obwald nidwald cantons forest valleys
UNTERWALDEN is one of the Forest cantons of Switzerland, ranking as sixth in the Confederation. It is composed of two valleys through which run two streams both called the Aa, and which are called Obwald and Nidwald from their position with regard to the great forest of the Kernwald in which they are situated. In old documents the inhabitants are always described as " homines intramontani," whether " vallis superioris" (Obwald) or " vallis inferioris " (Nidwald). The total area of Obwald is 183.3 square miles, 151.2 of which are classed as productive (forests 37.6), while of the remainder 3.8 are covered by glaciers and 4.3 by lakes. The area of Nidwald is 112.1 square miles, 84.1 being productive (forests 27.7) ; of the rest the cantonal bit of the Lake of Lucerne covers 12.8. The highest point in the canton is the Titlis (10,627 feet) in Obwald.
The census of 1880 returned the population of Obwald as 15,356, an increase of 941 on 1870, and that of Nidwald as 11,992, an increase of 291. In both the women have a small majority over the men. The native tongue of practically the whole population is German (15,254 in Obwald, 11,869 in Nidwald), and they are nearly all Roman Catholics (15,078 in Obwald, 11,901 in Nidwald). Till 1814 the canton was in the diocese of Constance ; since that time it has (like Uri) formed legally part of no diocese, though it is provisionally administered by the bishop of Chur. The capital of Obwald is Sarnen (4039 inhabitants), Kerns (2500) being the only other place which is more than a village; that of Nidwald is Stanz (2210). The population is purely agricultural and pastoral. In Obwald the forests are remarkable, in Nidwald the fiery energy of the inhabitants. In educational matters the standard is not very high, but is being gradually raised. At the head of the Nidwald valley (but legally in Obwald) stands the great Benedictine monastery of Engelberg, founded in 1121. There are no railways, but one is being made front Lucerne through Obwald over the Britnig Pass to Meyringen in Bern.
Historically Obwald was part of the Aargau, and Nidwald of the ZUrichgau. In both there were many great landowners (specially the abbey of Murbach and the Hapsburgs) and few free men ; while the fact that the Hapsburgs were counts of the Aargau and the ZUrichgau further delayed the development of political freedom. Both took part iu the risings of 1245-47, and in 1248 Sarnen was threatened by tho pope with excommunication for opposing its hereditary lord, the count of Hapsburg. The alleged cruelties committed by the Hapsburgs do not, however, appear in history till Justinger's Chronicle, 1420 (see TELL). On April 16, 1291, Rudolph the future emperor bought from Murbach all its estates in Unterwalden and thus ruled this district as the chief landowner, as count, and as emperor. On 1st August 1291 Nidwald formed the "Everlasting League" with Uri and Schwyx (this being the first known case in which its common seal is used), Obwald joining a little later on. In 1304 the two valleys were joined together under the same imperial bailiff, and in 1309 Henry VII. confirmed to them all the liberties granted by his predecessor - though none are known to have been granted. However, this placed Unterwalden on an equal political footing with Uri and Schwyz ; and as such it took part in lelorgarten fight (also driving back an invasion over the Briinig Pass) and in the renewal of the Everlasting League at Brunner (1315), as well as at Sempach (1386), and in driving back the angler or English freebooters (1375). For physical reasons, it was difficult for Unterwalden to enlarge its territories. Yet in 1368 it acquired Alpnach, and in 1378 Hergiswyl. So too Obwald shared with Uri in the conquest of the Val Leventina (1403), and in the purchase of Bellinzona (1419), as well as in the loss of both (1426). It was Nidwald that, with Schwyz and Uri, finally won (1500) and ruled (till 1798) Bellinzona, Riviera, and Val Blegno ; while both shared in conquests of Aargau (1415), Thurgau (1460), and Locarno, &c. (1512), and in the temporary occupation of the Val d'Ossola (1410-14 to 1417-22). In the Burgundian war Unterwalden, like the other Forest cantons, long hung back through 4ealousy of Bern, but came to the rescue in time oFneed. In 1481 it was at Stanz that the Confederates nearly broke up the League for various reasons, and it was only by the intervention then of the holy hermit Nicholas von der Elite (of Sachseln in Obwald) that peace was restored, and the great federal agreement known as the compact of Stanz concluded. Like the other Forest cantons, Unterwalden clung to the old faith at the time of the Reformation, being a member of the "Christlicho Vcreinigung" (1529) and of the Golden League (1586).
In 1798 Unterwalden resisted the Helvetic republic, but, having formed part of the short-lived Tellgau, became a district of the canton of the Waldsteitten. Obwald. submitted at an early date, but Nidwald, refusing to accept the oath of fidelity to the constitution mainly on religious grounds, rose in desperate revolt (September 1798), and was only put down by the arrival of 15,000 armed men and by the storming of Stanz. In 1803 its independence as a canton was restored, but in 1815 Nidwald refused to accept the new constitution, and federal troops had to be employed to put down its resistance, the punishment inflicted being the transfer to Obwald of the jurisdiction over the abbey lands of Engelberg (since 1421 "protected" by both valleys), which in.1798 had fallen to the lot of Nidwald. Since that time the history of Unterwalden has been like that of the other Forest cantons. It was a member of the "League of Sarnen " (1832), to oppose the reforming wishes of other cantons, and of the "Sontlerbund " (1843) ; it was defeated in the war of 1847 ; and it voted against the acceptance of the federal constitution both in 1848 and in 1874. It forms at present two half cantons, each sending one representative to the federal ''assembly of states." In local matters the two valleys are independent. In each the supreme authority is the "landsgemeinde" (meeting on the last Sunday in April), composed of all male citizens of twenty (Obwald) or eighteen (Nidwald) years of age, while the cantonal council, which drafts measures and sanctions the expenditure of sums below certain fixed small amounts, is composed. in Obwald of 80 members (including the executive council) elected by the people for 4 years, and in Nidwald of 48 (besides the executive council) chosen in the same way for 6 years. The executive council is in both cases elected by the " landsgemeinde"; in Obwald it consists of 3 officials and 4 ordinary members, and in Nidwald of 6 officials and 5 ordinary members, - the official members being chosen every year, the ordinary every 4 or 3 years respectively. The existing constitution of Obwald is that of 1867 ; that of Nidwald is dated 1850, and was amended in 1877-78.
It is very remarkable that in both valleys the old "common lamas " are still in the hands of the old guilds, and " gemeinden " consist of natives, not merely residents, though in Obwald these contribute to the expenses of the new " political communes " of residents, while in Nidwald the latter have to raise special taxes. In Engelberg (which still retains sonic independence) the poor are greatly favoured in the division of the common lands and their proceeds, and unmarried persons (or widowers and widows) receive only half the share of those who are married.
See J. Businger, Die Geschichien des Pollees 1•01L Untertraiden, 2 vols., 1827-25.