By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
It’s words like this that make the German language so much fun. Actually, this word doesn’t even translate into English…which happens more times than you think. It comes with a great story though.
I found a history of Luckenbach, Texas, on the town’s website. Yes, it’s the same town from the country western song and it indeed exists about 10ish miles from Fredericksburg. Reading along, I saw names of people connected to our founders here in New Braunfels, names of people I know and lots of fascinating information. My eyes stutter-stepped over the word “elfendritschenwolpertinger”. What?
“1847: Reports circulated throughout the area that the first elfendritschenwolpertinger was seen by hunters in the South Grape Creek woods.”
Clue #1: It is something found in the woods.
The story continued with John O. Meusebach’s treaty with the Comanche, and how they had shared cherished secrets about the fruit of cactus, what they called cactus hearts, with their new German friends.
“Following the recipe of instructions the Indians taught them, they ceremoniously ingested the compound. In the midst of the “Rausch” or rush of the resultant bliss, there would often suddenly appear on the edge of the camp the jolly, chirping elfendritschenwolpertinger: nature’s most perfect of all living things. So awesome the men would collapse in sheer ecstasy, not waking until the crack of dawn.”
Clue #2: It is only seen when you are intoxicated.
The men returned to their homes and shared the experience with family and friends. The children searched long and hard for the elfendritschenwolpertinger in the fields and woods around Grape Creek to no avail. Only when they reached the appropriate age, would they be initiated into the rituals of the hunt for the rare creature.
You have to admit, these Freidenker (free-thinking) Germans had quite the fun-loving imagination — – with a little “medicinal” help.
I looked up elfendritschenwolpertinger on the internet. Only when I split the word did I come up with some answers. A wolpertinger is an animal from German folklore found in the forests of Bavaria. A hybrid of many forest creatures, it often has the head of a rabbit, body of a squirrel, antlers of a deer and the wings of a pheasant. It’s not known exactly when or where (or how?) this creature came into being, but there was a rise in its possibility and popularity in the 19th century as stuffed representations began to come out of Bavarian taxidermy shops. These composite creatures found pride-of-place in bars, hotel lobbies and museums. Present-day tourists may still find examples.
Locals continue to spin tales of romantic encounters between hares and roebucks, foxes and ducks or pine martens and pheasants and their possible offspring. You can see that the variations can be endless which is why no two wolpertingers look alike, and why they begin to embody more than two animals. I mean, if two wolpertingers mate…well, it boggles the mind.
Now an elfendritschen, or more popularly known, elwetritsch, is a legendary chicken-like creature with antlers. They seemingly come about through the coupling of chickens, ducks and geese with mythical beings such as goblins and elves. That makes sense.
Elwetritsch were lost to time for a while but rediscovered by a man in Espenschied. He organized hunting parties to search the forests of the German Palatinate for the shy, horned, bird-like beasts that couldn’t fly since they had scales or feathered fur instead of feathers. A coat made out of the skin was reputed to make the wearer invisible.
An elwetritsch hunt was very like a snipe hunt. In a snipe hunt, you and your buddies drink a lot, gather flashlights and rope for a trap and take off into the woods. Of course the newbie or most gullible in your group gets to sit by the trap while the rest beat it home. Hunting the elwetritsch involved a “Fänger” (catcher) with a big sack and a lantern accompanied by a group of “Treiber” (beaters). Apparently elfendritschen follow lights so a trail of lanterns lead to the open sack trap. The dupable Fänger is literally left “holding the bag” as the group of Treiber stop beating the bushes and sneak away to the nearest pub and wait for him to figure out the game.
I am interested in how German-Texans morphed these beings together. Espenschied is just west of Frankfort so it is reasonable to assume that there were many of the German immigrants who knew the elfendritschen folktale. Others who came from southern German states knew the wolpertinger myths. I guess the creature was even more wonderful when combined. Let’s face it, everything is bigger and better in Texas! The addition of special cactus juice makes it more intriguing. It must have been quite the rite of passage for young German boys. Keeping the secrets to pass on to each year’s initiates bonded them into a special brotherhood.
America’s take on the wolpertinger is the horned rabbit we know as the jackalope. Popularized in the 1930s by a pair of hunter/taxidermists in Wyoming, it is thought that the inspiration for this creature first came from sightings of rabbits or hares infected with a viral infection (Shopes papilloma virus) that causes antler-like tumors to grow on a rabbit’s head and body. Seeing one of these infected little bunnies would make a believer out of me.
Elvendritschenwolpertinger. Say it fast three times. Now have a couple beers and try again. A new bar game?
Sources: www.luckenbachtexas.com, Wikipedia; https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2NRJG_elwetritschjagd-in-espenschied?guid=99fedec3-3c87-4e84-a0f5-a39d98e2bce7; https://www.thelocal.de/20171006/beware-the-wolpertinger-bavarias-legendary-hybrid-creature; https://www.iamexpat.de/lifestyle/lifestyle-news/german-folklore-wolpertinger; https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/viral-internet-frankenstein-rabbit-modern-day-jackalope-6C10622178