 in Mistek, Moravia, daughter of Jan and Mary Janik Sladek of Fayetteville; the Sladeks immigrated to Galveston, Texas on the Jeverland in November 1860) and decided to farm so that in a true sense, he could become an independent citizen, which had always been his ideal.  He farmed until 1883, for ten whole years, during which time he was active in public life, politically a Democrat.  For five years, he had been assistant County Collector for Fayette County.  As a sideline, he also did some notary work.

In the year 1883, he gave up farming and took a job as a salesman in the wholesale business of R. Wolters and Son in Schulenberg (sic), Texas.  In 1885, he visited his home country, Moravia.  In 1887, he arranged his own business and made a successful living with a tavern for ten years.  Then he again visited his homeland, spending about four months in Cechie (Bohemia) and Moravia.  He returned home in the fall and opened a general store for his young sons and he does some real estate work, serves as a notary public and a legal advisor in his area near Schulenberg (sic), Fayette County, Texas.

Jan (John) Wrba and his wife, Julia, had nine children: Josef, Caroline, Willibald, John, Julia, Arnold, Frank, Rudolf and Marie (Mary).  Jan Wrba died 9/15/1917; Julia Sladek Wrba died 6/19/1924.  Both are buried in Schulenburg, Texas.

Where in the World Was Wursten?

By Carolyn Heinsohn

Many of our small communities have virtually disappeared off the maps; however, Wursten seems to have also disappeared from the memories of almost everyone except a few local historians. Located in southwest Fayette County, a mile north of Blum Hill and six tenths of a mile south of Oldenburg (not the community east of La Grange), Wursten got its name from the unusually good sausages made by the local Anders Meat Market. Wursten is derived from the German word for sausage.

Wursten was the first settlement in that area; however, when a post office was established there in 1858, the close communities were collectively re-named High Hill, so that the post office could serve the residents of all three villages. Morris Richter was the first post-master.

The public road connecting the three settlements was believed to be the old stage road from Victoria to La Grange and points further north. Businesses located along this north to south route included a mercantile store, drug store, hotel, shoe shop, meat market, hardware store, tin shop, cotton buying office, two grocery stores, two saloons, two blacksmith shops, a doctor’s office, and an old-style cotton gin and grist mill located east of Wursten on the banks of Forster’s Creek.

There was another road south of Wursten, known as the “Old Spanish Trail” or the Columbus Road, which meandered in an east to west direction, bordering the northern edge of Blum Hill, also known as Old High Hill. Since this was the main road and major freight and mail route between San Antonio and Houston, more businesses were also built along this road. 

Located about a tenth of a mile southeast of Wursten, one of the first beer breweries in Texas was constructed and operated by Adolf and August Richter. When the railroad came through the nearby town of Schulenburg bringing ice cold beer to the local residents, the Richter brothers discontinued the brewing of beer and began to devote their time to making and selling yeast, for which there was a great demand when homemade bread was part of the daily diet.

Apparently when the brewery was still operating, the residue from preparing the brew was dumped in the pastures where roaming hogs would in time run across the “delicious” heaps of fermented residue. Of course, being “pigs”, they over-indulged and became a bit “tipsy”. When they tried to walk, they would fall down on one side, grunt, get up, walk a bit more, fall down on the other side and grunt some more, providing the locals with a comical show.

A short distance southeast of the brewery was a hall called “Die Turner Halle” (gymnastic hall), where dances and picnics were held occasionally. The hall eventually was torn down, and the materials were used to build two local homes.

The early settlers of Wursten, some of whom arrived as early as 1844, included the Yungbeckers, Heinrichs, Seydlers, Anders, Schmidts, Demels, Siems, Kuiglers, Dueringers, Winklers, Richters, Eschenburgs, Nordhausens, Seidels and Wellhausens. The Joseph Heinrich family arrived in 1860 along with several other German-Moravian families from the Catholic parish of Neudeck in the Neutitschein district of northern Moravia, which was in the Empire of Austria at that time. The other German-Moravian families settled in the Oldenburg and Blum Hill areas of High Hill.

When the three villages became High Hill, the name Wursten slowly faded away. When High Hill was bypassed by the railroad extending westward from Alleyton to San Antonio in 1873, it too slowly disappeared as businesses moved to Schulenburg, which developed with the coming of the railroad. Although nothing is left of Wursten, it was a busy place in the mid-19th century with a great deal of history, much of which is incorporated in the story of High Hill, which has enough history for several more stories.

The High Hill Centennial History – Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of St. Mary’s Parish; published by The Schulenburg Sticker, 1960 


Young Family Stories

by Josephine White 

Samuel Armstrong Young of Scottish ancestry was born in Ireland in 1787. His family immigrated to America when he was three, landing at Wilmington, North Carolina. They moved on to Tennessee where Samuel grew up. He became a waggoner and met his wife, Jane Kerr in Kentucky. They married in 1811 and had ten children.

Samuel decided to move to Texas, but refused to move unless all ten children (some now grown and married) would move too. The Young's arrived in 1840 and settled in western Fayette County. They first lived near Woods Fort (present area of West Point), but their permanent home was built near Winchester. It was a double log cabin with a "dog trot". The cabin, now covered over with wood, still stands today.

Youngest son, David Armstrong Young was nine years old when he and his older sister, Marianne, went out hunting in the woods. They wandered too far from home and ran into some Indians on horseback. David thought that the Indians had captured his sister. Whether he was "scared to death", ran too fast or pushed himself too hard is not known, but he did not recover. He died the next day. The Indians meant no harm and they brought Marianne on home.

A family anecdote handed down through the generations concerns the Dawson Expedition of September 1842, General Santa Anna had broken his promise to Sam Houston and Mexican forces were once again trying to retake Texas. In Fayette County, volunteers were being recruited to go to San Antonio to help the Texian army repel the invaders. Samuel Young learned that Nicholas Dawson was looking for men. Samuel's son, Alfred "Alf", a teen-ager, was unaware of the recruitment. Samuel knew that if Alf knew he would want to join the group. In order to keep his young son safe; Samuel sent Alf and a hired man away to the site where their new house was to be built. Their job was to cut down trees for the log cabin. Three or four days later they ran short of supplies and headed for home. When they passed by Woods Fort they heard screaming and cries of anguish. Many of the families of the men who joined Dawson were staying at the fort. Alf and his partner stopped and learned that a messenger had just arrived bringing the sad news of the ambush and massacre of Dawson's men on Salado Creek just north of San Antonio.

Alfred Young was also a waggoner. He hauled freight between Houston and Fayette County. It sometimes took six weeks to make the trip since there were no bridges over the Colorado or Brazos Rivers and the ferries didn't run in high water.

Alf married Susan Elvira Green in 1859. The women and children left at home while the men were gone still feared the Indians. If any Indians were still around at that time, they were more likely to be out and about on bright moonlit nights. They would sometimes steal horses, but did not bother with cattle, as they were too slow moving. On nights when the moon was full, Susan Young would take her small children and sleep out among the cows where they felt safe.

Susan Young lived to be 97 years of age and spent her last years in the home of her son, Frank Clark Young. Frank built his home in 1898 and today it is known as the Moore Ranch house near West Point.

The first roadside park in Texas (Hiway 71 near West Point) is situated on Young family land. Jack Young Creek runs near the park.

Samuel Armstrong Young and Jane Kerr Young were the authors great-great-great grandparents. They and many of their descendants are buried in Woods Prairie Cemetery.


Willie D. Zapalac's First Mail Route Automobile

Submitted by Carolyn Heinsohn    

Willie Zapalac, rural mail carrierStories about some of the early rural mail carriers working out of the Schulenburg Post Office were documented by John Krhovjak in several newspaper articles collectively titled “After 59 Years”. The following story about Willie D. Zapalac and his Model T, published in the April 8, 1976 issue of the Schulenburg Sticker, was saved by the late Norman Krischke for his scrapbook collection that is now preserved in the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives.

Pictured above is the last of the quintet of mail carriers of whom I possess vivid memories and about each of whom I am compiling a brief commentary. Willie D. Zapalac carried mail on Schulenburg, Route 4, beginning in 1920. And he carried mail on this same route without interruption for 44 years, well, 43 years and 9 months to be exact. There were some alterations in his route from time to time but his route was always west of Schulenburg via Engle – Velehrad – Moravia – St. John and fairly close to Praha. He out-lasted in terms of years on his route, Wiedemann by 11 years, Fisbeck by 8 years, Haidusek by 23 years, and Plagens by 5 years. Zapalac started out with a route of 35 miles and in 1950 some of the Schulenburg routes were consolidated and he had a route of 60 miles, same as Plagens at Weimar. However, by then some of Zapalac’s route was graveled and he didn’t find the trip quite as arduous as did Plagens who started on his 60-mile route somewhat earlier. I haven’t heard of any carriers anywhere who have surpassed Zapalac’s record of 44 years of continuous service on a rural route. If you have, let me know.

In the picture, Willie Zapalac is standing beside his 1920 Model T Sedan which he bought (slightly used) for $700.00. And what a car it was! The Model T was and is the most famous car in automobile history. It was on the market for about 10 [18] years with only minor changes and 15,000,000 of these cars were sold. It was superseded [succeeded] by the Model A which represented quite a departure from the Model T. It seems that the Model A was more sturdily built throughout and the constant replacing of the clutch lining was eliminated.

Now let’s take a closer look at the car Zapalac started out [with] on Route 4 in 1920. It was a sedan and the driver was out of the weather. Of course, he used a buggy or a gig for about 2 months in a year and often up to 3 months during a rainy winter. This sedan had a door on each side and the doors were located in the back. Thus a driver entered in the back and walked to the front seat. It seems that this was a made-to-order car for a mail carrier. It had a window on each side conveniently located for handing out mail and ample storage space in the back. And this space was augmented by removing the rear cushions. The car was equipped with tube type tires, size 3 in. in front and 3 ½ in. in the rear. The rims were not demountable and if you happened to have a flat on the road, you had to jack up that wheel, remove the tire with tools, patch or replace the tube, replace the tire on the rim, pump it up with a hand pump, and you were ready to proceed on your way. The car didn’t have a battery or a starter and had to be cranked by hand. A Model T which was obstinate in starting could be brought to life by jacking up one rear wheel, placing the car in gear, and then cranking. The car had lights off a magneto and these shone sufficiently only when the motor was speeded up. But there was one distinct advantage the Model T had over buggies, gigs, and wagons and that was its “supersonic speed”. Why that sedan pictured above could attain an astounding speed of up to 40 mph on level stretches of road. It also had kerosene lamps installed on the sides but these were there only to enhance the car’s appearance…”

A continuation story about the car was promised.

Although Willie Zapalac used many types of vehicles during his almost 44-year career, his Model T was the first mechanical one to help him achieve the creed long associated with the American postman – “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.

Photo caption: Willie D. Zapalac with his Model T; photo courtesy of the Schulenburg Sticker.
Source: Schulenburg Sticker; April 8, 1976


Antonia Wecheta Zelesky—Midwife and Healer

by Helen Trnovsky Mikus

Antonia Wecheta Zelesky was born in Fayetteville, Texas on May 6, 1875, the daughter of Jan and Maria Wecheta.  Her mother came from the Province of Moravia in the Austrian/Hungarian Empire, as it was known at that time.  The Province has been part of the Czech Republic since 1993.

When Antonia was a young girl, she lost the sight of one eye when she was accidentally shot by a BB gun.  In spite of this injury, her mother was able to teach her the skills that she would need to become a midwife and to heal illnesses through the use of herbs and old-time folk medicine.

Antonia married Frank C. Zelesky in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fayetteville, Texas.  Frank was responsible for building St. John’s Church during 1911-1912.  The church was torn down in 1969 to build a larger church.  He also built many of the houses in Fayetteville, including their home on Church Street and the house adjacent to theirs.

Using the skills that she learned from her mother, Antonia’s fame as a midwife spread throughout the surrounding areas.  She was constantly sought out to deliver babies and to help cure many simple ailments.  Mrs. Annie Mae Janish and Mr. Kermit Heinsohn, who are still residents of Fayetteville, are included in the number of the hundreds of babies that Antonia delivered.  Whenever a prospective father or farmer needed her assistance, she would travel by buggy, wagon, or even horseback.  Antonia was always willing to provide aid to those who needed her whether it was the middle of the night or during stormy weather.  She also assisted many doctors, including Dr. Charles Kaderka, Dr. G. Levine, and Dr. Gus Schramm during difficult deliveries and many other medical procedures.

During this period, Mrs. Zelesky was also busy raising her family and taking care of her large vegetable and flower gardens.  She also managed to care for a cow and chickens which she raised in the back area behind the family home.  Despite all of these responsibilities, she made sure to make time to relax and enjoy her favorite pastime – fishing!  Following the death of her husband on October 31, 1927, she left her home on Church Street to move in with her daughter, Maria, who had married John R. Baca, the famous polka king.

Antonia Wecheta Zelesky passed away March 5, 1938 and is buried in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Fayetteville.  Mrs. Zelesky’s granddaughter, Rosemarie (Baca) Rohde, of Fayetteville and grandson, Clarence Baca of Houston, and many great grandchildren are her living descendants.

Sources:  Rosemarie (Baca) Rohde and Louis Polansky

Zwiener & Rabensburg Saddlery and Buggy Shop

By Rox Ann Johnson

Beginning in 1883, and through a succession of owners for almost fifty years, there was a saddlery and buggy shop on the north side of the courthouse square in La Grange. In July 1883, 27-year-old Louis Walter began building a one-story wood-frame structure where the Fayette County Clerk’s office is now located at 246 West Colorado Street. Walter had apprenticed as a harness maker with A. F. Rose of Columbus and then opened a shop at Warrenton. By late September, he had moved his entire stock of saddlery to town. As time went on, Walter enlarged his store and added a separate buggy warehouse behind it.

Walter’s business prospered and, in 1896, he purchased the two-story brick building two doors to the east. Today, that building is the law offices of Oeltjen, Schovasja, Klesel, & Corkill at 236 West Colorado. He added a 30-foot one-story addition to the rear of the store and remodeled the rest of it.

Walter used both locations for his business. The smaller wooden building was for buggy sales. Saddles, spurs, harnesses, blankets and smaller items were sold in the larger brick building. Between the two, August Streithoff operated a stove and tin shop in a one-story wooden building that many of us can still remember, since it was one of the last wooden storefronts on the square and was not torn down until 1969.

During the time that Louis Walter owned the saddlery business, he took on John Zwiener from Biegel, a young man who learned the business from him. In 1912, Zwiener and his sister’s husband, Rudolph G. Speckels, bought Louis Walter’s entire stock of buggies, harnesses, saddlery, etc. and opened their own shop in Walter’s old locations on the north side of the square. The very next year, their stores were filled with several feet of water when the Colorado River flooded. They suffered $350 in losses, but like most local businessmen, they did not let that deter them. The following year they bought out C. Kaiser’s entire stock of buggies.

Zwiener & RabensburgIn 1915, after operating a saddlery business in Price, Utah for a few years, Newton Rabensburg bought Speckels’ share of the La Grange business and Speckels promptly bought a half interest in a local saloon. Rabensburg was an Ellinger native, whose father had been a saddler. However, he was killed while Rabensburg was quite young. Around 1907, Rabensburg was hired at the La Grange Saddlery Company, where he worked until December 1909, when he went to Dallas to work for a wholesale saddlery house. He also spent time in New Mexico before moving on to Utah.

The year after Rabensburg joined Zwiener, the partners bought all the saddlery, harness and buggy stock from the La Grange Saddlery at the southeast corner of Main and Travis Streets and moved it to their locations. At least one of the buggies they sold, an American “top buggy” with original brass plate imprinted with “Zwiener & Rabensburg, La Grange, Texas,” survives and can be seen at The Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg.

The problem faced by businessmen John Zwiener and Newton Rabensburg was that buggies were quickly being replaced by automobiles. While there was still a market for their stock, they needed to change with the times. In 1918, they added rubber tires and, in 1919, the firm bought an electric shoe repairing device and began repairing shoes. By 1920, much of their merchandise, which included spurs, ropes, saddles and horse whips, would take a secondary role to belts, holsters, shoes and automobile tires.

Rabensburg sold his share of the business to Zwiener in 1920 and purchased a leather and saddle shop in Llano. However, Zwiener continued to prosper in La Grange and, after renting it for years, he bought Walter’s building at 236 West Colorado in 1923. (The smaller building at 246 West Colorado was torn down in 1921, with only the warehouses in back remaining.) His business continued to evolve as automobiles became more and more common. In 1924, Zwiener began selling Gray automobiles and had a coupe and a truck in stock that he could demonstrate. Zwiener, the “harness, saddle, and auto top maker,” added hardware and tires to his stock in 1926. (Gray automobiles went out of production that year.) Two years later, he moved gasoline pumps from the Buick Service Station a few doors east of his business down to his store.

Evidently, Zwiener sold the shoe repair part of his business to Weikel Brothers, who operated in the same location. In March 1929, the Weikels advertised that they had installed a new Cyclone Electric Shoe Finisher, their old equipment having been purchased by Frank Tomacek. In 1929, Zwiener sold his building to George and Emanuel Lauterstein, who added offices on the second floor and a new front on the bottom floor. However, Zwiener and the Weikels remained at that location until March 1930.

In 1930, while still in business selling auto tops and leather goods, John Zwiener bought Val Wojcik’s tailoring, cleaning and pressing business to be managed by his son, Weldon. In late 1931, after almost twenty years in business at La Grange, Zwiener moved to New Braunfels where he purchased the Electric Shoe Shop, a shoe repair business.

Newton RabensburgThe following year, after a stint serving as Llano’s mayor, Zwiener’s former partner, Newton Rabensburg, moved to Austin where he took over the A. W. Brill Co. He was well-known for his fine craftsmanship and intricate leather tooling and is credited with designing the “Brill” holster favored by Texas Rangers. In a 1955 interview with Stan Nelson, Rabensburg told of creating the Brill holster in 1907 for Captain John R. Hughes of the Texas Rangers, who had come into the saddlery where Rabensburg was employed with very precise ideas for a concealment holster. The holster was worn high, with the grip tipped forward to narrow the profile and conceal it under a coat. It was worn on a narrow trousers belt, but separately from the trouser loops so that it could be taken on and off easily. Even in his retirement, Rabensburg received orders from lawmen across the nation who coveted his holsters, belts and other custom leatherwork.

Rabensburg’s grandson, Neale, and other family members have kept examples of his leatherwork and many of his tools and even furnishings. They are currently on exhibit at the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives in La Grange.

Photo captions:
Upper: Newton Rabensburg and John Zwiener inside their store, circa 1915; courtesy of Neale Rabensburg
Lower: Newton Rabensburg with samples of his work in 1955; courtesy of Neale Rabensburg
Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives files on John Zwiener (FAM ZWIENER) and Newton Rabensburg (FAM RABENSBURG), which include numerous newspaper articles
Nelson, Stan. “Some Thoughts on Gun Leather”; MWCA Official Publication, Vol. 22, Issue 1, January 2008.
Nichols, R. E. D. and John Witty.  Holstory: Gunleather of the Twentieth Century; 2018.