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Crawford, Isabella Valancy (1850-1887)
Old Spookses' Pass
WE'D camped the night on Yaller Bull Flat,--
  Thar wus Possum Billy, an' Tom, an' me.
Right smart at throwin' a lariat
  Wus them two fellers, as ever I see;
An' fur ridin' a broncho, or argyin' squar
  With the devil rolled up in the hide uv a mule,
Them two fellers thet camped with me thar
  Would hev made an' or'nary feller a fool.

Fur argyfyin' in any way
  Thet hed tew be argyed with sinew an' bone
I never see'd fellers could argy like them;
  But jest right here I will hev tew own
Thet whar brains cum in in the game uv life
  They held the poorest keerds in the lot;
An' when hands wus shown, sum other chap
  Raked in the hull uv the blamed old pot.

We wus short uv hands, the herd wus large,
  An' watch an' watch we divided the night;
We could hear the coyotes howl an' whine,
  But the durned critters kept out uv sight
Uv the camp-fire blazin'; an' now an' then
  Thar cum a rustle an' sort uv rush--
A rattle a-sneakin' away frum the blaze
  Thru the rattlin', cracklin' grey sage bush.

We'd chanced thet night on a pootyish lot
  With a tol'ble show uv tall, sweet grass,--
We wus takin' Speredo's drove across
  The Rockies, by way uv "Old Spookses' Pass"--
An' a mite uv a crick went crinklin' down,
  Like a "pocket" bust in the rocks overhead,
Consid'able shrunk by the summer drought
  Tew a silver streak in its gravelly bed.

'Twus a fairish spot fur tew camp a' night;
  An' chipper I felt, tho' sort uv skeered
Thet them two cowboys, with only me,
  Couldn't boss three thousand head uv a herd.
I took the fust uv the watch myself;
  An' es the red sun down the mountains sprang.
I rolled a fresh quid, an' got on the back
  Uv my peart leetle chunk uv a tough mustang.

An' Possum Billy wus sleepin' sound
  Es only a cowboy knows how tew sleep;
An' Tommy's snores would hev made a old
  Buffalo bull feel kind o' cheap.
Wal, pard, I reckon thar's  no sech time
  Fur dwindlin' a chap in his own conceit
Es when them mountains an' awful stars
  Jest hark tew the tramp uv his mustang's feet.

It 'pears tew me thet them solemn hills
  Beckon them stars so big an' calm,
An' whisper, "Make tracks this way, my friends,
  We've ringed in here a specimen man;
He's here alone, so we'll take a look
  Thru his ganzy an' vest, an' his blood an' bone,
An' post ourselves es tew whether his heart
  Is flesh, or a rotten, made-up stone."

An' it's often seemed, on a midnight watch,
  When the mountains blackened the dry, brown sod,
Thet a chap, if he shet his eyes, might grip
  The great, kind hand uv his Father God.
I rode round the herd at a sort uv walk;
  The shadders cum stealin' thick an' black;
I'd jest got tew leave tew thet thar chunk
  Uv a mustang tew keep in the proper track.

Ever see'd a herd ringed in at night?
  Wal, it's sort uv cur'us,--the watchin' sky,
The howl uv coyotes, a great black mass
  With here an' thar the gleam uv a eye
An' the white uv a horn, an' now an' then
  An old bull liftin' his shaggy head
With a beller like a broke-up thunder growl,
  An' the summer lightnin', quick an' red,

Twistin' an' turnin' amid the stars,
  Silent as snakes at play in the grass,
An' plungin' thair fangs in the bare old skulls
  Uv the mountains frownin' above the Pass;
An' all so still, thet the leetle crick,
  Twinklin' an' crinklin' frum stone tew stone,
Grows louder an' louder an' fills the air
  With a cur'us sort uv a singin' tone.
It ain't no matter wharever ye be,--
  I'll 'low it's a cur'us sort uv case--
Whar thar's runnin'water, it's sure tew speak
  Uv folks tew home an' the old home place;

An' yer bound tew listen an' hear it talk,
  Es yer mustang crunches the dry, bald sod,
Fur I reckon the hills an' stars an' crick
  Are all uv 'em preachers sent by God.
An' them mountains talk tew a chap this way:
  "Climb, if ye can, ye degenerate cuss!"
An' the stars smile down on a man, an' say,
  "Cum higher, poor critter, cum up tew us!"

An' I reckon, pard, thar is One above
  The highest old star thet a chap can see,
An' He sez, in a solid, etarnal way,
  "Ye never can stop till ye get tew Me!"
Good fur Him, tew! fur I calculate
  He ain't the One tew dodge an' tew shirk,
Or waste a mite uv the things He's made,
  Or knock off till He's finished His great day's work.

We've got tew labour an' strain an' snort
  Along thet road thet He's planned an' made;
Don't  matter a mite He's cut His line
  Tew run over a 'tarnal tough up-grade.
An' if sum poor sinner ain't built tew hold
  Es big a head uv steam es the next,
An' keeps slippin' an' slidin' 'way down hill,
  Why, He don't make out thet He's awful vext;

Fur He knows He made Him in thet thar way,
  Sumwhar tew fit in His own great plan;
An' He ain't the Bein' tew pour His wrath
  On the head uv thet slimpsy an' slippery man;
An' He sez tew the feller, "Look here, My son,
  You're the worst hard case thet ever I see,
But be thet it takes ye a million yars,
  Ye never can stop till ye git tew Me!"

Them's my idees es I panned them out;
  Don't take no stock in them creeds thet say
Thar's a chap with horns thet's took control
  Uv the rollin' stock on thet up-grade way,
Thet's free tew tote up es ugly a log
  Es grows in his big bush grim an' black,
An' slyly put it across the rails
  Tew hist a poor critter clar off the track;

An' when he's pooty well busted an' smashed,
  Th devil cums smilin' an' bowin' round,
An' sez tew the Maker, "Guess ye don't care
  Tew trouble with stock thet ain't parfactly sound;
Lemme tote him away--best ye can do--
  Neglected, I guess, tew build him with care;
I'll hide him in hell--better thet folks
  Shouldn't see him laid up on the track fur repair!'

Don't take no stock in them creeds at all;
  Ain't one uv them cur'us sort uv moles
Thet think the Maker is bound tew let
  The devil git up a "corner" in souls.
Ye think I've put up a biggish stake?
  Wal, I'll bet fur all I'm wuth, d'ye see?
He ain't wuth shucks thet won't dar tew lay
  All his pile on his own idee.

Ye bet yer boots I'm es safe tew win
  Es the chap thet's able tew smilin' smack
The ace he's been hidin' up his sleeve
  Kerslap on top uv a feller's jack.
Es I wus sayin', the night wus dark,
  The lightnin' skippin' frum star tew star;
Thar wa'n't no clouds but a thread uv mist,
  No sound but the coyotes' yell afar,

An' the noise uv the crick as it called tew me,
  "Pard, don't ye mind the mossy, green spot
Whar a crick stood still fur a drowzin' spell
  Right int he midst uv the old home lot?
Whar, right at sundown on Sabba'day,
  Ye skinned yerself uv yer meetin' clothes,
An' dove like a duck whar the water clar
  Shone up like glass thru the lily-blows?

"Yer soul wus white es yer skin them days,
  Yer eyes es clar es the crick at rest;
The wust idee in yer head thet time
  Wus robbin' a bluebird's swingin' nest.
Now ain't ye changed?  Declar fut it, pard,
  Thet crick would question, it 'pears tew me,
Ef ye looked in its waters agin tew night,
  'Who may this old cuss uv a sinner be?'"

Thet wus the style thet thet thar crick
  In "Old Spookses' Pass" in the Rockies talked;
Drowzily list'nin' I rode round the herd,
  When all uv a sudden the mustang baulked,
An' shied with a snort.  I never knowed
  Thet tough leetle critter tew show a scare
In storm or dark; but he jest scrouched down,
  With his nostrils snuffin' the damp, cool air,

An' his flanks a-quiver.  Shook up?  Wal, yas;
  Guessed we'd hev heaps uv tarnation fun;
I calculated quicker'n light
  Thet the herd would be off on a healthy run.
But thar wa'n't a stir tew horn or hoof;
  The herd, like a great black mist, lay spread,
While here an' thar a grazin' bull
  Loomed up like a mighty "thunder head."

 I riz in my saddle an' stared around.
  On the mustang's neck I felt the sweat;
Thar wus nuthin' tew see--sort uv felt the har
  Commencin' tew crawl on my scalp, ye bet!
Felt kind uv cur'us--own up I did;
  Felt sort uv dry in my mouth an' throat.
Sez I, "Ye ain't goin' tew scare, old hoss,
 At a prowlin' cuss uv a blamed coyote?"

But 'twa'n't no coyote nor prowlin' beast,
  Nor rattle a-wrigglin' thru the grass,
Nor a lurkin' redskin--twa'n't my way
  In a game like thet tew sing out, "I pass!"
But I knowed when I glimpsed the rollin' whites,
  The sparks frum the black uv the mustang's eye,
Thar wus sumthin' waltzin' up thet way
  Thet would send them critters off on the fly.

In the night-air's tremblin', shakin' hands,
  Felt it beatin' kerslap onter me,
Like them waves thet chased thet President chap
  Thet went on the war-trail in old Judee.
The air wus bustin'--but silent es death;
  An' lookin' up, in a second I see'd
The sort uv sky thet allus looks down
  On the rush an' the roar uv a night stampede.

Tearin' along the indigo sky
  Wus a drove uv clouds, snarled an' black,
Scuddin' along to'ard the risin' moon,
  Like the sweep uv a durned hungry pack
Uv prairie wolves to'ard a bufferler,
  The heft uv the herd left out uv sight.
I drored my breath right hard, fur I knowed
  We wus in fur a 'tarnal run thet night.

Quiet?  Ye bet!  The mustang scrouched,
  His neck stretched out an' his nostrils wide;
The moonshine swept, a white river, down
  The black uv the mighty mountain's side,
Lappin' over an' over the stuns an' brush
  In whirls an' swirls uv leapin' light,
Makin' straight fur the herd, whar black an' still
  It stretched away tew the left an' right

On the level lot;--I tell ye, pard,
  I knowed when it touched the first black hide
Me an' the mustang would hev a show
  Fur a breezy bit uv an' evenin' ride.
One! it flowed over a homely pine
  Thet riz frum a cranny, lean an' lank,
A cleft uv the mountain;--reckonin' two,
  It slapped onter an old steer's heavin' flank,

Es sound he slept on the skirt uv the herd,
  Dreamin' his dreams uv the sweet blue grass
On the plains below; an' afore it touched
  The other wall uv "Old Spookses' Pass"
The herd wus up,--not one at a time,
  Thet ain't the style in a midnight run--
They wus up an' off like es all thair minds
  Wus rolled in the hide uv only one.

I've fit in a battle an' heerd the guns
  Blasphemin' God with thair devils' yell;
Heerd the stuns uv a fort like thunder crash
  In frunt uv the scream uv a red-hot shell;
But thet thar poundin' uv iron hoofs,
  The clatter uv horns, the peltin' sweep
Uv three thousand head uv a runnin' herd,
  Made all uv them noises kind uv cheap.

The Pass jest opened its giant throat
  An' its lips uv granite, an' let a roar
Uv answerin' echoes; the mustang bucked,
  Then answered the bridle, an', pard, afore
The twink uv a fire-bug, lifted his legs
  Over stuns an' brush, like a lopin' deer--
A smart leetle critter!  An' thar wus I
  'Longside uv the plungin' leadin' steer--

A low-set critter, not much account
  Fur heft or looks, but one uv them sort
Thet kin fetch a herd at his durned hells
  With a toss uv his horns or a mite uv a snort,
Fur a fight or a run; an' thar wus I,
  Pressin' clus twe the steel uv his heavin' flank,
An' cussin' an' shoutin'--while overhead
  The moon in the black clouds tremblin' sank

Like a bufferler overtook by the wolves
  An' pulled tew the ground by the scuddin' pack.
The herd rushed on with a din an' crash,
  Dim es a shadder vast an' black;
Couldn't tell ef a hide wus black or white,
  But frum the dim surges a-roarin' by
Bust long red flashes--the flamin' light
  Frum sum old steer's fur'us an' scareful eye.

Thet Pass in the Rockies fairly roared;
  An' sudden es winkin' came the bang
An' rattle uv thunder.  Tew see the grit
  Uv thet peart leetle chunk uv a tough mustang
Not a buck nor a shy!--he gev a snort
  The shook the foam on his steamin' hide
An' leaped along.  Wal, pard, ye bet
  I'd a healthy show fur a lively ride!

An' them cowboys slept in the leetle camp,
  Calm es three kids in a truckle bed;
Declar' the crash wus enough tew put
  Life in the dust uv the sleepin' dead.
The thunder kept droppin' its awful shells,
  One at a minute, on mountain an' rock:
The Pass with its stone lips thundered back;
  An' the rush an' roar an' whirlin' shock
Uv the runnin' herd wus fit tew bust
  A tenderfoot's heart, hed he chanced along;
But I jest let out uv my lungs an' throat
  A rippin' old verse uv a herdsman's song,

An' sidled the mustang closer up
  'Longside uv the leader, an' hit him flat
On his streamin' flank with a lightsum stroke
  Uv the end uv my limber lariat.
He never swerved, an' we thundered on,
  Black in the blackness, red in the red
Uv the lightnin', blazin' with ev'ry clap
  Thet bust frum the black guns overhead.

The mustang wus shod, an' the lightnin' bit
  At his iron shoes each step he run,
Then plunged in the yearth.  We rode in flame,
  Fur the flashes rolled inter only one,
Sam es the bellers made one big roar;
  Yet thur the whirl uv din an' flame
I sung an' shouted, an' called the steer
  I sidled agin by his own frunt name,

An' struck his side with my fist an' foot.
  'Twus jest like hittin' a rushin' stone,
An' he thundered ahead--I couldn't boss
  The critter a mossel, I'm free tew own.
The sweat cum a-pourin' down my beard;
  Ef ye wonder wharfor, jest ye spread
Yerself fur a ride with a runnin' herd,
  A yawnin' gulch half a mile ahead,

Three hundered foot from its grinnin' lips
  Tew the roarin' stream on its stones below.
Once more I hurled the mustang up
  Agin the side uv the cuss called Joe;
'Twa'n't a mite uv use--he riz his heels
  Up in the air, like a scuddin' colt;
The herd massed closer, an' hurled down
  The roarin' Pass like a thunderbolt.

I couldn't rein off---seemed swept along
  In the rush an' roar an' thunderin' crash;
The lightnin' struck at the runnin' herd
  With a crack like the stroke uv a cowboy's lash.
Thar!  I could see it--I tell ye, pard,
  Things seemed whittled down sort uv fine--
We wusn't five hundered feet frum the gulch,
  With its mean leetle fringe uv scrubby pine.

What could stop us?  I grit my teeth;
  Think I prayed,--ain't sartin uv that,--
Whe, whizzin' an' singin', thar came the rush
  Right past my face uv a lariat!
"Bully fur you, old pard!" I roared,
  Es it whizzed roun' the leader's streamin' chest,
An' I wheeled the mustang fur all he wus wuth
  Kerslap on the side uv the old steer's breast.

He gev a snort, an' I see him swerve--
  I follered his shoulder clus an' tight;
Another swerve, an' the herd begun
  Tew swing around.  Shouts I, "All right!
Ye've fetched 'em now!" The mustang gev
  A small, leetle whinny; I felt him flinch.
Sez I, "Ye ain't goin' tew weaken now,
  Old feller, an' me in this durned pinch?"

"No," sez he, with his small, prickin' ears,
  Plain es a human could speak; an' me,
I turned my head tew glimpse, ef I could,
  Who might the chap with the lariat be.
Wal, pard, I weakened--ye bet yer life!
  Thar wa'n't a human in sight around,
But right in frunt uv me cum the beat
  Uv a hoss's hoofs on the tremblin' ground--

Steddy an' heavy--a slingin' lope;
  A hefty critter with biggish bones
Might make jest sich--could hear the hoofs
  Es they struck on the rattlin', rollin' stones--
The jingle uv bit--an' clar an' shrill
  A whistle es ever left cowboy's lip;
An', cuttin' the air, the long, fine hiss
  Uv the whirlin' lash uv a cowboy's whip.

I crowded the mustang back ontil
  He riz on his haunches--an' I sed,
"In the Maker's name, who may ye be?"
  Sez a vice, "Old feller, jest ride ahead!"
"All right!" sez I, an' I shook the rein;
  "Ye've turned the herd in a hansum style;
Whoever ye be, I'll not back down!"
  An' I didn't, nuther--ye bet yer pile!

Clus on the heels uv thet unseen hoss,
  I rode on the side uv the 'turnin' herd,
An' once in a while I answered back
  A shout or a whistle or cheerin' word
Frum lips no lightnin' wus strong tew show.
  'Twus sort uv scareful, thet midnight ride;
But we'd got our backs tew the gulch--fur that
  I'd hev follered a cur'user sort uv guide.

'Twus kind uv scareful tew watch the herd
  Es the plungin' leaders squirmed an' shrank,
Es I heerd the flick uv the unseen lash
  Hiss on the side uv a steamin' flank.
Guess the feller wus smart at the work!
  We worked them leaders round ontil
They overtook the tail uv the herd,
  An' the hull uv the crowd begun tew "mill."

Round spun, the herd in a great black wheel,
  Slower an' slower--ye've seen beneath
A biggish torrent a whirlpool spin,
  Its waters black es the face uv Death?
'Peared sort uv like thet, the "millin" herd.
  We kept by the leaders--him an' me--
Neck by neck, an' he sung a tune
  About a young gal named Betsey Lee.

Jine in the chorus?  Wal, yas, I did.
  He sung like reg'lar mockin'-bird,
An' us cowboys allus sing out tew calm
  The scare, ef we can, uv a runnin' herd.
Slower an' slower wheeled round the "mill'
  The maddest old steer uv a leader slowed;
Slower an' slower sounded the hoofs
  Uv the hoss thet him in frunt uv me rode.

Fainter an' fainter growed thet thar song
  Uv Betsey Lee an' her har uv gold;
Fainter an' fainter grew the sound
  Uv the unseen hoofs on the tore-up mould.
The leadin' steer, thet cuss uv a Joe,
  Stopped an'shook off the foam an' the sweat,
With a stamp an' a beller; the run wus done--
  Wus glad uv it tew, yer free tew bet!

The herd slowed up an' stood in a mass
  Uv blackness lit by the lightnin's eye;
An' the mustang cowered es sumthin' swept
  Clus tew his wet flank in passin' by.
"Good night tew ye, pard!" "Good night!" sez I,
  Strainin' my sight on the empty air;
The har riz rustlin' up on my head,
  Now thet I hed the time tew scare.

The mustang flinched till his saddle girth
  Scaped on the dust uv the tremblin' ground;--
Thar cum a laugh, the crack uv a whip,
  A whine like the cry uv a well-pleased hound,
The noise uv a hoss thet reared an' sprang
  At the touch uv a spur--then all wus still
But the sound uv the thunder dyin'down
  On the stony breast uv the nighest hill.

The herd went back tew its rest an' feed,
  Es quiet a crowd es ever wore hide;
An' them boys in camp never heerd a lisp
  Uv the thunder an' crash uv thet run an' ride.
An' I'll never furget while a wildcat claws
  Or a cow loves a nibble uv sweet blue grass,
The cur'us pardner thet rode with me
  In the night stampede in "Old Spookses' Pass."
Public Domain