27 Dec

What a Time on the Way (Revisited)

Now that the harvest days are through,
To old D-kotey we will bid you adieu,
Back to the jack pines we will go,
To haul these saw logs in the snow.  

Fol-da-lee-dle-o, fol-da-lee-dle-ay,
Hi-fol-da-lo, what a time on the way.

Now you might say that we felt big,
We were in a silver mounted rig,                          
For Akeley town we hoisted our sails,        
They all thought we were the Prince of Wales.

Neddy he’s a splendid cook,
Always stops beside some brook,
Scrambled eggs three times a day,
Lotsa bread and a big cuppa tay.

We jogged along til we came through,
There we met with the rest of the crew,
Handsome boys both young and stout,
The pick of the town there is no doubt.

Into the buggy we jerked our boots,
You can bet our teamster fed long oats,
As to the camp we drove along,
We all joined up in a sing song.

We stayed all winter ‘til we got through,
And started home with the same old crew.
Now we’re home, we got our pay,
We think of the time that we had on the way.

——–

“What a Time on the Way” was one of only two songs Gordon recorded from Israel Lawrence Phillips (1883-1967) who lived near Akeley, Minnesota. Israel was the son of Reuben Phillips who was also recorded by Gordon.

Israel was the first of his farming family to come to Minnesota from Iowa around 1910. He settled south of Akeley near Chamberlain. The Red River Lumber Company, whose sawmill was in Akeley, was quite active at the time so it is likely that Israel worked for them in some capacity. The mention of heading back to haul “saw logs in the snow” after working on the harvest in “old D-kotey” matches the common practice of balancing seasonal harvest work in the Dakotas with a winter job in the pineries of northern Minnesota. Lumberjack Ed Springstead of Bemidji told Franz Rickaby in 1923 that “Harvesting in Dakota was about as common a practice for the lumber jacks… …as lumbering in the winter for the farmer boys.”

Like most songs in the collection, Gordon only recorded two verses of Phillips’ version. Unlike most other songs Gordon collected, he unfortunately did not obtain a manuscript version to flesh out the full text. I featured Gordon’s two verse fragment (verses one and three above) in the October 2013 Northwoods Songs. To create the longer version above, I adapted some verses from similar songs collected in Ontario by Edith Fowke.

Special thanks to everyone that has supported The Lost Forty Project this year!  Please consider taking the Minnesota Folksong Challenge and learning a song yourself!

02 Dec

Shanty Man’s Life

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A shanty man’s life is a wearisome one,
Although some say it’s free from care,
It’s the swinging of an axe from morning till night,
In the forest wild and drear,

Or sleeping in the shanties dreary
When the winter winds do blow,
But as soon as the morning star does appear,
To the wild woods we must go.

At four o’clock in the morning our old greasy cook calls out,
“Hurrah, boys, for it’s day,”
And from broken slumber we are aroused,
For to pass away the long winter’s day.

Transported as we are from the maiden so fair,
To the banks of some lonely stream,
Where the wolf, bear and owl with their terrifying howl,
Disturb our nightly dreams.

Transported from the glass and the smiling little lass,
Our life is long and drear;
No friend in sorrow high for to check the rising sigh,
Or to wipe away the briny tear.

Had we ale, wine or beer our spirits for to cheer,
While we’re in those woods so wild,
Or a glass of whiskey shone while we are in the woods alone,
For to pass away our long exile.

When spring it does come in double hardship then begins,
For the water is piercing cold;
Dripping wet will be our clothes and our limbs they are half froze,
And our pike poles we scarce can hold.

O’er rocks, shoals and sands give employment to old hands,
And our well bended raft we do steer,
Oh, the rapids that we run, they seem to us but fun,
We’re the boys of all slavish care.

Shantying I’ll give o’er when I’m landed safe on shore,
And I’ll lead a different life,
No longer will I roam, but contented stay at home,
With a pretty little smiling wife.

_________________

A note on an early broadside printing of this song about the hardships of winter logging work says it was composed by George W. Stace of “La Crosse Valley, Wis[consin].” In addition to the version above, from Minnesota singer Michael Dean, Franz Rickaby also collected a version from Albert Hannah of my hometown of Bemidji. Rickaby noted that “shanty boy” was a more common term than “lumberjack” among old time loggers who worked in the live-in winter camps where the bunkhouse was referred to as the “shanty.”
The song depicts the trials of enduring a winter without access to liquor (or female companionship). In his Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman, William M. Doerflinger writes that “after about 1860 liquor fell under ban in almost all camps. Loggers put up with this hardship, sometimes making quick trips downriver to ‘see the dentist.’” In an oral history interview with Wirt Mineau (b. 1878) who logged on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix Valley, Mineau said “No, there wasn’t any liquor allowed in the camps, but sometimes they had some.”

The melody used by Dean (and Hannah) is related to that of the Irish song “The Boyne Water.” Versions of the old ballad “Sir Neil and Glengyle” also use a similar air.

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Dean’s grave in Pine City (his birth year was actually probably 1858 or 1857)

The Lost Forty arranged Dean’s version of “Shanty Man’s Life” and shot our monthly video at the North West Company Fur Post in Pine City just a few miles from where Michael Dean is buried. The above transcription is my attempt to capture Dean’s singing of the song which you can hear for yourself at the Minnesota Folksong Collection website. Dean varies the melody in the second verse. Randy and I made some changes to the text and melody for our version.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

02 Nov

The Hunter’s Death


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Ye hunters brave and bold I pray attend
To this relation hear what I have seen
’Twas of a hunter bold
’Twill make your blood run cold
To hear the story told
How he suffered there.

To hunt when he was young was his delight
And when to manhood grown his favorite
To hunt the fallow deer
The roe buck and the bear
The turkey coon and hair
With smaller game.

As people settled round on hill and dale
No ven’son to be found his hunting failed
He went in forty nine
Towards the northern line
It was his hull design
To hunt the grove.

And now comes on the day that was his last
Old Boris [Boreas?] blew away an awful blast
It both rain hale and snow
The stormy winds did blow
They chilled his nature so
Poor man was lost.

All in the drifting snow laid himself down
No further could he go there he was found
His powder so complete
Was strewed from head to feet
That the vermin might not eat
His body there.

You’d wish to know his name and where he’s from
And of what stock he came and where he’s born
He’s of as noble a race
As any in the place
His name ’twas John Lomace
Born in Westfield.

—————

We stay on the hunting theme this month with a wonderfully obscure and fascinating song from the repertoire of Reuben W. Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota. “The Hunter’s Death” was one of 22 handwritten song texts Phillips sent to collector Robert W. Gordon in March 1924. Upon receiving the songs from Phillips, Gordon was drawn to “The Hunter’s Death” in particular for its “peculiar stanza form.” He published the song’s text in the August 20, 1924 edition of his pulp magazine column “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” calling it “a curious little song, particularly in its use of the short but effective line without rime at the end of each stanza.” Soon after, Gordon hauled his Edison cylinder recording machine from Berkeley, California to Akeley to record Phillips singing the song himself. Gordon remembered the song several years later when fellow song-catcher Joanna Colcord sent him another song collected in Vermont called “The Damsel’s Tragedy” with much the same form:

Indulgent parents dear I pray attend
To this relation hear which I have penned
A deeper tragedy
You never knew, for why?
A mother’s cruelty
Ruined her son.

Given that both songs can be traced to Vermont, “The Damsel’s Tragedy” may have been the template for “The Hunter’s Death.”

Phillips told Gordon that “The Hunter’s Death” was composed in northern New York around 1849 in the vicinity of Hopkinton where Phillips himself was born. It was based on an actual man, John Lomace, who lived in the area. Westfield, Vermont is about 100 miles east of Hopkinton on the other side of Lake Champlain. Both towns are quite near the “northern line” where one crosses into Canada.

Last month, I launched the Minnesota Folksong Challenge. This is your chance to get involved in reviving the folksong heritage of Minnesota! Learn a song from the Minnesota Folksong Collection and post a video on Youtube of yourself singing it. Send me the link and I’ll add you to the growing collection of videos here! St. Paul singer John Wenstrom took the Challenge and learned “The Hunter’s Death.” You can see John’s video at the Minnesota Folksong Collection site along with the new video of the Lost Forty doing our version of this song.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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