Smialek – Schmialek
Their Brief Life in Texas, 1856-1870
by Cheryl Lynn Highley
In 1856 Julius Heinrich Schüler arranged travel to Texas for a large group of Silesians. He recorded significant details about the emigrants, including names, ages, professions for the men, names of home villages, etc. Among the emigrants were two young adults who left their families in Silesia and set off for a new life in Texas—Joseph Schmialek, a 26 year-old zimmerman, or carpenter, from Knieja, and Christian Cholewa, aged 20, from Radawie. Because Schüler recorded no profession next to Cholewa’s name, it is likely that the first name was misspelled and the entry was for a woman named Christina.
Entering Texas through the port of Galveston, many of the Silesians journeyed to Panna Maria. Hired by Fr. Anthony Rossadowski, Joseph was put to work on the new church and he built the pulpit, communion railings, and choir loft and, later, erected a small bell tower to hold a bell from Silesia (Baker 1975:28). The new church became the setting for the Joseph’s marriage to 21-year-old Christina on September 27, 1857. While Silesian baptism records are lacking due to the destruction of the Knieja and Radawie parish records during World War II, the parents’ names of the young couple were recorded in the marriage record at the Immaculate Conception of the BVM Church. Joseph’s parents were Nicolajs and Marianna Schmialek and Christina parents were Stephan and Marianna Hollewa [Cholewa].
A few details of their brief life in Panna Maria, 1856-ca. 1864, were recorded in church records as well as in the 1860 census. On October 27, 1858 Joseph and Christina welcomed a daughter they named Maria [Mary]. Two years later, the census taker listed the young family and recorded Joseph’s profession as a laborer. On November 15, 1860 another daughter, Carolina, was baptized and on June 27, 1862, a son, Jacob, was born. Joseph and Christina can also be found in the parish records as sponsors for baptism and wedding ceremonies of other members of the community. Deed records are lacking for the Schmialeks, and it is likely they were leasing land or had other living arrangements with fellow immigrants. Besides working as a carpenter, Joseph owned a small herd of cattle and one horse (Karnes County Tax Rolls, 1859, 1862).
By the summer of 1864, the Schmialeks were in Victoria, where a second son, August, was born on August 14. Sponsors were Frank Gawel and Joseph and John Kutchka. Joseph paid taxes on 10 head of cattle in 1866 and died sometime after that. A burial record has not been located and it’s possible that he died during the yellow fever epidemic in 1866 and 1867 (Silesian Profiles 1999: 178-179). Around this time, Sebastian Gawel [Gavel, Garvel], father of Frank (see above), was also widowed when his third wife, Francisca Obstuj, died. In mid-January, 1868, Sebastian sold 61 ½ acres of land on the Garcitas Creek to Christina for $100 (Victoria County Deeds, Vol. 9, p. 439, date of instrument, 13 Jan 1868). Three weeks later, on February 4, Christina became Sebastian’s fourth wife, with the marriage recorded at St. Mary Catholic Church in Victoria. Frank Gawel was one of the witnesses.
By 1870 Christina and five-year-old August were no longer living with Sebastian, but were in a separate residence near Frank Gawel and his family (Karnes County Census, 1870). Jacob had apparently died and Carolina, aged 10, was working as a domestic servant in the household of photographer, Johann Schmidt, and his Silesian-born wife, Johanna Rzeppa. Mary may also have been living temporarily with another family. On October 26, 1870 Christina gave birth to Charles Gawel who was baptized a few weeks later on November 5. Christina and the infant died shortly after the baptism took place because probate records indicate that Christina was deceased by the end of the month and little Charles was not mentioned in records related to the guardianship of her other children.
In just a few years, the Schmialek children had lost both parents, as well as brothers Jacob and Charles, and they would have been homeless had it not been for a neighboring family. Prussian-born Alfred Farrer and his family lived near Sebastian and Christina (Victoria County Census Records, 1870). On November 23, 1870 Alfred applied “as temporary administrator of the estate of the Mary, Caroline, and August, orphans under the age of 14 and heirs of Christina Gavel, deceased” (Victoria County Probate Records, Guardianship, Vol. A-3, #123, pp. 253, 270-271, 347, 476, and 481, filed November 23, 1870). A few years later, in mid-1874, Alfred’s widow, Lucinda Farrer became guardian of August and Mary, while school teacher W. H. Allen was named guardian of Carolina (Victoria County Probate Records, Guardianship, see above). William and Sarah Allen probably provided a stable home life for Carolina for a few years, but by 1880 she was no longer living with them (Victoria County Census Records, 1880).
In the 1880 census 22-yr-old Mary was listed as “adopted” in the Lucinda Farrer household; in addition, 21- year-old Anton Garvel, one of Sebastian’s older sons, was living with the Farrer family. Two years later Carolina sold her half interest in 61 ½ acres of land to her sister, Mary, for $30.75 (Probate Records, Guardianship, #123, pp 248-350, 358-360, 403-405, April, 1882); this was the original plot of land that Christina bought from Sebastian Gawel prior to their marriage. August was not mentioned in this transaction and it is assumed he had died. On January 18, 1887, Mary married Anton Garvel, son of Sebastian and his third wife, Josefa Samol, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Victoria and, for many years, they lived in Inez. Information regarding the fate of Carolina was not located.
- Joseph Schmialek is listed in the “Ravaged by War” section (p. 239) of Silesian Profiles II: Polish Immigration to Texas 1850s-1870s.
- Baker, T. Lindsay. The Early History of Panna Maria, Texas. Texas Tech University Graduate Studies No. 9. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1975.