Gruetzners Come to Texas
A man and his small family exit the carriage that has transported them from the train station to the Hamburg American shipping company’s pier in the port of Hamburg. As they huddle together against the cold wind coming off the Elbe River, they gaze at the steamship Saxonia which lies tied up at the dock. With three masts for sails, and one smokestack for the steam engine amidships, the Saxonia measures 311.7 feet in length and weighs in at 2,684 gross tons. After seeing that their heavy trunks have been taken aboard the ship, Johann Gruetzner, a 42-year-old merchant from Gross Dehsa, a small village of some 507 inhabitants northwest of Loebau in the Kingdom of Saxony, motions to his family and they head up the gangway under the watchful eye of Captain Winzen. With Johann are his wife, Magdalena, one daughter and a son. Each first-class cabin ticket for the four family members cost Johann $130 in gold (about $2,600 in today’s money). Johann presents their traveling papers and is directed to their accommodation in the first-class cabin portion of the ship, joining a total of 230 passengers making the voyage.
The journey across the Atlantic is relatively uneventful. The cabin is spacious compared to the bunk spaces provided for the passengers in steerage. The voyage lasts for one month, terminating at the Port of New Orleans on 6 May 1872 after a brief stop in Havana, Cuba where the US Consulate screens the 230 passengers of the Saxonia. From New Orleans, the family travels westward overland to their new home in Texas.
The surname Gruetzner (Grützner) is a German name, although the family is of Wendish roots. The name had been “Germanized” at some point from the original Wendish name of Hedusch (also spelled Heidusch and Heydusch). This may have occurred in the 1840-1850’s as records have been found in the Lutheran churches of Bautzen wherein the name is shown as Hedusch with Grützner shown following it in parentheses, and in Kittlitz where the name is given as Grützner with Heydusch in parentheses. Case in point: In the 1856 birth/baptism record of my 2nd great-aunt, Maria Ernestine Grützner, the father’s name is recorded as Johann Grützner with Heydusch given in parentheses. My great-grandfather, Carl August Grützner’s record of 1861, has Johann listed only by Grützner.
Exactly why the Gruetzners decided to leave Saxony is unclear. Although the Saxon Lutheran Church was not suffering from the governmental oppression that had pressured the Prussian Wends
to take their Lutheran faith to Texas in the 1850’s, there were some doctrinal differences between the Saxon church and some Lutheran congregations, especially regarding the rationalization movement. The serfdom of the Wends had ceased decades prior to the departure of the Gruetzners and Johann apparently was doing well enough as a merchant since he traveled in first class. One possible reason was the series of wars that had taken place in the recent past involving Saxony. In 1866, the Austro-Prussian war had pitted Prussia and its allies against Austria and its allies that included Saxony, Bavaria, Hanover and other small entities. The Prussian victory led to a reshaping of the German speaking kingdoms and the forming of new confederations. As recently as the year prior to the Gruetzner’s departure, Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony had fought together against France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871.
There was a substantial rise in emigration in the decade following the war. The seemingly ever present wars taking place in and around Germany may have led Johann to risk a move to Texas rather than subjecting his family to another war which might involve his young son going to war.
Johann was taking his family westward overland to Fedor, Texas where his wife’s brother had been serving as pastor of the small Trinity Lutheran Church since 1871. The community of Fedor, formerly known variously as Bluff Creek, Moab, and West Yegua, after the creek that flows through the area, was eventually named after Fedor Soder, the second owner of a small store that also served as the post office for that area. In 1872, it was in the far western portion of Burleson County but the area would become Lee County when it was organized in 1874. Unlike some other Gruetzners who had immigrated to Australia in the 1840’s and 1850’s, Johann’s wife, Magdalena, may have wished to move to Texas where her brother, Reverend Johann August Proft, was serving other Saxon Wendish Lutheran families. The Trinity Lutheran congregation was an outgrowth of the St. Paul Lutheran Church of Serbin, Texas where a large group of Lutheran Wends from Prussia and Saxony had settled in 1854. The Gruetzners may have stayed briefly with Rev. Proft until they obtained a place of their own.
The first order of business for Johann in Texas was the purchase of land. He purchased three parcels, totaling 1,025 acres located in the old John Brown land grant, and paid for it with gold. The
purchase was made in two parts with the first part concluded on 20 May 1872 in Jasper County from M. C. Moulton of Jasper, and the second in Fayette County from Adam Adams of Jasper County on 5 June 1872. Each contract was for $2,500 in gold or about $44,000 in today’s dollars. Apparently, the parcels were jointly owned by individuals residing in the different counties and two contracts had to be drawn up to complete the sale. On 14 July 1872, Johann and Magdalena sold to Rev. Proft 114 acres of their land (for $585 dollars in gold or about $11,000 in today’s dollars), so he could have a place of his own instead of depending on the congregation for a place for him and his family as he found the parsonage a “miserable place.” This may have been because of the lack of good water and the prevalence of malaria in the area. The church parsonage did not have a well and relied on water transported there in barrels.
Unfortunately, the summer of 1872 in Texas did not bode well for the merchant turned farmer. Johann developed peritonitis (inflammation caused by an infection of the abdominal lining which
might have been due to a perforated ulcer or intestine) and died on 17 August 1872, leaving behind his wife Magdalena, his 15-year-old daughter Maria, and 12-year-old son Carl August. Pastor Proft conducted the funeral service of his brother-in-law. The death is recorded in the church’s death register but it is unknown if the burial was in the church cemetery or on the family land as no grave marker has been located. Reverend Proft also experienced tragedy in 1872. His infant daughter Bertha died on 3 September, followed three days later by his wife of one year, the former Dorothea Koch. He married his second wife, Dorothea Stahmer, in July of 1873. That happy occasion was shortly followed by the death of Johann Gruetzner’s only daughter, Maria, of dropsy (edema) of the lower abdomen on 19 August 1873. (Dropsy or edema is not actually a disease itself, rather a symptom of a disease and in this case, may have indicated a heart problem.) Maria’s death is recorded in the parish register but her gravesite has yet to be determined.
Magdalena Gruetzner remarried on 5 July 1874. Her new husband was Johann Wilhelm Wolf who was living in nearby Bastrop County. Out of this marriage came the birth of twins on 12 April 1875, Emily Magdalena Wolf and Johann Wilhelm Wolf Junior. Magdalena’s new husband died on 7 September 1878, again leaving Magdalena with children to raise on her own.
Things began to improve for the family line in June of 1882 when Carl August Gruetzner married a 19-year-old Wendish girl from Serbin named Johanna Maria Wuensche. They were married in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Fedor by Reverend Maisch. This marriage eventually resulted in the birth of sixteen children between 1883 and 1910. Most of these births were recorded as having taken place in Lincoln, Texas. The family’s address had changed from Fedor to a Lincoln address but was also briefly a Schkade, Texas address. A new post office was created for the area and named after the first postmaster who owned a small store in which the office was located. John A. Schkade was appointed postmaster for the new Schkade, Texas in February of 1903. He was replaced by Hermann Marburger in February 1904. The post office was closed effective 31 December 1904. As such, Schkade was the location given when Magdalena Gruetzner Wolf died on 12 November 1903. The cause of death was reported as consumption, or what is now known as tuberculosis. Shortly after her death, the post office in Schkade closed and the mail was again handled out of Lincoln. Magdalena’s death was recorded in the death register of St. John Lutheran Church of Lincoln; however, no marker has been found in the church’s cemetery. Carl August passed away from tuberculosis on 24 October 1911 and is also buried at the St. John cemetery. His tombstone gives his name only as K. A. Gruetzner and indicates a change in the spelling of his name Carl (Karl.)
And so, the last of the Saxon-born Gruetzners was gone. But the name survived through the eight sons of Carl August and Johanna Maria and the bloodline also continued with the eight daughters.
From Lee County, the name spread to Bastrop County, Harris County, Anderson, Milam, Travis and many others where the name Gruetzner now stands.