Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
Southern States: Appendix: Texas, the Plains
Kit Carson’s Ride
Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

WE lay low in the grass on the broad plain levels,
Old Revels and I, and my stolen brown bride;
And the heavens of blue and the harvest of brown
And beautiful clover were welded as one,
To the right and the left, in the light of the sun.        5
“Forty full miles if a foot to ride,
Forty full miles if a foot, and the devils
Of red Camanches are hot on the track
When once they strike it. Let the sun go down
Soon, very soon,” muttered bearded old Revels        10
As he peered at the sun, lying low on his back,
Holding fast to his lasso. Then he jerked at his steed
And he sprang to his feet, and glanced swiftly around,
And then dropped, as if shot, with his ear to the ground;
Then again to his feet, and to me, to my bride,        15
While his eyes were like fire, his face like a shroud,
His form like a king, and his beard like a cloud,
And his voice loud and shrill, as if blown from a reed,—
“Pull, pull in your lassos, and bridle to steed,
And speed you if ever for life you would speed,        20
And ride for your lives, for your lives you must ride!
For the plain is aflame, the prairie on fire,
And feet of wild horses hard flying before
I hear like a sea breaking high on the shore,
While the buffalo come like a surge of the sea,        25
Driven far by the flame, driving fast on us three
As a hurricane comes, crushing palms in his ire.”
  We drew in the lassos, seized saddle and rein,
Threw them on, sinched them on, sinched them over again,
And again drew the girth, cast aside the macheers,        30
Cut away tapidaros, loosed the sash from its fold,
Cast aside the catenas red-spangled with gold,
And gold-mounted Colt’s, the companions of years,
Cast the silken serapes to the wind in a breath,
And so bared to the skin sprang all haste to the horse,—        35
As bare as when born, as when new from the hand
Of God,—without word, or one word of command.
Turned head to the Brazos in a red race with death,
Turned head to the Brazos with a breath in the hair
Blowing hot from a king leaving death in his course;        40
Turned head to the Brazos with a sound in the air
Like the rush of an army, and a flash in the eye
Of a red wall of fire reaching up to the sky,
Stretching fierce in pursuit of a black rolling sea
Rushing fast upon us, as the wind sweeping free        45
And afar from the desert blew hollow and hoarse.
  Not a word, not a wail from a lip was let fall,
Not a kiss from my bride, not a look nor low call
Of love-note or courage; but on o’er the plain
So steady and still, leaning low to the mane,        50
With the heel to the flank and the hand to the rein,
Rode we on, rode we three, rode we nose and gray nose,
Reaching long, breathing loud, as a creviced wind blows:
Yet we broke not a whisper, we breathed not a prayer,
There was work to be done, there was death in the air,        55
And the chance was as one to a thousand for all.
  Gray nose to gray nose, and each steady mustang
Stretched neck and stretched nerve till the arid earth rang,
And the foam from the flank and the croup and the neck
Flew around like the spray on a storm-driven deck.        60
Twenty miles!… thirty miles!… a dim distant speck …
Then a long reaching line, and the Brazos in sight,
And I rose in my seat with a shout of delight,
I stood in my stirrup and looked to my right—
But Revels was gone; I glanced by my shoulder        65
And saw his horse stagger; I saw his head drooping
Hard down on his breast, and his naked breast stooping
Low down to the mane, as so swifter and bolder
Ran reaching out for us the red-footed fire.
To right and to left the black buffalo came,        70
A terrible surf on a red sea of flame
Rushing on in the rear, reaching high, reaching higher.
And he rode neck to neck to a buffalo bull,
The monarch of millions, with shaggy mane full
Of smoke and of dust, and it shook with desire        75
Of battle, with rage and with bellowings loud
And unearthly, and up through its lowering cloud
Came the flash of his eyes like a half-hidden fire,
While his keen crooked horns, through the storm of his mane,
Like black lances lifted and lifted again;        80
And I looked but this once, for the fire licked through,
And he fell and was lost, as we rode two and two.
  I looked to my left then,—and nose, neck, and shoulder
Sank slowly, sank surely, till back to my thighs;
And up through the black blowing veil of her hair        85
Did beam full in mine her two marvellous eyes,
With a longing and love, yet a look of despair
And of pity for me, as she felt the smoke fold her,
And flames reaching far for her glorious hair.
Her sinking steed faltered, his eager ears fell        90
To and fro and unsteady, and all the neck’s swell
Did subside and recede, and the nerves fall as dead.
Then she saw sturdy Pachè still lorded his head,
With a look of delight; for nor courage nor bribe,
Nor naught but my bride, could have brought him to me.        95
For he was her father’s, and at South Santafee
Had once won a whole herd, sweeping everything down
In a race where the world came to run for the crown.
And so when I won the true heart of my bride,—
My neighbor’s and deadliest enemy’s child,        100
And child of the kingly war-chief of his tribe,—
She brought me this steed to the border the night
She met Revels and me in her perilous flight
From the lodge of the chief to the North Brazos side;
And said, so half guessing of ill as she smiled,        105
As if jesting, that I, and I only, should ride
The fleet-footed Pachè, so if kin should pursue
I should surely escape without other ado
Than to ride, without blood, to the North Brazos side,
And await her,—and wait till the next hollow moon        110
Hung her horn in the palms, when surely and soon
And swift she would join me, and all would be well
Without bloodshed or word. And now as she fell
From the front, and went down in the ocean of fire,
The last that I saw was a look of delight        115
That I should escape—a love—a desire—
Yet never a word, not one look of appeal,
Lest I should reach hand, should stay hand or stay heel
One instant for her in my terrible flight.
  Then the rushing of fire around me and under,        120
And the howling of beasts and a sound as of thunder,—
Beasts burning and blind and forced onward and over,
As the passionate flame reached around them, and wove her
Red hands in their hair, and kissed hot till they died,—
Till they died with a wild and a desolate moan,        125
As a sea heart-broken on the hard brown stone …
And into the Brazos … I rode all alone,—
All alone, save only a horse long-limbed,
And blind and bare and burnt to the skin.
Then just as the terrible sea came in        130
And tumbled its thousands hot into the tide
Till the tide blocked up and the swift stream brimmed
In eddies, we struck on the opposite side.
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