An Ewich Yaeger Legend
The legend of the Eternal Huntsman is the most persistent of all Pennsylvania German legends. It exists in many and varied forms, some of which are traced to pagan folklore. The following account is adapted from a story written by W. Wissler Hackman, published in 1906 in the Pennsylvania German Magazine. This story is given an American setting.
Jacob Brewster, of Lancaster County, boasted that he could ride his horse and hounds at 12 miles an hour undertook to travel to New York in five days. The time of the starting was set by the disappearance of the sun over Eagle’s Peak and Jacob set out with his horse and dogs.
“Three days Jacob Brewster continued to the northeast uninterrupted by man or beast, but then his good fortune forsook him. Either his trail was run across by a band of hostile Indians or the baying of his hounds attracted their unwelcome attention, but that he was being pursued was certain. The hounds began to show symptoms of uneasiness, yelping anxiously to their master. Soon he detected the reason for their anxiety. Barely had he time to seize his musket and prepare for coming danger, before the dread warwhoop pierced the forest, a few sharp shots rang out, and Jacob Brewster bit the dust, his horse falling upon him, both mortally wounded, his hounds fought savagely in protection of their master till the last brave hound sank bleeding from a score of wounds a victim to fidelity.
To this day, so runs the legend as told to me by my grandmother, Jacob Brewster hunts unceasingly. And if you were born on Christmas night you can still occasionally see his spirit riding gallantly among his ghostly pack. Often during the long summer twilights the baying of hounds and a mellow hunting horn would quiver through the mighty silence with a far-off plaintive weirdness, some times overhead or hovering toward the northeast. And the good housewives of the rude, good-natured farmers would shake their heads knowingly and ejaculate “Der Ewige Jaeger” in such awesome, blood-curdling tones as to cause poor children to well nigh shrivel up with fear and terror. And through the long winter evenings Grandma would set the light to the window, and sitting knitting warm woolen mittens for our chubby fists, tell us the legend of “The Eternal Hunter.”
Lulled to drowsy semi-consciousness by the genial warmth and the droning of the tea kettle, our dreams, if such they were, strangely blended realities and strange legend. Suddenly strange forms flitted and shifted indistinctly upon the ice of the Hammer Creek, gradually they assumed the distinct form, and before us sat a tall, erect man upon a high shouldered hunter, his body was muffled to the huge sparkling knee-buckles of his Knickerbockers by a dark hunting cloak, his hat was tall and peaked, and his long gray beard flowed down over his colonial ruff. In his left hand he waved his silver bugle till it flashed like a dazzling meteor though the frosty moonlit air, and the hounds moved dark masses silhouetted against the white expanse of ice and snow, but they cast no shadow.
The teakettle droned on unheeded, the rocking chair creaked no more for us, but instead subdued, ghostly whisperings, muffled by increasing unconsciousness reached our listless ears, a cloud swept over the face of the moon and into its shadowy bosom the “Eternal Hunter” and all his spectral pack faded away, vanished from our mental vision and we slept the sleep of the innocent, undisturbed by the visions of the “Eternal Hunter.”
Archival Notes: This article was pulled from the The Pennsylvania German Vol. III, No. 4, Lebanon, PA October 1902, pages 189-191.