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KATZENQUELLE! If you live in Austin County, Texas, you know that Katzenquelle is Cat Spring in German. With a present population of 76 (2000), Cat Spring is ten miles southwest of Belleville. It is best known today for vineyards, thoroughbred horses, and the iconic 12-sided dance hall.

There are many stories about how the town of Cat Spring got its name. Most tales mention a large spring near the original townsite, and a frightening experience with a wildcat. Settlers started coming to the area in the early 1830’s and the settlement was officially founded in 1832. By 1880, Cat Spring had several mills, a saddle shop, a hotel, a school, and one church.

The founding settlers of Cat Spring were primarily Austrians, Czechs, and Germans. They hastily fled those European countries due to political upheaval, religious censorship, and the industrial revolution. Established trades were becoming obsolete causing unemployment to soar. Poor harvests and high food prices, initiated large scale riots in the streets and unsafe living conditions.

Friedrich Wilhelm III was king of Prussia at the time, and he was determined to have absolute rule over the Protestant church, as did the Pope (Roman Catholics), and the King of England (Anglican). The disheartening process of nationalizing church liturgy and message spurred many devoted Christians to immigrate to the United States, much like the Pilgrims did in 1620. The area surrounding Cat Spring became a safe-haven for many of these immigrants.

The Rev. Josef Bergmann immigrated to Cat Spring with a desire to worship Christ freely and to escape the mayhem in Europe. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1797, Bergmann sailed for Texas in 1849 with his family and dreams of establishing a church that was free from government dominance. Within a short time, he had started a church near Cat Spring and also served as pastor in the Lutheran church of Cat Spring.

Rev. Bergmann was very popular in the community and spoke often at agricultural and public events. He was an authority on fruit tree growing, crossbreeding of livestock, and raising sheep. Bergmann would often use this agrarian knowledge to apply spiritual truths in his church sermons and civic lectures. Rev. Bergmann wrote countless letters back to friends and family in Czechoslovakia, and was instrumental in convincing numerous immigrants to move to Texas. Some historians have called him the “father of Texas Czechs,” because he was so beloved among the settlers.

The founding fathers of the United States were adamantly opposed to centralized governmental authority over the church. The separation of church and state is clearly detailed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson, while discussing religious freedom, stated, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Freedom is at the heart of God’s love for us. May we never give up our rights of religious freedoms that we have in America. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 ESV, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

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