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• The Pack Rat and the Queen's Jewels

Pack Rat 300We wondered why so many of the family had immigrated at once, and how they paid for it. Trans-Atlantic passage for 14 people would have been a big deal in 1839 – let alone the fare for 32! We had a hint, in the form of a story about The Pack Rat and the Queen's Jewels, handed down from Great-Uncle Clark Moor Wier Will, but it was in old German, beyond our ability to translate. Patrick Harris, curator at the Aurora Colony Historical Society, found a translator for us, and here's a link to the story. This is all we know: if this story shows up in somebody else's family tradition, we'd love to hear about it.

The Pack Rat and the Queen’s Jewels
… as told by the Head Gardener, 1838-39

That the brothers, Johann and Wolfgang Will were caretakers of the Summer Palace Grounds of Ludwig the First of Bavaria in Eastern upper Frankenstein is more than just hinted at in the incumbency (Pfframpt) sealed, legal size parchment now in the care of Clark M. Will, Clan historian. How did this family obtain their release from long-standing service is herein traditionally recorded. Stories told to my twin brother, Charles, and I at our Grandmother Christina Miller Will’s knees are herein enlarged upon a little.
--- God keep you all – being the wish of Clark Moor Will.

Now I want to document how we obtained our lease from the official German Authority.

“Do you still think of the wild and stormy night when you came home from the lower castle? You said nothing. Your expression was terrible, maybe you had seen a ghost?” asked my sister. “No, I saw no ghost. No bad dream could have defeated me thus. It unnerved me. I could not believe my eyes. How could I? This is better forgotten like a dream.” Now you ask, “Do you still think about that time?”

It has been give years since we moved to a foreign country. It is a lucky thing that I was so unnerved. That’s why I said nothing. You don’t understand … but wait and hear this: That really was a wild night! With lightning flashing a big rat jumped out and from its mouth there dangled many fire stones, glittering like jewels. Astonished, I stood still. Then again there was another flash of lightning. This can’t be a rat, I am thinking, but after my first glance I was speechless. God in Heaven, what a wild and stormy night. Had I been bewitched? These glittering stones flashed again and again before my bewitched eyes. I ran towards home through lightning, hail, thunder and rain.

“What bewitches you?” she asked. “Come tell about it now!” The lightning flashed from tree to stones: it stunned me. I did not say anything about the rat. A little schnapps into my burning stomach lifted my spirit. The next day it was summer again.

It wasn’t two weeks after the lightning and storm that a young chambermaid from the upper castle confided to my sister, her godmother, that the crown jewels of the noble Duchess had disappeared during the thunderstorm and lightning. She said that the Duchess screamed and scolded her chambermaid. The tearful chambermaid said that the fire sparking stones had been placed by her highborn lady on top of an underclothes trunk and so the stones remained there near the window. When the first lightning hit “I jumped up,” said the Miss, “to close the windows. The stones were gone, all gone. I was dumbfounded,” said the Miss. “What had been on top of the trunk before the lightning, now was not there. I was full of fear. No one enters through the high chamber windows., maybe the devil, but not a thief! “Come along now young Miss, in the morning we again will look. You are upset and so am I,” said the joble Duchess. “You and I have to go to bed now.”

As I said, the next day it was summer again. Early the next morning there came a lot of laughter from the castle’s stable. A peasant stable boy was telling that the donkeys were very restless during the thunderstorm and lighting. He said: “the donkeys stomped and lashed out with their feet. For sure the devil will come out of there! A large rat, half the size of a donkey came from the stable, and lightning sparks came from his mouth. You don’t believe this,” continued the stable boy with a shrill voice.

Diligently the young Miss and her highborn Lady, the Duchess, continued looking for the sparkling stones – they found nothing. The highborn Lady then said to call the Grand Master of the castle, a courteous man, and the chambermaid explained how the sparkling stones had mysteriously disappeared during the wild thunder and lightning storm.

Many weeks go by. The honored King’s best hunters looked through bush and stable. Diligently they search but do not find the missing lightning stones (jewels) and no rat with a bushy tail. They do not believe that a rat carried off the jewels, there is a devil loose in the castle and to shoot does not help, so they went home.

Another week goes by and one day our own Heinrich suddenly comes home very excited and breathless and he said: “By a large root from the old oak tree I found a sparking stone.” I said: “Do you mean the over large oak tree between us and the lower castle? I want to see that sparkling stone.” He plucked the sparkling stone from his mouth. I said: “Could it be possible that this stone is one of the lost crown jewels?” Heinrich said: “My dead uncle, this could be possible.” I said: “The stones were seized during the night and we are no thieves, but now we have to be silent about this, no one knows that you have found a sparking stone, do you understand?” “Yes, I understand,” said our Heinrich.

Two more days passed before I was called to the lower castle. That was unusual. Because of me. With misgivings I went to the lower castle. The Grand Master was not satisfied that the king’s hunters did not find the rats nest. One the way to the lower castle I passed by the huge oak tree. I was dumbfounded, because again in front of my eyes I saw the lightning and the rat. Yes, I said. That most likely is the place where a bushy tailed rat would play with the stolen fire sparkling stones. The Grand master said: “We are big now in the eys of the Grand Lady. We have to find the stones and fast.” What should I say? I was thinking fast. I answered thus: “The boy Heinrich, our nephew, found a sparking stone between the roots of a huge old oak tree in the forest. That most likely is the nest of the rat or a squirrel. Rats look similar. Do you want me to find the thieving rat and the lost newels? That will bring the king’s hunters to shame.” “If you find the rats nest and the jewels our Grand lady and the King as well will be very satisfied and grateful,” so said our Grand Mater and continued on to say: “It is fall now and the landscape of the castle grounds is not so important. Knowing that, your good natured brother Wolfgang can handle that. You will see me again in two weeks.”

My thoughts are: I now have to outwit the rat – or perhaps the rat will outwit me. I went home and stuffed many chicken feathers into a small nut sack. I laid the sleeves of an old coat under the hen-roost. This way I will stink like dung from the chicken house. I also put my old gloves into the feather filled nut sack. The next day, afternoon, I went over to the lower castle using the hill trail and approached the huge oak tree. Not I slip my stinking sleeves over my shows. I have to do this well I said to myself. Then I pulled the feather filled nut sack close to the oak trees root and pulled is crisscross across the rocky hill trail. From the nut sack I extract a chicken egg and I put this egg on top of a dry leaf in front of the oak tree.

Many wild animals have to go eat and drink later in the day. I was waiting for just that … but I handled this smartly: I climbed up on a tree and waited there. Long shadows fell from the surrounding trees. Then came the Devil Rat. Dear Heavens, what a large rat! He smelled the chick order which smells real good to his nose. Yes, he finds the egg, he is not so hungry that he can’t still play with it, because playing for the rat proceeds the eating. He is laying on his back and tosses the egg with his feet and then catches it with his mouth. He tossed the egg three times and then his mouth snatches the egg, he licks his mouth just like a cat would do and then disappears into the forest. I now know how to kill the rat. To club it to death is a risk, to swallow the egg was a better idea.

The next day the rat again gets and egg. I went home and selected smaller eggs. I carefully blew out one, which is much work – without trying to touch it too much. Into the wheat mush I stir a little quick setting glue. I did it like this: First I put the dry glue into a bowl, then added the wheat mush and a little water and stirred, next I rolled the egg around in it, it set very nicely; that was like plaster of Paris. The next morning, after noon, I will go again to see the rat.

I said to myself: either I do it good, or will the devil rat? Yes, the next day I went again, and again did what I had done the first time … again I pull the feather filled nut sack near the root of the oak three and cris-cross across the rock hill trail and again I put a chicken egg into a dry leaf of the old oak tree, but the egg which I pulled into the feather filled sack no rat will lick its mouth, that’s what I am thinking. I again climb up a tree and wait for the rat. Maybe the rat is not hungry or it is still sleeping. It is now close to my mealtime – there came the rat. jumped onto the egg. Again it had to first play with the egg, laid on his back and tossed the egg with his feet and catches it in his mouth, yes, he catches it. It was a small egg, and it went deep into his mouth, it was hard as a rock. The rat could not break the egg. The egg went so deep into his mouth that the rat cannot spit it out to toss it again. The rat is now frightened, it does a lot of silly things, it jumps, it rolls, but the egg does not come out of his mouth. The rat now has a convulsion and from jumping up and falling back into the rocky hill trail it is limp, the convulsions come again and again, with lesser and lesser strength, one last quiver and tremble and the rat is dead.

What an excitement. I quickly came out of the tree. I said to the rat: “You devil, you would even dance to your death.” We hope the Grand Lady will get her jewels back. I take the rat by its tail and talk on home. Once there, I squeeze the rat out, pour glue water into him, again I squeeze him out and again pour glue water into him and glue his mouth shut. The egg I leave in his mouth. Two days of hard work on rock and the root of the oak tree and then I get to the rats nest. Yes! Within the nest were many glittering things, sparking objects and from within I pulled the jewels, the crown jewels of our royal Grand Lady. I also found a small mirror which my younger sister had lost several keys and small children’s toys.

The day came where again I would have to see the Grand Master. I cleaned and polished the crown jewels, now they really glittered and sparkled just like stars. In a small four sack I carried the jewels. The boy Heinrich went too, he was carrying the rat. “oh,” said the Grand Master, “you did that well, the way you caught the rat, and did you find the jewels too?” “Yes.” “I want to see these jewels,” said the Grand Master. Now come to the house. Put the jewels on the table, gems we don’t see every day. I think there is a gemstone missing, it probably happened when the rat took the newels to its nest. I see it’s missing but it does not bother me.” So I put the newels on the table. The Grand Master touches the stones. He was very pleased looking at these shining, sparking gems. Suddenly he says: “Look here! A Gem got broken out, do you see that?” “Yes, I know about that, my nephew Heinrich has the missing stone. Close to this stone we found the rat’s nest, Do you remember the day I sent a message to you with the boy Heinrich? He had come home on the rockyhill trail, a shorter way. When he arrived he was excited and breathless and he said: “By the root of the very old oak tree I saw a flashing stone.” He has it. Do you want to see it Grand Master? I asked. “Yes, I have to see it,” answered the Grand Master. From his mouth then Heinrich took the flashing stone. “For sure this is the missing gemstone that was really lucky.” I am not taking this stone from your lucky nephew. We just forget that Heinrich found this beautiful stone. We will tell the Grand Lady that we all went to the rat’s nest but did not find the stone. One never knows which way the rat took from the castle to his nest. The stone is really lost . . . that’s it,” said our Grand Master. “The Grand Lady and our beloved King will be very thankful to again see the jewels. It really would be better that I carry the newels, no one pays attention to my coming and going, and that’s what I’ll do,” continued the Grand master. The boy Heinrich and I then went home.

The next day the Grand Master came to us again. He said: “The Grand Lady was overcome so great was her joy and said: The people who found the gems are high in our esteem. How can we thank these good people? They have to be rewarded.: Then the young chambermaid spoke up and said: “The sister of the Head Gardener is my Godmother and they often talked about it that the two brothers were dreaming and dreaming to emigrate to American one day, but that it was only a wild dream and they should not even think about it.” “I too dream, and that is not a sin!” said out Grand Lady. “He has been with us many years and now his brother finds my lost jewels, what kind of people are they?” To speak this way about their dreams in front of a king is unpardonable, but under these circumstances, very unusual circumstances, our Grand King will forget the trespass.” “I will present it to my Grand husband, the King and tell him that it would give me great joy if he could reward his head gardener this way,” so said our deer Queen.

Could this be possible that a pack-rat and a chicken egg brought us so much luck? “Sure,” I said. In mid-June we got ready for our move to America. To let the Head Gardener go was a grand gesture of the King and he was profuse with his gift. He made it clear: “That I grant these people release from service, my most valued servants, is the wish of my Queen, and so it will be,” said the King.

Now the day arrives where all of us 15 people have to leave. To part was hard on us. The Grand Master gave us a fare-well gift and said: “It brings me a lot of pain not to be able to go with my friend.” “He wanted to live in Peace. Now they know that I too want to live in Peace. Know, that your Grand Master, Heinrich Koch, wishes you good health and that you may be happy. As a parting gift I give to you, the Holy Book and with it we seal our friendship. The Holy Book: Sermons from the Holy Bible, 1440 pages had been printed in Leipzig in the year of 1685 on the 25th of April. “now we will come together in Peace.” With that the Grand Master leaves – he is a good man. He gave us a most precious gift.

I will have to write the prologue from memory. We traveled 3 weeks and 2 days to Bremen, Germany, and then 3 weeks and 2 days to America. We wanted to start again. But I have to write a little bit about the Customs Office in Baltimore. When we went through Customs we had to open all our bags and suitcases . . . the Customs people found the egg . . . “the egg” that killed the thief, the rat. They thought there could be jewels in it and asked. We told them “no” … but they did not believe it … and they broke the egg, plaster of Paris flies all over but they do not find any jewels. Young Heinrich had the sparkling gem in his mouth. We all laughed about that. Enough.

CMW – 323 –Dec. 21, 1965

Note: “The Book” being sermons, discourse, debates by catholic and protestant leaders of religious thought of that period of the confessions of St. Augustine and Martin Luther.

Salem, Marion County, Oregon

By Edith I. Owen
February 2013




Copyright © 2013, Robin P. Will,, Rev. September 2013,