Denton Jaques Snider.

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

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Against this same Black Hawk,



Of whom so much is now the talk.

Its flash beheld Tecumseh too,

When up in Canada he met his fate.

And though I am no candidate,

I still have something in my pate ;

I give my time to the public will,

Though busy with my farm and mill ;

Lincoln is out of a job, I hear,

And so he comes a volunteer ;

To country he will now be true,

And fight and bleed and die for her with you,

As he has nothing else to do."

Then Jack of Clary's Grove spoke out
Once thrown by Lincoln in a bout,
But now Abe's over-zealous friend
Who would at once the contest end :
' ' Now for a wrestling match to test
Of all these men who is the best ;
Only the best man here can be
The captain of this company.
Lincoln, Kirkpatrick on this ground
Show us your bodies wriggling round,
And if it can't be settled with a twist,
Why, then decide it with the fist."

The rival sullenly drew off,
Muttering his mood in sulky scoff:
"The tall rail-splitter may strain more


The thin wood-chopper may stretch more

That does not give him skill
This company to drill ;
And though he tell a funny story,
That leads us not to battle's glory.' '
And Lincoln too slid off aside,
Such contest would he not abide,
But the crowd shouted: "the match! the

match !
Step up ye twisters to the scratch. ' '
Then Lincoln to divert them sought,
Therewith a lesson also taught ;
He showed that he at once was able
To turn to use a little fable :

"All animals," quoth he, "were once like

They came and talked together then
As we do now upon this green,
Speakers they had too, fat and lean.
The frogs got somehow in a muddle,
They could not stand it in their puddle,
For each and all would croak together,
Their gabbing tongues must have a tether.
So they resolved to choose a king
To rule that most unruly thing :
The sonorous bellow of the big bull frog
"When in the swamp he mounts a log ;
Who shall be king? Who shall be king?


Did through all leaping frog-town ring ;
One of ourselves or some other beast
Who can us swallow at his feast?
The news that last came to my hearing
They all were still electioneering. f '

The crowd felt just a little rub,
The story had a sly-shot nub
Which struck them with its stub.
Whereat a busy buzz uprose
From out that swarm of friends and foes
Until one mouth seemed these and those :
"Abe, you are of all the big bull-frog,
Hop up again upon that log,
And yawp another yarn like that,
You have a hundred of them pat."
"No more," said he, "but to the choice
We must now pass at once, my boys;
Black Hawk is burning, stealing, slaying,
While here we stand debating and delaying,
To choose the leader let us now proceed,
The time roars like a tempest for the deed,
Hump down to work and quit this babble,
When we have done, again we'll gabble."

But suddenly he stopped in doubt,
A turn of thought wheeled him about,
He felt he had left something out;
Cloudy he lifted up his look,
His knotted hand he raised and shook,


And then another turn he took.

He thought of the portentous hap

Which loomed just then on Southern map,

In which to him lurked the dread fates

Of these entire United States.

For Lincoln felt the people whole

With a sort of universal soul,

Already he was national

And in himself he saw the country all;

" Just one more thing I have to tell,"

Says he, " which makes for Heaven or Hell.

Two men will leaders be

Of this our little company —

In which a speck I seem to see

Of one great contest yet to be.

Let both of us without defection,

Pledge now to stand by the election,

Kirkpatrick here as well as me,

Whoever may be chosen, I or he,

I swear to obey the majority;

I shall not have to be co-erced,

Let happen what for me is worst.

Kirkpatrick, will you take this oath,

Whose sacredness should bind us both!

I shall enlist with you

If beaten I shall be ;

Will you enlist with me

If you do not pull through!

Or will you try

To nullify*" *


A sudden silence hushed the multitude,

All faces turned to where the rival stood

Intently gazing on the air,

Until the shout resounded, " Swear".

The man seemed wrestling in a transforma-

Which was akin to God's salvation,

Just then he must decide his own self-strife,

And turn around a corner in his life.

He had to go to worse or better,

Eivet or rive his ancient fetter;

A light through all his being ran,

Lincoln's test was making him a man.

The crowd stood silent all the while

Waiting but could not even smile,

At last the people's voice roared upward

Eepeating louder : * * Kirkpatrick, swear. ' '

He reared his head again, but not in pride,

A man regenerate he was inside

Through Lincoln's priestly mediation,

But mighty rolled his perspiration.

At once he flashed his eyes of glede :

■ ' No, no, I never shall secede.

Though I be beaten at the poll

As private I shall still enroll —

Put down my name upon that scroll."

So spake he now, a new-born soul,

To Lincoln, who the scribe was then,


Best wielder of the peopled pen,

Who wrote the name that bright it shone

In neatest script beside his own.

Spake Lincoln up with face delighted,

Though hitherto it was benighted

With a sombre melancholy line,

Through which his humor now could shine :

"The best is this! United we shall go,

United stand against whatever foe.

A dim presentiment I could not hide,

Lest my election should perchance divide

Our band atwain in bitter hate,

So that my office might create

A little civil war within our little state.

Already of secession I have heard,

My soul grows murky at the word,

But my foreboding fantasy pass by —

The ballot now we have to try :

All ye who vote me captain, toe this line

Beside me — you will then be counted mine."

When out his mouth had sped these words,

Beside him sprang at once two-thirds

And more, of the whole sixty-eight,

Whereat he still f orefelt his fate

As if the small might yet be great.

A moment there he gazed afar

As if he saw another war,

A distant time he seemed all rapt in

When he again was chosen Captain.



About a pivot's turn was Lincoln whirled,

The rounding of his new career

Dizzied the youthful volunteer,

To one fantastic moment shrank the world,

Until he somehow squared his head

And out the whiz himself he led.

Suddenly he woke up to the act,

And grappled with the present fact :

"Attention, company, shoulder arms" —

The flintlocks gathered from the farms

Eattled together at their best,

The powder-horn slung round the breast,

And pouch with bullet-moulds and knife,

The implements of death and life,

All which from childhood they had handled,

About their bodies gaily dandled;

Some proudly bore a blanket too,

A bedquilt some, of speckled hue,

Pieced by their mothers when it was new,

But most kept all such gewgaws out of view.

Then Captain Lincoln gave command

When he in front had taken stand,

He towered over all the rest,

His features said he meant no jest :

' ' Forward march ! now follow me,

The foremost I must always be

As Captain of this company —

The first man to be shot or shoot,

Whether mounted or on foot.


But to New Salem next we go,

Some gear it has for me I know ;

There we can borrow Mentor Graham's flag,

As sash I'll find some old red rag,

And I must get some neighbor's nag,

I own myself a fuzzy saddle-bag.

Perchance I may pick up a sword" —

Somehow he falters at the coming word,

A sudden image in his bosom bobs,

And makes it thrill unworded throbs,

So that he speechless moves along,

Self-occupied with inner throng.

But the chief reason is kept down

Why Lincoln marches to New Salem town.

Still on they pushed, and Lincoln led
The swaying line by his high head
Through which was surging many a thought,
Of what that one brief day had brought.
The wheeling point of years it seemed,
The living of an entire life f oregleamed,
The present deed of all the future dreamed
In fleeting magical reflection,
Which would not wait for close inspection.
His outspread years in one diurnal dot
Seemed crushed together on a little spot,
These people took him as their choice,
That came to him a far-off voice,
He had no skill in this vocation,


And still they chose him for their highest sta-
Nor could he well forget that face benign
Which did his soul with grace beshine,
And left him with a promise still
Which he has ever to fulfill.
A passion too in bosom deeply hidden,
Would upward well to memory unbidden.
By many feelings he was goaded,
His inner world was overloaded,
Still now and then, to get relief,
He would relate a story brief.

Marching along thus occupied

He let some minutes swiftly slide,

When suddenly with waked-up look

He sharply eyed around, and took

A searching glance at all, as if he tried

To find a missing man

Most needful to his plan ;

But soon his mien gleamed satisfied:

'Twas when he came to scan

Kirkpatrick walking in the ranks

And sharing in the soldiers ' pranks,

Tramping in mud just like them all,

Without his silken parasol,

Taking the rain and sun a twain, together —

Whatever be the weather,

Dropping his aristocracy's pretension,

Yet with a lordly condescension.


Then Lincoln could not help but utter

Quite to himself though in a mutter:

1 ' True man he is beneath that fatted skin,

An office he shall have as his just prize,

If I can only get him in

When the whole regiment doth organize.

I did not like his dewlap chin

Puffed in contempt and pride ;

But now I see his other side —

I could not feel his loyal spirit

In such thick layers doubly rolled,

Nor soul in such a deep outside insouled ;

Justice I must now give his merit,

His character is gold."

In native contemplation caught
Lincoln still carried on his nearest thought :
"Methinks secession shows no sign
Within this little band of mine,
And yet the dread of it me haunted,
As damned ghost far down implanted
In the first fountain of my being —
That ghost I cannot shun the seeing.
And here appears no nullification,
Which holds a bonfire celebration
Just now down yonder in Caroline,
With Andy Jackson getting into line :
He will not fail to give the countersign.
An earnest of myself he seems
A sun beshining me with far-off gleams —
But I must halt these daytime dreams.' '


Young Abraham looked up and sighted

New Salem town; he stepped delighted,

That image fleeted round again

Despite the pleasure and the pain,

The knowledge and the ignorance,

Weaving the web of circumstance

With all the ups and downs of chance.

Through sticky mud with many a puff

The soldiers reach the rising bluff,

On which the houses sleep in silent sheen

While citizens pour out upon the green,

Which overlooks a little stream,

Ambitious Sangamon in sunlit dream;

Now flaunting wide its yellow flood

It challenges the solar golden gleam,

And channels field and wood

Filled full of April rain,

Which one year hence may come again.

It seems to say to Lincoln and all there :

"See I can a steamboat bear

If you will only clear my track ;

Here launch it on my back."

Lincoln heard the voice but cannot stay,

Yet took the time within to pray :

"Fair nymph, thee I shall heed another day,

When the present task is done

And the Captain's laurel won;

So then, sweet water-sprite, don't cry,

Though now I have to say good-bye.' '

Whereat he turned and up the hill


He trod in tune to his bosom's thrill,
Which seemed to lift him on soft pillows
And skyward float him in its billows.
Spry Lincoln, as he lightly climbed above,
Eose winged with the thought of love ;
And though he kept it nestled in his breast,
The honeyed sting gave him no rest,
And was by many a fantasy caressed ;
The image lisped to him unbidden,
But his reply was always hidden.

Then from his revery sublime
He was jerked down to earth and time,
For now the notes of fifer and of drummer
Make shrill salute to the new-comer ;
A batch of the most piercing tunes
Are fiercely fifed by old Tom Cunes,
The tiptop fifer of the county,
"Who never spared his music's bounty,
On all he spent his shrilly overflow
"Which failed not to the bone to go.
A hurricane he could outblow
And make its blasts much smaller feel,
Puckering his breath into a squeal,
As he the measures off would reel,
Boomed by the big drum's monotone
Which tuned the tempo to its drone
And smote the snarling snare-drum's under-
So now with bodies bobbing up and down,


With Lincoln in his loftiest lead,

Gleaming as if he wore their jeweled crown

For doing the heroic deed,

The soldier boys mount to New Salem town.

Canto feeconb.


Far up the Mississippi's flood

A solitary Indian stood;

The river and the rivulet

In many murmurous gushes met,

And babbled round the long-necked strand

Where Black Hawk's boat had drawn to land

In silent moonless night

Which shut the sheen from human sight.

To him the spot of old was known,

And from the heart's far-down abysm,

Despite his Indian stoicism

He heaved a heavy-laden moan;

"Upon the graves of those most dear,
I, the lone Redskin, drop a tear ;



Many a mile I've sneaked my way,

By night, and hid myself by day,

Till I have reached the holy grounds,

Where lie within their little mounds

My fathers taking their last sleep,

Unwept by those who ought to weep.

I scarce know where to go or stop,

The land is covered with the white man's

My people's ancient burial-place
Is taken by another race —
That cunning, cruel, whited face —
Who tills the sacred ashes of my mother,
And sells the risen body of my brother,
Who, like cannibal, can eat
The red man's flesh grown up in wheat,
And builds his church, to the foundation

Out of our very skulls and bones.
Ye whites — ye are the savage race.
Perish ye shall without a trace ;
What you to me and mine have sought to do
I shall pay back to you. ' '

So seethed Black Hawk as once he stood,
And voiced the rush of vengeful blood
At the sad sight of his old village
Begrown and green with a new tillage,
Which the fresh emigrant had taught
The earth to yield when rightly wrought.


Two rivers formed a tongue of land,

The mighty Mississippi and

The lesser purling stream called Rock

In honor of its stony stock ;

He from the far-off Iowa

Had hither crept his forest way;

To Prophetstown his path did bend

"Where the red Prophet dwelt,

Who had in ecstacy f orefelt

A plan the white man's power to end,

And back the tide of settlers send.

Black Hawk ere leaving, cast a look

Upon the old ancestral nook:

"Ye dead, I shall come back and stay;

I hear your spirits to me pray,

Ah, well I understand

Your heavenly command,

And must obey —

I shall come back this very year,

And when I die upon a day

Be buried with my people here."

Sadly the Indian turned up stream,
Fleeting in night as if a dream
Through woody dell along the Eiver
Which gave him drink fresh from the Giver,
Which whispered to him as of old,
The same sweet fairy-story told
As it pellucid o'er the pebbles rolled.
Betimes a waterfall with white swan- wings


A shredded song of the Great Spirit sings ;
Outspreading on the tops of trees
A guardian Manitou he sees.
Safely he entered Prophetstown
Without a single skiey frown,
And in the Prophet's hut he sat him down.
Two other men were there to meet him,
They rose in white man's style to greet him,
And threw dim outlines in the gloaming.
They, too, had come from' distant roaming,
And on the self-same spot had landed,
By hidden power together banded,
As if to waylay weal of chance
And rule the mighty roll of circumstance ;
By throwing pebbles in Bock river
They thought to dam the Ocean stream for-
They would reverse the flow of History,
Whirling it backward across the sea,
Whence it had voyaged to America
And there proposed to stay.

Another figure let us mark,
Whose outlines shot into the dark
So that he hardly could be seen,
Yet he was always moving in between.
This was the Prophet, named White Cloud,
Who sewed his meaning in a shroud,
Who in the future dream-world loved to



And of it weave the web of Indian hope,
Of which he was himself the spinning spider
Circling the net-lines wider and yet wider,
Until they might the land embrace,
Entangling prey of every race.
That Prophet was the sonl of wiles,
Made faces full of priestly smiles ;
He played upon the racial hate,
The deepest strain in man's estate,
Red was his skin, but crossed in breed;
That undermined in him the Indian's creed,
Which rooted deeply in the single tribe:
No other faith the savage could imbibe.
Two hostile tribes met in the blood
And in the soul of this red Pope,
Two hateful halves oft made his mood
And nullified each other's scope;
Two Indians fought in him with might,
Each scalped the other in the fight,
And left the Prophet blank to neither,
So that he could be both or either,
Tribeless, loveless, yet all ambition
To turn his dream of power to fruition;
Deft in a savage sacerdotal cunning,
He could in deepest malice seem but funning ;
Still through his craft himself had reared
To be the Prophet famed and feared
By Reds in all the regions of the North ;
Some "Whites, too, held him son of Earth,
Possessing a mysterious power of evil,


And leagued by blood-signed paper with the

So from afar that racial four
Have come to spy each other's store,
Within that little Indian hut
Unsunned, untorched, yet smeared in smut.
To fill the dark with darker, all took a smoke,
They puffed the brooding calumet,
Twirling its vapor in many a stinking jet ;
The Prophet first the clouded silence broke :

' ' Last night there came to me a dream :
Black Hawk I saw recross a stream;
It was the loving Father of Waters,
Who, with his thousand fluff-haired daugh-
Welcomed his greatest son as yet
Of all the copper-mounted set,
And bade him take again his land
Which had been wrested from his band.
It was the God's own invitation
To his dear people's restoration.
I saw the Hawk fly back to his fathers'

And with him came a countless horde of

Who pushed the white face over the border,
The women and children shrieking murder ;
Beyond the Illinois they fled,
The battle was 'tween white and red,


And all this new-born State

We dared to desolate.

Through the Kaskaskia we plunge,

Across the Ohio we make a lunge

Into Kentucky, where another race

We come upon in our long chase ;

It is the black enslaved by white,

He is our ally in this fight,

The red and black shall be one nation

United in a single federation:

Such is to be our future story —

One cause, one people, and one territory,

Irradiated by one common glory.

Now we shall wreak on whites our shame,

What they have done we'll do the same."

The Prophet turned then to another,
Whom, though of different race, he called his

And flattered with his best attention,
Whose name he did not fail to mention:
"I have invited here a man
Whose tongue can tell if any can,
The future of our two-raced nation,
The scope of all our aspiration.
Swartf ace, pour out thy fluid word
And tell to these what I have often heard
From thee, far greater than my dreams ;
In thy quick brain a new world teems.
Let them now see our coming State


The tinted races all in it regenerate.
The sapient lines which curl a wreath
Upon thy brow, give to them breath.' '


And who was Swartface, sitting there
In silence sullen, as in his lair,
Ready to pounce upon his prey,
Unseen except his eyeballs ' glare
Which now and then would fiercely flare,
As if they flamed to slay.
He was no redskin, not a trace
Ran in his blood of that dying race ;
Adopted in an Indian tribe he was,
But only for a deeper cause,
Red he became so as to fight
His hated foe with greater might,
Until his soul turned gory with despite,
And his fierce eye shot crimson in its light.
That foe was a Caucasian skin,
Though to it he himself was kin,
One-half of white he was or more,
But the black mother gave her store
Of race to a white father's son,
Thus he was double, yet was one.
As in himself he had two races,
So he was owner of two faces,
One writhed and wrestled in demoniac hate,
Its lines seemed twisted dragons in the fight
of fate,


The other face could turn and laugh at its

own mate,
And so with smile of courtesy,
Yea, with a strain of chivalry
Its wearer well it would ingratiate.
And yet beneath his double he was whole,
Under two faces he had one soul ,
Of a slave-mother in Virginia
He was brought forth unto the day,
Then to Kentucky he was sold
When scarcely ten years old,
To Mr. Davis of Christian County,
A master not unkind or cold
And not without a master's bounty.
Swartface as the most polished one
Of all his slaves, he gave to serve his son,
A military officer
Who felt ambition's deepest stir
To put his laureled name
Upon the scroll of fame ;
A student's prize he had already won:
Young Davis bore the name of Jefferson. ■
But at Fort Snelling one bright day
Swartface was missing, he had run away,
Though he as slave was treated well,
Slavery had become to him a hell.
He turned an Indian was the sequel,
And by that act was free and equal
To the best Redskin that ever was,
Defying whites and all their laws.


For as his mother was a slave and black,

He never could break out her fastened track

Into his father's life and station,

And so it was with all his generation.

His wife and child he could not bear,

Waifs he deemed them of despair,

The family was but the devil's net,

The worst of all the curses yet,

If he a slave could only slaves beget.

At birth he fell from the upper race

Far down into another,

Though he could see his full white brother

Perched high above him in the loftiest place,

Disowning him, though every drop of blood

Conjoined them in a common brotherhood.

He gnashed his teeth at such disgrace,

Into whose Hell he had been thrown

When born, and by no sinning of his own ;

He cursed himself as father and as son,

In both he deemed himself undone.

The universe itself seemed rotten,

And Heaven too, should be thrown in,

Damning him begetter and begotten,

For his unsinned sin.

And so, as he grew up apace,

He brooded on the conflicts of his race,

His tribesmen soon gave him a name

Which dimly hinted whence he came,

A swarthy face and ringed hair

Showed him to be no Indian's heir.


English he well could read and write,

Had learned them both in law's despite,

Some of his master's books in stealth

He had devoured, and won their wealth,

Of verse he owned one little book

And kept it hid in safest nook,

From it his deepest draughts he took ;

And thus by secret education

He shared in the new age's civilization.

He also knew mechanic trades :

Could shape the keen-edged tomahawk,

And shave its helve without a balk —

In battle, too, he made it talk.

He fashioned every kind of blades —

To stab, to rip, to slash,

Anywise to make a gash —

Possessing which the savage still,

Though only knowing how to kill,

Might foeman slay with foeman's skill.

A damaged gun could Swartface fix,

With handicraft so clever

That it would shoot as well as ever :

A wonder-doer for his tricks

And knacks and works, both great and small;

Those Eedskins deemed he could do all

By means of power magical.

But now he plays another part

Which shows the bottom of his heart,

Reveals as one his dual soul

As he looks out upon his goal ;


The Indian mind he well discerned,
The Indian tongue, too, he had learned,
And now would speak it at its best,

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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 2 of 16)