Joseph N. Dornstin was a 49er, an exile from the 1832 Polish Insurrection, a Republic of Texas Ranger and an early settler in Bexar and Wilson counties. Contemporaries described Joseph N. Dornstin as a polite man, kind and generous in his dealing with others. Early chroniclers write that he came to America as an exile after the failed Polish Insurrection of 1832 in which he had served as a captain. He arrived in Texas in 1841.
In the spring of 1841, during the days of the Republic of Texas, he enlisted in Captain James Bourland’s Rangers and fought during the Indian Wars in Texas (1840-41) at the battle of Village Creek.
By 1842 he had found his way to Hunt and Lamar Counties in northeast Texas. There he married Eliza Johnson and secured a land grant from the state of Texas.
In 1849, with other forty-niners, he and Eliza began the long journey to the California gold fields. He loaded his belongings and left Honey Grove for the newly opened Chihuahua Road that would provide an all season passage through the Rocky Mountains.
He joined a Clarksville wagon train in the party of Dr. John Strenzel and his wife Louisiana Irwin Strenzel and their children. As they approached El Paso del Norte it was discovered that Eliza was with their first child. After a quarrel with the Strenzels, Joseph and Eliza separated from the party at El Paso. It was reported that they had opened a boarding house in El Paso. Their first child Joseph R. Dornstin was born in El Paso in 1850.
The Strenzels continued their journey to California. John Strenzel founded the community of Alhambra in California and became a famed horticulturalist. His daughter Louisianna Wanda Strenzel who traveled from Texas with the Dornstins, would later marry John Muir the celebrated naturalist and conservation advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt.
By 1852, the Dornstins had made their way back to east Bexar County and settled in the post oaks on the Gonzalez Road near the Bauer family’s Twenty-mile House.
In 1855, when Silesians came to the post oaks, they befriended Joseph N. Dornstin with whom they shared a common language, Polish. Dornstin appears as agent on conveyance documents for some of the settlers land purchases. Dornstin, whose name appears as Dornstein, Dornstyn and Dunstin lived among the Silesians and became a treasured resource for his ability to connect them to their new environment.
When Wilson County was formed in 1860, the new county annexed Joseph Dornstin’s East Bexar County property. His name was listed among the road crews and jurymen in early Wilson County Commissioner Court Minutes. Dornstin lived in the now extinct community of Sandy Hills immediately west of present day La Vernia.
Joseph N. Dornstin died shortly before 1868. His place of burial is unknown. His widow, Eliza Johnson Dornstin converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the Annunciation Church in St. Hedwig. His daughter, Faustina (Tina) joined the short-lived order of the Sisters of Charity at St. Hedwig. When the Order failed Faustina moved to San Antonio where she worked as a seamstress at Joske’s Department Store.
Eliza is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in San Antonio.
Sadly, Rev. Edward J. Dworaczyk, a historian, erroneously wrote that Joseph N. Dornstin and John Demmer were the same person. Based on that erroneous information the descendants of John Demmer, a German immigrant, created the myth that Demmer was the “Founder of St. Hedwig” robbing Joseph N. Dornstin of his legacy.