Travelers headed south across Central Texas may discover an interesting story of survival while passing through Cuero. On the southwest corner of US highways183 and 87, the handsome mission style St. Mark’s Lutheran Church boasts three bells in its arched façade.
The small bronze bell, the one on the lower right, began life on the Reliance, a merchant ship sailing as part of the Morgan Steamship Line between New Orleans and the thriving port of Indianola. In 1856, Indianola residents were enjoying a party aboard the Reliance docked at the end of one of the port’s long piers extending into Matagorda Bay, when a fire broke out. All the partygoers escaped unharmed and as they watched the burning ship sink into the shallow water they heard the ringing of its tiny bell.
The Lutherans needed a bell for their new church, and with Morgan Steamship Lines’ permission, some of the members dove into the bay to retrieve the bell for the church steeple.
Nine years later, during the Civil War, Union troops occupied Indianola for a few months. While confiscating everything of value to take with them, a group of Union soldiers climbed the Lutheran church steeple and tossed the little bell to the ground, intending to return for it as they loaded the other booty.
That night, some of the church members quietly retrieved the bell and buried it. During the next ten years Charles Morgan, the shipping tycoon, gave bells to most of the Indianola churches, which probably explains why the little bell remained buried and forgotten.
In 1875 a terrible hurricane wrecked Indianola, destroying most all the church buildings. Many residents moved inland to places like the new railhead town of Cuero. Then, another devastating storm and fire in 1886 turned Indianola into a ghost town, forcing its residents to give up and move inland.
Meantime, Lutherans in Cuero, after holding services for several years in the German school house, finally built their first church in 1889. As the building neared completion and talk centered on the need for a bell in the handsome steeple, one of the members remembered helping bury the little bronze bell almost twenty-five years earlier. He led a group to the site where the little bell waited, and they proudly mounted it in the steeple. For about five years the bell called the congregation to worship until a member donated a much larger bell.
Again, the little bronze bell took a new life summoning volunteers of the Cuero Fire Department. After several years, the volunteer firemen installed a modern alert system, and an observant church member discovered the little bell tossed in a trash heap. Upon completion of the present church in 1939, the little bell found its final home as one of three bells in the peal.
Serving as St. Mark’s Prayer Bell, it rings when worshipers pray the Lord’s Prayer and it tolls softly at the conclusion of funeral services as the casket is moved from the front of the church to the narthex.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church history claims the little bronze bell as a symbol for the calling of God’s people—to continue serving as circumstances change, even after being buried and resurrected or thrown on a trash heap.
What an enchanting story about that little bell. Thanks, Myra.
I love to stop and have a look each time I drive through Cuero.
Myra, I was born in Cuero and know this church well. I never knew the history of the bell. Thanks for sharing. I love this personal look at Texas history. Keep up the good work.
So glad to hear from a Cuero native. Your town holds some wonderful stories.
What a charming story. Will this little bell appear in your new novel set in Indianola?
The bell didn’t make the book, but Morgan Steamship Lines and the Civil War events play a large role. Thanks for asking.
Another great post Myra…and I enjoyed the pictures that went along with it!
Thanks, Christine. The church is my photo; the other two were “lifted.”