Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Old Georgian Script on a Church in the Caucasus Mountains

Old Georgian Orthodox Church
Although Georgia is a small country, it has its own unique language and script (alphabet) that are unrelated to the major alphabets/scripts now in use (e.g., Latin, Cyrillic, Persian, Hindu, and a handful of others). The alphabet, likely originally influenced by Greek script, has evolved from its origins in the 4th century -- some say it was created much earlier -- to its present day form.
Old Georgian Script on Ancient Church

Probably about five to six million people speak Georgian, including most of the four million or so who live in the country.

The picture to the left and below show an early version of Georgian script that was chiseled onto the exterior wall of the old Georgian Orthodox church pictured above, located on Military Road, not too far from the border with Russia. The church is in the Caucasus Mountains, overlooking a large lake, a peaceful and beautiful setting.

This Georgian Orthodox church building is no longer in use, and is in a state of disrepair.  It was constructed out of locally made brick and at one time was likely quite impressive inside.  Some remaining rements of frescoes on the inside cupola are still visible, but have graffiti (in Russian) written on them. (See the last picture.)

A visit to this area, about 60 miles from Tbilisi, gives a small taste of the interesting elements of isolated Georgia settlements scattered throughout the Caucasus mountains, each with their old  fortifications that no longer serve a purpose and stone churches. The living conditions in the mountains are sometimes harsh and difficult, a throwback to another time. In return, residents have the self-sufficiency and distance from the troubled world that have always attracted mountain people.
More Old Georgian Script

Graffiti on Fresco in the Church

(Photos by Dan Durning)

Merry Mat Loses His Clothes: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Pioneer Tales, Arkansas Echo, November 10, 1893
Part 2

[The first part of this story told of Mät's decision to leave Arkansas to move to the Washington territory and his disappointment upon arriving there.  The second part is a vignette about how poor Mät and his friend Joe lost all of their clothes and had to travel naked to get to their homes.]

Now I would like to relate, as well as possible, an amusing story that happened to Mät.

In our first days here, the settlers naturally did not have as much clear land as they could have used. Most of the land had to be cleared and prepared for cultivation. Therefore, many settlers rented cleared land for themselves somewhere, either for money or for a specific share of the crop. That is what Mät did also. 
White River by Batesville from Arkansas Echo, 1893

One year he leased, with his neighbor Joe, a piece of bottomland about 4 miles from their houses. When they wanted to get to this bottomland, they had to cross over a creek. The creek was usually not too bad or deep. However, after a hard rain, it could become wild and inhospitable.

Joe did not have an animal for transportation, but Mät had bought an old mule, Rosi was her name, and the two prepared a plough together. Now, Rosi was a very tame and stopped when ordered. 

One day as they were again working on the land, a terrible storm suddenly approached and quickly they quit their work and retreated to their small hut which they had thrown up as a precaution. It rained so hard that it poured. As they consumed their lunch, it began to rain harder, so much that poor Rosi had to also be brought into the hut. And it wasn't about to stop.

Mät didn't worry too much about it, but to Joe things weren't right, especially as it grew increasingly darker and there was little possibility of returning home. "Console yourself," Mät said, "we are sitting here comfortably in a dry place. Beautiful weather will return by early tomorrow morning and then you will soon be home again."

"Yes, but what about the creek," sighs Joe.

"So what, the creek?" says Mät. "We will drive Rosi into it and we swim behind her , if there is no other way."

"Sure," answers Joe, "you can swim. But me?"

"That doesn't make any difference," says Mät. "I will put you under my arm and take you across to the other side. Now let's sleep a couple of hours and then we will see what is to be done."

Soon Mät was sleeping the sleep of the just. But Joe couldn't keep his eyes closed the entire night.

The next morning, the rain still didn't want to stop until around 10:00 o'clock when things started to clear up and the sun began to shine again as beautiful as if nothing had happened. The two took off for home since they were badly tormented by hunger. Soon, they were at the creek,

What a scary sight! It was overflowing and the foot log was gone. Joe started moaning again. "Ach was," says Mät, "get out of your clothes fast."

After a few sighs, Joe does just that. Then Mät binds their clothes, puts them in the saddle on Rosi, and drives her into the creek. Soon the loyal animal is on the other side, looks around once, and trots merrily away despite the "Oh, oh!" that Mät calls loudly after her.

"Everything will be o.k.," maintains Mät, "if we can get quickly over to the other side." Then he takes the straps from the plow and ties one end around his body and ties Joe to the other end. Thud, he jumps into the water and Joe, like it or not, must follow. As I have already said, Mät was a good swimmer and without too much, effort, he soon had swam across. Joe had quickly lost his breath and it took him awhile to recover his wits.

There was no trace of the disloyal Rosi. "Well, well, " said Mät, "We are in quite a fix. If only we were in our clothes by the sides of our mothers!"

Unfortunately, they had to march at least a whole mile through cleared bottom land with not even shrubs or trees, only a small woods at the end of the bottom land. Therefore, it was most important to reach this protective woods and thereby escape the damned heat.

Now I must temporarily interrupt my story and see how things in the meanwhile have been going at home. There, Barb, Mät's wife, had thought nothing about Mät not coming home that evening. That was really nothing extraordinary for him. But it was different with Marie, Joe's wife. She couldn't go to sleep the whole night.

As it approached noon the next day, and Joe still had not come home, she was overcome with fear and ran over to see Barb. Since she also still had not seen or heard anything of them, Marie began to sob and was sure that something had happened. Barb comforted her as well as she could. Then suddenly, neighing is heard, and Rosi stands at the door of the stall and bellows. "Thank God," says Marie. "There they are!" And she rushes outside. "Oh Heavens, what is that? Rosi alone and a bundle of clothes in the saddle." She lets go a wretched cry, a shriek, such that Barb, very shocked, springs outside. The way things appear there, she also loses her self-control. 

 "Man of my life!" she also screams. "What has happened to poor Mät? He has certainly been killed in the creek. Oh God! Oh God! Dear, poor Mät. I will not be able to find such a good man again for a long time." And the two produce such a concert that even a rock would have felt pity.

"Now," says Barb, "quickly to the creek, we must see how it came about."  And as fast as they can, they make their way toward the creek.

Now let us return quickly to our two heroes. The two have moved boldly onward and have almost reached the protective wood. Oh no, trouble. They suddenly see a man and a women ahead coming toward them. Fortunately, it appears the couple has not seen the two. Quickly, they throw themselves onto the ground and crawl on all fours to the nearby cotton field which is just tall enough that a person can, if need be, hide in it. They wait for the couple to pass by.

More trouble! The couple reach the vicinity, and they can hear everything the couple says to each other. "Dear," says the woman, "I definitely believe that I saw a couple of calves in front of us. Certainly I must have made a mistake." And they began diligently chopping cotton.

In the meanwhile, Mät and Joe lay there in the cotton, in the burning, hot son, and sweated; in the truest meaning of the word, misery. That couldn't be endured for long and Mät soon said, "Damn and blast it! This is pure agony, and if the couple do not soon move on, then we will break free, come what may. One side of me is already burned to a crisp."

Very fortunately, the couple was soon finished -- it was still too damp -- and they returned home. As soon as they had disappeared from eyesight, the two were on their feet and had soon vanished into the woods. "So," said Mät, relieved, "Now we have survived the worst. We can hide in the woods during the trip, if need be." And courageously they moved onward without meeting anyone ahead.

Now they must go around a sharp curve and cannot see far ahead on the road. Then, as they are just about around the curve, they suddenly are facing a couple of women who are terrified by the strange sight and want to shriek and flee.

Mät had immediately seen who they were, and he shouted passionately, "Barb, Barb!" Then she quickly recognized him. And with a "Thank God!" she took Mät into her arms. Marie did exactly the same with Joe.

"Let's go home fast," said Mät. "This is a terrible place to chat and hug each other." And after they had put on the petticoats of Barb and Marie, they took off quickly for home and made it without further encounters.

Mät happily had a good drink in the house and then crawled into bed, and after he ate like a wolf and had slept his fill, he was again alright.

Joe had picked up a common cold and felt the horror and worry in his limbs for a long time.

If that had only been the end of it! "Keep your mouth shut!" It wasn't three days until the whole county knew about it, and what annoyed Mät the most was that he had to put up with a lot of kidding.  And that confounded old nag was responsible for all of this.

(Translated by Dan Durning, all rights reserved) 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

R.D. Rucker: A Nice BAD Guy at the University of Arkansas, and Much More

R.D. (arm raised), Nov. 1969
R.D. Rucker was a leader of BAD, the Black Americans for Democracy, a student group at the University of Arkansas in the late ‘60 and early ‘70s.  This group was formed in the late 1960s to promote the interest of African-American students on the University of Arkansas campus. While the University had been integrated for several years, the number of black students on campus was still quite small, and grievances had accumulated.

Those years were a time of activism on most campuses, the University of Arkansas included. With the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and urban violence, increasing numbers of students were motivated to try to bring about change.  

R.D. was one of those students. When recalling the 1969-70 Dixie controversy at the University of Arkansas (see the previous post), R.D. quickly came to mind.  BAD played the key role in the anti-Dixie effort, and R.D. was among the most active in its effort to stop the band from playing Dixie.

A young African-American, who some people think was brilliant, R.D. was a small guy with an easy manner. He also had an outsized assertiveness that made him stand out in public meetings. Friendly with a disarming smile and great energy, R.D. was one of BAD’s most aggressively visible advocates.  He sometimes used radical rhetoric that would surprise those of us who otherwise enjoyed his company.  
Speaking to Students

Among his other activities, R.D. ran for Student Association secretary in spring 1970, mainly to have a forum to speak his views to fellow students. Predictably, he did not win the election. However, he did have a chance to talk to groups of students throughout the campus.

Dr. Gordon Morgan, University of Arkansas faculty member, was clearly impressed by R.D.  Morgan, a sociologist, wrote about the racial situation at UA in the 60s and 70s. In his book, The Edge of Campus: A Journal of Black Experience at the University of Arkansas (University of Arkansas Press, 1990), Morgan had a section called, “The Legend of R.D. Rucker.”  He wrote:

Rucker was a honey-colored kid with frizzy sandy hair.  He had a slight build and was about 5’ 7” tall.  His winning smile, disarming manners and obvious intelligence took most people by storm.

The “legend” begins with this story:

Nobody knows much about the background of this young black man who came to Fayetteville in about 1968.  He didn’t know anything about the University of Arkansas when he came.  He said he was hitching a ride somewhere, anywhere, and the chicken truck he got a ride on stopped at Fayetteville.  Having no bags or personal belongings, he got off and found his way to the campus.  After wandering around for a few days, he decided to enroll...

This account of R.D.’s arrival does not square with the story told by George McGill (owner of the McGill Insurance Agency in Forth Smith) as part of his University of Arkansas-Ft. Smith commencement address on December 18, 2008. He said in his speech:
[When McGill went to Fayetteville to enroll in college, he] gave a ride to fellow freshman R.D. Rucker, who showed pride as he held an acceptance letter to the university. McGill saw the student struggle to make it, having only two changes of clothing and riding a bicycle through rain, sleet and snow for three years. McGill said Rucker went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree, becoming a writer, professor and assistant attorney general for the state of Texas. He said he shared Rucker’s story because he wanted the UA Fort Smith graduates to hold their diplomas with the same pride that Rucker had held his acceptance letter that day.
Both McGill and Morgan agreed that Rucker was poor.  According to Morgan:
During the three years Rucker was at the University, he claims he never had an address. He said he lived in a drainpipe for some time and sorority girls allowed him to sleep in their attics during very bad weather... (p. 177)
It is not known how Rucker survived financially. He never had enough to pay his bills and he frowned upon taking financial aid on grounds that it placed one in financial and psychological debt to the capitalists. (p. 177)
Also, both McGill and Morgan believed that Rucker was very intelligent.  Wrote Morgan:

What Rucker majored in is uncertain.  He studied anything he had a mind to, often showing up in science and mathematics classes to challenge  instructors in their own fields.  He didn’t have to be enrolled in a class to issue a challenge. He could cause a young instructor to turn gray with his penetrating questions and unarguable logic.  Mature teachers frequently turned over their lecterns to Rucker until the hour was finished. (p. 177)
Finally, Morgan summed up the Rucker legend like this:
The campus loved and feared R.D. Rucker, and he feared no one. He often  challenged the opinions of the highest ranking officials at the University. He would talk coldly about blowing up the Pentagon or Old Main as calmly as one might discuss the Pythagorean theorem. No public meeting was safe from disruption, for he would challenge any speaker on any point, regardless of the speaker’s status. (p. 178)
For all the remarks against the militant R.D. Rucker, no one who knew him ever accused him of being impolite. He was always gracious and generous.  His insights were always food for thought. (p. 178)
I don’t know how much of this legend is true. The part about accidentally finding himself on the UA campus most likely is not. While some of it squares with what I remember about R.D., other elements seem implausible. For example, a picture in the 1970 Razorback Yearbook shows that R.D. lived at least for a while in Hotz Hall. And, though he may have been “anti-capitalist,” a picture in the 1969 Razorback Yearbook showed that he was a member of the UA Young Republicans (YR) that year. (Of course, a YR membership then had a wholly different meaning than being a YR today. In 1969, the Republicans in Arkansas were the party of racial moderation and political change. In 1966, the Democratic candidate for governor had been Jim Johnson, a long-time segregationist. In 1968, his wife had come in second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. It is not surprising that a politically active African-American would be attracted to the party more inclined to espouse equal rights.)

Likely the stories about his financial difficulties are partially factual. He was the tenth child of Kirk and Demora Rucker, born in Swifton, Arkansas. His parents were not rich, and thus likely lacked the resources to pay for all of his college studies. (Family information is from the Newport Independent, February 13, 2004, "Black History Month Tribute to R.D. Rucker: a man who made a difference", available for purchase through the newspaper archive). However, his obituary (see below) stated that he received a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas.

Thinking back about R.D. and his legend, I decided to try to find out what had happened to him after he finished his three years at UA and left with a B.A. in history in the early 70s?

I found no information about his life for a few years after he left UA, but according to internet sources, he studied history at Columbia University from 1976 to 1978, then did post-graduate study in Moscow with an IREX fellowship. Based on his research at Columbia and in Moscow, he wrote an article that was published in the Journal of East European Thought (vol. 19, no. 3, 1979) titled "Abram Moiseevic Deborin: Weltanschauung and role in the development of Soviet philosophy." 

After he returned, he was a student at the University of Iowa, earning a Ph.D. in history in 1981. His dissertation was titled, The Making of the Russian Revolution: Revolutionaries, Workers and the Marxian Theory of Revolution.  

Following that, he studied law at the University of Texas, getting his law degree in 1985. With that degree, R.D. first worked as an assistant attorney general for a brief time, then was assistant district attorney in Waco and, afterward, a public defender in Wichita Falls. He moved to Dallas in 1988 and was a defense attorney there until his death. In the 1990s, he was three times an unsuccessful candidate for different judicial posts in Dallas and lost all three races.

R.D. self-published six books, which are still available through Amazon.  They are:

Abraham Lincoln’s Social and Political Thought,

Drugs, Drug Addiction, and Drug Dealing: The Origin and Nature of, and the Solution To, the American Drug Problem,

Eros and the Sexual Revolution,

Jesus Christ and the Origin of Christianity,

Marriage, Love, and the Family: An Investigation into the Role of the Black Woman in the African-American Family, and

Sweet Land of Liberty: A Poetical Journey Through America, 1996- 1998.

The fact that these books were self-published indicates that he or they likely were outside the mainstream of academic discourse. In the context of his 1998 candidacy for a judgeship in Dallas, the Dallas Observer savaged Rucker and his books, ridiculing his theories about the origin and nature of addictions and crime. The author of the nasty article called him a man “whose writings reveal him as one of the most sexist and racist candidates to come along in Dallas County, which has a long and not-so-distinguished history of putting such men in black robes.” 

On the other hand, a friend wrote on his blog that R.D. “was the smartest guy I have ever known and had a heart filled with compassion.” (The link no longer works.)

R.D. Marching in MLK Parade, 1969
R.D. was listed in the 2003 Who’s Who in America and the 11th edition of Who’s Who in American Law (2000-2001).

Sadly, R.D. died too young on August 13, 2003 at the age of 53.  No doubt until that day, he was still making life interesting for those around him.  

The following is his obituary, published in the Newport Independent:


Newport Independent (AR) - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Dr. R.D. Rucker, 53, died Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003 at his home in Dallas, Texas. he was born on Jan. 14, 1950 in Newport, the son of Curtis Kirk and Demore Rucker.

Dr. Rucker started his education at W,F. Branch High School in Newport.

Upon graduation, in 1968, he. was awarded the Win Rockefeller scholarship, for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

He continued his education at the University of Iowa, University of Moscow, Russia, Columbia University, and the University of Texas Law School. He held B.A., M.A., Ph.D., and J.D. Degrees.

Dr. Rucker was a former prosecutor, public defender, Assistant Texas Attorney General, and college professor of Russian history. He also was a guest lecturer and author of six books.

Dr. Rucker is survived by two sisters, Evelinea "Diane" Cunningham, and Polly Sanders-Peterson (Ray), all of Denver, Colo.; four brothers, Kirk Rucker of San Francisco, Calif., Curtis Rucker of Chicago, Ill., Willie Rucker of Newport, and Lucky Time Rucker of Minneapolis, Minn.; numerous nieces and nephews; and a sister-in-law, Dorothy Mae Williams Rucker of Newport.

Dr. Rucker was preceded in death by his parents; two sisters, Isabella Rucker and Elvett (Elva) Rucker Alcorn; and three brothers David, Therry and Raymond Rucker.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Fairmont Cemetery Mortuary Chapel in Denver, Colo.

Memorial may be made to the American Cancer Society.

Arrangements by Fairmont Cemetery Mortuary Chapel in Denver, Colo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

December 2, 1969: The Night We Drove Ole Dixie Down -- And Didn’t Even Know It

The Student Senate of the University of Arkansas voted on Tuesday, December 2, 1969 for a resolution recommending that the university’s band quit playing Dixie as a fight song at Razorback sporting events. The vote was 27 to 6. 

On Thursday, December 4, the head of the Arkansas’ band, Dr. Richard Worthington, announced that the band would quit playing Dixie.  According to him, his decision was prompted by the action of the Student Senate.  He said, “I will abide by the Student Senate’s decision....if the students do not want the band to play the song, the band will not do so.”

Northwest Arkansas Times, Dec. 4, 1969

I was a member of the Student Senate on the night we drove ole Dixie down.  But we didn’t know, really, what we had done. In truth, student senate resolutions -- outside a very narrow range of actions -- rarely affected what the university did and how it did it. The student senate certainly did not make policy for the university, but sometimes we expressed our views, even if we knew that they would likely have no influence. This time, much to our surprise, our resolution, according to Worthington, influenced a high profile university decision.

The student senate’s Dixie resolution came at a dicey time. A big football game with the Texas Longhorns was coming, and both teams were undefeated. Some commentators said the game, to be played in Fayetteville, was for the national championship. It was scheduled to be televised nationally, and rumors were floating that President Richard Nixon would be attending.

Northwest Arkansas Times, December 4, 1969 
The game -- with the local excitement and national prominence -- offered an opportunity for a couple of groups with grievances to have their voices heard. The first was a local group -- mostly African-American students -- who were unhappy with the racial situation at the University of Arkansas. Blacks made up a tiny percentage of the student body, and many felt mistreated individually and as a group. One example, they said, of the mistreatment was the tradition of playing Dixie as a fight song at university football games. The unhappy students, members of Black Americans for Democracy (BAD), wanted the playing of that song, which they considered racist, to be discontinued.

Another group was concerned with the Vietnam war. The group included students, faculty members, and locals. One of the main leaders of the anti-Vietnam group was a 1964 graduate of Fayetteville High School and Vietnam veteran, Don Donner. Another was UA physics professor, Art Hobson. The group’s plan for a "pro-peace" protest went into full gear when Nixon announced he would attend the game.

With the prominence of the game and guests, UA administrators feared that the protesters would interfere the game and detract from the university’s day of national prominence. The fears were heightened by the disruption of a university pep rally by some members of BAD. Also, some anti-Dixie students vowed to storm the field during the game if Dixie were played. 
Northwest Arkansas Times, Nov. 26, 1969

The UA student senate voted for the anti-Dixie resolution in the context of these tensions. It was an unlikely group to take a bold stand against on this issue. Only one student senator was black (Eddie Walker). The previous year George Lease, president of the Student Association, had appointed Gerald Jordan to be the first black student senator. A large proportion of the senators were elected by all-white sorority and fraternities. (As I recall, the senate seats were apportioned by giving each each sorority and fraternity a senate position, giving each university dormitory a seat or two, plus allotting a few seats to be elected by off-campus students.)  However, the president of the Student Association supported the resolution and, according to David Davies, one of her advisors, arranged for small group meetings with a couple of BAD members talking to one or two student senators. These meetings were held just before the December 2nd senate meeting.

Some people complained that the student senate passed the anti-Dixie resolution because it was intimidated by BAD. I disagree. I believe that the senate members were effectively lobbied by BAD and were persuaded by these small group conversations with BAD members that voting for the resolution was in the best interest of students.

(This issue and a resolution supporting the Vietnam Moratorium -- which came a couple of weeks earlier -- are the only student senate actions about which I remember being lobbied while a student senator. As I recall. the pro-moratorium resolution also passed.)

In truth, I think that most of us viewed the anti-Dixie resolution as a symbolic action that would express an opinion, but not change anything. Thus, it was seen as a low stakes vote on a resolution that generated intensity among one group of students, but not much interest among most them.

I voted for it for three reason.  First, I was convinced by the sincerity of and arguments against Dixie by the BAD students. Second, I could understand why the descendants of slaves viewed the song as, at best, insensitive, and, at worst, given the context of a football team that still had an all-white team on the field, as racist. Third, I never much liked Dixie nor understood what it had to do with the University of Arkansas. It certainly had no relevance for me with roots in the Ozark mountains.

The senate vote elicited some negative feedback, including letters to the editor and letters to university. I remember the student senate got an angry letter from John Norman Warnock, a long-time segregationist who had been a big deal when a student at the University of Arkansas (according to his biography). (See Warnock -- A Retrospective by R. W. Scott, Camark Press, Camden, Arkansas, 1987)

As the game approached, a strange shooting occurred on Friday night before the game, raising the concern of some black students for their safety.  Darryl Brown -- who had been a football team walk-on in 1964 -- was shot in the leg below the knee on a street at the edge of campus. He had little information he could provide police about the shooting. A spokesperson for BAD asked that the National Guard be sent to campus to protect black students.
Northwest Arkansas Times, Dec. 5, 1969

Despite the unexplained shooting incident (which attracted little newspaper attention), the game took place without major incident and had a memorable finish. The anti-Vietnam group conducted a peaceful vigil at a location, a hill overlooking the stadium, specified by the university. Dixie was not played. Anti-Dixie students did not interrupt the game.
President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Congressmen George Bush and John Paul Hammerschmidt, Arkansas Senators Fulbright and McClelland and many other dignitaries watched an exciting game won in the final minutes on a daring fourth down pass by the Texas team.

The game inspired a book, Horns, Hogs and Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie’s Last Stand by Terry Frei.  He called the game “Dixie’s last stand” because it was the last game played by all-white major football teams.  Also, a documentary, 1969 The Game of the Century, Texas Longhorns, was released in 2010.  Another documentary, The Big Shootout, is now being finalized (see http://bigshootout.com/the-big-shootout/ ).

A history of the University of Arkansas band describes the decision to quite playing Dixie as follows:
After a series of student-senate votes, a campus-wide referendum, and numerous confrontations of which a few turned violent, Dr. Worthington discontinued the band’s planning the song just prior to the Texas-Arkansas Great Shootout of 1969.
(The University of Arkansas Razorback Band: A History, 1874-2004, by T.T. Tyler Thompson)
In fact, a student referendum was held in the spring on whether the UA band should play Dixie. Students voted overwhelmingly (2010 for and 944 against) to resume playing Dixie.

The real explanation of what happened in December 1962 is likely that Worthington (with the assent of the UA leaders) used the student senate resolution to justify an action had he had wanted to take for some time: quit playing Dixie. The student senate resolution provide good cover for him to act, and likely, his action defused the potential for disruption of the biggest football game in Arkansas’ history and was an important step in making minority students feel welcome at the University of Arkansas.  After the pro-Dixie resolution passed, Worthington and his successors refused to start playing Dixie again.

<revised May 29, 2011>

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Merry Mat Moves to the Washington Territory: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Pioneer Tales, Arkansas Echo, November 10, 1893
Part 1

[This Pioneer Tale is about Merry Mät, a German immigrant in Arkansas who, after he settles in one place, has an urge to move to another. The first part of Mat's story is about his move from Arkansas to the Washington Territory, which, Mat has heard, is a paradise with easy living.  Much of the tale is in the form of a poem with rhyming couplets. The translation does not attempt to match the rhyme, but instead is intended to convey the meaning.]

Ad for handkerchiefs, Joe D Back & Bro., Little Rock

Who could not have known, at least in our county, Merry Mät, also known as the Primeval Poet. Mät was always a happy, merry brother, and he could not only use a lathe to carve all kinds of nice things, but he also knew how to carve verse in his spare time. Often this came out somewhat rough, and certainly his verse could hardly be compared with that of Schiller and other greats. Well, in truth, it was plain fare, and jolly Ernst Pope, then editor of the paper in Fort Smith that we were happy to have, the Volksblattes, was always ready to serve it up to his readers.

Mät was a carpenter, farmer, owner of a furniture store; he was agent for a half-dozen companies; and, lastly, he was a photographer. He wasn't too lucky with photographs because they didn't turn out too good.  Incidentally, he made good money in his various businesses and had a good and comfortable life.

Mät was affected by one weakness that never allowed him to really amount to much. This was a sickness that was, so to speak, in his blood. When he had settled in somewhere, he was immediately struck with a fever to travel, and he had to move. Then he would sell off and get rid of everything, and would take off to another region. In that way, he had moved twice out of Arkansas, but had always returned again.

So it happened the last time, a few years ago, that he got the fever to change, and he traveled away, this time to the Washington Territory, where in his opinion, he would find a real paradise. In reality, he found something different and, if he had been able to, would have immediately returned. For the pleasure of, perhaps, many readers, we want to present his journey here in verse:


Mät, who wanted to see the world again,
Wanted to go to Washington.
To Washington, the beautiful land
Where snow and ice are unknown.
Where there is plenty of wine and beer,
And honey has such an odor.
A person drinks milk there like water here.
There are no German-haters there.
The sun does not burn as hot
And therefore no one sweats.
Sure it rains, but not often for the fun of it,
Then follows continuous
Beautiful weather like never before
And forage for the beloved animals.
And money there is not as rare
as here.  All year long
There is money there like hay and straw.
It lies on the street like that there.

So Mr. Primeval had read one time.
Oh poor Mät, you poor man,
How one can miscalculate!

One day he pulled up stake
With his wife and kids, small and large.
Until he got to Kansas everything went well.
Mät was in a good mood.
Soon he had totally terrible troubles.
Someone stole all of his money.
It was annexed
Before Mät noticed it.
For good reason he scratched his head,
The beautiful money was gone!

And so it went, further on:
"What is that there? Over there? Everything is white, like snow
As far as I can see!
And cold with it. Ha! I am freezing.
I am going to believe soon that I have been cheated."

"A person says 'a' and it also means 'b.
I am sitting in it. Oh, my terrible pain!
When at last I reach Washington
(We are still in Oregon)
Then the snow will disappear again,
And I will find everything green there."

So our Primeval Poet comforted himself.
Good Mät! I feel sorry for you.

Finally he reached his goal
And he became very light-hearted.
But it is a dark, dim night,
And Mät, who does not pay any attention to that,
Jumps for joy out of the wagon,
Forgets the children and wife;
He jumps head first into the snow
Such that we can't see Primeval any more.
Well, well, screamed an enraged Mät,
"Where have I settled?"

"Is this really that beautiful land
Where snow and ice are unknown?
Not a beautiful area! Why, in truth,
Snow here does not, by God, appear to be rare!"

The next day he found out
That everything was humbug, a horror.
There was no trace of wine and beer
And eggs were only 50 cents;
Butter and honey, unknown.
"And that is what is called paradise?
For such a land, no, no thanks.
I believe Barb, we'll turn around.
O dear God, what terrible troubles,
Our last money is gone.
How can I be so silly
And fall into this hole?
What should poor me do now?
How Arkansas would laugh at me."
So it goes when a person must move
When he has it good at home.
Yes. When things are too good for a donkey,
The work goes to the Devil.

So it went for poor Mät
As he began the move.
Yes, dear Mät, I feel sorry for you.
Be shrewd and thrifty
And return home again.
And if everything here really isn't as it could be,
At least you don't fall into it.

[*The verses of this poem were written in simple couplets. The translation is intended to tell the story, but not to have the same rhyme or rhythm.]

That is how things went for Mät during his last move. Recently, things have been going better for him and he is settling in, at least until he lapses into his old mistakes. I wouldn't be surprised if he steers his rudder back to Arkansas.