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NE History & Record of Pioneer
Vol VI, no 2 (part 2)
THE WEEPING WATER
(Prefatory Note by the Author to Original
The Omaha and Otoe Indians, being at war,
chanced to meet on their common hunting-ground south of the Platte
river, in Nebraska. A fierce battle ensued, in which all the male
warriors of both tribes being slain, the women and children came
upon the battle-field and sat down and wept. From the fountain of
their tears arose and ever flows the little stream known as
Ne-hawka, or the Weeping Water.
(From Nebraska Legends and Poems, by Orsamus Charles Dake,
The lingering suns crept round a land at peace,
While June, warm-eyed, was loitering in the vales.
Long-gone was seed-time; and the sportive birds
Flew through broad-bladed corn, or 'mid the bloom
Of yellow melon-flowers, where slope the fields
Down to the Elkhorn stream.
But there was one
Among the Otoe lodges on the bluffs
Full envious of the mated cheerful birds--
He, Sananona named, o' the Iron Eyes.
Who, dreaming long in virtuous discontent
For that the summer kindled in his blood
And all his life grew languorous for his love,
Came with the sunrise to the wealthy lodge
Of his sole chief, Shosguscan. Him he found
Sitting without, on soft Coyote robes--
One idle hand with a pet dog a-toy,
And in his mouth his -pipe of blood-red stone.
Mutely expectant, then, the young man stood,
While grim Shosguscan, with half-opened eyes,
Looked subtly in the tell-tale wishful face,
'Gainst which the level sunbeams pushed their spears;
But all was silent save the sighing wind.
At length the sage chief spoke: "It is no foe
Lurking amidst our corn-fields, nor wise thought
Of public welfare brings thee here, I see.
What wouldst thou, Sananona?"
As when first
A school boy trapped in frivolous mischief, writhes
Like a hurt worm beneath the master's eye,
But, finding no excuse, confesses all,
Young Sananona, glancing right and left,
Abashed and humbled thus to tell his love,
Unveiled his heart.
"Mine are the wants of
Oh, great Shosguscan--youth, thou knowest, has wants,
To be the victor in all manly sports,
To tireless chase the flying antelope,
To battle all day long with worthy foes--
These are youth's wants; but youth has wants besides.
On windy nights I sit within my door
Voiceless and lonely, for I lack a mate.
Small need is mine to hunt the shaggy bull,
Or lure the wary pickerel from the lake--
Success is bootless where it is unshared."
Here grim Shosguscan, with impatient yawn--
"Oh! Ah! Well, take a wife!"
"That would I do,"
"And what hinders then?",
Shosguscan cried. "Go, make deliberate choice
Among our dark-eyed girls, and her lead home
That best befits your mind! And wherefore here?
Why speak to me of maids, and windy nights,
And sentimental loneliness? Not I--
I am not a tier of true-lovers' knots,
No go-between for billing boys and girls,
No dealer in love-simples for sore hearts.
I hold myself for something different.
I am a warrior, Sananona, I--
A man of mighty battles and of blood.
Mine is the voice of wisdom in our tribe
The hand that guides and rules. Not me for love.
Not me for maidens seek; but find some crone
That, as a quacking duck along the streams,
Leads forth her timorous brood! Go! Go! young man,
From women seek your mate!"
Against this scorn
Wrathful and black young Sananona stood.
But as before his nation's chief befits
A youth to stand with quiet modesty
And humbled self-importance, so he paused
To smother impulse and select his words.
"I am not here to seek your offices,
Oh, brave Shosguscan, as a go-between.
I ask no man to win a maid for me.
I best can tell the secret I best know.
But this my errand: She who has my heart
And whom with pure and honorable rites
I would install as mistress of my lodge,
Is not an Otoe; dwells not by the stream
Of the swift Elkhorn; but among the tents
Of warlike Omahas--a handsome race--
She honors womanhood and waits for me.
Her tribesmen know our troth, and are content."
"So you would bring a foreign woman here!"
Cried harsh Shosguscan. "One who, in the days
Of vigilant warfare, shall forewarn her friends,
Bringing defeat to counsel:--one whose heart
Shall evermore be flying to the fields
Wherein her childhood played, and to the light
Of kindly faces she may see no more.
Have Otoe maidens, then, no amourous grace?
The daughters of your fathers,--are they worse
Or less attractive than this alien girl?
Why shame your people thus?"
Then gravely spoke
The Iron-Eyed: "I cannot read my heart
To say why this I choose, why that reject.
I follow Love's blind instinct. If I err,
Mine is the error common to our race.
But love that blindly leads is seldom wrong,
For most are happy in their wedded loves.
Indifferent I see our Otoe girls;
But when Nacoumah, in the April days,
I met among her people, then my heart
Rose up and followed after. Oh, my chief,
Respect my hopes, I pray, and bid me go
To hither bring the maiden of the North,
And I, in times of danger, with my life
Will answer for her loyalty!"
The Youth expectant, pleading with his face
That mirrored forth the hopes and fears within
As the great Platte, when low in autumn days
Near to its islands on its glassy wave
Reveals the woodlands and the forest-life.
And stern Shosguscan, musing on his face
And running over all the honored past,
When Sananona in the thickest fight,
Had borne the brunt of battle with the best,
And wrought great deeds, and won the hearts of all,
Wavered inclined to grant his moving suit:
And bid him seek his maid and bring her home.
But swift succeeded thoughts of what was best
For general welfare, and the answer he
Not for himself, led by a yielding heart,
But for his tribe should make. Then thus he said:
"Oh, Sananona, much I long to yield
This boyish quest, for I, too, have been young.
I know how whimsical this youthful love--
With what caprices unaccountable
The youth selects his maid, the maid her man.
I know how. disappointment pricks, and how
The heart, defeated of its cherished aim,
Knots its great arteries and swells with sighs
And strives to burst. And I would spare all pain;
But this I know--for I, too, have been young--
That love has lives as many as the bear,
That being filled with arrows and with spears,
'Scapes to the hills, plucks the barbs, and grows,
Erelong, as vigorous as before. To-day,
None like Nacoumah; but ere wintry suns
Waste nebulous glances in the frozen gales,
Some other maiden will inspire your sighs;
For youth runs lightly into any love.
Oh, be advised! Go seek an Otoe bride.
Dismiss this passion; it will work your bale--
Nor you alone, but all. Go!"
And he went.
Straight to his lodge the young brave went, and closed
His door, and with himself communed. As one
Who, whirling through the country by a train
That flies the track and plunges down a steep,
Picks himself out from shattered heaps of cars
And smutched and mangled bodies of the dead;
Then feels along each bruised limb with care,
And slowly breathes to test if hurts within
Threaten life's citadel; so all his heart
Sad Sananona to himself exposed.
And weighted Nacoumah 'gainst the Otoe girls,
And said, at length, "No other wife for me
But she who has my heart! This argument
Shosguscan holds about a light-heeled love
That dances like a reed-blade in the wind
Hither and thither, without settled bound,
Suits him, perhaps-not me. Come then what may:
If brief my life, it now is summer-time,
And a few sun-bright days of well-placed love
I stake against the wrath of all my tribe."
So, sauntering to the valley with a line
As one on pensive piscatory bent,
Soon as the woodlands hid his stealthy course,
He northward turned, and sought and found his bride.
And days went by--the laughing days of June:
But yet the Otoe was supplied with meat
And wrought no havoc with the flocks of God,
But let the days in aimless waste go by
Amid his wives in the well-furnished lodge,
Content with peace,--with idleness and peace.
But when, at length, the women raised a wail
Of shortening substance and the grim-eyed wolf,
He rose, as one from sleep, and felt his strength--
Stretching his sinews in the pleasant sun.
And as an eagle whets his murderous beak
Upon the tree-top and the granite-ledge,
Or practises in cloud-land his fell swoop,
When, dropping from immeasurable heights
A thousand fathoms down, we see him first
A speck in the abyss, then soars and falls,
Rises and sinks again and yet again,
Each time descending lower, until, at last,
He hovers o'er his nest and settles there,
The hunter filed his flinty arrow-heads,
Sharpened the hatchet and the dreadful knife,
And day by day bent to athletic games--
To run long miles, to leap a miry brook,
To shoot a reed-mark, and to overthrow
His mighty tribesmen in the wrestler's toils,
Winning great fame, and mastering his powers,
Until, fatigued, at evening home was sweet
But when the moon was rounding night by night,
And the green hills were flooded with its bath
Of silver-streaming light, through which far swam
The sentinel eye-distrustful of surprise--
The Otoe passed the threshold of his lodge
In the great village on the Elkhorn bluffs,
Called forth his thronging progeny and wives,
And wended to the south.
So fared they forth--
The inspiration of necessity
Their constant guide--as through long ages, back
To the abnormal hour that bore to time
Their changeless race. But aptly framed their rules
For a rude justice, and the lack of law
Custom, the precedent of use, supplied.
Among their bands no daft reformer rose
To paint the visions of his flighty soul,
And lead to lands hung toppling in the air,
But childlike and content they held and taught,
Without abridgement or an added grain,
The simple faith their fathers left to them--
Growing a rock-firm habit in their race.
So went they forth, as went in all past years,
And as still go in the deep spirit-world,
Their awful fathers and their lovely wives,
When on their annual hunts. The van was led
By a well-chosen band of warriors, proved
On many a nameless but death-smitten field.
These, mounted on swift steeds--swift as the clouds,
Low-hung outriders of a coming storm--
Armed at all points with bow and lofty lance,
And murderous hatchet and the gleaming knife,
Rode dreadful on the hills or through the vales,
Scanning each shadow for a foe. Much need
For caution was there. On these hunting-grounds
The fearful Sioux were oft in battle met.
As when along some blown Alaskan vale
A herd of Caribou drags forth its length,
Seeking for mosses underneath the snow,
And at the front its antlered patriarchs
Explore the route and lead the hinds and young,
That feeding, follow happy and secure.
Behind them streamed the families with their goods,
Women and children loitering by the way,
Ponies with tent-poles dragging at their sides,
And the gaunt pack that bays the midnight moon.
And all day long before them fled the game
Across the pleasant plains, or stood and eyed
From some low eminence of rounded hill
With timid curiosity.
Two days they journeyed to the south and west,
A June-time journey in a June-time mood,
And sport and love and laughter ruled the time.
But now was reached a fair idyllic land--
A land of rolling meadow, and of rills
That rippled through the morning like a voice,
Or filled the darkness with mysterious sighs,
Then, as ere eve the chief decreed to camp,
With noisy clamor, as a flock of crows,
That lighting, huddle round a lonely marsh,
Some kindle fires and cook the generous meal
Of savory antelope, or prairie-hen,
Or rabbit, freshly caught; and some brace fast
The lofty lodge-poles o'er an ample space,
And fold them deep in warmth-compelling skins.
The women, as befits domestic ways,
Spread the wide couch of soft and well-tanned robes--
Beaver, or otter, or the delicate fawn;
And children stand beside the glowing fires,
Babbling between their mouthfuls with full hands.
But ere the tasks were ended, or the feast
Palled on a dulled and sated appetite,
From out the hollow valleys of the south
Rose tawny mists of smoke, and clomb to heaven,
And caught the sunset in wan flowing horns.
Then all the women were aware of fear,
But every man felt at his mighty heart
A sterner pulsing, for his will was firm.
And, as an oak that bears the rushing storm,
And quakes not at the thunder in its strength,
But gnarls and knots in stubborn pride of power,
So grew his muscles tense and hard as twist--
Conditioned for a conflict, must it come.
But, as a brood of wild-cats, when a dog,
Snuffing along the woodlands, nears their nest,
Gather at once around the faithful dam,
The Otoe tribesmen hasten to the lodge
Of brave Shosguscan. Him alone they found
Sitting before his tent; a massive soul,
And clear of vision as the morning star.
Wisdom and will spoke from his lordly face--
A presence that bends others without words --
Incarnate manhood's just authority.
Thus as he sat, his blinkless eye full-fixed
Upon the smoke-wreaths whirling o'er the hills,
Around him came in silence and sat down
His warlike tribesmen; but no word they spoke.
Long-time he mused. At length the deep-toned voice
Rose as a full-brimmed bucket from a well,
Lifting its treasure for men's needs.
Of Otoe, conscious in our strength to stand
Unflinching in the face of every foe,
And in the fiercest battle to maintain
Our right, we wander through these hunting-grounds
As inclination leads. If any doubt
Our purpose of free action, or our power
To hold a ground once taken, let them come
And put constraint upon us, bit our mouths,
And tame us, as a horse, to know the rein,
Or drive us homewards, as a fox is sped
Back to its cover. In the face of all
We sit down here. We seek no fight, indeed,
Nor do we seek to shun one. For this night
Put forth double line of sentinels,
And let the Otoes sleep upon their arms."
But, as the brave Shosguscan finished thus,
An Omaha, that, hunting through the hills,
Had from afar surveyed the Otoe camp
And recognized the tribe by many signs,
Came in with friendly words, and straightway told
How his own tribe were also on the hunt,
And two days earlier wandered to the south,
And had success with buffalo and deer:
That theirs the camps deep in the hollow vales,
Whose fires had wreathed the sunset in a robe
Of tinted mist. So, then, no thought remained
Of foes and war; but, as a man derives
Indifficult places from a true friend's face
Support and confidence and heedless ease,
These neighbor-tribes, now for a time at peace--
Equal in numbers and resource of war--
Felt each securer in the other's might.
But on the morrow Sananona, who a
Fortnight had been strayed, was hailed by friends
And Otoe comrades straggled for pastime
Among the Omahas, as he was seen
With sweet Nacoumah, now his wedded wife.
And straightway these, with garrulous speech at home
Discoursing of the pair, their secret soon,
Touched at Shosguscan's ear. And for that he--
Judicial even in his social moods--
Never forgave a personal affront.
Or question of opinion, but was stern,
And, as the ice upon a wintry stream,
Cold and inflexible; forthwith he sent
Two valiant warriors, creatures of his own,
To summon Sananona from his bride,
And bid him haste to his paternal chief,
Who for his absence felt a deep concern.
But Sananona, with shrewd speech, declined.
Too well he guessed the great obnoxious paw
Of the fierce panther, that o'ertakes the herds
Among the mountain valleys by the Platte,
Was lighter than his chief's official hand
But, as the Otoe heralds homeward turned,
He to his new-made friends and kinsmen ran,
And, gathering them--a listening group-apart,
Thus spoke: "O friends, O brethren, now--for such
To me ye are, since he who weds a wife
Becomes more surely member of her house
Than she of his--I claim your aid to-day.
When first I saw Nacoumah, my cold heart--
That in its chamber dragged a numb, dead life,
As, in some hollow trunk through wintry days
Pent by the frigid darkness, clings the bee-
Flew, like the bee in Springtime, when the breast
Of the broad prairie sparkles into bloom
With flowers of every hue, and found in her
Its treasure and its rest. With your consent,
Her have I taken in all proper rites
To share my lodge and life. But skies grow foul.
This very hour Shosguscan, my tribe's chief,
By embassy sent secretly to me,
Commands my presence at his lodge intent
To force me from my bride. Stern, harsh is he
Inflexible and lightly holds youth's love.
Now would he widow her whom I have wed,
And punish preference that goes from home.
But you, good friends, I know your generous will,
Your courage, and your might. And more I know;
I know you honor natural love and grief,
And hate oppression that has no excuse.
Be with me then, I pray, in this dire strait,
Nor let the chief Shosguscan snatch me hence!
Much do I fear, lest coming with a band
Of sturdy warriors trained to work his will,
Vol VI, no 2, part 1 Vol
VI, no 2, part 3
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