A State Is  Born

By Lieutenant William Beeker Billings


IMEMORIAM
LIEUTENANT 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 
Tippecanoe Township



 
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
        The growth.

       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 reached
        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 morning found our friends well on
        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:
 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.
        Here snugly sleeping next the wood,
        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."
 

Tippecanoe County INGenWeb Project


Published by Margaret Billings 1944

Graciously submitted by Thomas Billings, a nephew of William Beeker Billings.

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