Daughters of Serbin, 1870-1905 – History of the Lutheran Churches at Fedor and Warda, Texas

By Arthur C. Repp, San Antonio, Texas. Article originally published by Concordia Historical Institute Quaterly, Vol. XXI, No. 2, July 1948
In the year 1854 some 500 Wends1 under the leadership of the Rev. Mr. Johann Kilian landed in Galveston, Texas, with the hope of finding religious freedom in the New World. For years these Wends had suffered political oppression, which they had learned to endure. When, however, in 1817 the Prussian government attempted to unite the Lutheran and Reformed churches, adding religious oppression to their other burdens, deep resentment was felt by these Lutherans. With the exception of a handful of courageous souls, who migrated to the United States and Australia, the Wends did nothing to free themselves from this condition, chiefly because they lacked leadership. By 1854 a sufficiently large number rallied around Pastor Kilian of Weigersdorf, Prussia, to leave for Texas, where they hoped to enjoy church life free from government restraint.2 Arriving at Galveston, Texas, they made their way over the Houston Prairie toward Lee County, where the majority settled at a place later called Serbin.3

The history of St. Paul’s Congregation, as it was later called, with its doctrinal, racial, and language disputes, has already been told. But the story of its first daughters, the congregations which were organized at Fedor and Warda, Texas, is equally important; for it shows how the parent and branch congregations influenced one another and how they in turn became one of the strong nuclei around which the present Texas District of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States was formed.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Fedor, Texas, 1870-1905

During the late sixties of the past century a number of Wends and Germans settled about twenty miles north of Serbin along the Yegua creeks, particularly near the West Yegua. At first these settlers, especially the Wends, traveled the long distance to Serbin for their spiritual needs. As the number increased, it became evident that a separate congregation with its own pastor and school would be more practical. Gradually the sentiment became strong enough to make an attempt to obtain a minister who might teach and preach to the settlements scattered in the vicinity. When the Rev. Mr. Theodore Brohm, representing the officials of the Synod, came to Texas to settle the dispute in the Serbin congregation, which was at white heat at the time, an invitation was extended to him to visit the settlement.4 Consequently, Brohm and Ernest Leubner, the parochial school teacher at Serbin, made the trip on horseback, and on March 11, 1870, an organization meeting was held, deciding that a church should be built on the “Long Prairie” tentatively to be called Trinity.5 If Kilian at Serbin has any misgivings regarding this move, he probably did not express them because of other matters which disturbed him within his own congregation at the time. Later he did strenuously object to this organization because it encroached upon the Serbin parish.6 A few months after the organization of Trinity, when the question of a resident pastor was discussed, Kilian again objected on the ground that the group was too small and the members could readily send their children to his school in Serbin.7

In spite of Kilian’s objections, the little band of Lutherans again met on January 6, 1871, and resolved to build a house which could be used as a church and school at first. Later it might serve as a parsonage when a separate church and school would be erected. The building was to measure about 26×20 feet, and the cost for the material was estimated at $80. To complete the undertaking, six school benches were to be built. In the same meeting the official name was adopted, “Holy Trinity Church on the West Yegua, Burleson County, Texas.”8

At this time there was a graduate of the so-called Practical Seminary in St. Louis, named J. A Proft, living with his married sister in this territory.9 He was well liked by Kilian because he did not think young Proft too forward and ready to reform everything, an experience with which Kilian by this time had had enough.10 Proft had been trained in Bautzen, Saxony, as a cabinetmaker and later had decided to become a missionary. For this purpose he studied at Hermannsburg, Hannover, going from there to St. Louis, where he completed his studies.11 Being of Wendish extraction, he made a suitable candidate for the mission station on the West Yegua. He was asked to teach in the school, while Pastor Pallmer, who had been installed at St. Peter’s in Serbin during December, 1870, was asked to preach occasionally.

A site of about fifty acres for the new church was donated by a Mr. Boback, who owned about a league of land on the West Yegua, parceling it out to the settlers as they moved in. Proft found his early training as cabinetmaker quite handy, for he now drew the plans for the house and gave much assistance in building. Before this he had designed the windows for St. Paul’s at Serbin and later was called to assist St. Peter’s. His talents were again made use of when the first Warda pulpit and altar were built.12

Having given this station a try, it was resolved to call Proft as resident pastor, whereupon he was installed by Pastor Pallmer on September 3, 1871. Kilian had been asked to officiate, but being ill at the time, he instructed Pallmer to install the candidate.13 At the first regular meeting following the installation it was resolved to have Wendish services four times a year with Holy Communion. School was to begin on October 1 and be taught four days a week, as was customary when the school was conducted by the pastor. The tuition was assessed at eight dollars per child a year.14

One of the chief difficulties of the time was the matter of drinking water. The water had to be carried in barrels, three times a week, and Proft was there two years before the first cistern was built.15 As a result there was much fever in the neighborhood, Proft himself being frequently sick. Later his wife died at the birth of their first child, a still-born, and Proft buried both in one grave about three miles away, where he later built himself a home.16

It soon became evident that the small building was not large enough for both school and parsonage. The parochial report for 1872 shows that there were thirty-one children in the school, including two children of non-members.17 So in January, 1872, it was resolved to remodel the building, for which $300 had already been subscribed.18 Incidentally, an item in the building expense account gives us an interesting sidelight of the time. In addition to the stipulated amount for building called for by the contract, the congregation also had to supply the head builder with whiskey, as the records still show.19 It has been said that this particular contractor always required this special item before he could build well.

Though Proft was good in doctrinal matters and was quite practical in building operations, he lacked the necessary executive ability. As a result he soon found himself in the midst of many troubles with his congregation, often for good cause.20 When he accepted the call to this congregation no definite salary was set, which was due, probably, to the uncertain future of the charge. After a few months Proft asked that a definite salary be promised him, a demand which was certainly not unreasonable. One of the members proposed that $400 be paid per year. However this was protested by a few and nothing was done.21 Not until another year was a salary voted, and that for $400, plus feed for the horse. At the same time it was stipulated that Wendish services were to be held twelve times a year, four times with Holy Communion.22 During this time leaders of the faction in Fayette County, in the process of organizing a congregation near Warda, planned to call Proft. The latter was willing enough to leave under the circumstances, but accepting a call to this congregation would have involved him in still other trouble, and so nothing came of it.23

An opportunity to relieve the financial pressure on the treasury of the congregation was afforded when it was found out that money was available from public school funds. In a special meeting the matter was brought up, and for a two month period aid was accepted in order that the congregation could obtain the necessary books for the school. In asking for this help, it was understood that this aid was temporary, so that the independence of the school would not be lost.24 How long this was done the records do not show, but toward the end of the next year the matter of state funds was again brought up and one of the members asked to go to Austin the capital, if necessary, to obtain a grant.25 Thus we see that in this congregation too, as well as St. Paul’s and later in Warda, the vexing matter of state aid for the school was brought up.26

During 1873 Proft built a house for himself some three miles to the east of the school, near the burial place of his wife and child. The pastor claimed that he changed his residence for reasons of health, but the congregation was not satisfied. The people felt that he should remain near to his school and church, and this, together with other difficulties, soon brought about a serious situation. In addition to this there were others living in the vicinity of Proft’s new home who wanted to break away and begin a new congregation. This trouble prompted an official visitation in January 1874,27 by Pastor M. Tirmenstein of New Orleans, Louisiana, and for a time there was an end to the matter, though no doubt an undercurrent was still there.

Up to this time the congregation worshiped in the school building. Originally the intention was to build a church as soon as possible after the school was completed, but this plan was postponed. Since the school became too small, it was resolved in October, 1874, to build a separate church. Subscriptions were taken, and the plans were finished and accepted by January 31, 1875. The church was to be 40×25 feet and 16 feet high with a tower of about 48 feet.28 The contract was let three weeks later for $385.29 To round out the property for the church site another acre of land was bought for five dollars.30

The sickness which had already bothered Proft seemed to recur very often now. Thus, when Tirmenstein came again in 1875 on an official visit, Proft was excused from teaching school for the time being.31

What was supposed to have been a temporary arrangement proved more or less permanent, and complaints were made that the children were not receiving proper schooling.32 Some members demanded the pastor’s resignation if he could not take care of his duties, but when Proft offered his resignation in the meeting of September, 1875, others at first objected. Finally however it was accepted.33

One of the reasons why a few objected to the resignation of Proft probably was the language difficulties between the Wends and the Germans. The Wendish group, which was decidedly in the minority in this congregation, felt that the next pastor in all probability would not be able to handle their language, and they would thus be at a disadvantage. When the matter of calling a new man was discussed, the language question was naturally an important matter. Finally a compromise was accepted on December 2, 1875, after a number of meetings had been called. It was decided that if a Wendish pastor could be obtained, the minority group would remain. If a German pastor was called, they would be permitted to leave to organize a church of their own.34 Probably because the Wendish faction realized that only a German pastor was available, the minority did not wait till the new man was called. Instead they remained loyal to Proft and called him as their pastor, organizing the Eben Ezer Congregation on the San Antonio Prairie, where Proft now lived.

The majority, consisting chiefly of Germans, set about calling a pastor. The one person who did not sympathize with this group was Kilian, who, as senior pastor, regarded himself as the overseer. Proft was his friend, and since Pastors Greif of St. Peter’s and Steimke of Warda had been responsible for settling the matter as it now stood, Kilian decided to make his objection known. He therefore took it upon himself to write President Walther, head of the Synod, suggesting that no pastor be given the “stubborn” majority because, as he felt, a teacher for the school was sufficient. He did not believe that Synod would want two young men in this field, especially since one man could take care of the entire group. Kilian felt that it was a waste of manpower for five men to be stationed in this vicinity.35 The whole situation was merely a dissension [dichostasia] as far as he was concerned.36

In the meanwhile the majority group dedicated its church on Sunday Invocavit, 1876, being served by Pastors Greif and Steimke who supplied during the vacancy. While the congregation tried in vain to get a pastor, a Mr. Christoph Wagner of Serbin took care of the school.37 For this work he was to receive 75 cents per child per month.38

After a vacancy of a year a candidate for the ministry was procured in the person of Gotthilf Birkmann, who was to have this parish for many years. Birkmann, a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was an Illinois man, born at Waterloo. Accustomed to country life in a fairly progressive area, he was to find life in Texas some twenty years behind his home State. Because of the extreme heat at the time, he was advised not to come until early fall.39 On his arrival he was taken to St. Peter’s Church at Serbin under the care of Pastor Geyer, who ordained and installed him. This solemn event took place on October 1, 1876.40 It was a very busy entry into the ministry, for on the very day of his ordination Birkmann received the news that a parishioner had died and was to be buried the following day. Thus Birkmann had the unique experience of preaching a funeral sermon before he preached his initial sermon.41

The young minister was expected to teach school almost immediately. He had very little experience for this task. While a student, he had been temporarily employed as a teacher in his home congregation in Illinois, but hardly enough to make him feel competent for the task. However, as many another man under similar conditions was forced to do, he based his methods on Lindemann’s Schulpraxis, at that time the standard in Synod for the secular branches, and added to this his good common sense.42 The school had deteriorated during Proft’s time because of the continued irregularity. Only fifteen pupils attended school toward the end of 1874. In all there were some fourteen above the age of eight in the parish who attended either no school at all or were getting a smattering of education elsewhere.43 Conditions improved during the time when Mr. Wagner taught. There were about twenty five when Birkmann began. Given an opportunity, the people were anxious enough to send their children, as is evidenced by the continued support even though the school was under serious handicaps the next year in consequence of the frequent changes in teachers.

Birkmann found the conditions at Trinity typical of the rural schools in Texas, including those conducted by the State. It seems that the original schoolhouse had been converted into a parsonage and the church was used as a school. The first few pews served as benches. A collapsible desk was attached to the backs of the pews for the benefit of the young learners. Naturally the little ones found the adult-sized pews quite awkward. Birkmann tells of one little youngster who was so short that he had to use the seat as his desk and kneel on the floor, with his back toward the teacher, while he was doing his written work on a slate.44 When the “northers” came in fall and winter, this building was very cold. With no ceilings nor ceiled walls, the small box stove could hardly throw of sufficient heat, and it was “barbarisch kalt.” As additional equipment a little 3×3 footboard served for a blackboard, and only a few books were on hand to go around. The people in general were very poor, and thus neither the children nor the school could be provided any too well. Since the Wendish language had just about died out by this time, especially with the minority group of Wends leaving, German became the chief language. All school subjects were taught in German during the morning hours, while English was a poor second the rest of the day. Among the subjects taught, religion and reading were considered the most important. The first hour of the day was given over to religion. Reading was practiced frequently the rest of the day, with arithmetic a natural second. The study of history was virtually unknown, and geography was merely touched upon (“wurde getrieben”). However the children sang often. Teacher Leubner of Serbin told Birkmann to have them sing whenever they became tired, and it seems that he used the suggestion frequently. Church hymns and a few German folk songs were the usual repertoire. Since school inspection, either by the State or by the Church, was unknown, everyone did as well as he could or cared to do under the circumstances. There were frequent interruptions in the school calendar, for the pastor was often called to the sickbed. That meant the end of school for the day. In addition to these interruptions many church holidays were strictly observed by special services, which meant the dropping of additional school days. Besides the week of Christmas vacation and two weeks after Easter there were two holidays after Pentecost, three “Mary days,” Michaelmas, and the day of John the Baptist. When the crops, especially cotton, required extra hands, school was also called off. A systematic school calendar was unknown in this part of the country.45

Before Birkmann’s marriage, one of his sisters kept house for him. When she married, another sister came to take her place. These sisters acted as a conscience upon the tired young minister. Speaking of the recess periods, especially at noon, Birkmann says, there was often much noise (“Toben”) when the children ran wild. He liked to take his time over the noon meal. (“Ich nahm mir Zeit.”) Frequently his sister had to remind him that it was time for school. “It’s not so alarming” (“Ist nicht so aengstlich”), would be his reply; but between his conscience and his sister he soon got to school.46

It can be well understood that the school diminished the energy of Birkmann necessary for the performance of his many other duties in the parish. After dismissal of school at four o’clock, confirmation instructions began. During the first year of Birkmann’s pastorate there were ten children for this class. Another important task for the minister was to look up the many new German families moving into the territory. The Americans were leaving the community, and the Germans were taking their places. While this gave the parish a bright future, it required much attention. The internal difficulties of the congregation had to be solved. All these responsibilities, together with the four days spent in school made the pastor’s task quite heavy. Small wonder that the community became accustomed to pointing out the parsonage as the house where the lamp was burning late into the night.

Since Birkmann was a great lover of nature, he found this country interesting. At first there were no roads through the woods, and his visits to his members, though arduous, were adventures to him. The peat bogs near Fedor became his camping ground in periods of relaxation. Wild animals were not uncommon, and since there was no fence around the church, they often found a haven under the church and the parsonage.47 In the years of his long pastorate at Fedor, Birkmann gathered many collections, especially of butterflies. One of these was exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis and later was purchased by St. Paul’s College at Concordia, Missouri.48

One of the important events for the children as well as for the teaching pastor was the annual Christmas celebration. Many weeks of practice went into the program for this celebration, although the same one was used every year. None of the children missed school, for every one enjoyed the hour of practice every day, even though it meant learning many Bible passages from the Old Testament prophecies as well as the usual Christmas hymns.

The congregation joined in the spirit of the Christmas celebration by contributing twenty-five cents per person, a fair sum for those days. From this money the gifts for the children were purchased. The children received candy, nuts (not pecans, for they were too common, but “niggertoes,” hazel nuts, and almonds), as well as apples and oranges. In order that something lasting might be found among the gifts, a religious book or picture was included. While there were usually no evening services in the rural parishes, Christmas and New Year’s Eve were exceptions. A half dozen kerosene lamps brought by the farmers augmented the Kronleuchter and the festive candles to give the congregation sufficient light. Crowds were attracted for some five miles around, even though there were no heating accommodations in case of a “norther.” When the happy hour for the service came, the young pastor forgot his troubles in this spirited singing of the children. The evening’s program included a question for each child and a short talk by the pastor. Later these talks were dropped, for, as Luebner had told Birkmann, he might just as well spare himself the trouble for this event and let the children be the preachers.49

The Christmas tree furnished by the congregation was usually procured from the cedar woods near Warda, where there were some particularly tall trees. Birkmann tells the story when on one occasion there almost was no tree, which might have been a major tragedy for the children. It so happened that the Presbyterian Church in Giddings also ordered its tree from Warda. One of the members of the Fedor congregation had brought his tree in from Warda and had stopped in town. While he was gone, one of the Presbyterian members, seeing the tree on the wagon, thought it was for his church; consequently he took it. When the Fedor farmer came back, his tree was gone, and sadly he had to return home without the coveted tree. There he gave the strange explanation “I had a tree, but they stole it from me.” Hurriedly a smaller one was gotten near Fedor. Weeks later one of the deacons of the Presbyterian Church apologetically told Birkmann what had happened.50

Besides taking care of his own parish, Birkmann answered a request for a number of Danish Lutherans living in nearby Lexington to preach to them occasionally. The Fedor Congregation readily granted permission for their pastor to make this trip on Sunday afternoons.51 There was no Lutheran church at Lexington, but services were held at times in the Baptist church and sometimes in a school house.52 This added to the work but was gladly accepted by Birkmann because of the increased opportunities to preach.

Over on the San Antonio Prairie the newly organized Eben Ezer Congregation of Proft still had its difficulties. Proft had already left for Sherman, Texas, and the Rev. Kaspar was his successor. One of the chief troubles of Eben Ezer was that they had not received a written release from the Fedor congregation. When the synodical Visitor, Rev. Koestering of Missouri, came in 1878, the matter was called to his attention. After an investigation he was able to settle the dispute to the satisfaction of both congregations. At the same meeting in which this breach was healed, Koestering announced that Kilian had admitted his heresy and had recanted.53 This was a relief to many, for it hurt these good people to see their former leader going astray.

During July, 1879, Birkmann received a call to serve the mission station at Dallas and vicinity. The people of Fedor were loath to have their pastor go and asked him to decline the call.54 Young Birkmann turned to Koestering for advice and on the basis of it again asked the congregation for a release, which was reluctantly given.55 Thus ended Birkmann’s first pastorate at Fedor.

The congregation lost no time in getting a new pastor. A week after releasing Birkmann they called the Rev. J. M. Maisch of Harris County.56 This call was at first declined. When it was sent the second time, Maisch accepted it and was installed on the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity.57

The Pastor Maisch had had much experience in the ministry. He had been the first German Lutheran pastor in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1874 he had been called to Klein, Texas, and later to Cypress. He was an energetic preacher, who could carry his audience along with his zeal. During his pastorate at Fedor he preached in Lexington and McDade as well as at Corn Hill (Walburg) in Williamson County. Considering the difficulty of traveling at the time, this was quite a missionary program. Unfortunately Maisch could not do lasting work in a community.58

The same energetic trait which made Maisch an aggressive missionary seems to have made him a strict disciplinarian in school. Consequently he was feared by the children more than he was loved. This was quite a contrast to his more easy-going predecessor. Maisch felt that his teaching duties hindered his mission interests, and it wasn’t long before he suggested that the time had come for the congregation to call a full-time teacher. This was done in August, 1880.59 After two attempts the congregation successfully called Henry Nehrling,60 who had been born in Wisconsin and studied at the teachers’ seminary in Addison, Illinois. Under Professor Duemling he had become intensely interested in nature study. Nehrling served as teacher in Chicago for a few years, but because of his health he came West to his former schoolmate Gerhardt Kilian, now at Serbin, Texas. Here his interest in nature was increased by the variety of flora and fauna all around him. Regaining his health, he accepted a call to Houston, where he was the first teacher of the present Trinity School. From Houston he came to Fedor in 1881. The open country, the peat bogs, the streams and woods, were just what a man of his interests found ideal. The bird life held a particular interest for him.61

After a pastorate of three years Maisch received a call to Williamson County from one of the mission stations which he had organized.62 The congregation granted him a release, and so was again without a pastor.63 A few weeks later Nehrling received a call from Pierce City, Missouri. Though he had been in Fedor only a little over a year, he wanted to make a change because of his health. Action was postponed because the congregation was quite concerned about getting another pastor.64 However, when they decided to call Birkmann back from Dallas, a release was granted to Nehrling.65

Birkmann was installed by Pastor Buchschacher on the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, 1882,66 and so began his second pastorate at Fedor. During his absence influx of new settlers had increased greatly. In 1881 Maisch had reported some 354 souls for the parish, and increase of 119 in two years.67 This continued during the decade, as Germans came in from Saxony and from nearby Serbin.68

Now that teacher Nehrling had been called away, it was necessary for Birkmann to teach again till the vacancy could be filled. Finally, early in 1883, the congregation procured G. M. Schleier. He had been a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee; but when yellow fever raged so terribly in that city, the congregation was completely decimated, leaving them without a school. Schleier moved to Sherman, Texas, where he lived with his parents until he was called to Fedor.69 Because the parsonage was being renovated, Birkmann was living in the teacher’s house when Schleier arrived. Consequently the latter, who was still a bachelor, boarded with the pastor. By Christmas of that year it was possible for the pastor to move into the parsonage. Schleier thereupon left for northern Texas to bring back his bride on New Year’s Day.70

Teacher Schleier remained at Fedor until 1886. Besides being teacher and church organist, he was postmaster for a short while, having the post office in his home. At another time he represented the Federal Government to the “toughs” in Knobs Hills, west of Fedor.71

In 1884 the congregation built a new school, a separate building from the church. It was built at the cost of some six hundred dollars and served its purpose for about twenty-seven years. It measured 24×36 feet and was 14 feet high.72 The double patent seats were one of the new features, of which everyone was proud. A cloth blackboard was fixed across the entire rear wall to supplement the little one that had served before. Unfortunately Schleier’s stay was cut short. In 1886 he was called to the Warda school, where a peculiar situation relative to the public school question needed a man of his caliber.73 Fedor, however, had similar difficulties and more were to come, but the Warda congregation prevailed.74

During the time that Schleier taught, Birkmann continued his mission trips beyond his own parish. Beginning in 1884, he received permission to go to Paige every other Sunday afternoon and once every other month on Sunday morning.75 In 1886 he received permission to travel to Thorndale once every three months.76 Now that Schleier left, Birkmann had to curtail some of his activities in order to give time to teaching school. Teachers were in great demand, much more than the supply could assure, and the congregation was forced to be without assistance for some time. In spite of every attempt to obtain a teacher, Fedor could not be supplied. Finally Pastor Stiemke, President of the Southern District, called Birkmann’s attention to a Hermann Rhode in Gretna, Louisiana. Rhode had come from Germany and after taking a colloquium proved himself eligible. In the meanwhile he was working in a hotel at odd jobs, chiefly as barkeeper. In 1887 he came to Fedor as temporary teacher, to be called permanently if he proved suitable. Rhode was able to work on the sentiment of the congregation so that he got a permanent call.77 It wasn’t long before he proved to be a terrible failure. The habits, probably acquired as barkeeper, were too strong for Rhode. He would indulge in drink so heavily that he brutally mistreated his family. At first Birkmann treated him kindly, almost too leniently. After about two years he was dismissed.78 Ironically enough he became pastor of some free-lance church after this. Though his parishioners were willing to close an eye on his drunkenness at first, it became too much even for them, and they dismissed him.79

Birkmann had to step into the school once more. Almost a year elapsed before a teacher could be procured. An attempt was made to call Werner of St. Paul’s at Serbin. The appeal to the Serbin congregation to release Werner was made on the basis of the discontent in the congregation caused by the Rhode episode, which endangered the existence of the school. However, these circumstances did not convince St. Paul’s and they refused to grant Werner a release.80 After waiting another year, the congregation called Frederick Doepke of New Orleans, who accepted and was installed on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, 1890.81

It was quite natural that the school had suffered greatly during these many vacancies and changes. For long periods, school was discontinued entirely.82 When Doepke took over, the school took a new lease on life, for he was evidently a competent teacher. For one thing, he introduced better discipline and raised the morale of the school. Pupils were expected to clean their shoes on entering the schoolroom, books were now arranged neatly in the desks, and other marks of tidiness were required of these young rustics. Though formerly the pupils customarily spit on their slates and energetically wiped out the written work with their sleeve, a moistened rag or a sponge, though a rare item, had to answer this purpose.83

The teaching in secular branches was improved greatly. English, which had become more or less a dead language in this community, was restored to a more prominent place. Rhode knew very little English and quite naturally neglected it. When some of the pupils on rare occasions left for secondary schools, they had more trouble with English than with Latin.84 Doepke’s lessons were so well planned that even the problems were worked out. His instructions contained notes to the last detail. For this reason Birkmann found it easy to step into the classroom to assist Doepke when he became ill, which happened quite frequently. In fact the teacher’s health gave way entirely so that he had to resign.85
The school grew rapidly during this period, the enrollment being about eighty. After Doepke’s resignation the congregation had to cast about for a successor. After some time J. Daenzer accepted the call. He too was a competent teacher, though the number of pupils was too great for him to handle. As a result, some of the children were often helpless and idle, a condition which lowered the standard of the school. When some of the boys entered the synodical high schools, they found themselves below the average, especially in English, which had been neglected by the teacher and disliked by the pupils. In fact, the speaking of English seemed to go against the grain of the children, for they were loath to use it outside of school.86

The enlarged school was dedicated in 1889, but the promise of a continuous growth did not materialize. Soon after the dedication of the new school, the immigration into the community came to a stop.

Before this time a number of families had moved to Thorndale, where Birkmann went every three months to conduct services. After 1890 the exodus became so general that the growth of the Fedor congregation came to a complete standstill. In turn, a congregation was organized at Thorndale, which today is the largest in the Texas District.

An important event for any of these congregations was to be the host to the District Convention. Fedor had this privilege when the Southern District met in its midst in 1901 from February 6 to 12. The Rev. Adolph Kramer read the doctrinal essay on the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Dr. F. Pieper, President of the General Synod, was the national representative.87

When Daenzer left Fedor in 1902 to accept a call in Illinois, Birkmann taught school during the vacancy.88 He was assisted for a time by his stepson, John W. Behnken, who was a ministerial student at the St. John’s College, Winfield, Kansas. Behnken was well liked by the children because he showed them new kinds of games and particularly because he could make the study of geography real to them by calling their attention to local phenomena.

Teacher F. E. Redeker came in 1902 and was installed on September 29.89 The congregation was again fortunate to have a teacher who was well liked by the children. Redeker loved to associate with them and spent much time riding and fishing with the boys. On Christmas and New Year’s Day he purchased a large quantity of fireworks for the amusement of his pupils. The more ambitious ones received special aid in a night school which he conducted.90 But in spite of this he did not like Texas. During September, 1904, he received a call from Okawville, Illinois, which he wanted to accept. When the call was brought before the congregation, he gave health as a reason for accepting it. The people demurred, because he had not been sick before. They knew he had frequently hinted that he wanted to go up north and believed this to be his real reason. No amount of arguing moved Redeker and he finally tendered his resignation, which was accepted under protest.91

To replace Redeker, the aged Leubner was called from Greens Creek, Texas.92 He was installed on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 1904, and remained until 1909.93 There were about sixty children in his room, certainly a heavy teaching load for a man of the age of Leubner.

Though the school had many interruptions and changes, the congregation grew doctrinally under the faithful ministry of Birkmann. Education was usually limited to the church school, but it was sufficient for the simple needs of the people. Der Lutheraner was read regularly by the people, and they were well informed on the work of their Church. Spiritually they were a staunch people, helping to give backbone to Texas Lutheranism. The statistical report for 1904 showed that there were 440 souls in the congregation, of which 240 were communicants and seventy voting members. There were sixty-seven in school at this time.94


  1. The Wends, popularly so called, are also referred to as Slavo-Lusatians or Serbo-Lusatians. They are one of the many Slavic minorities still existing in Germany and trace their history back beyond the Christian era. For the most part they lived in the present regions of Brandenburg and Silesia (Prussia), and in Saxony, north and south along the Spree River. Cf. George C. Engerrand, The So-Called Wends of Germany. p. 13.
  2. For a fuller account of this migration, their leader the Rev. Mr. Johann Kilian, and the history of the mother congregation at Serbin, Texas, cf. Arthur C. Repp, “St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Lutheran Churches, Serbin, Texas, 1855-1905” in Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, XV (July, 1942), pp.35-46; XV (January, 1943), pp. 115-123; XVI (April, 1943), pp. 18-28; XVI (July, 1943), pp. 49-57; XVII (April, 1944), pp.15-29.
  3. Serbin, Texas, no longer has a post office. It is six miles west of Giddings, the county seat. Giddings is on the Austin-Houston highway (US Hwy 290).
  4. Repp, op. cit., XVI, No. 1, p. 22 f.
  5. Minutes of the congregational meeting of Trinity Church, referred to hereafter as Trinity Minutes.
  6. Minutes of St. Paul’s, Serbin, Feb. 25, 1875.
  7. Draft of letter by Kilian to Walther, March 7, 1871. Serbin archives.
  8. Trinity Minutes. This section was a part of Burleson County, but later became a part of the newly formed Lee County.
  9. Birkmann, Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, Oct. 5, 1939. Hereafter referred to as G. D. V.
  10. Draft of letter by Kilian to Walther, March 7, 1871. Serbin archives.
  11. Birkmann, G. D. V., Oct. 5, 1939.
  12. Birkmann, G. D. V., Nov. 13, 1930.
  13. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Sept. 11, 1871. Serbin archives.
  14. Minutes, Sept. 24, 1871. This is the third official meeting of the congregation. References are made at this time to a number of so-called unofficial meetings for which no minutes were kept. This practice was kept up till Birkmann came. Hence much important information is lost.
  15. Birkmann, Texas Distriktsbote, Vol. 8, No. 2, May 1923.
  16. Birkmann, G. D. V., Oct. 5, 1939.
  17. Synodical Report, Western District, 1873.
  18. Minutes.
  19. Itemized account found after the minutes of Jan 7, 1872, meeting.
  20. Birkmann, G. D. V., Oct. 22, 1924.
  21. Minutes, Jan. 7, 1872.
  22. Minutes, Feb. 16, 1873.
  23. Draft of letter by Kilian to Buenger, Oct. 27, 1872. Serbin archives. See infra, p. 108, and Repp, op. cit., XVI (July, 1943), p. 52.
  24. Minutes, Feb. 25, 1872.
  25. Minutes, Sep. 7, 1873.
  26. A fuller discussion of this subject will be found on p. 52 ff.
  27. Minutes, Jan. 11, 1874.
  28. Minutes.
  29. Minutes, Feb. 21, 1875.
  30. Minutes, Mar. 23, 1875.
  31. Minutes, May 4, 1875.
  32. Minutes, July 11, 1875.
  33. Minutes. The minutes of the meeting in which Proft resigned are not on hand. He probably resigned Sept. 19, 1875.
  34. Minutes.
  35. Draft of letter by Kilian, April 12, 1876. Serbin archives.
  36. Draft of letter by Kilian to Biltz, March 14, 1876. Serbin archives.
  37. Birkmann, G. D. V., Nov. 13, 1930.
  38. Minutes, Feb. 26, 1876.
  39. Report of Rev. Geyer in meeting of July 30, 1876.
  40. Birkmann, Giddings News, Oct. 6, 1933. Synodical Report, Western District, 1877.
  41. Birkmann, Giddings News, Oct. 6, 1933.
  42. Interview with Dr. G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas
  43. Minutes, Jan. 3, 1875
  44. This boy was later the Rev. E. F. Moerbe, now emeritus pastor at Aleman, Texas.
  45. Interview with Dr. G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas.
  46. The same.
  47. Birkmann, G. D. V., April 28, 1932.
  48. Interview with Dr. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas.
  49. Birkmann, G. D. V., Dec. 19, 1935.
  50. Interview with Dr. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas.
  51. Minutes, Oct. 14, 1877.
  52. Birkmann, G. D. V., Nov. 13, 1930.
  53. Minutes, Jan. 17, 1878. Kilian had taught a form of chiliasm, contending that Judgment Day was not to come before a general conversion of all heathen. For a full account see Repp, op. cit., XVII (April, 1944), p. 15 f.
  54. Minutes, July 29, 1879.
  55. Minutes, Aug. 17, 1879.
  56. Minutes, Aug. 24, 1879.
  57. Minutes, Nov. 12, 1879. Der Lutheraner, XXXVI (Jan. 15, 1880), says it was the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity.
  58. “Ein Brief des alten Past. G. Birkmann …,” Oct. 22, 1924. Austin archives.
  59. Minutes, Aug. 29, 1880.
  60. Minutes, Jan. 30, 1881
  61. Birkmann, G. D. V., Feb. 26, 1931. For a more complete sketch of Nehrling see C. W. G. Eifrig, “Henry Nehrling” in the Lutheran School Journal, LXVI (Jan., 1931).
  62. Birkmann-Michalk, “Geschichte der Dreieinigkeitsgemeinde zu Fedor,” ms. in Fedor archives.
  63. Minutes, July 2, 1882.
  64. Minutes, July 30, 1882.
  65. Minutes, Aug. 6, 1882. Nehrling’s teaching career was short. He took up his interest in nature as livelihood. In time he became internationally famous. His great work was Nordamerikanische Vogelwelt. Much of his information for this study had been gained in Texas. (Birkmann, G. D. V., Feb. 26, 1931.)
  66. Der Lutheraner, XXXVIII (Dec. 1, 1882).
  67. Synodical Report, Southern District, 1882.
  68. Birkmann, G. D. V., Sept. 27, 1934.
  69. Birkmann, “Lehrer an unsern Gemeindeschulen in Texas” in Texas Distriktsbote, XV (April, 1930).
  70. Birkmann, G. D. V., Sept. 27, 1934.
  71. Michalk, “Brief History of Trinity Lutheran School,” ms. in writer’s possession. The western part of the present Lee County has always been known for its rough characters. Old-timers still tell of the “necktie” parties popular at the time.
  72. Birkmann-Michalk, “Geschichte der Dreieinigkeitsgemeinde zu Fedor,” ms. in Fedor archives.
  73. Infra, p. 57.
  74. Interview with Dr. G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas. In Fedor the Lutheran school was the only one in the neighborhood. However, intermittently public school was conducted in an old lodge hall. Sometimes it was open, but more often there was no school at all. Frequently the school term lasted only three months. (Interview with Karl Dube, Sr., Houston, Texas.) Later the so-called Patschke school was opened about four miles north of Fedor and another three miles east of the community. The third was close to Paige. Most of these did not begin till 1890. (Birkmann, Giddings News, May 6, 1932.)
  75. Minutes, March 2, 1884.
  76. Minutes, April 4, 1886.
  77. Interview with Dr. G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas.
  78. Der Lutheraner, Vol. 45 (Oct. 22, 1899).
  79. Interview with K. Dube, Sr., Houston, Texas.
  80. Minutes of St. Paul’s, Serbin, Nov. 10, 1889.
  81. Statistical Yearbook, 1890. Doepke remained until the end of 1893.
  82. Interview with Karl Dube, Sr., Houston, Texas.
  83. Interview with Karl Dube, Sr., Houston, Texas.
  84. Interview with Karl Dube, Sr., Houston, Texas.
  85. Interview with Dr. G. Birkmann, Giddings, Texas. Doepke lived in Houston for about ten years. Later be began teaching again at Little Rock, Ark.
  86. Letter from the Rev. Paul Birkmann to the writer.
  87. Synodical Report, Southern District, 1901. The State of Texas was a part of the Western District until 1882. Because of its phenomenal growth and extensive territory the Western District was divided, and the State of Texas became part of the Southern District. In 1906 Texas became a separate District.
  88. Yearbook of 1902.
  89. Yearbook of 1902.
  90. Letter from the Rev. Paul Birkmann to the writer.
  91. Minutes, Sept. 18, 1904.
  92. Minutes, Sept. 20, 1904.
  93. Yearbook, 1904.
  94. Yearbook, 1904.