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On December 24, 1854, after traveling over 5,000 miles, a group of Polish Silesians gathered on the site selected for them in Karnes County, Texas. They celebrated Christmas mass, giving thanks for their safe arrival. Among those gathered were at least two men whose journey had not yet ended: Martin Pierdolla and Joseph Mihalski.
Martin Pierdolla and his bride Francisca (Wilon) Pierdolla were newlyweds traveling with Joseph Mihalski and his wife Francisca (Pierdolla) Mihalski. Martin Pierdolla and Francisca (Pierdolla) Mihalski were siblings. Joseph and Martin understood their responsibility to find a site with conditions favorable to the safety and success of their families, who would soon follow. The settlement in Karnes County named Panna Maria was unacceptable. A decision was made to look for land elsewhere.
Map of St. Hedwig, Texas
Click to enlarge.
Upon their arrival in Texas, the new immigrants had not received word that Fr. Leopold Moczygemba had selected a site for them in Karnes County. After meeting Father Leopold in San Antonio, they were required to immediately retrace their steps along the La Bahia Road back to the vicinity of Helena in Karnes County some forty miles away. This experience impressed upon the weary Silesians the distance from the remote settlement in Karnes County to the markets of San Antonio in Bexar County.
Joseph and Martin's decision to look elsewhere served them well. As their search continued in 1855 for an alternate site, the land values in Karnes County collapsed. The settlers at Panna Maria, who had obligated themselves for up to ten dollars per acre, saw their land values drop to below two dollars per acre in a just few months. A young and inexperienced Father Leopold Moczygemba and his flock were ensnared in the "boom or bust" of Texas land speculation.
In 1855, Martin Pierdolla and Joseph Mihalski found Bexar County and its county seat, San Antonio, to have an expanding population of about 5000; many of the inhabitants were newly arrived European immigrants. Among the resources available to assist them were Polish-speaking residents of the area. Erasmus Florian (Florian Liskowacki) and Joseph Dornstin were known to have encountered these early Silesian settlers.
Dornstin, who came to Texas from Poland during the days of the Republic, was an Indian fighter and Texas Ranger. He befriended and lived among Silesians, often helping with land purchases and navigating the American system of government.
At that time, there was a large German population in San Antonio and German was a widely spoken language of commerce. The Silesians came from an area where the imposed official language was German and many spoke that language. They were deeply suspicious of the Germans, who they believed exacerbated the conditions that caused them to leave Silesia.
European immigrants, like Martin and Joseph, created excitement in the land market of Bexar County. Offers to divide huge surveys into sections, half sections or smaller tracts filled the local newspapers. Numerous land advertisements appeared in the San Antonio newspapers in 1854; several offered to sell land in the area east of San Antonio.
Bexar County land records and newspaper accounts refer to the area east of San Antonio by watersheds. The most notable watersheds were Salado, Cibolo, Martinez, Salatrillo, Chupaderas, and Calaveras; all named during the Spanish administration of Texas. Therefore, land draining into Cibolo Creek was called “on the Cibolo”; similarly land draining into Martinez Creek was called “on the Martinez”.