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VI the wagon boxes Besieging January made the plain One vast white camp to reinforce the foe That watched the fort. Mad cavalries of snow Assaulted;1 stubborn infantries of cold Sat round the walls and waited. Wolves grew bold To peer by night across the high stockade Where, builded for the Winter’s escalade,2 The hard drifts leaned. And often in the deep Of night men started from a troubled sleep To think the guards were fighting on the wall And, roaring over like a waterfall, The wild hordes pouring in upon the lost. But ’twas the timber popping in the frost, The mourning wolves. Nor did the dawn bring cheer. Becandled3 like a corpse upon a bier4 The lifeless sun, from gloom to early gloom, Stole past,—a white procession to a tomb Illumining the general despair. Meanwhile Omniscience5 in a swivel chair, Unmenaced half a continent away, Amid more pressing matters of the day Had edited the saga of the dead. Compare the treaty where it plainly said There was no war!6 All duly signed and sealed! Undoubtedly the evidence revealed The need of an official reprimand.7 Wherefore stern orders ticked across the land From Washington to Laramie. Perhaps No blizzard swept the neat official maps To nip a tracing finger. Howsoe’er, Four companies of horse and foot must bear To Fort Phil Kearney tidings of its shame.8 Through ten score miles of frozen hell they came— Frost-bitten, wolfish—with the iron word Of Carrington dishonored and transferred To Reno Post.9 The morning that he went, The sun was like a sick man in a tent, Crouched shivering between two feeble fires. Far off men heard his griding10 wagon tires Shriek fife-like in the unofficial snow,11 His floundering three-span mule-teams blaring woe Across the blue-cold waste; and he was gone.12 Without a thaw the bitter spell wore on To raging February. Days on days Men could not see beyond the whirling haze That made the fort’s the world’s wall fronting sheer On chaos. When at times the sky would clear And like a frozen bubble were the nights, Pale rainbows jigged13 across the polar heights And leafy rustlings mocked the solitude.14 Men sickened with the stale and salty food, For squadrons hunt at best with ill success; And quiet days revealed the wilderness Alert with fires, so doggedly the foe Guarded the deer and elk and buffalo That roamed the foothills where the grass was good. 368 the song of the indian wars A battle often bought a load of wood; And arrows swept the opening water-gate From where the wily bowmen lurked in wait Along the brush-clad Piney. March went past, A lion, crouched or raging, to the last; And it was April—in the almanac. No maiden with the southwind at her back Ran crocus-footed up the Bozeman Road.15 A loveless vixen16 swept her drear abode With brooms of whimsic17 wrath, and scolded shrill. Men pined to think of how the whippoorwill Broidered18 the moony silences at home. There now a mist-like green began to roam The naked forest hillward from the draws; The dogwood’s bloom was vying with the haw’s;19 The redbud made a bonfire of its boughs. And there, perchance, one lying in a drowse At midnight heard the friendly thunder crash, The violet-begetting downpour lash The flaring panes;20 and possibly one heard The sudden rapture of a mocking bird Defy the lightning in a pitch-black lull. Here dull days wore the teeth of Winter dull. Drifts withered slowly. Of an afternoon The gulches grumbled hoarsely, ceasing soon When sunset faded out. The pasque flower21 broke The softened sod, and in a furry cloak And airy bonnet brazened out the chill. The long grave yonder under Pilot Hill, Where eighty lay, was like a wound unwrapped.22 369 The Wagon Boxes The cottonwoods, awaking sluggish-sapped, Prepared for spring with wavering belief. May stole along the Piney like a thief. And yet, another sun made summer now In wild hearts given glebe-like23 to the plow Of triumph. So miraculously fed With slaughter, richly seeded with the dead, The many-fielded harvest throve as one. And Red Cloud was the summer and the sun. In many a camp, in three great tribal tongues,24 That magic name was thunder in the lungs Of warriors. Swift, apocalyptic...

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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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