June 13, 2007

At Third Watch

This episode happened during an extended Kern family camping and horse packing trip to Franklin Basin, Idaho around the turn of the century (That would be the summer of 1999). We will probably never really know what happened those nights, but what we do know is that it was highly unusual. Horses were released from their pickets lines one night and severely spooked another to where they tangled themselves up in any and all ropes that were in the vicinity. The part of this poem that describes the Battle of Bear River refers to one of the bloodiest massacres of Indians in the history of the west. The part of this poem that describes what happened to our horses is factual. The rest is just wild and irresponsible conjecture on my part - a little poetic license to try to make a good story. The purpose of this poem is simply to tell a tale, which it manages to do. The photo is of Shoshone tipis from the 1800s.

This is the first of two posts I will be making about native Indian affairs. This one is pretty neutral. The following one entitled "The Camas Meadow Cavalcade" is sympathetic to the Indians perspective.

At Third Watch
by Paul Kern

You’ve heard one and heard ‘em all,
Stories of Bigfoot and Sasquatch.
Here’s another to make your flesh crawl -
The Shoshone horse thief of the third watch.

In the Wasatch range so to speak,
On the Idaho side of the line,
From Franklin Basin to Oxford Peak,
Is where you’ll find his track and sign.

Remember that long years ago,
The army sent soldiers of the killing vocation,
In the deepest of winter in cold and snow,
To massacre a village of the Shoshone nation.

At a bend on the river called Bear,
They attacked just before dawn,
The Shoshones fought back then and there,
Soon women, babies and braves passed on.

Some of the braves rode off through the waters,
To be shot off of their horses by the cavalry men,
Separated forever from their sons and their daughters.
One swore in anguish and swore once again.

He swore as he fell that the white man would know,
It was his horses not him that carried the fight,
With so many more than in his village below,
He’d scatter their horses before first light.

To this day the spirit of that restless brave,
Haunts every mountain, hill and notch,
Working quickly from beyond the grave,
To scatter the horses at third watch.

The date was set and so was our mind,
To take family and friends on a week long stay,
To Franklin Basin with pack horses to wind,
Along a rutted old trail we traveled by day.

Our two campsites we built in the trees,
The horses had plenty of grass to graze,
Along the lake shore rose a gentle breeze,
To cool the horses in the heat of the days.

We ran three picket lines to stay the night,
Contented horses stood forming a wall,
Through hours awaiting the grey of the light,
For the first few days no problem at all.

Along about Friday late into the night,
A scream let out over near the line,
It came but once but gave such a fright,
From another age - not yours not mine.

We lay there wondering what it might be,
We’d never heard such a noise before,
Then we saw the Paint away from the tree,
He’d been untied and spooked to the core.

He didn’t scatter though and stuck around,
We caught him and took him back to the bunch,
His lead rope hung from the line to the ground,
What or who done it we hadn’t a hunch.

As strange as it was we were there to stay,
It happened just once over there by the pine,
We camped with the horses another day,
At sundown we tied ‘em back on the line.

We lay there in tents and wondered what next,
Guns loaded, embers glowed as kids fell asleep,
Sleep’s hard when you don’t know what to expect,
The night was still and quiet and dark and deep.

Heavy eyelids were coming on I could feel,
I caught a few winks and hoped for the best,
All of a sudden my mare lurched up in a squeal,
She reared over the line and got bound up in a mess.

The other horses were scared out’a their wits
If they could talk I wonder what they’d a said,
I cut Jenny loose, calmed her down from her fits,
Then we heard it again that scream from the dead.

By morning light we had all had enough,
Faint tracks we found were of leather-shod feet,
It was hard to tell where they’d gone in the rough,
They weren’t from boots you’d normally meet.

The only conclusion that we could draw,
Was it was haunting but it was there,
Whatever it was just stuck in our craw,
As it seemed to vanish into thin air.

Could it have been that restless brave,
Who haunts every mountain, hill and notch,
Working quickly from beyond the grave,
To scatter the horses at third watch?

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