Pen and paper changed the state of Texas.
At least it changed it for a group of people looking for homes in Texas.
In 1850, newly arrived to Texas, the Rev. Josef Arnošt Bergmann (1797-1877) wrote a long letter to his friends back in Eastern Europe about the many opportunities that awaited them in the Lone Star State. He described the freedom to be found in Texas, the large amount of land available at cheap prices, and how he already had acquired many chickens, hogs, cows and a horse. His letter was eventually published in Moravian newspapers, and people in Moravia began to discuss plans to immigrate to “the great free state of Texas.”
Thus began the great wave of Czech and Moravian people to Texas, many arriving in Bell County. Bergmann was eventually dubbed “the father of Czechs in Texas.”
That’s why Temple’s Railroad and Heritage Museum’s current traveling exhibit is so important in sharing the unromanticized story of immigration and settlements. The depicted terrain may look different from Central Texas, but artwork illustrates the plights of Everyman and Everywoman who ever hitched up and began the trek to new lives.
The exhibit shows how pen-and-paper images illustrated how the West was begun — by thousands of immigrants moving to new homes. The exhibit is divided into four sections: Engravers in New York, Frontier Settlers, the Wild West and Colorado to San Francisco.
“A Great Frontier Odyssey: Sketching the American West” currently is on display at the museum, 315 W. Ave. B, Temple, through Nov. 7.
The exhibit features the 1873 overland journey of artists Jules Tavernier and Paul Frenzeny who documented the westward journeys of immigrants. The two artists had no cameras, only pen and paper and astute vision. Their works were published in Harper’s Weekly, a widely popular 19th century picture magazine begun in 1857 as “a journal of civilization.”
After the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the public clamored for images of the newly accessible American West. The Harper brother’s publishing firm in New York, seeking to capitalize on this, chose the two to provide images of the frontier because they were skilled at depicting newsworthy places or events that favored the plight of the common man.
Coupled with their artistic and journalistic talents and keen powers of observation, they were a powerful team. Tavernier created each engraving’s watercolor painting before handing it off to Frenzeny, who added newsworthy details and drew the scene in pencil on wood blocks.
Bell County benefited from the influx of new people and cultures. The headstones of European, Asian and Jewish settlers are frequently seen in local cemeteries. Often, the inscriptions are in their native languages.
As if to underscore the importance of immigrants to the state, this one fact remains: Of the estimated 189 men who died in the Alamo, only six were actually born in Texas — and those six had Hispanic surnames. At least 10 were natives of England, and another 11 were from Ireland. More than 30 others were European-born, hailing from Germany, Denmark, Scotland and Wales.
Historian and Lampasas native Winston Lee Kinsey (1932-2012) linked the end of slavery with the mass migrations after Reconstruction, especially in Texas. The Texas Bureau of Immigration recruited and advertised heavily as it worked with private individuals and companies, associations and fraternal societies. Kinsey enumerated German, Czech, Scandinavian (particularly Norwegian), British, Polish and Italian immigration that resulted in Texas’s having the largest foreign-born population in the Deep South by 1880.
The largest wave of immigrants was persons of German birth or descent. As early as 1850, they constituted more than 5% of the total Texas population throughout the 19th century. From 1865 to the early 1890s, more Germans arrived in Texas, most into the Galveston port, than during the 30 years before the War Between the States. Enterprising Texan publishers saw opportunity, first by launching the Texas Almanac in 1857, at first titled “The Texas Almanac and Emigrant’s Guide to Texas,” introducing newcomers to the state’s history and the workings of its government.
By the time Temple and Killeen were founded by the early 1880s, the push to bring more people into the state was paying off.
“The First Annual Report of the Agricultural Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics, and History, 1887–1888” provided the first comprehensive account of the unique mix of cultures in Bell County. Bell County was a remarkable stewpot of cultures and settlers from other countries. Living in the county were “Americans” (native-born Caucasians), 24,128; African-Americans, 1,447; English-born, 170; Germans, 1,009; French, 62; Danes, 13; “Hebrews” (Jewish heritage), 22; Irish, 38; Italians, 112; Mexicans, 104; Spanish, 43; Swedes, 12; Norwegians, 19; Polish, 6; Russian, 1; Scot, 112; Chinese, 3; other ethnicities, 104.
Lost in all the glowing rhetoric of Bergmann’s time was the arduous task of getting from there to here. Immigrants — no matter their origin — share common tales of hardships, terror and — yes — even death in the long trek to find a home.
In their frequent dispatches from the frontier to Harper’s, Tavernier and Frenzeny reported the hardships of the journey west. Their artwork is sometimes raw and uncompromising — sojourners bracing themselves against hostile weather as they push their horses to move forward, a hodgepodge of townsfolks looking askance as these travelers pass through, the challenges of hunting game for food, especially buffalo.
“Few American stories have sparked people’s imaginations more than the stories of the West. Stories of settlers’ adventures, Native Americans on horseback, gold rushes and cattle wars are popular around the world,” said Joanne Barkan, author of “Settling the West 1862-1890” (Benchmark Education, 2011). “The history of the West is one of the greatest stories ever told. The stories of the West — part history, part legend — recall a time, long ago, when the West was ‘won.’ They make it sound fun, adventurous and exciting. They seldom stress hardships and the struggles of settling the West.”