Because of Lt. Charles Zanco, the flag of Denmark has and will always have a place of honor in the Alamo, “the Shrine of Texas Liberty”. However, Danish interaction with Texas did not begin on a sizeable scale until after the War Between the States. Two Texans named Travis Shaw and John Hester happened to be visiting the Kingdom of Denmark. Impressed by what they saw, they thought Texas needed some Danes and so they asked if anybody was interested in moving to Texas. A few agreed and were sold land by Shaw and Hester in Lee County. Prices were cheap and at the time, owning property for most any common man in the small countries of Europe was nearly impossible so this was viewed as an opportunity. About 20 families of Danes made the voyage across the ocean first but more came later in the following decade. The first settled in Lee County of course, as did the later arrivals. Most established themselves in an area around eight miles west of the County seat of Lexington. The area came to have such a Danish flavor that it became known as “Little Denmark”. The early settlers were noted for their industriousness and most all were employed in productive occupations such as Paul Paulsen who was a cabinet maker, Niels Thompson who was a bricklayer and Peter Jensen who was a blacksmith.
|Lee County courthouse|
Most Danes began speaking English exclusively early on, however, Danish survived the longest in the Lutheran churches they founded. Formal Danish was spoken in church services until 1954 and a women’s church group, “Den danske Kvindeforening” spoke Danish or “native Texas Danish” until 1971. The community was once known for celebrating a combination of Danish Constitution Day and United States Independence Day as well as Christmas. Both usually included a circle dance around a community tree and singing at least a few Danish songs. The largest Danish settlement was Danevang, established in 1894 mostly by Danish-Americans moving south from northern states. Although it eventually diminished over time as the locals intermarried with others, moved on to other areas and “assimilated” more in the 1920‘s, there was still a population of 60 in 1990 and the local Danevang Lutheran Church is still open. There is also a Danish Heritage Museum in town. Although not as pronounced as some groups, there are still many thousands of Texans who are of at least partial Danish ancestry. While others may have had a bigger influence on Texas, the Kingdom of Denmark has been a part of Texas history from the beginning and, hopefully, the ties between Denmark and Texas will only grow stronger in the years to come.