The Permian Beds of Texas
In Texas, where the Wichita
Enrodes a gash, both deep and raw,
Formed by a fault in this old earth,
Before humanity had birth,
Here Permian clays of Indian red,
And sandstones interlacing beds.
Time himself has bared the graves
Of Permian life, where mesquite waves
Its feathery leaflets in the air;
While short grass, with flowers so rare,
Carpets the red soil with its green,
Or rootlets, with their mesh, are seen
To circle bones in their embrace.
Or here and there an open space
Where grinning skull, or bones so white,
Lie helpless there, so sad their plight:
All that remains of giants who
In old lagoon or bayou grew,
Who once ruled over land and sea,
Leave speaking bones for you and me;
Who tell the story of the past,
Of victories won, at rest at last.
So God engraves in mouldering land
The works of His almighty hand.
Not Moses' tablets graved by God
Seem more wondrous than the word
He left recorded in the earth,
When rocky strata had their birth.
Yes! distant was the Permian time,
As man keeps record, line on line,
But through Jehovah's mighty reign,
Today and yesterday the same.
A day in His almighty sight
Is like a vision of the night,
Or like a shadow on the lake,
Or ruffled flood, in steamer's wake;
To man, who measures three score ten,
How few his years, how short his ken!
He ever feels the God within
Would be more God-like but for sin.
God gave us minds to see the past
Or on the future visions cast;
So with that God-like power He's given
That's less of earth and more of heaven.
I sail down on the Tide of Time,
My oar-boats keeping gentle rhyme;
I enter lakes with wooded shore,
And hear the trumpet sound once more,
As when, in childhood's happy day,
I went to see the circus play.
There in a lovely sheltered glade
A trunkéd throng stand in the shade;
While horses gallop on the sand,
And herds of swine root up the land.
Here birds of every color shine-
Make melody almost divine.
Their music flits on passing breeze
As graceful forms dart through the trees,
For beauty here is not a sin.
Their feathers are not used to trim
The headgear of a barbarous sex
With borrowed plumes, or some pretext,
They hope to rival sisters fair,
While pluméd heads toss in the air:
Man's will is not the master here,
No rifled guns have they to fear.
I pass great herds of buffalo,
No Winchester to lay them low;
The duck leads out upon the lake
With brood of ducklings in her wake.
The wild goat climbs the steepest hill,
The wolf laps water from the rill.
Full half the forms that grace our land
Here live in peace on every hand,
Save for the fight that all must wage
For daily bread, their arts engage.
But man's destructive power's not known,
None 'wade through blood to reach a throne.'
And now fresh scenes break on my sight,
That fill my soul with fresh delight:
Flora and fauna now are new,
And quickly break on eager view,
As through the jungled rush and reed
My faithful boat is gaining speed.
The Mastodon, with tusks below,
Tear lily pads, where dense they grow;
Rhinoceroses plow the mire,
While three-toed horses never tire
Of testing moss beneath their feet.
There is no need of limbs to fleet;
If they can reach the swampy brink
Or some deep pool, they'll safely drink,
Saber toothed tiger stands at bay
And fears to try the watery way.
From glades or parks as I ride past,
The timid llama's glance is cast;
They gaze in wonder as I float
Before them in my birch-bark boat.
The trees and flowers I notice, too,
Are not like those that Kansas grew
When last I saw her shining shore
And bent my sinews to the oar.
I'm in the middle dawn, I see,
Of mammals and of greenwood tree,
Called Miocene by savant grave.
The palm and fig trees gently wave
Their crowning branches in the air.
Ah, see that serpent hanging there!
His glistening coils let me beware.
This is the age when mammals reign,
They fill the land and salty main;
As bats they fly from darkened tree;
Great whales are spouting out at sea;
While dolphins, seals and walrus fierce,
And Norwal, with drawn sword to pierce
His enemies who dare to brave
In mortal combat on the wave.
All the rich life of this rich age
Is graven on the rocky page.
And still my boat glides swiftly down
To early dawn, where mammals crown
The thickening ranks of life that's past:
We've reached the Eocene at last.
And now strange forms come into view,
None living like them now, 'tis true.
Great, lumbering beasts on every hand,
Five mighty toes are pressed to land.
They're plantigrade, like bear or man;
At least a foot their footsteps span;
And when your tale of horns is done,
I'll point out Loxolophodon.
Watch him there, at any rate,
And see those horns that are so great.
Three pairs adorn his mighty head,
On the great meadows he is fed;
His well fed body fat and sleek;
His re-curved tusks are quite unique.
I saw the type in Cope's old home,
When from Montana I had come.
Now lemurs swing among the trees,
Their fur is ruffled by the breeze;
While others stem the rising flood
That winds among the neighboring wood.
They catch the fish that swim around,
While crocodiles bask on the ground
Along the shore, on either side,
With open jaws extended wide.
Countless turtles now appear
On every side; they have no fear.
How beautiful their sculptured shell,
Grooved there, or pitted, marked so well
With patterns rare of many a form!
Some look like beads so often worn
To ornament a lovely throat.
Watch them dive beside the boat.
But see, out in that open part,
A Phaenocodus swiftly dart!
He drags a lengthening tail behind,
And flies as on the wings of wind.
I wonder what has made him run.
I see- a huge Corophodon.
But ere they come to mortal fight,
My boat takes me far out of sight.
Most all the beasts I see on shore
Have five toes, behind, before.
But now comes one that walks on three,
Though rudimental ones I see,
Like dew-claws on a recent dog,
My bark-glides in the rising fog,
And when the flood and plain are clear,
I've left the mammals in the rear.
I cross the wondrous border line,
The greatest landmark left by Time,
Between the age of Mammals and
The one where Reptiles ruled the land:
They swam and floated in the air.
The puny mammals that were there
Were small and primitive, indeed;
To notice them there'll be no need.
I'm floating in a bayou wide,
With palmettos on either side,
While here and there a fig tree full
Of luscious fruit;- toward one I pull
And load my boat, whose gunwales sink
Quite closely to the water's brink.
But see that mass of foam so white!
A swimming Reptile heaves in sight,
While two strong arms the waters churn.
A duck-billed head, whose eyeballs burn,
A great, broad body like a boat,
In which air chambers help to float;
While mighty limbs, eight feet in length,
And fifteen feet of tail, show strength;
Vibrating like a mighty screw,
As through the waves our saurian flew.
On shore a troop comes down to drink,
On solid sand that reached the brink;
Their faces armed with three great horns,
Far larger than the unicorn's;
While monstrous head, seven feet in length,
Is a sure symbol of their strength.
On pillared limbs their weight is borne,
Deep footprints in the earth are worn.
But on we glide, while reptiles strange
On every side our thoughts engage.
While from this old Cretaceous shore
The Jura stretches out before.
Great plesiosaurs, of mighty limb,
Out in the ocean safely swim;
While ammonites, with painted sail,
Are wafted by the passing gale.
I've left fresh water in my wake,
My course through deep blue waters take.
But ere I leave the jungled shore,
I hear the earth resound once more
'Neath tread of thunder-lizard dread.
But on my boat has swiftly sped,
The flora changes on the land
And tree ferns lift their pillars grand.
Lepidodendrons' bushy crests
Wave back and forth, together pressed;
While sponge-moss hangs in festoons gay
Across the thickly planted way,
Or covers ground with carpets rare,
On which I trace my steps with care.
Yes! a landing I have made
Beside a lovely Permian glade.
A score of million years are fled
Since my imagination led
To go into my birch-bark boat,
And on Time's Tide to gently float
Far down the stream to Permian day,
And cast my anchor in the bay.
The Angiosperms have not appeared,
But rush and reed great trunks have reared;
Conifers, that are growing here,
Bring back my thoughts to recent year.
The reptiles are of lowly mien,
While salamanders large are seen,
And Cope himself gave one name:
Eryops now is known to fame.
He drags his form through mossy clay,
And toward the water makes his way,
For he can live in watery home
Or through the heated jungle roam;
For gills and lungs his heritage,
On water, land, his battles wage.
Amphibians, monarchs of the earth
They reigned, ere higher life had birth.
One leaves a deep trail in his wake,
Then plunges in the nearby lake.
See waters part, and a strange band
Now leave the flood to come on land;
Their heads shaped like a quarter moon,
While two great horns provide the room;
For while on shore their course they take,
A pathway through the moss they break
With their strong horns of solid bone,
Re-curving from their heads have grown.
Their eyes lie far down in the face-
A character of all their race;
While condyles placed behind,
With two on atlas, you will find.
See now along this mossy bank
Are hundreds of another rank.
A foot they span in length, or more;
I've seen these creatures oft before.
Their little heads could enter in
A woman's silver thimble's rim.
Their snake-like forms seem free of feet,
So slender, and so lithe and neat.
The time has come, so they will make
A nest in which to hibernate.
'Neath the bright moss in softest clay,
Slow and sure they cut their way,
And after much incessant toil,
In their small homes they quickly coil.
Alas! they never more will race
Along the shore's steep, mossy face;
I'll dig their bones in nodules round
Near Coffee Creak, in the red ground.
Batrachians, or Amphibians, strange
Have here attained their highest range.
I see these creatures everywhere,
And not to step on them use care.
In recent years they shun the light
And hide in caves or wells from sight.
But here, in densely wooded land,
Along the bayou's shining strand,
Or mossy swamps that spread around,
Or sullen streams that here abound,
These ancient forms rule everywhere:
A race now helpless, then would dare
To battle e'en with reptiles rare,
Who then began their great career,
And later on would know no fear.
I need not here in covert lie,
For no beast fears the human eye.
Through the bright wood's flowery face
A form breaks through- one of this race.
Now a strange reptile I will con,
It is Cope's great Dimetrodon.
His spines abnormally rise high
In crescent form- I wonder why.
In center they're three feet or more-
Have any seen such spines before?
He moves along with agile grace,
As he's engaged upon the chase
Of Labidosaurus;- what a race!
And though this reptile small may be,
He is a running mystery.
Broad archéd bones project behind,
And rounder eyes midway are found,
While muzzle pinched to narrowest space
Presents a most peculiar face.
Four shining teeth in front, so trim,
Give to the face a constant grin.
While jaws below, armed just the same,
Pass like two knives held in a frame,
And shear his food to finest shred,
When on rich mosses he has fed.
Alas! these scenes are fading fast.
I have returned to camp at last.
My tent is pitched at Willow Spring,
And here my labors will begin.
Some years ago, in ninety-two,
When Coffee Creak came into view,
Along the Vernon county road
Some cheerful farmers then abode.
Galyean, if I remember right,
With pleasant home and children bright,
Was settled just south of the bridge,
(While other homes were on the ridge.)
A little store before their door,
And post-office, brought all once more
In closer touch with the great world
Where stars and stripes lie all unfurled.
A schoolhouse, where the children, too,
Learned how to read, like me or you.
And where my humble tents now stand
Were the McBrides, another band
Who came to dress and till the land.
Through these farms the Chisolm trail
Gave echoes of the awful tale,
When countless feet of every age
Performed their fearful Pilgrimage.
This trail to them then had no end,
While further north their footsteps bend.
From furthest south to northern line,
From the great gulf's broad, watery brine,
From the warm air and sunny day,
Where rifted snow-bank coldly lay:
Shall I forget, on Kansas plain,
This trail baptized with blood and pain!
A mighty drove- I see it still;
No water since the Smoky Hill
Was crossed, some twenty miles behind.
A cloud of dust raised by the wind
And tread of countless weary feet.
Their ponies' sides the cowboys beat,
To reach the water on ahead
Before the cattle rile its bed.
With hats in hand, they hope to dip
Some water for their parching lip.
Too late! for the stampeded band
Force out the cowboys on the land,
And they, ere coveted drink can gain,
Forced out by others, just the same;
Last of the herd's sore-footed crew,
'Round precious stream their ranks they drew.
Along that trail I saw next day
Full forty calves that dying lay
From the hot sun or lack of food-
An awful death! Thy pity, Lord!
To man, dominion has been given
O'er all the beasts beneath Thy heaven;
Yet how unworthy of the trust!
They're sacrificed for money's lust.
And man is treated just the same:
When last to Permian brakes I came,
The farm McBride grubbed out with care
Shows not his labors anywhere,
Save, where his pleasant home had stood,
Foundation stones and rotting wood;
And where full twenty homes, or more,
Paid tribute to the little store,
Not one is left of all the score.
One cattleman has power to wield
O'er thousand sections in one field,
While Texas' countless farmless men
Give up their homes for cattle pen.
Hundreds of fossil forms I've found
In this rich field of Permian ground-
The ones I showed you in my dream,
While many others I have seen.
In 'Munich all thy banners wave'
Above the old red Permian grave;
On this side the Atlantic shore,
In 'Cope's Collection,' what a store!
American Museum's stately pile
These wondrous records keeps on file.