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VIII the yellow god Autumn’s goad1 Had thronged the weed-grown Powder River Road With bison following the shrinking green. Again the Platte and Smoky Hill had seen The myriads nosing at the dusty hem Of Summer’s robe; and, drifting after them, The wild marauders vanished. Winter came;2 And lo! The homesteads echoed with a name That was a ballad sung, a saga told; For, once men heard it, somehow it was old With Time’s rich hoarding and the bardic lyres.3 By night the settlers hugged their cowchip fires And talked of Custer,4 while the children heard The way the wild wind dramatized the word With men and horses roaring to the fight And valiant bugles crying down the night, Far-blown from Cedar Creek or Fisher’s Hill.5 And in their sleep they saw him riding still, A part of all things wonderful and past, His bright hair streaming in the battle blast Above a surf of sabres!6 Roofs of shale And soddy walls seemed safer for the tale, The prairie kinder for that name of awe. For now the Battle of the Washita7 Was fought at every hearthstone in the land. ’Twas song to talk of Custer and his band; The blizzard dawn, the march from Camp Supply, Blind daring with the compass for an eye To pierce the writhing haze; the icy fords, The freezing sleeps;8 the finding of the hordes That deemed the bitter weather and the snows Their safety—Kiowas, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Comanches—miles of river flat One village; Custer crouching like a cat Among the drifts; the numbing lapse of night; The brass band blaring in the first wan light, The cheers, the neighing, and the wild swoop down To widow-making in a panic town To widow-makers! O ’twas song to say9 How Old Black Kettle paid his life that day For bloody dawns of terror!10 Lyric words Dwelt long upon his slaughtered pony herds, His lodges burning for the roofs that blazed That dreadful year!11 Rejoicing Kansas raised Her eyes beyond the days of her defeat And saw her hills made mighty with the wheat, The tasselled corn ranks marching on the plain; The wonder-working of the sun and rain And faith and labor; plenty out of dearth; Man’s mystic marriage with the virgin Earth, A hard-won bride.12 And April came anew; But there were those—and they were human too— For whom the memory of other springs Sought vainly in the growing dusk of things The ancient joy. Along the Smoky Hill 411 The Yellow God The might they could no longer hope to kill13 Brawled west again, where maniacs of toil Were chaining down the violated soil, And plows went wiving in the bison range, An alien-childed mother growing strange With younger loves. May deepened in the sloughs When down the prairie swept the wonder news Of what had happened at the Great Salt Lake,14 And how, at last, the crawling iron snake Along the Platte had lengthened to the sea. So shadows of a thing that was to be Grew darker in the land. Four years went by,15 And still the solemn music of a lie Kept peace in all the country of the Sioux. Unharried yonder, still the bison knew The meadows of Absoraka and throve; But now no more the Hoary16 Herdsman drove His countless cattle past the great Platte road. Still honoring the treaty,17 water flowed, And grass grew, faithful to the plighted18 word. Then yonder on the Yellowstone was heard The clank of sabers;19 and the Red Men saw How Yellow Hair, the Wolf of Washita, Went spying with his pack along the stream, While others, bitten with a crazy dream, Were driving stakes and peeping up the flat. Just so it was that summer on the Platte Before the evil came. And devil boats20 Came up with stinking thunder in their throats To scare the elk and make the bison shy. 412 the song of the indian wars So there was fighting yonder where the lie Was singing flat; though nothing came of it. And once again the stunted oaks were lit, And down across the prairie howled the cold; And spring came back, exactly as of old, To resurrect the waters and the grass. The summer deepened peacefully—alas, The last of happy summers,21 cherished long As Sorrow hoards the wreckage...


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MARC Record
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