Denton Jaques Snider.

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

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Into the fort tall Lincoln strode

Where stood the officers' abode,

To be discharged of further obligation

Of serving in his present station.

No captain was he now in rank,

But lofty private lean and lank,

High towered over all the rest

That unkempt head which was the best.


But look ! what meets his quickened eyes

Which flash out lightnings of surprise ?

Lieutenant Robert Anderson,

Of all those officers his favorite one,

Steps up in soldierly salute,

And parleys with the rude recruit ;

The blue consorts with butternut,

Suppressing the West Pointer's strut:

i ' I recollect your presence well,

You cast on all a kind of spell,

When with Lieutenant Davis in debate

I argued on the nature of our State. ' '

Then Lincoln rose to his full height

And spoke a word far-glanced in sight :

' ' When you there said you would fire back,

I thought I saw the very man

Who would in time dare that attack

Which seems to rise into the coming plan.

Let drown the dream whoever can —

On Charleston bay a sudden glare

Beheld I with its hellish flare,

The scintillating curve of the first shell

I glimpsed just as it downward fell

Into the fortress where you stood —

You answered it the best you could ;

At once the blazes mounted higher ;

The entire sky from that one shot took fire,

And spread thence over land and ocean,

The world shook in the deep commotion. ,,


Lieutenant Anderson sprang back

As if he heard that future cannon's crack,

Startled by a wild sonorous dream

Which still the truth to him might seem.

Forefeeling far some coming lot

Upon that fatal spot,

Collecting all himself he turned

Unto a present point that burned:

1 * Much trouble down in Caroline !

That haunts me with a face malign

Forever looking into mine,

Whereat I often have to start,

Beholding my demonic counterpart,

Which comes to challenge me to fight :

I cannot free me of that sight.

I seem to hear the President

Bid me hold out where I was sent

And if it comes to that, I must —

I shall not think of failing in my trust ;

Back of my heated argument

With Davis lay just that intent. ' '

Then Lincoln spake with thoughtful mien,
Yet with his eyesight flashing keen :
"Like phantoms — let me too confess —
Do oft my day and night distress ;
Whenever I may read Calhoun,
The strife seems coming soon ;
Between his lines there roars a revel
Begotten of the very Devil,


Who will our Nation disunite

Preparatory to a fight.

I read the speech of Senator Hayne

When Webster tackled him in mighty strain ;

Both spoke the time's protagonists,

Words to be followed by the fists

Which hold the sword and gun,

Until some great new deed be done.

When men begin in writ to think,

Blood often courses after ink ;

If once the age its skin will shed,

The flaying pen runs red.

Though Jackson be now President

And publishes his declaration,

That comes to me a far prefigurement

Of another stronger proclamation ;

And since I heard that hot debate

Between yourself and Davis over there,

Outside I saw the fight of fate

Upon the glowering air ;

I am become all one prognostication

Of How and When and Where."

Thus Lincoln the oracle had spelt

Which dimly Anderson forefelt,

As if he might it yet enact

When the world has gotten ready

To whelm it into fact

Just at the whirling moment's eddy.

Soon Anderson again spake out


What he was thinking then about :
"I talked with Davis afterward
As soon as we had mounted guard ;
You gave him quite a little fluster
When he had taken you in hand to muster,
By thumping down your fist with such a clat-
As if you something sought to batter.
That oath to you he would administer,
You made him feel it something sinister —
More deeply than a rude annoyer,
You seemed to him to turn destroyer.' '
To this replied gigantic Abraham :
"You tell exactly what I am;
When I behold him and his like,
Such speeches make me boldly strike;
So I fetched down my fist before me
When he unto the Constitution swore me;
Calhoun's successor he may be,
And execute the same decree ;
Methinks he showed a high ambition
Which may in years come to fruition,
And of our Union's overthrow
He may be generalissimo.
That keen discussion started up in me
An undercurrent of antipathy,
Which makes me deeply hesitate
About my peaceful Quaker trait —
Or am I born to war's estate?
My eyes first looked on old Kentucky,


That loyal commonwealth and lucky,

E'en if she Davis bore with me

In double strange maternity.

He ought indeed to be my brother

If she of both of us be mother ;

Again 'tis Cain and Abel's story,

Whereby the Bible even opens gory."

Then Anderson gave answer straight :

' i Kentucky is my native state,

As well as that of Davis and of you,

And I shall stay there through,

To my dear homeland ever true;

It seems the center of this nation,

Whence ray the courses of migration,

Dividing into south and north

Its hardy sons have wandered forth ;

Davis and you have gone to roam,

Far from your old Kentucky home ;

Gulfward he has moved to stay,

But you have turned the other way,

Into this level free northwest,

Now settling up with mighty zest

That soon it will be peopled more

Than our Kentucky starting years before,

Though she be still the only key

Which locks the nation into unity,

With all its separate states both north and

From Maine to Mississippi's mouth."


1 ' That is my view, I do agree, ' *■
Said Lincoln in a note of glee,
' ' And with that new Kentucky key
The President will lock this nation
Into a newly bonded federation
Which will — the whole of it — be free. ' '

Lieutenant Anderson somewhat demurred

To this far-off prophetic word,

But let it pass with look of wonder

As if he heard a distant clap of thunder.

Still he could not escape the spell,

He too must dare somewhat foretell :

' ' Now you and Davis move just opposite,

Between you two may be the fight ;

Already you have gone apart so far,

That if you two be leaders, there is war.

But in the middle let me stay

Hoping against the fatal day."

So guaged Lieutenant Robert Anderson

The men twinned deep in destiny,

The makers of the new World's History,

Whose deeds were coming on the run,

Which also he would have to face.

But now he turned aside the talk with grace
To something then just taking place :
"The pretty daughter of old Zack
Jeff has been bravely wooing,
And cannot be thrown off the track


But keeps defiantly pursuing,
And dares even to jaw back.
The father scorns such son-in-law,
Eegarding him a jack-of -straw
Strutting about in uniform,
But impudent and disputatious,
Bound at some day to raise a storm
With his big tongue of words fallacious.
Old Eough and Ready is a curious fellow,
Though often harsh, can turn to mellow ;
He questions slavery in this nation
But works three hundred slaves on his planta-
But Davis will retain the daughter,
E'en though it come to parent's slaughter,
He will defy old Zachary,
Who can him but his house deny,
Which will do little good
In softening those lovers' mood.
And this I say of Jefferson,
Just what he has to his superior done,
He to his country all will do
'Ere he gets through.
Such characters as his seem bound
To run of life the complete round
Ere they be put beneath the ground. ' '
To Lincoln's soul these words went home
Shedding a sort of shadowy gloam;
He hardly knew which was the way
He felt just then — to curse or pray ;


The other of it might be either,

So he did neither.

A word from him was far to seek,

Still out the silences he tried to speak :

* ' Yes, I shall watch the rest of his career,

In spite of me I shiver with a secret fear

Of something which I cannot tell,

And yet it puts me in a little Hell,

Whose far-off brimstone I can even smell."

Therewith Abe Lincoln made his long legs

A rapid march till he was out of sight
Of those blue-coated gentlemen
Whose duty sole it was to fight ;
At present he might deem himself dis-
Yet really he knew his service but enlarged,
Till a new order was by time unsealed
When he again would have to take the field.
While on the path he quickly went,
Welled up his fresh presentiment :
1 i Davis again may muster me
For a much longer war
And deadlier by far —
But I may have to muster him — I see. ! '
So Lincoln came to know the officers
Whom the whole Nation deemed as hers,
And nearly all were Southerners;
In them he saw the inner scission


Which sometime might lead to division,
He caught the spirit of the regular,
And measured him for war.
He felt himself in strange condition,
Within he heard the far monition,
What was to come lurked in his soul
And seemed his life-line to control.

But so it comes once more about

That Abraham is mustered out,

He treads in haste along the way

To find his friends without delay;

He soundly sleeps with them that night

Along Bock river 's purling stream,

Till soft Aurora's rosy gleam

Awakes him in another plight,

For when he goes to mount his steed, 'tis

gone —
Stolen before the dawn.
Others were in the selfsame case,
Still they put on a happy face,
For they were going home right off,
So what's the use to sulk or scoff?
Still Lincoln spoke a word unsought
Indexing well his thought.
"Good uncle Jimmy, how shall I hail him
When I again shall see New Salem?
His nag I cannot now restore,
It neighs for me no more ;
But here still hangs my loyal sword,


To its high owner I shall keep my word,
And hand it back to that fair maid
Who guiding me drew forth the blade/ '
Thence all the way he had to walk
Enlivening the time with talk,
He oped the bag of anecdote
Of which the old ones he would quote;
But the bran-new ones also started,
Which he with double zest imparted;
For they were coined from his experiences,
What he had sensed with all his senses,
And even a kind of Iliad
Made of this Black Hawk war he had,
A string of stories strung somehow
From starting-point awhirl till now
Out of New Salem it did move
Northward wherever he might rove,
A hundred turns it curved around
And out of each would peep a jest,
Which pricked to laughter every breast,
And so the tune ran on a bound.


As Lincoln and his comrades sped
Along the road, they saw ahead
A single shape of man who stood
And waited for them near a wood
Out of whose thicket he had crept
From leafy bed where he had slept.


Well armed with pistol and with knife,

And eke a gun he held to guard his life ;

He made no sign of showing fight

He would have peace if in his might ;

A visage dark but keen and bold,

His hair a cap did quite enfold

So that its curls could not be seen,

In shade he stood out of the sheen;

Some prairie chickens he had shot

He gave them to that tired knot

Of ravenous three men;

Two turned to cook their supper then,

But he and Lincoln got into a talk,

And soon they took a little walk,

The comer new 'gan speaking lower.

The words fell from him slower,

' ' I heard them call you Abe today,

Are you not Captain Lincoln, pray?

To see you has been long my plan

Old Loo declared you were the man —

You saved him from a bloody fate,

I saw you too, at your own risk —

That hunter there was I — you did him whisk

Out of a band of men irate,

Then sent him off safe from their hate.

And to that woman black and child

You were a guardian angel mild,

So told me Loo, the Potawatomie,

Of Indian blood the best was he —

The noblest of his savage race,


He had a touch of Heaven's grace,

He would a life of service lead,

Which he was taught by Johnny Appleseed.

He said to me in confidence,

No red-skin understood his sense ;

Still he would help his people in their need. ' '

Then Swartface of a sudden stood,

He had come to the deepest wood,

Above a whisper scarce he spoke,

And yet in it was heard the tender stroke,

As if to Lincoln there he would unscroll

The hidden writ upon his soul :

1 ' That negress and her little boy

Are haunting me with pain and joy;

I heard about them from your men,

And now they will not quit my ken ;

Lincoln, a secret let me tell to thee,

I am a man by law unfree,

Half -black my coursing blood, half-white —

In me two races clinch and fight.

Know that I am a runaway,

And still the price of bondage I must pay

For which I never promise gave;

My swarthy mother was a slave

My lordly father such could never be,

And so the twain collide in me.

In old Kentucky left behind

My wife and child passed out of mind;

But now to me they are called back



By what I've heard about your deed,

In which a mother and her babe were freed;

How can I come upon their track!

I fain would know — they may be mine —

Cannot you speak to me some sign?"

Then Lincoln told him the whole fact,

And spoke of Quaker Ellwood's act,

Describing too the latter 's residence,

Then gave his words another sense :

"But go along with us today,

To furnish food upon the way,

All of our weapons have been taken,

We are a trio quite forsaken,

This sword must never leave my side

Whatever may betide,

It is to me the dearest token

To bring it home I have forespoken."

Still told his changed mind Swartf ace :

"The Indian is a dying race

To whites they are not half so much the prey

As to themselves — they one another slay —

With them I shall no longer stay.

No hand can help — I have it tried —

That race is bound for suicide,

And soon will reach their destination,

Not far off now is their last station.

Among them I have lived for years

And shared their race's hopes and fears,

Faithful I served them as I could


And found that I could no good.

I tell you something deepest in my heart

Which bids me feel your coming part:

When you saved Loo the Indian,

Still more when you turned free the African,

You rose in me the races ' man. ' '

Then Lincoln said: "It is far in the night,

The hours have bidden us to sleep,

And snatch a dream out of the Future 's keep,

Tomorrow with the sun will come the light. ' '

Swartface remained among the three,

Lincoln alone knew of his pedigree,

But kept it hidden from the rest

Who ne'er suspected in their guest

The tainted strain of negro blood,

Which he knew how in stealth to hood —

He mostly at a distance kept

And through the forest slyly crept

Hunting to find for them some game;

At dusk again to camp he came,

While others slept and snored outright,

With Lincoln he would talk by night ;

And so he passed some thoughtful days

As if he studied in a school

Eemodeling his spirit's ways,

Which now he deems those of a fool.

One evening Lincoln all at once spoke out :

i 1 1 now recall what once you asked about,

Of that slave-mother's mien some sign,


Some mark of body or some salient line.

I recollect a tufted mole

Suspended crisply on her chin,

As if to notify her bronzed skin :

This mole would work a little spell

When down to it a furrowed tear would roll

And gleam a moment ere it fell."

But hardly had the word been spoken

When Swartface leaped and lisped: "That

is the token !
What I must do now, well I know,
I spy the way I have to go ;
Good Lincoln, you have set me right.
Farewell ! I must be off tonight,
An outer slavery I had,
My inner slavery was just as bad,
My hate of family, my hate of you,
My hate e'en of myself I have fought

through :
Both by your word and by your deed.
Lincoln, liberator, you have me freed."

The other men had gone their way,

Each homeward turned that very day

And so it happed that Lincoln forward trode

Without companions of the road;

He sauntered dreamily alone,

The July sun his path beshone;

The case of that new runaway


Brought his foreboding into play.
Through a small puncture in Time's walls
Between the Future and the Past there falls
An ever-roaring double stream—
Flowing forward-backward it doth seem —
It is the Now half fact half dream,
Through it is Lincoln borne to what will be
And glimpses veiled futurity,
But to the Present ever is whirled back,
He has to tread inside his track.
Along a sluggish creek he wends
Which crooks about in many bends,
And oft is in itself divided,
Going its watery way two-sided,
Bosoming many islets green
On one of which some trees are seen
Well laden with their fruited treasure
Giving to all with Nature's measure.
The country was a prairie blank
Covered with grasses tall and rank,
Which fire consumed once every year
Scarce leaving there an herby spear;
But that green islet was a spot protected,
By human foresight well selected
For that small orchard on it growing,
And now its fruit to mortals showing,
Who ate thereof in prayerful pleasure.
Minding a miracle they could not measure.

The riddle Lincoln sought to grapple
Just as he bit into an apple


Which had an old f amilar taste :

"What brought it to this untamed waste

So many, many years ago?

It must have had the time to grow.

Who was the providential man

Whose brain was stamped with such a plan —

Forethought this tree beset with dangers,

Fire, flood, wild beasts, the prairie's rangers?

Me thinks a story once I heard

Of such a man, to such deeds stirred,

Dear me ! I may have met him too,

If memory plays me not untrue,

Those apple trees I oft have seen

In screened nook where I have been;

There is a presence with them here.

I see it not, but it is near. ' '

Some steps he took along the shore

Sunk in himself down to the core ;

A little skiff came up which bore

One person gliding on the stream

And scanning sharply every place,

Yet with a kindly look upon his face,

Which glanced a message in its gleam.

Not very stanch was framed the craft,

Waddled about from fore to aft,

Slipping its path through bending reeds

It bore some sacks of apple seeds.

"Will you not take me in your boat?

Homeward with you I wish to float. * *

"Just the man I wish to see,

Come take your seat and plant with me."


The pair soon sped into the Illinois
Leaving the little creek behind,
And glided on in mutual joy,
While they each other sought to find
By penetrating to the mind ;
Once Lincoln raised aloft his oar
A ringed water- snake to smite,
His mate had halted him before
His blow upon that wriggling coil could light,
Saying: "Why start an endless strife?
That is a piece of universal life;
You never can get rid of such a fight. ' '
The man harmed not a living creature
He seemed to know each little feature
Which lined the face of good old Mother Nat-
With whom he lived in subtle sympathy
And heard her voice in every tree.
"I turn her to the friend of man,"
He said, l ' though often deemed the foe ;
'Tis she who carries out my plan,
And makes the planted seeds to grow.
When she is loved, she will kiss back,
If to her love you know the knack,
This law to me is not a fable:
Nature at hearf is charitable.' '

Lincoln bethought the turn of speech,
That voice seemed out the Past to reach :
"I must have heard you long ago,


But where it was I do not know."
i 'So you before to me have spoken:
The fact I think I can you token"
Quoth with a backward glance the man,
Then delving in himself began :
"Now if you wish to solve this riddle,
Just see yourself in the Ohio's middle
On your flat-boat bob up and down,
'Twas there we came in sight together
And both our crafts and souls did tether;
We had just turned a little town,
And reached the river at its mouth,
From which you kept on going South,
While I wheeled slowly up the turbid torrent
Fleeing that lower stream to me abhorrent,
Just where on both its shores it laves
A land of slaves.
In all our talk we did agree
Insouled in one deep harmony.
You spoke of that Ohio stream
And titled it half- slave half -free,
While of its liberation you would dream
Addressing it while rolling past :
1 ' This half ness of you cannot last. ' '
Those words I never could forget,
They seem to designate you yet,
And whisper too the future man,
Foretokening his ripest plan."

The repartee hit Lincoln home

He wondered who so far could roam :


"You have not told me whence you came,

Nor mentioned yet your name."

' ' You have to know me in my deed

That is for me the only meed."

Then suddenly he pulled the oar,

And ran his boat upon the shore

Where a young orchard had struck root,

And smiled with ruddy ripening fruit ;

There under the full tops of trees

Looked up a way-worn emigrant

Plucking whatever might him please,

And eating of it at his ease,

Since fare to him was somewhat scant ;

Not far away his tented wagon stood,

His wife and children sharing that new food,

Which they had never planted even,

It fell to them as if from Heaven,

So all their faces had the air

Of feeling though not voicing prayer.

To Lincoln now spoke up his mate :

"This stranger has aught to relate

About his trip up to this date ;

He can answer what you ask,

I know him not — he knows my task."

The emigrant now starts to tell
What him in wandering befell,
As he sped onward through the land —
A wilderness unroaded and unplanned;
Facing in hope the sunset ray


He fared along his westering way ;

Still when he reached a river's shore

He found somebody had been there before,

And left a little helpful store.

"I crossed the Alleghanies bleak

A home for me and mine to seek" —

He spake with look of reverence;

"Already on the Ohio river

I found the gift of some good giver

Just in the pinch of Providence;

On the Muskingum too he left his trace

In many a little work of grace;

And the Scioto showed his hand

In growing orchards on its strand;

When we the distant Wabash reached,

The self-same sermon there was preached;

And now out here on the Illinois

You see me that same soul enjoy.

Upon this fact the people have descanted,

They say it is one man who planted

All such far- strayed fruit-bearing trees,

And seems to be and do what he may please ;

They make him young, they make him old,

They make him dead, they make him living,

And of him marvelous tales are told,

For everywhere is found his giving,

He seems all time, he seems all space,

Is every kin and every race,

Upon this western world is stamped his trace ;

Through all these stories runs one plan


Featuring the universal man."
' ' What is his name, } ■ then Lincoln cried
Drawing nearer to the speaker's side:
' ' Upon this point all are agreed —
They call him Johnny Appleseed.
But more than one he is to me
A multitude he seems to be,
Perchance one spirit in all his transforma-
One Christ in many incarnations."

At once the wanderer sprang to his boat,

Prepared himself to set afloat;

Lincoln musing followed slower,

But soon he took the part of rower,

And both again down stream were gliding,

Over the watery surface riding;

Each seemed in silence to reflect

On what they just had heard;

The younger would the sense detect

Couched in the emigrant's last word.

Anon the wanderer looked up to say

The weighty thought which in him lay.

Now Lincoln when he saw the man was ready

No longer oared the boat,

But let it simply float,

Yet sought to make his soul more steady,

Intoning in his heart a gentle note :

"I see you are a spirit good,

And still I have not understood


Why all your days you long to roam
And seem to have no settled home.
Thou new knight-errant of the West
Tell me, what is thy lofty quest ! p '

That was of questions just the test —
The wanderer at once spoke out
For of himself he showed no doubt:
* ' Dear friend, I note in every argument
You take to story-telling as your bent,
And as you better see within a vail,
So I shall tell me in a little tale:
I am a knight of the Holy Grail —

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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 14 of 16)