Immigrant – Bąk – Bonk

Bąk – Bonk
Anton Bąk / Bonk: A Shepherd from Silesia
by Janet Dawson Ebrom

Anton Bąk was born around 1823 in Silesia to Jakob and Anna Bąk. When Anton was about 28 years old, he married Caroline Hunsa. The couple was blessed with three children in close succession: Marianna (ca. 1852); Joseph (ca. 1853); and Francisca (ca. 1855). Anton was a shepherd whose family resided in the village of Zębowice which lies about 20 miles east of the regional capital of Opole in present day southwestern Poland. As members of the Wniebowzięcia NMP parish, their sacramental records from the 1800s were destroyed during wartime, so the exact dates of births, baptisms, and marriage cannot be documented.

With a wife and three young children, Anton decided to register with an immigration agent named Julius Heinrich Schüler who toured Silesia gathering people to tell about Texas and offering to arrange their transportation. Fortunately, the Schüler Agency’s detailed application, dated March 6, 1856, reflected the names and ages of the Bąk family before they left their motherland: Anton “Bunk,” age 33; Caroline Hunsa, age 32; Marianna, age 4; Joseph, age 3; and Franciska, only eleven months old (passengers 152-156). Anton’s occupation was listed in German as a shäfer [shepherd] who departed from Silesia with his family on April 1, 1856. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set foot on Texas soil in Galveston in pursuit of a new life.

Anton and Caroline initially settled with their three children in Karnes County among other Silesian immigrants. In the springtime, two years after leaving Silesia, Caroline gave birth to twin daughters and named them Catharina and Monica. A day after their birth, the Texas-born twins were proudly presented to the parish priest in Panna Maria and baptized on April 11, 1858. Rev. Anthony Rossadowski, the second pastor of Immaculate Conception of the BVM Catholic Church, recorded Anton’s surname as “Bąk” and Carolina’s maiden name as “Honza” (entries #56 and #57).

Sometime between this young immigrant family’s departure from Silesia and the 1860 census, they experienced the death of their only son, Joseph Bąk. This is significant not only as a family tragedy in losing a little boy but also as the end of the family’s surname in Texas.

By 1859, Anton was taxed in Karnes County on two head of cattle worth $12 and hogs valued at $11. Anton made the transition from herding sheep in Silesia to acquiring Texas stock soon after his arrival. On July 28, 1860, the census taker enumerated the family in Panna Maria, Karnes County, Texas, as: A. Bonk, age 38; Caroline, age 36; Mary, age 9; “F” [Francisca], age 5; and the twins Katrina [Catharina] and Mariana [Monica], age 3 (dwelling #1127).

Following this census, two more daughters were born to Anton and Caroline; Josephine was born about 1861, but her baptism record has not yet been located. Four years later, Barbara was born on December 1, 1865, and baptized in Panna Maria the next day (entry #276).

After almost thirteen years of labor coupled with ambition, Anton was able to realize his dream of owning a Texas homestead. On January 4, 1869, he purchased 215 acres from John Pawlik. The land bordered the property of Joseph and Catherine Kirish on the west bank of the Cibolo Creek (Karnes County Deed, Volume B, p. 128).

With their six daughters settled in the family’s new home, Anton and Caroline were visited by the census taker on August 20, 1870. They were listed as: “Antone B.,” Caroline, age 45; Mary, age 18; Frank [Francisca], age 15; “Cathran,” age 12; Monika, age 12; Josephine, age 8; Barbara, age 5 (dwelling #5).

Their oldest daughter, who had been only four years old when she left Silesia, announced her intention to marry another Silesian immigrant. On September 12, 1871, Mary Bąk married Laurence Mutz in the Panna Maria church (entry #61).

Eight days after the wedding, Anton exercised his right as a 48-year-old citizen of the United States when he registered to vote at the original Karnes County Courthouse in Helena (p. 393). Later his creatively designed cattle brand was recorded on October 10, 1873 (Karnes County Marks and Brands, Vol. 1, p. 3, #1040). The base letter “A” was supporting a horizontal “B” as shown.

A summer wedding took place in Panna Maria when one of Anton and Carolina’s twin daughters, Monica, married Anton Sekula on June 12, 1877 (p. 4, 1st entry). This was the final Bąk family celebration in the Immaculate Conception Church because a new parish in Cestohowa was formed. The founders of the parish bearing the name of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary included Anton Bonk (Texas Pioneers from Poland: A Study in the Ethnic History. Jacek Przygoda, p. 51). On February 10, 1878, the Cestohowa church was dedicated (The First Polish Colonies of America in Texas, Rev. Edward J. Dworaczyk, p. 130). This church was the setting for the nuptials of Francisca Bąk and her bridegroom Emanuel Esparsa on November 12, 1878 (p. 257, entry #1).
By the time of the 1880 census, three of the Bąk daughters had been married. On June 12, 1880, the family was recorded: Anton Bonk, age 58; Caroline, age 57; Kate, age 21; Josephine, age 18; and Barbara, age 14 (dwelling #68). On August 9, 1881, Josephine Bonk married John Szczepanik in Cestohowa (p. 259, 3rd entry). This was the last time Anton would give a daughter in marriage.

According to witnesses, Stephen Titzman and John Brysch, “A short time before he died…while his hand was trembling in the throes of death…,” Anton Bonk signed his last will and testament. He sold his youngest daughter Barbara 215 acres including the farm and house for $600. Barbara was still single, and her dying father requested that she “…keep my wife Karolina Bonk her mother by her and cloth [clothe] her and give her free meals to her last hours of her life.” Anton added that he would like for his daughter to give Karolina “…a respectable funeral.” The will also specified that each of the other daughters would receive $100 except for Mary, the oldest daughter, who had already gotten her share. Anton left his wife Karolina $150 and three stock horses (Karnes County Probate Records, Vol. I, pp. 310, 313-315). At the approximate age of 62, Anton died on July 10, 1882, and was buried the following day in the Cestohowa parish cemetery (p. 345, 1st entry).

Four months later, Anton and Caroline’s daughter Catharina married a young man from St. Hedwig, Texas. Simon Kolonko and Catharina’s wedding was celebrated on November 28, 1882, in Cestohowa (p. 262, 1st entry). The following year, on November 27, 1883, Barbara, the youngest Bonk daughter, married Joseph Kotara in Cestohowa (p. 264, 3rd entry).

After all six of her daughters were married, Caroline remained on the family homestead with her daughter and son-in-law, Barbara and Joseph Kotara. On December 11, 1884, Caroline Hunsa Bonk, the family matriarch, passed away and was laid to rest next to her beloved husband Anton (p. 348, 1st entry). Even though Anton and Caroline left no male descendants with the Bonk surname, most of their daughters married Silesian men. The Bonk Polish ancestry will go down in history through the maternal side of these families.

Spelling variations:
• Surname: Bąq, Bonk, Bunk
• Maiden name: Hunsa, Honza, Hondza, Chondza

Reference Notes:
• Anton Bąk’s family is listed in the “Ravaged by War” section (p. 241) of
Silesian Profiles II: Polish Immigration to Texas 1850s-1870s.
• The in-law families who have been fully profiled in the Silesian Profiles books are:
Mutz and Sekula (Vol. I) and Kolonko, Kotara, and Szczepanik (Vol. II)