By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
The best part of the local newspaper, for me, has always been the “society pages”. Since the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung’s first issue back in 1852, there was always a section for local news called Lokales (German for local). This section described events, weddings, the births of babies and funerals. It told you who visited town and of people’s visits to other towns, states and countries. Lokales touched on everything from fishing stories and new building projects to accidents and criminal activities — – in short, all the noteworthy incidents which happened during the week preceding publication.
Lokales carried longer articles by a part-time employee of the paper named Bohemian John. Bohemian John travelled extensively around Comal and neighboring counties riding horseback or with a horse and buggy. He represented and sold subscriptions to “Die Tante” or “the aunt” which folks back then fondly and regularly called the Zeitung; I’m not sure why. Bohemian John wrote weekly reports of his travels which included publishing of the names of new subscribers but more importantly just what the heck was happening out in the County. He knew everything that was going on. Over the years, I have read many of Bohemian John’s contributions and for some reason or other, I never thought about who the man behind the pseudonym was. Now, suddenly, I am curious.
I did a little scatter-plotting research. Bohemian John was John Mickesch or Mikesch. With a name, I could now learn about the man and so onward and upwards or perhaps sideways….
In 1854, John, a newborn infant, accompanied his father Jacob, mother Marie nee Weselic and his two older sisters on a three-month voyage which took him from Sobeslav, Budweis, Bohemia (in today’s Czech Republic) to Texas. The family left behind five dead children. His father Jacob became a farmer but added to the family coffers by also freighting; basically, he was a truckdriver only he used a wagon and team of 10 oxen. By the time John was 13, he was periodically joining his father in the freight business. He wrote about those times in some of his newspaper articles. On one particular trip in 1869, his father had taken ill in Victoria and he went to help.
What we experienced was no joking matter. We had ridden several miles in rain and came to a creek. When I said “Say, John (Nowotny), I believe that is a deep creek!” he laughed and urged his horse into the water. Plump! His horse disappeared from under him. Luckily, he was a good swimmer and his horse also got out again. But our provisions and bedding were gone. What to do now? A Negro on horseback came to us and told us that the water was 25 to 30 feet deep and we needed to go several miles upstream to a new bridge. Walking on the sleepers for this new bridge, we carried our saddles and what little effects we had across to the other side and pulled our horses after us. We caught up with Valentine Schumann, Ed Schertz and Oswald Jung and camped on this side of the Guadalupe (near where Cuero would be established).
The next day we rode through rain until we came to Victoria. My father still lay very sick. Mr. Schumann had recuperated and could drive his own team again. My father did not recognize us. John rode back to drive my father’s team. Some of the 10-oxen team had died. I stayed until Thursday. The next morning, I found my father sitting up in bed. It was, I believe, the happiest moment of my young life.
I now drove father’s team and John Nowotny rode on home. He soon came back with Adam Daum of Mission Valley whose brother John had also become ill down in the Indianola Prairie. John had already been buried. Several other waggoners died that year down there. It took a month to get back to New Braunfels. To list all misery and hardships endured on that one trip would take up all the space in the “Tante” and I believe that the youth of today (1903) cannot have any conception of the hardships that were endured on those trips.
The youth of 1903? Pshaw! John, the youth of today might not even listen to your story.
For a taste of Bohemian John’s basic style, I give you a bit of his folksy banter from his report published January 26, 1903.
Everyone knows that a sort of rheumatism has had me by the “Schlaffitcher” (collar?). However, my Bohemianess has quickly subdued the evil, and I now again feel good so that I want to tear trees out by the roots. If only trees weren’t so big and deep-rooted. Readers, you can admire me this week as [I am] the bailiff for the Grand Jury.
Met Rudolph Gloff of Clear Springs last week in New Braunfels. He is moving to Brenham and instructed me to have the “Tante” sent to him. Also saw Mr. Alfred Klein in town. He is the son of our “Rittergutsbesitzer” (Lord of the Manor) Carl Klein, and who, on the 17th of January was married to Miss Frieda Link. That the “Tante” will go weekly to visit the young couple from now on is “eine alte Sache” (“an old thing” or self-evident).
John Mickesch married Karoline nee Fenske in 1881, and they had five children. He lived most of his life in the Bracken and in the Schönthal area where he farmed. He died in New Braunfels in 1934. This staunchly Catholic man had served the community as a school trustee and county commissioner as well as newspaper reporter and was held in high esteem. He is buried in New Braunfels Cemetery near his father and mother.
In 1899, Bohemian John was heralded as the first Zeitung correspondent. His articles on the state of the county continued almost weekly well into 1907. They create a vivid picture of everyday people in the rural hill country landscape of the time. Bohemian John’s style and passion make this early social/gossip columnist’s reports on life’s myriad details fascinating and a joy to read.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives collections; Oscar Haas collections; Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung collection.