I simply had to share this with you good folks.
My friend Tana Thibodaux found this online at an ancestry website. According to the source, it was originally published in the Franklin Planters’ Banner, a former incarnation of this newspaper, on April 5, 1851.
I’m not much of a poetry fan, but this was just too sweet a gem not to share. Notice most of all the last dozen lines or so:
The Maiden Of Chitimachas
By James Smith, Esq.
The Indian maid sat beside the gate
When the shadows of night were gath’ring late
Thick and black the clouds cluster’d fast around,
And the winds spoke from far with a hollow sound.
The maiden she asked with a downcast eye
For some drug that might calm her fever high.
"Here! here!" she said, "I fear it will break!"
And giving her wild, black locks a shake,
Her tawny hand on her brow she placed,
Which throbbed like the heart of the hare that is chased.
The drug was given, but there she sat—
That child of the wilderness—desolate!
One of the last of the ancient band,
Unto whom the God had first giv’n the land.
"Maid of the sad eye—lady in right—
Where in thy pain, sleepest thou to-night?
Who among those who thy heritage keep,
Will give thee thy nurture and couch to sleep?
Where wilt thou to-night thy sick rest take?"
She answered gently— "I sleep by the lake."
"Nay, maiden, nay; far is the lake,
And wildly the clouds in the bleak skies break.
Canst thou alone find thy night-way home?"
Mildly she said— "See the people come!"
Methought ‘twas some couch, that object black,
On which they would carry the sick girl back;—
But no—neither couch nor litter had they;
There were two or three women and an old man grey,
And one wild-eyed boy walked beside a squaw,
With the bright forest glance of the Chitimachas;
For he felt not yet in his bosom brave—
That his doom was to be the white man’s slave—
To lead in the land where his sires were chief—
A life without joy, except that ‘tis brief—
To prowl about, though the lord in right,
Like a lean dog hounding for carrion at night!
I turned to the maid;—she her brother had ta’en,
A babe in her arms, but she staggered again!
So I sprang to her side and said, "On, no!
Thou art weak, thou art sick—thou must not go.
Rest thee to-night, (e)ve (?) will safe thee keep;
Thy couch shall be soft—thou shalt soundly sleep."
"Sleep," said the maiden, "I may not take:
I cannot sleep, save I sleep by the lake:
For low and soft there the ripples break—
If I hear not them, no sleep can I take;
And forever since I slept there when a child,
Its sad murmur calms this fever wild."
No words spake they, but they onward went—
Straight was the foot-print, the body bent;
They looked not up to the wild-tossed sky,
For forward and earthward turned was the eye.
Sad is thy heart, thou poor forest child!
Dark and bleak is the night and the path is wild!
Sadly she looked, and she said again
She would come if away passed not the pain.
The time went on—seven day were o’er,
And I marvel’d the maiden came no more;
So I went to the place where the wigwams stood,
To see how fared the sick child of the wood.
By an old dead thorn tree the mother sate,
With a cold, blank gaze—Disconsolate.
Gently and lowly I asked her to tell
How the maiden fared—was her fever well?
No word spake she, but she shook her head
So again I asked how the maiden sped.
"She sleeps," she said; "she hath now no pain;
The fever has pass’d—my child wakes not again.
Sees’t thou yon mound, where the white shells rise—
Beneath that my heart and my daughter lies;
And I come here to listen the sad lake swell,
Because ‘tis the sound she loved so well !"
They had buried her there, without prayer or knell
On the bank of the lake that she loved so well;
For when winds are high springs the cold wave’s spray
O’er the Indian grave-mound of Granavoley;
And no more by the wood or the river we saw
The sad-eyed maid of the Chitimachas.
Perhaps someone out there might know more about Mr. Smith, the poet, or if there were any basis for truth in this bit of rhyme. Please let me know if you do!
I find it fascinating especially that the Maiden was buried at the "grave-mound of Granavoley" or Grande Avoille Cove, Cok’tangi, in the shell mound that was there until the 1930s.
I find it devestating to know that if she really did exist, that dark-haired Chitimacha girl, and if indeed she died of a fever neither her people nor the white doctors could cure, and was buried in the ancient worship place of Grande Avoille Cove…her bones were among the many that fell out of the dredge buckets, to be gathered up by workers and tossed into the lake like so much refuse.
I just wish I knew her name, if she were real. I’d take my father’s boat out there and speak it. Spread tobacco, burn cedar and sage, and speak it. Into the west wind. Into the once-was.