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,
Parted Lovers Reunited
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!