31 Oct

Three Nations

PrintMusic! 2004 - [Three Nations]

In the year of eighteen hundred, I believe, and twenty-five,
A story true I’ll tell to you as sure as I’m alive,
It was of three jolly heroes bold who happened to meet by chance,
For the sake of fun each man begun his country to advance.

Refrain (use first two lines of melody):
With your shamrock green, the thistle keen, together with the rose,
Your abundant sons with their swords and guns have oft times faced their foes.

Says George “We are a nation that’s proper neat and tall,
There is no one that can us resist, or break our wooden wall,
Oh, our ships can beat all nations no odds would come again’ ’em,”
“Arrah faith” says Pat “you may well say that when the Irish lads are in ’em.” (refrain)

Says Pat “we are a nation that ramble up and down,
And on the fields of battle we are in thousands found.
Give me the Fág an Bealach boys and the Connaught Rangers too,
And we’ll stand our ground ’gin all the French who fought at Waterloo. (refrain)

Says Andrew “We are a nation and that I’ll not deny,
We’ve never lost a battle, nor from our colors fly.
We have often proved good soldiers true where the bullets like hailstones flew,”
“Oh yes” says Pat “I remember that that day at Waterloo.” (refrain)

So Andrew drank to St. Andrew, for to cause another duel,
And George drank to St. George, who did the dragon kill,
And Pat drank to St. Patrick, and he mentioned Wallace too,
And they all shook hands and blessed the land that’s far from Waterloo.

This rare song harkens back to Napoleon and the English, Scottish and Irish men that fought against him under the English flag. Helene Stratman-Thomas collected it in 1941 from second-generation Scotsman Thomas Hunter [b. 1868] of Galesville, Wisconsin. Hunter learned it on a log drive on the Prairie River north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, from Ross Byers of Michigan who got it from his own Scottish immigrant father. You can hear Stratman-Thomas’ recording of Hunter online via the wonderful Wisconsin Folksong Collection made available by the University of Wisconsin.

Unsatisfied with Hunter’s melody for the song, I borrowed another popular Great Lakes melody when I recorded “The Three Nations” for my CD Minnesota Lumberjack Songs. Since then, I came across a version sung by Beaver Island, Michigan singer Mike J. O’Donnell (recorded in 1938 by Ivan Walton). O’Donnell uses the above air which I think works quite well. O’Donnell (a source for last month’s song as well) learned it from Hughie Boyle of Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The Napoleonic Wars actually had a hand in spurring the northwoods song tradition itself. Napoleon’s blockade British shipping routes to Baltic timber suppliers helped open up Canadian forests as a source for replenishing the British fleet. Timber ships heading from Liverpool to St. John, New Brunswick or Quebec City for Canadian timber brought thousands of war-weary Irish settlers to Canada where they worked in the woods, sang songs and made new lives “far from Waterloo.”

25 Feb

Ye Noble Big Pine Tree

‘Twas on a cold and frosty morning
When the sunshine was adorning
The boughs of ev’ry lofty pine,
Making them in radiance shine.

Through the forest lone I wandered
Where a little brook meandered,
Gurgling o’er the rocks below,
Wading deep through ice and snow.

On its banks and right before me
Stood a pine in stately glory.
The forest king he seemed to be.
He was a noble Big Pine Tree.

I gazed upon his form gigantic.
Thoughts ran through my head romantic.
These were my musings as I stood
And viewed that monarch of the wood.

“For ages you have towered proudly.
The birds have praised you long and loudly.
The squirrels have chattered praise to thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“When the lumberjacks first spy you,
They’ll step up to you and eye you.
With saw and axe they’ll lay you down
On the cold snow-covered ground.

“Your fall will sound like distant thunder,
And fill the birds and squirrels with wonder.
The snow thy winding-sheet will be,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“Were you punky, were you hollow,
You had been a lucky fellow;
Then they would have let you be,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“But seeing you’re so sound and healthy,
You’ll make some lumberman more wealthy.
There’s scads of wealth concealed in thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“They will measure, top, and butt you.
Into saw-logs they will cut you.
The woodsman’s chains will fetter thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“When your branches cease to quiver,
They will haul you to the river,
And down the roll-ways roll you in
Where you’ll have to sink or swim.

“In spring the agile river-driver
Will pick and punch you down the river.
There’ll be little rest for thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“Up the mill-slide they will draw you.
Into lumber they will saw you.
Then they’ll put you in a pile,
Where they’ll let you rest awhile.

“In spring, when gentle showers are falling,
And the toads and birds are squalling,
They will take and raft you in
Where once more you’ll have to swim.

“Over dams and falls they’ll take you,
Where the rocks will tear and break you,
You’ll reach the Mississippi’s breast
Before they’ll let you have a rest.

“Then they’ll sell you to some farmer
To keep his wife and children warmer.
With his team he’ll haul you home
To the prairie drear and lone.

“Into a prairie house he’ll make you,
Where the prairie winds will shake you.
There’ll be little rest for thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.

“The prairie winds will sing around you.
The hail and sleet and snow will pound you,
And shake and wear and bleach your bones
On the prairie drear and lone.

“Then the prairie fires will burn you.
Into ashes they will turn you.
That will be the end of thee,
O ye noble Big Pine Tree.”


In the early 1920s, the above song text was sent in to collector Franz Rickaby (then English professor at UND in Grand Forks, North Dakota) by the song’s writer, Billy “Shan T. Boy” Allen of Wausau, Wisconsin. Allen, a 2nd-generation Irish-Canadian from New Brunswick, fed the northwoods song tradition of the Upper Midwest by composing new ballads based on old song types and repurposing old melodies for stories about his work as a lumberman. His song “The Banks of the Little Eau Pleine” became quite popular in the lumbercamps across the northwoods region.

Rickaby was unsure if “Ye Noble Big Pine Tree” entered tradition at all. However, I found a reference to it in an article about life in northern Minnesota logging camps written by J.C. “Buzz” Ryan:

During the winter of 1918-1919 in a camp north of Mizpah, Patty McLaughlin, a witty Irishman from Northome who could play the violin and loved to sing, would go into the bunkhouse on Sundays and some evenings and would play and sing and get the boys singing with him. He knew all the old songs and sang them very well. However it was “The Banks of the Little Eau Plaine,” “Ye Noble Big Pine Tree” and “The Foreman Young Monroe” that the boys liked the best.

I did some census research on Patty McLaughlin and discovered that he, like Allen (and many others), was also a 2nd-generation Irish-Canadian from New Brunswick who followed lumbering jobs to the St. Croix Valley region. It’s possible that the two men even met eachother and swapped songs in the Wisconsin woods. McLaughlin was a foreman in a camp near Hayward, WI in 1900 (according to the 1900 US Federal Census). Unlike Allen, who stayed in the Wausau area, McLaughlin followed his employment further north to the woods north of my hometown of Bemidji, MN.

Allen sang Rickaby a melody he said came from the song “Will the Weaver.” I heard a recording of Catskills singer Walter Wormuth doing “Bill the Weaver” and preferred it so I took the liberty of swapping it in for my own version above.


01 Aug

The Bigler’s Crew (Laws D8)

The interactive map above includes all the landmarks mentioned in the folksong “The Bigler’s Crew” as collected from Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean (1858-1931) and sung, transcribed and discussed by me below.  Click on a marked location in the map to see its name and the line in the song that references it—or play the video below and follow along!  The map gives a great depiction of the ship’s course as it made its way from Milwaukee to Buffalo with a load of logs (the Bigler was what was known as a “timber drogher”).

The Bigler's Crew

Come all my boys and listen, a song I’ll sing to you,
It’s all about the Bigler and of her jolly crew;
In Milwaukee last October I chanced to get a sight
In the schooner called the Bigler belonging to Detroit.

                Watch her, catch her, jump up on her juber ju,
Give her the sheet and let her slide, the boys will push her through.
You ought to see us howling, the winds were blowing free,
On our passage down to Buffalo from Milwaukee,

It was on a Sunday morning about the hour of ten,
The Robert Emmet towed us out into Lake Michigan;
We set sail where she left us in the middle of the fleet,
And the wind being from the southard, oh, we had to give her sheet. Cho

Then the wind chopped ’round to the sou souwest and blew both fresh and strong,
But softly through Lake Michigan the Bigler she rolled on,
And far beyond her foaming bow the dashing waves did fling,
With every stitch of canvas set, her course was wing and wing. Cho

But the wind it came ahead before we reached the Manitous,
Three dollars and a half a day just suited the Bigler’s crew;
From there unto the Beavers we steered her full and by,
And we kept her to the wind, my boys, as close as she could lie. Cho

Through Skillagelee and Wabble Shanks the entrance to the Straits,
We might have passed the big fleet there if they’d hove to and wait,
But we drove them on before us the nicest ever you saw,
Out into Lake Huron from the Straits of Mackinaw. Cho

We made Presque Isle Light and then we boomed away,
The wind it being fair, for the Isle of Thunder Bay,
But when the wind it shifted, we hauled her on her starboard tack,
With a good lookout ahead for the Light of the Point AuBarques. Cho

We made the Light and kept in sight of Michigan North Shore,
A-booming for the river as we’d oft times done before,
When right abreast Port Huron Light our small anchor we let go,
And the Sweepstakes came alongside and took the Bigler in tow. Cho

The Sweepstakes took eight in tow and all of us fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clare and stuck us on the flats,
She parted the Hunter’s tow line in trying to give relief,
And stem and stern went the Bigler into the boat called Maple Leaf. Cho

The Sweepstakes then she towed us outside the River Light,
Lake Erie for to roam and the blustering winds to fight;
The wind being from the southard we paddled our own canoe,
With her nose pointed for the Dummy, she’s hell bent for Buffalo. Cho

We made the OH and passed long Point, the wind was blowing free,
We howled along the Canada shore, Port Colborne on our lea;
What is it that looms up ahead, so well known as we draw near,
For like a blazing star shone the light on Buffalo Pier. Cho

And now we are safely landed in Buffalo Creek at last,
And under Riggs’ elevator the Bigler she’s made fast,
And in some Lager beer saloon we’ll let the bottle pass,
For we are jolly shipmates and we’ll drink a social glass. Cho

The Bigler’s Crew was one of (at least) 33 songs Robert W. Gordon recorded from Michael Dean’s singing. It was once one of the most widely known Great Lakes songs. The Bigler was a type of ship called a “timber drogher” that was quite slow and sported some rather useless sails (hence the reliance on tug boats). The song pokes fun at the ship while naming many on the landmarks one would pass between Milwaukee and Buffalo, NY. I transcribed Gordon’s recording of Dean and took the text from Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud.

Some of the landmarks required some research to decipher.  Dean’s mention of “the OH” had me stumped until I found another version of the song collected by Joanna Colcord from singer (and amateur song collector) Joseph McGinnis. McGinnis’ version used the spelling “the Eau” which led me to an 1896 article in this magazine (found on Google Books) that used the nickname “The Eau” for Rondeau Harbour, Ontario.

There is more background on this song on the Traditional Ballad Index site here: http://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/LD08.html