The Bison Track
by Bayard Taylor (1825-1878)
STRIKE the tent! the sun has risen; not a vapor streaks the dawn,
And the frosted prairie brightens to the westward, far and wan:
Prime afresh the trusty rifle, — sharpen well the hunting spear —
For the frozen sod is trembling, and a noise of hoofs I hear!
Fiercely stamp the tethered horses, as they snuff the morning’s fire;
Their impatient heads are tossing, and they neigh with keen desire.
Strike the tent! the saddles wait us, — let the bridle-reins be slack,
For the prairie’s distant thunder has betrayed the bison’s track.
See! a dusky line approaches: hark, the onward-surging roar,
Like the din of wintry breakers on a sounding wall of shore!
Dust and sand behind them whirling, snort the foremost of the van,
And their stubborn horns are clashing through the crowded caravan.
Now the storm is down upon us: let the maddened horses go!
We shall ride the living whirlwind, though a hundred leagues it blow!
Though the cloudy manes should thicken, and the red eyes’ angry glare
Lighten round us as we gallop through the sand and rushing air!
Myriad hoofs will scar the prairie, in our wild, resistless race,
And a sound, like mighty waters, thunder down the desert space:
Yet the rein may not be tightened, nor the rider’s eye look back —
Death to him whose speed should slacken, on the maddened bison’s track!
Now the trampling herds are threaded, and the chase is close and warm
For the giant bull that gallops in the edges of the storm:
Swiftly hurl the whizzing lasso, —swing your rifles as we run:
See! the dust is red behind him, — shout, my comrades, he is won!
Look not on him as he staggers, — ’tis the last shot he will need!
More shall fall, among his fellows, ere we run the mad stampede, —
Ere we stem the brinded breakers, while the wolves, a hungry pack,
Howl around each grim-eyed carcass, on the bloody Bison Track!