A lot of my winter break was spent doing genealogy on the Czech side of my family, since these are the relatives I was exposed to going furthest back (I often visited my great aunts and uncles on their farm in Kurten, Texas) and it’s the branch of the family that is the most storied, through my mother. While doing supplemental reading on Bohemian/Moravian immigrants in Brazos Texas, I found accounts of the minister who enticed them to make the journey, to serve as laborers under the promise of large expanses of cheap and fertile land. This started a chain migration that my Czech family followed in 1872. This was my grandmother Dorothy’s family- and it was Dorothy’s house that held the Mud Room that serves as our conceptual entryway into the maze of cenotaphs.
Chain migration was also responsible for the creation of a Czech-speaking enclave within the German settlements, which originated in 1851 when a letter from a Silesian Protestant minister named Ernst Bergmann reached Josef Lesikar in Landskroun on the Bohemia-Moravia border. The letter outlined transportation costs and provided enticing details on agriculture in Cat Spring, so Lesikar quickly organized a party of sixteen families. As it turned out, his wife prevailed upon him to abandon the plan, and he was lucky he did. Half of those who left Landskroun perished in squalid conditions on the Atlantic crossing. Lesikar, however, stayed in touch with a survivor and passed his letters on for publication in the Moravske Noviny, a regional newspaper. In 1853 he organized seventeen more families and left that October for Bremen, although not before obtaining from the local authorities a fraudulent medical exemption from military service for his son. Seven weeks later the party landed in Galveston, and fourteen days after that they arrived in Cat Spring, where they encountered remnants of the previous party of immigrants.(Kelley)
The Czech Texan population was relatively homogeneous because it passed directly from the Moravian village to Farm Texas. Poverty drove the Moravians to Texas, the prospect of cheap land and trying to escape long-term military service. Nevertheless, they often hesitated to leave(Eckertová)
and they put it aside for many years until the letters of the evangelical priest Bergmann finally seduced them- flowery depictions of Texas county and quality soil, and classifieds published in Czech newspapers. (translation)
Pastor Bergman arrived in 1849 with a large group of German families in Cat Spring, from where he wrote home letters calling for others to emigrate. One of the Czechs, who fled from Texas to Iowa writes about him: "As far as the community of Texas is concerned, The Czechoslovaks are not suitable, they have a worse climate, in which our countryman cannot work and are often subject to pernicious yellow fever. I came from there last year and several Czech families told about the sad position of the local Czechs, which Mr. Bergmann, the tricky priest with his enticing letters, coaxed to follow him. They cursed him- that through him they were greatly reduced in wealth and health and many have died; the word 'Texas' is a certain doom for Czechoslovaks, just like Temešský Banát in Hungary ”(Ar USA 33/6, p. 81, archive of the Náprstek Museum in Prague). (translation)(Eckertová)
Another useful idea that came from my reading was the Czech observance of All Souls Day (on Nov 2nd), called Dušičky (little souls). A day to visit the graves of the dead, lighting candles for them and reflecting on their lives. My family were Roman Catholic Moravians (There were both Catholic and Protestant Czechs in Texas) and observed this holiday. Many of my Czech relatives are buried in a family cemetery in Kurten, which I have visited.