Rufus Sage’s Authentic Mountain Man Poem Opens a Window to the Past.

This mountain man poem opens a window to the heart and mind of someone who lived the life of a mountaineer.

Primary sources are invaluable for learning about the past. From them, we can learn about the past most accurately and get a real sense of a time period. Journals, newspapers, artifacts, and photos all can offer up tidbits of insight about human life in a different time. Art is another category of primary source that can teach us a considerable amount. Art, such as poetry and song, can not only teach us about life in the past, but also about what was going in the mind of the people. In addition we can imagine how they saw themselves, the world, and the people around them.

One era of history where the use of primary sources is widely practiced for research, is the mountain man era of the western fur trade. During this era, many diaries were penned, inventories kept, and a generally plentiful supply of primary sources exist. While reading the journals of Rufus Sage, I happened upon a bit of a gem within its pages. During his time out west, Sage penned a poem he titled, The Wanderer’s Grave. From it we can learn not only about his life, but perhaps the thoughts that coursed through the mind of a mountaineer.

His authentic mountain man poem goes like this:

A Wanderer’s Grave

Away from friends, away from home
and all the heart holds dear,
A weary wand’rer laid him down,
Nor kindly aid was near.

And sickness prey’d upon his frame
And told its tale of woe,
While sorrow mark’d his pallid cheeks
And sank his spirit low.

Nor waiting friends stood round his couch
A healing to impart,-
Nor human voice spoke sympathy,
To sooth his aching heart.

The stars of night his watchers were,
His fan the rude winds’ breath,
And while they sigh’d their hollow moans,
He closed his eyes in death.

Upon the prairie’s vast expanse
This weary wand’rer lay;
And far from friends, and far from home,
He breath’d his life away!

A lovely valley marks the spot
That claims his lowly bed;
But o’er the wand’re’s hapless fate
No friendly tear was shed.

No willing grave received the corpse
Of this poor lonely one;
He bones, alas, were left to bleach
And moulder ‘neath the sun!

The night-wolf howl’d his requiem,
The rude winds danced his dirge;
And e’er anon, in mournful chime,
Sigh’d forth the mellow surge!

The Spring shall teach the rising grass
To twine for him a tomb;
And, o’er the spot where he doth lie,
Shall bid the wild flowers bloom.

But, far from friends, and far from home,
Ah, dismal thought, to die!
Oh, let me ‘mid my friends expire,
And with my fathers lie.

Rufus Sage.
Rufus Sage’s authentic mountain man poem allows us a deep look at his life and thoughts.

The author of this poem, Rufus Sage, was a greenhorn by all accounts. He had traveled west to chase adventure and see The West in its splendor. In his journal, this poem marks the end of his time at Scottsbluff. Most western Nebraskans know the story of how a trapper named Hiram Scott died at the spot in 1830. While encamped at the same location 11 years later,  Sage looked around and reflected on the circumstances of the man’s death. All alone. Prairie in all directions. Nothing but the prairie wolves and wind for a burial party. While standing there, enveloped in isolation, Rufus Sage appears to have stood in Scott’s moccasins for a time, and contemplated his final moments.

As you can tell from the poem, Rufus Scott had no romantic desire to die on the plains. While envisioning his own death on the prairie, he noted he would long for one thing; his family. This brief exposure of his psyche can help possibly break a few of the old sterotypes we are sometimes fed about America’s wild mountain men.

For starters, most mountaineers weren’t traipsing around the mountains with no hopes of ever returning home. Mountaineers streamed to the Rockies for lots of reasons; adventure, allure of money, curiosity, intrigue, and a host of others. Like Sage, most of the men didn’t have plans to die a glorious death on the windswept plains. This seems like a no brainer, but sometimes is seems we cast these men as having some wish to vanish forever into the mountains. While possibly true for some, unlikely the wish of many.

Secondly, it can possibly reveal the breathtaking, yet fearsome, scope of the prairie. The huge grassland of our nation seemed to really engulf him for a moment, and intimidated him to a degree. You can imagine the feeling of standing in over a half million square miles of prairie with no lifeline to the world you came from. For Sage, he seemed to realize the reality of the vastness of the plains. When paired with his thoughts of death, you can tell it sort of rattled him.

Rufus Sage’s authentic mountain man poem is not only a good read, but, like other primary sources, it offers a glimpse into the past. As art, rather than fact, it also opens up another layer in the story of his life. We not only can learn about his experiences, but what he was thinking and feeling on a deeper level. When you take the time to read his words, think about the context. You might be surprised at where your own thoughts wander if you look at it from his moccasins.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this essay on an authentic mountain man poem. If you find this sort of thing interesting, you might enjoy reading this essay on Rufus Sage’s thought on Scottsbluff in 1841.

Mowing the Lawn

Lawn Mowing Poem

Just some basic thoughts on mowing the lawn...
Just some basic thoughts on mowing the lawn… (Image via Pixabay)

This summers been hot, this summers been dry
There ain’t been no rain ceptin fore when I cry
This land has been parched with a powerful thirst
It’ll live that’s for sure, but we need dern rain first
Our water bills growing the checks getting bigger
When we git the mail our knees start to quiver.
I been praying for rain, I’ve sung Sunday songs
Been doing this raindance for all weekend long.
Then out in the west a cloud starts to build
My fingers drum nervous on my window sill
The heavens grow dark parapets in the sky
“Thank the Lord for the rain, and his blessings” says I
The rain it falls hard never ending it seems
Then quickly it stops like awaken from dream.
I burst out of doors as the sun starts to shine
I dance in the light, the prayer answerd was mine.
My grass it grows tall, till the lawnmower screams,
as I cut it down. Now how dumb does that seem?

Looking for other bits of poetry? How about “How I Got Rich Bowhunting”

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake Poem

A poem for the searchers of freedom.
A poem for the searchers of freedom.

The darkness ahead matches the blackness behind,
I race to the east, racing sunrise.
The place that I’m marching to, is tucked way out of the way,
A place most folks fly over, but I go to play.
Its seas of tall grass and an ocean of sky,
The desolation it seems is a trick for the eye.
If you go to far corners, and crannies, and cracks,
You’ll find bedded mule deer and coyote tracks.
On the power of air you’ll see birds of all kinds,
To go marching with me is to march back in time.
But this is no place for the meek and the lame,
More like a wild stud that has never been tamed.
So what am searching for you may want to ask,
I’m hunting deer, at least that’s half the task.
Sure I have a bow and my quiver is full,
A hunting knife in my pack, bet your ass it ain’t dull.
Though its deer that I’m searching for its freedom I find,
That not granted by men, but by the divine.
It’s a freedom I’m having difficulty nailing down,
But its real as the invisible wind blowing round.
It’s the same that they searched for the past days of old,
The mountain men, longhunters, and those whose stories untold.
It will take to you highs no drug ever could
And cleanses the mind, just makes a body feel good.
You can’t find it in cities where we live in a pile,
But in unbranded country that’s rough and still wild.
So if you’re souls needing cleansed or your searching for something,
Come pitch in with me and we’ll go mule deer hunting.

How I Got Rich Bowhunting

How I Got Rich Bowhunting

How I Got Rich Bowhunting
Listen close if you’re trying to find wealth in this world.

I got a tale that I should keep tucked underneath my hat,
Under lock and key, and just for me, but I’ve seen enough of that.
I’ve made a fortune in this life, almost more than I can bear
And done it all while standing tall shooting arrows through the air.
If you take the time to hear this rhyme and can stand my broken prose
I’ll lead you straight to fortunes gate, a path that few men know.
It’s true a simple stick and string have filled my coffers full,
Cause magics loading in them limbs when I give my string a pull.
Now that I got you listening and if you’ve got the itch,
Lean in near and bend your ear, and learn how I got rich.

I just been working on the weekends, what some would call part-time
Out on the plains of the open range, north of that house of mine.
I leave the house fore sunup, under cover of the night
To the coyote song from days long gone, to my inner bank’s delight
First a yip and then a howl and an excited puppy trill
And there they set, all silhouette, better than any $100 bill.
It fills me up, makes me fat, like a dapper aristocrat
Without a care, in clothes threadbare, and my favorite battered hat.
Then the coyotes disappear in the night so gentle still,
To a hoot owl call, as bright stars fall, like loose change in the till.

I ease up oer a hillside, plop down to face the east
I take my wait, to see God paint, his morning masterpiece.
Grey light it turns to purple, then yellow, orange, and red
I’m cashing checks from where I set, while you’re curled up warm in bed.
Then in the east I see the glow of a burning ball of fire
Life springs up fast from prairie grass as the flaming ball moves higher.
I see a fiercesome prairie hawk hear a whistling mallard wing
From them and sage I draw my wage, and boy does it sure ring.

Then all at once, before my eyes, a mule deer breaks horizon
I take a breath, watch watch his steps, my adrenalin is rising.
He disappears behind a hill, I sneak down in hot pursuit
Like men of old, who mined their gold with the arrows they did shoot.
Providentially our paths do cross, some divine timed intersection
I draw then anchor, aim then fire, a shaft in his direction
My arrows jumps right off my string corkscrewing through the space
Tween him and me, and fortunately, it strikes the perfect place.
Over the pounding of my heart I hear him make a dash,
A crimson trail will soon unveil his trail through golden grass.

With trembling hands and powerless legs I sit and take the time
To count my blessing of the intercession ordered by the great divine.
I sit in patient pause while the warming sun does climb
Minutes pass from my hourglass passed into the endlessness of time.
Before too long I find my prize still warm though spirit gone
Gone to see the great uncertainty, we’ll be reunited fore too long
A somberness subdues my pride, I know my life is but a stich
In a tapestry of the mystery, Thank you God you’ve made me rich.

A final note for folks still hearing these rambling words of mine.
This bloated wealth, meekness, faith, and health, withstands the test of time.
Yep, sure enough, I’m from old money, fortune safe in preservation,
Cause if they can bear it, my kids inherit, the wealth of generation.
It’s true a simple stick and string have filled my coffers full,
Cause magics loading in them limbs when I give my string a pull.

If you enjoy this bowhunting poetry give “Crescent Lake” a read.