Ancient Mounds*

Collins had found the hog, skinned and hung,

So we left early that morning with our rifles slung

To hunt the prairie fowl with shot and to explore

Dubois River, hoping our slow and stealthy tour

Might surprise a bear at dinner. Approaching near,

We fell into a stalk, beneath the rise only to hear

Loud caws from the carcass speckled with crows

Having devoured the meat to bones above the snow.

It was ears, a mask attached to a spine, the thin

Shadow of corpse hanging in the wind to spin

Its yarn of dying for some hungry farmer’s larder.

So we kept our hunt southeastward, a bit farther

From the bottoms where we spotted prairie fowl

On roosting branches, like silhouettes for owl

As we fired one-by-one taking several, and more

At the foot of berry bushes until we both wore

The grouse as Indians might wear feathered capes,

And then continued to trek toward distant shapes

We imagined to be a group of ancient mounds.

The expanse before was wide and not a sound

Was heard as we approached in the field of fire.

Without the ice underfoot, an attack would mire

Down and deepen into failure, yet we strode in

Across the level surface of that pond, frozen

Enough to get us committed far into the middle.

Then, at 400 yards, all broke loose into the riddle

Of children singing “fat piggies,” we in the moat

Up to our thighs, rifles held high, unable to shoot.

The ancients knew well a defense against infantry

Building on ground to weaken an attacking enemy.

For we had to back out, and come around far south

Staying in the prairie stubble, out of the mouth

Of that big frog, to approach the fortification

Of 9 mounds in a round—a haven of protection,

An Indian fortress once encircled with palisades

And whistling wings of two more mounds made

7 feet above the prairie, all having scattered flint

And earthen ware. The safe and flat dry settlement

A clearing, and northward, an immense grave,

A Cahokian woodhenge to rise up and save

Their loved ones in the sacred motion of the sun.

We returned at sunset finding my feet well frozen

Inside my shoes. My slave rubbed them with snow

And wrapped them both and set them low

On the hearth, slowly to prevent the frost bite.

With westerly winds exceedingly cold that night

York brought firewood and plucked two hens.

“This ‘ill help, Massa. With good luck, and then

Hot broth and God ta’ thaw out your feet again.”





*Found and adapted from “Wintering at Camp Dubois,” Vol. 2, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Gary E. Moulton, editor. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1986: 153-154.