Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That's the Way It's Done in Hungary: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Arkansas Echo
January 5, 1894




(This story is another pioneer tale published by the German-language newspaper, the Arkansas Echo, in early 1894.  It tells the story of Gottlieb, a German immigrant, who would not accept advice and thus had a difficult time in America. Gottlieb was welcomed by his Arkansas neighbors who helped him and his wife settle onto a farm in Logan County, but were later dismayed to learn that he was an atheist, anarchist, and malcontent; more than that, he would do things only his way then blame others when he failed. They were glad to see him leave the state to try his fortunes in Oklahoma.)

Program for the 1879 Festival of the
German Sengerbund, a Social Organization
for German Immigrants

A German Stranger Arrives and Tells His Story

In the early part of this year, it will be three years ago when a stranger came one evening — it had already grown dark — to our fence and said, "I am a foreigner, a German, and I would like to ask for accommodations for the night."

Since the man seemed to be quite orderly and proper, I took him with me into the house and told him that I would let him stay for the night. After he had eaten and drunk, he began to talk, and in an hour I knew his whole life's story, his plans, hopes, and dreams. Those were, in short, the following:

His name was Gottlieb and his profession was blacksmith. He was actually born a Tiroler, and he had learned the honorable blacksmith trade in his village. After his apprenticeship was finished, he traveled out of his home mountains, going to Vienna. While in this large city, he appears to have soon thrown his religion into the rubbish heap, admittedly something he did not tell me that night, but which he came out with later. He remained in Vienna until he became a soldier. He then went to Hungary, where he served out his time.

During this period, he became acquainted with a German girl whom he later took as his wife. In the meanwhile, he went to work in a large factory and saved 100 Gulden in a short time.  Then he set up his own business in the Romanian region, where the Austrian government had founded a new German colony.  There he worked as a blacksmith for Romanian farmers, and they, in return, worked his land. Gottlieb had nothing good to say for these people; they must have been obnoxious rogues and rascals. In fact, they must have made life there so sour for him that one day he sold out and moved to Bosnia, which Austria had just annexed. Here he settled again in a new German colony and began over again.

It appears that he went from the frying pan into the fire. In his new place, no piece of blacksmith equipment, no pigs in their sty were safe. And, as he had a dispute with a neighbor, and the neighbor wanted to kill him, he thought to himself, “Now is the time.”

He sold out again and intended to go further, into Turkey. In the meanwhile, a few brochures fell into his hands portraying the land and life in America in such alluring terms that our Gottlieb quickly resolved that, instead of migrating to Turkey, he would go to that Promise Land, America.
It certainly must have been his opinion that it was a real paradise where a person only had to reach over to pick up money and, what was most attractive, every new arrival received 160 acres, a complete homestead, entirely free of charge from the government, and the 160 acres he could select anywhere he liked it best.

So, dear Gottlieb, what more do you want? On to America.

Gottlieb Travels to America

He came, after much travel to and fro, at last to America, specifically to Philadelphia. From there he went to the large city of iron, Pittsburgh, where he could not fail, as a proper German blacksmith, to quickly find good, profitable work. There soon came his first disappointment! He could find no suitable work. For a couple of weeks, he had to do all kinds of small jobs in order to earn a little something. Then he tried working under the earth in a coal mine. He was tired of that in eight days, and decided to try things with the 160 acres.
But where would be the best place to do? He considered it carefully with his wife. Then a brochure about Arkansas fell into his hands. And it offered exactly what he wanted and was looking for. Therefore up, shake off the coal dust, and on to Arkansas.

So he came with his K├Ąthe and a small kid to Arkansas, to Little Rock. Here he was sent to the train station of the Fort Smith and Little Rock Railroad, and they advised him to go to Logan County. Thus, again further.  He would soon be on the dreamed-of 160 acres of land. But during his trip his enthusiasm cooled down significantly once he became aware that he had to buy the land there, though at a reasonable price.

He disembarked at Spadra and came over to Morrisons Bluff. From there, he went to St. Benedikt, since the best and cheapest land was supposed to be there. He had left his family for the time being at Morrisons Bluff, and it was on this trip where the night overtook him and he came to our fence.

Settling in Logan County

As he had told me, he intended to buy somewhere around here a piece of acceptable land, since he liked the area well, and there he would operate a blacksmith shop as well as farm. I advised him early in the evening against his plans to buy land, in that, I explained, it would be better for him at first to get to know the land and the people. He certainly could initially rent for a year. But, he didn't want to hear this; he wanted to have his own home. He still had $350 in cash, and expected to get everything he needed. Above all, he quickly developed so many plans that I was already afraid for the man's $350.

We then went to bed, and it suddenly came to me that among our neighbors an American wanted to sell out. So I went the next morning with still another neighbor to the American. Gottlieb liked the place so much that he would have bought it immediately. However, the American had changed his mind and didn’t want to sell. 

Thus, Gottlieb took off again, visited the cloister at St. Benedikt and the area around Paris, and came back more than two days later. He had not liked anything, he said, as much as her in Bummelloch. He wanted to pitch his tent here, either buying or renting. Since we neighbors had sympathy for the man, we decided to help, if possible.

Naturally it was the worst time of the whole year to buy or even rent something decent. But wait, there up the road on a fence, a notice was nailed up: Such and such farm is immediately available for rent very cheaply. That was something. So we went there.

The land was not the very best, it was rather wet, but still more than dry enough for a single man, and the rent was only $20. In addition, it had a house, garden, and small stables. Gottlieb liked it enough that he paid the $20, and had, at least for a year, a home. In addition, he also received the right of first refusal on the place, specifically 52 acres for a $100 payment on $300 total price. That certainly was not too high a price if the land was only halfway worth something. I didn’t know the boundaries of the place any longer, but Gottlieb was able to find them in a short time.

Then I took him and his wife to a store where he wanted to make some purchases. There I had some trouble with these people They liked everything and wanted to buy everything. And I soon had to hold them back by force, otherwise they would have bought out the whole store.
Also, Gottfried bought from an American who was moving all kinds of scrap, old dishes, an old iron; then everything could begin, that is, the farming and blacksmithing. He had in addition purchased blacksmithing tools and had set up a small blacksmith shop.

But first he had to buy a horse or donkey and a cow. We advised him that he should purchase a young donkey or horse. But we wanted to acquire a couple of oxen. We told him that would be bad here because corn and cotton have to be plowed with a horse.

"But what?" he said. In Hungary everything is cultivated with oxen, and I will soon teach the oxen to do that here. So he bought three or four times a pair of oxen, and the next day he was sorry and he didn’t go to pick them up. He did the same with the horses and donkeys until he bought a donkey from a neighbor for $90. The donkey was certainly no longer young, but was strong and gentle.

He bought a beautiful cow for $14, but weaned the calf from it immediately. That’s the way it is done in Hungary. 

The neighbors helped him in setting up the house, and still more.  One gave him an old oven, another molasses, still another meat, and so on.

Troubles for Gottlieb

Now these people could have been off to a good start if they would have taken sound advice. But Mr. Gottlieb knew more that everyone else; he knew how things were done in Hungary, and so it had to be done here also.

As he wanted to plant corn, we told him how he should do it. Instead of planting it crosswise, as it is usually done on rolling lad, he planted it in straight rows: that’s the way it is done in Hungary. As a result, the rows ran so crookedly through each other that afterwards a person could not make out the rows any more.

Then he took the double shovel and ploughed through the field in all directions. The result was that he ploughed up half of the corn or made it dry up. Then came the excuses about the wretched country. Everything dried up. In Hungary, everyone did just like he did, but there beautiful, heavy corn grows everywhere.

Soon the cow was not giving much milk, and the man had to reckon with a bad cow. When it came time to cut the oats, he began to feed his donkey with the green oats despite our frequent warnings that he should not feed it too much. "By no means," was the answer, "the old Krampe can take it alright." Then one morning the old Krampe didn’t want to stand anymore and croaked. Gottlieb was now really in trouble. He cursed and swore about the country, about Arkansas, and about America. He grumbled about God in Heaven, about the devil in hell, which were to him, after all, just empty fairy tales. 

Very specifically the neighbor who sold him old Krampe was targeted, as were the neighbors who had advised him to buy the donkey. Therefore it is not necessary to be surprised that they soon had taken everything back from him, and no one wanted any more to have anything to do with him.

The man was really bad off since his corn and cotton were not yet ready. Therefore many of the neighbors took pity once again and helped him finish the plowing for the two crops. However, the bitching did not stop, but became increasingly worse, and he revealed himself to be a true atheist and the purest anarchist. Therefore, I wanted nothing more to do with him, and forbid him entry into my house. But next day, he was back.

The neighbors, especially the Americans, were amused by the man when they saw him running about as follows: he wore a pair of extremely wide clumsy pants (Plumphosen), like a turtle, and a pair of shoes like dance shoes. Thus so, he ran around in mud and mire, and when cutting grass or mowing oats he had on his side, hanging on a thick belt, a big tin pot filled with water, which he used as a jug. With every step, it went bang, bang.

So slowly the summer passed and he did not know himself what he wanted. One day he would want to buy a new Krampe, the next day he was sorry to be here and wanted to leave this wretched country.

Gottlieb Tries Oklahoma and Returns

He wrote off to all corners of the world and received a mass of circulars and brochures until he came to the decision to go to a part of Oklahoma that was being opened and thus to take 160 acres of land.
One morning, three months before the time of the opening, after he had delivered his wife and children to a neighbor in a small old house, Gottlieb disappeared on his way to Oklahoma. He took seven dollars with him and he made it there soon, partly on foot and partly on a ship as a stowaway, where he insinuated himself with a man located on the border. Here he received board in return for doing housework for the wife.
The day of the land rush came and Gottlieb was, of course, there and took his 160 acres.  However, as he afterwards closely examined the land, he saw it was pure sand, a real desert.

"Thunder," he thought. "You don’t want that! There is better land in Arkansas." Then he left behind his property and again made his way homeward. One day, sick and half starved, he arrived home and was as tame as a dog. Due to our happiness that we again had our friend Gottlieb with us, that evening we gave him a magnificent chivaree or Katzenmusik, something that made him extraordinarily happy and for which he promised another barrel of beer. He could not yet describe everything that he undergone and what he had experienced among the Indians.

One day he wanted to travel a ways with a freight train and gave a Schwab, who wanted to be the brakeman on the train, a half dollar. Tired and fatigued, Gottlieb climbed onto a pile of sacks and slept. He slept comfortably there until the next morning, when he saw to his dismay that the car was at the same place on a side line and his half dollar was done. That d---ed Schwab!

Gottlieb was cured for some time and halfway satisfied; he even went one Sunday to Church. He went so far to say that there must be a God otherwise he would not have made it out of the wild land with his skin. He praised Arkansas and wanted again either to buy or rent.

Again Dissatisfied, Gottlieb Leaves Again for Good

The good intentions didn’t last long. As he again got warm and regained his strength, then the griping and complaining started again worse than ever.  He dawdled around awhile with the idea of inventing a cotton gin. And he soon had the thing finished, except for making it.

One day he took out again to seek work in a city He went to St. Louis. Soon he went on strike and moved on again here briefly, there briefly, until at last he finally returned to St. Louis. He worked there through the winter and sent money to his wife every once in a while. In the meanwhile, the poor wife starved and suffered with the small children from the cold here so badly that the neighbors had to take pity on them. At last our friend Gottlieb returned with the intention to again try the Land Rush in the Cherokee Strip which was supposed to soon take place.

He could still gripe and complain as earlier, but everything that he said at the time about Oklahoma had been forgotten. He waited until March, then sold his crumbs, bought an old wagon and a pair of oxen and took off one day without saying farewell to anyone. We wished to never see him again.
He had left behind another cow with two calves to be sold for him by a neighbor. Therefore he wrote a few times. He had trouble this time also. He had received no land and lay now like so many others, in the dirt.  What the people want to begin this winter, heaven only knows. We here are happy that we are free from the tramp since those who can’t take advice also cannot be helped.

(Translated by Dan Durning)

Monday, July 4, 2011

How Birch Bay Celebrates July 4th

The July 4th holiday is a big deal in Birch Bay. Its importance is magnified by the fact that Canada Day (a national holiday that is equivalent to July 4th) is on July 1st.  So, typically, second home owners and visitors travel from both north and south to come to this resort for the holidays.

Though usually a sleepy hamlet, Birch Bay becomes a full fledged seaside resort during the July 4th holidays. Vacationers flock to the C Shop, water slides and the state park. The walks on the tidal lands -- the low tides go way out -- are part of the fun, but the main attraction of July 4th is a truly anarchic fireworks display on the beaches  along Birch Bay Drive. 
Blaine July 4th Parade

A typical July 4th at Birch Bay includes, after a brisk oceanside or tidal land walk, a visit to Blaine to take part in some of its activities. Blaine is a small border town: from its main street (Peace Portal Drive), you can glance over the border to see what is happening in Canada. Usually a non-descript town with a shaky downtown, Blaine shines on July 4th. You can start the day there with a full pancake breakfast served at the Senior Center. Then you can walk downtown to hear a band play at the city's outdoor venue, visit booths selling local food and crafts, view the antique car display, or visit the library for a book sale. These things are located within a few steps of each other.

In the early afternoon, Blaine has an impressive community parade that, while lacking sophistication, is full of smiling costumed locals and their home-made floats, snazzy pimped out vehicles, and tail-wagging pets.  For some, the main attraction of this surprisingly long parade is the handfuls of candy thrown by parade participants. Kids and older candy aficionados' (such as me) can fill a plastic bag with these cavity-inducing treats.

After the parade, it is time to unload some money on one of the dozen-or-so fireworks stands in and about Birch Bay. These are professionally designed and operated businesses, selling the most sophisticated bangers and boomers allowed under state law.  They have little in common with the rickety wooden firework stands that I built for several years in Fayetteville (usually on 71 South, but a couple of times on Dickson, in a vacant lot next to the Episcopal Church). Then, teenagers dominated the business, earning a few summer bucks selling firecrackers, roman candles, spewing cones, and bottle rockets. Now, fireworks are big business.

It seems on July 4th that darkness will never fall on Birch Bay. The sun sets about 9:20 but dusk remains for a long time after that. On this day, darkness is important and eagerly awaited because hundreds of people have plopped down big bucks for fireworks and are waiting on the beach along Birch Bay Drive to shoot them off.  The shooters and watchers are scatted for two miles along the horseshoe shaped bay waiting for the dark.
Anarchic Fireworks begin along Birch Bay

As darkness comes, I usually am hoping that our neighbors, the herons who dine on the residents of Terrell Creek, know what is coming. Perhaps the older herons have told the youngsters to be prepared for the barrage of explosions and flashes soon to come.  They might say, "Now, I know it will be scary, but don't be afraid. No one is trying to kill us. If is gets too bad, just fly east, but be sure to fly high."

When darkness is almost here, some folks cannot wait a few more minutes and start to shoot off their rockets and candles. It's a bit of a waste because the effects are much less dramatic than they would have been a few minute later.
Finally, dark is here and D-Day is re-enacted as hundreds of people fire their Annihilators, Big Bad Venom Extravaganza, and Great Grizzlys over the Bay. It is truly anarchic: nothing is coordinated or synchronized. The lighting of every fuse is the decision of a person or group of persons, and that decision is unrelated to the decisions to light or not light fuses made by all of the other persons shooting fireworks that night. The effects are either a random, post-modern mess or an unscripted ballet, whichever way you choose to view it.
Fireworks where Terrell Creek flows into Birch Bay

The night is a spectacular mixture of explosions, shrill whistles, spewing fountains, and exploding starbursts, followed by moments of unplanned silence, broken by other rounds of lights and explosions. The randomness of it all creates some tension and excitement: you don't know whether to look north or south, and you don't know, when you looked south if you missed an even better display to the north.

The air fills with smoke. A walk along Birch Bay Drive shows the beach lined with people on blankets and chairs watching the display. The young kids are smiling with big eyes. The teenagers, wanting to get in on the action, are begging their parents for money or, having already shaken them down, are crossing the street to the nearest fireworks stand to buy the loudest, brightest things they can afford.

And so it goes for more than an hour.  By then, it is getting a little tedious.  But some folks don't care and are driven to keep shooting their rockets and making the noises they love.  A brief visit to the C Shop for some toffee, then you seek refuge inside your dwelling. Finally, the exploding fireworks pass the point where you want to stick your head out the window and yell, "Enough already."

Crowds along Birch Bay Drive watch the fireworks
At 5:30 a.m. the next day, when the dawn lights Birch Bay, the aftermath of the firework's orgy can be seen. The trash barrels are overflowing with empty firework's boxes. Most of the birds are gone, and the seagulls who have returned to their nests glare at you.