Nebraska 12 – Addison Erwin Sheldon’s ‘Poor’s Ranch – Niobrara River’

I discovered this today, and it links to my poem and post here Fishing in which I describe a memorable day on [actually above] what I am sure was the Niobrara River.


Sheldon’s poem does evoke the wide open spaces that I recall as a child when traveling to the town of Niobrara, and it documents the loss of an age where there was more freedom and independence, but also a wildness and lawlessness of frontier days. It is a longish poem to read, but it is interesting as a narrative that celebrates and laments:

These star-high canyon walls looks grim
I own,—till one gets wonted,—
The black pines rockin’ on the rim
Like Indian ghosts enchanted :—
And yet there doesn’t grow fer me
On mountain, plain or prairie
No spot so friendly and so free
As Poor’s Ranch, Niobrara.

Lonesome? I reckon not,—y’ see
There aint no lack o’ rustle,—
The talkin’ of the pines to me
Beats all Chicago’s hustle,—
And ridin’ out across the range
From March to Jenooary,—
There’s nothin’ lonesome-like or strange
Along the Niobrara.

Saddle and blanket comrades, they
Hev vanished from the border,—
More on the shoot than on the pray
An’ yit fur law and order :—
The hoss thief trail from Long Pine Glen
They tracked to canyons scary,
Fur Middleton and Kid Wade men
Hid on the Niobrara.

You knew Tim Jones, of Bear Creek Ranch—
What was his queer alias?—
He killed a preacher up the branch
Fer tryin’ to make him pious;—
His Texas wife swooped down on Tim
livin here with Sarah.—
There wan’t no use o huntin’ him
Next day on Niobrara.

Jim Murray then,—Jim Dahlman now,—
Who shared our bunk an’ bacon,
Has quit a roundin’ up the cow
And gone to pres’dent makin’

It makes the old gang chuckle when
They read of him a tryin’
To rope them Wall Street hulls an’ then
Sail tip the Bay with Bryan.
I wonder ‘f when in politics
He minds that little flurry
We had at old White River Nick’s
Beyond the Niobrara?

John Shore—who used to throw a calf
To beat all human natur’—
Throwed the S-preme Court—an’ don’t laugh—
Down in the Legislatur’;
Poor John! He’s crossed the other side
Snake River sand hills dreary—
One good man more will never ride
Along the Niobrara.

That Gordon outfit Black Hills trail
Goes yonder gully—riggin’——
Black Hills or bust—they’d never fail
To reach the Deadwood diggin’—
But just beyond the Boilin’ Springs—
The old U. S. Calvary
Bonfired their wagons, grub and things
Beside the Niobrara.

Bill Irwin an’ the Stetter Boys,
Who kep’ us all a guessin’
Which one could raise the roughest noise
To earn the outfit’s blessin’,—
Has quit the range an’ settled down
As tame as a canary;—
You’d never b’lieve they’d shoot a town
Along the Niobrara.

What changes come—the Texas Trail—
Abilene!—An’ Ogalalla!—
The dry drives, where the water’d fail,—
The quicksands where ‘twas shallow:
The old North Platte hell-roarin’ high,—
The longhorns’ floatin’ ferry—
And last,—the pines agin the sky
Upon the Niobrara.

The fur-off, early round-up day,
Where all was open ridin’.—
No barb wire fences in the way—
No railroad cut or sidin’—
No land detective’s sneakin’ frills
A spottin’ the unwary—
But jest the cattle an’ the hills
An’ rushin’ Niobrara,

Old days is gone—the place seems dear—
The canyon an’ the river;
Heaven aint no furder off from here,—
An’ I can’t stay forever:
Like mirage lakes of alkali
I’ve seen above the prairie—
I’l look above when I shall die
Fir Poor’s Ranch, Niobrara.

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