Immigrant stories…coming to Americaby Hugh Holub on Jul. 02, 2011, under immigration law reform, politics
With all the debate about immigration going on, it is useful to remember that somewhere in the past, we were all immigrants to America.
Folks left their homelands and risked their lives to come to a strange land so they could build a future for themselves and their children.
This July 4th weekend, remember the stories of who your ancestors were and why they came to America…and what it took for you to be who you are today.
These are mine:
The Czech Catholic side of the family:
This is the story of a group of Moravian Czehs who came to Texas in 1856….
From Texas Czech studies:
The small community of Dubina, Texas is situated near and east of Navidad, about four miles on the left side of the paved highway from Schulenburg to Weimar, Texas. This community is 100% Czech-Moravian-Catholic. It is the only parish in the state that was founded and settled strictly by people ALL coming from Moravia in Europe.
The history of this parish is best known from a lecture by August Haidusek, given by him at a special parish celebration on the 4th of November, 1906 in memory of the founding of this Czech-Moravian community west of the Colorado River of Texas. “It was in the beginning of the month of August 1856 when my father, living in the small village of “Mysi” at the foot of a small mountain in Kasnicova, between Frenstat and Pribor in northern Moravia, emigrated to settle somewhere in America. At the same time, from the same village emigrated with us Ignac Pustejovsky and Valentine Holub. We travel by a wagon to Bohumin where we met other families also moving to America. In Bohumin we boarded a train for Bremen. There we rested for a few days and then were loaded onto a small barge that took us to Bremenhaven by the river.
In Bremenhaven we took an ocean going sail boat to Galveston, Texas. The boat was about 100 feet long with two masts. Barely a little tub compared to the ocean liners of today. The first night out we ran into a severe storm and we were tossed about like a little stick of wood. I will never forget to the end of my life – the difficulties, sickness, etc. of all the travelers, but especially by the women and the children. The storm lasted a night and a day. Thereafter the trip was practically uneventful up to Galveston, where we landed after fourteen weeks of ocean travel. The next day my father, with some more men, myself included, oared to the Galveston Harbor and we returned in a small steamer (probably a tug boat) which pulled us closer to a large steamer they loaded all our baggage and passengers and this boat took us by way of the Buffalo Bayou (now Houston Channel) all the way to Houston. Here we landed the morning of All Saints Day.
In the group were Konstantine Chovanec, Joseph Janda from Trojanovice. Benjamin Klimicek, Ignac Sramek, Joseph Kalic, Ignac Musny, Joseph Peter and Francis Marak from Ticha, Francis Sugarek from Klokocov, Ignac Pustejovsky, Valentine Holub and my father Valentine Haidusek from “Mysi” and Francis Kosa from Sklenkov – also a single young man John Konvicka. Miss Johana Broz, Miss Rosalie Holub and two more single girls from Frenstat; all from Moravia.
Upon arrival in Houston, early next day, we set out on a journey in wagons pulled by 5 pair of oxen. After six days we arrived in Cat Spring in Austin County. Here we spent the night in a small forest. Here a man by the name of Matusik came and talked to us and spoke in such an unfavorable way about Texas that some families decided to return to Galveston and go to the state of Iowa, where lived one of our countrymen, a Mr. Holub. A little later another Czech came around and he again talked in favor of Texas and to change our minds and stay in Texas.
He reasoned that we would arrive in Iowa in the dead of winter, which season of the year was just as severe if not even worse than in our homeland in Europe. So we all decided to stay and we rested in Cat Springs for about two weeks. In the meantime my father with Joseph Peter, Joseph Lalich and Frank Marak went out to scout the country. When they returned they could not find enough words in praise of Fayette county, they said it was a fertile and beautiful country and had already leased for themselves some lands.
With them came two wagons, so we loaded up and started for La Grange. It was at the end of November when all these wagons brought us here and unloaded us under “Live Oaks” – all year green oaks. It was on a property that then was owned by a Mr. Holub. This was early in the afternoon, with a strong norther and a good bit of sleet. We had no cover except the oaks, so we were soaked through and through. For miles around there was no settler anywhere. We all felt miserable and forsaken, all alone. We built a large fire for the night, no one slept for it was very cold and rained hard. Next day the sun came out very bright, so everyone was able to work had to help out with work – by nightfall we had built on our property a crude but substantial home.
We lived in this home for the next six months. It was snug and fairly comfortable. It was a very primitive structure. In the morning, my father found very near two large oak trees, close to each other. We cut some long limbs, making two long beams, logs. We placed these down one end on the ground and the other ends were leaned on the two trees at an angle and we tied these with grape vines. Thus we had formed rafters. While men were doing this work, the women cut grass and tied it into bundles, (the grass was several feet high) which bundles I hauled on a horse to the construction site. The roof was covered with these bundles of grass. And we lived here for six months. Even the strongest rain storms were held off by the grass. The inside was warm and dry. After this Joseph Peter built a similar hut and we were all happy and glad. There was no friction among the people at any time. We stayed in our hut until 1867, when my father sold the farm and bought another one some three miles west of Schulenburg. Hynek, my brother, still lives on that farm today.
When huts were built for all, we started to clear and till the land. We made rails (for fences) and before planting time came we each had several acres fenced in. We planted corn about a foot apart, leaving three to four shoots in a group, thinking that this way we would be able to reap a greater harvest. Also cotton we planted into rather thick rows about a foot apart. When corn was about to bloom a Mr. John Frude came and pulled out corn stalks, thinning out the rows as corn should be. Of course we did not like his destroying our crops. He talked and explained as he worked – as no one of us understood English, we did not know what he was saying. At harvest time the rows of corn thinned out by Mr. Frude had large and full ears of corn and the rows not thinned out held only a bundle of shucks. All of the six families together made only a small bale of cotton. We loaded it on a sled and hauled it to La Grange to sell.
The first year was very bad for all of us, just about everyone had taken sick about the same time with chills and fever. It was very difficult to get over the illness. I did not get sick at all, perhaps because I was hardheaded and mean – so the sickness did not touch me at all. By this time I had learned some words in English, so I went for the doctor and when necessary acted as interpreter for him. I also acted as a nurse, bringing water and giving it to the patients and also administered medicine. By this time we had all dug wells for drinking water.
The year after this one was even worse – although we were all well now – we had nothing to eat and all the moneys brought from Europe were spent by now. But we could not go hungry and die. We went to a German merchant in La Grange who was a miller and we bought some corn from him, we paid two dollars a bushel. For flour we paid $20.00 per 196 pound barrel. Meat however was very cheap. For a doctor we had to go to Bluff, Texas, for Doctor Meyenger. The following year we knew a little more about farming. The younger ones could also speak some English. The natives came from far and near to take a look at us immigrants. They were very kind to us. They did teach us how to do our farm work. The next year we had cleared a very good crop of corn and also cotton. Thus it was better and better for us each year from then on. Soon we forgot the hard difficult beginnings.
About four years later some more families immigrated and came to our midst. They were lost in wonder and awe at the sight of our homes. Some families did stop to remain here – the family of Valentine Gallia, my father’s classmate. When he inspected our home and living quarters he said, “My friends! I had a much better pig sty at home”. My father answered, “Yes, you did, that is true – but I would rather live in this hut as an American than in the palaces of the European rich and labor as a slave for the Austrian government”.
We were the first czechomoravian family settled on the west side of the Colorado River. Of those that settled here with us, still living here today are Valentine Holub, Francis Kosa, Mrs. Johana Janak and Mrs. Syzink. Others died or moved away and left us here. One day we will go and will our place to others”.
Thus far quoted from the lecture of Mr. Haidusek. Here he had truly described the hard times, sorrows and self-denials of the first immigrants – not only of those that came with us and lived around Dubina, but also of all here and elsewhere no matter where they lived. These were the words of Mr. Haidusek to Mr. Gallia, “We all had gladly suffered these hardships and cruel self-denials than go to do slave labor under the Austrian rule”.
The first settlers around Dubina, though the times had made living easier and much pleasant, were still not fully satisfied with their lives, their mode of living. In their old country they had been accustomed to serve their God and fulfill their religious obligations faithfully. They were missing their CHURCH and their PRIESTS. In due time Father Gury, a Frenchman by birth, visited this colony coming some sixty miles from Frelsburg, Texas. He said Holy Mass here in the home of one of the parishioners. Thereafter Father Gury came about three times a year. All had gathered around him for these special occasions.
More settlers came year by year and in 1877 they built a small but neat frame church building and dedicated it to SS. Cyril and Methodius. At this time Father Rohosinsky would come from Praha, Texas a number of times a year. He did this until 1876 when Father Brucklin took over the parish and its responsibilities. Some time later Father Jerome Leagleder, a Bavarian by birth, became the first resident pastor.
In 1895 the first Czech priest Father Francis Just was appointed to Weimar, Texas as pastor with Dubina as a mission. He was followed by Father Karel Benes coming here from Bluff, Texas.
By 1900 the farming community had erected a church building, mill, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, store and post office. A 1909 storm and a 1912 fire caused extensive damage from which the town never recovered. As the first settlement in Texas to be founded by Czech Moravians, Dubina remains an important part of the state’s regional and cultural history.
The Czechs who settled in Dubina were not the first Czechs in Texas. There were many who preceded them; but all of these Czechs settled in existing towns. The group of Czechs who found shelter from the elements under a gigantic oak tree in November, 1856 were the first in Texas who started their own town.
Today the Czechs are among the larger ethnic groups in the state and Czech is the third most popular language spoken in Texas.–From the DeWitt County View
DUBINA, TEXAS. Dubina, the first Czech settlement in Texas, is five miles east of Schulenburg in southern Fayette County. In November 1856 a group of Czech settlers found shelter from a strong north wind and hail under a grove of large oak trees in what is now Dubina. Among the group were Frank Marak, Joseph Kahlich, Ignac Sramek, Joseph Peter, Valentine Holub, Ignac Muzny, Valentine Haidušek, and Frank Kossa. The next day the settlers built a shelter and, as the months progressed, planted crops; they made a total of one bale of cotton the first year, but through perseverance and hard work, the community prospered.
When the Civil War broke out, many were unwilling to fight for a cause they didn’t believe in.
DUBINA….The Civil War was especially difficult for recent Czech immigrants, including those at Dubina. Most had no vested interest in the war’s causes, and many had fled their homeland to avoid conflict, as well as compulsory service in the Austrian Army. Having faced years of oppression in their homeland, many Czechs were especially hesitant about fighting to preserve slavery. A number of Texas’s Czech immigrants were, nevertheless, drafted into the Confederacy. Some supported the Confederacy and volunteered to fight while others refused or deserted to the Union, but every community was affected. Many men not involved directly in combat served as teamsters, transporting Confederate cotton to Mexican ports. In rural communities, women assumed the daily duties of managing the farms, struggling to keep their families alive when even basic necessities were scarce. Dubina’s settlers persevered and managed to sustain the community, but the town lost some of its own citizens in the war and the constraints of the wartime economy slowed its development significantly. (UTITC 1972; Janecka 2002)
Two basic characteristics of the Czechs in Texas lie at the heart of their social structure: the extremely close-knit family unit and the attitude toward land. The typical Czech farm family was a largely self-contained economic and social unit whose main purpose was to cultivate the land. Farming was a way of life not clearly separated from other life goals and not seen merely as a way of making money. The rural Czech settlements were characterized by such cooperative institutions as the beef club, designed to provide each member family with a supply of fresh beef weekly during the spring and summer. Settlements also often had an egalitarian social structure, a characteristic that helps to explain the Czechs’ pronounced enthusiasm for American democratic ideals. Communities became established, and social clubs and organizations began to proliferate, first on a local, then on a state, level. The result was the establishment of fraternal organizations such as the SPJST (Slovanská podporující jednota statu Texas, known in English as the Slavic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas) in 1897; and the KJT (Katolická jednota texaská) in 1888 and the KJZT (Cesko-rimská katolická podporující jednota zen texaských) in 1897, Czech Catholic organizations for men and women, respectively. Each of these organizations grew out of a national Czech fraternal order but split away to become a Texas institution.
Valentine Holub was my great great grandfather.
I remember my grandfather and the farm they lived in well into the 1960′s…which never had running water or electricity. But they were never “poor” in the modern sense because they grew everything they needed, hunted and fished, and traded for store stuff. They worked hard and lived into their 80′s and 90′s…for generations.
In retrospect I wish I had learned more from the elders about how to can, grow food and all the “sustainability” things people knew back then and we lost in just 2 generations. I’m still pretty good at fishing and hunting, though.
I mention the Civil War history vis a vis the family because they weren’t then or now “southerners” in their outlook. This caused lots of problems and the Czech’s were called by a set of derogatory names like a lot of other immigrants along with the Black and Hispanic Texas residents. As Catholics they also faced discrimination.
My dad came back to Texas at the end of WWII with his Jewish bride….and in that time and place this was treated the same way as when Blacks and Whites got married….so both my parents were “those” people who the alleged majority (represented among others by the KKK) wanted dead or gone from the area.
That’s how my branch of the family ended up in Arizona…we chose “gone”.
Note: Back in 1856 when someone came to America they landed and the passenger manifest was given to the port officials. There was no “entry” like now. They just arrived and got off the ships. That changed in the 20th century.
You can find when your family came to America if they came through a port from various immigrant passenger list sites. You can even get information about the ship they came over on….in our case it was a two masted schooner or brig named the Elizabeth….and sometimes you can even get pictures of the ship.
If your ancestor came through Ellis Island you can search here
The German passnger list site has a complete list of where you can get data from all ports.
Then the immigrant signed a “declaration of intent” to become a citizen and you might be able to find when your ancestor did that.
Census records are also available so if you know where they lived you can back track themn in 10 year increments.
The Russian Jewish side of the family
On my mother’s side of the family, we know very little. Just this:
Ether Tessler (my grandmother) immigrated to the United States in 1917 from Russia. She was Jewish.
In 1925 my mother was born in Pittsburg and adopted out to Harry and Stella Schlanger who lived in Detroit. Harry was a homebuilder. The Schlangers moved to Tucson in 1945 due to my gandmother’s asthma.
Harry and his pal Al Cobo bought a couple of square miles “out in the middle of nowehere” upside the Pusch Ridge end of the Catalina Mountains. Cobo Catalina Foothills Estates was the result. Cobo went on to be Mayor of Detroit. He’s the guy “Cobo Hall” in Detroit is named after. He was a regular Tucson winter visitor and had a second home here.
My parents moved to Tucson in 1954, largely to escape the confines of a small minded Texas town and for my dad to take over running Harry’s business interests. My dad was an accountant and owned property all over town including the site where the telephone building is in downtown.
I am the third generation of the family involved in land development issues around here.
As a Jewish kid in Tucson in the 1950′s there was still overt anti-semitism…for example we could not go swimming in the YMCA pool. Harry got peeved and donated an olympic sized swimmng pool to the Tucson Jewish Commnunity Center on North Plummer. There’s a picture somwhere in the newspaper morgue of a 7 year old kid “dedicating” the pool. Fortunately no one shot the next picture of the 7 year old kid nearly drowning because I did not know how to swim at that time.
Harry also donated funds to construct the Stella Schlanger Chapel at Temple Emanuel on North Country Club, which last time I checked, was still there.
That’s the thing about having been around Tucson for a long time…one minute something is there, the next minute it is gone. The Tucson of my childhood is mostly a memory because everything “old” gets torn down and replaced by the “new”. Driving around Tucson today I feel like a ghost.
Looking back to Esther Tessler….she apparently arrived alone in America at Ellis Island in 1917 at the height of the Russian Revolution. There has to be an amazing story of her escape from the pogroms.
When we watch “Fiddler on the Roof” we imagine Esther came from a village like that, and managed to get out before the Cossacks came.
Today Esther’s great gandaughters include two police officers, a school teacher, the manager of a symphony orchestra, and two teenagers; and her great grandsons include a tennis pro and a would-be lawyer who will be the second in the family.
Some interesting “looking back” views….
I am fifth generation “American” on my dad’s side of the family….but the first generation that learned English first (and only).
The Czech community did not fully “assimilate” until WWII and those of us born right after 1945 were pushed real hard to be “American” and not speak Czech at home…and the home language was not allowed at school, either…an experience many Mexican-Americans had who were born after WW II.
My dad spoke Czech, German and Spanish before he learned English….and was one of those sorts of people that where ever he went, he’d learn the local language….he spent some time in the Sudan and ended up speaking Arabic. I still have his “Sudanese Colloquial Grammar” book.
Interestingly the English I learned was “radio English”….I don’t have a “Texas” accent. I remember being admonished to “not sound like a cracker”.
My generation lost its language heritage and interestingly have had a hard time learning second and third languages.
Once I was being introduced at an international conference in Mexico and the host started off by asking the audience (in English) “what do you call someone who speaks three languages?”
The audience yelled back “Tri-lingual”.
Then thehost asked “what do youy call someone who speaks two lanuages?”
The audience responded “Bi-lingual”.
Then the host asked “And what do you call someone who only speaks one language?”
And the audience yelled “The American”.
And then the host handed me the microphone.
If you sense in my writings that I favor a legalization path for immigrants that is because when I see the faces of the hard working people trying to come to America now and make a better life for their families….I see my own family.
I see Valentine chopping trees in the Texas wilderness and I see Esther working in a laundry worried about how to feed the child she was about to have.
Today the descendants of the Czech immigrants to Texas are viewed as an asset to that state. But it took 100 years for that to happen.
Today I remember as a child the fire at our home in Texas which was the KKK sending my parents a message.
Both sides of the family are deeply woven into the history of America now…founding churchs, towns, building homes, opening up farms, and some places even bear our names.
Would it be that the xenophobes using the immigration issue today to stir up votes recognized that what makes America the great nation it is comes from a constant infusion of immigrants who believe in our dream of ” one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.”