14 Oct

What a Time on the Way

What a Time On the Way

Neddy he’s a splendid cook,
Always stops beside some brook,
Scrambled eggs three times a day,
Lotsa bread and a big cuppa tay,
And a fol-da-lee-dle-o, fol-da-lee-dle-ay,
Hi-fol-da-lo, what a time on the way.

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


Folklorist Robert Winslow Gordon could not resist making a few song-collecting detours as he traveled from Berkeley, California to a new job at Harvard in 1924. He later recalled that he had spent “too much time on the way, especially in Northern Minnesota, where I got a number of good things.” The good things he got were several recordings of songs sung by of members of the Phillips family of Akeley, Minnesota.

Gordon recorded the above song fragment from Israel Lawrence [Lorentz] Phillips (1883-1967). It is quite similar in content and, to some extent, melody to another song called “How We Got Up to the Woods Last Year” that was collected in Ontario and Michigan.  “What a Time on the Way” references the common practice among itinerant young men to work the harvest in the Dakotas (here referred to as “old D-kotey”) before returning to a winter job in a Minnesota logging camp.

This song’s chorus also brings to mind one of the earliest accounts I have found of lumber camp singing in Minnesota. Any aficionado of traditional folk song will be familiar with the type of nonsense syllables (“fol-da-lee-dle-o,” etc.) here. Perhaps it was a similar chorus that confused J. M. Tuttle of Harpers New Monthly Magazine who witnessed the evening activities in “Moses’s Camp” near the East Branch of the Rum River in March 1867:

Thirty fine-looking, healthy, robust, well-behaved men sat down at the supper-table, and who, when their appetites were sated, broke up the evening in various ways. Some mended their clothes, some darned their socks, some, using the sinews of the deer, obtained of the Indians, for thread, repaired their moccasins, while others employed their time in reading. The hours were relieved, too, by a little entertainment in the shape of music and dancing.  One young man, who had swung the axe all day, rosined up his bow and gave us few lively airs on his fiddle, while two other logmen, who had tramped in twelve inches of snow since the early morn, engaged in a “double shuffle,” or something of the kind, on one of the planks of the floor.  A pleasant-voiced son of Erin sang two or three songs, substituting simple musical sounds where he was unable to recall the words. Others still filled the intervals between the music with conversation on a variety of topics, breaking out now and then in loud, hearty laughter.

(J. M. Tuttle, Harpers New Monthly Magazine Vol 36 Issue 214“Minnesota Pineries” edited by Henry Mills Alden, March 1868)

14 Oct

The Lass of Dunmore

The Lass of Dunmore


As I went a-walking one morning,
Bright Phoebus so clearly did shine,
And the meadow larks warbled melodious,
While the rose in the valleys did twine;
It was down by a grove where I wandered,
A while to repose in the shade,
On my destiny there for to ponder,
It was there I beheld a fair maid.

I raised up on my feet for to view her,
And those tender words I did say,
“Who are you, my fairest of creatures?
How far through this grove do you stray?”
She answered, “Kind sir, I will tell you,
And the truth unto you I deplore,
It’s a matter that’s lately befell me,
My dwelling place is down in Dunmore.

“Oh, once I did love a bold seaman,
And he, too my fond heart had gained,
No mortal on earth could love dearer,
But now he is crossing the main,
With Nelson, that hero of battle,
In the English navy so brave,
Where cannons and guns loud do rattle,
For to fight the proud French on the wave.”

“Then perhaps that your true love is drowned,
And he ne’er will return home again,
For many a man has fallen a victim
With Nelson while crossing the main;
And the same thing might happen to your love,
As it’s happened to others before,
So it’s come with me now, I pray, darling.
And leave the dark shades of Dunmore.”

“Oh, how could I be so unfaithful
To a heart that is constant and true,
To leave my own father’s dwelling
And to venture my fortunes with you?
Oh, the people would call me unconstant,
For it’s truly to him I am swore,
And true lovers ne’er should be parted,
I’ll wait for that lad in Dunmore.”

Then says I, “My fair, tender blossom,
The spring time of life soon will be o’er,
And the October leaves will be falling,
They will fade the fair Rose of Dunmore.”
When I found that her heart was a-yielding,
Like I’ve found it with others before,
Oh, I packed up my all for Renfralen,
And I stole the fair Rose of Dunmore.


Folksong collector and scholar Franz Rickaby hunted for songs in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from 1919 to 1923. Most of his informants were retired lumberjacks, or “shanty-boys,” and Rickaby took interest in how and where they learned their songs. He was also quite interested in the origins of the songs themselves. Most that were written about life in the northwoods were based on older traditional songs and Rickaby concluded, more specifically, that “the Irish street-song was the pattern upon which a liberal portion of the shanty-songs were made.”[1]

In the notes to his Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy, Rickaby points out several “parent” songs that served as models for songs made up by lumbermen. One such parent song is “The Lass of Dunmore.” Rickaby cites it as the model for “The Banks of the Little Eau Pleine” which was authored by Wausau, Wisconsin timber cruiser W.N. “Billy” Allen about the drowning of a raftsman in the Wisconsin Dells. Rickaby made the connection based on a version of the text of “The Lass of Dunmore” printed by Minnesota singer Mike Dean in his songster The Flying Cloud. No melody was ever collected from Dean for “The Lass of Dunmore” but the text does resemble that of the “Little Eau Pleine” and it turns out that the only other version of “The Lass of Dunmore” I know of was collected in Allen’s home province of New Brunswick in the 1960s. Amazingly, it shares its melody with versions of “Little Eau Pleine” collected by Rickaby from both Dean and Ed Springstad of Bemidji.

Here I have married Dean’s text for “The Lass of Dunmore” with his melody used for “The Banks of the Little Auplaine” as recorded by Robert Winslow Gordon in 1924 from Dean’s singing.

[1] Rickaby, Franz Lee. Ballads and Songs of the Shanty Boy.  1926:xxv