In December 1854, James P. Newcomb, a newly minted publisher, watched as San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County became the home of immigrants from Europe and other parts of the United States. In 1854, the 17-year-old Newcomb began publication of the Alamo Star. Newcomb’s long and colorful career would produce a long list of publications that included the San Antonio Herald, the San Antonio Alamo Express and the San Antonio Light.
Two groups of people caught his attention and he reported their arrival in his Alamo Star.
“We are informed by a gentleman that three families have lately moved to the Cibolo, in the neighborhood of Mr. Neil’s, having an hundred negroes. They say there are several families on their way out here with a large number of negroes, this is the kind of immigration we like to see.”– December 11, 1854
“Beggars – Our city has lately received a supply of beggars from Poland. These individuals whether in real want or not, tell very distressing tales. They are robust and healthy and able to work.” – December 25, 1854
The plantation owners with their African slaves settled on the Cibolo. And about 20 of the families from Polish Silesia settled among the Cibolo plantations. With gold coins they brought with them from Poland, they purchased a portion of the Charles G. Napier Plantation and created a settlement that would become St. Hedwig, Texas.
Within a few years Bexar County would be drawn in to the cataclysm of the Civil War. In May of 1861, the Knights of the Golden Circle and Confederate Rangers destroyed James Newcomb’s newspaper. He fled to Mexico and then sailed to San Francisco.
The Poles of Bexar County were pressed into military service. From the small community of St. Hedwig, 19 men served during the Civil War. Their immediate neighbors were leaders of the Confederacy. Colonel E. H. Cunningham would lead an elite element of Hood’s Texas Brigade. General R. W. Brahan was a delegate to the Secessionist State Convention and later in charge of conscription for the 30th Texas Militia.
Confederate newspapers in San Antonio wrote that “open graves” awaited them upon their return.
The Poles were reluctant participants. One of the their reasons for leaving Poland was the interminable military obligation imposed on them by the Prussian government. Several of the Poles were military veterans who understood the aftermath of war and did not share their neighbor’s enthusiasm to fight. The Poles did not sympathize with a cause they did not understand.
Not a single battle of the Civil War was fought in Bexar County. However, the planters and their allies, after forcing the surrender of U. S. forces in San Antonio, on February 16, 1861, created military units that marched north to the killing fields. They were in Virginia by the fall of 1861.
From 1862 to 1865, the planters along the Cibolo anxiously awaited the posting of casualties by the San Antonio newspapers. The losses were steady and at the end stunning. In 1865, the veterans, many wounded, returned to abandoned properties.
Of the returning Poles, only one (Anton Ploch) had been wounded. Several had been captured at Arkansas Post and then swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. Several served in the Union Army and were promoted within the ranks. Confederate newspapers in San Antonio wrote that “open graves” awaited them upon their return.
On June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), Union General Gordon Granger from Galveston, Texas issued General Order Number 3 informing the people of Texas “…all slaves are free…”
To the planters and their allies on the Cibolo, the Poles and the freed African slaves were both viewed with suspicion. Many of the freedmen came into the Polish settlement where their number’s were sufficient to catch the attention of San Antonio newspapers.
The San Antonio Daily Herald reported on May 28, 1867:
…Last Friday night a big meeting was held on the Cibolo, at Napier’s old place, where were congregated a large number of freedmen black and white, and where two hundred and forty-four were enrolled….
The vigilante violence of the post-Civil War era visited the Cibolo. The most notable was the murder of a freedman at the nearby village of Lavernia by the Taylor Gang associated with DeWitt County. Members of the Gang reportedly ran the man down with their horses and shot him dead.
The result was Bvt. Major General Charles Griffin, U.S. Army, on July 16, 1867, issuing a seize and kill order for members of the Taylor Gang which the Army believed was constituted of 20 to 50 members.