Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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) 

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