IN MEMORIAMLIEUTENANT WILLIAM BEEKER BILLINGS was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was killed in action 1942 in the South Pacific. A Purdue University graduate of 1938, he earned his in 1940 at Pensacola, Florida. Thereafter he served on the U.S.S. Indianapolis as a naval aviator.
The following poem, written during his college life, relates to his forebears, settlers of Indiana in 1819. M.B.
Lt. William Beeker Billings
Pretty Prairie Cemetery
A State Is Born THE forest great grew hushed and still,
Intense of ear, and vigilant;
It sensed within its vast domain
Pervasion of intruders strange.
Feet, moccasined and soft of tread,
The chatter of facetious squirrels,
The jabber of blue-hooded jays,
The bell-like calls of cardinals red;
And voicings of the many folk
Of thick entangled underbrush,
Engaged in play--in tasks of like;
And here and there a splash of tints:
A brilliant plumed denizen
Has flashed its way through golden beams
Of filtered sunlight, agitated
And enthralled by silken webs
That cling tenaciously, to bring
Their makers life-sustaining food:
Such things as these this wood had known.
Here lurked grim tragedy--wild beasts
Who stalked their prey, that prey in turn
The stalker. But! here, too, were peace
And beauty, melody--God's Will
Here reigned supreme throughout
AND now a sound which ne'er before
Had pierced so far into the heart
Of this the virgin wilderness,
Relentlessly advances deep
Into its depths: a rhapsody
Metallic. Paled to significance,
The forest sounds abruptly cease;
And high on limb, in act of flight,
A somber crow sees fit to pause--
A deer, uncertain and inert,
Is poised with foreleg high:
Out through the hushed wilderness
Rings out the axe so clear and sharp.
Relentlessly and hungrily
It cuts and bites its way into
The density impregnable;
A roadway, scarcely adequate,
And rough, is slowly forming for
The caravan that soon will come.
AT last the swinging pendulous
Does cease, its task for now complete;
For it has hewn its way up to
A clearing small, in sunlight bathed.
The towering axeman pauses on
The clearing's edge, surveying there
Terrain of finished artistry,
So peaceful, quiet, still, it seemed
Possessed of charm intangible
And furtive. But the scene's no more
Compelling than the man himself.
Except for his great size, he is
The typical backwoodsman, dressed
In simple leather vest, a shirt
Rough-spun and open at the throat
And dyed with stain of walnut ooze,
And trousers made of buckskin, tucked
Into the knee-length moccasins
Comprise his whole attire. No gear
Of any kind adorns his head;
His hair is thick and bushy--blonde,
And backward combed in flowing waves.
Deliberating, he wipes the sweat
From off his brow; removes the bits
Of twigs and bark entangled in
His hair. Upon his face, his arms,
Are many marks inflicted by
The berry bushes wild, and thick
Entanglements that struck him as
He swung his axe. And gratefully
He now seeks out the coolness of
The grass beneath a maple tree.
The untamed horse that tosses mane
On green savannas scarcely could
Have moved with freedom more than he;
The perfect derivation of
His limbs and muscle signifies
It came from conscious vigor and
Habitual action of the one
Accustomed not to gay salon
And walks prescribed to fashion, but
To rough-cast paths of danger and
The voiceless solitudes of waste.
A half-hour's trek back through the wood,
We find the caravan. Here, too,
Is reason for its tardiness:
Upon a keg of nails is propped
The leading wagon's left rear shaft.
The wheel had broken as it lurched
Into a hole concealed by brush.
The heavy cargo (food supplies
And household assets) plus the weight
Of wagon, cumbersome but strong,
Had proved too much for its own good.
In readiness for just such thing
A wheel is carried as a spare,
Which now is being placed upon
The axle bare, to carry on.
FOUR wagons make the party up --
The first three wagons, 'cause of weight,
Are drawn by oxen--two to each:
The last, a buck-board (light but firm),
And pulled by two black horses strong,
(As riding horses also used
When e'er the family settled down
To bide a spell in quarters brief).
The long and weary journey's been
With hardships and with danger fraught.
The day draws near its resting place
And so the families hope to reach
Encampment e'er dark night arrives.
They do not wish to be hemmed in,
And being forced to spend the night
In wilderness just such as this
Is not to be looked forward to.
In dead of night the forest rules
With firmer hand, and cries are heard
That chill the blood: on every side
The shadows creep--then seem to leap
Upon us. "What was that!" -- No more
Than swaying bush or rustling leaves:
In situations such as this
We human beings seek bright fires
And hope to lose foreboding thoughts
In warm companionship and cheer.
THE wheel in order, everyone
Now takes his place. Excitedly
The children clamber to their seats,
The women make their last safe-guards
Against the jolting ride to come.
One wagon's been prepared to make
The riding just as pleasant as
It possibly can be: upon
The wagon-bed materials
And blankets have been spread, and propped
Against the sidings are some pads
To guard against the sudden bumps
And frequent swerving, tipping lists
That fairly throw their bodies hard
Against the wooden sides despite
Their every effort to retain
A sense of equilibrium.
The men prefer to walk--besides,
The progress oxen make is not
Enough to force them to exert
Themselves. Then, too, there needs
Must be a watchful eye at play
Along the way to guard against
Such accidents as happened to
That left rear wheel. When swinging not
Their ever present axes, guns
Are couched by bended arm or gripped
In hand. There's meat at hand in great
Abundance: squirrels and fowl there are
Aplenty--bear and deer as well,
Providing steaks and venison.
Wild berries serve as fruit, the while
Diversion's offered in the form
Of acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts.
And bringing up the rear we find
Some livestock, tended by the boys
Of age. Two shorthorn cows and Bess
The holstein furnish milk and cream
And golden butter plenty. Stowed
Away in wagon number three
Are beans and corn and hard tack stale,
A slab of bacon, coffee beans,
Coarse flour, bread and cereals.
Two cocks, four hens, three geese remain,
And travel caged within a coop
That's strapped beneath the buck-board's
Seat. We can't forget old Fritz (the dog),
As well as Queen the bird-dog mate.
THE caravan at last has reachedTHE morning found our friends well on
The clearing small where last we left
The giant axeman. Twilight's creeped
Across the place--the group begins
To set up camp; they've stopped not far
From yonder big tree that stands out in
The center. Young ones romp and play
About enjoying brief recess from
Quarters cramped, the while are grouped
The wagons and the tethered stock
In such a manner as to form
A rough protective circle 'bout
The crackling campfire bright and warm.
The women go about their work
Preparing supper for their men.
Two wagons will provide a place
In which the women folk will sleep;
(The men sleep rolled in blankets, feet
Toward the fire, and guns at hand
In readiness for instant use.)
Mechanically they eat their food:
Black coffee, beans, and venison--
Hard bread, and buttered ears of corn.
Almost too tired to eat, they seek
Exhausted sleep. Though on the trail
Since day had dawned, ten miles is all
They've come. It is indeed a scene
To stir the heart, these pioneers
Of ours to see all grouped about
The glowing embers, tired, content.
There's courage here in all its glow--
Determination, hope, and love of home
And family. And dominant
Among them is the towering man
Whose axe had hushed the forest great;
He flashes cheer, encouragement,
With splendid smile and hearty laugh.
He seems so tireless--one would not
Believe that he had done the work
Of two. He bids them all retire
For on the morrow all shall see
The land they'll call for e'er their own;
For that which he'd been looking for
Was but a day away from there.
Soon all was still within the camp
Except for movement now and then
Among the stock; a dying flame;
And in the moonlight fused with night,
A figure tall, erect, alert,
Stood guard with rifle crooked on arm.
The breathing of the wilderness
And Whisperings of the nearby stream
All came to him like music soft,
Familiar--this was home to him,
No better friend had he than here.
The way. The pace had quickened now--
Excitement reigned within their thoughts
For home was not far off. 'Twas 'bout
The middle of the afternoon
When first they broke the barrier
Of wilderness. Into a long
And narrow valley, bordered by
Its sloping wooded hills of green
They drove--and paused. Without a word
They gazed upon their future home.
A stream meandered amiably
Through thick, tall grass, and sparkled in
The sun. Wild berry bushes, slumps
Of trees, and flowering plants ablaze
With hues and tints were spread upon
The verdant earth. With hearts that sang
And hopes that dared discouragements
The families three here built their homes.
The axe once more was heard to swing:
Rough cabins staunch and sturdy came
To be, and cords of wood were cut.
The fields with oxen ploughed and dragged:
And corn was planted, grain was sowed,
The garden plots laid out with care:
And thus a state is born to us.
I KNOW a place where ends the trail,
So long ago begun by him
Who towered above and led the rest:Here snugly sleeping next the wood,
Go north and east of Battle Ground--
Turn left at John VaNatta's farm
And follow there the road that winds,
Until you come upon a church
All made of wood, and small and white.
Is "Pretty Prairie" Cemetery.
If by chance you were to come
Upon this spot when setting sun
Casts golden, mellow beams of light
Against the weather-beaten stones,
You'd find a world of utter peace
And beauty--hidden memories.
I OVERLOOK the valley there
And see the years returned where
Once I lay by yonder brook
And hoped and prayed a fish I'd hook.
HOW carefree then was I
With only peace and beauty by--
No cares, no sighs save of rest,
As I with golden rays of sun was blest.
Note from Thomas Billings: "...this piece came from oral history, conversations between Bill and his grandparents and great-grandparents.
Two leaders of this earliest of pioneer groups were Daniel Carr and Daniel Beeker. The Carr's and the Beeker's and Billings are all represented
in the cemetery (Pretty Prairie). The Carrs may be buried in a family plot between Chalmers and Brookston."
Graciously submitted by Thomas Billings, a nephew of William Beeker Billings.
Margaret Billings and
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