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The History of the Glarus Families,
especially of the Sernf Valley

by Gottfried Heer : The Gigers

The History of the Glarus Families, especially Those of the Sernf Valley.
A Medley of Pictures from Past Days.
Zur Geschichte glarnerischer Geschlechter, derjenigen des Sernftales insbesondere.
Allerlei Bilder aus vergangenen Tagen.

By Gottfried Heer, 1920
Translated by Thomas Schwarz, SJ, 1999


According to the review of the Tagwen rights in the Sernftal given in the beginning, nine Tagwen rights in Engi and two in Elm were in the possession of the Gigers. During the announcement of the numbers, I was however adverted (by Pastor Gottfried Heer) that the ones from Matt write their name "Giger" and the ones from Elm write their name "Geiger". However, the different spellings are purely arbitrary. In the 17th century the ones from Elm1 consistently wrote their name "Giger," as those from Engi [consistently wrote] "Geiger". In the 19th century however the glarnerian history-writer Melchior Schuler wrote "Geiger" both for those from Engi2 and for those from Elm. One is of the opinion to have to modernize family as well as settlement names and therefore wrote Reuti for Ruti, Feigi for Fige, Pfeifer for Pfiffer, Weiss for Wyss. Some even wrote Kaubli for Kubli. Whereas the Elmians stuck to the fashionable "Geiger," the ones from Engi returned to the old name "Giger" despite Melchior Schuler. If the spelling is different, the meaning of the family name is uncontested. The Gigers as well as the Geigers can thank their name to the activity of their ancestor, who with his fiddle played for the young folk to dance and moved the hearts of the old with his melodies. How widespread the need was to have a fiddler play for one, can be shown by looking at the Swiss state calendar. The last of the state calendars at my disposition, the one from 1913, has no less than 15 Gigers, 4 Geigers, and 3 Gygers, hence 22 of their kind among federal officials.

While in 1915 the Gigers from Engi were by far numerous than the ones from Elm, the relation was reversed three centuries ago. Among the baptized from 1595 to 1617, we find in Elm seven children from the Giger family, but in Matt-Engi only two among the 241 baptized in the church of Matt. This could lead one to suppose that Elm was the original home of the Gigers, and that they moved from there to Engi. However, as we have already remarked, the Gigers were living in the church-village of Matt in 1525, and had to pay their dues to the church in Matt; Albrecht Giger had to pay together with Jos Dusch or Disch a pound of kernels from his farm in Owen (AU) and Heini Giger had to pay a fourth of kernels from his farm in the woods. In addition, the village names "Gigerhof" and "Gigerhofberg," which our topographical map shows for Engi, indicate an early settlement of Gigers in the township of Matt-Engi.

Outside the Valley of the Sernf, Gigers soon found themselves in Schwanden, Glarus, Mollis, and the Kerenzer Mountain--proof, presumably, how Geigers (fiddlers) were welcome personalities in different places for weddings and other festive occasions. In Schwanden, among the 274 baptized between 1611 and 1620, four children were from the Giger family, (children of Hand and Peter Giger) found themselves, and were thus better represented than the Knobel and Schiesser spread in Schwandi (3), the Boniger in Nitfurn (2), the Wild in Schwanden and the Lasi from Luchsingen (3). However, they are not represented among the taxable in Schwanden. The list of the co-owners of the Zurich Fortune Haven, as presented on page 50, testifies to the existence of Gigers, in that Peter Giger and Anneli and Salome Giger "from the castle in Glarus" offer to Fortuna3. Similarly, Lary Giger's son in Mollis participates in the great free-shooting contest of 1504 and throws his contribution into the Fortune Haven.

On Kerenzen the Gigers or Giglers, as they were called there too, only counted seven taxable in 1763, and in 1876 only four4.

A Chuni Gigler from the Kirchori Glarus is found among the dead of the 9th of April 1388, a Peter Geyger among those fallen at the Gams (Swabian War, 149). Whereas the "Pfifer" [Pipers] are born for war service, apparently the Gigers--who seem to be called rather to serve at peaceful festivities with their fiddle bow--exceed them in bellicosity. Valentin Tschudi5 tells of a Hilarius Giger, famous as a "Buchsenmeister" [riflemaster] in his "historischen Beschryb= oder Erzellung":

In the year 1521, it so happened that Robert de la Marcha, called "von Aarburg" by the Germans, a servant of the king of France and one who sat on the "Anstossen" or frontier district with the Count of Nassau, had some "Spans" (quarrels) and since this could not be resolved by legal means, he collected infantry from free servants (volunteers from France), with the permission of the King of France; but the King was written by the Emporer, that if he would help with his people the Lord Ruprecht (Robert de la Marcha), so he would bring the war upon himself, and in this way he threatened the French adventurer off. As they now left, von Nassau collected an army and attacked Lord Ruprecht, laid waste his country and damaged several castles; among them one called Messincourt in the Picardy. There was one Largi Giger, from our country and Thomas Rutiner from Schanis, with some Welsh servants. Largi Giger was leader of the shooters; he did not want to give up the castle, but wounded them (i.e., besiegers) remarkably with his gun6. They were however defeated, and lost the castle, since it was stormed; because their numbers were few and the castle itself was not yet completely built, since that had started its construction only recently, and the walls could not hold. Hence Largi Giger and Thomas Rutiner were condemned to death with the others. Because of his bravery, the Count of Nassau wanted to pardon Largi. But Count Felix of Werdenberg did not want to show him any mercy, since Giger had shot at night towards a light in a house and killed some of his most noble knights; therefore he had to die. In 1698 a Matthias Giger from Kerenzen died in the royal hospital in France; he was shot blind by a bomb shell. In 1748 Eustachius Giger, also from Kerenzen, died in the East India Service and in 1762 the war surgeon P. Giger was buried on the island of Angola.

If these Gigers died as victims of their lust for war, so a Giger from Elm died as a victim of a robbery in the 17th century, which without doubt excited the population of the Valley of the Sernf. J. H. Tschudi narrates in his chronicle of Glarn (p. 564 ff.): "A peculiar tale of murder, which might have happened around this time (1630), and is told by old folks. Lary Geyger of Elm (of whom a grandson is still alive) traveled to the Fall market on the usual Welschlander or Lauiser market. On his return he brought with him two large satchels of money. His servant, born in Alpenzell, took the satchels from the horse and carried them into the house, after which his master put into the cupboard. The servant then tried to entice him to go to the stable under the pretext that he might come and inspect the cattle. The master excuses himself because he is tired, but because the servant insists, he finally walks into the stable. The servant tells the master that a cow had escaped its chains, and that he needed a big hammer. As the master moves toward the back side [of the barn?} the servant took the hammer and suddenly hits him in the head, so that he [Geyger] falls into a trench. The evildoer thought his master to be dead, closes the door with the wooden nail, runs into the house, takes the satchels with the money from the cupboard, threatens the woman who lies sick on the Gutschen, so that she should say no word, otherwise he would stab her with the knife he showed her. In the meantime, the master recovers in the stable, creeps up the straw ladder, comes out of the straw hole onto the roof, makes noise and cries for help. The servant upon hearing this runs away with the money, but commits another evil deed by hiding knives in various places where he might be followed, so that the ones coming after him might injure themselves and lose time. Consequently Lary Geiger's own brother steps on a knife which went through his foot. However, because new snow had fallen, one could follow the trail all the way to a fir tree outside of Engi. One did not know where the man might have gone, but finally somebody saw him up in a tree, and tried to coax him down with soothing words. He does not want to, so someone starts cutting down the tree, and since it was going to fall soon, he willingly came down. The verdict was that he should be decapitated and his body buried together with the knife under the gallows. Lary Geiger died three days after the murderous stroke.

1 The baptismal records of Elm announces that Jacob Gyger, Tagwens Baumeister, was elected Spenn Curator instead of Joachim Solman, who was elected Tagwen Vogt.

2 I am in possession of a Rodel of pension eligible citizens of Engi from 1781, which contains among 178 eligibles six Geigers.

3 As J. Kubli-Muller, Historical Year Book XXXVI, p. 78, says that the Gigers died out in Glarus already in 1720.

4 For the whole Canton, the tax lists of 1876 shows 16 tax-owing Gigers with property valued at 22,000 Franks.

5 Historical Yearbook of Canton Glarus XXV, p. 81.

6 This Giger did not want to surrender the castle, but wanted to "play the enemies up to the dance," as he indeed did them much damage.

Return to Heer Index Page / see also Baumgartner's notes on the Gigers

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