10 May

By Trait I’m a Raftsman (Jack Haggerty)

By trait I’m a raftman, where the white waters roll,
My name is engraved on each rock and sand stone,
From Greenvill to Grandvill I am very well known,
My name is Jack Hagidy the pride of the town.

My troubles I will tell you without any delay,
Of a dear little damsel my heart stole away,
She was the black’s Smith only daughter by the flat River side,
And I always intended for to make her my bride.

I dressed her in jewels embroiderys and lace,
And the costliest velvet her eyes could embrace,
I took her to dances to parties and Balls,
And Sundays boat riding where the white waters roll.

I worked on the River till I made quite a stake,
I was sturdy and steadfast neither gambled nor drank,
I gave her my wages the same to keep safe,
I begrudged that girl nothing that I had on this earth.

One day in Plat River a letter I received,
Saying defy all good promises, my self I realise,
She was married to another not long delay,
And the next time I saw her she would ne’er be a maid.

Her mother Jane Tucker I lay all the blame,
She has caused her to leave me and blackened my name,
She has cast off the rigens that God soon would tie,
And have left me a rambler untill the day that I die.

Not it is here in Plat River for me there’s no rest,
I will sholder my Pevie and I will go West,
I will go to mont Sagin [?] toward the red setting sun,
Leave behind me Plat River and the false hearted one.

Now come all ye bold Raftmen with hearts brave and true,
Don’t depend on a women for your left if you do,
And when that you see one with chestnut brown curls,
Just think of Jack Hagidy and the Plat River girl.

Over the last 17 years I have performed Minnesota-sourced folksongs in over a hundred venues spread over 32 counties in Minnesota, primarily with Randy Gosa as The Lost Forty. I love bringing these songs back to the communities they came from and, occasionally, an audience member will share a story of music in their own family with me after the show.

In 2022, Eleanor Hall of Clearbrook, Minnesota found me after a performance in Shevlin to tell me about a handwritten songbook kept by her mother Alma Pitsenburg Doten. Alma was born in 1904 in Moose Creek Township, 12 miles west of where I grew up on Grant Lake west of Bemidji! This April, I was able to meet up with Eleanor and make scans of her mother’s fascinating book. There are over one hundred songs written in pencil in an old ledger book kept with love and reverence all these years.

Alma Pitsenburg Doten. Photo courtesy Eleanor Hall.

I was delighted to find a few lumberjack ballads in Alma’s book. “Jack Haggerty” was the first song in Franz Rickaby’s 1926 book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy. Rickaby wrote that the song “is native to the Flat River in southern Michigan” and that it “was a great shanty favorite and is still widely met with in the Lake states.” Rickaby printed four versions of the song including two collected from Bemidji-based singers. Alma called the song “By Trait I’m a Raftman.”

First page of “By Trait I’m a Raftman as it appears in the Alma Pitsenburg Doten book.

Above, I have transcribed Alma Pitsenburg Doten’s text complete with some irregular spellings found in her songbook. I matched it with a rather unique (and nice!) variant of the song’s melody recorded by Helen Hartness Flanders from the singing of Jack McNally at Stacyville, Maine in 1942. The McNally recording is available online via archive.org.

31 Oct

Driving Saw Logs on the Plover

There walked on Plover’s shady banks one evening last July,
A mother of a shanty-boy, and doleful was her cry,
Saying, “God be with you, Johnnie, although you’re far away,
Driving saw-logs on the Plover, and you’ll never get your pay.

“Oh, Johnnie, I gave you schooling, I gave you a trade likewise.
You need not been a shanty-boy had you taken my advice.
You need not gone from your dear home to the forest far away,
Driving saw-logs on the Plover, and you’ll never get your pay.

“Why didn’t you stay upon the farm and feed the ducks and hens,
And drive the pigs and sheep each night and put them in their pens?
Far better for you to help your dad to cut his corn and hay,
Than to drive saw-logs on the Plover, and you’ll never get your pay.”

A log canoe came floating a-down the quiet stream.
As peacefully it glided as some young lover’s dream.
A youth crept out upon the bank and thus to her did say,
“Dear mother, I have jumped the game and I haven’t got my pay.

“The boys called me a sucker and a son-of-a-gun to boot.
I said to myself, O Johnnie, it is time for you to scoot.’
I stole a canoe and I started upon my weary way,
And now I have got home again — but nary a cent of pay.”

Now all young men take this advice: If e’er you wish to roam,
Be sure and kiss your mothers before you leave your home.
You had better work upon a farm for a half a dollar a day,
Than to drive saw-logs on the Plover, and you’ll never get your pay.

This month we have a rare instance of an old traditional song where we know the identity of its composer. “Driving Saw-Logs on the Plover” was written in 1873 by William Allen of Wausau, Wisconsin. William Bartlett, a local historian in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, knew Allen personally and connected him with song collector Franz Rickaby in the early 1920s. Thanks to notes and documents saved by Bartlett and Rickaby we know a lot about Allen, who put some of his songs out under the pseudonym “Shan T. Boy.”

Allen was born in 1843 in St. Stephen, New Brunswick just across the river from Calais, Maine. His parents were both immigrants from Ireland. The family moved to the western shores of Lake Michigan in 1855 where they lived first in Cedar River, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula and then Manitowoc, Wisconsin before heading inland to Wausau. After apprenticing with a timber cruiser near Green Bay, Allen returned to Wausau in 1868 (age 25) to begin a long career as a cruiser himself. Cruisers would roam the woods estimating the quantity and quality of trees for harvesting.

Allen’s work as a cruiser provided a context for singing and song writing. In a letter to Bartlett, he wrote “I had occasion to visit a great many logging camps in the course of each winter, and it was customary for me to sing for the lumber-jacks in lumber-jack style… …Several of my poems are sarcastic descriptions of characters and failings of our respectable (?) citizens, and I have been threatened with libel suits and shot-guns on several occasions.” “Driving Saw-Logs on the Plover” does not name any particular crooked boss but it certainly paints a grim picture of a shanty boy who, after enduring the labor and danger of a log drive, realizes his employer has no intention of paying him.

Allen based the song text and melody on a popular broadside ballad called “The Crimean War” or “As I Rode Down Through Irishtown” (see Northwoods Songs #10). It is a well worn melody in the Irish tradition. Ontario singer Bob McMahon had a nice twist on it when he sang it for Edith Fowke in 1959. I have blended McMahon’s melody with the melody and text given by Allen to Rickaby here.

31 Oct

Young Monroe

Come all you jolly shanty boys, wherever you may be,
I hope you’ll pay attention and listen unto me,
Concerning a young shanty boy so manfully and brave,
It was on a jam at Garray’s rocks where he met with a watery grave.

It was on a Sunday morning as you will quickly hear,
Our logs were piling mountain high, we could not keep them clear,
When the boss he cries, “Turn out, me boys, with hearts devoid of fear,
To break the jam on Garry’s rocks and for Eagantown we’ll steer.”

Some of them were willing, while others they hung back,
To work upon a Sunday they did not think was right,
Until six of our young Canadians they volunteered to go,
And break the jam on Garry’s rocks with their foreman, young Munroe.

They had not rolled off many logs when the boss to them did say,
“I would have you to be on your guard, for this jam will soon give way.”
Those words were scarcely spoken when the jam did break and go,
And carried away those six young men with their foreman, young Munroe.

When the rest of those young shanty boys they came, the news to hear,
In search of their dead bodies for the river they did steer,
When one of their lifeless bodies found to their sad grief and woe,
All cut and mangled on the rocks was the form of young Munroe.

They took him from his watery grave, combed down his coal-black hair,
There was one fair form among them whose cries did rend the air;
There was one fair form among them, a girl from Saginaw town,
Her tears and cries would rend the skies for her lover that was drowned.

Miss Clara was a noble girl, likewise a raftsman’s friend,
Her mother was a widow living by the river’s bend,
The wages of her own true love the boss to her did pay,
And a liberal subscription she received from the shanty boys next day.

They took and buried him decently, being on the tenth of May,
And the rest of you young shanty boys, it’s for your comrade pray!
It is engraved on a little hemlock tree, close by his head it does grow,
The day and date of the drowning of this hero, young Munroe.

Miss Clara did not survive long to her sad grief and woe;
It was less than two weeks after she, too, was called to go,
It was less than two weeks after she, too, was called to go,
And her last request was granted her, to be laid by young Munroe.

Now, any of you shanty boys that would like to go and see,
On a little mound by the river side there grows a hemlock tree;
The shanty boy cuts the woods all round, two lovers here lie low,
Here lies Miss Clara Dennison and her lover, young Munroe.

This month marks the 100-year anniversary of Irish-Minnesotan singer Michael Cassius Dean sending a copy of his song book, The Flying Cloud, to song collector Robert Winslow Gordon. Accompanied by a brief note on a postcard featuring Virginia, Minnesota’s 10-year-old high school building, this parcel led to one of the earliest audio recordings of traditional music in Minnesota. Twelve months later, inspired by this collection of 166 songs from Dean’s repertoire, Gordon went in search of Dean with his wax cylinder recording machine in tow.

Dean’s version of “Young Monroe” was one of the songs recorded by Gordon in September 1924 and the above transcription is my own made from the Gordon recording. The full text above comes from Dean’s book.

“Young Monroe,” often titled “The Jam at Gerry’s Rocks,” was one of the most widely sung come-all-ye type songs about logging work. Versions were collected all over the US and Canada. For a nice recording, check out this one of Ted Ashlaw. Ashlaw lived in a similar part of northern New York to where Dean grew up and his melody, though similar to Dean’s, has some nice twists to it.