Panna Maria and Cowboys from Helena

Read the earlier history of Panna Maria in the previous articles: Beginnings of the Polish Colonization in America, Panna Maria and Panna Maria - Difficult First Years.

Panna Maria's settlers did not only suffer from hunger, draught, snakes and Indians attacks but they also did not have very nice neighbors. First of all the local Anglo-Saxon community look at them as strangers. Since many Polish immigrants came to Texas to avoid the military service in Prussian army (like Germans who settled in Texas also), Poles were not enthusiastic to take part in the Civil War. In spite of that many of them were enforced or volunteered to serve in Civil War, some fighting for the South, others for the North.

The most annoying neighbors were the cowboys from town Helena (today this is a ghost town). Helena was called the "Toughest Town on Earth". The town was full of the criminals and rough gunslingers that sometimes were coming to Panna Maria to test their shooting skills. "On Sunday mornings they would be drunk and looking for girls. They would often be raising a big ruckus and would not settle down. During this time, the priest would start mass with a shotgun. When the unwanted criminals would be riding into town, the priest would shoot at them from the church's bell tower."

They staged several raids on Panna Maria, sometimes they shoot people in limbs or they stabbed women with a knife. Finally harassed residents of Panna Maria sent two priests with a signed petition to general of the U.S. Army in San Antonio asking for assistance. "On April 10, 1869, three officers and fifty-nine enlisted men of H Company, 4th U.S. Cavalry established the Post of Helena to suppress "insurrection, disorder, and violence." They stayed for thirteen months, temporarily quelling the violence (Baker, 42-3)."

After the rough beginning the life in Panna Maria slowly began to improve. The St. Joseph's school was finished in 1868. It was the first Polish school in the USA now the place of the museum. Today Panna Maria remains rural with a church being the main cultural center in the village.

As for Father Moczygemba, he spent the rest of his life mainly in the northern United States. There he continued to serve as the superior for the Franciscan Minor Conventual missions in America until 1866, worked among Germans and Poles in New York, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan residing most of this time at Syracuse, New York. On October 13, 1974, his remains, originally buried in Detroit, were taken to Panna Maria under the oak tree beneath which he had offered Mass for the first arriving Polish immigrants to Texas at Christmas time in 1854.

Read more articles about Polish immigration / emigration - history and distribution of Polonia around the world. Check also Polish Texans - the history and genealogy website.


"Panna Maria, an Image of Polish Texans", by Joseph Jaworski

A Case Study of The First Silesian Settlement in North America, Panna Maria, Texas by Eric Opiela

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, article #40

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