Emily Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

Here you will find the Long Poem The cattle thief of poet Emily Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

The cattle thief

They were coming across the prairie, they were 
 galloping hard and fast; 
For the eyes of those desperate riders had sighted 
 their man at last-- 
Sighted him off to Eastward, where the Cree 
 encampment lay, 
Where the cotton woods fringed the river, miles and 
 miles away. 
Mistake him? Never! Mistake him? the famous 
 Eagle Chief! 
That terror to all the settlers, that desperate Cattle 
That monstrous, fearless Indian, who lorded it over 
 the plain, 
Who thieved and raided, and scouted, who rode like 
 a hurricane! 
But they've tracked him across the prairie; they've 
 followed him hard and fast; 
For those desperate English settlers have sighted 
 their man at last. 

Up they wheeled to the tepees, all their British 
 blood aflame, 
Bent on bullets and bloodshed, bent on bringing 
 down their game; 
But they searched in vain for the Cattle Thief: that 
 lion had left his lair, 
And they cursed like a troop of demons--for the 
 women alone were there. 
"The sneaking Indian coward," they hissed; "he 
 hides while yet he can; 
He'll come in the night for cattle, but he's scared 
 to face a man." 
"Never!" and up from the cotton woods rang the 
 voice of Eagle Chief; 
And right out into the open stepped, unarmed, the 
 Cattle Thief. 
Was that the game they had coveted? Scarce fifty 
 years had rolled 
Over that fleshless, hungry frame, starved to the 
 bone and old; 
Over that wrinkled, tawny skin, unfed by the 
 warmth of blood. 
Over those hungry, hollow eyes that glared for the 
 sight of food. 

He turned, like a hunted lion: "I know not fear," 
 said he; 
And the words outleapt from his shrunken lips in 
 the language of the Cree. 
"I'll fight you, white-skins, one by one, till I 
 kill you all," he said; 
But the threat was scarcely uttered, ere a dozen 
 balls of lead 
Whizzed through the air about him like a shower 
 of metal rain, 
And the gaunt old Indian Cattle Thief dropped 
 dead on the open plain. 
And that band of cursing settlers gave one 
 triumphant yell, 
And rushed like a pack of demons on the body that 
 writhed and fell. 
"Cut the fiend up into inches, throw his carcass 
 on the plain; 
Let the wolves eat the cursed Indian, he'd have 
 treated us the same." 
A dozen hands responded, a dozen knives gleamed 
But the first stroke was arrested by a woman's 
 strange, wild cry. 
And out into the open, with a courage past 
She dashed, and spread her blanket o'er the corpse 
 of the Cattle Thief; 
And the words outleapt from her shrunken lips in 
 the language of the Cree, 
"If you mean to touch that body, you must cut 
 your way through me." 
And that band of cursing settlers dropped 
 backward one by one, 
For they knew that an Indian woman roused, was 
 a woman to let alone. 
And then she raved in a frenzy that they scarcely 
Raved of the wrongs she had suffered since her 
 earliest babyhood: 
"Stand back, stand back, you white-skins, touch 
 that dead man to your shame; 
You have stolen my father's spirit, but his body I 
 only claim. 
You have killed him, but you shall not dare to 
 touch him now he's dead. 
You have cursed, and called him a Cattle Thief, 
 though you robbed him first of bread-- 
Robbed him and robbed my people--look there, at 
 that shrunken face, 
Starved with a hollow hunger, we owe to you and 
 your race. 
What have you left to us of land, what have you 
 left of game, 
What have you brought but evil, and curses since 
 you came? 
How have you paid us for our game? how paid us 
 for our land? 
By a book, to save our souls from the sins you 
 brought in your other hand. 
Go back with your new religion, we never have 
Your robbing an Indian's body, and mocking his 
 soul with food. 
Go back with your new religion, and find--if find 
 you can-- 
The honest man you have ever made from out a 
 starving man. 
You say your cattle are not ours, your meat is not 
 our meat; 
When you pay for the land you live in, we'll pay 
 for the meat we eat. 
Give back our land and our country, give back our 
 herds of game; 
Give back the furs and the forests that were ours 
 before you came; 
Give back the peace and the plenty. Then come 
 with your new belief, 
And blame, if you dare, the hunger that drove him to 
 be a thief."