© David W. Watts 17/01/2010
They faced off in a famine, across a hidden line
One a keeper of the peace, the other caught in time—
Retreating from a final stand he knew might be his own:
Now tribe in train, he crossed the line evicted from their home.
The Mountie scrutinized the Chief: his gaze was straight returned
Yet in that fierce unflinching face no trace of hatred burned
And in translation and by sign, the message came through clear:
“My people have no food or home: will you take them here?
“The Long Knives of the Father are gathering all around:
We’ve set them back, yet they return while hunger cuts us down.”
The Mountie said “I haves word from the Mother sent this day:
Obey her laws and keep the peace, and you may safely stay.”
And so began the common watch of Sitting Bull and Walsh:
The one within his barracks, the other in his lodge
In food delivered, order kept, the bargain that began
Between exile and agent grew to friend and fellow man.
In dispatch to his overlords Inspector James Walsh wrote
“I thought this plainsman was a squatter; now he is my host:
From visits to his lodge I know, though some may be surprised,
This man lives at a standard above most so-called ‘civilized’.”
Back East Macdonald and his cronies were askance:
“This medicine man has put our special agent in a trance.
Their bond must break, Bull be returned, his leave not be extended.
The shaman goes back to the Yanks; asylum now is ended.”
Walsh knew their purpose, yet demurred, found new grounds for delay
Till a clickety-clack on the telegraph line said there’d be no more stay:
The Inspector delivered the message he himself did not believe:
“We’ve guarantees that Sitting Bull will safely be received.”
The Lakota band broke camp, in procession filed south
Behind a redcoat cavalcade, high-stepping, fanning out
A Mountie and the Medicine Man walked silent, side by side
One heeled and saluted; the other crossed the Great Divide.
The Medicine Line came late in time but serves its neighbours well
Loyalists and fleeing slaves, draft-dodgers and Riel
Who fell afoul in the land they lived and moved away
‘Till passions cooled, they could cross again to stand another day.
Security is not a barbed-wire fence or blistered wall of stone
But a Medicine Line we can safely cross to see we aren’t alone.
Fugitives on both sides, though separate in our minds
Can find a haven and await a calmer, cooler time.