Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Ram Named Bumper, 1865

The name makes sense. If you ram something, you bump into it – hard. A male sheep is called a ram, and he spends part of his time butting head with other males (butting – ramming - bumping). If I was looking around for a clever name for my boy sheep, “Bumper” would be a good choice.

In May of 1865, an Otterbein University student from Green Village, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to his brother. William B. Oyler (who apparently never graduated) wrote:

hold the bumper when pap clips his mother. You take hold of the tail and leave Ben hold tight to the horns and if he goes to ram … hold tight it makes no difference if you pull all the wool off his tail hold tight anyhow.

Oyler gave more advice regarding Bumper to another brother:

… he had one little wee lamb which he calls bumper, now I suppose this bumper is a fine old feller. I want you to be careful and don’t let him bump you whatever you do, keep him chained…

If there is a lesson to be learned from Bumper the Sheep (and some might argue that this is the difference between history and nostalgia), it is that, in the 1860s at least, Otterbein students often came from rural backgrounds. This is not surprising, since the United Brethren Church, the parent organization of Otterbein University, had a largely rural membership. Oyler’s swapping of farm gossip with his brothers illustrates this.

Yet Oyler himself was waxing nostalgic. When we go off to school, we bring a bit of our old home to our new home. Oyler writes from “O.U. Westerville, Ohio.” But his letter makes it clear that a sheep back in Pennsylvania was on his mind in what may have been a homesick student’s reverie. Yet Bumper, his wool, and his antics thus became a part of the collective memory of Otterbein University.

[The Oyler Papers are in the Otterbein University Archives, Westerville, Ohio.]

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