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bison / “The Bison Track”

A quadruped (Bison or Bos Americanus) inhabiting the interior of North America, especially about the Rocky Mountains. It is popularly called the buffalo; but the true buffalo belongs to the eastern continent, and to a different subdivision of the genus Bos. The bison is a large, wild animal, with thick body and stout legs, short black horns rapidly tapering, and with hair much more thick and shaggy in winter than in summer. It is most nearly related to the aurochs of Central Europe, and the two species have been referred to a common genus. — Webster, 1882

A crowd used to gather… in the store beneath to hear us read… – Pioneer Girl

When writing her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder left out the years the family spent back-trailing east from Walnut Grove and living in Burr Oak, Iowa in the 1870s. At one point in Burr Oak, the family lived in rooms over a grocery store, Laura and Mary attending school during the day. At night, wrote Wilder, she and Mary used to study and recite poems from the Independent Fifth Reader, including one called “The Bison Track.” A copy of the Fifth Reader can be found HERE.

Recitation such as this was included in published The Long Winter, but “The Bison Track” was not included in the published list or mentioned in Wilder’s Hard Winter manuscript. It appears on pages 211-212 of the Independent Fifth Reader and is transcribed below.

“The Bison Track” was written by Bayard Taylor, the noted American traveler, translator and author, who was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1825. Trained as a printer, a volume of his poems was published in 1844, titled Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and other Poems. With money from the sale of his poetry book, Taylor spent two years touring Europe, sending back accounts of his travels which were published in Saturday Evening Post, the New York Tribune, and elsewhere. Horace Greeley hired Taylor to work at the Tribune, and travels to other parts of the world inspired more books. Bayard Taylor died in December 1878, shortly after arriving in Berlin on one of his excursions. He was buried in his hometown, Kennet Square, Pennsylvania.

The Bison Track

Strike the tent! the sun has risen; not a vapor streaks the dawn,
And the frosted prairie brightens to the westward, far and wan:
Prime afresh the trust rifle,–sharpen well the hunting spear;
For the frozen sod is trembling, and a noise of hoofs I hear!

Fiercely stamp the tethered horses, as they snuff the morning’s fire;
Their impatient heads are tossing, and they neigh with keen desire.
Strike the tent! the saddles wait us,–let the bridle-reins be slack,–
For the prairie’s distant thunder has betrayed the bison’s track.

See! a dusky line approaches: hark! the onward-surging roar,
Like the din of wintry breakers on a sounding wall of shore!
Dust and sand behind them whirling, snort the foremost of the van,
And their stubborn horns are clashing through the crowded caravan.

Now the storm is down upon us: let the maddened horses go!
We shall ride the living whirlwind, though a hundred leagues it blow!
Though the cloudy manes should thicken, and the red eyes’ angry glare
Lighten round us as we gallop through the sand and rushing air!

Myriad hoofs will scar the prairie, in our wild, resistless race,
And a sound, like mighty waters, thunders down the desert space:
Yet the rein may not be tightened, nor the rider’s eyes look back–
Death to him whose speed should slacken, on the maddened bisons’ track!

Now the trampling herds are threaded, and the chase is close and warm
For the giant bull that gallops in the edges of the storm:
Swiftly hurl the whizzing lasso,–swing your rifles as we run>
See! the dust is red behind him,–shout, my comrades, he is won!

Look not on him as he staggers,–‘t is the last shot he will need!
More shall fall, among his fellows, ere we run the mad stampede,–
Ere we stem the brinded breakers, while the wolves, a hungry pack,
Howl around each grim-eyed carcass, on the bloody bison track!


bison, see also buffalo
     “The Bison Track” (PG)