Denton Jaques Snider.

Lincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest online

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A little village near the shore,

Just opposite the hateful Fort,

Was whence we would pass o'er,

The whiteface likes to see the Indians dance

And practice antics of that sort,

While over us his banner flaunts;

Thus oft we have the troops amused,

And to us they were getting used ;

Unarmed they came and stood around

To see us leap and beat the ground,

To hear the whoop and song and clatter,

Wondering what was the matter.

When we had merrily danced awhile,

Just long enough their senses to beguile,

We were to give three whoops of war,

Then rush and every gate unbar,

While all the guards would yield their lives

To the quick stab of our hidden knives ;

And at our common shout

The rest from our own village would row out,

With loaded guns to meet the fight

Which would begin outright

With all the soldiers of that garrison

And officers — without excepting one;

But when the battle reached its height,


Then you and yours from the other side

Would cross the stream not there so wide,

And all the Bluecoats with one whoop

Into the stream you were to swoop,

And so Fort Armstrong fell would fall —

We would not leave one stone within its wall.

But when we went to give the dance,

The guardsmen looked askance ;

The gates were bolted doubly fast,

The time to act was past ;

Then we were warned off from the isle ;

To my canoe I ran meanwhile

And rowed in haste across the Eiver,

That I this message might deliver

To you before it was too late :

You must for us no longer wait,

But for yourselves at once look out,

Within a trice you ought to wheel about,

For if your going be delayed,

You too may be betrayed. ' ■

The prophet thus the news bespake
While through his body thrilled a quake,
At that most sudden startling hap,
Which smote him like a ghostly slap
Out of his future dreamy world,
And him into the present hurled ;
When he had sped the rapid word
He left his hearers all unheard,
He would not wait for their ado,


But ran a race to his canoe,

Began to row with his full might,

And soon was out of sight,

Leaving the Hawk in sagging plight.

So the first act of the grand scheme

Turned out again an Indian dream,

Fort Armstrong on its bedded water lies

And all its red-skinned foes defies.

The well-gunned Bluecoats still are pacing

With keenest eye-shot round the walls,

And every petty noise are tracing,

Though but the bubbling of the waterfalls

Which babble at the shallow shore,

And tumble onward in a little roar :

Sometimes 'tis less, and sometimes more,

So that it throbs a tender heart

And in a whisper speaks its part,

Or to a music gives the beat

With alternation loud and low,

Which tunes the flight of river fleet

To Time 's unresting forward flow ;

Or maybe it is telling its own soul

Of longing for the Oceanic roll.


Five minutes were not gone before
The Indian mass heaved in a mad uproar,
For all had heard of that new danger
Told slyly by the sudden stranger,


Whom they saw glide in his canoe,

Mist-winged slipping out of view.

The warning they were hot to heed

And rushed away without a lead,

Men, squaws, pappooses in confusion,

Even the horses took the delusion,

All ran together in a panic

And roared ahead with howl Satanic,

Never letting their furious pace

Till they had put five miles of space

Behind them in their breathless race ;

"Weening old Nick upon their rear

They hardly dared look round for fear

Of seeing a blue-coated devil

A cocked-up musket at them level.

At last the rout no more could run

But fell down on the ground undone,

Awaiting there a speedy death,

When they found out they still had breath,

And had not yet become a ghostly wraith ;

Soon all uprose in mutual curse ;

Each blamed the rest for that disgraceful

They railed at Black Hawk for their plight,
And then marched off — but none the worse.
When Black Hawk saw he had been thwarted,
He down the Mississippi started,
He laid his failure to the stream
Whose spirit flashed a hostile gleam,
At least to him it so did seem-,


Then in his boat upright he stood

And roared in wrath his vengeful mood :

"Father of Waters, no longer friend,

The red man thou wilt not defend,

Protecting him in his old land

Which kisses lovingly thy strand ;

Towards the setting sun away

Thou scourge st him day after day

So that he can no longer see thee roll

And join his own to thy majestic soul,

Till he may hear thy inner call

And both be rapt into the One-and-All.

But now to thee I shall not render thanks ;

To our white foe each of thy banks

Thou hast in murmurous joy presented:

That act is what I have in thee resented.

Traitor thou art to thy red child

On whom thou hast for ages smiled,

Perfidious has been thy breast,

While we have toyed with it for rest ;

Oft has thy laughter us beguiled

In thy disloyal waves caressed;

I hate thee more than any man,

For thou art no good Indian ;

Upon a time I held thee wholly red

But thou the nobler skin, methinks, hast shed,

Hast changed thy tint just in my sight,

A treacherous turn-coat over night.

No wonder thou dost creep and crook!

Shame ! thou art worse than Keokuk ! ' '


Such rage poured out the raving Hawk,
He only to himself could talk,
And so went on his furious musing
The River as his fiend abusing;
1 i Cursed be the day when once I floated down
Thy villianous waves to old St. Louis town;
More than three hundred moons ago it was,
Of all our woes the hated cause ;
I saw him come, the new white man,
Out of the East, the bad American;
Thou didst upbear him, false River,
x\nd softly set him on thy Western shore,
Which he will stir from nevermore,
I felt in me an earthquake 's shiver,
And all this world rolled in a quiver,
Which made me think the judgment day
Was coming down this way.
But I intend thy stream to cross
Backwards, and so make up the loss,
Driving to death these rash whitefaces
Wreaking on them the rage of races. ' f

He scarce had winged the frantic word

When under him a grinding sound was heard ;

Black Hawk's canoe ran on a rock

And stopped his tongue by one hard knock

Whereat his vessel veered about,

And circled on the current stout

Until the prow again had started

Back to the shore from which it parted ;


He still was reeling in the double shock,
When rose and stood upon the self-same rock
The mighty spirit of the outraged River,
Flapping his two outstretched white wings
Whose tips together he in tempo flings.
As if a swan might turn the Giver,
But many times than swan more large —
The pinions brushed the distant marge.
And now from beak of spirit bird,
In godlike tone comes forth the word :

4 ' 'Tis I who halts thee on this rock,
I would thy further passage block
To save thee and thy blinded folk
From the impending deadly stroke;
Although I am by thee most hated,
The spirit I whom thou hast rated.
'Tis true I am no longer Indian,
Still I would save thee if I can;
Thou mayst not prosper on this track,
Therefore I bid thee now go back
And dwell with Keokuk the sage
Tuning to peace thy present rage ;
I have become the white man's sprite
Subjected to a greater might;
Upon this very stream of mine
Another guardian takes my place,
My power vanishes with thine,
And passes to a different race. —
Hark ! it is coming ! that new ghost


Which rules the realm which I have lost !

This Eiver like a horse it backs

And whips it up with many whacks,

Curling the ripples along its tracks ;

The domineering overlord

Unto the Mississippi's flood,

It puffs command in haughty word

Which cannot be misunderstood. —

I spy it yonder — I cannot stay —

I see it swashing down this way —

Good bye, Black Hawk, 'tis my last day —

Go back, go back, I say. ' '

What could it be, that monster new,

Which drove the Spirit old from view ?

Along it comes and gives a snort

Which cuts that ghostly sentence short,

And makes the specter dive headlong

Into the current where most strong,

As if to get out of the way

Of its chief foe who will it slay.

And Black Hawk too at once down ducked,

In his canoe his head he tucked,

Until the goblin passed upstream,

Himself alive he dared not dream ;

It was a mighty apparition

Which at a single breath and nod

Dethroned the ancient Eiver-God,

And brought about a new condition

In all of that adjacent land


Which stretches down the fluvial strand.
The steamboat was that strange phantasm
Which somehow seemed to cross the chasm
Out of the old into the new,
Though very real it is to me and you.
But see it mount the stream a-straddle,
And slap the wave with many a paddle,
Whirling tEe wheel with its long cranks
Which like two mighty arms stretch out
And whiz their knuckled hands about,
Fetching the flood their heavy spanks
With a revolving line of planks,
And pushing thus upstream the boat
Which else would down the current float.

But now the miracle of transformation !

It seemed a turn of fresh creation,

Black Hawk beheld his swan-god rise amain,

And flap out of the stream again,

Beheld the sky- wide plumage fly

Up to that monster puffing nigh,

And into it transmuted be

Before his Indian imagination,

So that he sole of all could see

The two becoming one —

By some exalted alchemy

The miracle was done

To outer and to inner vision.

Behold between the twain a sudden kiss ;

Now watch the metamorphosis

More weird than ancient poet ever fabled,


Though with a God it may be labeled ;
High Zeus turned to a swan in olden story,
To meet his Leda by the stream
And woo her with his brightest gleam,
Divine the escapade, though amatory ;
But now the swan-wings fly to steam,
Propelling a new body on the stream,
That body plies the river and the ocean
Imparting to the world new motion,
Circling around the total earth
Which it will belt with a new girth,
And bind afresh its folk together
With a universal tether.
But that new Eiver-God at last
Beyond the sight of Black Hawk passed,
And was no longer by him heard
Flapping enskyed white wings agleam,
Or puffing cloudward breaths of steam,
Which to him voiced a winged word,
As if it were a swan-like bird
Of his white-pinioned dream.

The Indian Chief pulled his canoe

Down to a little point's projection,

Behind which lay his people hid from view

To escape detection.

Soon all were rowing on the flood,

The crossing they made good,

And at Rock River's mouth they landed,

Just as Black Hawk commanded.



So they were on the soil of Saukenuk,
Which all the settlers soon forsook.
This was the former Indian village
Now overgrown with white man's tillage,
The houses of the hardy pioneer
Soon were ablaze both far and near,
The mother and her sucking child
Were tomahawked by savage wild,
And many a scalp of his white foe
Was dangling from his belt for show.
Yet there was one Caucasian face
Which represented too a race,
It was Francesco Molinar,
Who helped the Redskins in this war ;
But with himself was not at peace,
Could for his deed find no release,
With his fierce comrades had to stay,
'Till he somehow might slip away.
Black Hawk had come unto the graves
Of his forefathers where the river laves
The shelving shore in ripples loving,
Which never stop but keep on roving,
Till in the Mississippi's flow
They sink away with ecstacy
And in its bosom to the ocean go,
As minded on eternity.

And now starts up the exultation

In dance and song and merriment,

They deem themselves once more a nation —

A gift from their Great Spirit sent


To whom they rave their incantation,

With many horrid heathen rites

Dripping with blood of slaughtered whites.

And Molinar the priest was there

Scanning the sanguinary scene,

He seemed to mutter now and then a prayer

As if he far away had been,

For absent-minded was his air.

But see the Indians turn and shiver !

The new Great Spirit of the Eiver

Is panting forth its whiffs of steam

And flies in haste adown the stream.

Behold ! it faces toward the mouth

Through which the river Eock runs south,

And near the village of the Sauk

It stops as if to give a talk ;

When it has anchored on the shore,

Bluecoats are springing from its back — just

four —
And at their head an officer
Would with Black Hawk at once confer
As soon as he had found the chief ;
Bravely he spake a sentence brief :

* * You must this very day turn back,

Else you will have our army on your track ;

Yon stream you must recross

Else you will suffer some great loss.

What you intend I wish to know —

Will you return f At once, say so ' ' —

Black Hawk upreared in Indian pride


And with a hissing scowl replied :

No, NO.

Whereat the soldiers wheeled about,

Yet rearward kept a sharp look-out

With bayonets agleam,

Until they reached again their boat,

Which then began to puff and float,

Veering around in haste upstream ;

But soon it curved a foreland's bight

And swiftly shifted out of sight,

Still could be heard its mighty indignation

Borne on the breeze 's suspiration.

Black Hawk himself ran up his tower,

A hill which stood not far away

And over all the land did lower

Which underneath its summit lay ;

High on its tip he settled there,

To the old Gods would say a prayer ;

But only saw he everywhere

The white man's new-come Manito

Defying Mississippi's flow

And swimming up the raging flood :

That boded to his world no good.

Then looks he forth into the sky,

The God there seems no longer nigh ;

The Sun rolls down his dome into the West

In muffled sheen he sinks to rest,

As if a tear might orb his big round eye

In solar sympathy,

Seeming to shed a fore-wept sorrow

For what might rise with him to-morrow.

Canto £>ebentf).


Behold the flowery riot of the plains
Eesponsive to the childing April rains
Which clasp together Heaven and Earth,
Eepeating ever Nature's birth.
Now on that army's path of toil
Spring everywhere leaps from the soil,
Saluting all in happy smile,
And breathing love withouten guile
In kisses lasting many a mile.
The prairie e'en showed courtesy
From all its flat democracy,
And reached to every eye along the way
A mighty circumambient bouquet
Which placed each man just at its heart



And rayed to him its laugh from every part

Of the remote periphery

Encircling that wide prairial Sea,

Which waved afar enringed wreathes

As when the wind on Ocean breathes.

Sometimes a single sycamore

Would shoot up from the even floor,

And reach on every side its limbs,

Starting to sing its little hymns

All to itself out of its own tree top

With many a varying organ-stop,

Lapping its thousand leafy tongues

Which answered every breezy fluff

And piped a strain according to the puff

Sent through its big arboreal lungs.

The marching line of men did seem to make

Upon the surface of the blooming lake

An ever-widening wake,

Whose ceaseless waves concentric roll

A many-tinted scroll.

And as they wound their way around

A zigzag path along the ground,

At some bend often they could see

The Mississippi suddenly ;

Whereat their eyes would brighter gleam

As if a love they felt for that one stream ;

Holy perchance they would not deem

Its water or its overflow ;

The Hindoos look upon the Ganges so,


And Egypt deified old Nilus long ago.

But still the man of every station

Pelt for that stream a strain of veneration,

Which made him look at it in awe

Whenever it would into vision draw,

As if it interlinked with his salvation,

And bore his country's destiny

Into the future's viewless Sea,

The symbol of the freeing nation

Hurrying forward into History.

One drowsy eve the marching band

Encamped anear the river's strand,

And with their slumbers wove the rippling

Transmitting life into a dream.
For all that weary regiment
The daytime's toil was with a music blent,
Which tuned anew this earthly tenement.
But Lincoln somehow could not sleep,
His thoughts made him their vigil keep,
From side to side his frame would roll,
Yet more than weary was his soul,
Until he sprang up from his bed,
And to the river bank he sped,
Reflecting on that incident
In which the woman slave he sent
Away from her old servitude —
That stirred in him his deepest mood,
And never quit his inner sight
In the long watches of the night.


Upon the shelving banks he stalked,

While to himself he seemed a ghost

Who with him as another talked

And in a common footstep walked —

That shadow of himself was uppermost.

Over the ripples played the moon

And set both mind and nature to one tune ;

Then Lincoln lordly stopped and stood

Addressing Mississippi's flood,

Destined to flow through human histories

With Tiber's fame and Euphrates':

i ' Thou seemest now, O Stream, to me

The very roll of destiny,

As thou dost plunge in giant's play

Along thy channeled way ;

Into the future sweeps thy line,

And so does mine.

What in the unborn world lies hidden

Comes up unbidden,

As I behold thy ever-forward gait ;

Myself in thee I contemplate,

At what I am to be I wonder

As years roll on above and under,

Until the thread of life is clipped asunder ;

And over the border thou lurest me to spy,

If there I may in hope descry


The speaker stayed his stirring speech
Which had attuned its last outreach


In trying the Beyond to tell;

Unbreathed in human tone it fell,

Yet on the soul it left its silent spell.

But soon with resolution's tether

He pulled himself again together,

Out of his spirit 's boundless overflow

Came back to something he could know :

"Return I must from the unseen,

To ask this River — what does it mean?

The ripples leap in bubbling dance,

But what is the significance !

For Nature is no petty tinker,

She is to me the deepest thinker,

In her appearances both great and small

She gives shy glimpses of the All,

And even tells her elemental thought,

But first her spirit must be caught,

And, too, her language taught.

Oh, mighty Heaven-tapping River,

Thy benison comes of the Giver —

Into thy single long-necked funnel

Thou gatherest in hope each runnel,

The largest streams as well as least

Fetch all their riches to thy feast,

Pouring adown the double mountain crest,

Our boundary of East and West.

Thy deepest word is unity

Although each pottering brook be free

To course its winding way to thee ;

Thy stamp is set upon this land, River,


To make it one forever,

Each little affluent of thine

Doth lisp the same deep countersign :

I must be one with all the others

Just my own self to be;

I have to live with all my brothers

In one great family ;

From separation springs no life,

But everlasting strife.' '

Thus to tense Lincoln seemed to speak

Just at his side a buoyant creek

Tumbling around its bedded stones

In endless line of babbled tones

Quite syllabled with parting lips

As up and down the current dips

Until it mingles with the louder gush

In Mississippi's foremost rush.

But Lincoln could not well forget
What left in him a large regret ;
There seemed to be a subtle might
To put upon the stream a blight
As it ran southward out of sight.
Again arose that fleeing slave
Whom he in camp had dared to save,
Then he recalled the flat-boat scenes
When once he floated down. to New Orleans,
He saw men sold to servitude,
On which he never failed to brood.
There heaved up high within his soul


A tossing* Oceanic roll,

He turned his lit-up face down stream

And pierced the dark with a rapt gleam,

For in him all the future seemed awake,

And through his voice it spake:

' ' I cast mine eye now to the other side

And watch thy wavelets gaily glide,

On yonder bank I hear no chain,

Whose clanking shrills my ear with pain ;

But when I look adown the stream

Divided soon its waters seem,

On the other half a darker fringe

Begirts the land with sombre tinge,

Which overshadows the whole State

With threatening frown of Fate.

But look ! the Heavens light with joy

This side where lies our Illinois,

And here the stream transparent flows

While over there it turbid grows.

sympathetic Eiver what aileth thee?
Thy spirit voice seems crying me :

1 am half slave, half free,
Thither I murmur somehow fettered,
Hither I prattle not to be bettered ;
And still it gives me my great trouble
That I have henceforth to run double ;
My heart I feel in twain is cleft,

Of happiness I am bereft;
Halved in my very unity,
I am become the foe of me,


And never can I feel myself to be

Till I am wholly free.

Unto my hope I was more true

When only Eeds bathed in my view,

Or rippled me with their canoe.

But now arrives another race,

And mirrors in me his pallid face,

Me rifting with his own affliction,

I too become the white man's contradiction;

Proclaiming that rent liberty

Of man enslaved and free —

Such split has gotten into me.

I pray you, take it out,

And give me peace, Captain stout;

You seem the man to do that deed,

So let the Mississippi too be freed.

If you but open my flood gates,

You will enfranchise all the United States."

When Lincoln heard that ghostly voice

Foreboding from afar his call,

He knew not if to tremble or rejoice,

And still he heard himself in all

What that strange phantom did unfold,

Though he had never to himself it told ;

It came upon him like a revelation

Of life's most deeply hid vocation,

Of creeds it was his very creed

Which must in time be answered by the deed.

So Lincoln viewed his destiny aghast,


That trance of his brought also back the past ;

Along the Ohio's bed he boated,

And to the Mississippi once he floated,

Where both the rivers flow as one

Down to the hot demesnes of sun —

That was some years agone ;

But memory starts up once more,

And bids him speak upon that shore :

" Where both thy struggling sides seemed

I in my little craft arrived ;
Each of the shores said just the same,
Not half and half was then their name,
That was of this just opposite,
If here the day, there was the night ;
If here unchained the river laves,
There both its banks are slaves,
Up here the stream begins all free
Then loses half of liberty,
Until it changes wholly to its other
Binding its once unfettered brother.
Ah yes ! I still can recollect
In the Ohio's flow I could detect
That same wee murmur forward fleeing
Of a divided inner being ;
Kentucky thralled just yonder sighs,
Free Indiana this side lies.
Our upper stream must change the lower
Into itself, or be no more ;
It can not stay half liberated,


The bond and free cannot be mated
In a perpetual unity,
All must the one or other be —
One must, I say, become the all,
The whole a freeman, or the whole a thrall,
Let our North- West transform the Nation
Along with this great Biver's transforma-

So Lincoln winged his words in farthest flight,

He seemed to look ahead with second sight,

And dream himself beyond the Now

As if to aught unseen he took a vow ;

Anon uprose the river-ghost again

And echoed back his soul's deep strain:

"O Captain, Captain, well I see

Thine is the far futurity ;

And so to thee my aspiration

I speak concerning all the Nation,

Hear, then, prophetic Time 's decree :

This upper part of me

Must move down stream till all alike I be ;

My Eiver, too, in its whole length

Is to be liberated by thy strength,

From its headwaters till the mouth,

From icy North to balmy South ;

This upper part that lower must transform

E 'en though it cost a mighty storm ;

Unless this hap, that lower part

The upper here will also take


And these free shores unf ree will make

Stabbing our world unto the heart.

Oh Lincoln, I am the spirit of the Eiver,

I come to pray thee to deliver

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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 10 of 16)