An old Polish proverb warns parents “teach your children when they are young or they will teach you when you are old.” Respect of parents and authority was the common cloth that wrapped the community of St. Hedwig in tradition and security.The community whispered about its “wild boys” and wondered why they had chosen the “other path”. Some believed that the hard times and violent circumstances after “The Civil War” may have been the catalyst if not the root cause for their violent behavior. Others believed the wild boys, for whatever reason, were just “mean as hell.”(1)
St. Hedwig, Texas March 19, 1912
A single church bell marked cadence as the congregation followed a shoulder-borne casket to the cemetery. Pallbearers matched steps behind an angelic-faced altar boy carrying a large crucifix. The entire village gathered to honor the life of one of its founding pioneers; an original immigrant who came from Silesia in 1855.
The gaping grave disappeared from view as the casket was gently lowered onto support planks. The pallbearers struggled to step away and avoid the mound of fresh earth. With heads bowed, they formed a line at one end of the casket. The congregation closed ranks around their mourning neighbors.
Thin wisps of smoke rose from a censer, filling the morning air with the sweet and solemn scent of incense. The priest removed the asperger from its bucket and with water blessed last Holy Saturday, sprinkled the casket and congregation, commending the deceased to an eternal rest. A single cold drop landed on the cheek of a small boy standing next to his father, startling him from his daydream. His attention fell on a solitary figure, an old man standing alone at the edge of the congregation, he seemed so very sad.
As the priest invoked the ancient Latin prayers, sobs were heard from the mourners. The congregation drew nearer. The priest directed his attention to the mourners and in a soft voice spoke the Polish to say, “Your beloved rests in the arms of our Jesus and his Mother Mary”. Gently, he drew a pinch of the freshly dug earth and placed it on the casket, “remember, we are dust and to dust we will return”. With a sign of the cross he blessed the congregation, turned and walked toward the church.
As each villager walked by, another bit of the precious earth was placed on the casket. Condolences had already been offered, but each would touch the mourners’ hands, or pat their shoulder, another would just nod sympathetically in their direction. As the last to pass the casket concluded their ritual and joined the irregular line of villagers heading in the direction of the church, the sad old man stepped forward. Bending over, he picked up a large clod of earth. His eyes were ablaze. He slammed the clod against the casket and shouted, “Take that you beast!” Such was the memory of Aemilian Kosub who, as a boy, witnessed Valentine Mroz saying good-bye to Barbara, who had been his wife for over 30 years. (2)
For Barbara and Valentine Mroz the promise of a new life in frontier Texas was filled with disappointment and sorrow. Their marriage of over thirty years ended in a bitter divorce in 1898. (3) Their sons were well known to law enforcement and the courts. (4) Barbara and Valentine’s second child, Martin, the eldest son, left the confines of Bexar county to seek his fortune as a cowboy and outlaw.
His exploits became the source of legend. His controversial death in El Paso involving John Wesley Hardin, the notorious killer, is often the subject of “old west” writers. Their sons Frank and Thomas fled Texas for Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon, seeking the remnants of Martin’s fortune (5). Alexander remained in Bexar County, where he was convicted of seduction. To his credit, Alexander would later become a respected member of the church and community.
Mean as Hell
A reading of the historical record of the community of St. Hedwig gives some insight into the formative years of Martin Mroz and his contemporaries. In 1880 there were many Silesian boys in the adjoining Live Oak and Atascosa counties of south Texas, the heart of “cow country”. (6) As a boy, Dee Harkey, the legendary lawman and author met a couple of these boys, “Martin Morose” the polander, and his companion “Elic Tulic”(7), and wrote about them in “Mean as Hell”. (8)
Harkey claimed that Mroz learned to speak English and the skills of a cowboy at this time. The meeting of these three characters provides the connection to the Martin “Mrose” that tangled with John Wesley Hardin and died at the hands of El Paso lawmen.
Beginning in 1855, Polish-speaking Silesians settled on land scattered over approximately a thirty-six square mile area in eastern Bexar County on the Martinez Creek watershed. (9) Texians, Native Americans, and other European immigrants already sparsely populated this area. (10) Early documents and newspaper accounts refer to this area as “on the Martinez”, “the Post Oaks”, “in the mesquites”, “Martinez”, and “Polanderville”. About 1868, when the community coalesced around its new church, school and convent the Silesians named their settlement, St. Hedwig, after their revered Silesian Patroness. (11)
The Mroz family was among these settlers. (12) In 1859, at San Fernando Church, 17 miles west, in San Antonio, Valentine Mroz married Barbara, the daughter of Lawrence Ploch. (13) When their second child, Martin, was born, he was baptized at St. Mary’s church in San Antonio on 24 November 1861. (14) Martin was among the first children born of these settlers in America, he never saw Silesia.
As a child Martin lived the life of a typical Silesian boy. He was part of an extended family and was expected to attend school to learn his numbers, letters, and prayers. (15) Valentine Mroz and Martin’s grandfather, Lawrence Ploch, were active in building and supporting the church and school. (16) Martin knew his numbers, his letters and his prayers…he knew them in Polish and probably German. (17) It is entirely plausible that his fluency in English came, as Dee Harkey claims, from contact with non-Silesians. There is no doubt that his English would have been heavily accented. (18)
Although Martin grew to manhood under the influence of the church and school in St. Hedwig, he lived two and one half miles south, of the center of St. Hedwig at the village of Cottage Hill. (19) Cottage Hill was a way station in the William McMinn Nuner survey on the road to Gonzales, where it crossed “Dry Hollow” a branch of the Cibolo Creek. (20) The Silesians and their neighbors, at first, tolerated each other and even relied on the same post office, at Cottage Hill. (21) The tolerance did not last.
Even though the Silesians took up arms for the Southern cause, the Civil War focused anti-immigrant sentiment on the Silesians. Their secessionist neighbors responded with vile attacks in the San Antonio press. They accused the Silesians of avoiding enlistment to stay behind and prey upon their neighbors’ herds of livestock.
Many of the Silesian men, veterans of the Prussian Army, understood the consequences of war. The Prussian army’s forced conscription and interminable service obligations were a major factor in many of these men making the choice to emigrate. (22) Even though not their fight, the Silesian men took up arms. Martin’s uncle, Anton Ploch, returned a wounded veteran. (23)
After the war, a motley group of bandits, and cutthroats populated the area east of San Antonio; many congregated around Cottage Hill. They found common cause in their hatred of the Silesians and considered it great sport to deal them pain and terror.
In 1871 Lawrence Ploch, Martin’s grandfather, was a beloved pillar of the Silesian community. He was one of the original Silesian settlers (24) and was admired for his industry and good business sense. On 1 April 1871 his daughter, Barbara Mroz and his wife accompanied him to San Antonio in a wagon. As they approached Rosillo Creek, some miles east of San Antonio, two men in wagons, approaching from the opposite direction, fired at them, wounding Lawrence in the side and head.
Lucas Kosub and A. Stanush from St. Hedwig witnessed the attack. Lawrence Ploch was taken to San Antonio for medical attention, where he languished for a month and a half until his death. (25)
Lawrence’s son, John, tracked the assailants to their campsite and summoned the authorities, who refused to respond. Repeated pleas from the Silesians to county and district officials were ignored. Only after Lawrence died, were the assailants arrested.
However, since the court could not determine which had fired the fatal shot, one was acquitted and the other not charged. (26) The San Antonio press excoriated the law enforcement and judicial agencies for the injustice against the “polander community”. Nine-year-old Martin Mroz suffered the loss of his grandfather, and with his community took the measure of “American justice”.
During the 1870s Karnes, Guadalupe, Bexar (including the part that became Wilson Co.), Atascosa, and Live Oak counties were major areas for hunting cows for trail drives. (27) Trail drivers filled the countryside and their stories of adventures with savage Indians, painted ladies and exotic, far away places captured the imagination of boys and men alike.
The prospect of farming, by comparison, held little appeal for the more adventurous. Like the “gold rush”, men got the “fever” and dreamed of striking it rich on the trail. They registered their brands and marks and looked for unmarked calves to brand as their own. (28) Some made it their business to learn the art of the “runnin’ iron”; it did not matter if a stray animal was marked or not, with a practiced hand any brand could be altered to the artist’s own.
Brand blotching, as this practice was called, was common and the Silesian’s had their practitioners. (29) Martin Maros (Mroz), Sam Kravitz, Simon Kosub, and Michael Dylla were among the “cowboy Silesians” to show up on the court dockets in San Antonio in the1870s for stealing cattle. (30) Martin was charged with theft of a heifer, but was subsequently acquitted. (31)
By 1880 Martin Mroz and his partner Elic Tulic a.k.a. Alex Tudyk were well known to the law enforcement community. Martin had been tried and acquitted; Alex Tudyk was a wanted man. Martin allowed himself to be enumerated in the 1880 census; Alex stayed away from any government contact. In 1880 Martin was nineteen years old and much under the influence of the twenty-three year old Alex.
Alex Tudyk lived in anger and dealt in violence. He was frequently at the center of horrific acts of brutality. In 1879, seized by a fit of rage, Alex brutally assaulted a man in St. Hedwig. He ran from the law and warrants were issued for his arrest. (32) He evaded arrest until 1881. (33) With the arrest of Alex, Martin Mroz, in the first of many shrewd choices, left the area for the West and the excitement of the Texas Trail. (34)
Tom Finnessy, range manager for the VVN’s (Eddy-Bissell Cattle Company) hired Martin as a cowboy. Martin became trail boss for the VVN Cattle Company of Seven Rivers, New Mexico and amassed a fortune by branding and creating his own herds as he drove Company herds to Kansas and Wyoming. His “ladder” brand was used to blotch over other brands with great success. (35)
Although possessing a reputation as a tough gunfighter, no primary source exists that documents his ever killing anyone. According to one writer in 1891 he “called out” Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, and chased him out of his own saloon in Walsenburg, Colorado. (36) Martin acquired land in New Mexico and Colorado. (37) He also acquired the herds of other cattlemen and became a wanted man.
His last and perhaps fatal acquisition was a handsome blonde woman of questionable character named Beulah. He reportedly married her at the sheriff’s whorehouse at Eddy. (38) Juarez, Mexico became Martin’s refuge from the law.
El Paso, Texas June 21, 1895
As he waited on the Juarez side of the Mexican Central Railway bridge Martin Mroz was a tortured soul. A fugitive from U.S. Deputy Marshals, he had to rely on Beulah, his wife, who had a large portion of his money in El Paso. To make matters worse, Beulah had hired a lawyer, John Wesley Hardin, a killer of forty men (who was just released from prison) to take Martin’s case. Rumors were stirring that their relationship had developed to more than that of client and attorney. Martin wanted his money, his wife and a showdown with Hardin. He was waiting for deputy U.S. Marshal Scarborough whom he had contacted to take him to a meeting with Beulah. It was risky, but Scarborough had given his word that Martin could come across unmolested. Martin could make out the figure of Scarborough coming across the bridge; he was motioning to Martin to come across. After surveying the area for any danger he proceeded toward Scarborough. As Martin arrived at the middle of the bridge Scarborough assured him that he would have safe passage. The two then proceeded toward El Paso and the meeting with Beulah. As they reached the American side, two men, hidden in a patch of sunflowers, stood with guns in hand. Martin jerked his pistol and was hit by eight slugs. His last words were reported to be, “Boys, I think you’ve killed me.” Beulah and John Wesley Hardin were the only mourners present when Martin was buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso. A few months later John Wesley Hardin joined him in eternity a couple of graves away. Hardin, it is believed, was killed by the very lawmen with whom he had failed to divide Martin’s bankroll (39).
- Dee Harkey, Mean As Hell (University of New Mexico Press, 1948; reprint Santa Fe, NM: Ancient Press City, 1989).
- Emil A. Kosub, interviewed by authors 16 September 1996, St. Hedwig, TX, manuscript.
- Bexar County, TX, 37th District Court Records: Civil Minutes, November 1898 Term (22 December 1898).
- Bexar County, TX, 37th District Court Records: Criminal Minutes (December 1892): Case #9070 Alexander Mrous vs. St. of Texas, charged with seduction, verdict of guilty, fine of $2,000.00. Case #17953 for Frank Maros, P436,437, 489, Vol. R, pg 70; Vol. 2 pgs 50-54. 37th District Court Records: Civil Minutes (December Term 1899): Case #9508 for Thomas Maros, Mros & Sidney Haywood vs. The St. of Texas 14 December 1899, case dismissed.
- U.S. Federal Census 1910: Wyoming, Crook Co., Moorcroft, E.D. 54, sheet 4B, line 97. “Obituary,” San Antonio Light, Valentine Maros, Jan. 30, 1919, pg. 2. Linn County, Oregon, Coroner’s Report #1504 for Frank Louis Maros: Fax dated 18 September 2000(Salem, Oregon: Oregon State Archives).
- U. S. Federal Census 1880: Texas, Atascosa County and Live Oak County. Numerous Silesian families with relatives in St. Hedwig and Panna Maria, the largest Silesian settlements in Texas are enumerated. These families formed the community of Las Gallinas. Among this group is the legendary Joseph Cotulla, merchant, rancher, traildriver and founder of Cotulla, Texas. The 1880 census further documents, Martin Morose (Mroz), but also, M. Dugha (Dugosh), John Myosga (Miosga), Kasper Adaitz (Adamitz) and other young Silesian men in Live Oak and Atascosa counties.
- Pronunciation of Polish given names and surnames is a problem for the non-Polish speaker. Researchers are often baffled by the resulting variety of spellings found in official records. Many of the early Silesian families who moved to Texas in the 1850s changed the spelling of their names to accommodate English pronunciation e.g. Kozub became Kosub, Zajac became Ziaontz, Mroz became Maros. A trail of evidence exists from transcribed village records from Upper Silesia through the settling in Texas of the confusion caused by names unfriendly to the English tongue. Some question the various spellings for Mroz. The records indicate the following entries for Mroz: Mros, Mrose, Morose, Maros, Moras, M’Rose and McRose. The records indicate the following entries for Tudyk: Toodick, Tudick, Toodic, Tuelick.
Similarly, the Polish pronunciation of given names added to the confusion. If asked to pronounce “Alex” the older people in St. Hedwig, to this day verbalize e-lick’ with the e sounding as it does in met or ebb. One of Alex’s colorful non-Polish friends wrote him a letter in which she addressed him “Elick Tudyk”
Brown, Miss Lula. Kerrville, Texas: Letter to “Elick”, 12 May 1899. A colorful missive from a “soiled dove” to “Elick Tudyk”. A copy of this letter obtained from Pat Sibley of St. Hedwig, TX in possession of authors.
- Harkey, Mean As Hell, 129.
- Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Deed Records, January 1856 to December 1875. Sales of land in the John Springer and adjoining surveys in the Martinez Creek watershed reveal s a steady and growing rate of land acquisition by the Silesians during this period. The first sales were recorded in January of 1856 and in a few months totaled 772 acres; by 1876 several thousand acres had been acquired.
- Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Deed Records from 1845 to December 1855. Sales of land in the John Springer and adjacent surveys in the Martinez Creek watershed. Records indicate the presence of immigrants from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi many of whom operated farms with African slaves. Additionally, individuals with Hispanic and German surnames were present.
- Rev. Edward J. Dworaczyk. The First Polish Colonies of America in Texas (San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Company, 1936), 112. Records a translation of the entry made in the parish book for the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, St. Hedwig Texas by Father Felix Zwiardowski at the dedication of the cornerstone on 25 April 1868.
- U.S. Federal Census: 1860, Texas, Bexar County, Selma/Valley, pg. 236, line 30; pg. 237, lines 1-3. documents Valentine Mroz and his wife Barbara Ploch Mroz.
Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Deed Records: Book T2, pg. 343. Barbara Mroz purchased eighty acres of land from Robert Davis, date recorded 9 January 1866.
- .John O. Leal. Marriage Records of the Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio (San Antonio, TX), 1992. Entry #197, dated15 May 1859. These records were copied by John O. Leal, ex-Bexar County Archivist from microfilm held at the Mormon Library (the original records are missing from the Cathedral).
- San Antonio, Texas. St. Mary’s Catholic Church Baptismal Records, pg. 47, entry #4, 24 November 1861 (LDS Microfilm #0025467).
- Anton Kozub, Journal. Personal diary/ business record. Original in possession of the authors. Entries from 1868 through 1876: Records of payment for “support” of the priests, church, and school for that period. The priests provided instruction for the children of the community.
- Anton Kozub, Journal. Entries from 1868 through 1876: Records gifts of money, labor and materials for the construction of the church and school from Lawrence Ploch and Valentine Mroz.
- Governmental and civil records from Silesia indicate a familiarity if not fluency in German. The language of commerce in Silesia was German and many of the families maintained a tradition of speaking German into the 20th century.
- Allen R. Kosub, Personal reflection. In the author’s experience, even as late as the mid 20th century many of the Silesian families spoke Polish as their first language and although fluent, spoke English with a heavy accent.
- Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Deed Records: Book 38, Page 322, lease of property “Cottage Hill” to Barbara Mroz. Records location of Cottage Hill as adjacent to Mroz property. The location of Cottage Hill had been forgotten after the Post Office was moved to St. Hedwig in 1877. This entry provided the authors with the first documentation for the location of this lost site.
- Bexar Abstract Co. Abstract of Title: Subdivision 2, Survey 10, Abstract # 547,dated 1 September 1911, showing records of sales of property known as “Cottage Hill”, copy in the possession of the authors.
- National Archives & Records Administration, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-September 30, 1971, M841, roll 121: Texas (Counties unknown, Anderson- Cass). Records of the Post Office Dept. for Cottage Hill. John J. Germann & Myron R. Janzen. Bexar County Post Offices, (San Antonio, TX, 1987). Jim Wheat, Postmasters and Post Offices of Bexar County, TX 1846-1930; available from Roots Web at www.rootsweb.com/˜txpost/postmasters.html; Internet.
- T. Lindsay Baker, The First Polish Americans (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M Press, 1979), 64-77. Discussion of conscription by the Confederate Government and the terms of military service for citizens in Prussian Poland. Also cites an article from the San Antonio Weekly Herald, 31 May 1862, p.1
Administration District of Oppeln, Gross Strehlitz, Prussia, Prussian Military Service Records, 23rd National Guard Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 6th Company: Anton Kozub, Radun, Opole District, original in the possession of authors
- Baker, First Polish Americans, 198, endnote 57. “Mrs. Kate Ploch, Texas Confederate Pension Application #37694, 2 September 1921.
- Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Land Records, Bexar County Clerk: Book N, pg. 2, 30 January 1856.
- “A Dastardly Outrage-Is There No Redress?” San Antonio Herald, 6 April 1871, 3. The shooting of Lawrence Ploch is described.
- “District Court,” San Antonio Herald, 23 July 1871. A recounting of the trial of Otto Fuchs.
- Hunter, J. Marvin, The Traildrivers of Texas (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1924). A compilation of narratives from original traildrivers. Atascosa and Live Oak Counties are among the counties most frequently mentioned in these narratives.
- Bexar County, Texas, County Clerk’s Office, Marks and Brands Records, Book B, Most of the early Silesians registered their brands and marks only months after settling in the area.
- “A Scandal, Cattle Stealing, Etc,” San Antonio Daily Express, 7 Dec 1879: “The scourge of brand blotching is reported in every section of Live Oak County”.
- San Antonio Daily Herald, 23 July 1871, “State Police arrest Simon Kossup (Kosub) for theft of cattle.”
- “The Court Yesterday,” San Antonio Daily Express, Vol. 13, #240, pg. 4, col. 3: Case #642, State of TX vs. Martin Maros, theft of a heifer, plea not guilty, and verdict of not guilty.
- Bexar County, Texas. Commissioner’s Court Minutes, pg.149, B2, line 866, 12 June 1879: Case # 126, State of TX vs. Alexander Tudyk, funds appropriated for Justice of the Peace, Constable, and warrants issued.
- San Antonio Daily Express, 7 August 1881, “Alex Tudick, a Polander, was brought to the city and lodged in jail by constable Casanovas on the charge of committing an aggravated assault on another Pole about a year ago. Tudick has been on the dodge for some time”.
- Harkey, Mean As Hell, 130. Alex Tudyk’s relationship with Martin probably did not end in 1880. He worked on Abe Jesson’s spread in Crane County just across the border from Martin’s haunts in Eddy County, N.M. A Letter in the possession of Pat Sibley of St. Hedwig, Texas from Abe Jesson, Odessa, Texas to A. Tudyk, dated 2 Feb 1900, reminds Alex“…your place is open, come about April first”. He remained active in the area until 1900. U.S. Federal Census 1900, Texas, Crane County, Supervisor District #4, Enumeration District 51, sheet 2, line 8, 15 through 27 June, enumerated Alexander Tudyk. In one of his escapes from the law Martin made a run to Midland. Researchers have often questioned Martin’s motives for choosing that destination. He may have been on his way to visit his friend, Alex. Alex Tudyk returned to St. Hedwig to live out his colorful life. He died in 1938 and is buried in the St. Hedwig church cemetery.
- D. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the RioGrande, Vol I, 1529-191(El Paso, TX: Texas Western Press,1968), 320-321.
- Robert K. DeArment, George Scarborough, The Life and Death of a Lawman on the Closing Frontier, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992). page 85.
- U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records[resource on line](Washington, D.C.:U.S. Government Computer System-First Gov, accessed 16 September 2000),available from http:www.glorecords.blm.gov. Internet. Accession/Serial #NMNMAA 017375, BLM Serial # NMNMAA 017375 for Chaves Co., NM. U.S. General Land Office, Leadville CO. Land Records, Vol. 4, pg. 118, Cert. # 1085, Park County, registered to Martin Mrose, 19 June 1890. copy of record in possession of authors. Park County, CO, Deed Records, Book 36, pg. 522: deed between Martin Mrose and Marvin E. Clark of Philadelphia, PA, dated 29 July 1886. Copy of deed and plat in possession of authors.
- Sonnichsen, Pass of the North, 321
- Leon Claire Metz, John Wesley Hardin, Dark Angel of Texas, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), 1996. This vignette is based on the excellent description of the event in Mr. Metz’s book.