COLORADO COUNTY, TEXAS
Prepared for St. Roch Church picnic, October, 1986 by Arliss Treybig
By the end of the 1830's, three small German settlements formed a triangle around this area: Industry, Frelsburg, and Cat Spring. They were settled by individuals or family groups. The first large group of settlers came to the Mentz area about 1846. They were part of a colonizing effort by a group of German nobles which was called The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. They originally had planned to settle in an uninhabited area west of Austin. However, when they landed in Galveston, they learned the Society was having financial and mismanagement problems. They decided to leave the group at Galveston and continue inland on their own and settle in an area which already had some Germans and which was more settled than the designated area.
Some of the families which came first were Braden, Burtschell, Frey, and Wendel. These families came from the village of Büdesheim near Bingen on the Rhine River. An early settler from the same village was Frederick Zimmerscheidt who had settled near Frelsburg in the early 1830's. His daughter had remained in Germany until 1844 so perhaps these settlers had prior knowledge of the settlements in this area or perhaps some of the Germans who had settled in Galveston and Houston told them about the area.
Another group of settlers from the same village came in 1848; by this time the Society had gone bankrupt so the families and individuals came on their own to join their relatives and friends in Texas. Some of these families were Braden, Frey, Lamby, Maerz, and Wink.
These immigrants named this area for their homeland. Büdesheim is about 14 miles west of the major city of Mainz. The Society under whose auspices the first group came was organized near Mainz and was also called the Mainz Society. The village of Büdesheim was part of the Catholic diocese of Mainz as well. Therefore, they named the settlement New Mainz; later the name was Anglicized to Mentz. Spellings vary on various documents and even on some of the tombstones.
Being primarily Catholic, these families were first ministered to by the priests of Frelsburg which were the first catholic priests in the area. The priests traveled on horseback through the woods to baptize and marry--and sometimes bury. Among the first records in the Frelsburg church books in 1847 are baptisms of children from some of these Mentz families; one of the first marriages in 1847 was that of Jacob Brod and Josephine Burtschell.
By 1857 the Mentz settlement had grown enough that there was a need for its own church building. For $1.00 Frank Burtschell deeded land to the Bishop of Galveston for a church, school, and rectory. The first church stood where the cemetery is now according to the cornerstone in front of the church. By 1867 a larger church was needed. The parishioners built a stone church--mostly by hand They hauled sandstone by ox-wagon for days from Pin Oak Creek bottom. This creek east of Cummins Creek is located on the Zimmerscheidt League on the Charles Leyendecker, Sr. land. Crockett Leyendecker recalls that his grandfather told him about the building of the church.
The stone church burned in 1940; the present church was built in 1941. Families from settlements east of the area, such as Cat Spring, were also involved in the founding and developing of this parish.
Just as the settlers named the settlement for their homeland, they also named the church for a church near their village. A chapel to St.Roch stands on a hill near Bingen. It was built in the 1670's as a result of a pledge to the saint that the town would build the chapel and have an annual pilgrimage in his honor if he would save them from a plague. Whether the result of the saint's intercession or not, the people were saved,and the pilgrimage continues to this time.
From 1872 to 1916 the Sisters of Divine Providence staffed a Catholic school at Mentz. the building which had housed the school was used for years as the beer building here at picnics. It is now being restored at the Mentzwood site.
There was also a post office off and on from 1889 to 1913. It was located in the Burtschell store which was nearby. Joseph and Anton Burtschell were post masters.
At one time there was a community dance hall which was moved across the road; it finally deteriorated.
By the 1850 census there were other German families in the area; Brod, Hennecke, Kuhn, Meismer, Neuendorff, Weigel and Weishuhn. Twenty years later other families were Becker, Deniach, Foster, Geistmann, Grabow, Iselt, Jakel, Jordt, Kansteiner, Kotzebue, Litzmann, Miekow, Reitz, Ritter, Rolf, Schmidt, Stock, Watz, Wicke, and Tannhauser. Although most of the names were German; Polish, Czech, Irish, and English names appear in records as well.
Life was hard for the settlers and their descendants well into this century. The area was not cleared; the only roads were probably buffalo or Indian trails. Perhaps there was a traveled road from the settlements to San Felip in Austin's colony. The settlers had to clear land,. build some kind of shelter, plant crops, and try to begin a new life. Many were not prepared for the life or the climate and did not have the skills needed. Others had brought supplies and tools with them from Germany as instructed by letter from the earlier settlers. Still other bought materials in Galveston or Houston and brought them here by ox-cart.
Everyone had to work hard. There were many early deaths and infant deaths. There was an epidemic of some kind, probably yellow fever, in 1868. This date appears on tombstones in the cemetery. Several members of a family died within weeks of each other. The men voted against secession in 1861, but many fought for the Confederacy even though some families had left German to keep their sons from military service. Others hid in the wood so they didn't have to serve.
In spite of all the hardships our ancestors suffered, we are here today because those families persevered and succeeded. Now we can enjoy a beautiful church plant and groundsand air conditioning, if we really need itbecause of their courage.
CATHOLIC CHURCH AT MENTZ TO COST $12,000, IS REPORT
(Eagle Lake Headlight)
Father F. J. Klass informs the Headlight that bids will be opened next Monday night, Aug. 19, for the construction of the new Catholic Church at Mentz. The building committee is composed of L. J. Braden, L.C. Hennecke, W. F. Helfrich, H. F. Braden and Jake Blanchardt. The building is to be a frame structure and will cost about $6000, without interior furnishings. After bids are awarded about two weeks’ grace will be allowed for assembling materials, etc. It is expected that the edifice will be completed in about 60 working days. There will be three special services connected with the erection of the church, the first will be a ground breaking ceremony, later the service of the laying of the corner stone, dates to be announced later.
About November 1, the ceremonial of the Blessing of the Church and home coming day will be celebrated. When complete, with all interior furnishings the new church will represent an expenditure of $12,000. Miss Hilda Willms of Columbus is the architect.
Weimar Mercury, August 23, 1940, page 6
Early German Settlements in Colorado County
by Arliss Treybig
Take a look at Mentz, Texas at TexasEscapes.com
See Mentz at the Handbook of Texas Online