THE FEAST OF MONDAMIN
By M. A. Brown
The pioneers of Nebraska, territory and state, have helped to make history, and these same pioneers who are now living, can perform no better service for the present and for posterity, than to inscribe the events of that history in such form that those who come after them may be informed of the work of the pioneers and be stimulated by a just pride in their achievements. This story I send is submitted in that spirit.
The older settlers of Nebraska remember the early grasshopper scourge and the devastation of this Rocky Mountain slope. They will recall much in connection therewith not necessary here to picture in detail. Time passing to the early nineties, there was another well remembered visitation, the prolonged drouth. The experiences of that time were harrowing in the extreme, and as we look back to them, we find that they have faded like a terrible dream that has dissolved with the day. We may recall especially one picture, a picture of plenty, with a yield of corn so abundant that it could not find market, and so cheap that it was used for fuel as a substitute for coal and wood -- cheaper even then buffalo "chips." Incidentally, we may recall a governor and his staff junketing in the south, when a clarion call arose for him to return to his state, issue a call for a special session of the legislature, and direct that a commodity law be passed that would make it possible to ship Nebraska corn and wheat by freight without consuming the entire proceeds; and how this governor (Thayer) immediately responded, but rescinded the call, and how the desired commodity law was later enacted.
The return of better days prompted, in 1895, a statewide celebration at the metropolis of the state which was held, and has annually "held the boards" for twenty-two years. Inspired by this heralded event, the writer conceived a fancy to write a ''pastoral" in the meter of the "Song of Hiawatha," with a legendary theme to give it color and add to its interest
This new "song" was collaborated by the author and Mr. Carl Smith in the Omaha World-Herald in September, 1895. It has never been printed in its original form except in the writers own newspaper, the Kearney Hub, and in submitting it now he trusts that it may prove of some present value and of at
least a passing interest. Herewith are the lines of "The Feast of Mondamin," from which Nebraska's great annual spectacle, our own unique and far-famed Ak-Sar-Ben, has grown:
The Feast of Mondamin*
In the land of the Nebraskas,
In the land called Shallow Water,
Where the breezes fanned the prairies
Through the summer and the autumn
With refreshing, gentle coolness,
And the hillsides and the valleys
Bloomed and yielded in profusion
Through unchanging, fruitful seasons
Fruits of orchard and of garden
And the golden gifts of Ceres;
While the sweet and fragrant meadows,
Yielded rich and juicy grasses
For the kine and beasts of burden,
Dwelt the great and good Mondamin,
Ruler of a happy people.
When the paleface, moving westward
In fulfillment of his mission,
Had passed onward to the mountains,
And beyond to the Pacific,
Came Mondamin--came and lingered
In the land of Shallow Water,
Where the prairies, like the ocean,
Stretched to meet the broad horizon.
And the azure skies so cloudless,
Lined the dome of all the heav'ns,
And the air, life's own elixir,
Gave to faded eyes a brightness
And to weary limbs new vigor,
Where the footsteps of the paleface
Had left imprint on the prairies
Here Mondamin made his dwelling,
And called 'round him all his subjects
From the four points of the compass
To behold how good and pleasant,
And abounding in all blessing,
This the Kingdom of Mondamin,
To be known thro' all the ages
As the realm of peace and plenty.
And unto Mondamin's kingdom
The great spirit gave all blessing;
Gave of wheat and oats full measure,
Gave of corn vast cribs o'erflowing,
And of hogs and sheep unnumbered,
And of cattle many millions,
Here the people lived and prospered,
And the towns sprang up among them,
And the spires of the churches
And the pathways to the schoolhouse
Pointed all to light and learning.
Then this cruel thing did happen
Which offended the great spirit:
That the great gift of Mondamin,
That the corn, so o'er abundant,
Used was throughout the kingdom
To supply the need of fuel.
This offense to the great spirit
Was so deep and long abiding
That he parched the land in summer,
And withheld the snows in winter,
And the harvests seared and withered.
And the water from the heav'ns
Failed to give its sweet refreshing,
Till there came a year of famine ,
When the drouth stalked through the kingdom,
And the land was filled with wailing
And the sound of lamentation.
From the birthplace of Otoes
To the rippling Niobrara,
From the broad Platte river valley
To the land called Ke-ya Paha,
From the picturesque Papillion
To the sand dunes of Wyoming,
There was prayer for rain unceasing;
There was prayer for rain unanswered;
And the hot breath of the southland
Swept from border unto border,
Withering the em'rald cornfields,
Parching brown the spreading meadows,
Leaving naught of vegetation
To relieve the desolation.
E'en the wild goose, flying southward,
Shunned the haunts so long familiar
In the stricken land of famine.
But the winter: Oh, the winter!
Oh, the grim, gaunt face of hunger!
Oh, the winds, so cold and piercing!
Would you read the tearful story
Of that fateful, fearful winter?
Ne'er can there be pen to write it,
Nor the gift of speech to tell it,
Nor the artist's brush to paint it;
In the hearts of all the people,
Where there ne'er can be forgetting
Nor its import be unheeded,
It is graven deep and lasting.
When the winter snows were melting
'Neath the warming touch of springtime,
Then Mondamin sought the spirit,
Went with prayer and intercession
For a blessing for his people;
And the heart of the great spirit
Trembled with a deep compassion,
Throbbed with pity for the dwellers
In the land of Shallow Water;
And he promised peace and plenty
To the subjects of Mondamin
Through the coming generations.
Then he sent the gentle showers
To refresh the breast of nature,
Sent the rains so soft and timely,
Sent the dews of night so cooling,
Sent the sunshine warm and tender;
And behond! Dense lines of verdure
Fringed the margins of the rivers
And the grasses in the valleys
Gladly leaped to meet the sunlight;
Fertile fields gave daily promise
Of magnificent fuition
In the softly swaying wheatfields,
To the humbly nodding oatfields,
In the stately spreading cornfields,
In the rye and in the barley,
In the purple crowned alfalfa.
Happy wildbirds sang their carols
Daily to the god of harvests,
And the busy bees toiled gladly
To store honey for the winter
While the fishes in the river
Splashed the waves with very gladness.
Thus the spring passed into summer,
And the summer into autumn,
With its happy consummation
Of anticipated blessings.
At the prompting of the spirit
Came the bravest of the kingdom,
Came the knights known as Ak-Sar-Ben
Came with joyous hearts and thankful,
And resolved upon a token
Of the deep appreciation
In the hearts of all the people;
And they issued proclamation
That the people all should gather
By the shores of the Missouri,
In the city called O-ma-ha,
Chiefest city in the kingdom,
In the ninth month of the cycle,
And the week but one remaining,
There with royal pomp and pageant.
And with drinking and with feasting.
And with singing and with dancing,
And with light hearts making merry,
Signalize the celebration
Of the glad Feast of Mondamin.
So 'twas done! and ever after
Did the good knights of Ak-Sar-Ben,
When the royal tints of autumn
Crowned the verdured world with glory,
Call the people all together
From the hillsides and the valleys
And the far outstretching prairies
Of the land of Shallow Water,
And did spend the days in feasting
And in joyful demonstrations
At the Feast of Mondamin.
*"The Feast of the Corn."
© 2000 for NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller