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Chaos Manor Special Reports

Jim Bludso

Thursday, September 12, 2002

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For some reason I woke up the morning of September 12, 2002, remembering this poem we memorized in high school. It's not a great poem, but it's a good one, and tells an American story of ordinary heroism, one worth remembering.



 Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle

 John Hay. 1838–1905

WALL, no! I can't tell whar he lives,  
  Because he don't live, you see;  
Leastways, he 's got out of the habit  
  Of livin' like you and me.  
Whar have you been for the last three year          5
  That you haven't heard folks tell  
How Jimmy Bludso passed in his checks  
  The night of the Prairie Belle?  
He weren't no saint,—them engineers  
  Is all pretty much alike,—   10
One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill  
  And another one here, in Pike;  
A keerless man in his talk was Jim,  
  And an awkward hand in a row,  
But he never flunked, and he never lied,—   15
  I reckon he never knowed how.  
And this was all the religion he had,—  
  To treat his engine well;  
Never be passed on the river;  
  To mind the pilot's bell;   20
And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,—  
  A thousand times he swore  
He 'd hold her nozzle agin the bank  
  Till the last soul got ashore.  
All boats has their day on the Mississip,   25
  And her day come at last,—  
The Movastar was a better boat,  
  But the Belle she wouldn't be passed.  
And so she come tearin' along that night—  
  The oldest craft on the line—   30
With a nigger squat on her safety-valve,  
  And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.  
The fire bust out as she clared the bar,  
  And burnt a hole in the night,  
And quick as a flash she turned, and made   35
  For that willer-bank on the right.  
There was runnin' and cussin', but Jim yelled out,  
  Over all the infernal roar,  
"I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank  
  Till the last galoot 's ashore."   40
Through the hot, black breath of the burnin' boat  
  Jim Bludso's voice was heard,  
And they all had trust in his cussedness,  
  And knowed he would keep his word.  
And, sure's you 're born, they all got off   45
  Afore the smokestacks fell,—  
And Bludso's ghost went up alone  
  In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.  
He weren't no saint,—but at jedgment  
  I'd run my chance with Jim,   50
'Longside of some pious gentlemen  
  That wouldn't shook hands with him.  
He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,—  
  And went for it thar and then;  
And Christ ain't a going to be too hard   55
  On a man that died for men.