Graves at Elkhorn

Hugo, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-12-2003


The poet contemplates the realities of life in the mining --now ghost--towns of Western America by exploring an old graveyard. "Eighty-nine was bad. At least a hundred / children died," the writer muses while walking among the grave markers. The reader recognizes that this settlement is no longer viable: "The last one buried here: 1938."

After describing the arrangement of the markers and the crude fence that defines the burial ground, he ponders why the graveyard is situated so far from the townsite. In an ironic reflection on the mothers' needs to get on with life after the frequent loss of young ones yet still striving to protect the little graves from greedy excavation, the poet says, " . . . a casual glance / would tell you there could be no silver here."


Several of Hugo's short poems address the history of his beloved Montana. He seems to feel the brutal struggle the early settlers had--dealing with the savage winters and the equally savage search for instant riches that marked the early days. Mortality among children in the last half of the 19th century was very high, especially from epidemic disease such as smallpox, diphtheria, and typhoid. The primitive living conditions of the pioneers contributed to these losses. Yet, life must go on since survival of the remaining family members depended upon continuation of the daily struggles. There was no time to grieve or look back.


Collection first published in 1973; The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir was nominated for the National Book Award.

Primary Source

The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir


Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press

Place Published