WHEN the years grew worse, and the tribe longed sore
For a kinsman bred to the white man's lore,
To the Mission School they sent forth me
From the hunting life and the skin tepee.
In the Mission School eight years I wrought
Till my heart grew strange to its boyhood's thought,
Then the white men sent me forth from their ways
To the Blackfoot lodge and the roving days.
'He tells of their God,' said the Chiefs when I spake,
'But naught of the magic our foemen make,
'T is a Blackfoot heart with a white man's fear,
And all skill forgot that could help him here.'
For the Mission Priest had bent my will
From the art to steal and the mind to kill,
Then out from the life I had learned sent me
To the hungry plain and the dim tepee.
When the moon of March was great and round,
No meat for my father's teeth I found;
When the moon of March was curved and thin,
No meat for his life could my hunting win.
Wide went the tracks of my snowshoe mesh,
Deep was the white, and it still fell fresh
Far in the foothills, far on the plain,
Where I searched for the elk and the grouse in vain.
In the Lodge lay my father, grim in the smoke,
His eyes pierced mine as the gray dawn broke,
He gnawed on the edge of the buffalo hide,
And I must be accurst if my father died.
He spoke with wail: 'In the famine year
When my father starved as I starve here,
Was my heart like the squaw's who has fear to slay
'Mongst the herds of the white man far away?'
From the Mission School they sent forth me
To the gaunt, wild life of the dark tepee;
With the fear to steal, and the dread to kill,
And the love of Christ they had bent my will.
But my father gnawed on the buffalo hide,–
Toward the sunrise trod my snowshoe stride,
Straight to the white man's herd it led,
Till the sun sank down at my back in red.
Next dawn was bleak when I slew the steer,
I ate of the raw, and it gave me cheer;
So I set my feet in the track once more,
With my father's life in the meat I bore.
Far strode the herder, fast on my trail;
Noon was high when I heard his hail;
I fled in fear, but my feet moved slow,
For the load I shouldered sank them low.
Then I heard no sound but the creak and clack
Of his snowshoes treading my snowshoe track,
And I saw never help in plain or sky
Save that he should die or my father die.
The Mission Priest had broke my will
With the curse on him who blood would spill,
But my father starved in the black tepee,
And the cry of his starving shrieked to me.
The white world reeled to its cloudy rim,
The plain reeled red as I knelt by him,–
Oh, the spot in the snow, how it pulsed and grew,
How it cried from the mid-white up to the blue!
For the Mission Priest had sent forth me
To the wants and deeds of the wild tepee,
Yet the fear of God's strong curse fulfilled,
Cried with the blood that would not be stilled.
They found me not while the year was green
And the rose blew sweet where the stain had been,
They found me not when the fall-flowers flare,
But the red in the snow was ever there.
To the Jail I fled from the safe tepee,
And the Mission Priest will send forth me,
A Blackfoot soul cleansed white from stain–
Yet never the red spot fades from the plain.
It glares in my eyes when sunbeams fall
Through the iron grate of my stone-gray wall,
And I see, through starlight, foxes go
To track and to taste of the ruddy snow.
More verses by Edward William Thomson
- The Mandan Priest
- The Canadian Rossignol (In May)
- The Canadian Rossignol (In June)
- The Many Mansioned House
- When Lincoln Died