Swedes in Texas

view http://www.swedesintexas.com/
a great site for genealogy and history of Swedes in Texas

A special thanks to Mike Fowler for letting WCH post this first-person story
from the "A Century of Community Faith - Hutto Lutheran Church: 1892 to 1992" book.

Swedish history to review

In 1836 Swen Magnus Swenson immigrated to the United States of America from Sweden.

It was through his efforts that Swedish immigration to Texas was begun in 1848. Due to his wise real estate investments and the monies generated by his cotton plantation in Fort Bend County, he quickly became a wealthy man in Texas. It was in 1844 that Swenson was joined by his uncle, Swante Palm.

Swante Palm helped Swenson in his numerous business opportunities and was the first person to immigrate from Sweden with the goal of living in Texas. In the 1850s, many Swedish immigrants were to make their homes in Texas, and soon afterward, many more would follow. As Swedish communities developed, Swedish churches were soon established, and some of these offered Swedish language services until well into the twentieth century.

In The Swedish Texans. by Dr. Larry E. Scott, from which most of this chapter is taken, the story of Swedes in Texas is told as follows:

"Swenson was a friend of General Sam Houston, who encouraged the Swede to send back to his homeland for more Swedish immigrants to settle the vast and sparsely inhabited interior of Texas. Swenson did just as Houston had suggested, returning to Sweden in 1847 to recruit families from his home parish of Baarkeryd in northern Smaland. That first year only his sister accompanied him back to Texas, but the following year a group of 25 people, related to one another or to Swenson or Swante Palm either by birth or marriage, became the first group of Swedes to repeat the journey Palm had made a few years earlier.

Initially, they joined Swenson in Fort Bend County, but he soon sold his plantation (and its attendant slaves) and moved to a large sheep and cattle ranch east of Austin, which he named "Govalle" after a dialectal Swedish phrase roughly translatable as "good grazing." Govalle became Swenson's home for over a decade, during which time it was also the first home newly arriving Swedish immigrants would know in the New World. Swenson and his uncle arranged passage for the Swedish families from Smaland, and they, in turn, worked for Swenson in Texas to pay off the price of the ticket. Most of the early immigrants also bought land from Swenson—he owned some 100,000 acres in and around the Austin area- and settled down to farm cotton.

The city of Austin thus became the home of the earliest and largest concentrations of Swedes in Texas. North of Austin, in Williamson County, some of the first settlers bought land from Swenson along Brushy Creek and formed the nucleus of what eventually became several contiguous rural colonies: Brushy Creek, Palm Valley, Hutto, Jonah, Taylor, and Round Rock. On the Blackland prairie in northeast Travis County, Swedes began to settle after the end of the Civil War, establishing the colonies of New Sweden, Manor, Kimbro, Manda, and Lund. All these areas were almost exclusively devoted to cotton production, a crop which was, of course, quite unfamiliar to Europeans but to which they quickly adapted.

Swedes settled in Central Texas for a variety of reasons.

First, many of them had to work off their passage on the Swenson lands in and around Austin. Second, they tended to buy land in areas already settled by fellow Swedes whom they had known back home in SmSland. Finally, many of them were given favorable prices for land by Swenson, who wanted to attract as many of his countrymen to Texas as possible. Even though only about 150 immigrants had made the voyage to Texas before the outbreak of the Civil War, they were located in key agricultural areas of Travis and Williamson counties. When immigration to Texas resumed on a larger scale in the late 1860s, these "target" or "magnet" colonies which could attract Swedish immigrants in larger numbers were already well established."
On February 26, 1988, Audrey Bateman, author of the Waterloo scrapbook, wrote in the Austin American Statesman that the Swedish immigrants "were an industrious people- farmers and businessmen who enriched their new homeland by building churches and colleges. Texans gratefully accepted them as neighbors." In this same article, a description of a Swedish Christmas celebration in Austin was recorded by the editor of the Daily Republican newspaper on December 26, 1870: Night before last we attended, by invitation, a ball given by the Swedish emigrants,... We found a number of the present, the stout, heavy young men and buxom lasses in attendance who engaged in the merry dance, were of a class that our country could well be proud of- good looking hearty men and plump, handsome girls... We enjoyed most excellent music, we partook of a supper that would have done justice to Epicurus, and all the surroundings were of like character. There were lots of good folks in attendance and an abundance of the substantials as well as the luxuries of life... The ball was a success, and all enjoyed themselves in a happy manner."

By World War I, more than 11,000 Swedes had immigrated to Texas with large concentrations in Travis and Williamson counties.

Naturally, some of the Swedish customs and traditions were transported from the old country to Texas.

These are just a few of the Swedish influences still visible in our community. Santa Lucia - The Christmas season begins with St. Lucia Day on December 13th, the shortest day of the year in Sweden. This celebration has been observed since 1979 at Hutto Lutheran Church and has been directed by Donna Fowler. A young girl from the congregation is chosen to be St. Lucia. She dresses in a long white garment with a scarlet sash and wears a crown of evergreens with five lighted candles. She and her court of young girls and star boys walk in the dimly lighted church with the singing of the St. Lucia song. The story of St. Lucia is told to the congregation, and then the girls and boys serve saffron buns, ginger cookies, and juice to the congregation.

Julotta - Early Swedish immigrants celebrated this early Christmas morning service at six a.m. on December 25th.

The Church, decorated with evergreens, the Christmas tree, and wreaths, was filled with lighted candles in every window. The Church bell tolled, and the service began with voices singing "Hosiana" followed by the Swedish, "Var Halsad, skona morgonstund." The Pastor read the Christmas text and presented the sermon. At the end of the service, the sun had begun to rise on the horizon. This was a wonderful way to rejoice in the celebration of the birth of Christ. In later years our Church changed this service to our now traditional Christmas Eve service at eleven p.m. on December 24th.
Midsummer Day - June 24th is the day of celebration and is the longest day of the year in Sweden. On this day, the sun never sets in Sweden. In Texas, the Swedish immigrants started the Swedish Old Settlers Day in Round Rock to celebrate this day. The Swedish pioneers met at Nelson Park in Round Rock and celebrated with music by bands, choirs, and soloists. There were always outstanding speakers. Each family brought their own picnic lunch and had a regular smorgasbord. Today this celebration continues and is known as Texas Swedish Pioneers' Day. Many Swedish people from the Hutto community participated in this Midsummer celebration.


In 1991 Megan Whitfield with lighted crown was the Santa Lucia at Hutto Lutheran Church. Scott Wimberley holds the Swedish flag as a background for this celebration.

Star boys; Luke Fowler and Mason Stem stand by Santa Lucia while Donna Fowler, Emily Fowler and Jenna Stern serve refreshments.


Johanna Wimberley, a member of our congregation of Swedish descent, is dressed in colorful traditional Swedish costume from the area of Smaland , Sweden for the 1990 Santa Lucia celebration.

Johanna has done much to carry on the Swedish history, heritage, traditions and customs within our State, Church and Community.


Ruth Olson 2004

Member of the Carl Widen Vasa Lodge and volunteer of the Williamson County Historical Museum

Click to see a Swedish Christmas


In 1918 Mamie Hyltin taught a Swedish School in Hutto during the summertime. Notice the old Hutto water tower in the background, Left to right are: Boys; Edmond Johnson, Harold Algren, Raymond Rosenquist, Gunnar Johnson, Howard John-son, Louis Johnson, Paul Rosenquist, Girls; Dorothy Carlson, Helen Johnson Striegler, Meg Johnson Kuhlmann, Rosa Lee Johnson Samuelson, Evelyn Peterson Johnson, Marcella Johnson Pomeroy, Gladys Johnson Hugland, Elvera Ahlgren Anderson, Grace Johnson, Martha Carlson Schonerstedt, RosaBelle Johnson, Mildred Ahlgren.


Again, special thanks must be given to Johanna Wimberley and Ron Whitfield, who gave so much of their time and resources to help make this book possible.

Sponsorship thanks are gratefully extended to Carl and Marie Lidell and Carl and Lois Stern for each of their extremely generous contributions. Additional financial thanks are given to Aid Association for Lutherans, City National Bank of Taylor, Mike and Donna Fowler, Anna Viviette Fowler, Noel, and Helen Grisham, the Hutto Cooperative Gin Company, Edmund and Julia Schmidt, Taylor Motor Company, Ron and Mary Ann Whitfield who have provided contributions of $100 or more towards this 100th Anniversary publication. Without their heir, this book would not have been published.

Additional thanks to Marie Lidell for proofreading this work several times and to Su (Holmstrom and Olga Pearson for their previous work on Hutto Lutheran Church history Information provided by Mary Jane Hopkins, the Church Council and all of the members of the 100th Anniversary Committee and our Church towards the assembly of this publication were greatly appreciated.