Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Ballad of Pete French

A more or less true story. In the mid-eighties, you could still see stretches of spliced fence near the shoreline of Malheur Lake.

In eighteen-seventy and two
Pete French and his vaqueros,
a herd of shorthorn heifer cows,
a rifle and some arrows

rode into Blitzen country where
the grass was green and tall
and water ran all summer long.
"It's mine," said Pete. "That's all."

A hundred sixty thousand acres
of A-prime grazing land,
the rivers from Steens Mountain's flanks
lay in Pete French's hand.

All round the land lay sweltering
in dead high-desert drought
and Pete put barbed-wire fences up
to keep his neighbors out.

They came by night and cut the wires
and Pete could not defend 'em,
you still can see the splices where
his riders had to mend 'em.

Well, lawsuits followed; talk was grim
round Malheur County fires.
"We ought to shoot the bastard down,
instead of cutting wires!"

Ed Oliver, he owned a spread
surrounded by Pete's ranch
and won a right-of-way to drive
his cows down to the branch.

'Twas Christmas week in Oregon,
word came to Frenchglenn town
that Ed and Pete met in a field
and Ed shot Pete French down.

He claimed that Pete attacked him first.
Acquitted by the jury,
Ed went free while French's kin
stood stunned with grief and fury.

I won't declare a right or wrong
but learn from French's slaughter:
don't ever fence your neighbors out
'cause folk will kill for water.

--for readwritepoem

Collection available! Knocking from Inside


Anonymous said...

This is fantastic, Tiel. Brilliant story telling.

Nathan said...

Totally great -- a real ballad in subject and form.

SweetTalkingGuy said...

Great story, told true to form!

Lucy said...

I liked this, and wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog; I don't often comment but whenever I come I always spend too long here!

Lirone said...

A true modern ballad - with a real swing to it!

Lirone said...

Very nice blend of horror, humour (I too enjoyed the idea of calling Dracula dad!) and sensuality.

Here's my ballad: The way back

Dan Gambiera said...

Yes, water is one of the few things people will reliably kill each other over. There's pretty much nothing else that's nearly as important.

quilly said...

Very nicely done. Old west in theme, but modern in tone, yet the two mesh well.

Anonymous said...

great integration of research/fact/info!

tom said...

Tiel, I am always impressed by your skill with prosody. Excellent piece.