Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE OLD BARLOW ROAD, by WILLIAM STEWARD GORDON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE OLD BARLOW ROAD, by                
First Line: Tread softly, boys, 'tis sacred dust
Last Line: And each clod a coffin nail.
Subject(s): Pioneers; Trail Of Tears (1838-39); Travel; West (u.s.) - Exploration; Native Americans - Removal; Journeys; Trips

Tread softly, boys, 'tis sacred dust,
Though only a mountain trail,
And every tree is a monument,
And each stone a coffin nail,

We stand on the famous Barlow Road,
Cut deep in history,
For o'er it came the immigrant train
From "the States" to the western sea.

This mile or more is abandoned now,
As a better route was found.
No modern wheel or automobile
Has defiled the holy ground.

From Sherer's bridge across De Chutes,
Moved many a famished crew,
Around Mount Hood, down Zigzag Gulch
To the town of Revenue.

Thence onward to Willamette Falls
Slow crept the caravans,
Or southward to Chemeckety
Where now a statehouse stands.

And o'er this trail for centuries gone
Had the muffled moccasin passed,
But the white man took the red man's road—
And his wide domain at last.

Here are footprints, too, of the weary feet
Of the Indian mother or maid,
Who bore in pain her merciless load,
And her merciless lord obeyed.

So the dust we tread is eloquent dust—
See, here is an arrow head,
And these whispering trees are telling the tale
Of the battles of white and red.

There's the skull of an ox by yonder rocks,
And here a bit of leather—
Relics, perchance, of the pioneers,
Defying wind and weather.

That cedar root, all worn and torn,
Is a legend of many a line;
It was written there in human blood
By the wheels of "forty-nine."

And see! This bone is a woman's arm
Unearthed by the rains, no doubt.
They buried her here beneath the road
So the wolves wouldn't dig her out.

And yonder slab, rough-hewed and rude,
Was placed by a woman's hands;
She buried her husband there, they say,
Then drove on o'er the sands.

Alone, she chiseled the name and date—
With love and an ax 'twas done.
Ah, the women that trod the Oregon Trail
Were mothers and men in one!

And to journey on, what a lonesome way
For her and her little flock!
And every camp was farther away
From the little sacred rock.

And here they swung the wagons down
With rope and chain and stay,
For every wheel was a wheel of fate
And could never return this way—

Or better, wheels of Progress they,
In Civilization's march,
And the Zigzag Pass on the Barlow Road
Is the great triumphal arch.

So this to me is sacred dust,
Though only a "Witches' Trail,"
And every blaze is an epitaph,
And each clod a coffin nail.

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