New in 2017: Please read the prequel to this poem titled, “1816-1819.”
Published in Shadowed Grounds: Poems by Eve Brackenbury (2013). ISBN 9781630686024
1820 won 3rd place in the Kansas City Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 Sonnet contest.
The thing that struck me about them dying
all those years ago wasn’t that they died,
but that their war-less deaths were belying
the hopes of widows and mothers who tried
to keep vigil for God’s guidance and peace.
An expedition of discovery
would end in a cold war, without release;
a failed venture seeking recovery.
Helplessness is just what it is—a curse,
even more so for the men who were there.
Mothers and wives were spared something far worse:
to nurse the sick as death refused to spare
those reeking of scurvy and wasting rot.
A military frontier claimed its lot.
Footnote: In the early 19th century, much of the work of the U.S. military was concerned with exploring and defending its western frontier. The Missouri Expedition, the first significant government sponsored trip up the Missouri River after Lewis and Clark, ended its trek in the fall of 1819, and the wilderness outpost at Camp Council Bluffs, also called Cantonment Missouri, was built. It was to become Fort Atkinson. That fateful winter brought a widespread affliction of scurvy, and nearly all of the soldiers were stricken with the disease. Close to 200 deaths occurred among officers and men of the Sixth U. S. Infantry Regiment and the First U.S. Rifle Regiment. In March of 1820, more than one hundred sick were sent south to Fort Osage in Sibley near present day Kansas City, Missouri to seek early vegetation and a greater chance of recovery. Today, visitors to the Historic Fort Osage will find a monument marker inside the Historic Sibley Cemetery with a list of forty-five men who died there from the 1820 scurvy outbreak. Viewing this marker was the inspiration behind this poem, and the inspiration for my research of this historical event for which very little has been written or archived. I am working on a historical novel based on The Missouri Expedition of 1818-1820.