The following information, submitted by James Woodrick, was published as the lead article in Volume I of a series of books published by the Texas Czech Genealogical
Society in 2005 and 2007 titled “Czech Family Histories.”
THE FIRST GROUP MIGRATIONS OF CZECHS TO TEXAS
Pages 28 -39
"In the year of 1853, my wife finally decided, upon the pressure of my growing up
sons, that moving to America might be a good idea. But this was much more difficult
now because my oldest son was now twenty and afraid that he would not easily get
permission to move to America. However, at the intercession of Count Norbert Poeting,
he was considered unfit for military service and was dismissed. Now things went fast.
"There were seventeen families that got ready to come along with me. October 9,
1853, we left our homeland. At the beginning on November we boarded the ship, "Sava"
for which we had to wait two weeks at Grage (Ed. Note: Bremenhaven), and on the
Navity of our Lord, we landed in Galveston. The sail on the ship took about seven
weeks. After a short rest in Galveston, we were taken by a smaller boat to Houston.
From there on, the road was very, very slow. There were no railroads in Texas in those
days. Texas was not what it is now. We traveled by oxen and finally after fourteen weeks,
reached the remains of our beloved countrymen in New Ulm. About four families built a
small log house which they occupied together. Their minds did not sink, but were
looking forward to a future. To my wife, this kind of a coming to Texas was not anything
pleasant. However, she was quiet and silently suffered. I found freedom very gratifying.
My children were helping others, and I with my wife stayed with another family, who
after losing his home by fire, built himself another home. This was Charles Siller, who is
already resting in his grave. The same year, I bought another small farm with another
Czech-German and stayed three years in this poor hole.
"Truly, this was not a land to be envied by anybody. We divided that land among
ourselves and to me was apportioned the land which was not cultivated or had a building
on it. Now, my two oldest sons and I began building hard and in 1856, at Christmas
time, we were under our own roof. It is well known that every beginning has its own
difficulty. This I experienced to the utmost myself. My partner and I were cheated and
we owed quite a bit as we did not have the money to pay for it. Out of necessity I bought
a Mexican pony which threw me off whenever it felt like it. Once he almost killed my
wife. I also had to buy a pair of oxen, one of which soon died. Something like this
happened to us several times, for as the saying goes: those who have nothing, pay the
most, especially when you buy on credit. And so we made a very slow progress.
"I have already mentioned that in those days Texas was not then what it is now. A
decent building could not be seen anywhere, only a few log cabins with no nails at all;
instead of windows, there were only holes; instead of doors, just a few make-beliefs.
Not once did I get homesick after my land. I was thrilled to be free. .....(the memoirs
continue to deal with the struggles in a new land, the persecution of the Czechs
during the Civil War, and later memories)."
Bergmann Letter Published in Moravian Newspapers
The following is a translation of the first letter of Ernst Bergmann to be published in
"Moravsky Noviny" newspaper in Cechy. It was sent to Albert Blaha by Wolfgang Berndt, a
descendent of Mrs. Bergmann who has written articles on Bergmann in Czechoslovakia. Blaha
translated the original draft of the letter, sending it to John Kroulik for editing on 6 FEB 1984.
“11 April 1850
“Dear Friends, brothers and sisters:
“In the end, it has taken a half-year for the trip from the time we left Strausney until our
arrival. You have accurately heard how long we had to wait in Hamburg for a ship and that on
21 December before the Christmas holiday we were finally able to sail. Our ship
"ALEXANDER" was pretty and well built, and her captain skilled as a sailor and very friendly
and good to us. Our quarters on the upper deck were adequate and habitable; our fellow travelers
between the lower decks, however, were in bad conditions.
“The ship, with space for 150 passengers, was half full from the start of the voyage. We
spent our Christmas holidays on a calm ocean, though there was a great storm on Ash
Wednesday. A strong wind started on Tuesday and this developed large waves and swells on
Wednesday; Thursday and Friday it stormed without stopping and we did not see the sun in the
daytime nor the stars at night - and even the captain was concerned. The conditions were scary
and it was noticed how the mood of the people changed as they prepared to withstand the large
swells and stormy winds. My greatest concern in all this rough weather was for the women and
children who, in their sickness, could not hold themselves in their bunks and were afraid of being
thrown out of their beds.
“I and my family were not bad sick and other passengers did not understand how I could
help my close friends and serve them in their sickness. I spent much time on deck holding to the
railing and spent hours looking about and wondering about life during the storm. What I saw
and felt then, I cannot describe in writing to anyone who has not experienced this situation. The
ocean calmed down Sunday at 4:30 and after a refreshing nap, we were happy to learn we were
between England and France. The sun came out and on one side, we saw the cliffs of England
and on the other side the blue waters toward France.
“On 31 December 1849, we stopped at the English port of Portsmouth so the ship could
take on more passengers who awaited us here. On New Year's, I held services and gave thanks to
the Lord for having protected us during the storm in which, I later learned, two ships (English
and American) were shipwrecked. Calmness came after the winds and the children played
happily on deck where we warmed ourselves in the sun. While our ship was at the dock, I
looked around to see what was in the town and saw mainly the English ships which were as large
as our homes and castles, and I wondered how the ocean can "push" them around.
“Sunday after the New Year, we were furbished with fresh water and meat and sailed on.
Our deck was normal and a happy one until we encountered the large waves and swells of the
ocean; then most became seasick except the sailors; they had to vomit and their heads began to
hurt so that they could hardly stay on their feet - but this sickness is not lasting or dangerous.
Our food was not tasteful, perhaps because of the seasickness, and consisted of: dried peas three
times a week, beans one day, rice once and once or twice we had rolls; then pork twice per week
and salted beef on other days. In the morning we had black coffee and green tea at night with
cookies made from wheat flour and without yeast; baked kolache twice a week but so hard that
they were suitable only for good teeth, although quite tasteful with butter brushed on. At the end,
we were served kraut and potatoes in lieu of the dried peas and rice - and this tasted better. In
addition, one received a half-pound of butter, a half pound of sugar, and on Sunday a bottle of
wine! Then it began to get warmer.
“On 16 January 1850, there came a warm rain as would come to you on St. Johns.
“On 17 January 1850, the sun came out at 6:45 and it was so bright and clear that one
wondered - because never does the sun shine this brightly in Europe. Every day I waited for the
sunrise on deck just so I could get a view of this beautiful sun. We had warm temperatures of 20
- 24 degrees Celsius.
“On 25 January 1850, we arrived at the sign of the Crab and found hot temperatures of 20
- 24 deg. C. Here I saw, for the first time, the aurora borealis. The moon and the stars have an
unusual appearance here and the nights are so different that a person stands for long hours and
“26 January 1850: We reached the half way mark on our road to America! Our route
now takes us more northerly and then we will go to the south. The winds started to blow and in
24 hours we traveled forty to fifty miles of our journey; the mornings and nights were pretty -
but the noon is sultry. Whales are seen daily and they come even to the ship and think nothing
about the three guns that were fired into their midst. They are a strange animal and spray water
through their noses which looks very pretty. There are other smaller fish, especially porpoises
(dolphins) which are so numerous that we hardly noticed them. European birds have long left us
so we see only the fish.
“6 February 1850: The ocean was covered with a green moss (Saragasso Sea) and we
pulled some of it aboard the ship. We saw it had white bulbs, something smaller than garlic or
onions, and these are salty.
“8 February 1850: We saw the Island of Haiti for the first land! Ach, even I cannot write
of our gladness because for a long time we saw only the ocean and the heavens, and here we
again see beautiful blue mountains and forests.
“9 February, Saturday: The hog was killed and we picked our way further by the Islands
of Haiti and Cuba - and for the occasion, on Sunday, we ate the whole hog! Tuesday, the ship
was aimed toward the north so that the Island of Cuba was left to the side. American birds began
to fly around the ship. We suffered from the heat now and the captain let us prepare for a bath
which enlivened myself and others.
“23 February 1850: We saw America but it was so foggy that we had to stop.
“27 February 1850: Wednesday at 6:00 in the night, we arrived offshore at Galveston and
anchored close to the town.
“1 March 1850: On Friday, our Captain went ashore.
“2 March 1850: At 3:00 in the afternoon, we left our ship "ALEXANDER" and rode a
small American tug into Galveston where, at 6:00 in the night, we stepped for the first time on
American land (soil). We lodged at a small German hotel "At the Stars".
“4 March 1850: On Tuesday, I found a place to stay in another home because in the hotel
we were required to pay one-half dollar per day per person (about one "zlaty" silver). So we
lived on the boat from 20 January 1849 until 2 March 1850 and from the 6th of January to the
8th of February, we saw nothing other than the heavens and the ocean!
“Galveston, a town in Texas, counts about a 5000 population and all homes, save the
church and the Bureau (Federal Building) are built of wood and covered with oil paint for in
such a warm climate other types of dwellings are not needed.
“On our arrival, the potatoes were just in bloom and the gardens had English peas. The
trees were going into bloom and leaf: carrots, lettuce, turnips and other kitchen vegetables were
fresh for pulling. Before each home, there were roses planted which bloomed very beautifully.
Other trees, such as oleander, orange and lemon, were in bloom and could be smelled
“However, we who had intended to settle in Galveston, did not like conditions here.
There were very many mosquitoes and the children were getting sores like smallpox and became
“12 March 1850: We left on a steamboat from Galveston for the Brazos River and
changed to another steamboat at Quintana at the mouth of the Brazos. We traveled upstream on
the Brazos. This was a very exciting trip as there were large trees overhanging the banks.
Plantations were located at intervals where we saw negroes working with cotton and sugar cane,
all of which grew profusely. There is a large concentration of these unlucky negroes - that is,
"slaves" - in Galveston, perhaps as many as 1000 head.
“One young strong and healthy slave costs 800 - 1000 dollars per head, a woman slave
500 - 800 dollars, boy from eight to ten years, 100 - 200 dollars; because everybody who is able
wishes to buy a slave for work. But so you, even though you are Christians, feel that keeping a
human in bondage is not proper, I wish to tell you that these negroes live in a better way than the
poor people in Cechy and Moravia. They receive coffee twice a day, meat and bread three times
daily, with good milk, as much as they wish, because each plantation has more than 1000 head of
livestock. They are occupied with working in the fields, grazing the livestock, and cleaning and
butchering same. I saw those slaves playing with the "dollar" same as your boys play with a
“16 March 1850: Saturday afternoon we arrived at San Felipe; a prominent town
destroyed so thoroughly during the war with Mexico that only about fifteen homes remain. Here
we stayed with a German merchant who hosted us until the 19th of March. On 17 March, we
visited the American rural countryside for the first time and saw pretty tall grass. Cattle freely
grazed on it and the children picked the beautiful flowers, some of which in your country are
grown in clay flower pots! I and my daughter Julia and the maid Justina, sat down on the grass
and sang "Ja ve vaem mem cineni jen k bohu mam sve zreni" (I in all my deeds have only
respect for God), and we thought of you that just now you are returning from the afternoon
church services. Here it is 9:45 before noon, and at your place it would be 3:30 in the afternoon
since the sun is six and a quarter hours later here.
“Tuesday on the day of St. Josef, we loaded our baggage on a wagon and two oxen
carried it to our intended place of living, where we happily arrived that same day before night.
Here we stayed with a Merchant and farmer named Boulton, son of a pastor from Hamburg for
whom we had two letters from Europe. We found our stay friendly. Here in his garden, we
planted 21 trees which we brought from Europe; also some seed was sown and we planted
several rows of potatoes. The surroundings are very beautiful, the soil is black mixed with sand
and three fruitful layers deep.
“Not far from Mr. Boulton lives a buyer, also from Europe who lives an ugly life. He
cheats and wrongly treats his fellow citizens and from this he hopes to become rich.
“Tuesday after Palm Sunday, a terrible storm came up and lightning hit the house of the
buyer. He had many hundreds of dollars of goods on display and it all burned. No one came to
put the fire out because he has had too many quarrels and suits and there were no volunteers.
There was no loss to the community and he came to the end of his name. He then moved to
Galveston so that he would not have to return to working in the field.
“At that same time, the evangelical group met in the community center near Cat Springs,
about a mile by the road from Mr. Boulton where it is planned to build a school building. On
Saturday before Palm Sunday, I took off for this center so that I could arrange and discuss
various things; however it was not possible to do this because it had already been arranged that I
was to hold church services at Mr. Boultons on Good Friday. An Evangelical missionary from
South Carolina came to this gathering. He was young, healthy and a good speaker, and had
already gathered people together to whom he preached. Arrangements were made with him that
Easter services would be celebrated at Cat Springs and the Lord's Supper held: and we both left
in agreement. On that day (Easter) a larger crowd of people from all sides then gathered, which I
had expected, and the large room at Mr. Amsler could not contain all of us - the greater number
had to stand by the windows and the doors.
“At the conclusion of this service, I was voted unanimously to serve as their spiritual
pastor and a yearly salary of one hundred dollars was assured me - each voted on this of their
own free will and more than one openly agreed to give eight dollars per year. I accepted this
assignment and in order to be better able to serve my listeners, I bought myself a small house
near Cat Springs, which has one setting room, two closets and a small sleeping room. There is a
small three-quarter acre garden near the house and a fifteen acre field which is not plowed.
“On the 5th of April, our neighbors came for us with two wagons and we somehow
managed to get settled. Today in the afternoon, April 7,1850, it is planned that we will hold
another church service under the same shelter on 17 April unless the listeners decide otherwise.
We now have the most beautiful weather and winds; the afternoons are warm but the nights are
cool and fine when the fireflies come out and swarm about. The redbirds, here called
"Cardinals", sing in the woods and the trees around the house, their song being similar to the
nightingale in Europe.
“The land here west of San Felipe and five miles from the Brazos River, is not sultry and
humid since the winds blow steadily, and there is no fever which exists in some lowlands. There
is none of the prevalent human ailments, mainly of the chest, and whoever would come here with
a lung ailment will get well quickly. I know two neighbors who, as they told me, with their
damaged lungs would already have been laid long ago in their cold bed, whereas here they got
completely well. In the lowlands (bottomland) we have very productive lands, so rich that they
never need to be fertilized; however, it is unhealthy to live there and for this reason, the colony
and settlements is found on the highlands where there is healthy weather. The bottom land fields
of the rich planters and settlers is worked by negroes, but the highlands grow Turkish wheat
(corn) eight to ten feet high. Rye and wheat are not yet planted here as first, there is no mill to
grind the grain, and second, it has not been proven to be successfully grown and harvested.
Corn, however, grows well in the small valleys and is more productive. So the settlers bake
bread made from corn. The corn is ground daily on small hand mills similar to those one has for
coffee. The larger corn grain particles are fed to the chickens which everybody here has large
flocks of, sometimes in two coops. The small corn flour is prepared with milk and eggs and
baked on an iron plate above the coals, although it is still not as good as bread from buckwheat
baked in an oven.
“Others in the neighboring settlements are able to get enough wheat flour but again there
is no bakery or yeast shop, not even a beer brewery. According to a late word, the rumor is out
that members of the settlement are planning an Evangelical Church and mill!
“Each family has a fenced field here but the remaining land is open and basically used for
grazing cattle and horses, however many a person wants; there are hogs beyond count because if
you ask someone how many he has, he cannot tell you.
“Now I would like to tell you something about our neighbors, but first about the closest.
“Ondrej Laass from between Berlin and Magdeburg, lived a long time in Prussia where
he saved enough that four years ago he was able and emigrated to America through Bremen. He
came alone, had nothing except his healthy body, and had to go to work for others. Now he is
well off, has two hundred acres of land, fifty head of cattle, eleven horses and so many hogs that
he doesn't even know how many; and to add to that, he has five sons old enough to work and he
himself is a strong and diligent worker.
“Our other neighbor was a boatman, unloading from the ships in Galveston. Four years
ago, he bought land here and now has his own livestock and a healthy sum of cash. Laass,
however, has 600 dollars and is thinking of buying a negro for his work.
“The third is Haljn who has been here six years and counts among the better-off: he has
100 head of cattle and twenty horses.
“However, of all the oldest and first settlers, is surely Mr. Amsler, born a Swiss. He came
here more than fifteen years ago, but brought nothing but his health and working hands; and now
he has a pretty home, hotel and a store, 1500 acres of land besides two other houses, 300 head of
cattle and 100 horses.
“From this, it is possible to see that an industrious and working man can soon bring into
himself some wealth. However, it is to be noted that "here without work, there are no kolache!"
and anyone who is not industrious will soon return to Europe.
“I have already brought two cows with calves for ten dollars and soon will be able to buy
a horse so that I may be able to ride in our settlement, or perhaps to San Felipe, some five miles.
I already have eighteen hens and a neighbor has promised me some hogs. I will work and fence
four acres of field for the fall and will plant cotton because it brings the most. I hope, if God
gives me good health, to have more in a few years - but the start is always hard.
“Beggars and robbers are not found here and people do not close their doors nor do they
have concern for their fields. On our journey, we slept some distance from our wagons and
nothing happened to us. In short, no one is concerned about stealing what belongs to others. My
wife lost her satchel and in it she had some toiletries and some money. But see, in eight days,
our neighbor brought it to us and said it was given to him by a stranger who said it belongs in our
“There are not many people in Texas which is a land as large as Germany and Prussia put
together. Texas today has 200,000 inhabitants which is the same as Breslau alone. There are
only a few women who are able to come to Texas from Europe and hence these are in great
demand. Our maid, Justina, already could have gotten married three times to proper and
occupied youths, but she has not yet decided on anyone. Besides that, she has to serve at our
home for a time in exchange for the boat fare we paid for her. That will not last long and she will
soon leave us and go to her own home and household on a beautiful saddled horse, and if she is
fortunate, her groom will bring her the beautiful saddled horse as a gift.
“There is here an assortment of various trees such as oaks, maple, nut and so forth. There
are forests five miles to the north with cedars and cypresses from which we are able to get boards
(lumber). The trees in the forests grow wild, large and tall - from the ground up to the heavens.
“You will be able to visualize how it actually all looks from all this I have said, as I have
told you the whole clear truth. Whoever wishes to say goodby to Europe should emigrate
through Bremen to America because the ocean voyage from there is better arranged and cheaper
than from Hamburg.
“I wish to add that here we have many grouse (Prairie Chickens) and deer. Now, they are
shooting turkeys and deer and Mr. Boltin killed a grouse which I saw with my own eyes that
weighed twenty pounds. The quail and cranes here are smaller than in Europe but they swarm so
no one hardly notices, though they don't stand to be shot. I have not yet had time to go on a hunt.
Bees are kept at houses and can be found everywhere in the hollow trees; they swarm from
spring to fall - but go into their hives or holes because with the snow and frost, they cannot live.
The bees are "robbed" twice, in May and September.
“I will repeat once again that emigrants should start on their journey in the fall because in
the summer it is dangerous and unhealthy. The best is to organize in groups with families.
“You'all be good - God be with you!