THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

THE MANDAN PRIEST



THEY call me now the Indian Priest,
Their fathers’ fathers did not so,
The very Mandan name hath ceased
From speech since fifty years ago;
I am so old my fingers fail

5

My trembling rosary beads to tell,
Yet all my years do not avail
My Mandan memories to quell.

The whole flat world I’ve seen how changed
Within my lifetime’s hundred years;

10

O’er plains where herding buffalo ranged
Came strange new grass with white men’s steers,
The lowing cattle passed as dreams,
Their pastures reared a farmer race,
Now city windows flash their gleams

15

Nigh our old Monastery’s place.

The Prior gives to me no more
Even a task of inward praise,
The Brethren bear me through our door
To bask me here on summer days;

20

I am so old I cannot kneel,
I cannot hear, I cannot see,
Often I wonder if I feel
The very sunbeams warming me.

Yet do I watch the Mandan dogs

25

And Mandan ponies slain for meat
That year the squaws chewed snakes and frogs
That babes might tug a living teat,
And Mandan braves, in daylight dance,
Gashed side and arm and painted breast,

30

Praying The Manitou might trance
No more the buffalo from their quest. [Page 80]

A circled plain all horse-high grassed
Our mounting scouts beheld at dawn,
They saw naught else though far they passed

35

Apart before the sun was gone;
Each night’s ride back through starlit lanes
They saw the Tepee sparks ascend,
And hoped, and sniffed, and knew their pains
Of famine had not yet an end.

40


Alone within his magic tent
The new-made Midi wrought the spell
That soothed Life’s Master to relent
In years the Old remembered well.
He cried,—“The Mission Priests have wreaked

45

Some curse that balks the Ancient Art!”—
“Thou useless Fool,” the war-chief shrieked,
And sped the knife-thrust to his heart.

With that, “What comes?” my mother screamed—
How quick the squatted braves arose!

50

Far in the south the tallest deemed
He saw the flight of up-scared crows;
Above the horse-high grass came slow
A lifted Cross, a tonsured head,—
And what the meaning none could know

55

Until the black-robed rider said:—

“Mandans, I bear our Mission’s word,—
Your children, brought to us, shall eat.”
Scarce had the fierce young War-chief heard
Ere fell the Blackrobe from his seat;

60

The Chief held high the reeking knife,
He frowned about the Woman’s Ring,
And yet my mother’s face took life
Anew in pondering the thing.

She stole at night the dead Priest’s scrip,

65

His meager wallet’s hard-baked food, [Page 81]
His Crucifix, his waist-rope strip
All blackened with his martyr blood;
Through dark, day-hidden, hand in hand,
We traced his trail for ninety mile,

70

She starved herself that I might stand,
She spoke me comfort all the while:—
So shalt thou live, my little son,
The white men’s magic shalt thou learn,
And when the hungry moons are run,

75

Be sure thy mother shall return;
Oh, sweet my joy when, come again,
I find thy Mandan heart untamed,
As fits a warrior of the plain,
That I, thy mother, be not shamed.”

80


She left me while the black-robed men
Blest and beseeched her sore to stay;
No voice hath told my heart since then
How fared my mother’s backward way.
Years, years within the Mission School,

85

By love, by prayer they gained my heart;
It held me to Our Order’s rule,
From all the Mandan life apart.

From tribe to tribe, through sixty years,
The Mandan Priest for Christ he wrought,

90

And many an Indian heart to tears,
And many a soul to God he brought;
Yet do I hear my mother’s voice
Soft lingering round her little son,
And, O dear Lord, dost Thou rejoice

95

In all my mother’s child hath done? [Page 82]