FAYETTE COUNTY, TEXAS
Footprints of Fayette article by by Norman C. Krischke:
Praha, a small community situated a mile west of Engle and 3 miles east of Flatonia in southern Fayette County, is a very old settlement established about 1842 on the James C. Duff League by Duff, William Criswell, his brother, Leroy and others.
William Criswell signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 and upon his death, was buried in the Criswell Cemetery a half-mile east of Praha. His remains were moved to the State Cemetery in Austin in 1933.
The community was first called Mulberry after a branch of the West Navidad River that flowed through the area. Mulberry was also called "Hottentot" as a nickname after the outlaw element that frequented the place. Later, the Czechs of the area changed the name of the town to Praha after Prague, Czechoslovakia.
During the mid 1850's Czech immigrants settled in the area headed up by Mathias Novak. After working a short while for the Anglo settlers, he bought 100 acres of land and built a house. The first Catholic masses were held in his home.
Other early Czech settlers were John Baca, Joseph Vyvjala, Andreas Gallia, Joseph Hajek, Frank Vacl, George Morysek and Ed Knezek. Ed Knezek operated a general store and was the postmaster. He was robbed and killed but his wife continued to operate the store.
In 1865 Rev. Joseph Bitkowski directed the construction of a small frame church that was dedicated at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Mathias Novak has a special graves stone attesting to the fact that he gave the land for the church grounds.
In 1868 a public school was established and by the 1880 Praha had three stores, a café, and a new frame church. A post office started service in 1884 and in 1896 a Czech Catholic School was established.
In 1873, when the Southern Pacific railroad was built about a half mile north of town, Flatonia, a new town built on the tracks 3 miles farther west, began to draw business away from Praha.
During the 1900's the population never rose above 100, and in 1906, the post office closed. In 1973 both the Catholic School and the Public School closed. The Public School building has been converted into a residence.
The population of the town is currently about 25 people. An annual celebration of the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th attracts more than 5,000 visitors, as does a yearly Veteran's Day celebration on November 11th. It would be well worth your time to visit the community and to study more of its history.
Postcard photo of St. Mary's Catholic Church at Praha taken by Warren O. Albrecht.
From Fayette County, Her History and Her People by F. Lotto, 1902:
Praha is situated about three miles east of Flatonia, south of the Southern Pacific Railroad, on the Jesse Duff league. Located on a hill in a beautiful liveoak grove, it presents a very fine view. The high steeple of the Catholic Church may be seen for miles reminding the faithful of the place of worship. The Catholic Church of Praha is the finest in the county, nay even in the state — a very majestic structure. It is a solid rock building. The aisle of the building is very high and makes a most solemn impression on the beholder. The altar is a masterpiece of artistic carving and construction. The imposing glass windows contain paintings representing scenes from the Holy Scripture. Rev. Father L. P. Nethardus is the priest of the church.
Praha is a nice town, being built around a public square. It consists of two stores, two saloons, one blacksmith and wheelwright shop, a meat market. It has a resident physician. Jos. A. Drozd and F. A. Parma are the leading merchants of the place. Frank Vyvjala is the popular proprietor of a first-class saloon and owns also a fine platform and hall for dancing. Anton Jezek is the proprietor of a blacksmith and wheelwright shop and is prepared to do all kinds of work in tip-top style.
The population of Praha and neighborhood is entirely Bohemian. The Bohemians commenced settling in this neighborhood in the fifties. First settlers: M. Novak, F. Branitzky, Jos. Vyvjala, Geo. Morysek, Jos. Hajak, M. Jares, Jno. Baca. The place was named Praha by Postmaster E. Knesek in 1876. It was formerly called Mulberry. The first Catholic Church in Praha was built of wood in 1868. In 1875 a new church was built. The present rock building was completed in 1891.
There are two schools in Praha. The public school has been for over twenty-five years under the able management of Prof. A. Nesrsta, a highly educated gentleman and a thorough teacher. The sisters' school was organized in 1896, is taught by three Sisters of Divine Providence, and has actually enrolled from 119 to 126 pupils
In Praha are two lodges of the K. J. T., a Bohemian Roman Catholic Union of Texas, a benevolent society, which was organized in 1895 at Moravan, Texas. (See Moravan [Hostyn]). F. A. Parma is the president of this union. The president of one of the Praha lodges of the K. J. T. is Chas. Lev, the secretary, John Vanek; the president of the other is Vinc. Darilek, the secretary, Anton Jezek. The total membership of the two Praha lodges is from 80 to 90.
The Catholic Young Men's Society is composed only of unmarried persons. They pay to each member at his wedding a marriage portion. Quite an inducement, thought it may be presumed that the lady is the highest. The society has about thirty members.
Other societies are the Christian Society of Married Women (over thirty members), Altar Society of Virgins (twenty members) and a Reading Club. All these societies are Bohemian Catholic Societies; they are associated for worthy objects and tend to elevate and educate the character of young men and women to a higher plane.
The couple to the left of the groom are his parents, Michael and Frances Oharek Okruhlik, and to the right of the bride are her parents, Frank and Josephine Krejci Cerny, at whose home the photograph was taken. The priest is the Rev. L. P. Netardus. Others pictured include Matous and Josephine Okruhlik Levek, Anna Schrear Okruhlik and Vince Okruhlik, also John, Rudolph, Joseph and Johan Okruhlik and Victor, Frank, Louis and Luka Cerny. Contributed by Joe Levek.
Footprints of Fayette article by Carolyn Heinsohn:
Citizens of Mulberry Take Action
The following article was printed in The Schulenburg Argus on April 6, 1877. It is presented exactly as written. Note the style of writing, which was very descriptive and typical of that era. It appears that people at that time united to take action when necessary and celebrated their success, no matter what day of the week.
“From Mr. Chas. A. Kessler, the ARGUS learns that on last Tuesday there was a picnic at the Bohemian school house on Mulberry creek, about three miles from town. A large crowd was in attendance, many going from here. We regret to say that we did not hear of it until too late to go. There was a presentation of a flag, speechifying, dancing, target shooting, etc. Having said this much, it is necessary to be more explicit, and tell what was the object of the demonstration which partook of such a variety of amusement.
In the first place, the citizens of that neighborhood have suffered a great deal with depredations on their stock, which has become annoying in the extreme, and their patience in the law and its administration has become exhausted. Hence they resolved to organize a “Committee of Safety” – not a vigilance committee – whose duty it would be, upon a report of a loss of stock being made to them, to appoint a certain number of its members to go to the proper authorities – not to lynch them – for punishment under the law. Having resolved upon this course, their wives, daughters and sweethearts concluded that it would be meet and proper that a flag should be wrought, which they did, and last Tuesday was the day selected for its presentation. Of course, to give zest to the occasion, something besides the mere formality of presenting and receiving the flag seemed to them – and we think very properly – necessary. There must be some enthusiasm, some show of good feeling in the matter on their part. They were not on the war-path, they were simply improvising means to keep secure that which they had earned by the sweat of their faces, and be instrumental in aiding the officers of the law in bringing to condign punishment any who might dare despoil them of their property. Hence speeches were in order to explain the objects of the organization, and Messrs. Kessler, Glucksman and others made excellent speeches.
After the talking was over, the target shooting took place, with the rifles at 140 yards with a rest, and Schulenburg bore away the victory, Mr. Louis Ahlers making the best shot, and Mr. Proetzel the next best.
A nice floor had already been prepared, and when the shooting was finished, the merry dance began, which was kept up all the afternoon, and until a late hour at night, the best of feeling prevailing.
When the crowd dispersed, all were well pleased with the day’s recreation.”
The Nine Boys of Praha
In the space of 12 months and nine days, Praha gave up most of its youth – and nearly all of its future – to confront unimaginable forms of evil on faraway continents.
Pfc. Robert Bohuslav died Feb. 3, 1944, after Patton’s and Rommel’s tanks had already driven deep into North Africa , and the worst of the combat had passed. Three more sons of Praha went down in France , beginning the week after D-Day. The War Department sent notices of death to the families of Pfc. Rudolph L. Barta, June 16; 1944; Pfc. George D. Pavlicek, July 7, 1944; and Pfc. Jerry B. Vaculik, July 23, 1944. In Italy, Pfc. Adolph E. Rab became a casualty of war two days after Christmas 1944. Pvt. Joseph Lev, shot in the stomach during the attack of Luzon Island , died July 24, 1944. Pfc. Anton Kresta Jr.’s life ended in that same tropical theater on Feb. 12, 1945. On Sept. 7, 1944, Pvt. Eddie Sbrusch was lost at sea in the Pacific. Nineteen days later, Pfc. Edward J. Marek died in battle at Pele lieu Island . All their lives were lost, ironically, as an Allied victory appeared inevitable.
The soldiers are buried in the Praha cemetery in two rows of four and three; Eddie Sbrusch’s empty grave lies just to the northeast; George Pavlicek’s remains rest in a family plot across the walk. The graveyard is unprotected from the pressing Texas sun, but nearby a centuries-old post oak tree reaches out with a promise of eventual shade.
At the outset of World War II, Flatonia and Praha were no different than many other rural communities across the American landscape. Patriotic fervor led people to gather scrap metal and rubber, delivering the materials further east on the rail line to the larger town of Schulenburg . Young men were coming in from the countryside to enlist and say their goodbyes before leaving for boot camp and deployment overseas. To call it a simpler time, though, is to belittle the emotional and intellectual complexity involved in the decision to serve. Even along the dirt roads of Fayette County , Texas , families understood that Hitler and Japan represented more than just a threat to Europe and the Pacific.
Behind the church at the gated entry to the cemetery, a memorial stands to honor the lost sons of Praha. Names and photos are arranged in a perfect row along the bottom of the marble pedestal. Dates and locations of their deaths are carved into the stone. No one can easily enter the cemetery without first confronting the rock monument and pondering the wives and children these men never knew, the work they never lived to perform, the dreams they never pursued.Understanding may prove eternally impossible. But if every leader of every country were first made to visit Praha before declaring war, the world might be forever changed.
Weimar Mercury, 30 Nov 1895, page 4
Flatonia, Fayette Co., Tex., Nov. 21.—The little village of Praha, in this county, was the scene of the grandest affair in its history yesterday. The occasion was the dedication of the Catholic church at that place. About 10,000 people were present, consisting principally of Germans and Bohemians. The dedication services were performed by Rt. Rev. Bishop J. A. Forest of San Antonio, assisted by about twenty priests. The church is a fine structure, built of rock and will last for all time. It will seat about 1000 people, but only a small portion of the crowd could gain access yesterday.
The reception accorded to Bishop Forest was flattering in the exreme. When the Southern Pacific train arrived from San Antonio the bishop was met at the depot by a large crowd of people in buggies, wagons and horseback. The Flatonia city band was also in attendance, dressed in their fine new uniforms. The procession led by 100 horsemen, then began the march to Praha, distant about three miles from Flatonia. After the dedication services three sermons were preached, one in German, one in Bohemian and one in English. There were people present from this and several adjoining counties, and altogether the occasion was one long to be remembered by those participating.
See The Painted Churches of Texas
Web site developed by public television station, KLRU, to accompany its documentary of the painted churches
1865 Catholic Mission Chapel
Flatonia Landmark Preservation Society web site
Deceased WWII Veterans
St. Mary's Church of the Assumption
National Register of Historic Places
Praha Catholic Cemetery
Praha S.P.J.S.T. Cemetery
Frank L. Ermis
John Ludvik Morkovsky