CLIO TALKS BACK: Cows (and Women) Rule!

photo by Clio - from L'Eau, source de vie: Tricentennaire des bains de la Lenk (1989), p. 10
Wyberschlacht -- the Lenk women
In the Simmental, a lovely valley in the Alps of the Bernese Oberland, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, cows rule.

Grazing on the lush green sloping pastures of the Alps, they provide an unsurpassed, healthy milk that is made into many products, most notably the local Alpkäse, or Alp cheese.

Cows are everywhere, even next door and walking down the road. The sound of the cows’ bells provides a soothing serenade to visiting hikers and locals alike. The Swiss celebrate the cows' contributions with flower garlands as they wend their way, in spring and fall, to and from the high Alpine pastures. For centuries, cows have been the very backbone of life for the people of this area.

Many of you have heard of the world-renowned Emmenthaler cheese. The Simmental Alp cheese tastes just as good, but has no holes. It is solid through and through, like the beautiful, belled (mostly brown and white) cows that produce its milky source. Like great wine or whiskey, it gets tastier with age.

Producing excellent Alp cheese is an art, and the best is sold from cellars up in the mountains (usually near a mountain restaurant).

Cows and farms and dairying go a long ways back in the history of Lenk, the town at the end of the Simmental. In fact, the principal historical legend concerning Lenk has to do with women and cows. In this case, it was about women defending their cows from marauding cattle thieves.

The town’s coat of arms proudly displays a crossed sword and spindle, honoring the heroism of the women of Lenk in the Women's Battle.

photo by Clio
Lenk coat-of-arms (Wappen)
This is the story as told by the Lenkers:

The inhabitants of Lenk are proud of their women. According to the saga, around 1530, on the Langermatte [a steep mountain in front of the massive, stark and craggy mountains in this area], the women of Lenk delivered a devastating defeat to cattle thieves from the Valais [on the other side of the mountains]. Lacking weapons -- the men had left home with their arms to fight in the wars of religion [associated with the Reformation] – the women did not hesitate. They seized on scythes, hayforks, and axes and went after the invaders. They were defending their very livelihood, their cows – the base of their economy. And they did not let up in their struggle until all the would-be cattle rustlers were dead.

The legend of the Women’s War, the so-called “Wyberschlacht” on the Langermatte, is alive and well. A memorial, “Bi de Tote” at the site of the battle suggests how violent the battle must have been. The spindle and sword in Lenk’s coat of arms commemorate these fearless women. Still today the men of Lenk honor these women’s heroic deeds by stepping aside to let them enter the church first.

Source: This legend, or saga, is widely known in Lenk. Clio encountered it first on an informational sign posted by the local Tourist Office. It is told and retold in various publications since the early 1800s, including Georg Küffer, Lenker Sagen (1916) and Die Lenk in alter Zeit (1978).