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swine, butchering, boar, Himmels-brief, pig-chase, breeding


A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Swine", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated September 1, 1952. Within, Dieffenbach details various anecdotes concerning breeding practices, pig-chases, hog raffles, butchering and more.

Corresponds to:

Packet 577 a-201-1 to 577 a-201-15



Hogs, as a rule, are very prolific; and the increase will add up to a million in a short time. Taking only a very small litter of six as an average, and assuming that one half of them are females and that each and every sow produces two litters in a year; if all the females are kept for breeding purposes, and each produce six gilts annually, at the end of ten years the herd will number 380,646,357 sows; plus the 108,756,102 boar-pigs unsold at the end of the 10th-year, or a grand total of 489,402,459 hogs, not counting the hundreds of thousands of boars continuously in service. A vigorous boar, in his prime, will serve from forty to fifty sows.

These figures illustrate how the hogs of a community would increase when their owners let them run wild in the forests long ago.

My grandmother would tell of how a man and his child were chased and attacked by a herd of wild hogs on a dark night, and of how they were both killed and devoured by the enraged porkers.

I remember how she used to relate of the time when her grandfather, George Holtzman was on his way home one night, and met a savage old boar in the midst of a deep dark hollow. He was mounted on a good horse - a fox-hunter, but was afraid that in the dark forest the horse might fall over a stump or log and break a leg, if he tried to out-run the boar. So he got off the horse and tried to beat the mad brute away with his riding-crop. It was only a matter of a few minutes until the big old boar snatched the whip out of his hands, and the poor man had but one course left - he went up a tree, and the horse cantered home.

When the farmer did not show up that night, his family knew that he must have met with some mis-hap, and following the horses tracks, they soon found him up in a big beech-tree, yelling and swearing at all the hogs in creation, while underneath the tree was a gigantic old boar doing his best to chew the trunk off at its base, or uproot it. They could not chase it away, so one of them shot and killed it.

That particular dell is to this day called: “des evver-dawl”- (the boar’s hollow) and many a belated country swain, on his homeward way, would hesitate to pass through it on a dark, foggy night.

The old man - my great-great-grandfather, had a heavy belt made from the hide of that beast; and it had a heavy hand-wrought buckle of solid silver, and was prized very highly by him. But one night the old house burned down, and the family lost all their cherished possessions.

She (my grandmother) would cry when she spoke of the beautiful curly-maple high-boy, the secretary of apple-wood, a Dutch cupboard filled with china, lustreware, and valuable glass and heir-looms.

The writer has in his possession a “Himmel’s-brief”, that has been in the family for countless generations; and strange as it may seem to the credulous, there is not a single instance or record where the owner or possessor of this document has ever been “burnt out”, or lost his home, or his household goods by fire. To my knowledge none in the entire “freindschofft” has ever had a serious fire at any time. I am now quoting the Dieffenbachs - not the Holtzmans.

“Sei-schpeck uff em foos!“ (Bacon on the hoof!) my grandfather used to say, when looking at some nice fat hog. The name: “gedarrt flaisch”- (dried meat) did not just signify what is now-a-days called “dried-beef” or “dry-beef”; that term would be irrelevant while discussing swine, and any product derived from their slaughter, as food.

But in their time the old folks would cut up a hog’s carcass in the following manner at butchering time: one cut was made cross-wise in front of the hip-bone, thus forming the ham - “der hinner-shunka”. The next cut was back of the shoulder, and separated the “fetter-shunka” (shoulder) from the rest of the body; and the resulting piece, or what was left of that half of the hog - a rectangular piece weighing up to 150 lbs., was salted and smoked in its entirety, and then hung in a dark room or closet. Here, whenever she needed some, the haus-frau (house-wife) would cut off all she wanted for immediate use - bacon, for frying potatoes, mush, or eggs; a piece of “rick-maisel-flaisch”- (back-bone) for sauer-kraut, or a hunk of “sei-ribba”- (spare-ribs) for “schnitz-un-gnepp”- (dried apples and dumplings).

The Germans, to this day, call it: “darr-flaisch”- (dry-meat).

Any hog, if left the run of the woods, and being pursued by dogs, will go to the nearest creek, wade into it, and then stop, and urinate, and then pass on. The hounds, coming along some time later, will then be baffled by the smell of her urine, and while they are running around in circles, the much maligned hog - “de dumm sow”- (the dumb hog) will calmly proceed on her way. Many a ponderous porker changed hands at the old-timer’s shooting-match, or raffle - “shutten” or “shuttle-metsch” (shooting-match) and “hussel-metsch”. Usually a fat bull weighing a ton or more (usually less) would be given for the highest score; and a fat hog, often an old barrow - “en schtagg”, would be given for second prize.

I remember when an old man who used to work for my Dad, won such a hog in a raffle. He lived in a tenant-house on a neighboring farm; and not being equipped to slaughter such a big hog, he engaged Dad to kill the hog, and cut it up in our butcher-shop.

This hog was, what in butcher’s parlance is called a “stag”- one that had been used as a breeder’s-boar for a number of years, and was then gelded - “gschnitta”, and later fattened for market. At that time hogs were cheap, and the best ones sold for 6 cts. a lb., dressed, and such an old specimen like Frank Long had won at the raffle would go begging for a buyer, at 3 to 3 ½ cts. a pound.

“Ya! Ich hob en ferdommt wulfel grickt - ich hob goot gadoo! (Yes, I got him damned cheap - I did real well) Frank would say. “So en grossy fetty sow; un see kusht mich usht a fartel-dawler!“ (Such a great big fat hog - and she only cost me a quarter dollar.)

But once the hog was cleaned and was being cut open, then Frank sang a different tune. Dad could hardly cut it open to take out the insides - “de sow ous-nemma”; the skin, (or hide I should call it) was so thick and tough that it could hardly be cut with a knife. And on the back it could not be cut with a knife, but with an axe. That hog’s skin on the back was all of an inch thick, and almost black from the bristles going deep into it. The meat was very coarse and also very dark colored - it resembled beef more than pork. And fat, for rendering it into lard - well there just wasn’t much of it to be seen.

“Ya well! Wos der deivel consht do awe egschpeckta fer en fartel-dawler?“ (Yes well! What the devil can one expect for a quarter dollar?) old Frank would repeat, time and again. He had brought a quart of whiskey along to celebrate the event. This, when supplemented with some of Dad’s “corn-squeezins” and elder-berry wine, finally produced results much like the seven loaves and seven fishes. Everybody drank, and everybody was happy, because he had such a big fat hog.

Along in the afternoon Frank started to weigh the different cuts, and to figure out how much each one would cost if he had bought it at the meat-market. Some he could not weigh on our butcher’s scales, so he guessed the weight; and by the time he had it all weighed and estimated, he was too much under the influence to add it all up. He did not have his glasses along for fear of breaking them; and he couldn’t distinguish between a four and a seven.

“Ya, ich con saina os es en grawdter tsiffer iss!“ (Yes, I can see that it is a straight figure) “De sexter un de ochter selly gooka rundt!” (The sixes and eights look round.) “Un waar will sich dow der kupp fer-reissa waya so ra fartel-dawler-sow?“ (And who wants to bust his head because of a twenty-five-cent-hog?)

On New Years Day there usually was a shooting-match in town, at the hotel. But one year that I will always remember, there was a pig-chase. A nice shoat was liberated and whoever caught that shoat, and held it so it did not get away from him - he owned that shoat. You had nothing to pay - no tickets to buy - just catch the pig, and she is yours; only the pig had been shaved all over, and then greased. At first I had not intended to participate, as I did not care to get all mussed up, so I just stood and watched the rest trying to catch that pig. At least a dozen men and boys had caught it, but couldn’t hold on to it; they all grabbed it by an ear or a leg; but they lost their grip - it was too greasy.

Like old Frank Long, I was silently trying to figure how much the shoat was worth, or what the loss or damage would be to my clothes. All of a sudden that pig came across the lot like a bullet and headed straight for my corner. I braced myself, and when close enough I flopped down on my belly on top of it, and grabbed it with both arms around its belly, and squeezed all I could; it ceased to struggle, and I finally got to my feet. I was one mass of mud all over, but I still had the pig.

Once I had it at home I put it in a bag with holes for its feet to come through; the bag kept it warm, and soon it was growing a new set of bristles. Whenever I would tease old Frank about my hog being cheaper than his, because I did not have to pay any money to win it, and his having been so old and so tough - then he would retaliate, saying: “Ya! Deiney wawr welfler uff en wake! Usht do husht see ei wickla missa, un see feedera, un gross treega, un see meshta. Un won meiney awe bissel belsich waur, mer beisst usht bissel hardter druff, no con maer’s fei greega!“ (Yes, yours was cheaper, in a way! But you had to wrap it up, and feed it, and raise it, and then fatten it. And if mine is a bit tough, one just bites so much harder, and one can chew it all up.)

On Thanksgiving Day, or Christmas, or on New Years, a fat pig would be served whole; it was barbecued, and filled with a stuffing - “filsel”, made of mashed potatoes, (or diced) onions, bread, sausages, etc. It had a nice red apple in its mouth when served, lying on a big platter.

At old Jacob Groff’s I helped to eat one on a Christmas day; and it must have weighed all of forty pounds; and was it good? I can still remember the tang of old Jake’s cider that we used to wash it down with; and although some sixty years have gone by since that festive day, I have not tasted the likes of it yet.

Since time immemorial the hog has been the poor man’s main-stay; it requires so little care; and while not demanding in its living quarters, it will forage for itself during the long Summer months, and come back in the Fall of the year with a squealing horde of her progeny following in her wake.

A good fat hog will dress out to some seventy, up to eighty percent of its live weight. A chester white will always be running to a lot of fat; and in the sty and in the show ring they will show every tiny speak of dirt.

“Never hit a hog on the snout with a club!”, is what old Levi Donkel used to say, “It will paralyze the “big nerve”, and kill the hog!” I do not yet know the position of the big nerve; he may have meant the spinal-cord as it is in fact the main cable of the entire nervous system.

He would also tell us how to select a boar for breeding purposes. “Grick immer ainer os en grosser seckel hut! (Always get one with a very big bag or scrotum; that one will produce big litters.)

While we are better informed now-a-days, yet any male of super-development in the sexual organs, is usually possessed of more than ordinary stamina, and has a surplus of “git and get”. Everything on his farm had to be big - he would never tolerate a runt. So, when one day a strange boar came roaming over the country-side, and dug in under the fence, and started to make love to one of Levi’s mammoth brood sows, old Levi almost blew up.

“Ich het den gruppicha deyfel g'shussa; usht no hettich Ihn awe nuch batsawla missa!“ (I would have shot the runty devil, but then I‘d have had to pay for him.)

“Un 's wawr my beshty loas; won er awe net gookt we en evver, er hut ennyhow guvist me en gootly sow gookt”, (It was my best sow; if he don’t look like a hog himself, that boar really knew what a hog looked like.) “Un won de yunga tsu ailendich gooka dan schlawg Ich see dote we see uff de weldt cooma!“ (And if the pigs look too poor, I’ll kill ‘em as soon as they are born.)

One rainy day next Spring we went up to his place on some errand, and he said: “Now will Ich eich mull my ferbuttsta sei weissa, fum sellem hecka. Brecher-evver!” (Now I will show you my runty pigs from that devil of a hazel-splitter wild boar.)

So saying he took us into his big clean pig-stable, or “hog-house” he called it, and showed us the nicest litter of pigs I ever laid my eyes on.

“Owver wons net fer selly goot loas gawest wa art, no daita see net so gooka!” (If it hadn’t been for that good old sow, they would not look so good.)

Genetics teaches us that all along the line there are “throwbacks”- individuals reverting to some ancestor, even in us humans. I have seen a stud-horse of such mis-shapen mould that I felt like giving a medal to anyone who would shoot him, bred to a mare that should never been foaled on this planet; and she brought forth a colt that was tops in its class.

A couple of shoats, plus a young brood-sow, were oft. times given as a wedding gift to a newly married couple, in the olden times. Also the bride would receive as a dowry from her father, enough meat, lard and smoked sausage, for a year’s supply.

Also the picture or a sketch of a hog at the top of a letter, signified that the recipient had the manners of a hog; and it could be counted as a slap in the face. If it showed the likeness of a bristling boar and a pair of drawn swords, it was the equivalent of a verbal challenge to a duel; and many a sturdy, well-behaved burgher would thus be reproved by some be-wigged dandy, for blowing his nose in public, or slurping his soup, while seated aside some beruffled coxcomb at some social function.

Many of these silken-clad squires were rotten parasites, and very inelegant in their behavior among the ladies. So, when two of them fell out, it was no unusual occurrence for one to call the other: “Do dreckicher sei-deivel!” (You dirty-hog-devil) or: “do ferbrennter evver”- (you burnt boar) or if at some social gathering one wanted to taunt the other into a fighting mood he only needed to make a noise like an old boar - a prolonged: “Woo! Woo! Woo-oo-oo!” and then chomp his jaws. Such a challenge rarely went unheeded; and not a few drops of blood were shed when the question of a lady having been insulted by one of them was the crucial point to be decided.

The squeal of a hog would often precede the clash of steel.

Nowadays comes the cinema, the café, and then a pork-chop.

Alas for the demise of colonial fun and cheer.

Sep. 1st 1952 Der Oldt Bauer.


Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).


English and Pennsylvania German

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Dieffenbach on Swine, September 1, 1952



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