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Enjoy & Learn


For Your Dollars and Ours

Kosciuszko’s heirs claim they should inherit the White House, and Pulaski’s–central Chicago. The descendants of Polish soldiers fighting for a free Texas still hope to receive the rights to the oil-bearing lands that their ancestors got in return for their heroism.

The famous motto “For Your Freedom and Ours” appears to have a fairly calculable value now. The story of the supposedly gigantic inheritance waiting in America for the families of Polish soldiers fighting in the Texas Revolution (1835-36) is exercising the minds of their descendants and rightful heirs on both sides of the Atlantic.

After the failure of the November Uprising, numerous Polish military units were formed in the USA out of the refugees. Some of them fought bravely in the Mexican war. How it all ended may be seen in the movies Alamo and Texas based on James Michener’s bestselling novels. More than 170 years ago, the tragic siege of the Alamo stronghold near San Antonio ended with the death of nearly all of its defenders. Among them– according to historical records published in the Librarian of the Supreme Court of Texas– were a number of Poles, including Adolf and Franciszek Pietrusiewicz, Jan Kornicki and Michał Dembiński.

Fifteen years after the Texas Revolution, the free state’s authorities granted the families of the fallen Polish soldiers a gift of 4,000 acres of land in Wichita, Dimitt, Titus and Donley counties. The area was calculated as 300 acres per day of their heroic fight. It was mainly sand and stones then, but a few decades later oil was found there. And oil meant–and still does–fortunes. However, to get this land back today, the heirs would have to prove their rightful claim to the area under the current American law. Can they do it? How much needs to be invested in lawyers good enough to fight the case in courts? And who are those people whose great-grandfathers gave their lives fighting for a free Texas?

Some of them live in Poland, in Bydgoszcz, Włocławek and Iława. Others live in the States. Some of them have given up their fight for the inheritance. Others are still trying to appeal to the Polish and American authorities alike, in an attempt to get them interested in the case. Some of them are still going to the courts. Others write. They write books and memoirs which include family stories and legends. There are also other publications that raise the issue, e.g., Texian Iliad by the La Bahia Museum curator Stephen Hardin, The Polish Texas by Lindsay Baker, or Promised Land by Elizabeth Cook.

The first court trial for the rights to the inheritance was held in St. Louis as early as in 1852, and was lost. The next was heard in 1911. In it, the new owners managed to convince the court that the territory had been granted illegally in the first place. New attempts to regain the oil-bearing land were made before World War Two. Their only result was of historic significance–the court documents turned out to be very valuable collections of the Polish immigrants’ letters, birth certificates, maps, notes, signed originals of the Convention Memorial, etc. In legal terms, though–little help to win the case.

Five generations have passed since the November insurgents came to America to fight “for your freedom and ours.” Their descendants still search Polish and US archives. In the process, they have tur ned into investigators of their heroic roots and glorious past. However, lawyers find it increasingly difficult to answer the questions whether the 19th-century land grants are still valid and how much the land is worth now. And the oil keeps flowing… US law states that if there is any controversy concerning land ownership, it is administered by the federal government. Therefore, the oilbearing area in question is now owned by the state and leased to extraction companies that earmark part of their profits for a special deposit fund just in case the rightful heirs are established after all. So there is still hope. How much is this deposit worth? The latest estimates come from the early 1990s and put their value at roughly 40 billion dollars.

Every year, the small town of Goliad witnesses a ceremony commemorating the Alamo massacre. And every year there are whiteand- red flowers under the obelisk that lists the Polish soldiers who fought and died for a free Texas. If you visit the place, go to its little church, and in one of the naves find a picture of St. Mary of Częstochowa, a Polish flag and a November Uprising banner with the inscription: ZA WOLNOŚĆ WASZĄ I NASZĄ– WOYSKO POLSKIE 1830.

Ryszard Wolański

 

translated by Jerzy Chyb

 
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