Arnold Winkelreid by Bill Nye

Story type: Essay

This great man lived in the old romantic days when it was a common thing for a patriot to lay down his life that his country might live. He knew not fear, and in his noble heart his country was always on top. Not alone at election did Arnold sacrifice himself, but on the tented field, where the buffalo grass was soaked in gore, did he win for himself a deathless name. He was as gritty as a piece of liver rolled in the sand. Where glory waited, there you would always find Arnold Winkelreid at the bat, with William Tell on deck.

One day the army of the tyrant got a scoop on the rebel mountaineers and it looked bad for the struggling band of chamois shooters. While Arnold’s detachment didn’t seem to amount to a hill of beans, the hosts of the tyrannical Austrian loomed up like six bits and things looked forbidding. It occurred to Colonel Winkelreid that the correct thing would be to break through the war front of the enemy, and then, while in his rear, crash in his cranium with a cross gun while he was looking the other way. Acting on this thought, he asked several of his most trusted men to break through the Austrian line, so that the balance of the command could pass through and slaughter enough of the enemy for a mess, but these men seemed a little reticent about doing so, owing to the inclemency of the weather and the threatening aspect of the enemy. The armed foe swarmed on every hillside and their burnished spears glittered below in the canon. You couldn’t throw a stone in any direction without hitting a phalanx. It was a good year for the phalanx business.

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Then Arnold took off his suspenders, and, putting a fresh chew of tobacco in among his back teeth, he told his men to follow him and he would show them his little racket. Marching up to the solid line of lances, he gathered an armful and put them in the pit of his stomach, and, as he sank to the earth, he spoke in a shrill tone of voice to posterity, saying, “Clear the track for Liberty.” He then died.

His remains looked like a toothpick holder.

But he made way for Liberty, and his troops were victorious.

At the inquest it was shown that he might have recovered, had not the spears sat so hard on his stomach.

Probably A. Winkelreid will be remembered with gratitude long after the name of the Sweet Singer of Michigan shall have rotted in oblivion. He recognized and stuck to his proper spear. (This is a little mirthful deviation of my own.)

I can think of some men now, even in this $ age of the world, who could win glory by doing as A.W. did. They could offer themselves up. They could suffer for the right and have their names passed down to posterity, and it would be perfectly splendid.

But the heroes of to-day are different. They are just as courageous, but they take a wheelbarrow and push it from New York to San Francisco, or they starve forty days and forty nights and then eat watermelon and lecture, or they eat 800 snipe in 800 years, or get an inspiration and kill somebody with it.

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The heroes of our day do not wear peaked hats and shoot chamois, and sass tyrants and knock the worm out of an apple at fifty-nine yards rise with a cross gun, as Tell did, but they know how to be loved by the people and get half of the gate money. They are brave, but not mortally. The heroes of our day all die of old age or political malaria.

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