Monday, November 14, 2011

Hardships of Early Texas Pioneers - Late 19th Century Poetry

Newspaper Source:  Texas Siftings, Published August 1, 1885, Reproduced below as printed in the newspaper.  I found this a very moving and visual old ballad that well captures the travails of early Texas settlers, as well as the distinct voice of the times.  No author is credited, merely the 'Written for Siftings' as presented below.  Texas Siftings was started in 1881 in Austin, Texas.  See the Texas State Historical Association discussion of this early newspaper at this link.


[Written for Siftings]

"Then why do I sell?" you ask me again
Big cabin, an' clearin', an' all?
Well, Stranger, I'll tell you; though maybe you'll think
It ain't any reason at all.
There's plenty of hardships in pi'neer life;
It's a hard workin' stint; at the best,
But I'd stick to it yet if 't wa'nt for this:
A heart like a log in my breast.

D'ye see over there by the cotton wood tree,
A climbin' rose close by a mound,
Inside of a fence made of rough cedar boughs,
With Woodbine all runnin' around?
Well -- Netty, my darling old woman, lies there:
Not very old either you see
She wa'n't mor'n twenty the year I come West,
Sh'd be comin' grass, thirty-three.

How she worked with a will at our first little hut,
In the fields and among garden stuff
Till her forehead was burned, and her poor little hands,
Through hardships, grew rugged and rough.
She never complained; but many a time
I have come in and found her just there,
With eyelids all red and her face to the East:
You see all her own folks were there.

I'd cheer her and tell her we'd go by and' bye
When the clearin' an' ploughin' was through;
But then came the baby.  He wa'n't very strong,
And poor Netty had plenty to do.
So after a while she got gloomy again;
She would hide in the corn-field to cry;
We hadn't no meetin' to speak of, you know,
Not a woman to talk to was nigh.

An' she wanted to show little Joe to her folk;
She was hungry, I s'pose, for the sight
Of faces and scenes she had had loved all her life,
Which 'twas natteral, Stranger, and right.
But just when we'd planned to go over the plains,
The devilish Sioux came about.
So we waited, it may be, a harvest or two,
And then came the summer of drought --

That left us poor people.  The next coming spring
Such a wearisome fever came round:
An' Stranger -- hold on till I tell you -- there now --
It had little Joe in the ground.
Netty pined to a shadder, and moped by his grave
And her eyes grew so large and so clear,
That I knowed we had got to go soon to the East
If I cared about keepin' her here.

If you'd seen her poor face when at last I could say
I would take her home vistin'.  Well --
I'll never forget how she put up her hands
Into mine, and for joy cried a spell.
She didn't feel strong though, that week or the next,
An' the cough an' the fever increased,
But softly she'd whisper -- she couldn't speak loud --
"We'll go -- by an' bye -- to the East."

She never got East any further than that,
Right over there under the mound;
But I'm going to take her and Joe in the spring
to her father's old burying ground.
That Stranger's the reason I'm willin' to sell;
You can buy at a bargain, you see;
It's mighty good land for a settler to have,
But it seems like a grave-yard to me."