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IV fort phil kearny Long since the column, pushing north again With Carrington, had left the little post On Laramie;1 unwitting how the ghost Of many a trooper, lusty yet and gay, Disconsolately drifting back that way, Should fill unseen the gaps of shattered ranks. Scarce moved to know what shadows dogged their flanks, Till all the winds that blew were talking spies And draws had ears and every hill-top, eyes, And silence, tongues, the seven hundred went.2 How brazenly their insolent intent Was flaunted! Even wolves might understand These men were going forth to wed the land And spawn their breed therein. Behold their squaws! Could such defend the Great White Father’s laws? So weak they were their warriors hewed the wood, Nor did they tend the pots, as women should, Nor fill them. Powder River caught the word Of how they swam their long-horned cattle herd At Bridger’s Ferry.3 Big Horn and the Tongue Beheld through nearer eyes the long line flung Up Sage Creek valley;4 heard through distant ears The cracking lashes of the muleteers5 The day the sandy trail grew steep and bleak. The Rosebud saw them crossing Lightning Creek,6 Whence, southward, cone outsoaring dizzy cone, Until the last gleamed splendidly alone,7 They viewed the peak of Laramie.8 When, high Between the head of North Fork9 and the Dry10 They lifted Cloud Peak scintillant11 with snows, The Cheyenne hunters and Arapahoes, Far-flung as where the Wind becomes the Horn,12 Discussed their progress. Spirits of the morn, That watched them break the nightly camp and leave, Outwinged the crane to gossip with the eve In distant camps. Beyond the Lodge Pole’s mouth Relentless Red Cloud, poring on the south, Could see them where the upper Powder ran Past Reno Post,13 and counted to a man The soldiers left there. Tattlings of the noon Were bruited14 by the glimmer of the moon In lands remote; till, pushing northward yet Past Crazy Woman’s Fork and Lake DeSmedt,15 They reached the Big and Little Piney Creeks. Some such a land the famished hunter seeks In fever-dreams of coolness. All day long The snow-born waters hummed a little song To virgin meadows, till the sun went under; Then tardy freshets in a swoon of thunder, That deepened with the dark, went rushing by, As ’twere the Night herself sang lullaby Till morning. Cottonwoods and evergreens Made music out of what the silence means In timeless solitudes. And over all, 346 the song of the indian wars White towers dizzy on a floating wall Of stainless white, the Big Horn Mountains rose. Absoraka, the Country of the Crows,16 A land men well might fight for! Here they camped, Rejoicing, man and beast. The work-mule champed The forage of the elk, and rolled to sate17 His lust for greenness. Like a voice of fate, Foretelling ruthless years, his blatant bray18 With horns of woe and trumpets of dismay Crowded the hills. The milk cow and the steer In pastures of the bison and the deer Lowed softly. And the trail-worn troopers went About their duties, whistling, well content To share this earthly paradise of game. But scarcely were the tents up, when there came— Was it a sign? One moment it was noon, A golden peace hypnotic with the tune Of bugs among the grasses; and the next, The spacious splendor of the world was vexed19 With twilight that estranged familiar things. A moaning sound, as of enormous wings Flung wide to bear some swooping bat of death, Awakened. Hills and valleys held their breath To hear that sound. A nervous troop-horse neighed Shrill in the calm. Instinctively afraid, The cattle bellowed and forgot to graze; And raucous mules deplored the idle day’s Untimely end. Then presently there fell What seemed a burlesque blizzard out of hell— A snow of locusts20 —tawny flakes at strife, 347 Fort Phil Kearny That, driven by a gust of rabid life, Smothered the windless noon! The lush grass bent, Devoured in bending. Wagon-top and tent Sagged with the drift of brown corrosive snow. Innumerable hungers shrilled below; A humming fog of hungers hid the sky, Until a cool breath, falling from the high White ramparts, came to cleanse the stricken world. The suddenly the loud rack lifted, swirled To eastward; and the golden light returned. Now day by day the prairie people...


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