John Harwood Pierce: Ranger of
the Plains

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A Ranger's Biography
An autobiographical poem
by John Harwood Pierce
April 22, 1890

The following is a transcript of a handwritten manuscript by John Harwood Pierce entitled, "A Ranger's Biography." It is a poem of some 269 lines, written on 12 sheets of paper. The sheets are roughly sewn together with red ribbon and fine brown silk twine forming a booklet. Diagonally, across the top left corner in the author's handwriting are the words: "Please return to the author."

A Ranger's Biography

Far in the North where the glaciers glide,
And the bark canoe with its skillful guide,
Shoots through the foaming rapids where,
The rocks are thick and sharp and bare.
Far in the North where the sun dips low,
And the red skin bends the savage bow,
Land of snowshoes and cabashaws,
Bears and wolves with bloody jaws,
This is the place where I was born
And six foot deep was the snow that morn.

No bridal robe is half so fair,
As the snow and frost the pine trees wear,
And the tender songs of the swaying limbs,
Is wedding march or funeral hymn.
Stately and strong their spires arise,
And over their tops the vaulted skies.
From the mountains' brow the falls out spring
The foam turns frost on the breezes wing,
Casting the diamonds far and wide,
From the lowly vale to the mountain side,
No purling brook but a mighty river,
A force that makes the great rocks quiver
And the double base of the ceaseless roar
Grows loud or low as the wind sweeps o'er.

The grottos and caves, the sculptured halls,
Beneath and back of the grand old falls,
Nature's work shop, wonders home,
Every niche from floor to dome,
Is filled with the gems and curious arts,
That are worked without hands, or eyes or hearts.

An old brown house, and numerous fields,
The orchard garden and thicket yields
Fruits and flowers and singing birds,
While mother's and sister's loving words
Awakes the music of heart and soul,
Sweeter than all the notes that roll
From organ's tones though rich and grand,
When the keys are touched with the master's hand
And mother's mother I see her face,
Bright with love and sweet with grace.
The brow was seamed and the eyes were dim,
But God loved her and she loved Him.
Wild were the boys in that backwoods home,
And the girls were wild as the deer that roam
Nature was strong in their bounding veins,
Colts that never were broke to reins
And so it came that one fine day.
I picked up my bundle and walked away,
I was less than twelve when I left my home,
And never since then have I ceased to roam.

The grand prairie of Illinois
I trod alone,
A careless, busy, laughing boy.
Yet oft a groan
Would come unbidden to my lips
For poor, so poor
Was I, that all the finger tips,
Worn out with toil
Would tinge the yellow ears of corn,
With my warm blood.
Or when the harvest sheaves were bound,
In stations long,
I tottered o're the hot and dusty ground,
Thinking a wrong,
If once the old reaper juggernaut
Should come with roar
To find me gasping "Yes, I'm caught."
A man no more,
Only a little boy, the thought,
Still nerved my arm,
And though I lacked the years, I wrought
Full hand upon the farm.

What sounds are these I hear?
The cannon speaks!
Louder, nearer, yet more near,
And now Columbia shrieks,
And calls to arms her sons.

Sires of Revolutionary fame
Spoke to my soul.
And I essayed to place my name
Upon the roll.
And be a soldier in the ranks.

And then they looked upon my slender form
And asked my age,
Then turned away and said the storm
Of battle must not rage
Around such little boys.

But now the wreck of bloody fields
Is borne on every train
And every daily paper yields
Each page to one sad strain
Of woe and wounds and death.

And yet again, and still once more,
I stood rejected.
Then Captain Moffatt's open door,
And field white tented
Gave welcome call to me.

Poncho-roll, carbine, sabers, haversack, revolvers, and canteen
With very little boy
Rations, ammunitions, water, spurs and fifty things I seen,
All ready to destroy
Jeff Davis and his army.

And why so seed the field of strife?
Ah man is savage,
And war is dear to him as life;
He recks not of the ravage
The dragon's teeth can make.

And in our cause I saw the right,
The slaves glad jubilee,
The first faint dawning of the light
That was to make them free,
As God ordained.

Closely we struggled life for life,
The boys fell thick and fast.
Moffatt, Dature, Weaver, Fyfe
Scores from our hundred passed
Into their rest.

We struggled o're the rights of men,
For liberty and light
And now we see what man saw when
Old Israel's flight
Was guided by the hand of God.

How proudly through the Red Sea waves
Our nation came;
While slavery found a crimson grave
And treason the same
In that dark tide.

Learning is another name for power.
Columbia, Harvard, Yale. The flower
Of all our land is there,
And in those grand old halls
The doors swing wide, when Croesus calls.
The poor, their hands are bare
Of gold, and only those with golden keys
May enter there, although upon their knees.
The poor should come.
Hence I, who never had the common school,
Might now have been a mere rude tool.
Unlettered, dumb.
Only the white haired lady of the home,
Deep read in many a musty tome,
Called me to learn,
The thousand mysteries that environ
Holding in bands of slavish iron,
The hosts that earn
Their bread by sheer brute force,
And think but little of the source
Of wealth and power.
'Twas at her feet, a love for learning,
That never yet has ceased its burning,
Came like a flower
Bright with the sun, and yet the pages
On which the world's great sages
The truth unrolled,
Were never to me taught,
By schoolmen trained in thought
I lacked the gold.

Far in the South where hangs the funeral moss
Where walls have tears,
And cypress, pine and live oak toss
And moan their fears.

Far in the South by fevered swamp
And alligator's lair.
Where Ebon Dinah and her dusky Pomp,
Have gunnysacks to wear.
Far down where reeds like bamboo grow,
And serpents vile.
Fill the dark waters of the foul bayou,
Swimming in file.

Down where the cutthroat pirate crews
Started the towns
And the witches froth their children's brews
In coal black gowns.

And there this ghastly Ku Klux Klan,
Found me one night;
For teaching, I was under the ban
Of death or flight.

I wandered then through many states
Adventures seeking,
A free lance, careless of the fates,
And plain in speaking.

And next with bride so sweet and fair,
A year went by.
Death came, and touched her raven hair,
"Don't cry, so John, don't cry."* [* "These were her dying words = the last on earth," written at the bottom in someone else's hand.]

What need to tell the weary tale,
Of sorrow's blight.
Oh how I struggled, but to fail
To reach the light.

Sometimes the clouds dissolved
And youth held sway,
Life's problems must be solved.
We soon turn grey.

And I sought and found a wife,
But joy has wings,
Mine was the fault, darkening our life
With sorrow's strings.

Ask me not to tell you all,
My heart is sore,
I've drained the dregs of gall
Can I say more.

For years the boundless plains,
The Rocky Mountains and the prairie
O'er ranch steeds I drew the reins,
Learned to be quick and wary.

For years on "Rosey's" Omaha Bee,
Each day I wrote a column,
Of what had been, or what would be,
The ad, the fad, the bridal glad, or funeral solemn.
And as my "Ranger" nom de plume,
In correspondence grew quite famous,
Gold poured from many a Black Hills flame
Which made us proud, and who could blame.

For the rush that filled the Hills,
Was all our own creating,
And still we loomed its golden hills,
Till Bradstreet gave a lofty rating

And then to the Western Magazine
I gave some years of labor
And sold it when high tide had seen
The public praise our "Saber."

Next, I made a curious bell,
And the sales were fast increasing,
Which made me think I might do well,
To invent without ceasing.

But far away from the prairie sea,
Frontier towns and honest faces,
I found the harbor that took the tea,
And lived in wooden nutmeg places.

And next the Kingdom of Tammany Hall
With the tigers, bulls and bears,
Has stolen my stock, my bullion all
And left me a load of cares.

But still there is wealth in the mines of thought
And boundless the fields for inventions.
Though vainly I seek, I yet shall be sought
By those with coupons for a pension.

And yet while I will quite concede,
A love for things auriferous,
And gladly run my eyes to feed,
On even the argentiferous.

I still regard, of little worth
E'en riches without measure
Compared to those beyond the earth,
Where thieves steal not the treasure.

And now my friends and children dear,
These lines have run along,
Until I now begin to fear
You'll vote them far too long.

But could I tell of all my days
And what was done and said
You'll ponder o'er my devious ways,
And the wondrous life I've led.

A life that has been like my rhyme,
Rude, broken, changing, wild
My lines were cast in storming tones
And I misfortune's child.

You would not care, should I confess
To hear the full confession
And know you'll say God would not bless
One with such sad possession.

But Christ has died for even me,
And to his cross I'm clinging,
The homeless Man of Galilee,
Forgave the greatest sinning.

And so with charity for all,
Forgive and be forgiven.
Death comes with coffin, hearse, and pall
God give us rest in heaven.

At the end, the original manuscript it is signed

John H. Pierce
84 E. 113th St., N.Y. City
March 19th, 1890

Below the signature and address is an "Over" leading to a dedication page.

The dedication page at the end reads:

April 22nd 1890
312 West 135th St.
New York City


To Clarrissa, my sister dear, so patient, strong and wise,
To my daughter "Baby" sweet I cannot see, tears blind my eyes,
To Edgar, son, the six-foot man, may angels guard his way,
To Council Brodrick, sunny face, he is seven years old today,
These I love, with love that cannot change,
And yet, 'tis strange,
That over warm hearts, cold snow should fall,
And doubt and fear like funeral pall,
Should crush remembrance of the past,
And it's dear joys, too sweet to last.
We love, 'tis God's decree,
And if our hearts are free,
The ties of kindred draw
This too is God's great law.
And cannot be repealed
Then let us loyal yield,
A line of love and hope,
And though my lines may never cope
With famous lays
This simple story of my days,
Is Yours.

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Send all inquiries to the author, Barbara Case, at:  ~  Last Updated March 6, 2003