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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Early Polish Settlers in Texas

Bandera county has a wonderful history. During the ninety-five years that have passed since the first white people came to make shingles from the giant cypress trees that grew along the Medina river, history has been in the making. Many tragedies have been enacted, many privations endured, many dangers experienced during that long span of years from the beginning of Bandera down to the time when this ceased to be the frontier. Volumes could be written to recount the deeds of the daring, the thrilling experiences, the hardships, sufferings, the heroic achievements of the pioneers of this county, and still much would be left untold. It has been my privilege to know personally many of the early settlers of Bandera county, and from them I have gained, first hand, much of the history that has been made here. Among these early settlers was Mrs. Constantina Adamietz, who died at her home in Bandera a few years. ago, at an advanced age. In 1922, when I was gathering material for my "Pioneer History of Bandera County," I went to see Mrs. Adamietz and heard her relate the story of her long life in Bandera and the many changes she saw take place here. She was living in a house on Lower Cedar Street, on the site given to her by her father, John Pyka, Sr., who came to Bandera in 1855. In relating many of the events of those early days, Mrs. Adamietz was quick to remember dates and names, and at times she spoke with much feeling. Sometimes a tear would glisten as she recalled some pathetic incident, and at other times a hearty laugh would accompany her recital of a humorous anecdote. Her narrative, as it appeared in the "Pioneer History of Bandera County." follows:

"My parents, John and Frances Pyka, were poor peasants in Poland, struggling along from year to year, enduring the hard lot of peasants of that time. One day father heard of the opportunities for emigrants to secure homes in America, and was told that he could go with a party that was being made up to sail for the New World, the land of the free. Poland's struggle for freedom has been recorded in history. Our country was not successful as was America, and Polish patriots turned longing eyes in this direction and rejoiced over the good fortune of their comrades who came to this country. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself for father to bring his family to America he was quick to seize upon the chance. Preparations were hastily made and we were ready long before the starting time. At last word came that we were to start on a certain day, and then came the sorrow of bidding old friends and loved one goodbye — friends we never expected to meet again in this life, unless they should come to America. I was just a little girl then, only nine years old, with never a care or worry, and full of anticipation of the long journey. But when I kissed loved ones there goodbye my heart was sad, and I could not keep from crying.

"We started, sixteen families in all. Our family consisted of father and mother, myself, my two sisters, Frances and Caroline, and brother, John Pyka. I was the oldest ;child, and of course it was my duty to help mother and the smaller children. We went aboard ship, and for nine weeks we sailed the broad ocean. Every day was just alike, and at night a stillness as of death settled about us. Mother suffered ,a great deal from seasickness, as did many of the other passengers. Three of our party died on the trip and were given a sea burial. Their bodies were wrapped in canvas, weights attached, and dropped overboard. I was greatly distressed when these burials took place, for I feared the fish would eat the bodies. At last we reached Galveston Bay, and there was much hurrying and scurrying about when the ship dropped anchor. Everybody began collecting their scant belongings, mothers calling their children, and the men giving directions for all to keep together. We landed at Galveston in January, 1855. In our party were the families of Verner, Koerdles, Pitte, John Pyka, Kasper Kalka, Albert Haiduk, Frank Anderwald, Samuel Adamietz, Frank Jureczki, John Dugosh, and several others whose names I cannot now recall. We were absolutely without money, and possessed only a few effects besides our clothing.

"From Galveston we went to Indianola, from whence we traveled by wagon and on foot to Victoria, and then on to San Antonio, where we met Charles de Montel, who owned the land where Bandera is situated. He provided conveyance and took us to Castroville and Quihi. I remember quite well the conveyance that served us. The vehicles were oxcarts with solid wooden wheels and the yokes were fastened to the horns of the oxen. We `were overjoyed to reach the end of our long journey. Mr. Montel gave to each man in our party a lot in the town of Bandera, and sold to a number of them small tracts of and in the vicinity. Father bought, on credit, forty acres located just across the river, and it is now owned by my brother, John Pyka. Very soon a number of cabins were built of logs and pickets and we were at home therein. There was a colony of Mormons here when we arrived, but they later moved to the Mormon Camp, several miles below here. Of the settlers who were here when we came I know of only two that remain (1922), George Hay and Amasa Clark.

"Then, as now, this was a beautiful country, but it was a wilderness. Game was plentiful and we did not lack for meat. Indians were also numerous, and often we heard of raids they made in other parts of the country, killing people and stealing horses, and they soon began coming into our settlement. Then we wished we were back in Poland, where no such dangers lurked, but we were without means on which to leave and so were compelled to remain here and `grow up with the country.' We soon became accustomed to our new surroundings, the social life of the community became active, and we set about to make it as enjoyable as (our circumstances would permit. Mr. Montel was a most generous man, and treated our people with kind consideration. He had a sawmill here, and gave our men employment at the mill and also put them to clearing land. The women helped to grub land, worked in the fields, and performed any labor that Could to help make the living. At the sawmill. which was located where the old Peters gin now stands (now known as the Fritz Eckhart residence, on Cypress Street, just south of the Plummer Funeral Home), great cypress trees were converted into lumber and shingles and hauled to San Antonio. Mr. Munroe, a Mormon, erected a flour mill just below town, which was operated by water taken from the river. The dam was made of logs and stones, some of which remain in the river at a point near The Loop, and the old mill race is still to be seen along the bank of the river. This mill race was constructed by Polish labor, men and women digging it with spades. Among the best workers was Mrs. Moravietz, who still lives here (1922). The mill was carried away by a flood in the river after many years of successful operation.

Mr. Montel had a small store here, which was managed by a Mr. Hepke. Mother cooked for the men who worked for Montel. Father was a wheelwright and carpenter and followed his trade. Everybody worked. We realized that we had come as strangers to a strange land and we knew that the only hope for us to succeed in this new land was by dint of industry and hard work. How well we performed our task is apparent today in the development that has been made. The generations that have followed these early Polish settlers have become thoroughly Americanized by the process of amalgamation. Pretty homes, well tilled farms, schools, refinement, religious influences that are widespread, and a happy, thrifty, contented people is what the stranger finds here today. We, the pioneers, had our part in the making of all this, and we look with pride on what our hands have wrought.

"I was married to John Adamietz May 10, 1866, Father Zielenski performing the ceremony. To us were born 11 children. My eldest son, Valentine J. Adamietz, died May 5, 1921, at Thibedeaux, La. Another son, Pete Adamietz, died March 2, 1893, and Felix Adamietz was killed while mining at Morenci, Arizona in 1901. Eight children yet survive and are located near me. (Since this was written in 1922, three more of Mrs. Adamietz's children have passed away.) They are Mrs. Mary Kindla, Alex Adamietz, Mrs. Annie Abernathy, Mrs. Bina Jureczki (deceased), Matt Adamietz (deceased), Henry Adamietz (deceased), Ignatius Adamietz, and Mrs. Frances Ruge. My brothers, Frank and Anton Pyka, were born after my parents came to Bandera, and were raised here.

"We bought our first milk cow at Castroville, and father went down there afoot and drove her home. I have plowed in the field, picked cotton, and done all kind of farm work. I remember the first roasting ears we had to eat. An American neighbor named Curtis showed us how to cook them on the cobs and eat them. We never had roasting ears in the old country.

"In the course of time other families came over from Poland, among them being Anton Pyka. Sr., Tom Mazurek, Jacob Jureczki, and some from the Polish colony (Panna Maria) in Karnes county, Mr. Zerner, the father of Mrs. Kasper Dugosh, and Mrs. Albert Jureczki, being among the latter.

"My husband died October 25, 1911. My parents died many years ago. I recall many tragedies of those times, for the Indians made frequent raids into this settlement and stole horses. One night they stole some horses from Herman Thallman's stable that was located near where the Davenport store now stands. They got the horses by removing several logs from the stable. One night Gideon Carter, a Mormon, was carrying a little child in his arms and, with his sister, was going to visit a neighbor. An Indian concealed behind a tree or in a fence corner, shot Mr. Carter through the body with an arrow: He ran to the home of O. B. Miles, where the arrow was pulled out.' Carter recovered. and afterwards went to Utah. Albert Haiduk also had a narrow escape from death. One night he thought he heard some cattle breaking into his corn field, and when he went to investigate he found it was Indians. He ran back to the house, but was wounded with an arrow before he could get inside. The Indians got all of his horses. I remember when Frank Buckelew was taken captive by the Indians, and also recollect the killing of Theodor Kindla. I recall the time when Amasa Clark, Dr. Thompson and John Kindla were attacked by robbers on the road home from San Antonio. Dr. Thompson was killed outright; Kindla died from the effects of the wounds several years later, and Mr. Clark fully recovered. Bandera county's chapter of tragedies is a long one. The savage red man left a trail of blood through this region that made many homes desolate, and brought woe and grief to the people. Those were trying times, and the present generation, in luxury, cannot gain the faintest idea of the privations and hardships endured by those who blazed the way for civilization. Besides the dangers that lurked on every hand, we had to do without many things that are necessary today. We had no drugs or medicines, and when overtaken by illness, homeopathic remedies were resorted to. Every housewife knew how to `doctor' her children, and how to set and bandage fractured limbs, make poultices, dress wounds, and relieve suffering. We had no furniture except homemade articles. We had no cook stoves, the open fireplace and the skillet and pots cooked our meals. We carded wool and spun cotton and wore homespun clothing. Every girl learned to spin and weave and many of the boys learned it, too. The men had to split rails to make fences—barbed wire was then unknown. We had to invent many ways to get along in those days.

"When the civil war came on we remained aloof from partisanship, but many of our American and German neighbors became involved, and some went to war, while others went to Mexico. Men were hung for their sentiments, and many disappeared to never be heard of again. Those were terrible times.

"The Spanish-American war came on in 1898, and several of our young men enlisted. Then in 1914 the World War started and when America became involved, our sons went forth to offer their lives on the altar of patriotism. Some of our Bandera boys made the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield.

"Three-quarters of a century have passed over my head — years that have been full of joy and sorrow, pleasure and excitement, and now as I sit in the twilight of life's autumn and behold the wonderful changes that have taken place, I am proud to know that I have been an humble participant in Bandera's making.
More on early Polish Settlers in Texas:
Ranch Life in Bandera County in 1878
A Beloved Pioneer Couple
The Founding of Bandera
...and much more! Just go to our search engine and enter the word "Polish"

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