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
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.
When Texas Was Young
By M.R. Vivial
Lavaca County Tribune – August 26, 1946
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 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.
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 those days were of no value as peace officers to Mr. Jalufka
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.
first arrives in Texas]
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.
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
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 .
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
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
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
Frank Nickel moved to the Yoakum
community and died there a few years ago at the age of 96.
Schulenburg and bandits]
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
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
as the deep woods were alive with outlaws.
moves to High Hill]
My 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
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
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
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.
[This column] is the best eyewitness to history about the area around
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
Star Diary November 22, 2014 column
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas