Austin County 

 

Czech Migration

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.”

AN ACCOUNT

OF

THE FIRST GROUP MIGRATIONS OF CZECHS TO TEXAS

Pages 28 -39

by

 James Woodrick

"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)."

APPENDIX VII

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

contemplates.

“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

everywhere.

“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

sick.

“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

button.

“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

settlement!

“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!

.....................

(unsigned)”

 

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