Friday, May 22, 2009

Lithuanian Settlers in Texas

I love stopping at roadside markers and have always enjoyed reading about the early settlers of the Old West. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Old West is the diversity in its settlement. From the Germans—including my ancestors--who brought their families and fantastic cooking to Texas, to the Welsh, Irish, and Mexican miners who brought their skills and legends to the Colorado coal mines, and the Chinese laborers who built the American railroads at the cost of many lives, the story of the Old West is truly the story of a changing World.

There is one group of world travelers who settled in Texas in the mid 19th century with their families and friends whose contribution to the local culture was overlooked for many years. They eventually joined the many German families in the area to create a thriving community in the Yorktown vicinity of De Witt County, Texas. These settlers were from Lithuania, and they traveled to Texas to start a new life in the Old West, but it was very much a new world to them, and they settled in a new state, as well!

Texas was its own country from 1836 until it was admitted into the Union of the United States of American in 1845, but the borders of Texas were not formally established until 1850. According to the Texas Settlement Region website, the first Lithuanian family to arrive in Texas was most likely that of David and Dora (Scholze) Stanchos, who made their home near Yorktown in 1852. Undoubtedly, there were many other Lithuanian immigrants who followed their path. These early immigrants would have been drawn into the American Civil War in the 1860s and perhaps had family members fighting for both armies, as happened with many families during the Civil War, especially in Texas!

Twenty two years later an additional 70 immigrants arrived from Lithuania from the province of Gumbinnen, which was part of East Prussia at that time. These immigrants were likely trying to escape cultural and religious oppression in their homeland, which was torn apart during the Napoleonic Wars. These settlers reached the American shores at the ports of Galveston and Indianola. Most of the Lithuanian settlers made their living through farming. They and their families were buried at Jonischkies Cemetery.

There is now a roadside marker near Yorktown commemorating these early Lithuanian settlers. It is located at FM 119 and Alvis Road about 4 miles south of Yorktown near Royal Oaks.

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...