Blackmouth, Of Colorado

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop

"Who is Blackmouth?" Well, that's hard to say.
Mebbe he might ha' told you, 't other day,
If you'd been here. Now, - he's gone away.
Come to think on, 't wouldn't ha' been no use
If you'd called here earlier. His excuse
Always was, whenever folks would ask him
Where he hailed from, an' would tease an' task him; -
What d' you s'pose? He just said, "I don' know."

That was truth. He came here long ago;
But, before that, he'd been born somewhere:
The conundrum started first, right there.
Little shaver - afore he knew his name
Or the place from whereabouts he came -
On a wagon-train the Apaches caught him.
Killed the old folks! But this cus' - they brought him
Safe away from fire an' knife an' arrows.
So'thin' 'bout him must have touched their marrows:
They was merciful; - treated him real good;
Brought him up to man's age well's they could.
Now, d' you b'lieve me, that there likely lad,
For all they used him so, went to the bad:
Leastways left the red men, that he knew,
'N' come to look for folks like me an' you; -
Goldarned white folks that he never saw.
Queerest thing was - though he loved a squaw,
'T was on her account he planned escape;
Shook the Apaches, an' took up red tape
With the U. S. gov'ment arter a while;
Tho' they do say gov'ment may be vile,
Mean an' treacherous an' deceivin'. Well,
I ain't sayin' our gov'ment is a sell.

Bocanegra - Spanish term - I've heard
Stands for "Blackmouth." Now this curious bird,
Known as Bocanegra, gave his life
Most for others. First, he saved his wife;
Her I spoke of; - nothin' but a squaw.
You might wonder by what sort of law
He, a white man born, should come to love her.
But 't was somehow so: he did discover
Beauty in her, of the holding kind.
Some men love the light, an' some the shade.
Round that little Indian girl there played
Soft an' shadowy tremblings, like the dark
Under trees; yet now an' then a spark,
Quick 's a firefly, flashing from her eyes,
Made you think of summer-midnight skies.
She was faithful, too, like midnight stars.
As for Blackmouth, if you'd seen the scars
Made by wounds he suffered for her sake,
You'd have called him true, and no mistake.

Growin' up a man, he scarcely met
Other white folks; an' his heart was set
On this red girl. Yet he said: "We'll wait.
You must never be my wedded mate
Till we reach the white man's country. There,
Everything that's done is fair and square."
Patiently they stayed, thro' trust or doubt,
Till tow'rds Colorado he could scout
Some safe track. He told her: "You go first.
All my joy goes with you: - that's the worst!
But I wait, to guard or hide the trail."

Indians caught him; an' they gave him - hail;
Cut an' tortured him, till he was bleeding;
Yet they found that still they weren't succeeding.
"Where's that squaw?" they asked. "We'll have her blood!
Either that, or grind you into mud;
Pick your eyes out, too, if you can't see
Where she's gone to. Which, now, shall it be?
Tell us where she's hid."

"I'll show the way,"
Blackmouth says; an' leads toward dawn of day,
Till they come straight out beside the brink
Of a precipice that seems to sink
Into everlasting gulfs below.
"Loose me!" Blackmouth tells 'em. "But go slow."
Then they loosed him; and, with one swift leap,
Blackmouth swooped right down into the deep; -
Jumped out into space beyond the edge,
While the Apaches cowered along the ledge.
Seven hundred feet, they say. That's guff!
Seventy foot, I tell you, 's 'bout enough.
Indians called him a dead antelope;
But they couldn't touch the bramble-slope
Where he, bruised and stabbed, crawled under brush.
Their hand was beat hollow: he held a flush.

Day and night he limped or crawled along:
Winds blew hot, yet sang to him a song
(So he told me, once) that gave him hope.
Every time he saw a shadow grope
Down the hillsides, from a flying cloud,
Something touched his heart that made him proud:
Seemed to him he saw her dusky face
Watching over him, from place to place.
Every time the dry leaves rustled near,
Seemed to him she whispered, "Have no fear!"

So at last he found her: - they were married.
But, from those days on, he always carried
Marks of madness; actually - yes! -
Trusted the good faith of these U. S.

Indian hate an' deviltry he braved;
'N' scores an' scores of white men's lives he saved.
Just for that, his name should be engraved.
But it won't be! U. S. gov'ment dreads
Men who're taller 'n politicians' heads.

All the while, his wife - tho' half despised
By the frontier folks that civilized
An' converted her - served by his side,
Helping faithfully, until she died.
Left alone, he lay awake o' nights,
Thinkin' what they'd both done for the whites.
Then he thought of her, and Indian people;
Tryin' to measure, by the church's steeple,
Just how Christian our great nation's been
Toward those native tribes so full of sin.
When he counted all the wrongs we've done
To the wild men of the setting sun,
Seem'd to him the gov'ment wa'n't quite fair.
When its notes came due, it wa'n't right there.
U. S. gov'ment promised Indians lots,
But at last it closed accounts with shots.
Mouth was black, perhaps; - but he was white.
Calling gov'ment black don't seem polite:
Yet I'll swear, its actions wouldn't show
'Longside Blackmouth's better 'n soot with snow.

Yes, sir! Blackmouth took the other side:
Honestly for years an' years he tried
Getting justice for the Indians. He,
Risking life an' limb for you an' me; -
He, the man who proved his good intent
By his deeds, an' plainly showed he meant
He would die for us, - turned round an' said:
"White men have been saved. Now, save the red!"
But it didn't pan out. No one would hark.
"Let the prairie-dogs an' Blackmouth bark,"
Said our folks. And - no, he wa'n't resigned,
But concluded he had missed his find.

"Where is Blackmouth?" That I can't decide.
Red an' white men, both, he tried to serve;
But I guess, at last, he lost his nerve.
Kind o' tired out. See? He had his pride:
Gave his life for others, far 's he could,
Hoping it would do 'em some small good.
Didn't seem to be much use. An' so -
Well; you see that man, dropped in the snow,
Where the crowd is? Suicide, they say.
Looks as though he had quit work, to stay.
Bullet in the breast. - His body 's there;
But poor Blackmouth's gone - I don't know where!

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