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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Moravia -
When Texas Was Young

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Recently, while researching old issues of the Lavaca County Tribune, I came across a series of articles written by M.R. Vivial of Redlands, California. He was raised in Moravia and evidently was well up in age when he wrote these articles back in 1946 – he was living in California at the time. Vivial’s writings about Moravia reveal a place that was full of outlaws and other dangerous men from the late 1860s through the 1880s.

According to the author, Moravia was founded in 1880. The Handbook of Texas has a slightly different version and it reads as follows: “Moravia was founded in 1881, when Ignac Jalufka and James Holub moved a preexisting store to the junction of three roads. The next buildings were a blacksmith shop, a gin, and a school. A post office operated in Moravia from 1882 to 1900.”

Many of Vivial’s memories include family names that are still around today in Lavaca County and his recollections give an insight to how life must have been in this area in the days following the Civil War. The following is presented here just as it appeared in the August 26, 1946, issue of the Lavaca County Tribune.

Moravia - When Texas Was Young

By M.R. Vivial
Lavaca County Tribune – August 26, 1946

When I visited Texas some 25 years ago I stayed at Moravia about two months. Mr. Jalufka was happy to relate his reminiscences of the pioneer days of Moravia to me and I was a grateful and very interested listener. This man, whose robust body sheltered a kind heart, gave a start in life to many a new comer to this new land of the free and the brave. I hold the highest regard and esteem for this pioneer and founder of Moravia. He was old enough to be my father and I feel honored to know that he regarded me as his friend.

The name “Moravia” lured many Czech families to that community, in whose surroundings thieves and rustlers were still plentiful. They would swoop down on the lonely farms set deep in the woods and molest the families and their property as much as they dared. They had a habit to gather at Moravia at night and Mr. Jalufka had to oblige them by opening the saloon any time of the night. Sometimes they had no money to pay for the drinks or goods they purchased, but they always paid in full at the next visit. Oddly enough, they could be trusted in that respect.

Those nightriders were all daring and dangerous fellows and Jalufka had no one but himself to depend on in dealing with them. The sheriff or his deputies in Hallettsville in those days were of no value as peace officers to Mr. Jalufka at Moravia, for there were no roads and no telephones to call them if needed. Even if there had been, it would have taken hours to reach Moravia on horseback. Consequently, Mr. Jalufka, himself, had to be the law and without aid had to settle his accounts with the outlaws.

The immigrants brought with them the big double-barreled shotguns from the old country while the outlaws used revolvers or six-shooters exclusively. The shotguns were unknown to the natives. Since the raiders operated at night, the darkness made it impossible for them to see the weapons the immigrants used. This unknown weapon puzzled them, and caused bewilderment as to the kind of shooting iron they had to reckon with. The shotguns carried their bullets far and the noise they made filled the outlaws with respect for the “greenhorns.”

Mr. Jalufka told of how one Bird Sigrest, filled with amazement, once brought a flatten buckshot to him, and showing it to him, asked: “What kind of a darned gun is Vivial [the author’s father] using? It shoots twice and cuts down everything within a forty yard radius.” Sigrest explained that he dug the shot out of his saddle. The double-barreled shotguns kept the outlaws a safe distance from many a farmhouse.

[The Family first arrives in Texas]

My parents, Frank and Marie Vivial debarked at Galveston on Nov. 22, 1868. With them came my mother’s brother, 11-year old Thomas Lanca. At that time there was no railroad leading to Schulenburg. In fact, the town of Schulenburg didn’t exist at that time, so they journeyed by wagon to High Hill, a small village between the present High Hill and Schulenburg.

About three miles northwest of High Hill lived a Czech family named Branecky. My parents knew the Braneckys in the old country, so they settled with this family. For some time they made their home under a large live-oak tree while father built a log cabin. Mother gathered moss from the trees and filled the cracks between the logs, but while Mother and Father would go away the cattle would come and pull the moss out, so the cold northers kept coming in. Finally my father and young Lanca split enough rails to fence in about three acres of land.

My mother came from a well-to-do family and she brought a nice sum of money with her to this country and in the following year they bought a piece of land. That land was near where Moravia now stands.

In 1870 they built a small house, 10 x 12 with a fireplace. That house still standing [in 1946] where it was built some 75 years ago. My sister now uses it for a smokehouse. This place is about a mile northeast of Moravia and is known as the old Lanca farm. It is occupied by my two nieces, Mary Venglar and Albina Kahanek.

South of Moravia nothing could be seen at that time but rich prairie land covered by tall grass. Nice, fat cattle roamed the woods and prairie, but swine, living off the rich land and woods well stocked with acorns and pecans were the dominating group. The woods were full of turkey and wildcats. It was a tough fight keeping the cattle and swine off the few acres of improved land. The rail fence had to be constantly repaired. The community, now known as Moravia , was at that time described as “on the Rocky Creek.”

There were a few settlers in that community living in house built of cedar lumber. One of them, John Hrncir, settled there long before the Civil War. About a mile southwest of Moravia was the home-place of old Mr. Ragsdale. When I was a young kid the place was occupied by a Negro named Simon Mitchell. A little later Frank Janak lived there.

In those days most of the settlers, usually immigrants of Irish stock from northern and eastern states, were rich people and were very kind to the Bohemian immigrants. The settlers offered all kind of help to the “newcomers.” They would sell them tracts of land and protect them from horse and cattle thieves roaming the country.

One of the landlords Mr. Ragsdale, paid for his kindness towards the newcomers with his life. He was killed by the desperados about three miles north of the present St. John’s settlement at that time known as “Jurica’s Hill.” The killers dragged the body to Brushy Creek and hid it in the brush. The body was found there three days later. Mr. Ragsdale was the father of Jim Ragsdale, well-known criminal lawyer of Hallettsville, who spoke Czech language fluently. He is still living [1946].

[Neighbors and friends]

Long before the Civil War, Martin Chalupka and his wife Elizabeth settled near the present site of Moravia. They were sponsors at my baptism and were very kind to us children all through our young lives. They are buried at Praha where my three little brothers who died in infancy are also buried. The Chalupkas had two sons, Lawrence and Frank. I presume that the members of that family are living near Hallettsville [1946].

About a mile northwest of Moravia there stood a cotton gin owned by Wencel Matula. He was one of the first pioneers to settle near the present Moravia, on Rocky Creek. My uncle, young Tom Lanca, whom we always affectionally called “Little Tommie,” married one of the Matula daughters. Matula had a sawmill at his gin and cut lumber for the first houses in that community.

The lumber my father used to build the house on his farm in 1875 was cut in that saw mill.

There was a family cemetery on Matula’s farm. His stepson, Rudolph, was buried there when I was 15 years old. I helped to dig his grave and I remember that on the very day of his funeral there raged the fiercest snowstorm I ever went through.

The man who built the first store at Moravia, Ignac Jalufka, was the one who founded Moravia and gave it its name. Soon after he built the first store, Matula sold his gin stand to a German neighbor named Schultz and moved the machinery to Moravia.

Our nearest neighbors were the Nickels. They were there even before the Civil War. They had three sons, James, Frank, and John. These youngsters grew up among the first settlers and they were just as quick and accurate with their six-shooters as any Westerner or frontiersman you could imagine. When there was nothing else to shoot at, they would shoot at the big live oak trees just for the fun of it. The Nickel boys gave a helping hand and welcome advice to the timid newcomers who didn’t know their way in that rugged and mostly dangerous country.

James Nickel was shot and killed a few miles west of Moravia while attending a Bohemian wedding. My parents witnessed this shooting which occurred before I was born.

John Nickel started a mercantile establishment at Flatonia and was doing swell. I have kept up a correspondence with his son until recently. John Nickel was also a deputy tax collector at La Grange.

Frank Nickel moved to the Yoakum community and died there a few years ago at the age of 96.

[Trip to Schulenburg and bandits]

It happened that my father and mother had to visit in Schulenburg; therefore, they were to make the necessary purchases for their neighbors. Father had a team of young mules to drive them on this trip – their first to the town of Schulenburg. With their business in Schulenburg finished, my father and mother started back to Moravia. Not far from Schulenburg there stood a massive live oak tree. Perhaps it is still standing there. As my parents were approaching this tree, four horsemen galloped up to their wagon and asked father for a drink of whiskey.

Father had bought four one-gallon jugs of whiskey in Schulenburg. One for himself and three for his neighbors. When the horsemen forced him to stop he realized that they were after him and not the whiskey. He could do nothing but hand one of the jugs of whiskey to them. One of the men took a drink from the jug as he sat on the back of his horse, which was too close to the wagon. Then he hurled the jug back into the wagon, smashing all three remaining jugs on the floor. The others began to shoot at the reins, intending to frighten the team of young mules, which would in turn race the wagon to disaster and my mother and father to certain death.

My mother was a young woman at the time. She jumped off the wagon and started to run back to Schulenburg. One of the outlaws took a good aim at her and pulled the trigger on his gun which didn’t shoot.

The first man she met in Schulenburg was a druggist named Breiman. Quickly she told him what had happened down the road. Luckily there were two Texas Rangers in town right at that moment. Breiman rushed the news to them and the Rangers raced to the huge live oak. Upon reaching the scene they found my father holding the team of mules intact, but the outlaws were gone.

Father told the Rangers that they disappeared in the direction of Moravia and the Rangers started that way. It wasn’t long before they returned, with the outlaws riding before them at the points of the Rangers’ guns. The Rangers took them to jail in La Grange. Soon after that the outlaws were brought before trial. I remember the day of the trial. Accompanying my father to La Grange were Tom Lanea, Peter Matula, John Holub, and neighbor Svoboda. I remember watching as they were loading a bed and provisions onto the wagon. Every one of them took a shotgun and a six-shooter with him. On the third day they returned from La Grange with the news that the outlaws had been sentenced to several years in the penitentiary.

This, however, didn’t put a stop to the shooting and rustling around Moravia, as the deep woods were alive with outlaws.

[Family moves to High Hill]

y parents bought the land on which they settled near the present Moravia in 1869. They could hardly speak English then, and for several miles around there was no one who could speak Czech. However, at the time they decided to leave Moravia, in 1883, there was hardly an individual for several miles around that was not of Czech descent. Czech immigrants were flocking to Moravia, attracted by the name, and were buying up all the land they could get hold of.

Before the immigration of the Czech, the entire country between Moravia and Flatonia was called “The land of the Hottentots.” Then, when the Moravian farmers came and settled there they, by their intense work, perseverance, and spirited fight changed the deep woods and the wide-open prairies into the yielding farmland and lovely farmhouses of the present. May undying gratitude be given those pioneers sleeping their everlasting sleep under the southern skies.

Even after the Moravians had changed this land of theirs from “The Land of the Hottentots” to a law-abiding community, occasionally thieves would pay a return visit to their “old stomping grounds.” During one of those raids they stole the little mare my mother used to ride to church at Mulberry (Praha). Thereafter, my mother longed for those moments of peace she knew kneeling in the quiet recess of the church before the Tabernacle.

Then on Corpus Christi day in 1883 my parents decided to attend the Corpus Christi procession and celebration at High Hill. In times past this feast day was looked upon as one of the greatest known in the church calendar. My mother saw the beautiful altars built around the church, the well-dressed children, and the flower girls under the guidance of the kindly School Sisters. With tears in her eyes she looked at us poorly groomed kids and at that moment she insisted that soon my father must move our family from Moravia to High Hill, so that we three children would grow up in a more refined neighborhood and get the school education she knew to be so necessary to our welfare.

Finally my father bought 180 acres two miles northwest of High Hill and we moved there in 1883. After we made this move, I very seldom was lucky enough to come in contact with any Czech people. However, I know the Czech history well.

Our young people of Czech descent may rightfully be proud of their ancestors. In my opinion, the Czechs are the greatest people known, for my mother was one of them.

Columnist's Note:
[This column] is the best eyewitness to history about the area around Moravia, High Hill, Schulenburg, and La Grange that I've ever came across. When I ran it in the newspaper, I did so in parts because of the length but I just couldn't make myself cut any of it out ... The writer, Mr. Vivial talks about folks who have descendants still living in this area. The "breaks" and words in brackets is where I divided up the story. - Murray Montgomery, November 20, 2014

© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary November 22, 2014 column

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