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Rover of the underwoods,
Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure,
Aught unsavory or unclean
Hath my insect never seen;
Maple sap and daffodils,
Grass with green flag half-mast high,
Wiser far than human seer,
Sipping only what is sweet,
Leave the chaff and take the wheat.
Cools sea and land so far and fast,
BY GEORGE CATLIN.
The prairies burning form some of the most beautiful scenes that are to be witnessed in this country, and also some of the most sublime. Every acre of these vast prairies (being covered for hundreds and hundreds of miles with a crop of grass which dies and dries in the fall) burns over during the fall or early in the spring, leaving the ground of a black and doleful color.
Over the elevated lands and prairie bluffs, where the grass is thin and short, the fire slowly creeps with a feeble flame, which one can easily step over; there the wild animals often rest in their lairs until the flames almost burn their noses, when they will reluctantly rise and leap over it, and trot off amongst the cinders, where the fire has passed and left the ground as black as jet. These scenes at night become indescribably beautiful, when their flames are seen at many miles' distance, creeping over the sides and tops of the bluffs, appearing to be sparkling and brilliant chains of liquid fire (the hills being lost to the view) hanging suspended in graceful festoons from the skies.
But there is yet another character of burning prairies, where the grass is seven or eight feet high, as is often the case for many miles together, on the Missouri bottoms, and the flames are driven forward by the hurricanes which
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often sweep over the vast prairies of this denuded country. There are many of these meadows on the Missouri, the Platte, and the Arkansas, of many miles in breadth, which are perfectly level, with grass so high that we are obliged to stand erect in our stirrups in order to look over its waving tops, as we are riding through it.
The fire in these, before such a wind, travels at an immense and frightful rate, and often destroys, on their fleetest horses, parties of Indians who are so unlucky as to be overtaken by it; not that it travels as fast as a horse at full speed, but that the high grass is filled with wild peavines and other impediments which render it necessary for the rider to guide his horse in the zigzag paths of the deer and buffaloes, retarding his progress, until he is overtaken by the dense column of smoke that is swept before the fire. This alarms the horse, which stops and stands terrified and immutable, till the burning grass which is wafted in the wind falls about him, kindling up in a moment a thousand new fires, which are instantly wrapped in the swelling flood of smoke that is moving on like a black thunder cloud, rolling on the earth with its lightning's glare, and its thunder rumbling as it goes.
Ask the red savage of the wilds what is awful and sublime. Ask him what foe he has met that regarded not his frightening yells or his sinewy bow. Ask the lord of the land, who vauntingly challenges the thunder and lightning of Heaven, whether there is not one foe that travels over his land too swift for his feet and too mighty for his strength, at whose approach his stout heart sickens, and his strong-armed courage withers to nothing. Ask him again - "Hush!-sh!—sh! — that's medicine!"
I said to my comrades, as we were about to descend from the towering bluffs into the prairie, "We will take that buffalo trail, where the traveling herds have slashed down the high grass, and aim for that blue point, rising, as you can just discern, above this ocean of grass. good day's work will bring us over this vast meadow before sunset." We entered the trail, and slowly progressed on our way, being obliged to follow the winding paths of the buffaloes, for the grass was higher than the backs of our horses.
Soon after we entered my Indian guide dismounted slowly from his horse, and, lying prostrate on the ground with his face in the dirt, he cried, and was talking to the Spirit of the brave: -"For," said he, "over this beautiful plain dwells the Spirit of Fire! He rides in yonder cloud — his face blackens with rage at the sound of the trampling hoofs — the fire bow is in his hand - he draws it across the path of the Indian, and, quicker than lightning, a thousand flames rise to destroy him: such is the talk of my fathers, and the ground is whitened with their bones.
“It was here that the brave son of Wahchee'ton and the strong-armed warriors of his band, just twelve moons since, licked the fire from the blazing wand of that great magician. Their pointed spears were drawn upon the backs of the treacherous Sioux, whose swifter-flying horses led them in vain to the midst of this valley of death. A circular cloud sprang up from the prairie around them! it was raised, and their doom was fixed by the Spirit of Fire! It was on this vast plain of fire grass that waves over our heads that the swift foot of Mahto'ga was laid. It is here, also, that the fleet-bounding wild horse mingles
his bones with the red man ; and the eagle's wing is melted as he darts over its surface. Friends! it is the season of fire ; and I fear from the smell of the wind that the Spirit is awake!"
Red Thunder said no more, but mounted his wild horse, and, waving his hand, his red shoulders were seen rapidly vanishing as he glided through the thick mazes of waving grass. We were on his trail, and busily traced him until the midday sun had brought us to the ground, with our refreshments spread before us. He partook of them not, but stood like a statue, while his black eyes, in sullen silence, swept the horizon round; and then, with a deepdrawn sigh he gracefully sunk to the earth, and laid with his face to the ground. Our buffalo tongues and pemmican and marrowfat were spread before us; and we were in the full enjoyment of these dainties of the western world, when, quicker than the frightened elk, our Indian friend sprang upon his feet.
Red Thunder was on his feet his long arm was stretched over the grass, and his blazing eyeballs starting from their sockets. "White man," said he, "see ye that small cloud lifting itself from the prairie? he rises! the hoofs of our horses have waked him! The Fire Spirit is awake this wind is from his nostrils, and his face is this way!" No more - but his swift horse darted under him, and he slid gracefully over the waving grass as it was bent by the wind. Our viands were left, and we were swift on his trail. The extraordinary leaps of his wild horse occasionally raised his red shoulders to view, and he sank again in the waving billows of grass.
The tremulous wind was hurrying by us fast, and on it was borne the agitated wing of the soaring eagle. His