“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” America was a prosperous young country promising freedom and opportunity. The Czechs under Austrian rule were suffering political suppression and economic deprivation. These were the circumstances under which two apparently unrelated families named Marak left their Moravian homeland for the United States in the 1850s.
One family settled in Brown County, Kansas, and was led by thirty-eight-year-old Frantisek Petr Marak.
Frantisek Petr Marak was born on June 27, 1819, in house number 18 in the northeastern Moravian village of Sviadnov. His father was Jan Marak, a flax weaver, and his mother was Anna Klancik, the daughter of blacksmith Jakub Klancik. Frantisek Petr Marak had a younger brother named Jan Nepomuk Marak, who was born on March 28, 1828, and a still younger brother named Petr Pavel Marak, who was born on June 27, 1831. All three Marak boys emigrated to Kansas. Frantisek Petr Marak and Jan Nepomuk Marak traveled together. Petr Pavel Marak left a few years later.
Frantisek Petr Marak married Barbora Chamrad on October 3, 1840, while he was still living in Moravia. Barbora was the daughter of Sviadnov cottager and carpenter Josef Chamrad and his wife Veronika Prokop, who in turn was the daughter of Jakub Prokop, a weaver in Sviadnov. Frantisek Petr Marak and his wife Barbora Chamrad made their home in Sviadnov, in house number 18. Eight children were born to them before they emigrated to the United States. They were:
Frantisek Matej Marak (born September 6, 1841)
Jakub Jan Marak (born July 13, 1844)
Jan Florian Marak (born May 2, 1846)
Barbora Johanna Marak (born April 15, 1848)
Mariana Cecilie Marak (born November 9, 1850)
Josef Lorenc Marak (born August 5, 1852)
Anna Magdalena Marak (born July 6, 1854)
Karel Tomas Marak (born September 16, 1856).
Only Anna Magdalena died before the family left the Old Country. All of the other members of the Marak family settled in the rich prairie land of Kansas.
Frantisek Petr’s brother Jan Nepomuk Marak married Rozina Horill. She was the daughter of Frantisek Horill, a cottager in the Silesian village of Baska, and his wife Mariana Kozuch. Jan Nepomuk Marak and his wife Rozina Horill made their home in Sviadnov in house number 38, where they became the parents of two children:
Frantisek Hieronymus Marak (born September 30, 1855)
Mariana Rozina Marak (born February 15, 1857).
Young Frantisek Hieronymus died in infancy, so Mariana was the only child that Jan Nepomuk Marak and Rozina Horill brought with them to the New World.
Around 1857 Frantisek Petr Marak, his wife and children, Jan Nepomuk Marak, his wife and daughter, and two other families set sail from Bremen to New York City. The tale of their journey was related in an article entitled, “Marak Was Early Day Trade Center,” and published in the Brown County World on April 29, 1927. The article was written by L. A. Irsik, a descendant of Stepan Irsik, who headed one of the families that had emigrated with the Maraks.
The four families boarded a train in New York City and headed West: destination Kansas. They had bought tickets for St. Joseph, Missouri, but the train track went only a few miles past Palmyra, Missouri. The other families that accompanied Frantisek Petr and Jan Nepomuk Marak stayed in Missouri, but the Marak brothers continued to Brown County, Kansas, by ox-drawn wagon. Eventually additional Moravian families joined them, including the Stepan Irsik family, that at first had settled in Missouri.
Back in Moravia, Petr Pavel Marak married Barbora Pustka in Sviadnov on May 5, 1863. Barbora was the daughter of Josef Pustka, a cobbler in Sviadnov, and his wife Veronika Dekan from the Moravian village of Staric. Peter Pavel Marak and his bride left for the United States very soon after their marriage, because about a year later a daughter was born to them in Kansas.
Frantisek Petr Marak and his wife Barbora Chamrad had at least two more children while living in Kansas. The United States Census of 1880 included a 21-year-old son Peter in the Marak household. The Maraks’ 38-year-old son Frank was also living at home and was a merchant. According to a tombstone in the local Catholic cemetery, another son Tomas was born on December 21, 1862, and died on February 23, 1870.
Jan Nepomuk Marak and his wife Rozina Horill were also listed on the 1880 Census. At that time they had five children living at home, all of them born in Kansas. They were: John (age 20), Tekla (age 18), Frances (age 11), Jakob (age 7) and Rudolph (age 5).
According to the 1880 Census Petr Pavel Marak and his wife Barbora Pustka had seven children living at home. All were native Kansans: Johanna (age 16), Teressa (age 13), Florin (age 11), Agnes (age 10), Mary (age 6), Philip (age 4) and Adolph (age 2). The previous census had listed a one-year-old daughter Rose, but she was not included on the census of 1880.
The small Czech community that grew up around the Marak farms came to be named after its founding family. Marak was the first Czech community in Kansas. At one time it had a church, All Saints Catholic Church, a post office, two general stores and two blacksmith shops. It was a thriving Moravian community populated by families with names such as Hrncir, Irsik, Jes, Kaska, Klecka, Lednicky, Lichnovsky, Marak, Mikeska, Volny and Zahradnik. Today all of the buildings have been torn down or moved. Only the All Saints Catholic Cemetery remains, bearing testimony in stone to Frantisek Petr and Jan Nepomuk Marak and the other Moravian immigrants who once lived there.
Frantisek Petr Marak died on January 2, 1892; his wife Barbora Chamrad died on January 6, 1887. Jan Nepomuk Marak died on March 4, 1903; his wife Rozina Horill died on June 10, 1899. All four were buried in the All Saints Catholic Cemetery at Marak.
Petr Pavel Marak did not stay with his brothers in Kansas. Sometime between 1880 and 1900 he took his family to Prairie County, Arkansas, where he settled in the Czech community of Hazen and lived the remainder of his life. Petr Pavel Marak died in 1912, and his wife Barbora Pustka died in 1904. Both were buried in the Czech National Cemetery south of Hazen.
The year before Frantisek Petr Marak and his brother Jan Nepomuk left Sviadnov, Moravia, for Kansas, another Frantisek Marak left his home for the United States, this time destined for Texas.
This Frantisek Marak was born on April 10, 1824, in house number 10 in the northeastern Moravian village of Horni Sklenov. His father was Ondrej Marak, a farmer, and his mother was Marina Volny, the daughter of Jan Volny, a farmer from the Moravian village of Rychaltice. Frantisek Marak married Rozalie Koza. She was the daughter of Ondrej Koza, a cottager in Horni Sklenov, and his wife Anna Grossman, the daughter of Jan Grossman, who was also a Horni Sklenov cottager.
Frantisek Marak and Rozalie Koza lived in house number 10 in Horni Sklenov and had the following children:
Jan Evangelist Marak (born December 18, 1846)
Jiri Marak (born April 24, 1849)
Matej Marak (born February 23, 1851)
Stepan Marak (born December 26, 1852).
A fifth child was born to the Marak family in house number 86 in the neighboring village of Ticha:
Ondrej Marak (born November 27, 1854).
In 1856 thirty-two-year-old Frantisek Marak joined a number of other Moravians from neighboring villages and sailed from Bremen to Galveston. This was the first group of Czech Catholics leaving Moravia and settling in Texas. Their journey to the New World was chronicled in a 1906 speech given by Judge Augustin Haidusek, whose family formed part of the group along with the family of Frantisek Marak. The speech was translated into English and printed in Czech Pioneers of the Southwest, pages 83-87.
From Galveston the Czech Moravian Catholic families continued by steamboat to Houston, and then by ox-drawn wagons to Fayette County. These were the families that established the Czech communities at Hostyn and Dubina. At first Frantisek Marak and his family settled in Dubina.
Frantisek Marak and Rozalie Koza increased their family after their arrival in Texas. Their American-born children included Tomas, Mariana, Frantisek, Jr., and Magdalena.
The United States 1880 Census found Frantisek Marak and Rozalie Koza living on a farm in Dubina (her name was erroneously given as Theresa, however). Their 17-year-old son Frank and their 14-year-old daughter Maggie were living with them. The Maraks also had a 24-year-old servant named John Konvicka. The other Marak children had married and started families of their own.
Around 1882 Frantisek Marak and three of his sons went to Milam County. There Jiri, Stepan and Tomas Marak settled in a existing community named the Big Elm Neighborhood, which eventually was renamed after the Marak family. Marak, Texas, had a general store, complete with post office. Over the years the community had two churches, a Methodist church and Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. Marak also had a public school and a Catholic school. Today little more remains than three graveyards and the Catholic church. The graves of the three the pioneer Marak children can be found in Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Cemetery: Jiri Marak, Stepan Marak and Tomas Marak. In fact, the name Marak is the most frequently found name in the Marak Catholic cemetery. Other Czech names commonly found in Marak’s cemeteries include Dohnalik, Kostroun, Matula, Sipula, Slavik, Tepera, Tomek, Vansa and Vrazel.
In the 1880s Frantisek Marak’s other three sons, Matej, Ondrej and Frank, Jr., moved to the vicinity of the Czech community of West. There they engaged in farming like so many other Czech immigrants. Frantisek Marak died on January 29, 1902; his wife Rozalie Koza died on March 3, 1906. They were buried in the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in West.
Dreams and Realities
The Moravian emigrants that settled in Marak, Kansas, and Marak, Texas, were among the thousands of Czechs who left the Old Country in search of a better life. In the Austrian Empire they knew political suppression and economic deprivation. America offered them freedom and opportunity: the freedom to dream and the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.
The two Marak communities were the result of those immigrant dreams. Little is left of the once thriving communities. A church here, a cemetery there. That does not mean, however, that the dreams of their founders’ died. Rather, the dreams of both Frantisek Petr Marak from Sviadnov and Frantisek Marak from Horni Sklenov outgrew the communities that were named after them. Both Marak families proliferated and prospered. Some of their descendants stayed in the immediate area, and others moved on. That was the real American dream: a better life for their families, and for their families and for their families.
(Birth and marriage records on the Marak family that settled in Kansas were found by professional researcher Martin Pytr from Olomouc, Czech Republic. Birth and marriage records on the Marak family that settled in Texas were found by the author of this article.)
- Robert Janak
“A Genealogical Tale of Two Cities: Marak, Kansas, and Marak, Texas,” printed in the series Czech Connections, Cesky Hlas (Newsletter of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas), February 2005, pages 12-14.