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.]

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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.

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