All Quiet along the Potomac and other poems/By the Cottonwood Tree


THEN why do I sell it?" you ask me again,
"Big cabin an' clearin, an' all?"
Well, stranger, I'll tell you, though maybe you'll
It ain't any reason at all.

There's plenty of hardship in pioneer-life—
A hard-workin' stint, at the best—
But I'd stick to it yet if it wasn't for this,
A heart like a log in my breast.

D'ye see, over there by the cottonwood tree,
A climbin' rose, close by a mound,
Inside of a fence made of rough cedar boughs?—
Prairie wolves ain't too good to come round—

Well, Hetty, my darling old woman, lies there;
Not very old either, you see;
She wa'n't more'n twenty the year we come West;
She'd ha' been—comin' grass—thirty-three.

What a round little face an' a cheek like a peach
She had, little Hetty, be sure!
What courage to take me! She knew all the while
I was friendless and terrible poor.

How she worked with a will at our first little hut,
In the field, and among garden stuff,

Till her forehead was burned, and her poor little
Through its hardships, got rugged and rough!

But many a time, when I come in the door
Quite sudden, I've found her just there,
With eyelids all red an' her face to the East—
You see, all her own folks was there.

I cheered her, an' told her we'd go by and by,
When the clearin' and ploughin was through;
And then came the baby—he wa'n't very strong—
So that Hetty had plenty to do.

But after a while she got gloomy again;
She would hide in the cornfield to cry;
We hadn't no meetin' to speak of, you see,
No woman to talk to was nigh.

An' she wanted to show little Joe to the folks;
She was hungry, I s'pose, for the sight
Of faces she'd seen all the days of her life:
That was nat'ral, stranger, an' right.

But just when she thought to go over the Plains
The devils of Sioux was about;
So poor Hetty waited a harvest or two,
Through the summer of locusts and drought.

That left us poor people. The next coming spring
Such a wearisome fever come round;

An', stranger—hold on till I tell you; there now!—
It laid little Joe in the ground.

I know'd then I'd got to send Hetty off East
If I cared about keepin' her here;
She pined to a shadder, an' moped by his grave,
Though her eyes brighter grew, and more clear.

If you'd seen her poor face when I told her I'd go
And take her home visitin'! Well,
I'll never forget how she put out her hands
Into mine, an', fur joy, cried a spell.

She didn't feel strong, though, that week or the next,
An' the cough an' the fever increased;
While softly she whispered—she couldn't speak loud—
"You'll take me by'm by, to the East?"


She never got East; any further than that
(And a hand pointed off to the mound);
But I'm goin' to take her and Joe, when I go,
To her father's old buryin'-ground.

This, stranger, 's the reason I'm willin' to sell;
You can buy at a bargain, you see;
It's mighty good land fur a settler to own,
But it looks like a graveyard to me.

Ornament - altp1.jpg