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.

03 Oct

Vandiemens Land (Revisited)

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Come, all you lads of pleasure and rambling boys beware,
Whenever you go hunting with your hounds, your gun and snare,
Whenever you go a-hunting with the valleys at your command,
Think of the tedious journey, boys, going to Vandiemens Land.

There was Joe Brown from Nottingham, Jack Williams and Jack Jones,
They were three as jolly fellows, so well their country knows;
They were taken one night near the bay, all with their gun in hand,
And for fourteen years transported unto Vandiemens Land.

There was a girl from Nottingham, Sally Simons was her name,
For seven years transported for carrying on the game;
Our Captain bought her freedom and he married her off hand,
She gave us good usage going to Vandiemens Land.

The landing port we went to was on a foreign shore,
The planters they surrounded us, full a score or more,
They yoked us up like horses and sold us out off hand,
And they hitched us to the plow, me boys, to plow Vandiemens Land.

The houses that they built for us was made of sods and clay,
The beds we had to sleep on were made of rotten hay;
Oh, rotten hay for beds, me boys, and slumber if you can,
Oh, they gave us the very worst usage while on Vandiemens Land,

Last night as I lay down to sleep I had a pleasant dream,
I dreamt I was back in Ireland, down by a purling stream,
With my Irish girl beside me and her at my command,
But when I awoke my heart was broke, off on Vandiemens Land.

————–
We return this month to another song from the repertoire of Irish-Minnesotan singer Michael C. Dean that I wrote about first in July 2013. You can now hear the 1924 field recording of Dean singing “Vandiemens Land” at the Minnesota Folksong Collection site.

It is fascinating to imagine what this song’s story of convicted poachers deported to Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land) might have meant to Dean – himself an avid hunter. When Dean’s parents left Ireland around 1840, illegal hunting was still punishable by “transportation.” It was also sometimes a crime of necessity during the frequent food shortages of those years. In Minnesota, 50 years later, Dean enjoyed frequent hunting and fishing excursions much the same way modern Minnesotans do.

Dean lived in Pine County, Minnesota from about 1885 through 1917 and did much hunting and fishing each fall during those years. His excursions were often mentioned in the colorfully-written local section of the Pine County Pioneer:

“Mike Dean and party have returned from their hunting and fishing expedition up to Grindstone Lake. Mike doesn’t tell any big fish stories but says they had an immense time and when asked if they were successful, merely winks.” (Oct. 14, 1887)

“M.C. Dean, J.J. Brennan, A. Anderson and Axel Hanson went on a hunting expedition on Tuesday and expected to bring back some game, but lo! Not even a frog did they get.” (August 30, 1889)

The lure of the wilds caught Mike Dean and he skidooed north over the N. P. [Northern Pacific Railroad] early Wednesday morning. The hunting “yarns” spun by returning sports got on Mike’s nerves. He took along a small arsenal. Had he went south, one would be led to believe that he was heading for Mexico to annihilate Huerta and his ilk [Victoriano Huerta was a major player in the ongoing Mexican Revolution that year]. (Nov. 21, 1913)

Apparently Dean wasn’t much for telling “fish stories” but I expect his singing of “Vandiemens Land” may have been popular with his hunting friends.

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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.