Lessons of Living Taught by the Visiting Riflemen

San Francisco Examiner/July 24, 1901

The king is dead—long live the king! Ay, and the Schützenfest is dead—long live the Schützenfest! Amid a grand furor of enthusiasm King Strecker received his crown from his comrades-in-arms, and the last hours of the festival waned away in wassail and revelry that required special trains and boats to see the heroes home.

And the Schützenfest died hard. All of Tuesday morning the rifles barked and the bullets thudded home. The smell of powder was strong, and to the last the men lined up at the honor targets. And at the stroke of twelve, when the twenty and odd targets went down on the run, there were rifles steadied and eyes straining along the sights for a last bull’s-eye.

At once the Temple of Gifts was rifled of its precious hoard, and on the long tables of the shooting hall was displayed the glittering array of prizes. Gold there was galore—gold yellow and mellow, rippling down the tables in shining streams, spreading out into miniature lakelets and dazzling the eye with its shimmering witchery. And there were tall mugs, huge bowls and loving cups of precious metal; nor was the flash of diamonds or glint of gems wanting to complete the splendid picture. It was the loot of a province spread fittingly there where the rifles had fought out the battle, and the beribboned and be-medaled Prize Committee apportioned—the plunder among the men who had done the work.

The rafters rang and rang again with cheers of greeting to the prize winners, and it was noted that the high-score men smiled broadly, and continued to smile broadly. May the affliction become chronic. Next in honor to King Strecker was Dr. Schumacher, who made the record on the Honor Eureka and received the magnificent Hearst trophy. On the shoulders of his brother marksmen, to the strains of “America” from the band, he made his exit from the Shooting Hall, madly waving in either hand his hat and a silver laurel wreath.

Well, it is over. Never in the history of the Bund has there been anything like it, and many a day will come to pass ere the like is done again. Nor has it alone been a spectacular affair with success achieved through lavish expenditure and magnificence. There has been shooting done besides, and the greatest of its kind. Every record of the previous test has been broken, and many records have been broken many times. From every standpoint it has been an unqualified success.

And now that it is over, let us make confession. There are things our German-American brother can teach us. We can, among other things, sit at his knee and learn how to be sociable. We understand democracy, but our democracy is Anglo-Saxon in its traditions and there is an aloofness and an aggressiveness about it. We are not prone to come together in large numbers and forget our individual sovereignty. One man is as good as another, therefore let one man get out of another man’s way. No crowding. Toes are liable to be stepped upon, and then there will be trouble.

But while we understand democracy in its political sense, the German understands it better in its social sense. We have much to learn from him in democratic good-fellowship, for in that he excels. In his past history he has not had so much to say as others concerning liberty, equality, fraternity; he has been too busy doing them. In the Fatherland, straining against feudal forms and harsh lines of caste, he has been handicapped; but in the United States there was opportunity, and right well has he advantaged by it.

He takes life less seriously than we, and more slowly. He puts a rhythm into it, as it were, and works and plays; while we race along, keyed up to the highest tension, at break-neck pace, always a jump ahead of the second-hand. We haven’t time to laugh. Faith, life is too short and too strenuous. We sweat over our pleasure as well as our work, and take a vacation when the doctor forbids us our desk or shop. The Epworth Leaguers came in a flurry of special trains, jammed into our city, and departed in a tangle of baggage—they haven’t caught their breaths yet; while the men of the Schützen clubs were here first and in leisurely full swing, and are still here, and though the shooting is over have an unfinished itinerary of feasts, picnics, and excursions.

And though the German takes time to laugh, it is a jolly laugh, and in it is none of our haste-induced hysterias and none of the cynic levity of the French, which is the antithesis of laughter. There is room in life for a healthy, wholesome, good time, and if life over here seems crowded the German none the less makes room. Let the world and its cares wag on; he knows all about it and shoulders his fair share; but when he packs his lunch basket for a good time he sees to it that the world and its cares are left out. Sufficient unto the day, he holds, is the pleasure thereof.

Last Sunday, out at Shell Mound, there came together a huge family party of ten thousand heterogeneous men, women and children. But the Teutonic influence was over them and they danced, played and made merry, and went home in glee. There was no wrangling or fighting or harsh word spoken. Good nature ruled the day and each did as his fancy dictated—so long as it did not infringe on the happy fancies of others, in which case he didn’t. Some elected to dance, others to shoot. Hundreds stripped their lean, lithe bodies and pitched the shot, did gymnastics and flashed through the air in running, in high jump; hundreds preferred to dance; hundreds sang in chorus on the elevated platform, and for variety carried their leaders around on their shoulders; and hundreds more chose to sit around the tables, drink beer and look on. And it was well. Each followed his particular bent, extracted his maximum of joy out of the day, and contributed his share to the general hilarity.

Innate in the Teuton is the spirit of democracy. He believes in equality of opportunity and that a man should stand on his own legs. The history of the Bund, taking its rise as it does out of the old Schützen-guilds of Germany, corroborates this. There the man who does the finest shooting receives the highest honors, and no matter who his father was, class distinctions fall away. A cobbler, if he be crowned Schützen Konig, takes precedence over the Emperor during the festival. The Emperor may sit beside the cobbler on his throne, but the cobbler’s commands are flat and the Emperor’s are not. As Julius Becker said the other day, “Not even the field marshal or the highest general would dare so much as brush the soot from his sights.”

And so to-day, transplanted to the fruitful soil of America, the same spirit obtains and it is the spirit of democratic good-fellowship. It is said that in one party from the East there are nineteen millionaires. Well, I looked for those millionaires, and I failed to find them. From appearances there were no millionaires, or else they were all millionaires.

A good illustration, and to the point, concerning fellowship is a little Teutonic trick in the giving of medals. In the average American contest the medal-winner, if he be not overprosperous in this world’s goods, is usually forced to the verge of insolvency in standing for the crowd. But the Germans line their medal cases with gold pieces, so that the winner may hold up his end of good-fellowship and not have his good luck metamorphose into calamity.

During the fest the Germans, among many things, manifested that they were good trenchermen. But, unlike the Latin, who eats for the eating’s sake and takes a pride in the cookery, the German eats for sociability’s sake. Dinner is a god-given hour, wherein he may meet his brothers in closer contact than a mere rubbing of shoulders in the course of carrying on the work of the world.

Nor did he neglect this hour out at Shell Mound, even when the firing was hottest and the excitement most intense. Promptly at the dinner hour the rifle was laid aside, and though there were records broken and records yet to break, he lingered for an hour or so at the table, where jovial company held forth and song and toast passed up and down. Surely the American tendency would have been to snatch a sandwich on the fly and go on with the shooting.

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