Slavic Immigrants Transformed Culture of Central Texas

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					                                                 TRAVEL TEXAS




                              Tex-Czechs
            Slavic Immigrants Transformed Culture of Central Texas




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Melba Foreman is rummaging               arrived before the establishment          County Czech Heritage Museum.
through the Czech music exhibit of       of Czechoslovakia in 1918, they           “The rows in the fields were always
Temple’s SPJST Museum when a             were known as Slavic people from          so straight and that’s not an accident
slight smile crosses her face.           Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.             — you’ll find symmetrical patterns
     “Oh, you have to hear this,”        Families often made the voyage            in everything from Czech farming to
she says, her eyes widening              on perilous barges with nowhere           sewing to music.”
with anticipation.                       to sleep while fleeing religious and            Indeed, the syncopated
     Foreman raises the lid of a large   governmental persecution.                 rhythms of the marches, waltzes and
wooden box containing an antique 78            “Many of these people left home     particularly the polkas of Czech music
rpm record player and nods slightly      with just a suitcase and a Bible under    are an integral part of the culture.
in affirmation when she sees the worn     great duress,” Foreman says. “They        Family bands were commonplace and
album on the turntable. She cranks       arrived in Texas and wrote back home      well documented. Historic images
the tarnished metal handle with an       saying, ‘Everything’s fine here. No        of these large groups show them
assured sense of familiarity, then       dinosaurs have eaten us.’ ”               posing proudly with tubas, drums
positions the needle on the record and         Once settled in their Blackland     and accordions. Often, the family
begins to sing along as the scratchy,    Prairie communities, Czechs               bands would exist for generations,
tinny sound emanates from the            established lodges to provide support     as children inherited their parents’
machine’s sturdy frame.                  for neighbors in need, particularly       musical talents and instruments.
                                         the widows who struggled to make          The impact of this accordion-driven
I’ll take you home again, Kathleen       ends meet. The SPJST (Slovanska           dance music lives on as an influence
Across the ocean wild and wide           Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas, or       in Tejano music and at polka parties
To where your heart has ever been        Slavonic Benevolent Order of the          in Czech and German communities
Since you were first my bonnie bride      State of Texas) was established in        throughout the state. In other
                                         1897 to assist the Czech community.       rare moments of free time, Czechs
      “That song spoke to many people    It still serves as an insurance company   created friendship quilts and kroje
in the Czech community,” Foreman         and maintains more than 100 service       (pronounced kro-hey), the traditional
says, referring to the melancholy 1876   lodges across the state.                  folk costumes with colorfully
song “I’ll Take You Home Again,                Upon arrival, the Czechs quickly    patterned sequences of colors and
Kathleen” by Thomas Westendorf. “As      mastered the skill of farming. The        shapes representing different Slavic
much as we liked being in Texas, we      rich blackland soil yielded plentiful     regions of the family’s origin.
still thought about our home across      harvests, typically cotton as a cash           When Texas Czechs weren’t
the sea.”                                crop and vegetables for family            farming or socializing, they were
      Most Czechs arrived in their new   consumption. Despite emigrating           preparing food. On the fertile prairie,
homeland at the port of Galveston        from populated areas with little          families grew corn, potatoes, beans
in the late 1800s and early 1900s,       farmland, the Czechs set forth to learn   and squash. Most also raised livestock
immediately joining family and           their agricultural trade with resolve.    for special occasions.
acquaintances in Central Texas                 “You won’t find a Czech person            “There was always a work table
communities such as Cat Spring           that won’t try to grow something, and     in the kitchen so you could put a hog
and Fayetteville, and eventually         when they first got here, they worked      on there and cut him up,” says Marie
further north in towns like Caldwell,    hard at it from sunrise to sunset,”       Trcalek of the Burleson County Czech
Temple and West. Since the majority      says Margaret Haisler of the Burleson     Heritage Museum. “People brought
TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION                                                                                 www.thc.state.tx.us
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their recipes from the old country so
they could make sausage, sauerkraut
and stews. They didn’t starve, that’s
for sure.”
     Czechs were known for
their resourcefulness, especially
on the family homestead. Upon
arrival, families would establish a
blacksmithing area to create their own
farming tools and kitchen utensils.
Other projects included making
mattresses and pillows from goose
and duck feathers, creating syrup
from sugar cane plants and devising
a pastry brush from turkey feathers
woven together with hand-crafted
cotton string.
     To illustrate this practicality,
Foreman relays a story about a
torrential hailstorm near Temple
that decimated the crops of many
Czech immigrant families. While the
menfolk huddled to discuss potential
options for recouping
financial losses, the
women and children
were scuttling about
with buckets.
     “And what do you
think they salvaged from
that devastating storm?”
Foreman asks. “They
                                         Above: Music takes center stage at several
had mixed large pieces                   Central Texas Czech history museums,
of hail with milk, cream                 including the dulcimer display at the
and sugar and were                       Burleson County Czech Heritage Museum
selling hailstone ice cream.             (photo courtesy Frances Pullin, Pullin
You know, Czechs can                     Photography); and the music exhibit at
                                         Temple’s SPJST Museum. Left: A traditionally
always find a way to make                 dressed Czech couple holds a plate of delectable
something out of nothing.”               kolaches (photo courtesy Frances Pullin,
                                         Pullin Photography).
May/June 2008
                                                  This page (clockwise): The Czech-American Restaurant is a popular stop in
                                                  downtown West; Nemecek Bros. meat market has been at the same location
                                                  in West since 1896; Cover photo: The interior of Saints Cyril and Methodius
                                                  Church in Shiner. (photos courtesy TxDOT)




Czech It Out
To get a true sense of the lasting
impact Czech immigrants made on
Texas, visit the following museums
and sites:
     Begin your journey at the
SPJST Museum in Temple. Referred
to as the “supreme lodge” of this              The Burleson County Czech                              One of the state’s most significant
traditional benevolent society, the       Heritage Museum in Caldwell is                         Czech-based communities is La
museum contains thousands of items        located in a charming 1863 home                        Grange, home to the Texas Czech
related to the Czech experience           renovated with wood from old barns                     Heritage and Cultural Center.
in Texas. Occupying the entire            and homes in the area. The museum                      This 72-acre complex adjacent to
basement of the group’s building in       offers a slice of life for a Czech family              the Fayette County Fairgrounds
downtown Temple, the museum is            in a traditionally rural Central Texas                 includes a replica of a Czech village
loosely organized in a chronological      home during the late 19th and early                    and walking trails with signage in
approach, starting with traditionally     20th centuries. Artifacts include                      English and Czech. The village is
bedecked hand-carved marionettes          common household items used by                         particularly fascinating, with several
from 1875 and progressing with            settlers such as kitchen equipment                     homes serving as miniature museums
military exhibits, an extensive display   and utensils, books, quilts, farming                   offering artifacts and information
about family bands and countless          tools and clothing, including the                      about the lifestyle of immigrant
Czech artifacts ranging from vintage      traditional red vest worn by the king                  Czech families. The Kalich House
farming equipment to colorful             of the Kolache Festival. Notable items                 contains the heritage center’s main
clothing to home-life displays.           include a large dulcimer, colorful                     office, a small exhibit area with
Highlights include a remarkably           pottery with Old-World designs                         historical items, a genealogical library
well-preserved 1549 Bible with its        and a 1737 Bible smuggled into the                     and a gift shop. The 1870s Hoelscher
Slavic ink lettering remaining coal       country inside a loaf of bread. This                   residence houses the Polka Lovers
black on milky white thin paper, and      summer, the museum will host a quilt                   Club of Texas Museum, featuring
an impressive library with 23,000         exhibit while preparing for its major                  vintage instruments and memorabilia
volumes dating from 1737 and the          annual event — the Kolache Festival                    associated with the organization,
largest collection of Czech-related       on the second Saturday in September.                   and the restored Migl House
genealogy in the state.                                                                          includes family heirlooms along

TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION                                                                                                     www.thc.state.tx.us
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                                                                                               If You Go
                                                                                               Several of the attractions listed
                                                                                               in this article are available by
                                                                                               appointment only. Please contact
                                                                                               the following organizations before
                                                                                               planning a visit.

                                                                                               Burleson County Czech
                                                                                               Heritage Museum, Caldwell
                                                                                               979/567-0000
Clockwise from above: Kitchen items at the
Burleson County Czech Heritage Museum;
traditional hand-carved marionettes greet visitors                                             Czech Cultural
at the SPJST Museum; a family quilt at the SPJST
Museum; children visiting the Burleson County                                                  Center, Houston
Czech Heritage Museum (TxDOT).                                                                 713/528-2060,
                                                                                               www.czechcenter.org

     with photos and documents                       paintings, sculpture and folk art along   Fayetteville Area
     related to the immigration and                  with historical artifacts and photos.     Museum, Fayetteville
     settlement experience.                               Perhaps most often associated        979/378-2279
          Just down the road is the                  with Czech heritage in Texas are
     Fayetteville Area Museum                        the remarkable Painted Churches.
     in a historic building on the                   Though more than 20 of these              Painted Churches
     courthouse square. The collection               elaborately faux-finished structures       Tour, Schulenburg
     here isn’t extensive, but it’s                  exist throughout the state — several      979/743-4514
     quaint and compatible with this                 with brilliant sky-blue ceilings and
     small community that’s become                   gold-leafed detailing surrounding         SPJST Museum, Temple
     synonymous with Czech and German                shiny marble columns — the
                                                                                               254/899-2935,
     heritage in Texas. Museum exhibits              collection of churches primarily
     include Bibles and other items                  associated with Czech settlers are in
                                                                                               www.spjst.com/museum
     associated with the immigrants’                 the Fayette County area. A Painted
     devout faith, common household                  Churches tour originates from             The Texas Czech Heritage and
     objects and a display dedicated to the          Schulenburg, providing guided access      Cultural Center, La Grange
     first Czech family band in Texas.                to several outstanding churches,          888/785-4500,
          Many Czechs ultimately fled                 including St. John the Baptist            www.czechtexas.org
     the confines of rural life for steady            Catholic Church in Ammannsville,
     employment in Texas cities. A                   Saints Cyril and Methodius Church
     significant Czech population in                  in Dubina and St. Mary’s Catholic
     Houston resulted in the recently                Church in High Hill.
     opened Czech Cultural Center,
     where visitors can experience                   This article was written by
                                                     Andy Rhodes, managing
     permanent exhibits showcasing the
                                                     editor of The Medallion.
     European homeland, a pleasant
     memorial courtyard and a library
     containing historical reference
     materials. The center’s gallery features

     May/June 2008                                                                                         TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION
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