Posted by: Oklahoma Sun | February 23, 2010

“Salt Creek Is Riz.”

“Salt Creek Is Riz.”

Addison Erwin Sheldon. Poems and Sketches of Nebraska, 1908.


“SALT CREEK is riz”—
Burst on us like a bomb,—
“Riz an’ a bilin’ fer Kingdom Come,—
Thar aint no time fer parley nor excuse—
Ketch up yer cattle an’ fer God’s sake cut loose,”—
Rider and pony vanished in rainy dark
Firing their mud-splashed volley at its mark:—
“Salt Creek is riz.”

“Salt Creek is riz.”
How thro’ the depths and drouths of time
Rises again that summer of ‘69,—
Thirty-eight years ago this wet July,—
Camped on the plashy bank of Salt Creek, high
Above the swollen, saline stream below,—
Above, we thought, the highest overflow;
Turned loose the cattle (watered at Yankee Hill)
To wander, yoked together, at their will;
Swung from beneath the hounds the bag of chips and bark,—
Bunched heads about the match’s flickering spark,
With bated breath saw in its flame appear
Promise of coffee hot, sowbosom crisp and dear;
In the soft twilight of a drizzling rain
Saw the white caravans filling the salty plain,—
From Haines’ Branch ‘round to the mouth of Oak
Campfire to campfire thro’ the darkness spoke;—
Far-off the bull-whip with its pistol crack
Circled above some luckless longhorn’s back,—
The wagonmaster’s short and sharp command
With a babe’s wailing floated hand in hand
Across the plain. Some woman with her brood
Sang songs of homeland,—for interlude
The herder’s night-call “Coo-ee, Coo-ee”—the steady drip
Of falling raindrops on the sputtering chip.
In the gray darkness on the distant slope
Swift-fleeting shadows—wolf or antelope.

Oh! far, familiar frontier scene and song!
How the boy’s heart in answer full and strong
Beats in the man’s bosom—till the quickened blood
Throbs thro’ its channels like a Salt Creek flood,
Drowning with waves of joy each half -forgotten pain
Buried in dust and debris on life’s arid plain.

What wonder tale that day for boyish eyes,—
The folded prairie’s Book of Paradise,—
Opening its volume, glorious page on page,
Of sod unbroken since the ice-plow’s age
With promise brave of better tales untold
Beyond the sunflower skyline edge of gold.

Quaint scenes upon the old Steam Wagon Road—
Bull whackers’ caustic comment on their load,—
Rude jokes and salutations, ruder pranks,
Shot, like Sioux arrows, from their passing ranks,
Yet, somehow, in the roughest jibe and jest
Warm hearted comradeship its soul exprest.
These memories linger in the fading glow
Of the old camp fires many years ago.

“Salt Creek is riz—”
The time to dream was o’er,
The rush of rising waters grew a roar:
Each ravine torrent tumbling in its flow
From head of Haines’ Branch to Saltillo.
No bridges barred the waters’ swift accord,
The only crossing then the open ford;
No mellowed plow fields then, of waving grain.
Sucked up in spongy soil the sheeted rain,—
The moving clouds falling on far divide
Mingled themselves at night with Salt Creek tide,
And fierce and swift the spreading waterspout
Far o’er the plain put every campfire out.

What splashing thro’ the darkness after stock,
What stumbling in some hidden hole’s rude shock—
In search for hillside safety—at daybreak
Salt Basin lay below us as a lake,
With half-drowned campers perched on every slope
From Middle Creek a-round to Antelope.

On the boy’s memory, sharp and clear
Stamped deep the comment of one pioneer:
“I wonder ‘f what the feller said wuz true—
‘It never rains on Salt Crik er the Blue.’”