Texas Jack In the Timber Island

This long poem about Texas Jack is from the 1890 book May-Day Dreams, Passion Flowers, Poetic Flights and Prosy Thoughts by Sam Brown Jr., "the Cowboy Poet of the Platte."


Reading this one, a couple of lines stuck with me. "He was all that any maiden might wish for in the shape of man. Half cowboy and half scout, he seemed a youthful errant knight. Poor Texas Jack, how pure thy spirit was! The world hath judged, yet known thee not—hath called thee "wild," "inebriate." A mirthful, bold, but reckless scout, yet, oh, what melancholy and heartache were thine! How tirelessly upon thy track care, despair, and sorrow ever trod."



Texas Jack In the Timber Island,

Or,

Parted Lovers Reunited


PART FIRST.


The time was noon—a summer's day,

And all was still. The beetle's drone

Had died away; in silent sympathy

A stream went by, all hushed its wonted crooning.

The summer wind had ceased to sigh,

No answered once the fount's complaining.

A sense of rest was in the very air—

No song of birds, no hum of bees, no voice was there,

No cloud hung in the sky.

No hut, no habitation might you see—

No life, save yet one horseman, miles away

Across the prairie, moving wearily.


But who is he, and what his quest,

Who scours the plain, nor halts to rest,

When Nature's self lies thus, by sleep oppressed?


The steed was dark—a mustang fleet,

With taper limbs and racy head—

It was, indeed, a noble steed,

An o'er the prairie lightly sped

With graceful galop, proud and slow.

The rider was a handsome lad

Of sunny port and manly brow.

His hair was of a dusky dye,

And loved to cling in clusters brown;

His form was clad in clean buckskin,

With silk embroidered shirt and sailor tie;

A broad sombrero shaded perfectly

His high, white forehead from the sun.

Upon his foot the high-topped boot

Of jaunty cowboy fashion shown;

A lasso dangled from his saddle horn,

And o'er his back, in handy manner flung,

A heavy, short, repeating rifle hung.

Two "double-acting" pistols and a bowie blade

Were belted loosely at his side,

And he was all that any maiden

Might wish for in the shape of man.

Half cowboy and half scout,

He seemed a youthful errant knight

Dreaming ever of his lady bright.

A laughing gloom was in his eye—

A sleeping shadow that did seem

The lingering image of some love-lorn dream.

But why delay? You all have heard

His name—his many a gallant deed.

And of the black steed that he rode

O'er many a dark and dangerous road,

Afraid of naught—the living nor the dead!

'Twas he—'twas he, that famous scout,

Bold Texas Jack, the "lightning shot!"

And lo! his course lay toward the wood—

That little, leafy, prairie wood

Or "island," as 'tis known,

Upon the prairie—a spring o'ergrown

With cottonwoods, wherever is

Sweet wild currants and red roses—

Where fruits and flowers ever be,

And all around the grass grows juicily.


A mile away,

In all its loveliness it lay.

That little, leafy, prairie wood,

That little, shady, silent motte,

A mile away—so cool, so shadowy—

A mile away—a lovely spot, indeed.

A mile away—

And winding by it,

Gleaming in the sunlight

Like a shining silver thread,

Like the fabled serpent of the sea,

That famous river wound—

The sunny, silver-bosomed Platte.


A mile away—so cool, so shadowy,

But lo! behold that rider and that steed!


Now have they marked the wood—the river spied,

And swifter—swifter o'er the plain they hie,

Till lo! the trees before them loom invitingly.

And now they halt—the saddle is thrown by,

The bridle stripped, the steed set free,

When, like two brothers of the desert hot,

They seek the shade, the well-spring cool and sweet.

Their thirst soon slaked, they hie away,

The beast to crop the juicy hay,

The youth to seek in bushes green

And coverts dark the crimson plum,

the currants, golden-hued and red,

The cherry bunches black and bright.

Thus fed, anon they seek repose—

The steed beneath the leafy trees,

The youth beside the gurgling fount,

Whose music, welling low and sweet,

Soon weaves a charm—a witched spell

That chains the very fibres of his soul.


Afar—dim as a dream—he sees

Or seems to see a shadowy concourse rise!

A spectre band—as slight as fays

Or Elfin men. They sink, they rise,

They dance before his half-shut eyes,

Scouring across the prairie bright,

Spurring their tiny steeds of white

Like demons o'er the infernal wild.

They hop, they skip, they leap, they slide—

Whole furloughs seems to glide

Behind at every stride.

But no sound is wakened by their hoofs,

For muffle is the coursers' tread

In the wild-flowers' buoyant bead,

And the eye alone—no other proofs

Point out the fact that every tiny spectre moves.

Yet hold! they hide—they flee!

They sink before his half-closed eye;

They fade out and grow dim—

They vanish like a dream,

And all that world is lost to him—

That fairy world—those phantoms grim,

And all is vanished and forgot,

Till lo! and once again

A happier vision glads his sight.

A wilder fancy yet—'mong far-off scenes,

By waters bright, he seems to sit

Upon the green marge of his native river,

In distant, flowery Southern lands—

the blue sky calmly bending over,

Himself a boy again, his childhood friends

Around him, and his heart's first choice

Sitting by him 'mid their summer trees.


Yet lo! and once again the scene is changed!

Amid the golden-colored flame

Of morning, by that same stream,

Silent with grief, lamenting all his days

With gun in hand, he seems to stand

Awaiting an order not to fire!

The word is given—both rifles flash

As one—loud rings the crash,

And lo! his foe lies bleeding there

Stark dead—yet he had shot to only wound,

And not to kill. He leaves the ground,

An exile now forever and forever more.

Beyond all words his soul is grieved!

A curse like his Cain never wore,

For he has killed—oh, heart bereaved,

The brother of the girl he loved,

And now he seeks the Western plain

All cheerless, and his soul forlorn


Poor Texas Jack, how pure thy spirit was!

Outlawed amid the scenes around thee,

Dreaming of home and concord sweet

Amid those tribes of blood—

Amid those savage scenes of border land,

Thy soul at variance with thy roving fate,

With thy wild life and hardy deeds,

Pining for love and soft hymeneal restraints

Amid the freedom of the lawless wild—

A land where Passion claims but Power for her lord,

And "man obeys no master but his mood."

Poor, love-lorn, dreamy Jack,

The world hath judged, yet known thee not—

The world hath called thee "wild," "inebriate."

A mirthful, bold, but reckless scout,

Yet, oh, what melancholy and heartache

Were thine! How tirelessly upon thy track

Care, despair and sorrow ever trod.

Alas! alas! poor boy, thou now art dead,

Deep in the mountain's bosom laid,

The Rocky Ranges tower in air—

Thy sky-kissed monuments forever.


There 'mid the storm hills, capped with snow—

There 'mid the highlands, wild and blue,

Calmly thy tired bones are sleeping.

O'er thy dust the pine-trees now are weeping,

And far away, singing plaintively,

The voiceful winds sing requiems of thee.

Alas, poor Jack, untimely dead,

Thou liest in they narrow bed,

Far from thy native land removed,

Among Virginia's purple hills no more—

No more beside the blue Atlantic shore,

No more amid the pine-wood's hallowed gloom,

No more the sunlit, rippled stream

At ever shall see thee coming home

Flown thy spirit is from earth forever;

Thy fancy's own, own happy hunting ground!


Departed, hapless scout, adieu!

Sleep soundly while to you

I build this artless rhyme.

Perchance a little time

The structure frail may stand,

Humble and perishable,

The hasty work of a careless hand—

And yet a little while

We trust it may endure,

Thy cenotaph and mine!


 

PART SECOND.


In the island of the prairie,

In that little, leafy, shady wood,

Sleeping calmly, dreaming sweetly,

Cares and troubles all forgot,

'Mid his fancies roaming lightly,

still unconscious lies the Texas scout.

Now no more those demon legions grim—

Now now more those Elfin-riders trouble him,

Yet onward, onward still they come,

But earthly now—no longer airy

And phantom-lie—as in his dream.


Onward, onward still they come,

Onward o'er the prairie green and flowery;

Onward, onward in a line.

Like an oriental caravan.

Onward, onward, silent as the tread

Of camels o'er the desert's heated bed;

Onward, onward, like the Arab dry

When the spring of desert meets his eye.

Onward, onward, thirsty, weary,

Onward, onward, still they hurry,

Onward o'er the boundless, pathless prairie.

At an easy galop come they,

Gently rising, gently falling

With the undulations of the plain,

Like the wavelets of the ocean,

Like the billows of the main,

Like the roses of the meadow

When the zephyrs play among them.

Brightly show their guns and lances.

Brightly show the burnished badges

On their broad and dusky bosoms;

Brightly show their robes of purple,

Brightly show their robes of crimson,

Brightly show the beaded trappings

And the gold and silver mountings

Of their bridles and their saddles,

Gayly blending in the sunlight

With the verdant herbs and grasses,

With the laughing sky and mountains.

With the fragrant buds and blossoms

Of the wild and rolling plain.


Onward, onward still they come,

Panting ponies all a-foam.

Not a single respite take they,

Not a word or sentence speak they

As they hurry madly on.

Now their carriage seems more gainly,

Now their purple and their scarlet

And their gold-cloth and their samite

Shows more brightly in the sunlight.

Now their bearing seems more manly;

Now their airs grow pompous, stiff and haughty—

Yet, with distance fast receding,

And the prairie undergliding,

Freaks and features new are showing,

Freaks and features fierce and wild,

Features until now concealed

In the hot and sultry air.

Freaks such as the kings of India think fair,

Freaks such as chiefs of Arabia doth wear,

Freaks and features until now beveiled

Like distant peaks impaled

In cloudy waves of gossamer.

Robes of richest color,

Arms for fiercest valor,

Bright plumes above them waving,

Light steeds beneath them foaming,

And the war-paint on their faces

Gives the savage many graces

Envied by the Eastern races—

By the forest beaters,

By the lotos-eaters,

By the tireless ostrich-chasers

And the lazy harem-keepers.


 

PART THIRD.


In the island of the prairie,

By the fountain cool and sweet,

With the cloudless sky above him,

With the pathless plains about,

Dreaming now no more of elf or fairy,

Calmly sleeping lies the fearless scout.

Dreaming now no more of hopes too bright,

Of Courtship vain or broken plight,

Or heated game or deadly strife,

Or lady fair he might have won,

And many a sunny Southern scene

And frolic wild—forgotten never,

Fandangos by that Mexican river,

Deeds of daring done in strife,

At cowboy tournaments and feats

Of horsemanship—all real as life,

Before his vision passes now no more.

Nor does he view the sad, sweet past revealed again

In all the weird light of dim phantasy,

Nor does he live those long, long, summers o'er

As in his dreams erewhile he did,

Believing they were but the hours of a day;

Nor does he heed him now once more

The savage pageantry upon the plain,

Yet onward, onward still they come,

Silent as the executioners of doom,

Heading for the island of the prairie,

heading for the oasis so green,

With its bowers fresh and shady,

With its fountain cold and crystalline—

Onward, onward, till at last they stand

Upon the green brim of the fountain,

There to find refreshment—not the scout,

Yet, though strange to tell, he lay there still,

Just hidden by some friendly roses.

Nor did they once observe his steed

Joined by their courses in the wood,

But seated close around the fountain sparkling

They hear naught else besides their Chief's harangue.


THE CHIEFTAN'S HARANGUE.


"Children of the prairie,

Minions of brave Sitting Bull,

Yours is to obey me

As you would your master's will.

Yours is to blindly follow

Wherever I may lead—

Yours is to blindly follow,

Though the bullets may fall like seed;

Yours is to blindly follow

Though the blaze of battle,

Like the white man's Hell,

All around us flares up.

Yours is to die and serve me;

Yours is to shelter and defend;

Yours is to remove me,

Should the blade of battle wound,

To some shelter in the hills.

If some hostile bullet kills, Yours is to consign me

To the green and grassy ground.


"Brother, warriors, red men,

Harken well to what I say.

Far off upon the swelling prairie

Comes a long, white wagon-train—

Comes a band of crafty white men,

With their women and their children,

With their white flocks and their cattle,

With their mule-teams and their horses,

With their tame ducks and their hen-fowl.

You can see them coming—slowly coming—

Coming at a snail's pace—

You can see their lazy oxen

Slowly moving o'er the prairie;


"You can see their wagons in a long line

coming straight on, this way,

Gliding like a flock of white swan,

Like the marsh-birds of the northland,

Like the clouds that sail the heaven,

Like the while hills of the snow plain,

Like the hills that float so high up

In the great, big, blue, boundless sky sea,

Like the white canoes seen on the big sea-water,

Like the steamboats of the great Atlantic,

Like the war ships seen by our head men

When they went to Congress—Washington,

When they went to see the gray-haired Fathers

Of the pale-face so accursed.


"Oft, my warriors—oft, my brothers,

Oft such sights have seen you,

But not upon this grass plain,

Not so far out here to the northward

Have you ever seen so many pale-faces

With their wagons and their cattle,

With their women and their children.

Much you wonder, brothers;

Much you ponder, warriors;

Much you think of such things—

Of things so strange and unusual.

I have warned you, brothers—

I have reasoned with you,

Now I wish to tell you wherefore

The white man brings his 'house' among us.


"You are well aware, my brothers,

Of the richness of the mountains,

Of the gold and silver treasures,

Of the wild and rugged hills,

Of the precious metals hidden

In the hills far to the westward—

In the happy, hallowed hills;

In the hills so wild and dreamy;

In the hills so bright and purple;

In the silent, sleepy hills,

With their dells so green and grateful;

with their fountains cool and crystalline;

With their banks of silver-shining snow;

With their lakes of heavenly beauty,

And their skies of loving, laughing blue;

With their plateaus green and grassy;

With their valleys full of flowers;

With their bee-enlivened copses,

And their bird-enchanted bowers;

With their blossom-tufted bushes

And their stately forest trees;

With their spruce trees and their birches;

With their cedars and their song-pines;

With their light and graceful willows

Waving o'er the broad and rushing river,

Waving o'er the dancing, dimpled water,

Waving o'er the silver-shining stream

With its rounded stones and pebbles,

With its mossy banks and islands,

With its foamy falls and cascades,

And its lovely vistas in the forest.


"Brothers, warriors, red men,

I would kindle your imagination;

I would stir your hearts to action;

I would fire your lively fancies

With these dreams of sweetness,

With these thoughts of beauty,

With the image of the valley,

With the vision of the mountains—

Of those hills so cool and purple,

Of those hills so wild and dreamy,

Where grow the trees of petrifaction,

Where grow the opal, and the agate

And the gems of rosy lustre;

Where the deep and rocky caverns

Ever dwell in gloom and darkness,

Where the wild and narrow gorges

And the deep and foaming canons

Plow great furrows through the mountains.

From the desolate abysses,

Where the dashing, reckless cascades

Thunder downward through the valley,

Downward through that old, enchanted valley

By the ' fire-hole ' and the ' mud-springs,'

Past those ' fountains of hot water,'

Where the booming, steaming geysers

Spout their columns into mid-air.

Wondrous columns—pillars white as snow,

Pillars like those marble shafts seen in the temples—

In those gorgeous temples of the pale-face—

Pillars like those door-posts of the White House

Of the great White House of the head man,

Like those lodge-poles seen by your Chieftain

When he went to Congress—Washington.


"These are the scenes, my warriors,

That I would portray you.

These are the beauties of our nation;

These are the dowers of our fathers;

These are the glories of our country—

Of that land of peace and plenty,

Of that land of milk and honey,

Where the forest abounds with wild-fowl,

Where the rivers swarm with fishes,

And the meadows teem with sting-bees—

Where the bison and the 'wapitas,'

Where the ' prong-horn' and the' black-tails'

Roam in countless numbers;

Where the coney finds his quarry,

Where the eagle builds his eyrie,

Where the quail-bird and the rabbit-of-the-snow

With the seasons shed off and change their hue ^

Where the siver-tip and black bear,

Where the grizzly giant and the puma,

Where the mountain-wolf and wild-cat

Live together peaceful, tame and mild-eyed.


"There, my warriors—there, my brothers,

There the fox-grape grows most luscious—

There the wild plum and choke-cherry,

There the black-cap and the red raspberry

Ripen with a spicy flavor;

There the ' quallah ' grows most juicy,

There the 'camus' sweet and luscious,

There the servis is most mellow;

There the currant and squaw-berry

Ripen into golden yellow;

There the tarty yerba buena baubles

And the lowly, modest huckleberries

Purple all the hillsides.

There the killickinick and ivy

Hang with green and crimson festoons

All the walls and fissures of the mountains.


"There, my brothers—there my warriors,

There the roses wait us;

There the wild-birds greet us;

There perfumes delight us;

There the rivers, rushing by,

Lull us with their melody.

There the water-lily,

With its petals snowy,'

With its calyx golden,

Dwells in all its chastity—

Dies in all its purity.

There the honeysuckle

With its pipes of crimson,

With its cups of treacle,

Where the grizzly giant and the puma,

Where the mountain-wolf and wild-cat

Live together peaceful, tame and mild-eyed.


"There, my warriors—there, my brothers,

There the fox-grape grows most luscious—

There the wild plum and choke-cherry,

There the black-cap and the red raspberry

Ripen with a spicy flavor;

There the ' quallah ' grows most juicy,

There the 'camus' sweet and luscious,

There the servis is most mellow;

There the currant and squaw-berry

Ripen into golden yellow;

There the tarty yerba buena baubles

And the lowly, modest huckleberries

Purple all the hillsides.

There the killickinick and ivy

Hang with green and crimson festoons

All the walls and fissures of the mountains.


"There, my brothers—there my warriors,

There the roses wait us;

There the wild-birds greet us;

There perfumes delight us;

There the rivers, rushing by,

Lull us with their melody.

There the water-lily,

With its petals snowy,'

With its calyx golden,

Dwells in all its chastity—

Dies in all its purity.

There the honeysuckle

With its pipes of crimson,

With its cups of treacle,

With its chalice dewy,

Tempts the wild-bee—

Tempts the flower-fairy

From his tepee on the prairie.


"There, my warriors—there, my brothers,

There have we dwelt since childhood.

There our fathers dwelt before us;

There our children play and prattle;

There our sweethearts wait to meet us;

There the old folks wait to greet us;

There our wives prepare to banquet us—

But the pale-face, he would rob us

Of all this gladness—all this bliss.


"Aye, brothers, warriors, red men,

He comes our land to plow and fence up;

He comes our game to chase and slaughter;

He comes to muddy all our running-water;

He comes our trees to cut and chop down-;

He comes our shrines to pilfer and destroy;

He comes our catafalques and grave-yards to desecrate;

He comes our head men to depose and murder;

He comes our wives and daughters to dishonor;

He comes ourselves to laugh and jeer at;

He comes to steal our gold and silver;

He has broken his pledged word and treaty;

He has dared to insult our great nation;

He has come, defiant of our arms and power;

He would pack off—if he could—our whole country.


"But, brothers, warriors, red men,

Such wrong as this shall never be!

Himself, instead—his women, children, all shall die!

Oh, hearken, warriors! listen, red men,

Catch well on to what I say.

Here, hidden in the bushes, we will lie

To shoot and cut him when he comes up—

Oh, so grandly—so very scientifically!


"Much stock he has, you all know;

Much whiskey, coffee and tobacco;

Much sugar and molasses—ha! ha!

Much beans and bacon, flour and corn-meal also;

Much fruit and other good things—oh, my!

How you like it—how you long to taste it—so much!

You shall have it—it yours shall soon be;

You shall go home filled up—well, how delightful!

We shall all get drunk—oh, mighty-much drunk!

We shall all be rich men—whoopla! ha! ha!"


 

PART FOURTH.


Thus planned those children of the prairie—

Those painted sons of Ishmael,

Descended from old Harry

And his wife—Anaconda Sabina Cain,

Daughter of Nod, and Queen of—well,

No matter about the name of that hot place.

Suffice it, thus planned those Aborigines

Whose quest was plunder, pillage, gain.

Thus planned those robbers of the desert

Who have no pity, and who know not

Truth, religion, virtue, shame.

Thus planned those outlaws wild and red

Who revel in destruction, and delight

In torture—murder—blood.

Thus planned those Parsees of the Platte

Who rather shoot than to be shot—

Who prefer in ambush deep to lie,

To shoot the white man passing by;

Or follow, snake-like, on his track

For months—to strike him in the back.

But peace, my Muse! I meant not

Those savage frailties to deride—

Although I did, I guess—

They have their faults— and virtues—good and bad.

Their ways are artless, and their board

Is frugal—sometimes rather scant.

They don't get drunk—that is, when they can't.

But peace—I care not my dull pen to cross

With their sharp spears—'tis mine to limn

The truth, yet paint their virtue—not their sin.


In the island of the prairie,

With the pathless plains about,

Scheming—planning—making merry,

Sat that painted robber brotherhood—

Sat those favored children of old Harry,

Awaiting yet the hour of pillage and of blood.


There, too the scout lay dreaming—

Still by chief and warriors noticed not.

For o'er his couch the flags and bushes, nodding,

Hid his shapely form from sight.

But stay! what sound is that—what sight—

That makes each savage eyeball glare?

Behold—across the hot, dry plain afar,

The long white wagon-train appears at last.


And hark! the shouting, barking, braying,

As rumbling, rolling, jolting o'er the plain they come—

Happy hearts a-throbbing,

Heated lungs a-panting,

Parched lips a-parting,

Thirsty tongues a-starting,

On they come—on they come,

Man and team,

Racing, flying,

Longing, languishing

For the shade-tree and the spring.


Oh, that man far-seeing,

Oh, that woman cunning

Could look into the dim futurity—

Could read the fate that is to be.