John Townsend Trowbridge

Menotomy Lake


OUT from the Northern forest, dim and vast;
Out from the mystery
Of yet more shadowy times, a pathless past,
Untracked by History;

Strangely he comes into our commonplace,
Prosaic present;
And, like a faded star beside the bay's
Silvery crescent,

Upon the curved shore of the shining lake
His tent he pitches—
A modern chief, in white man's wide-awake
And Christian breeches.

Reckless of title-deeds and forms of law,
He freely chooses
Whatever slope or wood-side suits his squaw
And lithe papooses.

Why not? The owners of the land were red,
Holding dominion
Wherever ranged the foot of beast or spread
The eagle's pinion;

And privileged, until they welcomed here
Their fair-faced brother,
To hunt at will, sometimes the bear and deer,
Sometimes each other.

How often to this lake, down yonder dark
And sinuous river,
The painted warriors sailed, in fleets of bark,
With bow and quiver!

This lank-haired chieftain is their child, and heir
To a great nation,
And well might fix, you fancy, anywhere
His habitation.

Has he too come to hunt the bear and deer,
To trap the otter?
Alas! there's no such creature stirring here,
On land or water.

To have a little traffic with the town,
Once more he chooses
The ancient camping-place, and brings his brown
Squaw and papooses.

No tent was here in yester-evening's hush;
But the day, dawning,
Transfigures with a faint, a roseate flush,
His dingy awning.

The camp-smoke curling in the misty light,
And canvas slanting.
To the green earth, all this is something quite
Fresh and enchanting;

Viewed not too closely, lest the glancing wings,
The iridescent
Soft colors of romance, give place to things
Not quite so pleasant.

The gossamers glistening on the dewy turf;
The lisp and tinkle
Of flashing foam-bells, where the placid surf
Breaks on the shingle;

The shimmering birches by the rippling cove;
A fresh breeze bringing
The fragrance of the pines, and in the grove
The thrushes singing,

Make the day sweet. But other sight and sound
And odor fill it,
You find, as you approach their camping-ground
And reeking skillet.

The ill-fed curs rush out with wolfish bark;
And, staring at you,
A slim young girl leaps up, smooth-limbed and dark
As a bronze statue.

A bare papoose about the camp-fire poles
Toddles at random;
And on the ground there, by the blazing coals,
Sits the old grandam.

Wrnkled and lean, her skirt a matted rag,
In plaited collar
Of beads and hedghog quills, the smoke-dried hag
Squats in her squalor,

Dressing a marmot which the boys have shot;
Which done, she seizes
With tawny claws, and drops into the pot,
The raw, red pieces.

The chief meanwhile has in some mischief found
A howling urchin,
Who knows too well, alas! that he is bound
To have a birching.

The stoic of the woods, stern and unmoved,
Lays the light lash on,
Tickling the lively ankles in approved
Fatherly fashion.

The boy slinks off, a wiser boy, indeed—
Wiser and sorrier.
And is this he, the chief of whom we read,
The Indian warrior?

Where hangs his tomahawk? the scalps of tall
Braves struck in battle?
Why, bless you, sir, his band is not at all
That kind of cattle!

In ceasing to be savaged, they chose
To put away things
That suit the savage: even those hickory bows
Are merely playthings.

For common use he rather likes, I think,
The white man's rifle,
Hatchet, and blanket; and of white man's drink,
I fear, a trifle.

With neighbors' scalp-locks, and such bagatelles,
He never meddles.
Bows, baskets, and I hardly know what else,
He makes and peddles.

Quite civilized, you see. Is he aware
Of his beatitude?
Does he, for all the white man's love and care,
Feel proper gratitude?

Feathers and war-paint he no more enjoys;
But he is prouder
Of long-tailed coat, and boots, and corduroys,
And white man's powder.

And he can trade his mink and musquash skins,
Baskets of wicker,
For white man's trinkets; bows and moccasins
For white man's liquor.

His Manitou is passing, with each strange,
Wild superstition:
He has the Indian agent for a change,
And Indian mission.

He owns his cabin and potato patch,
And farms a little.
Industrious? Quite, when there are fish to to catch,
Or shafts to whittle.

Though all about him, like a rising deep,
Flows the white nation,
He has—and while it pleases us may keep—
His Reservation.

Placed with his tribe in such a paradise,
'T is past believing
That they should still be given to petty vice,
Treachery, and thieving.

Incentives to renounce their Indian tricks
Are surely ample,
With white man's piety and politics
For their example.

But are they happier now than when, some night,
The chosen quotas
Of tufted warriors sallied forth to fight
The fierce Dakotas?

Still under that sedate, impassive port,
That dull demeanor,
A spirit waits, a demon sleeps—in short,
The same red sinner!

Within those inky pools, his eyes, I see
Revenge and pillage,
The midnight massacre that yet may be,
The blazing village.

When will he mend his wicked ways, indeed,
Kill more humanely—
Depart, and leave to us the lands we need?
To put it plainly.

Yet in our dealings with his race, in crimes
Of war and ravage,
Who is the Christian, one might ask sometimes,
And who the savage?

His traits are ours, seen in a dusky glass,
And but remind us
Of heathenism we hardly yet, alas!
Have left behind us.

Is right for white race wrong for black and red?
A man or woman,
What hue soever, after all that's said,
Is simply human.

Viewed from the smoke and misery of his dim
How seems, I'd like to ask—how seems to him
The proud Caucasian?

I shape the question as he saunters nigh,
But shame to ask it.
We turn to price his wares instead, and buy,
Perhaps, a basket.

But this is strange! A man without pretense
Of wit or reading,
Where did he get that calm intelligence,
That plain good-breeding?

With him long patience, fortitude unspent,
Untaught sagacity:
Culture with us, the curse of discontent,
Pride, and rapacity.

Something we gain of him and bear away
Beside our purchase.
We look awhile upon the quivering bay
And shimmering birches—

The young squaw bearing up from the canoes
Some heavy lading;
Along the beach a picturesque papoose
Splashing and wading;

The withered crone, the camp-smoke's slow ascent,
The puffs that blind her;
The girl, her silhouette on the sun-lit tent
Shadowed behind her;

The stalwart brave, watching his burdened wife,
Erect and stolid:
We look, and think with pity of a life
So poor and squalid!

Then at the cheering signal of a bell
We slowly wander
Back to the world, back to the great hotel
Looming up yonder.

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