Denton Jaques Snider.

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

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So tensely that he gasped for breath,

As if he too were doomed to fall

Slain in the Capitol;

And at the blow of Casca's dagger

The Captain weened himself to stagger,

In universal sympathy

Felt with the great man's tragic due,

And from that fate-forecasting revery

Sleep, the Releaser, could not set him free,

But the fast thought would soon itself renew

That what once was, again will be:

Such cycle inward runs and outward too.

The soldiers rise and cook their meal
When rosy dawn has lit the day,
But still a load within they feel
Which somehow will not pass away;
Each has a secret dread insouled
Which will not let itself be told.
The prairie is a sphinx today
Changeless as time in its huge face,


Cannot be made a word to say,
Silent as the soul of space
Untongued throughout the universe.
The kerchiefed clouds wave in the sky-
Some flitting fringes to the eye
As if they meant to say good-bye,
And leave our clay to its own curse.
It might have been yet even worse
Had not the sun when he rose up, %

Let drop into the buttercup
A pretty piece of his own sheen,
And left a little laugh upon the scene,
Which by the hundred thousand was re-
And with their joy the heavy-hearted

greeted ;
To them were joined a million morning-
All choiring everywhere their tiny stories,
And so the prairie Goddess Flora wooed
In love that melancholy multitude.

At dusk the soldiers reached a wood
Which by a flowing streamlet stood —
Tired, hungry were they, and depressed,
Scant too they had become of food.
They did not feel so very good
As they prepared for nightly rest.
Just then to camp came up a man
Whose features they could barely scan,


For it was getting somewhat dark,

His skin and hair they did not mark.

Thus he in friendly tone began:

"I thought that you might need some meat,

Your appetite I would here greet

With prairie chickens and some quails,

While yonder is a pile of rails

With which we soon can cook a feast,

And fill the biggest belly and the least.' '

The word set every eye to bulging,

The man kept on his deed divulging:

"I went a-hunting up this run,

My luck was good, I had much fun;

With soldier boys I fain would share

What I may get just anywhere;

Tomorrow I shall do the same

At eve shall bring to you more game;

I note you all are getting limber,

Come, let me prop you with the stomach's

timber. ' '
The men soon gathered round the blaze
Each ate in once for two full days,
The meal seemed Heaven's timely gift.
Meanwhile their tongues began to drift
Backward, and talk of that event
Wherein a woman slave away was sent:
It echoed yet within their hearts,
So that a fresh discussion starts
From mouths with sated appetites,
Which now can talk of wrongs and rights.


The hunter never said a word,

Yet all the feelings and the facts he heard,

He showed it not if he within was stirred.

But when the camp lay in its deepest snore

And dawn was taking her first peep before

The curtains of the night,

He slid off in Aurora's light.


The march was taken up next morn,

But in them all there had been born

A conflict clouding every mind

And it they could not leave behind;

It marched with them along unbidden,

Its nightmare had them all beridden,

The ghost could not somehow be hidden,

Felt rather 'twas than by them seen,

Each quizzed himself, what could it mean?

Sometimes a man interrogated,

Though in an underbreath quite bated:

"What has become of that black wench!"

Lincoln would give a little wrench,

Then smile: "You mean the matron sable.

Of crafty Reynard, who was able

His fellow animals to entertain

With their own follies over and over again

Let me rehearse a little fable

In his own foxy vein."

It was of Bruin stealing honey


And getting canght by his forepaws;

The thing appeared so very funny

The grumbler soon forgot his cause.

So a refusal Abe would cover

In merry tale and smooth it over,

Of fableland the happy rover.

But inwardly he did not laugh,

He always felt the half-and-half

Within himself and country too,

Foreglimpsing what he had to do;

The unseen burden weighed him down,

Laden upon his very soul,

Which seemed to gloom in fortune 's frown,

The stone away he could not roll;

But when he refuged in a story,

The sun would rise again in glory.

The troop had well the time beguiled,

Through Mayday's green they gaily filed;

'Twas now a band of boisterous jokers,

On whom all Nature smiled,

Though with a face somewhat defiled,

In puffs tobaccoed by those smokers;

And hope was mountain high uppiled,

E'en if there were some croakers.

Already they had neared the spot

Where fair Bock Biver joins her lot

To her huge-bodied lover,

And with him fondles under flowing cover.

Lincoln was lolling on his cot


Upholstered with lush prairie grass,
When suddenly he saw a human mass
Surging an Indian round about,
With many a curse and angry shout
Which on him fell a very shower,
While he beneath would cower.
The captain soon among them stood,
And bade them stay their bloody mood
Until the redskin's case he heard,
Whom now he told to speak his word.
Trembling old Loo reached out a pass
Which had been signed by General Cass
Saying: "This Indian I can commend,
He is an oft-tried white-man's friend; —
Much service he can still us do —
Treat him well, for he is true."
When Lincoln read the little note,
There rose a throbbing in his throat,
His soul was growing tender,
Eeturn for good he has to render
Unto that wretched red-skinned mortal
Now facing there fate's final portal.
Meanwhile the raging multitude
Lusted to let his hapless blood;
A big f rontierman stepped up to the fore,
A dagger in his belt he wore,
His rifle on his arm he bore;
His spittle with his speech he sputtered
So madly swashed his tongue,
His words in hissing bits he spluttered


Screeching out of his topmost lung:

"Why have we come from home so far?

Why are we going now to war?

This fellow's kin are those we fight,

Here we have him in our might;

As he and his have done to us and ours,

So we shall pay him back, by all the powers !

Our business is the Eeds to slay

We might as well begin today;

The sooner thus will end the fray.

An Indian pierced my father with his dart,

I feel that arrow quivering in my heart,

And riving me with ceaseless pain,

Till I pay back the heinous deed

And wash away the bloody stain

By blood — that is my creed."

All shouted to that speech: " Agreed.' '

The captain listened to the vengeful word,
And in his soul felt deeply stirred,
To him the same hap had occurred —
Grandfather Lincoln by an Indian killed,
His own ancestral blood in ambush spilled :
That bullet oft would riot in his brain,
And now it seemed to bob again,
And to a red revenge him thralled
Until his higher self recalled
The image of the kind old wanderer
Who him of vengeance had once freed
By planting just one little seed,


Whose growth failed not his heart to stir.
So Abraham stood balancing the strife
Which in himself had risen up to life,
The borderer's fierce fury fought
Upon an inner battle field his new-won

thought ;
His soul he saw in twain divided,
Tetering with itself two-sided!
But while he for a moment swayed,
Another pioneer had drawn his blade
His vengeful feud in wrath to wreak,
While tears streamed down his burning

cheek :
"An Indian scalped my brother at the plow
An Indian's scalp in turn I shall take now."
Loo cowered under Lincoln's arm
Which soon he saw to be his shield from

Whence he a little speech did make :
"I have come hither for your sake;
My people hate me as the white man's

The whites now hate me and my life will end,
Because my skin is red;
Kill me, I wish that I were dead."
He even stretched out then his neck,
But Lincoln held them all in check,
And told the Eed he should be heard
If still he wished to speak a word.
Then heightened up his head old Loo,


His eyes beamed glances that shot through

The seething stormy multitude

Which sought to let his blood;

His coppery face gleamed to a golden hue:

"One word is all I ask to say,

To serve you wander I today;

Whatever you may do to me,

Revengeful I shall never be,

But serve you still, though you me slay."

Then Lincoln stepped before the uplifted

To save the loyal red man's life,
The angry crowd he dared disperse
Although he got their curse,
And when away they had been sent,
He bade old Loo come to his tent.
There they in confidence could speak,
The captain would the secret seek
Which Loo had dimly intimated
In the few words he had just stated.
But what far more stirred Lincoln's interest
Was the strange faith which Loo professed ;
Let ill betide, he did the right,
And never would a wrong with wrong re-
A chapter new that seemed to be
Of Indian theology,

Which Lincoln hitherto had never known,
Strangely it sounded somewhat his own,


If he could be himself alone.
When both had settled in the tent,
Old Loo took up again the argument:
Alone he had far wandered forth
Away from home up in the North.
All of his kin but him went out to aid
The furious Hawk in bloody raid,
When they the Whites had slain or driven

They planned to wheel about,
Return and kill good Keokuk,
The settlers' best red friend,
Whose cause he never once forsook,
Though his own folk he might offend.
"To Keokuk,' ' said Loo, "I go,
To tell him all that I may know;
For jealous Black Hawk seeks his place
Will be the chief of tribe, of race,
His foes, both white and red efface. '■ '
Further Loo spake within that tent
To Lincoln's great astonishment:
"Captain, you see I am unarmed,
Long, long it is since I have harmed
A human being, red or white,
Nor do I ever fight
Or shed one drop of blood,
I try to do both races good,
Passing from one side to the other,
And every man I hold to be a brother.
That's not the Indian's way, I know,


Nor white man's either, though he says so,

Declaring such to be his creed,

But very different is his deed.

I strive to stop disorder,

And keep the peace upon this border,

Soothing the strife between your skin and

That both may dwell together on this line :
Such thought I learned of a wandering man,
To plant his seeds was all his plan,
His face was white though good he said,
I say the same — my face is red.
Let me now tell in brief my creed —
I am the Indian Johnny Appleseed. ' '

Lincoln sprang up at that strange name,
He thought that he had heard the same
Far off in his old home,
When on his flatboat he did roam.
But hark! around his tent's low door
The noise is louder than before;
Again the raving multitude
Clamors for the red devil's blood —
The threats are getting warm
When to the middle of that storm
Leaps Lincoln's stalwart form:
"This Indian is our friend and good,
He's not of Black Hawk's savage brood"
Whereat the entire rout
Sends up a maddening shout :


"Indian good, Indian dead-
It is the white against the red."
That proverb of the pioneer
Is spoken along the whole frontier,
The traveler can still it hear.
The Captain sprang aback and drew his

Sword of the Eutledges,
To serve him in his sorest stress,
And thus he spake a forceful word
While from his weapon's point a spark
Shot out which every eye did mark:
"Whoever injures that poor fugitive,
Shall do the wrong when I no longer live,
Upon my corpse you must step first —
I dare you do your worst."

Whereat his eye flashed out more keen
Than any falchion ever seen,
It was a sword — sword of the spirit
Which in himself he did inherit,
And all his life he had to wear it.
But when the crowd let him alone,
His speech turned to a milder tone.
"Grandfather mine, by an Indian slain,
Comes up to me in blood again,
But if you try what you have said,
Fate bids me perish for the red,
Though I am white like you,
First to myself I shall be true."


Quite ended had the wild ado,

But Lincoln felt himself not through,

A word now seemed to be in season

Which would from force appeal to reason:

"This man, I say, is innocent,

I shall protect him in my tent,

He has no weapon, gun or knife,

And now he risks for us his life;

He bears a message to our Indian friend,

The sage Sauk chief, good Keokuk,

Whose eloquence would Black Hawk fend

From ways of war without forelook;

To do his task I shall him send,

And bid Godspeed the happy end. ,,

Here Lincoln stopped; the silent crowd

Though in the sullens, still was cowed,

When he, his blade still hilted in his hand,

Gave with stern eye-shot this command :

"I call for five men good and brave

Who dare me help this red-skin save,

Conducting him across yon river,

That he his message may deliver,

With friendly Keokuk may talk,

The sage old chief of Fox and Sauk."

When he had spoken well the word,

He scabbarded his sword.

Five trusty soldiers soon were found

With loaded guns and knives well ground,

Were a determined little band,

Would carry out the just command.


But to escape the ugly plight,
They took the cover of the night,
And crept along to the river wide
Upon whose shore they found a skiff,
Which bore the Red to the other side,
Where soon he slipped behind the cliff ;
Giving his guard a grateful look
He turned his face toward Keokuk,
Whom he would save from bloody hate
Forewarning him of Indian fate,
Which also over Loo hung down
And flung upon him many a frown,
But could not catch him in its grip,
So it would always let him slip.
And yet between two fires stood Loo
Blazing from whites and red men too;
Hated he was by his own kin
As renegade to his red skin;
Suspected by the paler sort of face,
He never won the way of grace,
He too embodied tragedy of race.

But who is this who brings some needed

The hunter 'tis without a name;
He comes between the day and darkening,
And does this eve much harkening;
He hears the soldiery's ado
He sees the Captain save old Loo,
And seems o'ermastered through and



By something to liim new.

Still he prepares again the meal

Though absent-minded oft in act,

Self-occupied with some deep fact;

He lets the camp its heart reveal

While he his own doth more conceal;

But when young daylight is unvailing night,

The stranger too fleets out of sight;

Still he had seen the conflict of the races

In its full swirl mid these white faces,

And he had heard of that slave-wife

Who with her child had roused a racial strife ;

That taps his heart with latent feeling rife.

The hunter will not come again,

Since he has heard enough

To start in him another strain,

For a new life he gets the stuff;

All went quite opposite to what he willed,

But just the mightier it was fulfilled;

That Captain showed the power to mediate

Of coming time the froward fate

Which lurks deep down in racial hate.

" Twice,' ' said the hunter, "has he shown the

To solve man's ultimate collision;
To me and mine I see his far outreach,
Within myself heals nature's breach;
Still I must go and take the word
Unto my former faithful friends,
Telling them what I've seen and heard,
And so I'll try to make amends."


It was the middle of the night,

But Lincoln could not shut his sight,

Although he forced his eyes to close

His darkest nature to the surface rose,

Down laden with three races' throes

Which he could feel in his own woes.

So her most melancholy thread

Clotho kept spinning through his head;

And as he lay in hopeless mood

A form stooped through the door and stood,

In its faint glint the moonshine drew

The outline of a face he knew

And softened its benignant look

Until a heavenly glance it took.

Lincoln jumped up, it seized and shook,

Then said "Well, well, you are no spook,

But man alive among us men;

I can't dig out the where or when,

But I have met you once before

Upon this shifting earthly shore."

To Lincoln spake that ghostly form

Which breathed its word from body warm :

"Thou hast already seen my face,

And more than once I've found thy trace,

Thee have I kept in mind

As one for future work designed

After the stamp of Providence

Who marks his early instruments.

Upon my fruit well hast thou thriven,


Along the way it fell God-given

To you and all your soldiery,

From what appeared a forest tree;

You wondered much how that could be."

Then Lincoln rose up to his feet

As if he would a benefactor greet:

"You are the man who did that deed,

Planting the mothering earth with fruitful

seed —
You are the one whom I most wish to meet;
With such example I would plant my soul
To see, if in Time's onward roll
It too would bear a little crop
Or if its growth in me would stop."
The pallid phantom then turned red,
And smiling to the youth he said :
"Today I have well noted thee
Saving from death the guiltless man,
E'en though he was an Indian,
And letting him in peace go free.
That's the worthiest fruit of me,
If I dare deem it mine,
For it is also thine.
More than my trees, my deeds I plant
Supplying a far deeper want
Than any hunger of the flesh,
Which always troubles us afresh,
And never can be satisfied,
Though every day it must be tried.
Myself as whole I would impart,


My thought, and deeper still, my heart :
That is the sowing which I seek to speed,
Which stills the deepest human need
With the universal deed."

On Lincoln's head his hand he laid

Though it was no caressing,

Upward he looked as if he prayed,

And gave the youth his blessing:

1 'The other day I saw thee too,

When the black mother thou didst pull

To thy far threatening danger,
Although a slave she was and stranger.
That was thy great prophetic act
Which is to be the eternal fact.
Thy land itself thou shalt set free
And give a race its liberty.
Twins are thy deeds well mated,
The red and black thou hast emancipated
In this brief march of thine :
I see in it a vast design."
Lincoln stood gazing in that face
While he bethought himself apace,
Then showed the man a little book
Which he from his breast pocket took :
"This was thy gift I now recall,
But of thy giving 'twas not all ;
Thy wayside tree gave food and rest,
But that was not of thine the best,


It is thy self thou didst present

To me in that New Testament. ' '

The man still had a word to say

Before he went away:

" Thou must yet do for every slave

What thou just now hast done ;

Before thou sleepest in thy grave,

To all thou hast to raise the one:

That is to be thy life,

Yet not without the strife,

But what most deeply felt thou hast today

Is this: thy country's law is too in chains,

Which thou must cleave mid groans and

E'en though thou break it on the way;
For now the law's own violation
Forefronts the right 's emancipation ;
In that slave woman was enslaved
The Constitution, which thou hast braved;
It too thou shalt of bonds set free —
Thy greatest gift to all posterity,
Forecasting universal liberty."

Startled to sudden shiver was the youth,
Though in the depths he felt the dreamy truth
Of that prodigious prophecy,
Whose burden crushed him with its pregnant

Until relief welled up unsought
In tear drops from his eye.


At last he spoke: "Not yet, my man!
To that I have to grow
E'en if I think it may be so,
And glimpse at times the coming plan,
Which seems to widen limits national
Till they include the races all."
The shape stood silent for a while,
Then stamped upon his words a smile:
"Bed Keokuk I also know,
He has what I bestow,
Somewhat I planted in his spirit,
Whoso him hears may hear it ;
If he should fall into thy might,
Spare him — he will do the right.
But now I have to go,
Tomorrow has some work to do;
Again thee shall I somewhere see,
And tell thee more — so mote it be."
Ere Lincoln could pick up his sight,
The man had vanished into night.


Time has outtold the minutes dreary

Of secret nagging night,

And dropped the last into the rising sun,

Whose radiant peep has just begun

To make the sombre earth more cheery

With its Titanic laugh of light,

Which wakens the whole world of sight —

No longer nature nods foredone.


The crescent upper disc of Sol

Is shooting straight across the prairie's roll

With fiery cannonade of beams,

Over the grass its leveled blaze

Is pouring forth in golden rays;

Waging a kind of war it seems

Against the withering dragons of the night,

Which it must daily put to flight,

To cleanse of death the outer air

And cure the inner world's despair.

So now we fantasy the sun

In war to wear his gun.

The soldiers stayed in camp that day,
Grumbling the heavy hours away,
Sulking in groups they stood around
Little the pleasure now they found,
In merry prank and joke and tale;
The soldier's life has gotten stale,
And in each soul a sullen mood
Of melancholy seems to brood.
Vengeance against the Indian Loo
Is thrilling still their bosoms through,
And making them its passioned thrall,
Nor do they spare the Captain tall
Who from their hands had saved a Red —
That was the worst that could be said.
Lincoln himself felt his eclipse
And thought to try some of his quips,
Or set to work a merry story,


But now it paled its former glory;

However hard he sought the word to fit

He could not make a single hit,

And somehow his best anecdote

Would catch and stick down in his throat,

Without the cracker at the end,

Though all his brain-fire he would spend;

The nub might snap a little sizzle

But soon it sputtered in a fizzle.

He even tried to tell the hero

Who made himself at Troy a zero

Through wrath's revenge long, long ago;

Still the narration would drag slow,

And never could be made to flow,

Though 'twas the greatest tale of all the

And lit the centuries' poetic pages.
But never got he to the middle,
Stopped by a sudden silent No
Which seemed his tongue to overthrow,
And turn the story to a riddle.

Then soon a cry was upward sent :
i ' That sort of yarn for us is fagging,
Open the clack-box of the regiment,
Let's hear again Jack Kelso's bullyragging;
Of thunder-words he gets the very crack,
Of spouting Shakespeare he knows the knack,
The best of all we like his clack."
Lincoln agreed with just this view,


But had another thing at heart,
For he assigned a drama new
To Kelso for a tragic part;
"Richard the Third is now," quoth he,
1 ' The very man we ought to see,
The lore too which we ought to learn;
Come, do us, Kelso, this good turn."
Jack played that crookback of a scamp
Till shivers ran through all the camp,
He gave the speeches with a detonation
Which set the prairie in vibration ;
And one might hear the echo of that roar
Along the torted Mississippi shore,
Reverberating thousand fold
Demonic sneers of Gloster bold.
Vengeance his word, vengeance universal —
Which raved and hissed through that rehear-
As if the dragons huge of a cyclone
With angry coils and twists contrary
Uprose and grappled on the prairie
In hideous howl and mournful moan,
Which ended in a dying groan.
Richard destroying all his foes,
And even his own nearest kin,
Blood-spotted through the drama goes,
Ever wading deeper in
Until he came to Bosworth Field,
Where he in battle had to yield,
By that day's vengeance overthrown,


And so in turn he got his own.

His demon's deed was done to brother,

As well as many another,

So each man saw his bloody counterpart :

Such was the height of Kelso's art;

Unto that camp he showed its very heart,

And held it up with vengeance quivering,

So that he set all bosoms shivering

In dread response, although unwilling;

For each could see himself just by that play

His brother's blood in spirit spilling,

Through what had happened only yesterday.

And each had caught the deeper creed :

Man ever must get back his deed,

Though it may cycle round the universe,

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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 8 of 16)