Saturday, January 2, 2010

Martin's Cove

Cowboy poetry, it was a passion with my grandpa. Old George, the man who worked on a ranch until the cancer was so bad he couldn't get out of bed. In the final weeks of his life, my grandpa worked to memorize one more poem. He could only remember scattered lines, and often asked for my help. Almost every time I went to see him, he would point to the large poster with the poem inscribed on in and ask me to read it to him.

Now, in his memory, I want to share this poem. I can't find it anywhere else. It's as if his poster is the only record of this piece of art. Please read and enjoy the poem. Now anyone can read it, and I think that's what my grandpa would love.

Martin's Cove
by Mick Kaser

By now it was into November
they knew they'd started too late
The Devil was hunkered down waitin'
hidin' behind Devil's Gate

The bears had holed up for the winter
the Natives had even pulled out
The weather was not fit for pilgrims
not now... and not here abouts

Should have wintered in Florence
August was too late to start
To make things worse, these people
were pushin' and pullin' hand carts

Mormon converts from England
worshipping God in their own way
Left Liverpool in eight ships
and crossed the Atlantic in May

Then landed in New York City
two thousand emigrants in all
Rode the Rock Island Railroad
to the Iowa River that fall

That's where the problems first started
'cause the guys buildin' the carts
Didn't know these folks were comin'
were all out of lumber and parts

So, it was three weeks or better
before they could get on the road
Four to five hundred pounds per cart
was about the average load

They sang as they left Iowa City
"Come Ye Saints" most likely the song
They were happy just to be movin'
for now, they rolled right along

Most of the axles were wooden
the lumber was green, had not cured
A man named Savage objected
but no one payed heed to his words

He'd rather have holed up 'til springtime
'cause he knew what lie ahead
The Saints wouldn't listen to logic
or the wise words this man said

One thousand thirty stubborn miles
if they hurried, did not dally
Sixty five days hard travel
from Florence to Salt Lake Valley

So they ferried the dirty Missouri
swollen by late August rains
And followed the Platte through Nebraska
amazed at the long endless plains

Three humans harnessed like oxen
pushin' and pullin' that weight
Up hill from Winter Quarters
seven hundred miles... Devil's Gate

Their journey thus far had been pleasant
free of serious mishap
But when they left Fort Laramie
the gate slammed shut on the trap

Their rations were starting to dwindle
they had to lighten their load
South Pass was still ninety five miles
and they had to cross 'fore it snowed

All their earthly belongings
in the carts, or strapped on their backs
They counted the days past Fort Laramie
by the empty flour sacks

They dumped some baggage at Deer Creek
and crossed over Muddy Creek Ridge
They'd not pay toll to the gentiles
to use their Platte River Bridge

Instead they forded Last Crossing
pushin' and pullin' those carts
The first party finally made it
after three or four shakey starts

Froze to the bone were these mortals
in ice water up past their hips
But nary a word of dissension
passed through their near frozen lips

The water was waist high in places
there was no wood for a fire
They slipped and fell in their traces
and the water just kept creepin' higher

One thing led to another
all the well laid plans went amuck
Half the time they were mired down
the other half they were stuck

Thirteen souls did not make Horse Creek
they passed on during the night
Seven more didn't make Sweetwater
they passed on after day light

Before they'd wrestled the Devil
Fifty six brave souls had gone
They took one look at Sweetwater
and could not find faith to go on

But their rations had dwindled to nothin'
four ounces of flour per day
They remembered the meadow at Deer Creek
and the warm robes they'd cast away

They found relief in a horseshoe ravine
snow was a foot and a half deep
Their numbers were less every mornin'
as more passed on in their sleep

The wind howled like a banshee
cut right through thin clothes like a knife
And chased them down in their haven
and caught them and snuffed out dear life

The cold cut clear to the marrow
the mercury said one below
Twenty two more souls departed
before they decided to go

They could barely see 'cross the river
the blizzard holed on with rage
And so they left martin's Haven
and twenty two friends 'neath the sage

Then the sun game out at Three Crossings
was their luck beginning to change
Was that a rider they saw comin'
or were they perplexed and deranged

No! Their eyes had not deceived them
though the sun made them squint and strain
'Cause see... this angel on horse back
was ahead of a wagon train

It was like these heroes had halos
that encircled their heads like a ring
To a thousand half frozen mortals
that rider on horse back had wings

Food and clothes from the valley
tears pulled like strings on their hearts
From here on they'd ride in the wagons
and not have to pull those damn carts

Many bold souls that left England
would not complete this travail
Two hundred plus, counting Willie's,
would be buried along side the trail

There is a price to pay in all ventures
and this journey had taken its toll
there were two hundred more saints in Heaven
when Saint Peter took the last roll

It's easy to look back and wonder
how these folks got in this fix
But you won't know lest you've been there
Martin's Cove... eighteen fifty six

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