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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.