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.

09 Dec

Kettle River


PrintMusic! 2004 - [Kettle River]

On the banks of Kettle River, among swamps and bogs,
We’ve been busy all winter getting out logs,
To stay through to springtime it is our design,
And the firm that we work for is called the O’Brien.

Refrain: Fol the diddle eye doh right fol the dol day

There’s Billy and George, they are well known to all,
And that ragged old veteran named Old Man MacColl,
There’s two gangs of swampers whose names I don’t mind,
But I’ll never forget the name Johnny O’Brien.
Refrain

Noble Wilson is our foreman, we all know him well,
He runs through the woods, he curses like hell,
Turns us out in the morning in rain or sunshine,
And works us like blazes for Johnny O’Brien.
Refrain

He’ll pull out his watch and look up to the sun,
Saying, “Hurry up boys, let’s get this work done,
Pitch in there you sawyers and down with the pine,
We’ll all go to Hinckley when we’re done with O’Brien.”
Refrain

Charley Olson is our cook, boys, I’m telling no lies,
He’s a dandy at putting up puddings and pies,
He’ll fill you with grub till your bellies will shine,
You never go hungry when working for O’Brien.
Refrain

Hurry up boys and let’s get it all done,
The job’s nearly completed, we’ll soon all be gone,
But in years to come we will all bear in mind,
The years that we worked for old Johnny O’Brien.
Refrain

_________

In addition to the “come-all-ye” type ballads so popular in northwoods lumber camps, shanty-boys (lumberjacks) also enjoyed lighthearted, extremely localized songs celebrating, and often lampooning, the personalities found in their particular camp. Collector Edith Fowke documented numerous examples of these “camp songs” in Ontario.

The above is my own adaptation of a rare Minnesota-based camp song that originated in an 1881 camp on the Kettle River near Hinckley, Minnesota. “Kettle River” was sung “lustily” by an 88 year-old John Stewart of Port Wing, Wisconsin, for historian Agnes Larson in 1932. In her 1949 book The White Pine Industry in Minnesota, Larson wrote that “somehow the old camp came back to life in [Stewart’s] soul as he sang.” Unfortunately, some of the words did not come back to Mr. Stewart so I added a few here and there to flesh out his version. Since Larson’s book included no melody, I chose a version of a melody used for several Ontario camp songs documented by Fowke.

The boss Johnny O’Brien mentioned in the song was most likely the father of Irish-American lumber baron William O’Brien. An 1896 obituary in The Hinckley Enterprise says “John O’Brien, an old time logger, and resident of Taylors Falls, and father of Wm. And Jos. O’Brien, loggers . . . has been a prominent logger on the St. Croix for the past 40 years, the major portion of the time being in Pine County.” Like many other early loggers in this area, John was born to Irish parents in Canada and came to Minnesota following logging jobs. His son William made his first million in Pine County, lived in a mansion next door to the governor’s mansion her in St. Paul and is the man for whom William O’Brien State Park is named. I also found evidence that William was a fishing buddy of Pine County resident and singer Mike Dean who turns up frequently in this column.

I recorded this song with guitar accompaniment on my album Minnesota Lumberjack Songs.