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Author: Subject: Dobry dźeń! The Story of the Family of Johann Gruetzner AKA Hedusch
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[*] posted on 4-18-2017 at 04:06 PM
Dobry dźeń! The Story of the Family of Johann Gruetzner AKA Hedusch

This story was initially presented at a meeting of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society at Serbin, Texas on 26 March 2017.


Dobry dźeń! Ja rěkam Jan Hedusch, a ja sym Sorb.


Vielleicht auf deutsch? Guten Tag! Ich heisse Johann Grützner, und ich bin ein Wend.


Vielleicht muß ich auf Englisch sprechen.

Good afternoon! My name is Johann Gruetzner, and I am a Wend.

I had heard there was to be a gathering of Wends here today and that some had wondered what it was like in the years right after our arrival in Texas. I thought I might drop in and shed some light on the subject by talking about our family. Admittedly, I didn’t come over on the Ben Nevis, but it wasn’t a long time before I arrived.

I was born in Groß Dehsa, Saxony in 1829. My father was Peter Gruetzner. He was the only son of my grandfather, who was also named Johann Gruetzner. They also lived in Groß Dehsa which is a small village just outside of Loebau in the Kingdom of Saxony. Our family has lived in Groß Dehsa for as long as anyone can remember. They must have had a sale on the names Johann and Carl August. Peter named me as well as my brother, Johann, and a sister was named Johanna. Two other brothers were both named Carl August, except one had Carl spelled with a “K” instead of a “C”. My family used to speak Wendish and our name was called Hedusch. But as times changed, more and more of us began speaking German and we began to call ourselves Gruetzner, which is the German for Hedusch. By the time I was born, most people around Loebau were using German as the common language, even if we could also speak Wendish. Around 1855, I married a good Wendish girl named Magdalene Proft from Maltitz, Saxony. We continued to live in Groß Dehsa where I was a merchant. Our first child was a daughter, Marie Ernestine, who was born in October of 1856. Our second child was a boy, and since we had one name left over from that earlier sale, I named him Carl August. He was born in March of 1861.

I guess you could say we had a good life in Saxony. I was doing well enough as a merchant. But conditions in Saxony were getting worse. It seems like every few years, another war would break out in Europe. Just prior to my birth, Saxony had been occupied by Prussia in 1806 and almost lost its independence. In the decade that followed, Napoleon brought war to Saxony. Foreign troops went through our lands, were quartered in our homes, and life was disrupted generally. After I was grown and had a family, we suffered through the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, followed shortly thereafter by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Our family had never been really interested in military service and I did not want my only son forced into fighting somebody else’s wars. So, Magdalene and I decided to immigrate to America.

Magdalene had a brother, named Johann Proft, who had recently been called as the pastor of Trinity Lutheran church in Fedor, Texas in September of 1871. Of course, it was not called Fedor at that time, but that is the name you know it by today. (Other names - Long Prairie, Bluff Creek, West Yegua) Proft had immigrated to the US in 1869 as a missionary and then attended the Practical Seminary in St. Louis to become a Lutheran pastor.

And so, it was decided, we were going to Texas! I sold my business and our home and we loaded our possessions onto the train headed for the big Port of Hamburg. We arrived in April of 1872. I purchased tickets in the first-class cabins of the Steamship Saxonia, (the same ship Pastor Proft sailed aboard in 1869) which we boarded on the 6th of April. This big ship was powered by steam as well as two tall masts for sails. It was a pleasant enough journey for us. The ship made a brief stop in Havana, Cuba where some passengers disembarked and then continued to the big city of New Orleans, arriving on the 6th of May. From there we traveled overland to Fedor where we stayed with Pastor Proft. (Possibly via the Houston & Central Texas Railroad which had just come through Giddings in 1871.)

My first job was to find us land in this new and strange territory called Texas. I was fortunate to find two gentlemen who were willing to sell some land near Fedor. In late May of 1872, I purchased a total of 1,025 acres on the San Antonio Prairie in the John Brown survey. I paid each man $2,500 in gold for the land which bordered on the West Yegua Creek. In July 1872, Magdalene and I sold Pastor Johann Proft 114 acres of our land that bordered on the creek. He wanted to move away from the parsonage which he did not find comfortable. I should mention that initially Trinity Church had only one building which measured 24 X 20 feet and served as church, school and parsonage. Later in 1872 they did build another building for use as a school. So, you can see that things were a little cramped for him. Even more so when my little family moved in with him!

Life in Fedor was a struggle. We initially had no wells for good water and had to haul our water from the West Yegua and store it in cisterns. Pastor Proft actually had a condition in his contract with the church, that every week, three members would each transport one barrel of water to the parsonage for his use. Malaria was common in the area. Texas was in the final years of the Reconstruction period following the terrible War Between the States, so her economy was not in the best shape. Texas had been readmitted into the Union in March of 1870, but the government was still undergoing changes. Outlaws roamed about the area. The Ku Klux Klan was terrorizing many in the area. The only real enforcement of the law came from the newly created State Police or the militia sent by the Governor, which didn’t happen with any regularity. But real tragedy soon came upon us. In August of 1872, a mere three months after arriving in Texas, I developed peritonitis, possibly from a perforated ulcer. I died on August the 17th, leaving Magdalene a widow with two children to raise. I was but 42 years of age. My little family lived with her brother and his wife as we had not yet been able to build our own house on our land. The following month, Pastor Proft suffered his own loss. Bertha, his newborn infant daughter, died and was followed in death three days later by his wife, the former Dorothea Koch. Dorothea had contracted malaria the month before her death. In June of 1873, Pastor married Dorothea Stahmer, but that happy event was soon followed by the death of my daughter Maria from dropsy of the lower abdomen on 19 August 1873, exactly one year and two days after my death.

Aside: A little more about my brother-in-law, Pastor Proft. He was called to Trinity because they wanted a Pastor who could speak Wendish. Even so, most services were held using the German language, save for four communion services in Wendish every year. Pastor Proft suffered from health issues. Because of this, he had conflicts with the congregation who felt he wasn’t handling his teaching duties properly. Eventually, these conflicts led to him resigning his position at Trinity in October of 1875. This was the end of Wendish services at Trinity. Proft continued living on his land however, and in 1876, a group of Wends from Trinity formed a new church on the San Antonio Prairie and named it Ebenezer Lutheran. They called Pastor Proft and he accepted. Pastor Proft later took a call to Sherman, Texas and then one to St. Louis, Missouri and never returned to Texas.

On July 5th of 1874, Magdalene remarried. Her new husband was Johann Wilhelm Wolf of Bastrop County. Out of this marriage came a set of twins, Emily Magdalene and Johann Wilhelm Junior, who were born in April of 1875. Alas, Magdalene’s new husband died a few short years later, on September 7th of 1878. Again, she was left with children to raise.

On June 28th of 1882, my only son, Carl August, married Johanna Marie Wuensche in the church at Fedor. They started their family in October the next year with the birth of my first grandchild, Maria Ernestine, (who I never got to see, of course). I guess she was named in remembrance of Carl August’s deceased sister. But tragedy was not yet finished with our family. In November of 1884, Johanna gave birth prematurely to little Maria Emma who did not survive. But the Gruetzners struggled on, eventually having another fourteen children, boys and girls, all of whom survived and thrived.

All these children, save one, married and raised families. Only Emma Theresia remained unmarried. She looked after her mother until Johanna died. The other girls married local boys and mostly stayed in the general area, either in Lee County or the surrounding counties. The boys married, started families, and some remained on farms while others took up trades. Herman George, who people called “Slick”, became a beer distributor. BTW: He married Olga Proske, the daughter of John Proske, a Wend who founded the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, the only American newspaper to print in the Wendish language. Albert Earnest eventually became a Lutheran Pastor and was serving at St John’s Lutheran in Lincoln at the time of his death. He had recently survived having been trapped in the rubble of the church which was destroyed by a windstorm when he died of complications from a surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid gland. My youngest grandson, Martin Carl, who most people called “Mike” operated an appliance store in Giddings till his death. His son-in-law, James Arndt, continued running the store and was later elected Mayor of Giddings. Another merchant in the family was Otto Karl. He started out selling cars in Giddings before moving to Austin and operating a used car lot. Later he moved to Elgin where he owned his own Chevrolet – Pontiac dealership. His sons all worked there as well, save for James who became a Lutheran minister, who eventually retired from Trinity Lutheran Church outside of Detroit.

And so, there you have a short account of that seed I planted so many, many years ago, outside Fedor. I thought it might die out for a bit, but Carl August pulled through and continued the line. For that, I thank the Herr Gott.

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