Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Kit Carson’s Ride

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Kit Carson’s Ride

By Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (1837–1913)

“RUN? Now you bet you; I rather guess so!

But he’s blind as a badger. Whoa, Paché, boy, whoa!

No, you wouldn’t believe it to look at his eyes,

But he is, badger blind, and it happened this wise.

“We lay in the grasses and the sunburnt clover

That spread on the ground like a great brown cover

Northward and southward, and west and away

To the Brazos, to where our lodges lay,

One broad and unbroken sea of brown,

Awaiting the curtains of night to come down

To cover us over and conceal our flight

With my brown bride, won from an Indian town

That lay in the rear the full ride of a night.

“We lounged in the grasses—her eyes were in mine,

And her hands on my knee, and her hair was as wine

In its wealth and its flood, pouring on and all over

Her bosom wine-red, and pressed never by one;

And her touch was as warm as the tinge of the clover

Burnt brown as it reached to the kiss of the sun,

And her words were as low as the lute-throated dove,

And as laden with love as the heart when it beats

In its hot eager answer to earliest love,

Or the bee hurried home by its burthen of sweets.

“We lay low in the grass on the broad plain levels,

Old Revels and I, and my stolen brown bride;

And the heavens of blue and the harvest of brown

And beautiful clover were welded as one,

To the right and the left, in the light of the sun.

‘Forty full miles if a foot to ride,

Forty full miles if a foot, and the devils

Of red Camanches are hot on the track

When once they strike it. Let the sun go down

Soon, very soon,’ muttered bearded old Revels

As he peered at the sun, lying low on his back,

Holding fast to his lasso. Then he jerked at his steed

And he sprang to his feet, and glanced swiftly around,

And then dropped, as if shot, with his ear to the ground;

Then again to his feet, and to me, to my bride,

While his eyes were like fire, his face like a shroud,

His form like a king, and his beard like a cloud,

And his voice loud and shrill, as if blown from a reed,—-

‘Pull, pull in your lassos, and bridle to steed,

And speed you if ever for life you would speed,

And ride for your lives, for your lives you must ride!

For the plain is aflame, the prairie on fire,

And feet of wild horses hard flying before

I hear like a sea breaking high on the shore,

While the buffalo come like a surge of the sea,

Driven far by the flame, driving fast on us three

As a hurricane comes, crushing palms in his ire.’

“We drew in the lassos, seized saddle and rein,

Threw them on, sinched them on, sinched them over again,

And again drew the girth, cast aside the macheers,

Cut away tapaderas, loosed the sash from its fold,

Cast aside the cantinas red-spangled with gold,

And gold-mounted Colt’s, the companions of years,

Cast the silken serapes to the wind in a breath,

And so bared to the skin sprang all haste to the horse—

As bare as when born, as when new from the hand

Of God—without word, or one word of command.

Turned head to the Brazos in a red race with death,

Turned head to the Brazos with a breath in the hair

Blowing hot from a king leaving death in his course;

Turned head to the Brazos with a sound in the air

Like the rush of an army, and a flash in the eye

Of a red wall of fire reaching up to the sky,

Stretching fierce in pursuit of a black rolling sea

Rushing fast upon us, as the wind sweeping free

And afar from the desert blew hollow and hoarse.

“Not a word, not a wail from a lip was let fall,

Not a kiss from my bride, not a look nor low call

Of love-note or courage; but on o’er the plain

So steady and still, leaning low to the mane,

With the heel to the flank and the hand to the rein,

Rode we on, rode we three, rode we nose and gray nose,

Reaching long, breathing loud, as a creviced wind blows:

Yet we broke not a whisper, we breathed not a prayer,

There was work to be done, there was death in the air,

And the chance was as one to a thousand for all.

“Gray nose to gray nose, and each steady mustang

Stretched neck and stretched nerve till the arid earth rang,

And the foam from the flank and the croup and the neck

Flew around like the spray on a storm-driven deck.

Twenty miles!… thirty miles!… a dim distant speck …

Then a long reaching line, and the Brazos in sight,

And I rose in my seat with a shout of delight.

I stood in my stirrup and looked to my right—

But Revels was gone; I glanced by my shoulder

And saw his horse stagger; I saw his head drooping

Hard down on his breast, and his naked breast stooping

Low down to the mane, as so swifter and bolder

Ran reaching out for us the red-footed fire.

To right and to left the black buffalo came,

A terrible surf on a red sea of flame

Rushing on in the rear, reaching high, reaching higher.

And he rode neck to neck to a buffalo bull,

The monarch of millions, with shaggy mane full

Of smoke and of dust, and it shook with desire

Of battle, with rage and with bellowings loud

And unearthly, and up through its lowering cloud

Came the flash of his eyes like a half-hidden fire,

While his keen crooked horns, through the storm of his mane,

Like black lances lifted and lifted again;

And I looked but this once, for the fire licked through,

And he fell and was lost, as we rode two and two.

“I looked to my left then—and nose, neck, and shoulder

Sank slowly, sank surely, till back to my thighs;

And up through the black blowing veil of her hair

Did beam full in mine her two marvellous eyes,

With a longing and love, yet a look of despair

And of pity for me, as she felt the smoke fold her,

And flames reaching far for her glorious hair.

Her sinking steed faltered, his eager ears fell

To and fro and unsteady, and all the neck’s swell

Did subside and recede, and the nerves fall as dead.

Then she saw sturdy Paché still lorded his head,

With a look of delight; for nor courage nor bribe,

Nor naught but my bride, could have brought him to me.

For he was her father’s, and at South Santafee

Had once won a whole herd, sweeping everything down

In a race where the world came to run for the crown.

And so when I won the true heart of my bride—

My neighbor’s and deadliest enemy’s child,

And child of the kingly war-chief of his tribe—

She brought me this steed to the border the night

She met Revels and me in her perilous flight

From the lodge of the chief to the North Brazos side;

And said, so half guessing of ill as she smiled,

As if jesting, that I, and I only, should ride

The fleet-footed Paché, so if kin should pursue

I should surely escape without other ado

Than to ride, without blood, to the North Brazos side,

And await her—and wait till the next hollow moon

Hung her horn in the palms, when surely and soon

And swift she would join me, and all would be well

Without bloodshed or word. And now as she fell

From the front, and went down in the ocean of fire,

The last that I saw was a look of delight

That I should escape—a love—a desire—

Yet never a word, not one look of appeal,

Lest I should reach hand, should stay hand or stay heel

One instant for her in my terrible flight.

“Then the rushing of fire around me and under,

And the howling of beasts and a sound as of thunder—

Beasts burning and blind and forced onward and over,

As the passionate flame reached around them, and wove her

Red hands in their hair, and kissed hot till they died—

Till they died with a wild and a desolate moan,

As a sea heart-broken on the hard brown stone …

And into the Brazos … I rode all alone—

All alone, save only a horse long-limbed,

And blind and bare and burnt to the skin.

Then just as the terrible sea came in

And tumbled its thousands hot into the tide,

Till the tide blocked up and the swift stream brimmed

In eddies, we struck on the opposite side.


“Sell Paché—blind Paché? Now, mister, look here,

You have slept in my tent and partook of my cheer

Many days, many days, on this rugged frontier,

For the ways they were rough and Camanches were near;

But you’d better pack up, sir! That tent is too small

For us two after this! Has an old mountaineer,

Do you book-men believe, got no tum-tum at all?

Sell Paché! You buy him! A bag full of gold!

You show him! Tell of him the tale I have told!

Why, he bore me through fire, and is blind, and is old!

… Now pack up your papers, and get up and spin

To them cities you tell of … Blast you and your tin!”