Crow Fair
Ric Steinke

Way out in Montana, on reservation land
They held a powwow round nineteen-hundred two
And this gathering together near Little Bighorn Battle Field
Is still as strong today, sure as I‘m telling you

Some wore tribal costumes, beaded moccasins and bells
While drummers played and raised their voices high
And the maidens with their hair in braids, I couldn‘t help but stare
Hoping I have luck enough to catch a smile.

Assinboine, Cree, Absaroka, and Sioux
Blackfeet, Cheyenne, they all were there
To sing and dance and beat the drums and feel their spirit move
In Montana at the annual Crow Fair, Crow Fair.

I saw the fancy dance, traditional and inter-tribal, too
Tiny tots to seniors had their turn
An eagle feather on the ground, a sacred dance was called upon
Traditions of the old the young will learn

After the sky turned gold and red there was magic in the air
The singing and the drumming seemed to soar
And I swore I heard the thunder of ten-thousand buffalo
Out on the plains a hundred-fifty years ago.

As I look back upon that evening, I recall the wonder
On the face of a young child I didn‘t know
And as we listened to the pounding of the rhythm in the night
I knew we both shared something deep within our souls.

recording of “Crow Fair":
Steinke & Hausler, Yellowstone Winds, 1999

Crow Fair

The Crow, or Absaroka, are descendents of a hunting people who might have once been at home in what is now southeastern Manitoba . At some point, they migrated to the Mandan villages around the confluence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers . Later, perhaps in the mid-seventeenth century, portions of the tribe wandered further west, to the Yellowstone-Big Horn region. Those who remained behind became the Hidatsa tribe, those who moved west became the Crow, who were divided into three bands.

In the late seventeenth century, trade with the Europeans created rivalries among the peoples of the northern plains. The Crow became „middlemen,“ each of the three bands conducting trade with different peoples.

By the mid-nineteenth century, under pressure from the other plains peoples, especially the populous Teton Dakota, the Crow sought to ally themselves with the Americans. A treaty in 1851 established territorial boundaries. In further treaties, the Crow ceded ever more land, the largest and final cession of 2,5 million acres in 1904. The Crow also provided the United States Army with military assistance. During the campaign against the Sioux in the 1870s, Crow served as scouts, also at the battle of the Little Big Horn. Despite their alliance, the Crow, like other peoples, were confined to a reservation and became wards of the federal government.

In 1884, the Crow Agency was relocated to its present site and during that same year, traditional Crow ceremonies and customs were outlawed, which meant an effective ban on the Crow way of life and religion. All children over six were required to attend schools run by Whites. The Crow were pressured to abandon their nomadic ways and live in permanent settlements. In 1887, a Catholic mission was established and the Protestants soon followed. The General Allotment Act of 1887 called for the assignment of tribal land to individuals to encourage individuality and so that surplus land could be sold to Whites.

„Tension on the reservation increased in 1902 when Samuel G. Reynolds, a no-nonsense young bank executive from Billings became tribal agent and initiated a program of Indian self-sufficience. He cut off all rations and pressed the government's allotting agents to complete their work as rapidly as possible. Early in his tenure Reynolds also abolished agency farms on which many tribesmen had worked collectively under the agent's supervision, and announced that he would discontinue the practice of meeting the tribe in the common and useless pow-wow or council.‘“ [Parading through History. The Making of the Crow nation in America, 1805-1935. Frederick E. Hoxie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. p. 239-240.]

In 1904, in hopes of improving Crow farming skills, agent Reynolds decided that it would be prudent to hold a rural fair along the lines of a county fair, where the Crow could exhibit their agricultural products, foods, and handicrafts. Just as at a county or state fair, ribbons and prizes were awarded. Foot races, horse races, parades, gift giving, and other forms of entertainment took place as well. And in contradiction to the regulations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal dances, ceremonies and singing were allowed. The following year, Crow Agency already had a horse race track and an exhibit hall. Later, an all-Indian rodeo was added. After World War II, the agricultural aspects of the fair fell by the wayside, but the social and cultural side remained.

Today, the Crow Fair is the biggest gathering of native peoples in Montana . Twenty to thirty thousand Indians attend the event and Crow Agency becomes the „teepee capital of the world,“ when as many as 1500 teepees are set up along the Little Big Horn River, not to mention the campers and motor homes.

Each morning, a parade of colorfully outfitted people on horses, cars, trucks and floats weaves through the camp.

The center of the Fair is the arbor and dance area, where music and dance go on day and night. Competing drum groups provide the music as men's traditional, fancy, and grass dancers and women's traditional, fancy, and jingle dress dancers compete for prizes. The dances are a mosaic of color and movement and sounds. Tradition and the modern blend together. The traditional dancers wear bone breastplates, feathers, fur, mirrors and bells. The grass dancers‘ colorful costumes are trimmed with colorful, sometimes florescent wool and perhaps a baseball cap. The women wear shawls which they spread like wings when they dance. The jingle dress dancers wear dresses trimmed with rows of jingles made from the lids of Copenhagen cans.

Around the arbor, food, t-shirts, jewelry, CDs with Indian music, beadwork, leather and more are offered for sale.

„Crow Fair reaches beyond its pageantry, excitement, contests and giveaways. It is foremost a reunion of family and friends, a chance to visit without the pressures of everyday life. Those living away from the reservation usually make Crow Fair their annual visit, often traveling great distances to do so. Adults and children gather together sharing not only campsites and food, but also their heritage and culture.“ [ „Crow Fair's Colorful History Dates to 1904,“ by Rick Graetz for the Billings Gazette , in: Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America, August 26, 2000 - Issue 17. ]

back to stories behind the song




Goodnight Loving Trail
Bruce Phillips

Too old to wrangle or ride on the swing,
You beat the triangle and curse everything, ‘
If dirt was a kingdom then you'd be the king.

On the Goodnight trail, on the Loving trail,
Our old woman's lonesome tonight.
Your French harp blows like a lone bawling calf,
It's a wonder the wind don't tear off your skin,
Get in there and blow out the light.

With your snake oil and herbs and your liniment, too,
You can do anything that a doctor can do,
Except find a cure for your own lousy stew.

The cook-fire's out and the coffee's all gone,
The boys are up and we're raising the dawn,
You're still sitting there all lost in a song.

I know someday I'll be just the same,
Wearing an apron instead of a name,
But no one can change it and no one's to blame.
'Cause the desert's a book wrote in lizards and sage,
It's easy to look like an old torn-out page,
All faded and cracked like the colors of age.


recordings of “The Goodnight/Loving Trail”
Utah Phillips, El Capitan, Philo C1016, Cas
Utah Philips, The Telling Takes Me Home, Philo PH 1210, CD

musical notation
Starlight on the Rails & Other Song, U.Utah Phillips. San Francisc: Wooden Shoe, 1973.

Goodnight/Loving Trail

To move the cattle north, a whole crew of cowboys was needed. Twelve cowboys rode around the herd to keep it together. In addition, there was a „wrangler“ and his helpers, who supplied fresh horses. Every cowboy needed two or three horses each day. Then there was also the boss. The most important member of the crew, though, was the cook, called „the old woman.“ The cooks were former cowboys who had gotten too old to be able to handle the hard labor.

Utah Phillips wrote: „A fellow gets old, and the deserts got it's own stern sort of code: you've got to work to eat. After you spend twenty or thirty years, twelve hours a day in the saddle, your insides get so jumbled around you can't do it any more. So you can only go and work on the chuck gang. When everybody rides into town for a little fun, you get left behind. You're the one who has to have the coffee ready to sober everybody up. You've got to listen to everybody whine and moan and bitch.“ [ Utah Phillips, Starlight on the Rails , p.17. ]

Oliver Loving was born in Kentucky in 1812. He settled in Texas in 1845 as a rancher and farmer. Ten years later, he drove his herd to Palo Pinto County . In 1858, he became the first rancher to drive his herd to Chicago . During the Civil War, he supplied the Army of the Confederacy with beef. After the war, together with Charles Goodnight, twenty-five years his junior, he sought new markets for his cattle.

At the age of seven, Goodnight was taken by his mother and father took him from Illinois to Texas . After serving in the Civil War, he founded a cattle herd in Palo Pinto County in 1865.

Goodnight suggested opening new markets by driving the cattle to New Mexico . Together with Loving, he headed west with two thousand cattle. They moved through some of the roughest, most desolate country in the West. Three hundred cattle died of the heat and another hundred drowned when the thirsty animals smelled the water of the Pecos River and stampeded. In New Mexico , the two cattlemen sold half of he surviving herd to the United States Army. Under Kit Carson, the Army had collected seven thousand Navajo in an area known as Bosque Redondo. The Navajo were close to starvation and the Army paid a top price. The remaining cattle were driven to Colorado and sold in Denver . The gold seekers in Colorado and the railway builders in Wyoming were the ranchers' markets. The trail, covering more then 650 miles and leading from Texas to Cheyenne , became the Goodnight/Loving Trail and was one of the most widely used paths to the North.

In 1867, on his way again to New Mexico , Oliver Loving was wounded in a fight against Comanches. He held off the Comanches for three days and crawled to a secure spot. A wagen took him to the military hospital at Bosque Redondo. His last words were: „I regret being buried in a foreign country.“ His friend Goodnight promised him that he would take his body back to Texas . In a coffin of flattened tin cans, the body of Oliver Loving was brought home.

Charles Goodnight became one of the most successful ranchers in the West and a very wealthy man. In 1877, he founded the JA Ranch and had almost 100,000 cattle and over a million acres. Goodnight died in 1929 at the age of ninety-three. He remained active to the very end. His last child was born when he was ninety-two years old.

By the way, the „chuck wagen,“ which was an important part of the cowboy life, was invented by Charles „Chuck“ Goodnight for the trail he pioneered.


back to stories behind the song







Single Girl

Single Girl, oh, single girl,
She's gone anywhere she please,
Oh, gone anywhere she please,
Married girl, oh, married girl,
Got a baby on her knees,
Got a baby on her knees.

Single Girl, oh, single girl,
She's going dressed up so fine,
Oh, she's going dressed up so fine,
Married girl, oh, married girl,
She wears just any kind,
Oh, she wears just any kind.

Single Girl, oh, single girl,
She goes to the store and buys,
Oh, she goes to the store and buys,
Married girl, oh, married girl,
She rocks the cradle and cries,
Oh, she rocks the cradle and cries.



recordings of “Single Girl”
Bryan Bowers, View from Home, Flying Fish CD037, CD
Carter Family, American Folk Music; Vol. 3, Songs , Folkways FA 2953, LP
Carter Family, Bristol Sessions. Vol 2, Country Music Foundatio CMF 011C2, Cas
Judy Collins, Whales & Nightengales, Elektra
Barbara Dane, Anthology of American Folk Songs, Tradition TR 2072, LP
Jim Greer and the Mac-O-Chee Valley Boys, Stars of the WWVA Jamboree, Rural Rhythm RRGreer 152, LP
Albert Hash and the Whitetop Mountain Band, 39th National Folk Festival, NCTA NCTA 77, LP
Albert Hash and the Whitetop Mountain Band, Whitetop, Heritage (Galax) 041, LP
Carolyn Hester, Simply
Kimble Family, Carroll County Pioneers, Marimac 9036, Cas
Kossoy Sisters, Bowling Green and Other Folksongs from the Southern Mountains, Tradition TLP 1018, LP
Rose Maddox and the Vern Williams Band, This is Rose Maddox, Arhoolie 5024, LP
Chris Montgomery, Faded Memories, Star SLP12690, Cas
New Lost City Ramblers, Remembrance of Things to Come, Folkways FTS 31035, LP
Frank Proffitt, A Memorial Album, Folk-Legavy C-36, Cas
Scragg Family, Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, Sonytone ST-1001, LP
Maxine Sellers, Folk Songs, Prestige Folklore 14032, LP
Spontaneous String Band, String Band Project, Elektra EKS 7292, LP
Win Stracke, Americana, Bally BAL 12013, LP
Julius Sutton, Folk Songs of America. The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, Library of Congress FS L68, LP
Ruby Vass, Southern Journey. Vol. 2: Ballads and Breakdowns, Rounder 1702, CD
Hedy West, Hedy West, Vanguard VRS 9124, LP
Jeanie West, Roamin' the Blue Ridge, Prestige International INT 13038, LP

musical notation:
Old-Time String Band Songbook, New Lost City Ramblers Oak, 1964/1976
The Collected Reprints from Sing Out! Volumes 7-12, 1964-1973, A Sing Out Publication, 1992

Single Girl

The life of women in the Appalachians was anything but enviable. A wife was subject to the will of her husband. She sewed and repaired the clothing, she fetched the water, she kept the garden, she milked the cow and cared for the other animals, tended the fire, cooked and waited on the menfolk, and became pregnant over and over again. Families of ten or more children were normal. Many women died young and if they reached the age of thirty they were already old women. Yet the women who survived the child-bearing years usually lived to be eighty or ninety years old. Earlier, people had married late, but in modern times it became common for girls to already be married at the age of twelve or thirteen.

But in the social fabric of the mountains, women had a respected status and because they coordinated the entire economic system, a certain economic power. Men were often absent for long periods of time, leaving the women in charge of the farm and the family. Without the women, the men could not have survived.

This social fabric and the woman's role in it were destroyed with the industrialization of the mountains and the introduction of the money economy, which gave the men greater independence and status.

The Carter Family sang this song at their first recording session on August 1, 1927. Frank Proffitt also sang it for Frank Warner and knew two other songs on the same topic.

back to stories behind the song


Black Waters
Jean Ritchie

I come from the mountains, Kentucky's my home,
Where the wild deer and the blackbear so lately did roam;
By cool rushing waterfalls the wildflowers dream,
And through every green valley there runs a clear stream.
Now there's scenes of destruction at ev'ry hand,
And there's only black waters run down through my land.

Sad scenes of destruction on ev'ry hand;
Black waters, black waters run down through my land.

O the quail, she's a pretty bird, she sings a sweet tongue;
In the roots of the tall timbers she nests with her young.
But the hillsides explode with the dynamite's roar,
And the voices of the small birds will sound there no more;
And the hillsides come a-sliding so dreadful and grand,
And the flooding black waters rise over my land.

In the rising of the springtime we planted our corn,
In the end of the springtime we buried a son,
In the summer come a nice man, said, "Everything's fine -
My employer just requires a way to his mine."
Then they threw down my mountain and covered my corn,
And the grave on the hillside's a mile deeper down,
And the man stands and talks with his hat in his hand
As the poisonous water spreads over my land.

Well, I ain't got no money and not much of a home;
I own my own land, but my land's not my own.
But if I had ten million - somewhere thereabouts -
I would buy Perry County and I'd run 'em all out!
Set down on the bank with my bait in my can,
And the watch the clear waters run down through my land!

(final chorus)
Well, wouldn't that be like the old Promised Land?
Black waters, black waters no more in my land!

Aufnahmen von of “Black Waters”
Guy Carawan, Folk Music Festival, Amiga, 8 55 940, LP
Jim Ringer, Waiting for the Hard Times to Go, Folk Legacy FSI-047, LP
Jean Ritchie, Clear Waters Remembered
Jean Ritchie, None But One, Greenhays C708, Cas
Anne Romaine, Folk Festival of the Smokies. Vol. 1, Traditional FFS-528, LP
Betty, Smith, For My Friends of Song, June Appal JA 0018, LP
Jody Stecher, Going Up on the Mountain, Bay 210, LP

Sing Out! 28/1
New Folk Favorites, edited by Will Schmid.Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1987.

youTube: Jean Ritchie singt "Black Waters"



Black Waters

Black Waters is about the negative sides of open pit mining. It is about the the huge bulldozers and the gigantic earth movers and „the smoke and dust of them hang like a pall of sorrow over the ridges and hollers of eastern Kentucky “. (Jean Ritchie) [ Sing Out! Vol. 28, No. 1. p. 6.] The familiar landscape has been stripped away. The water, which once ran crystal clear through the narrow valleys, the „hollers,“ now flows black with coal dust. Those at fault are the, „heads of the strip miners and their collaborators, whose consciences let them maul the land and haul out, severance-tax free, untold millions of dollars worth of Appalachia‘s great natural resources“. She asks herself how the children of today will remember the land. „This days children no longer love the land, and who can blame them? They can‘t wait to be old enough to leave and get a job in the big city.“

back to stories behind the song



The Keweenaw Light
Craig Johnson

I've traveled this country from the Keweenaw's headlands,
Where the wild gulls do cry from the rocks to the sea,
From the cold inland ocean to the Manitou Island ,
Far away from my home, strange places to see.

And the stars will shine bright on my South Shore tonight,
And the Keweenaw light swings over the bay.
And if dreams could come true I'd still be there with you
On the banks of cold waters at the close of the day.

I've drifted through the boom towns a century dying,
By the ruins of the smelters and the rusted head-frames,
Down through Mohawk and Ahmeek, Centennial and Laurium,
And other sad places that die without names.

I've counted the crossties, dry bones of the railroad
That stretched from sunrise to the close of the day.
And I've counted the miles between me and my true love,
And the lies and the highways that carried me away.

The leaves have turned gold, and the summer's nigh over;
The wild geese sweep low over Lake Manganese .
In that faraway country you walk by slow rivers
On the banks of cold waters 'neath the whispering trees.

recordings of“Keweenaw Light”
Wanda Degen, Of Woods and Water. Songs of the Great Lakes Region, MMD-CD5
Lee Murdock, Cold Winds (as „Banks of Cold Waters“)
Lee Murdock, Folk Songs of the Great Lakes Region, Depot C010, Cas
Sally Rogers, Love Will Guide Us, Flying Fish C365, Cas
Art Thieme, „That's the Ticket“, Folk-Legacy C-90, Cas


The Keweenaw Light

The Keweenaw Peninsula was once a treadure trove, rich with copper. For thousands of years, the peoples of the area mined copper, some in open pits as much as 150 meters long. Already in 1636, a Monsieur Lagarde publishd a pamphlet in Paris about this copper-rich area.

In the 1840s, immigrants from Cornwall arrived in the area. With them they brought the tradition and the technology of mining. By the 1860s, three copper areas had been developed on the peninsula, all with deep shafts and almost all financed by investors from Boston . But by 1880, only one of these areas was still active. There the most important operations were the Calumet and Hecla mines. In 1916, copper $76 dollars worth of copper was mined.

Increasing production costs and intense competition proved too much for many small companies. By 1936, even the biggest companies, Calumet and Hecla Consolidated and Copper Range Company could no longer compete with cheaper copper from the West, especially from Butte , Montana and Jerome , Arizona . High quality copper ore, upon which the copper wealth of Michigan had been based, became ever more difficult to find. Today, only small quantities of copper are still mined on the Keweenaw Peninsula .

With the end of the copper wealth, many towns on the peninsula were abandoned by people who left to seek their fortune elsewhere. Today, only these crumbling ghost towns remind us of the copper era in Michigan .

back to stories behind the song





Step by Step

Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none.
And by union what we will can be accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

recordings of “Step by Step”
John McCutcheon, Step by Step, Rounder CD0216, CD
Pete Seeger, Can't You See This System's Rotten Through and Through, Greenwich Village GVR 234, LP
Pete Seeger, If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope & Struggle, Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40096, CD
Pete Seeger, Rainbow Quest, Folkways FA2454, LP
Sweet Honey in the Rock, The Other Side
Sweet Honey in the Rock, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Wandertüte 74321456952, CD

musical notation
Carry It On! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America, Pete Seeger & Bob Reiser. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
Children's Songs for a Friendly Planet
Sing Out! 10/2

Step by Step

In 1849, the Englishman John Bates, who had been active in the Chartist movement, organized the first miners' union in Schuylkill , Pennsylvania . That union struck once and soon expired. In 1861, the American Miner's Association was organized by Daniel Weaver. Weaver, too, had been active in the Chartist movement. Weaver emphasized the necessity of the unity of all nationalities in the union, something which in the multicultural America of the time could not be taken for granted. It was in this spirit the constitution of the union was opened with the poem „Step by Step“. (Philip P. Foner, American Labor Songs of the Nineteenth Century. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 1975, p. 192-193.) The words were put to music and sang by the members of the union. The author of the poem is unknown; the music is the tradional „The Praties They Grow Small,“ arranged by Waldemar Hills and Pete Seeger.

back to stories behind the song



Rebecca's Lament
James Keelaghan

The last time I saw him he'd been swallowed by the wood
I'd have followed if I could, he'd have stayed if he wanted
Had he the desire, or had I the will
I would be with him still, but instead he just haunts me
I knew when he faded I'd ne'er see him again
His laughter's embrace would no more me surround
The chill that went through me is the chilled wind that blows
Through the soft midnight stillness of Chillicote town.

The smell of the blanket he wrapped 'round my shoulders
Comes back to me now on a faint wisp of smoke
Comes back with vengeance
That makes me remember
Those nights 'round the fire, when fond words we spoke
That blanket was woven in some sheltered village
That is gone now forever, may never be found
His people are scattered, their fondest hopes dashed
He'd have been better off here in Chillicote town

I knew from the start just where he stood
About his intentions there was no mistake
To stay meant his dream
So dear to his heart
Was the one thing he knew he must somehow forsake
He just couldn't see that the old ways were passing
A new wave was rising and he would be drowned
And like it or not, the history's written
Not in the forest but in Chillicote town

There's sadness in parting from what we hold dear
There's danger in staying for fear we'll be lost
One half of us wishes
To live out our dreams
The other half reckons and counts out the cost
'ow we may go on to a far greater glory
By knowing where destiny is sure to be found
I wish him no ill, though I wish him no fame
Than such fame as he'd find here in Chillicote town

The last time I saw him he'd been swallowed by the wood
I'd have followed if I could
He'd have stayed if he wanted


Recordings of “Rebecca's Lament”
James Keelaghan, Small Rebellions, Tranquilla TMCD-002, 1990.
Lee Murdock, Cold Winds, Depot DEP-011, Cas

Rebecca's Lament

The Shawnee leader Tecumseh was an impressive man, tall, handsome, one who knew how to present himself. He was never subservient to Whites. Tecumseh was an outstanding orator. He wanted to unite the peoples of America against the white intruders and was determined to surrender no more land. Tecumseh developed the theory the the land was held by all tribes in commen and that no one tribe had the right to sell parts of it. He threatened to kill any tribal leader who sold land to the Whites. The partially nomadic Shawnee had been driven out of their Kentucky home by land sales made by other tribes.

Tecumseh had grown up under the influence of his fourteen-year older brother Cheeseekau, who hated the Whites, especially the Americans. Cheeseekau and another brother died fighting the Whites. On the other hand, Tecumseh‘s best friend was white, the son of a missionary. The tribe had captured and adopted the boy. Tecumseh had been fighting the Americans for fifteen years.

Yet another brother of Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, who became known as „the Prophet,“ was dominated by his brother. Both brothers had been addicted to alcohol, but had managed to free themselves from it. Tenskwatawa had a vision. It is assumed that Shaker missionaries,who had influence in the area, were behind it. His sermons resembled those of fundamentalist Christians. He called upon his followers not to drink alcohol, not to beat their wives, to no longer make war against other tribes, and not to steal. Like other Indian prophets, the Prophet appeared at a time when his people were in an existential crisis. The people were urged to return to the old way of life, as it had been before the arrival of the Whites.

Tecumseh traveled to the various tribes to spread his message and seek to build tribal unity. His words did not fall on deaf ears. While Tecumseh was traveling, the governor of the Indiana Territory , the future president William Henry Harrison, managed to get some natives, under the influence of alcohol, to sign a treaty giving away 1,2 million hectar land, some of it land resided upon by other tribes. Upon his return, Tecumseh organized resistence to the settlers and brought together a thousand warriors.

A meeting between Tecumseh and Harrison brought no understanding. After the meeting, the two of them sat on a bench and talked. Tecumseh scooted over close to Harrison . The latter had to move over a bit. Tecumseh scooted over a second time and again Harrison had to move. Tecumseh moved closer yet a third time and finally the governor protested. How would Harrison feel as an Indian, Tecumseh asked, when the Whites pushed him off ever more land.

During a second journey by Tecumseh, Harrison marched with a thousand soldiers to Prophet's Town. After the battle, the natives retreated and their village was torched. The tribes began to attack the settlers. Before Tecumseh had been able to forge a solid coalition, the war had already begun. When war between the United States and Great Britain in 1828, Tecumseh passionately opposed Indian support of the Americans. During the war he fought on the British side. He assembled an international corps of 3000 volunteers from 32 tribes. On October 5, 1813, Tecumseh was killed during a battle against his old foe Harrison .

Tecumseh had freed himself of alcohol because it stood in the way of his abition. He also tried to free himself of the temptations of women. He looked upon women as inferior beings. At age 28, he married an older woman of mixed blood. The marriage failed. A second marriage failed as well when the woman did not meet his expectations.

Rebecca Galloway is said to have captivated Tecumseh. She was the daughter of a well-read settler in Old Chillocothe, Ohio . She spoke his language and taught him English, introduced him to the Bible, Alexander the Great and William Shakespeare. Tecumseh fell in love with the sixteen year old girl, called her „Star of the Lake ,“ gave her many presents, among them thirty silver broaches, and asked for her hand in marriage. Rebecca agreed but only on the condition that he give up his native ways and adopt the lifestyle of the Whites. They separated and never saw one another again.

Tecumseh married his last wife in 1802. They separated five years later and thereafter he lived without a woman.

back to stories behind the song



We're Stolen and Sold from Africa

We are stole and sold from Africa,
Transported to America .
Like hogs and sheep we're marched and drove
To bear the heat and endure the cold.

See how they take us from our wives,
Small children from their mothers' side.
They take us to some foreign land,
Make slaves to wait on gentlemen.

We are almost naked as you see,
Almost barefooted here we be.
Suffer the lash and endure the pain,
Exposed to snow, both wind and rain.

Oh Lord, have mercy and look down
Upon the plight of the African.
Upon our knees, poor out our grief
And pray to God for some relief.

recording of “We're Stolen and Sold from Africa”
Mike Seeger, Solo – Oldtime Country Music, Rounder CD 0278, CD


We're Stolen and Sold from Africa

Most of the Africans brought by slave traders were sold by other Africans in exchange for weapons, munition, alcoholic drinks or textiles. They were put in chains below deck to prevent suicides and laid side by side in order to save space. Yet suicide and diseases did take a heavy toll on the Africans. The captains of the slave ships attempted to make the crossing as fast as possible to keep the mortality rate, often 20% or more, as low as possible. The women could not escape the lust of the crew members. The dead were thrown overboard.

The survivors found themselves in a strange land, without family, without friends, not understanding a word of the language, without any opportunity to practice their religion, which was often Islam, as the „property“ of strange men.

According to Mike Seeger, „We're Stolen and Sold from Africa,“ written in the first person, is very likely of white origins. It might have been a product of the abolitionist movement of the 19 th century. [ American Antislavery Songs. A Collection and Analysis, Vicki L. Eaklor. Westport , CT; London: Greenwood Press, 1988.]


back to stories behind the song








Galveston Bay
Bruce Springsteen

click here for lyrics

recording of "Galveston Bay":
Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad, Sony, 1915.

Galveston Bay

When, in 1975, the Vietnam War finally came to an end, a flood of people began to leave the country. They were people who had supported the South Vietnamee government and were afraid of the new communist regime, the economic effects of communist rule, or people who had worked for the Americans. Together with refugees from Laos and Campuchea, over two million people left Indochina . More than 820,000 of them found a new home in the United States . The Federal Government allotted five billion dollars to support their integration.

This generous assistance resulted from a deeply felt sense of moral responsibility. But the refugees were not welcomed by all Americans. In the mid-seventies, the United States had more than nine million unemployed. The assistance gave rise to jealousy and fears of competition for jobs. That fear was combined with racism.

Immediately after the fall of Saigon, 130,000 Vietnamese entered the United States . These were people who had had senior positions in the South Viernamese government and the army or had worked for the Americans. The Federal Government saw to it that they could make a new start by the end of 1975. Later, so-called „boat people“ came, people who ventured out in small boats to reach safe countries. During the 1970s, the United States allowed seven thousand people to enter the country each month.

The Asian immigrants were hard-working, disciplined, modest and did not hesitate to take on jobs for which they were over-qualified. Many soon had successful businesses, often because family members pooled their money and worked together.

In the late seventies and early eighties, many Vietnamese settled along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to work as fishermen. The catches of the long-established fishermen went down and they reacted angrily. Some wharves refused to allow Vietnamese to dock; wholesalers would not sell their catches. Soon one could see signs reading, „No Vietnamese Allowed.“ Their boats were shot at. In one Mississippi harbor, the tensions were so high that the Vietnamese gave up and left.

The situation was at its worst in Texas . A Vietnamese shot a man who had been threatening him and was acquitted because it had been self-defense. The Ku Klux Klan got involved. The Klan claimed that the refugees from communism were themselves communists. They built a symbolic Vietnamese boat and burned it.

Among the Vietnamese who settled in Texas was Nguyen Van Nam, a former colonel in the South Vietnamese army. Before the fall of Saigon , he had commanded ten thousand soldiers. Now he was a shrimp fisherman and leader of the Vietnamese fisher in Seabrook. The long-established fishermen asked Louis Beam for help against the Vietnamese. Beam was the Grand Dragon of the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The legal counsel of the Vietnamese fishers' organization was Morris Dee, who had won legal battles against the Klan. He described his experiences in his book A Season of Justice . The book was the basis for Springsteen's song, though the characters are fictional.

Today, the fishing along the Gulf of Mexico is firmly in Vietnamese hands. The older fisher have taken easier jobs on shore.

back to stories behind the song


North Country Blues
Bob Dylan

click here for the lyrics

recordings of„ North Country Blues“
Joan Baez, Any Day Now, Vanguard CD79306/7, CD
Bob Dylan, The Times They are A-Changin', Columbia CD 32021, CD

musical notation:
Bob Dylan Song Book, New York: M.Witmark & Sons

North Country Blues

In 1892, the first iron ore was shipped out of the Mesabi Range in the North of the state on Minnesota . Between 1900 and 1980, 6% of all iron ore mined in the United States came from the Mesabi Range .

The windy landscape with its long, cold winters is not very inviting. An area of such wealth, however, is bound to attract people. The development of the Mesabi Range took place during the period of the great immigration, between 1890 and 1914. The mining of ore demanded numerous unskilled laborers. The immigrants were willing to work for little money and the fact that they did not speak English was no barrier. In 1910, 53% on the inhabitants on the Range had been born outside the United States , people of dozens of different ethnic and national groups. The largest groups were from Finland , Slovenia , Italy , Sweden , Croatia , Norway , England and Canada . But there were also Poles, Germans, Montenegrins, Slovakians, Syrians, Greeks and, like Bob Dylans grandparents, Jews. These people long preserved the cultures of their homelands, that although the mine owners consciously put the men into groups of mixed nationalities in hopes of hindering the organization of a union, an effort which met with success. The Jews of the Mesabi Range were almost all shopkeepers or traders.

By the turn of the century, the wilderness had already been turned into an industrial landscape. Woods, lakes, hills and swamps had disappeared in open pits. That was the price for the wealth from which the towns on the Range, Dylan's hometown of Hibbing among them, profited. Its public facilities and buildings were bigger and better then those of most towns of the same size. Hibbing was founded in 1893. After it was discovered that large iron ore reserves lay directly under the city, the town was moved a mile from the original site. Still, the pit soon reached the edge of town.

Bob Dylan's maternal greatgrandfather, B'chezer Edelstein, came from Lithuania to Halifax , Nova Scotia in 1902 and continued on to Hibbing . He died in 1961, aged 91. Around the turn of the century, Dylan's paternal grandfather, Zigmar Zimmermann, arrived from White Russia . Because there were few Jews in Hibbing , Dylan's mother moved to Duluth , where the chances of finding a Jewish spouse were greater. She married Abe Zimmermann and after the birth of their two sons, Robert and David, the family moved back to Hibbing .

As in all mining regions, the economic situation was like a roller coaster, dependent on price and demand. Up to the Depression, there was constant economic growth. Then production dropped by 36%. The 1940s, though, brought a new boom. The workers o the Mesabi Range had, thanks to the Roosevelt administration, organized a union and were among the best-paid workers in the United States . But the increased production during the was years exhausted the high-grade iron ore. Production thereafter concentrated on the lower-grade taconite.

In Hibbing , there were hard times. Many miners lost their jobs. Bob Dylan's father and uncles sold furniture and appliances. Most of their customers bought of credit, making monthy payments. As more and more of them got into financial difficulties, Abe Zimmermann was forced to repossess unpaid goods. Sometimes Bob had to go along to help carry things. He experienced desperate people, among them some who were angry and put the blame on the „Jew“ Zimmermann.

This song was recorded on August 6, 1963 for the LP The Times They Are A-Changin' , which was released on January 13, 1964.

back to stories behind the song



The Vacant Chair
Henry F. Washburn, George F. Root

We shall meet but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breathe our ev'ning prayer;
When a year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden chord is severed,
And our hopes in ruin lie.

We shall meet but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breathe our ev'ning prayer.

At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell
At remembrance of the story;
How our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner
Through the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country's honor,
In the strength of manhood's night.

True, they tell us wreaths of glory
Ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only,
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, oh early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from pine and cypress
Mingle with the tears we shed.

recordings of “The Vacant Chair”
Kathy Mattea, Songs of the Civil War, Columbia CT 48607, CD
Tennessee Ernie Ford, Songs of the Civil War, 2004 Bear Family Records

musical notation
Rousing Songs and True Tales of the Civil War, Wayne Erbsen, Native Ground Books NGB-950.
The Songs of the Civil War, compiled and edited by Irwin Silber. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

The Vacant Chair

Under pressure from radical Republicans in Congress to take action before going into winter quarters, the new Union commander General George B. McClellan, decided, in October 1861, to move against the Confederate army, which held the town of Leesburg , Virginia , just 40 miles from Washington . In hopes of driving the Confederates out of the town, McClellan ordered General Charles P. Stone to make a “slight demonstration” from the Maryland side of the Potomac River while other Union regiments moved up the Virginia side of the river. Colonel Edward Baker was assigned the latter task. Baker had most of his brigade ferried across the river. There, they were confronted by a Confederate regiment led by Colonel Nathan Evans in the woods atop Ball's Bluff, rising 100 feet above the river. The inexperienced Baker placed his men in up poor defensive positions and the skirmish quickly turned into a rout.

Colonel Baker was shot in the head at about 5 pm and with the coming of darkness, the Union command broke down. Many Union soldiers were driven down the bluff to the river's shore, which offered them no protection. The news of the defeat was carried to Washington by the bodies floating down the Potomac River . Well into November, bodies continued to wash up under the wharves and bridges of the capital.

Colonel Baker hat led 1720 soldiers into battle. 49 were killed, 158 wounded, 533 taken prisoner and 161 were missing and presumed drowned.

For President Lincoln, the defeat at Bull's Bluff was particularly sad. Colonel Baker, a sitting United States Senator, had been a long-time personal friend. In 1844, he had defeated Lincoln for the Whig nomination to a seat in the House of Representatives, but they had remained close. Lincoln had named one of his sons, Edward Baker Lincoln, after the senator.

The defeat at Bull's Bluff, coming just three months after Bull Run , led to the formation of a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Many members of Congress feared a conspiracy against the United States .

Today, a portion of the battlefield is a public park in which a small cemetery is located, the final resting place of many of the Union dead.

Among the Union soldiers to die was John William Grout, 18-year-old lieutenant of the 15 th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. After the retreat had begun, Grout was ordered to stand his ground until he received other orders. When the order to retreat came, Lieutenant Grout led his men down the embankment. At the river's shore, there was no protection from the Confederate bullets. The inexperienced soldiers panicked. Some hid in the woods; others jumped into the water and attempted to swim to the island in the middle of the river, a quarter of a mile away. While the Union soldiers were attempting to escape, the Confederates fired down on them from the bluff. Under fire, the boats had to be abandoned. Lieutenant Grout jumped into the river and attempted to swim, but was shot and killed. His body was not found and identified until several weeks later. He was taken home and buried in Rural Cemetery Worcester, Massachusetts.

John William Grout had been born on July 25, 1843 as the son of a well-to-do manufacturer. Already as a child, he had been fascinated by the military and attended the Highland Military Academy at Worcester . When war came out, he volunteered and was commissioned second lieutenant of the 15th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, one of the youngest officers in the Union army.

Upon hearing of Grout's death, poet Henry S. Washburn, whose son had been a close friend of Grout's, wrote the poem “The Vacant Chair.” He imagined how sorely the young man would be missed by his family at Thanksgiving. “The Vacant Chair” was first published in the Worcester Spy in November 1861.

Attempts were made to put the words to music, but “The Vacant Chair” gained popularity only after being published by Root & Cady of Chicago, Illinois, in 1862, to a melody by George W. Root. It was published by Root with the information: “Words by H.S.W – Music by George W. Root.” Even after Washburn had paid a visit to Root's music store in Chicago, his full name war never credited. On some occasions, Root was even credited with having written the words. Washburn, who besides writing poetry had a successful career as a businessman and politician, never received a cent of royalties for the song.

The “Lili Marlene” of the American Civil War was the song “Lorena”, but the “Vacant Chair” was popular on both sides of the conflict and was published in at least three editions in the South. [ The Songs of the Civil War , Silber. p. 119.] In 1897, a commentator wrote of “The Vacant Chair”:

“How many hearts throughout the length, not of this land only but others have swelled with emotion and throbbed with sympathy at the words of ‘The Vacant Chair!' What tears have started at the memories they have awakened! One will hardly be able to find an American who is not familiar with the song and who has not softly sung the chorus: ‘We shall meet, but we shall miss him'… [Herbert L. Jillson, “The Vacant Chair,” The New England Magazine . Vol. XVI. Nr. 2, April 1897. page 130.]


in internet:
15th Volunteer Infantry of Massachusetts
The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home, Reid Mitchell.
a song of the same name from the Vietnam War

back to stories behind the song







The Gift
Ian Tyson
[click here for lyrics]

recordings of “The Gift”
Steinke & Hausler, Yellowstone Winds, 1999
Ian Tyson, All the Good Uns. Vanguard 79465-2
Ian Tyson, Cowboyography. Vanguard

The Gift

When Charlie Russell came to Montana in 1880 at the age of 16, it was because of his fascination with the myth of the West, but by that time the Old West already passing. The first transcontinental railroad had been completed in 1869. The great herds of buffalo had already disappeared. The tribes had been subdued, their old way of life destroyed. Charlie Russell experienced the last phase of that development, where the old and new still existed side by side. In his later paintings, he pictured not only the world in which he had lived, but the one he had missed and whose passing he mourned. He helped create the legend of the Old West and he became a part of it.

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis , Missouri in 1864, the son of a well-to-do brick manufacturer. His parents enrolled him in a New Jersey military academy, but he longed to go to the West and soon convinced his parents to let him go. His father arranged for him to stay with the owner of a sheep ranch in Helena , Montana . But „Kid Russell,“ as he came to be known, was a rebellious young man and did not stay on the sheep ranch long. He moved in with an old hunter, Jake Hoover, who lived on the South Fork of the Judith River . Hoover provided meat for the railroad crews. For two years, Russell lived with him in his remote mountain cabin. Helping Hoover skin the animals he had killed provided Russell with excellent lessons in animal anatomy which would benefit him later as a painter.

After returning from a visit in St. Louis , Charlie Russell signed on as a cowboy and took part in the roundup of 1882. The winter of 1886-1887 brought the „Great Die-Up“ on the northern plains. It was a winter of such severity that the cattle died by the thousands, a devastating blow to the cattle industry. Russell's employer, Louis Kaufman, lost his entire herd of 5000 head.

Charlie Russell had already acquired a reputation as a talented artist and now considered going to Europe to improve his skills. Instead, he rode north and lived with a band of Blood Indians, spent long hours listening to a tribal elder, Medicine Whip, tell stories of the Blackfeet past. He developed a great respect for the native peoples of the West and in his paintings created his own version of the noble savage and the tragedy of their passing, his pictures often being from the perspective of the Indians. A favorite motiv was the traditional buffalo hunt, which Russell had never witnessed, but which came to symbolize the world which civilization had destroyed.

In 1893, he traveled to Chicago to the World's Columbian Exhibition with a group of wranglers accompaning a beef train. In that year, he gave up the life of a cowboy and „retired“ at the age of 29 to Great Falls , Montana .

In 1895, friends introduced him to the 16-year old Nancy Cooper, whom he married a year later and who was to be decisive in promoting his career as a painter. First, she saw to it that his cut down on his drinking and second, she took charge of selling paintings, seeing to it that the price was right. The couple settled in Great Falls , where Charlie Russell built a studio in 1903.

Russell's adventurous days were over, and he spent the rest of his life putting his memories on canvas, also creating pictures of a past he himself had not experienced. Among the latter pictures was the mural for the chamber of the House of Representatives in the State Capitol in Helena : „Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians at Ross‘ Hole.“ Russell's paintings told stories and were often humorous, presenting a very human picture of the Old West, in contrast to Frederick Remington's heroic paintings and drawings.

Charlie Russell died in 1926.

„His reputation had been built on painting folklore and history, as well as things he had experienced – in creating and maintaining the myth of the Old West. The Old West and its pioneer people who lived mainly through nostalgia were as real to him as they were to his many admirers in his own time and even more so today when superhighways run over the trails plowed under.“ 89[ The West of the Imagination , William H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann. New York : WW. Norton & Co., 1986. p. 282 ]

Charlie Russell Museum
Encore Editions of America

back to stories behind the song