Cultural Crossroads
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Texas Czechs - Vìtáme Vás Na Texas
  By Sheena Oommen

Czechs first settled in Texas in the 1840's, traveling from Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia. Like the Germans, they sought to improve their economic situation. Chiefly, famine, disease, poverty and unemployment pushed Czechs to emigrate. Farmland prices in Texas were attractive compared to their homeland. Some males fled to Texas to avoid enlisting in the military. Others resented being Austrian subjects. Oppressed Protestants hoped Texas would offer a refuge, although the majority of settlers were Roman Catholic.

A great number of the settlers penned accounts of their experiences in Texas and published them in journals. Carl Postl, one of the first Czech visitors to Texas, wrote favorably of the state, inciting Czech and German immigration. Rev. Josef Arnost Bergmann settled in Cat Spring. He wrote letters home boasting of what Texas offered. Journeying from Europe to Texas was arduous. In one group traveling from northeast Bohemia, only half survived the conditions to make it to Galveston.

Initially, the Czechs settled in Austin, Fayette, Lavaca and Washington counties and developed productive agricultural communities. Many farmed in Texas's Blackland Prairie. They tended to live around German settlements since they were familiar with the language and lifestyle. Musical and theatrical performances played a central role in the culture. Bands played and dancers moved to polka and waltz music as they kept alive lyric folk songs from their homeland. The Czechs' brass band style of music provided a sound distinguished from traditional polka and waltz. They introduced the hammered dulcimer, a stringed instrument, to Texas. It is still played today, and has fit musical tastes even as they have changed. Texan Czech music has evolved with influences from jazz, country and swing, creating a unique Texan style. The Czechs also played the tarot card game Taroky, which was popular in their homeland and is still played today in tournaments throughout Texas. In 1879, the first Czech language newspaper was printed. This was followed by the printing of the popular newspaper Svoboda, which stirred debate with its advocacy of the use of English in schools. Students were taught in only Czech and German until 1870 when a school in the city of Praha began teaching classes in Czech and English. The knowledge of Czech literature and music as well as participation in churches and fraternal and social organizations helped keep ties to the Czech language thriving. With English instruction in schools and the spreading acquisition of televisions however, the Czech language lost its dominance in Texas.

Czechs placed a high value on the community, eschewing the ragged individualism of their Anglo American neighbors. Czech bands commonly were composed of family members, such as the Baca Orchestra and the Joe Patek Orchestra. Like the Germans, the Czechs tended not to support slavery, which caused some conflict between Czechs and Anglo Americans. The institution of slavery did not mesh with the Czech community's family-oriented farming tradition.

Czech settlers usually identified themselves as Austrian, German, Bohemian, Slovak or Moravian. This caused confusion for government officials working on the census. The 1910 census noted a population of people speaking Bohemian and Moravian. As the native born population increased and English became the primary language, descendants tended to classify themselves as Czechs, even if their ancestors considered themselves Moravian.

Today, Texas cities have dedicated museums to honor the Czech culture. Temple is home to the Czech Heritage Museum. A Fayateville museum celebrates Texasıs Czech settlement. In Caldwell is the Burleson County Czech Heritage Museum. In 2004, the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center was opened in LaGrange. Houston's Czech Cultural Center promotes research of Czech history. Praha hosts the Praha Homecoming, also known as the Prazska Pout, which is celebrated with Catholic mass, food, singing and dancing. The city of West hosts Westfest every Labor Day, which includes a Kolache baking contest and a Taroky tournament. The Czech Heritage Society of Texas has developed 14 chapters throughout the state. Many provide services like Czech language instruction and genealogy workshops.

Learn about the Texas Germans.