1878 Recollections of the West

The following poem appeared in the Knoxville Journal of March 27, 1850. It was written for that paper by “Flora” of Alstead, N. H., on seeing a notice of a railroad meeting, in the Journal of December 12, 1849. It so beautifully and graphically pictures the grandeur, the magnificence and splendor of the vast prairies of Knox county as they were when cultivated by nature’s hand, and being prepared especially for that excellent pioneer paper, and as it also refers to the building of the first railroad over the fertile prairies of Knox, we deem it well to give it in full. It is entitled
Tho’ many a lingering year has passed away
Since last I saw thee, yes, and many a day
Of grief, yet mem’ry still retains a zest
Of thee, ye lovely prairies of the West!
I’ve often rambled o’er thy verdant lawns,
Where bound the wild deer with the playful fawns;
Where every breeze wafts fragrance and delight,
And every prospect charms the wandering sight;
I’ve seen thee clothed in thy rich, vernal dyes;
At every step new beauties met my eyes,
From where the sun first darts his morning rays,
To where he sinks in yonder deep, blue haze;
As on I stroll’d, through a long, bright day,
Before me still, thou stretchest far away,
Beyond the utmost limits of my ken;
Perhaps, methought, beyond the haunts of men,
Save the wild savage, and his wilder steed,
Who courses o’er thee with the lightning speed,
Pursuing still his wonted daily sport,
Where’er the timorous, harmless deer resort,
With murd’rous weapons, and a murd’rous heart,
An eagle eye, he hurls the deadly dart,
And brings the fated victim to the ground.
Poor, helpless creature! Thou hast thine death-wound;
Oh, cruel sport! Could I thy life defend,
(Like Cowper’s hare,) thou too should’st have a friend.
But I have wander’d. Say, ye fairy grounds,
Where is your termination? Where your bounds?
No dense, dark forest, hill, or deep ravine,
Obstructs thy progress, naught to intervene
Thy onward course. Where’er I turn my eyes
There springs a lily; here the wild pink vies
With clustering roses, and the rich blue bell,
The morning glories, and the daffodil,
And countless others; how and whence they came,
I leave for botanists to tell and name;
Ye lay before me, spreading far and wide,
From Illinois to Mississipi’s t’de,
One boundless picture, drawn by nature’s skill;
‘Twere vain to imitate, let try who will.
I’ve lingered long amid your magic scenes,
Which savor’d more of truth than poets’ dreams.
But list, ye flow’rets, there’s a secret plot,
To mar your beauty and to spread a blot
O’er your fair features, now so fresh with bloom,
Breathing on all around your sweet perfume;
Beauty is potent, and perchance you doubt it,
But mark my words, there’s no mistake about it;
Tho’ thou hast laid thy scenes far from the ocean,
Thy Sucker friends have took the Yankee notion
Of making railroads all the wide world over,
That he who chooses soon may be a rover;
Fame says the tune has turned, and we believe her,
Your Western folks have caught the Eastern fever;
Tho’ now you grow in wild and sweet profusion,
Yet soon they’ll put their plan in execution.
The whole fraternity are now array’d
To crush your freedom, and your rights invade;
For men who love to ride the iron rod,
Will lay you lifeless soon beneath the sod;
They’ll crush you with the ponderous, iron railing,
In spite of all your weeping and your wailing.
Ye rural beauties, you must disappear;
Yield your possessions to the engineer.
Henceforth no more the wild and playful deer
Shall o’er your meadows bound;
But rattling, rumbling cars, with ceaseless steam,
And magic speed, propelled by Vulcan’s team,
Whose whips and spurs are fire and smoke and steam,
Shall occupy your ground.

Contributed by Pat White and Charlotte Babicki, extracted from the 1878 History of Knox County, Illinois, published by Charles C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, pages 114-116.

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