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XIII the twilight A moon wore by, And in the rainless waning of July Ten thousand hearts were troubled where the creeks, Young from the ancient winter of the peaks, Romped in the mountain meadows green as May. The very children lost the heart to play, Awed by the shadow of an unseen thing, As covies, when the shadow of a wing Forebodes a pounce of terror from the skies.1 They saw it in the bravest father’s eyes— That shadow—in the gentlest mother’s face; Unwitting how there fell upon a race The twilight of irreparable wrong. The drums had fallen silent with the song, And valiant tales, late eager to be told, Were one with all things glorious and old And dear and gone forever from the Sioux. For now the hunted prairie people knew How powerful the Gray Fox camp had grown On Goose Creek;2 how along the Yellowstone3 The mounted soldiers and the walking ones— A multitude—had got them wagon guns, Of which the voice was thunder and the stroke, Far off, a second thunder and a smoke That bit and tore.4 A little while, and then Those open jaws, toothed terribly with men, Would move together, closing to the bite. What hope was left in anything but flight? And whither? O the world was narrow now! South, east, the rat-like nibbling of the plow Had left them but a little way to go. The mountains of the never melting snow Walled up the west. Beyond the northern haze, There lay a land of unfamiliar ways, Dark tongues and alien eyes.5 As waters keep Their wonted channels, yearning for the deep, The homeless rabble took the ancient road.6 From bluff to bluff the Rosebud valley flowed Their miles of ponies; and the pine-clad heights Were sky-devouring torches in the nights Behind them, and a rolling gloom by day; And prairies, kindled all along the way, Bloomed balefully and blackened.7 Noon was dark, Night starless, and the fleeing meadowlark Forgot the morning. Where the Bluestone8 runs Their dust bore east;9 and seldom did the suns Behold them going for the seed they strewed To crop the rearward prairie solitude With black starvation even for the crow. Creeks, stricken as with fever, ceased to flow And languished in a steaming ashen mire. But more than grass was given to the fire— O memories no spring could render young! And so it was that, marching down the Tongue, The Gray Fox, seeking for the hostile bands, 465 The Twilight Saw nothing but the desolated lands Black to the sky; and when a dreary week Had brought him to the mouth of Bluestone Creek, Lo, Terry with another empty tale!10 Broad as a road to ruin ran the trail Of driven pony herds, a livid scar Upon the vast cadaver,11 winding far To eastward as the tallest hill might look. And thither pressed the horse and foot of Crook, Their pack mules, lighter for a greater speed, With scant provisions for a fortnight’s need Upon their saddles. Burning August waned About the toiling regiments. It rained— A sodden, chill monotony of rains— As though the elements had cursed the plains, And now that flame had stricken, water struck. The scarecrow horses struggled with the suck Of gumbo flats and heartbreak hills of clay;12 And many a bone-bag fell beside the way Too weak to rise, for still the draws were few That were not blackened. Crows and buzzards knew How little eager claws and whetted beaks Availed them where so many hollow cheeks Had bulged about a brief and cookless feast. Still wearily the main trail lengthened east By hungry days and fireless bivouacs; And more and more diverging pony tracks, To north and south,13 and tangent lodge pole trails Revealed the hunted scattering as quails 466 the song of the indian wars Before a dreaded hunter. Eastward still They staggered, nourished by a doggéd will, Past where a little river apes in mud And name the genius of a titan flood That drinks it.14 Crumbling pinnacles of awe Looked down upon them;15 domes of wonder saw The draggled column slowly making head Against the muck; the drooping horses, led, Well loaded with their saddles; empty packs, Become a cruel burden on the backs Of plodding mules with noses to the ground. Along the deeps of Davis Creek they...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496207388
Related ISBN
9781496206374
MARC Record
OCLC
1039702821
Pages
726
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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