Poem: The Siege of Devil’s Pass

Way down south a long time ago,

When folks were content and life moved slow,

Was a place where a cactus wouldn’t dare grow,

And they called it Devil’s Pass.

 

Few people knew and even less cared,

That out on that land where the ground was bare,

A iron-willed family had built a house there,

The homestead of the Hayfords.

 

Out in that desert they chose to dwell,

In an old wooden shack by a hand-dug well,

They paid their taxes and kept to themselves,

Until one unfortunate day,

 

When old Grandpa Hayford rode home from town,

Carrying a letter and wearing a frown,

He gathered the family and sat ’em all down,

And said, “We’ve got some trouble.

 

“Them government folks mean to take our land,

Put a railway here where our little home stands,

I tried to protest but they don’t give a damn,

Us folks mean nothing to them.”

 

The family was shocked, “Pa, what’ll we do?”

He said, “Well I can’t speak for all of you,

But I’ll die here before I let ’em come through,

I ain’t got but one home.”

 

The family conferred and said, “It’s agreed,

We’ll stay on this land as long as we breathe,

If they come around here they’ll see us get mean,

This house is all we’ve got.”

 

So months went by and the deadline passed,

For the Hayford clan to leave Devil’s Pass,

And the trucks and machines started rolling in fast,

Unprepared for what they met.

 

A mile from the house a small earthen mound,

With a sign that read: Take your railway around,

Anyone trespassing on this here ground,

Is taking a mighty risk.

 

But the foreman scoffed and said, “Roll ’em out,

We can’t build the rails ’til we knock down that house,

They’ve had enough time to pack up and get out,

Let’s get the equipment in.”

 

As the first truck passed the threatening sign,

A crack from the hills—a gunshot was fired,

In front of the truck a puff of dust climbed,

Where landed the warning shot.

 

Well the trucks backed up and the men ran off,

That bullet had told them more than enough,

The Hayfords were not the kind to bluff,

They were determined to stay.

 

So the next day came some men of the law,

With rifles armed—and a warrant, what’s more,

Intending to kick down the Hayford door,

But they never got past the sign.

 

Shots were fired, again from the hills,

But these were not warnings, blood was spilled,

The lawmen retreated, two were killed,

And the Hayford house remained.

 

It took three days for the lawmen to trace,

The Hayford men to their hiding place,

From where they kept watch on their firing range,

It was high up in the hills.

 

Amid jagged rocks, in a sliver of shade,

The lawmen spotted the mouth of a cave,

It was where the Hayford gunmen lay,

They had them cornered now.

 

The lawmen took rifles and made an advance,

But even so armed they stood not a chance,

For Hayfords could shoot before they could stand,

They raised them mighty tough.

 

Fast and fierce the fight played out,

In the midst of the shooting old Pa gave a shout,

“Dammit, Dan! Why you sittin’ about?

Get up and shoot your gun!”

 

There in the corner at the back of the cave,

Sat young Daniel Hayford looking ashamed,

He looked up at Pa but what could he say?

He’d forgot to bring a gun.

 

“Dammit,” said Pa, “You’ve got rocks in your head!

We need every man or we’ll end up dead,

Remember we’re trying to save the homestead,

What weapon have you got?”

 

Now Dan was not particularly bright,

And he’d never proved much good in a fight,

But Ma always said he’d turn out all right,

He was a Hayford after all.

 

He reached in his pocket and took out a blade,

Too small to be deadly but strong and well made,

Pa said, “You’ll ruin the Hayford name,

Bringing a knife to a gunfight.”

 

Young Dan said nothing and Pa rolled his eyes,

“Just keep your head down then, stay out of sight,

I’ve got enough to do without saving your life,

What’s the matter with that kid?”

 

The gunfight raged and soon was won,

The Hayfords watched the lawmen run,

Back down the hill in the setting sun,

And the Hayford house remained.

 

The next day the lawmen came again,

With at least two dozen extra men,

But not to attack—they had a new plan,

It was the Siege of Devil’s Pass.

 

Men were stationed around the hills,

Their guns were drawn and their eyes were peeled,

Every route of escape was surely sealed,

The Hayfords were caught in the snare.

 

Now the Hayford men were rugged and hard,

And few men were half as cunning as Pa,

This turn of events didn’t catch them off guard,

They’d brought a sack of supplies.

 

And so ensued a battle of will,

But two days in, surrounded still,

The Hayford boys had eaten their fill,

And all that remained were the cans.

 

Cans of corn and cans of beans,

Cans of peaches, cans of cream,

Enough to feed them for two weeks,

If only they could get them open.

 

And so set in a great despair,

As the Hayfords sulked over tins of pears,

“Are you sure there’s not a can opener there?”

And hunger broke them down.

 

Then those wild and die hard males,

Considered surrender and going to jail,

The fight was over, their mission had failed,

Their food supply was gone.

 

But then young Daniel stood and said,

“Well hang on, guys, we’re not done yet,

Now where did I put it? Here it is, yes—

My trusty little pen knife.”

 

Suddenly Daniel looked a real man,

With his almighty power to open a can,

The men all cheered and cheered him again,

Young Dan had saved the day.

 

He opened the cans with relative ease,

The men all feasted on corned beef and peas,

And Daniel watched on, thoroughly pleased,

As he sat in the mouth of the cave.

 

Then Pa looked up from his empty can,

And said with a fright, “Hey, watch out, Dan!

Get away from there—stay as low as you can,

You’re likely to be seen.”

 

Dan peered out of the mouth of the cave,

“There’s no one there, Pa. It’s okay,”

He stood and looked down on the barren plain,

It was the last thing that he saw.

 

His head rocked back as they heard the shot,

The knife in Dan’s hand then loosed and dropped,

He slumped and fell right there on the spot,

And the blood flowed from his head.

 

Pa, in the grip of a grief-stricken rage,

Ran like a madman out of the cave,

Shooting wild without any aim,

Determined to kill them all.

 

The other men followed, firing fast,

A brave, but hopeless, final charge,

They fought like Hayfords to the very last,

And on those hills they died.

 

The dust settled and the trucks advanced,

To lay the rails through Hayford land,

But the work was stopped before it began,

And the workmen never came back.

 

Apparently, near the Hayford house,

Was found an endangered species of mouse,

The railway was moved fifteen miles south,

To save the lonely rodents.

 

And the Hayford house remained.

 

© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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