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III to the musselshell Now came at dawn a party of the Bloods,1 Who told of having paddled seven nights To parley for their people with the Whites, The long way lying ’twixt a foe and foe; For ever on their right hand lurked the Crow,2 And on their left hand, the Assiniboine. The crane-winged news,3 that where the waters join4 The Long Knives5 built a village, made them sad; Because the pastures thereabouts were bad, Sustaining few and very scrawny herds. So they had hastened hither, bringing words Of kindness from their mighty men, to tell What welcome waited on the Musselshell Where stood the winter lodges of their band. They rhapsodized the fatness of that land: Lush valleys where all summer bison ran To grass grown higher than a mounted man! Aye, winter long on many a favored slope The bison grazed with goat and antelope, Nor were they ever leaner in the spring! One heard the diving beaver’s thundering In all the streams at night; and one might hear Uncounted bull elks whistle, when the year Was painted for its death. Their squaws were good, Strong bearers of the water and the wood, With quiet tongues and never weary hands; Tall as the fighting men of other lands, And good to look upon. These things were so! Why else then should Assiniboine and Crow Assail the Bloods? Now flaring up, they spoke Of battles and their haters blown as smoke Before the blizzard of their people’s ire, Devoured as grass before a prairie fire That licks the heavens when the Northwind runs! But, none the less, their warriors needed guns And powder. Wherefore, let the Great White Chief6 Return with them, ere yet the painted leaf Had fallen. If so be he might not leave7 This land of peoples skillful to deceive,8 Who, needing much, had scarce a hide to sell— Then send a party to the Musselshell To trade and trap until the grass was young And calves were yellow. With no forkéd tongue The Bloods had spoken. Had the White Chief ears? So Major Henry called for volunteers; And Fink was ready on the word to go “And chance the bloody naygurs”;9 then Talbeau, Then Carpenter; and after these were nine, In whom young blood was like a beading10 wine, Who lusted for the venture. Late that night The Bloods set out for home. With day’s first light The dozen trappers followed, paddling west In six canoes. And whatso suited best 27 To the Musselshell The whimsies of the savage or his needs, The slim craft carried—scarlet cloth and beads, Some antiquated muskets, powder, ball, Traps, knives, and little casks of alcohol To lubricate the rusty wheels of trade! So, singing as they went, the blithe brigade Departed, with their galloping canoes Heeding the tune. They had no time to lose; For long and stubborn was the upstream way, And when they launched their boats at break of day They heard a thin ice tinkle at the prows. A bodeful silence and a golden drowse Possessed the land. The Four Winds held their breath Before a vast serenity of death, Wherein it seemed the reminiscent Year— A yearning ghost now—wrought11 about its bier12 Some pale hallucination of its May. Bleak stretched the prairie to the walls of day, So dry, that where a loping kiote broke Its loneliness, it smouldered into smoke: And when a herd of bison rumbled past, ’Twas like a great fire booming in a blast, The rolling smudge whereof concealed the flame. Proceeding in the truce of winds, they came In five days to the vale the Poplar13 drains. A trailing flight of southbound whooping cranes, Across the fading West, was like a scrawl Of cabalistic14 warning on a wall, And counselled haste. In seven days they reached The point where Wolf Creek15 empties in, and beached 28 the song of three friends Their keels along its dusty bed. In nine, Elk Prairie16 and the Little Porcupine,17 Now waterless, had fallen to the rear. The tenth sun failed them on the lone frontier Where flows the turbid Milk18 by countless bends And where Assiniboian country ends And Blackfoot Land begins. The hollow gloom All night resounded with the beaver’s boom; A wolf pack yammered from a distant hill; Anon a rutting elk cried, like a shrill Arpeggio19 blown upon a flageolet.20 A half day more their...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496207388
Print ISBN
9781496206374
MARC Record
OCLC
1039702821
Pages
726
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-13
Language
English
Open Access
N
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