Thursday, September 8, 2011

How One Can Lose One's Way in the Primeval Forest: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Arkansas Echo
January 12, 1894

(Note the following is one of a series of Pioneer Tales published during 1893 and 1984 in the Arkansas Echo, a German-language newspaper in the Little Rock. See the information following this Pioneer Tale for information about them and what has been posted so far. This story is about the difficulty of negotiating the thick forests of Arkansas.) 

"What?" many of you will ask. "Are there still primeval forests in Arkansas?"

Yes, certainly, dear reader. Although there are no Brazilian or even African jungles through which a person must carve out a path with an ax. Still, there are enough woods left that it is not an impossibility occasionally, without being a little tipsy or hung over, to become completely lost in them.

Dr. Van Vleck in Jackson, Michigan has medicine
to help with hemorrhoids

Old Lady Sting could tell a story about that. She lived, of course, with old Kobes right in the middle of the woods and knew the paths and roads around there like the back of her hand.

One day she had been to town and afterwards cheerfully took off for home. Remarkably, the path appears to her to be terribly long, and it absolutely will not come to an end. She finally becomes suspicious and observes that she has clearly lost her way. However, she goes untiringly forward, since eventually she must come to a fence or house.

And soon she in fact sees a fence and a house. "Hello," calls Frau Sting, as an old man comes out onto the porch. "Tell me, good man, where I am; I have been lost,"

"Old lady, look," he responded. "Don't you know your own house and husband anymore?" 

A light comes on in Frau Sting's head, and she sees she is actually standing by her own fence and that the old man is her own husband, Kobes. Strange, she mutters, and goes, ashamed, into the house.

Another story happened to me. Once I wanted to make a keg of beer, and therefore to sow a patch of barley. I heard that a German living eight miles from me had barley seed to sell. I got the directions there described exactly to me. First, straight ahead, then turn right, then left, then right again, and so on.

One day I took my horse and a bag and left on that trail. As long as we went on the wide road everything was fine. But when the fork in the road came, I was truly in doubt whether to turn left or right. But that was quickly decided: I flipped a coat button -- what in such cases is always very useful -- and the button said "right". So, right I go into the woods.

But now the woods turned into a true virgin forest. And I had ridden for a good hour, but still no fence, no house. Then at last it went up a rather steep hill. And arriving on top, I could see no house, but before me lay a magnificent panorama, a splendid view for miles over the river valley. But I did not want anything to do with such beauties of nature today, I wanted to reach my barley man. Therefore, return and on with the search. And again I travelled mile after mile, but still I did not come out of the wilderness. Then, at last, I am again on top of a hill, and as I look around, there, O Horror! I am approximately at the same place I was earlier. Now it became a little uncomfortable for me, since it was still a good way until I would reach my destination.

And then my tummy growled wretchedly, something that certainly is not a pleasant feeling. O.K. once again return, but this time, I do not turn right, but left. And again, I rode mile after mile and I made a plan, where I would quarter myself during the coming night.

Then, thank God, at last a fence, a house. At my questioning, the man gave me the comforting news that I am at the sought after destination with the long sought barley man.

After I had quickly strengthened myself with food and drink and had obtained the barley, I took off for house and I arrived, on a dark night and totally without hindrance, again happily to my mother.

In those two cases, everything turned out  o.k. It went differently for a young boy who on a December afternoon went to look for cows, which people here let run free in the woods year in and year out. If they do not come home on their own in the afternoon, they had to be fetched.

The youth couldn't find the animals this time, and the cowbells that otherwise would point the way were not to be heard. And he had in the morning noted which direction they had taken. During his ramble through the woods, it had become fully night, and he wanted to go home. He had just gone over a path and wanted to return on it. But the path was no longer there. Very astonished, he stood still, and then it occurred to him that the path lay to the right, so he went right. But he came to a creek where he had never been before.

Now he begins to call and believes he hears an answer, and goes in that direction; in the meanwhile, he calls again, but gets no answer. He is now standing in the dark woods and doesn't know where from or where to. Fortunately, he has some matches in his bag. At the base of an overturned fir tree, he builds a fire and lays hungry and tired next to it, and thinks.

The fir tree has caught fire, so he does not need to worry about wood. He rakes together near the fire as many fir needles as he can reach and lays himself on the straw. As he has just fallen asleep, someone grabs his shoulder, and he jumps up, startled.

"Boy," says his father. Why didn't you come home?"

"Yes," says the boy. "Where the heck am I? I got lost and didn't know where to go, therefore I wanted to camp here."

"You blockhead," the old man flew off.  "You aren't even a hundred steps away from our fence. I saw the fire from my bed and wanted to know what was going on here. But that you could have been lost, I wouldn't have dreamed. We thought you were away somewhere."

It was one a.m., as he, frozen through, came home. The cows had arrived just as he had left.

Introduction to the Pioneer Tales

This pioneer tale is one in a series published in 1893 and 1894 by the Arkansas Echo, a German-language newspaper in Little Rock. The stories are intended to show the challenges and adventures facing German immigrants when they came to settle in Arkansas. So far, the following posts have introduced the Pioneer Tales and provided translations of several of them:

Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants (background of the newspaper series)

Arkansas Echo, November 3, 1893

Arkansas Echo, November 10, 1893

Arkansas EchoNovember 17, 1893

Arkansas Echo, December 1, 1893

Arkansas EchoDecember 8, 1893

Arkansas Echo, December 22, 1893

Arkansas EchoDecember 29, 1893

Arkansas EchoJanuary 5, 1894

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