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steers, gelding, farmers, preachers, devil, anecdotes, Battalion Day, profanity
A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Steers: Anecdotes", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated April 12, 1952. Within, Dieffenbach details a number of anecdotal stories revolving around steers, including a practical joke played on a cattle dealer and an encounter with the devil.
Packet 577 a-204-19 to a-204-37
Frank Reedy, a well-to-do farmer of Marion Township, for whom I worked years ago as a farm-hand, told me that one time he employed a gelder to cut a fine yearling stud-colt. This gelder claimed that he never used any clamps on the severed arteries. He would pinch them with his nails, and then put on some salve. Frank said that a few days later he saw this colt being under a tree in the pasture-lot; he paid no attention, thinking it just wanted to stay in the shade. But he noticed that it only moved in a circle, and seemed to be in some trouble. So he quit work, and went down to the colt. He quickly got his stock-men’s knife out of his pocket, and cut the colt's jugular; it had its guts hanging out of the cut, and had them tangled and wound-up around a small sapling until it could hardly move any more. He did not mention the name of that gelder; but he told us that when he came around on his next trip he told him to quit murdering colts or he would murder him. The gelder was a stranger to these parts, he said, and he never showed up after Frank told him about the case above related. Frank was a good farmer, a fine man, and once he told you anything you could depend on 100% of it being true.
The following anecdote, while supposed to be true (and it actually could have happened) was told to me by my neighbor, Curtis Bashore, at that time Pres. of the Lions Club of Bethel, Pa. He could not give the name of the man nor where it happened; but he is generally known to be truthful, and said to me that he thinks it happened as related.
A farmer was on his way to town one night to be initiated as a member of the local Lions Club. This farmer happened to be an experienced gelder, of good repute. So, when he passed the home of a neighbor, the latter accosted him by yelling: “Shtupp mull! Ich will mitt deer schwetza!” (Stop once. I want to talk to you.) He said he had a few boar-pigs to cut, and would he do it for him. The gelder said he would be glad to do it, but not that trip, and mentioned his errand. Then the farmer said: “Ach, de shtinka net - de sin so sauver os meer selevert sin - de schneidta meer grawd”. (Ach, they don’t stink - they are as clean as we are - we’ll cut them at once.) They did; he gave the gelder a pair of overalls, and as he cut out the nuts, he put them in his coat pocket so as not to lose them in the straw. Being finished he removed the overalls, washed his hands at the near-by watering-trough and went to town. Now this Lions Club met in the upper room of a two-story school house. There were about twenty new members to be initiated, the Club just having been organized a short time before. So the room was too small and crowded to have all of the new members in for the initiation exercises at one time. After debating this matter the officials decided to have one half of them get their initiation, and then go out, and let the rest go in. The farmer was in the first bunch. While waiting his turn in the rear of the room, he put his hand into coat pocket and found he still had these pig’s nuts in his pocket. Not knowing where to put them (he was afraid some one would discover them) he slyly threw them out through the open transom above the door. There was an awful clattering noise outside, and then quiet. The first batch being through their ceremonies, the janitor opened the door to admit the other half of the new members or applicants. All he saw was a few shreds of something resembling meat or beans lying on the stairway; all the applicants had fled.
“Holdt! Shitt 's net weck!”
(Hold it! Don’t pour it away.)
The following tale used to be told by Monroe Groff, who had been a boy on a neighboring farm when he and my Dad were pals. He said that it happened so long ago that his father only knew from hearing it being told by older men.
A travelling preacher, a circuit-rider, was also as a matter of necessity, a gelder. One day he came riding to a farmer’s house, and was told to stay over night, and perform a marriage ceremony. One of the daughters was to be married, and they had waited on him for several weeks. The preacher told them that he could not have come any sooner as the river at some ford was too high from a local freshet; and he could not cross until a week later.
“Ya well; seel mocht nix ous” (Yes well, that makes no difference) said the farmer. “Do consht see ols nuch tsumma henka - de hen da gonsa tzeil-by-nonner gschlofa, un see hen now en bubble, now consht do sell awe dawfa.” (You can still hang ‘em together - they slept with each other all the time - now they have a baby several weeks old - now you can baptize that also.) The preacher said he was sorry, but that it did not matter - that such cases had happened before.
So the young couple, dressed in their Sunday-best, stood in the big front room, and the preacher performed the marriage ceremony. Then the farmer’s wife - “de haus-frau”, came and had a nice glass basin with water in it, for baptizing the baby. The parson performed the usual rites of christening the infant, and, being finished, he handed the basin back to the woman, who went towards the door to throw out the water. It was then that the preacher cried out to her: “Holdt. Shitt 's net weck.” (Hold it! Don’t throw it away.)
“Was iss now?” (What is now the matter) asked the astonished woman.
The preacher gave a wry smile and said: “'S iss en shondt fer 's tsu sawga. Ich bin bissel fergesslich.” (It is a shame to tell it - I am a bit forget full.)
“Usht doe des dawl druvva hovvich en evver gschnitta un ich hob my hendt nuch net gawesha - sie hen mer ken wosser gevva!” (Just up this valley I cut a boar, and I didn’t wash my hands yet - they gave me no water!)
When Woodrow Wilson was elected as the 28th Pres. of the United States in 1913, there was held an enormous feast at the old Brobst House in Rehrersburg, Berks Co., Pa. Two big fat steers were roasted or barbecued, and were served free, to the public. An enormous Liberty-pole was put up at the present site of the Fire Hall. It was 75 foot fall, and had a mule made of sheet-metal on the top of it, and also a new broom nailed on it. Thousands of men, women, and children thronged the streets of the little village to participate in this joyous event. I overheard one of the women serving the meat tell another one to: “Geb mull sellern glaina dort drivva en shtick flaish. 'S gookt so hungerida, un 's hut ennyhow seil aiva much ken Demagrawdischer ux helfa fressa - geb em en gost shtick!” (Give that child over there a piece of meat. It looks so hungry, and anyhow it never yet helped to eat a Democratic steer in all its life - give it a good piece.) She did. The woman that I overheard making the above remark was Mrs. Cyrus Lebo; she died the following night from a heart attack.
(At the Battalion)
Battalion-day used to be a wonderful occasion during the era when battalions were in fashion. I remember my grandfather and his cronies re-telling of how they rode to some distant town (it could have been Hamburg) and when they came there the land lord of the hotel asked them for any news about the big fat steer that was to have come from some place up their way, and had failed to arrive. They said they did not know of it, nor had they know of it before-hand, or they would have helped to bring it down. As they were all husky young men, and mounted on the best of horses, this innkeeper asked them to go on a reconnoitering trip and to see if they could find the over-due steer and its owner or driver. As my grandfather was the captain of the local militia at Millersburg, he was deputized to go along, and lead a squad of horsemen. They proceed westward, in the direction from which this man was to come driving a steer through the almost trackless forest. This was during the days of the Civil War between the North and the South so it must have been some time in the “sixties”.
At some undetermined spot in the forest close to what is now Shartlesville, they saw a number of turkey-buzzards circling in the air above the trees. When they neared the place they dismounted and tying the horses, they proceed on foot. They were horrified at what they found. A big riding horse gored to death, and almost devoured by the scavengers. A mad steer feeding on the herbage which the forest afforded, they found by tracking it from the spot where the horse had been killed. It charged them on sight, and was quickly killed by a rifle bullet through the heart. But the man was not found until sometime later. He had been seriously hurt but had managed to crawl away and had finally reached a creek where he drank, and later, while he tried to get another drink, he either died from loss of blood, or fell into the creek, and drowned. He lay partly in the water, when they found him, and he was dead. They rigged up two of their horses so they could move the body, and some of them took it home to a distant farm-house; and one of the party went back to the inn to report. My grandfather was the one to go back as he had to be with his company of men for drilling them.
I do not remember the name of the unlucky farmer; and it is almost a hopeless task to check on it, as so many of those old timers have passed on to a place where battalions and barbecues are unknown.
Ram gets new nuts or balls.
Jacob Ruth told this one to the writer. Jake was an old man - a farmer living near Host; he was a big husky chap, with a beard and wore a perpetual grin. He was from the Wernersville region and had been in Lancaster County as a young man. He was a good man and noted for his veracity.
Jake said that when he was working for a farmer in Lancaster County the farmer had a ram, and one day he had the ram cut - his testicles cut out. Sometime later they found out he had a new set of nuts. He had them cut out, and the ram just grew another set. This kept on, until the old ram was wearing his seventh set of nuts. Then the old farmer said: “Meer schneidta den nimmy efter; der oldt dunnerwetter will sie sickel net uff gevva. (We are not going to cut him any more. The old thunder weather won’t give up his balls anyway.)
Jacob Ruth really believed this. I don’t; I think that some abnormal growth resulted, by Nature trying to re-inforce the wound or severed tissues, and growing some kind of a tumorous growth, which they mistook for a new set of sexual organs.
Fifteen years ago, while living on a farm belonging to Elkaton Herb of Wernersville, and located between Host and Cross Keys Hotel, I had four purebred Jersey calves. Once it was warm we had them running loose so they could clean up the yard. After about a week we noticed that the little bull was getting thin and sickly looking; he would eat, but got worse; he could hardly stand alone. And then we found the cause of all that had caused him to lag behind.
These calves had been sucking the balls of the bull until he got so weak he almost fell over. So we did the obvious thing - separated him from the others; we simply opened the gate and chased him outside, feeling sure that he would not run off. He did not - not by a long shot; he backed his rear end up against that woven wire fence and let those calves do it all over again. We tied him to a tree so the others could not reach him; and then he recovered. This would have been a case for a psychologist.
Dan Holtzman’s Roan Steer.
Dan Holtzman was a cattle-driver and dealer. He lived east of and adjacent to the town of Millersburg when this happened. He was in the cattle business practically all his life, was a very shrewd and crafty chap, and occasionally, when a bit under the influence, he would brag that he had never been cheated in a deal. Finally he got so obsessed with the idea that he imagined nobody could cheat or hood-wink him.
One day a man from quite a distance came to Dan’s place and told him that he would like to buy ten big roan steers, to put in a stable to fatten them. Dan had a few mixed in with the rest he had on hand. The man said if he could get ten like these within a few weeks time he would buy them for a certain price they agreed on. The man left; he had convinced Dan as to his financial standing and had been properly identified. Dan naturally thought that in the ordinary course of business he could secure the rest of the roan steers. But search as he would he had only secured a few in several weeks time.
This all happened long ago, before cattle were shipped, and the veteran dealer had to depend on the home-raised product. He found two more fine roan steers by the end of the week; but he was still one short of the required number. And now enters the clown or joker.
The old cattle man got a postal-card mailed at Lebanon, about 14 miles distant, saying that the writer had a very fine roan steer; that he had heard of Dan’s predicament from a friend of his and thought he would write and tell him. The card concluded its message by saying that Dan should call in the evening, as nobody would be home in the daytime.
Old Dan drove up in his buggy; he came there at dusk. The farmer was at home, and showed Dan a big roan steer, a very fine one, in a box stall, all by itself. He had a sooty lantern, and they did not see very well in that gloomy stall. Dan, who was an expert at guessing the live weight of cattle on the hoof, told the farmer he would pay him so and so much in a lump sum for that roan steer, and the man agreed.
The old drover’s suspicions should already have been aroused, since he would have gypped the farmer of about 500 lbs in weight. But as it was half dark he thought he himself might be mistaken in the actual weight; and if he was - well he had to have the steer to fill the order.
“Un wile er so shay sheckich un fei dipplich iss don gevvich deer fuftsich dawler. Ich hob in mein laiva ken so en roon - ux cot.“ (And because he is spotted so nice, and the pretty fine ticking and speckles, I’ll give you fifty dollars. I never had a steer like him.)
“Ich bin shure fur sellein,” (I am sure of that) the farmer said, and slapped the dealer on the back. The deal was concluded by Dan forking over $50.00 and the man gave him a strong leather halter and helped to tie the steer to the rear of the buggy. He had a boy along to drive the horse, and they started for Millersburg about twenty miles to the East, as this was on a farm near Annville.
The steer followed the buggy, and Dan could ride some of the way. When there were cows in a field alongside the road he had to walk for a mile until the steer quieted down. But all they could do was go at a walk.
At the Mt. Zion hotel, it being still open for business, they stopped for refreshment, when the landlord, who knew Dan, asked him why he was out so late, he told him; the man back of the bar laughed he almost split. When Dan asked why he was so jolly he replied he had just thought of a very good joke, and he would tell Dan whenever he dropped in again; he burst into another un-controllable fit of laughter. The quartette left - a man -a boy - a horse, and a steer; and what a steer?
They arrived home safe, but late and very tired. The steer was put in a stable, and fed. Early the next morning the old cowman went out to admire his purchase of the night before. He opened the door and entered the stable.
“Wos gate awe? Wos der deyfel - so gebt's nix!“ (What goes on? What the devil - it gives nothing like this) he said.
En roon-ux in der shtoll om holb-nacht, un der naigscht morya iss der ux rode - dunner-wetter nuch a mohl! Hen see mich now mull gricht?“ (Put a roan steer in the stable at midnight; and next morning the ox is red - thunderation once again - did they finally get me?) And they had.
“They” were a bunch of cattle-dealers; the one who wanted to buy was from Lancaster County, and he really would have wanted them for what kind of a dealer wouldn’t? But the farmer selling the steer was another cattle dealer of near Annville, and a very good friend of the farmer. Knowing of the vain boasting of old Dan, and of his being gullible enough to fall for it, they had conspired to “get him” at any cost to themselves. So the farmer took a nice red steer, put it in the box-stall and sprinkled it with white wash; to one bucket had been added red paint giving it a pinkish tint and the other had indigo in it. Old Dan Holtzman would never tell of this unless someone who knew of it, would bring it up. The he would tell it, and wind up by shame-facedly remarking: “Mer maint ferdommt sei net os es sei kunst? So en oldter ux pschissa worra mitt bissel weissel!” (I’ll be damned, one thinks it couldn’t be - such an old ox getting cheated with a bit of white-wash!)
“Dem Ux sei Leicht.“
(The Ox’s Funeral.)
Whether the following tale is superstition, black-magic, witchcraft, or call it what you will - it was told to me by an old man while working at the Indiantown-Gap Military Encampment about 15 years ago. I do not remember his name, that is, I am not sure was it Gessler, Chessler, or Chester - sounded like any one of the three. He had formerly been living close to the “Camp”, and hearing of the good money to be made he came back - “just for a few months”, he told me; “no kenna meer’s mocha fer ivver der Winter -Ich un de Mein.” (Then we can make it over winter - I and mom.) He was a little stooped-over chap with a big quid of chewing tobacco, a perpetual lop-sided grin, and I never once saw him shaved nor wearing a clean shirt. But he was clean in his talk - no dirty stories, but he could out-swear any man on the whole area. Least-ways the Irish foreman said one day that if he had a million he would give it all to the little old guy for life, to do the cussing for him. He had several fingers of his left hand missing.
He said: “Ya des iss so ferdommt sei wohr os Ich doe hucka do.“ (Yes, I’ll be damned, this is as true as I am sitting here. He said there had been a farmer and a timber man in that section in the long ago days when oxen were used to drag logs. And this farmer had thousands of acres of timber and he went into a partnership with this timberman-: “Nay, Ich hob NET gsawdt lumbermann, un awe net sake-miller.” (No, I did NOT say lumber-dealer nor saw-miller).
Greits-dunner-uns guirtter bitch! Harrich duch mull un bloff net immer datsu nei!“ (Christ thunder and lightning bitch! Listen once and don’t always blab into my conversation)
Then he told of the immense ox this wood-cutter had to drag the logs down from the mountain to the Swatara Creek, where they would pile them up until a spring freshet would cause a flood and they would then raft them down-stream to a big sawmill at Hummelstown. When I personally asked him if he did not confuse a local character with Paul Bunyan and his blue ox in the fabulous tales around the lumber camps in Michigan he replied: “Un musht do dei Gott fer dommter riesel now awe nuch nei henka? Bleib hause un harrich.” (And must you God-damned fool now also stick your snout in? Keep out of it and listen.) I did. He told of the millions of feet of lumber that were sawed from the logs cut by that one man, and dragged by one ox down the side of the mountain to the river; there a boy would unhook the chain and the ox would go back all by itself for the next load. Years and years this went on. And then the ox got scared one day. He ran off, and fell over some big rocks and broke his neck. There the woodsman found him and he went down the mountain and sent the boy to tell the farmer to come up. When he came back to the dead ox he saw some bloody tracks on the rocks that he had not seen in the first place; they looked more like a cow’s tracks than the ox’s for he had very big hooves. And it also seemed to him that the body had been moved or had changed its former position. The head of the dead ox was now at the edge of a cliff and it had been lying flat in the center of a big rock.
“Doe iss by en deyfel eppes letts,” (here by the devil, something is wrong) said the wood cutter and at that instant he heard a cackling laughter back of him. Hastily turning around he saw the hooves and tail of some cow like creature vanish around a big rock.
“Ho als der dunnerwetter, Ich glaw os sell der oldt deyfel selwert wawr.“ (Does the thunder weather fetch it, I believe that was the old devil himself). Another peal of cackling laughter, and up came a black head with horns, from behind a big rock.
“Coom rous, do oldter deyfel do. Ich geb nix um dich! Do doosht meer nix udder do hettsht mich shundt luug koalt.” (Come out, you old devil you, I don’t care about you. You do nothing to me or you would have fetched me long already). There the devil came and sat on a rock, and began to talk to the wood cutter in good old Pennsylvania Dutch.
“Ei, schwettscht do net hoals der deyfel awe Deitsch.“ (Why, does or may the devil fetch it, if you don’t talk Dutch too.)
“Ya, ich du. Won Ich net date don kent Ich see net greega. Owver sawg do nimmy hoals der deyfel udder Ich hoals.“ (Yes I do. If I didn’t then I couldn’t get the Dutchmen. But don’t you ever again say - may the devil fetch it or I will). So spoke the devil to the wood cutter. He then said how he came along on his way to scare a woodcutter living near, who would not work but just hang onto his bottle; he was going to scare him and get him to working and then this big ox saw him, and fell and broke his neck.
By that time the farmer arrived on the scene; he was speechless when he saw the chap with horns, and a tail. The devil said to him: “Farricht dich net waya meer Ich wawr shuudt uft by deer un hob deer nix gadoo. Watch do de bicher-ait chent, der huckshter, un der Porra; no bisht do oll recht.” (Don’t be afraid of me. I have often been close to you and didn’t hurt you. Watch the book-agents, the huckster and the preacher, then you are all right.)
The owner of the dead ox said he wanted to hold a funeral for the ox - he had been so good and true and such a faithful and untiring worker. The farmer told him he could not do such a thing - the people in the community would not allow it. The devil said that they might, seeing that he also was connected with it. Finally they agreed to roll big rocks on the dead ox, so the buzzards and foxes could not get at him. When they were agreed to do so, the devil said to the wood cutter: “Are you ready to bury him?” “Yes I am!” “Then get out of the way!” The wood cutter went away and the devil gave one shrill whistle and there were hordes of other devils rolling rocks upon that dead ox until it was just one big pile of rocks.
There was a loud report, and all had vanished into thin air. The farmer and the wood cutter went home. Later the wood cutter remembered that he had left his axe, and a very good one, up on the mountain. As it was bright moonlight and he was never afraid of anything he started to fetch the axe. As he neared the rock pile covering the dead ox he heard fiddles squeaking, he could see flashing forms in the moonlight and, as he came closer, he saw the old devil and a number of young ones playing fiddles and hordes of other forms, some black, some white, some with two legs and some with four, all skipping and dancing over the grave of the dead ox.
Here the old story-teller let off another bucket-full of profanity. He insisted that he could find the rock pile “Owver wos botts” (But what does it help.)
“Der Aurem Ux iss dote; sei gnusha sin ferfoult; un selly felsa sin tsu gross fer so kerls wo meer see rum tsu rulla.” (The poor ox is dead; his bones are rotted, and the rocks are much too big for us wee fellers to roll them over.)
When I once more wanted to tell him of the similarity of his tale to those of Bunyan, he yelled: “Sei duch mull rooich fun sellem ferloagna hell-deivel. Des doe iss wohr.” (Keep still once about that lying hell-devil - this tale is true).
Several old men from the region of Ono, Green Point and Outwood, Lickdale and Jonestown have admitted to having hear rumors of some fragments of similar occurrences, in their younger days. But not a single soul will know of the entire tale as above related. Could the little chap with the big chew and the marvelous flow of profanity have been the old Nick himself? I, for one, am not going to commit myself.
Der Aldt Bauer.
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Steers: Anecdotes, April 12, 1952" (1952). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 148.
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