Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bill's Trip to the Market: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Arkansas Echo
January 19, 1894

As is well known, the immigrant upon his arrival in America was surprised more than anything else by the fact that here he had to pay 5¢ for a sip of beer or a cigar. That was usually above his means. He was used, over there, to getting his glass of beer (and, at that, twice as big) for a groschen and a cigar for 3 - 4 pfennigs.  But people get used to anything, especially Germans, and after he is in this land for awhile, he sees it all as entirely understandable.  Yea, yea, drinking and smoking cigars is a rather expensive thing here in America, and whoever wishes to do so must be well supplied with change.  Newcomers often are in the beginning, but they quickly halt such activities as beer and whiskey drink and cigar smoking.
Railroad Advertisement for Routes to 
Little Rock  and St. Joseph's Colony 
(a German settlement near Conway) 

Months are rare when a person does not think about these things, though they may permit themselves such luxuries only on special occasions. Then a person is not used to the stuff, and if he happens to accidently obtain some, he quickly feels the effects. Who really wants to throw a stone at such a poor Devil because of this? Not I, and not any reasonable person.

So one year, Bill with his wife skillfully managed their fruit and had dried a huge amount apples and peaches. One day, Bill loaded about 25 bushels of these on his wagon and traveled with them, and with his two boys, to the city in order to sell the fruit. The city was about 12 miles from his place. There, he soon had sold his wares, certainly at a better price than he had hoped. Then he bought all kinds of things: porcelain and earthen pots and bowls, coffee, beans, peas, and a hodge-podge of other things.

As he completed his business, Bill thought, it would not be a sin if he went to the inn and had a small one, which he then immediately did.  Here he met a few friends and acquaintances, and as it is the style here in America, they were treated several times to a drink, and so on.

Yes, that was a pleasurable time for Bill and because he, naturally, was not used to the stuff, he was soon tipsy.  But as soon as he sensed that, he stopped, harnessed up, climbed up with his boys and traveled away. Above all, it was time to go because he had a long journey and the sun was not still standing high in the sky.

As he came outside in the air, his head spun around like a wheel of a mill, but Bill pulled himself together, recovered his legs, and took off up the mountain. Outside of the town, there was a hill that was steep going up and coming down. Luckily he made it to the top, but on the way down, he forgot to apply the chain. He had, of course, an old fashioned wagon with a chain rather than brakes. Bill saw what he had done as the wagon was in full flight, and it naturally was too late to lock it.

Then the situation became critical, what everyone who has been in such a situation would understand.  At a racing speed, the wagon went down the mountain but everything would have been o.k. if down on the level ground, in the middle of the path, there had not stood a brazen tree stump that did not get out of the way. And the horses raced right at it despite the desperate effort by Bill to steer them away. All of a sudden, a crash; the box flew out with all of its contents, and the horses stood still, panting and trembling. And poor Bill with the small kids and all the stuff lay under the box. since it had immediately turned upside down.

In an instant, Bill is sober, as sober as a new born calf. With truly extraordinary strength, he raised up into the sky and threw the box down. And, Thank God, at least nothing had happened to his kids and himself. They were coming away with only a scare. And also the horses.

But it was all the worse that it appeared that nothing could be saved from the wagon and the beautiful things that Bill had bought. They all lay scattered about, and the dishes were in bits and pieces.

Bill had to scratch behind his ears; he did not know what he should do at that moment. Then he suddenly realizes that he would not be able to make it home with the busted wagon, at least not that day. As he now stands there and makes plans, he hears next to him a voice and sees a man who wants to take a look at the situation. "Bad thing," says he and offers to let him spend the night at his place. The man was a Frenchman and lived nearby on the path.

But Bill wanted nothing to do with it; he wanted only to get home, even if he had to ride. Luckily Bill knew a little broken French from school and the military, plus some English, and he made it understandable to the man that he wanted to ride on and return at dawn the next morning to fix his things.

All arguments from the man were of no use. Bill unhooked the horses. On one, he packed his kids and various other materials such as a pair of barrels and a few small packages; he sat on the other horse and went forth into the night.

Soon it grew dark. Fortunately, he could trust the horses. They would soon find their way home. He then had the time and leisure to think over his troubles in order to come up with a believable story that he would be able to present to his wife. He was, of course, entirely innocent in the story. The dumb, small Spitz (Pomeranian dog?) was  entirely to blame.

The horses trotted briskly onward and soon it was so dark that one could not see his hand in front of his face. The horses had to find their way about. After riding about 6 miles, there was a side path going left that he had to take.  And it seemed to Bill an eternity before this path would appear.

Then suddenly the horses make a turn, but not onto a path, but into the woods through a thick thicket.  Oho, says Bill, this isn't right, and his hat falls off. He jumps down and looks for it, but to no avail. He cannot find it. He climbs back on the horse, turns the horse around in order to get it back on the open path. But what is that?  He is sitting in the middle of shrubs and doesn't know right from left anymore.  After a long search, he locates the path again.

The horses don't want to go any further. But they must, and now Bill thinks to himself, I will be home in an hour.  An hour passes! Two pass, but still his fence doesn't come. Bill finally concludes that he is on the wrong track, and that it was no longer reasonable to think that he will make it home that night.

Now, Bill thinks, at the first opportunity I'll knock at the next house and stay there for the night. To the devil with this situation! (Der Kukuk soll die Wirthschaft holen).  And, at last, he sees in front of him in an opening what appeared to be a light. This is the place to stop, says Bill, and rides toward it. At the fence, he calls "halloh," at which a man comes out and asks him what he wants.

Remarkably, he recognizes the voice! And as he is able to see the man, Bill doesn't want to believe his eyes. It truly is the Frenchman by whose house the accident occurred.

"Sacre di blue," shouts Bill. I will not repeat what else he said. The Frenchman laughs and immediately recognizes him. How did his all happen? Bill doesn't know himself. The main thing is that he has to have a roof tonight for his poor small kids. More troubles: His hat is gone; he has lost a couple barrels and other packages, probably in the thicket.

It doesn't make any difference, Bill thinks. Tomorrow I have to look for all the stuff. He puts the horses in the stall, and in the meanwhile the wife has made a fire and put together a good supper. Afterwards, before anything else, the kids are put to bed. Then the well-living host gets a bottle of wine, and Bill soon feels alright again and thinks, tomorrow everything will be fine.

But Bill couldn't sleep much that night. He could not get out of his thoughts the expected punishing sermon that awaited him at home, even if he had to agree that he richly deserved it.

The next morning as soon as he could see, he was outside by his wagon. Oh misery! The shaft was broken as were several spokes and other small things. And his wares? None were still whole. Coffee, sugar, beans, peas mixed together in a heap. 

First Bill repaired the wagon with the help of the Frenchman. It went so well that he even hoped to get home with it. He borrowed a sack and put the whole mess in it. Then, after he ate breakfast, he harnessed up and traveled homeward with a heavy heart. On the way, he looked for his hat and the other things. Where are they? He couldn't find them.

So at last he made it home. How he was welcomed there, he has not told me. Things were so bad that it took him 14 days to sort the stuff in his sack. And later if Bill again went to sell apples or peaches, he was not alone. His wife accompanied him. 


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

Arkansas Echo, January 14, 1894

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