Wagoner's Lad
Oh, hard is the fortune of all womankind,
She's always controlled, she's always confined,
Controlled by her parents until she's a wife,
A slave to her husband the rest of her life.

Oh, I'm just a poor girl, my fortune is sad,
I've always been courted by the wagoner's lad,
He's courted me daily, by night and by day,
And now he is loading and going away.

Oh, my parents don't like him, because he is poor,
They say he's not worthy of entering my door,
He works for a living, his money's his own,
And if they don't like it, they can leave him alone.

"Oh, your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay,
Then sit down beside me, as long as you may."
"My horses ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay,
So fare thee well darlin', I'll be on my way."

"Oh, your wagon needs greasing, your whip is to mend,
Then sit down here by me, as long as you can."
"My wagon is greasy, my whip's in my hand,
So fare thee well darlin', no longer to stand."


Wagoner’s Lad

In the days before the railroad, wagoners hauled most of the freight in the still sparsely settled country. These men were free, earned good money and in the isolated areas they serviced, they were seen as men of the world, a fact which attracted the women. It is an old story of the wagoner who seduces the girl and then disappears. The story is from England, was brought to America and well-loved in the Appalachians.
The song borrows verses from other songs and is possibly the ancestor of such classics as „Rye Whisky“ and „Jack of Diamonds.“

back to stories behind the song



Little Joe, the Wrangler
words: N. Howard Thorp
music: adapted from „Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane“

Oh, it‘s Little Joe, the wrangler, he will never wrangle more,
His days with the “remuda,“ they are done.
‘Twas a year ago last April he joined the outfit here,
A little Texas stray and all alone.
‘Twas long late in the evening he rode up to the herd
On a little old brown pony he called Chaw;
With his brogan shoes and overalls, a harder looking kid
You never in your life had seen before.
His saddle was a southern kack built many years ago,
An O.K. spur on one foot idly hung,
While his “hot roll“ in a cotton sack was loosely tied behind
And a canteen from the saddle horn he‘d slung.
He said he had to leave his home, his daddy‘d married twice,
And his new ma beat him every day or two;
So he saddled up old Chaw one night and “lit a shuck“ this way—
Thought he‘d try to paddle now his own canoe.
Said he‘d try and do the best he could if we‘d only give him work,
Though he didn‘t know “straight up“ about a cow;
So the boss he cut him out a mount and kinder put him on,
For he sorter liked the little stray somehow.
Taught him how to herd the horses and learn to know them all,
To round ‘em up by daylight, if he could;
To follow the chuck wagon and to always hitch the team
And help the “cosinero“ rustle wood.
We‘d driven to Red River and the weather had been fine;
We were camped down on the south side in a bend,
When a norther commenced blowing and we doubled up our guards,
For it took all hands to hold the cattle then.
Little Joe, the wrangler, was called out with the rest,
And scarcely had the kid got to the herd,
When the cattle they stampeded; like a hailstorm ‘long they flew,
And all of us were riding for the lead.
‘Tween the streaks of lightning we could see a horse far out ahead—
‘Twas Little Joe, the wrangler, in the lead;
He was riding old “Blue Rocket“ with his slicker ‘bove his head,
Trying to check the leaders in their speed.
At last we got them milling and kinder quieted down,
And the extra guard back to the camp did go;
But one of them was missin‘, and we all knew at a glance
‘Twas our little Texas stray, poor wrangler Joe.
Next morning just at sunup we found where Rocket fell,
Down in a washout twenty feet below;
Beneath his horse, mashed to a pulp, his spurs had rung the knell
For our little Texas stray—poor wrangler Joe.


recordings of “Little Joe, the Wrangler
F. E. Abernethy, Singin‘ Texas, E-Heart Press (cassette) EX-4-83
Jules Verne Allen, Victor 21470, on The Texas Cowboy, Folk Variety FV; 12502, also re-issued by Bear Family BF 15502
Rex Allen, Sings Boney Kneed Hairy Legged Cowboy Songs, JMI Records JMI 4003
Cactus Mack and His Saddle Tramps, on Classic Country-Western, Radiola 4MR-2
Wilf Carter, Nuggets of the Golden West, RCA-Camden CAL 840
Mickey Clark, Cowboy Songs, National Geographis Society, 07786, LP (1976)
Yodeling Slim Clark, A Living Legend, Palomino PAL 309
Edward L. Crain, on The Plains of Alberta, Historical HLP 8007
Don Edwards, Saddle Songs, Shanachie 6025, CD (1997)
Don Edwards, Songs of the Cowboys, Sevenshoux (cassette) BTDE 101
Travis Edmonson, The Liar‘s Hour, Latigo (no number)
Shug Fisher and the Ranchmen Trio, on Capitol (electrical transcription) G-35
George Gillespie, Sings “Campfire“ Songs of the Old West, Thorne TR 200-B
Cisco Houston, Cowboy Ballads, Folkways FA 2022
Harry Jackson, The Cowboy, Folkways FH 5723
Merrick Jarrett, The Old Chisholm Trail, Riverside RLP 12-631
Eddie Nesbitt, Lost Treasures, Bluebonnet BL 116
Bunk Pettyjohn, Bunk and Becky Pettyjohn, Arizona Friends of Folklore AFF 33-4
The Ranch Boys, Decca 2644 B
Goebel Reeves, on Songs of the West, Glendale GL 6020
Goebel Reeves, The Texas Drifter, Country Music History CMH 101
Goebel Reeves, The Legendary Texas Drifter, Country Music History CMH 113, Columbia C6424 and C20619, Melotone 12114, Brunswick 629
Tex Ritter, Blood on the Saddle, Capitol T1292

Marty Robbins, More Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, Columbia Records CS 8272
Marty Robbins, In the Wild, Wild West, Bear Family BFX 15146
Marty Robbins, All Time Greats, Columbia GP-15
Lou Schlautman, on When the Works All Done This Fall, Montana Folklife Project MFP 0001
George and Luciy Shawver, Songs of the West (cassette, privately produced, #1)
Sons of the Pioneers, Legends of the West, RCA LPM/LSP 3351
Red Steagall, For All Our Cowboy Friends, MCA 680
Red Steagall, Cowboy Favorites, Delta DLP 1160
Arnold Keith Storm, Take the News to Mother, Folk Legacy FSA-018, LP (1964), cut# 7
Nevada Slim Turner, Songs ofthe Wild West, 2, Rural Rhytmn RRNS 163
Roger Wagner Chorale, Folk Songs of the Frontier, Capitol P8332
Marc Williams, Brunswick 269.
Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 4. You're From Texas, Edsel ED 324, LP (1984).

musical notation of “Little Joe, the Wrangler”
Native American Balladry, American Folklore Society, (1964)
Singing Cowboy. A Book of Western Songs. Collected and edited by Margaret Larkin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.
Songs of the American West. Compiled and edited by Richard Lingenfelter, Richard A. Dwyer und David Cohen. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Calilfornia Press, 1968


Little Joe, the Wrangler
„Little Joe, the Wrangler“ was one of those songs written after the era of the great trail drives, but which was well-loved by working cowboys and quickly entered the oral tradition. It was written by Nathan Howard „Jack“ Thorp in 1898, about ten years after his first efforts at collecting cowboy songs.
Thorp told the story of how he came to write the song. He was working as a cowboy, driving a herd from Chimney Lake, New Mexico to Higgins, Texas. One night by the campfire, he wrote „Little Joe, the Wrangler“ on a paper bag. He used the melody from „Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.“ During the trail drive, he sang it for the other cowhands and sang it again in a saloon in Weed, New Mexico. From there, the song traveled on to become widely popular. „Little Joe, the Wrangler“ was based on a true story, though Joe’s identity died with Jack Thorp.
Thorp included the song in his collection Songs of the Cowboys (1908) and it was also included in John A. Lomax’s first collection of cowboy songs, the author receiving no credit. The song became so popular that a variant was composed, „Little Joe, the Wrangler’s Sister Nell, „ probably also by Thorp.
A wrangler was an inexperienced cowboy who looked after the remuda, all the horses belonging to an outfit.

back to stories behind the song


Black Lung
Hazel Dickens

He’s had more hard luck than most men could stand;
The mines was his first love, but never his friend;
He’s lived a hard life and hard he’ll die,
Black lung’s done got him, his time is nigh.
Black lung, black lung, you’re just biding your time;
Soon all of this suffering I’ll leave behind;
But I can’t help but wonder what God had in mind,
To send such a devil to claim this soul of mine.
He went to the boss man but he closed the door;
It seems you’re not wanted when you’re sick and you’re poor;
You’re not even covered in their medical plans,
And your life depends on the favors of man.
Down in the poorhouse on starvation’s plan,
Where pride is a stranger and doomed is a man;
Your soul full of coal dust till your body’s decayed,
And everyone but black lung’s done turned you away.
Black lung, black lung, oh your hand’s icy cold,
As you reach for my life and torture my soul;
Cold as that water in that dark cave,
Where I spent my life’s blood diggin’ my own grave.
Down at the graveyard the bossman came,
With his little bunch of flowers, oh God, what a shame.
Take back those flowers, don’t sing no sad songs;
The die has been cast now, a good man is gone.

recordings of “Black Lung”:
Hazel Dickens, Coal Mining Women, Rounder CD4028, CD
Hazel Dickens, Come All You Coal Miners, Rounder 4005, LP
Strange Creek Singers,
Strange Creek Singers, Arhoolie, 4004, LP



Black Lung

„Black Lung,“ pneumonoconiosis, is caused by breathing in coal dust over a long period of time. There are two sorts of black lung, the simple form, which is not dangerous and improves as soon as one ceases to breath coal dust, and the complicated form, which can lead to respiratory problems and early death. In the complicated form, lumps form in the lungs, even when coal dust is no longer breathed.
Helen Dickens wrote „Black Lung“ for the documentary film Harlan County, U.S.A. (1978.) The song was inspired by the deaths of her older brothers and brothers-in-law from black lung and related diseases.

back to stories behind the song





Motherless Child

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home
A long way from home
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone
A long way from home
A long way from home
Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air
Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air
Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air
A long way from home
A long way from home
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home
A long way from home

recordings of “Motherless Child”
Morgana King, Best of Morgana King
Geoff Muldaur, Sleepy Man
Odetta, At Carnegie Hall
Odetta, The Essential
Peter, Paul & Mary, Songs Will Rise
Pete Seeger, American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 3, Folkway FA2322, LP
Dave Van Ronk, Dave Van Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues, and Spirituals, Folkways FS 3818, LP

musical notation:
Peter, Paul & Mary Songbook
Folksong Abecedary, James F. Leisy. New York: Bonanza Books, 1966.
Folksong Encyclopedia Vol. 2, Jerry Silverman. Chappell Music, Inc., 1963.
Folksong U.S.A. The 111 Best American Ballads, collected, adapted and arranged by John A. Lomax and Alan
Lomax. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947.

Motherless Child

The first Africans were brought to the British colonies on America in 1619. They were not slaves, but indentured servants, who became free men after expiration of their term of service. Later, settlements of free Africans themselves imported slaves from Africa. Initially, slavery was justified with the argument that they were heathens. Already before the end of the 17th century, baptism no longer brought emancipation with it and the enslavement of Africans and their descendents was based upon the color of their skin. This system of life-long enslavement led to a radical increase in the number of imported Africans. They were cheaper than indentured servants. During the 18th century 200,000 Africans were imported into the British colonies and the United States.But it was the invention of the cotton gin that stabilized the institution of slavery for generations, creating as easy method of removing seeds.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the vast majority of the slaves, who made up 40% of the population of the South, were several generations removed from Africa. Although their heritage survived in their music, their tales and their medicine, by 1861, they were just as much Americans as their owners.
Most slaves had common experiences. They hardly knew the world outside the plantation. They were illiterate, but masters at survival, masters at the use of humbleness, verbal evasiveness and the hiding of emotions. They knew insecurity in their families, having spouses or children sold away. They knew whippings and the inability of the men to protect their women form the „master’s“ lustfulness. Above all, they knew „their white people.“ The opposite was not the case.
Separation from family, separation from home, language, culture, religious beliefs and names. Emancipation brought the former slaves their freedom but little else. [Africans in America: America’s Journey through Slavery, Rycocisc CD90444]

Barbara Kaye Greenleaf, America Fever, p. 19.

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Dakota Land
words: John A. Dean, music: „Beulah Land “

We‘ve reached the land of desert sweet,
Where nothing grows for man to eat;
The wind it blows with feverish heat
Across the plains so hard to beat.

O Dakota land, sweet Dakota land,
As on thy fiery soil I stand,
I look across the plains
And wonder why it never rains,
Till Gabriel blows his trumpet sound
And says the rain‘s just gone around.

We‘ve reached the land of hills and stones
Where all is strewn with buffalo bones.
O buffalo bones, bleached buffalo bones,
I seem to hear your sighs and moans.

We have no wheat, we have no oats,
We have no corn to feed our shoats;
Our chickens are so very poor
They beg for crumbs outside the door.

Our horses are of bronco race;
Starvation stares them in the face.
We do not live, we only stay;
We are too poor to get away.


Musical notation

An American Sample, Twilo Scofield, (ed.). Cutthroat, (1981), p 88b
American Ballads and Songs, Lilian Gear Boswell and Louise Pound, (ed.) , Schribner, (1972/1922)
American Songbag, Carl Sandburg (ed). Harcourt Brace, Jovanich, (1955)
Cowboy and Western Song, Austin E. and Alta S. Fife, Bramhall House, (1982/1969), p 52
Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads , John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. MacMillan (1938), p410
Songs of the Great American West, Irwin Silbert, Dover, Sof (1967), p233
A Treasury of American Folklore, Benjamin Botkin, Crown, Bk (1944), p313



Dakota Land
On March 2, 1861, the Congress of the United States created the Dakota Territory, which included the present-day states of North and South Dakota as well as most of Montana and Wyoming . Two years later, it was reduced to the area of North and South Dakota . The Homestead Act of 1862 brought the first settlers, an initial claim being made in 1868, but large numbers of settlers did nor arrive until the Northern Pacific Railroad was built to the Missouri River in 1872 and 1873.

The railroad had received huge grants of public land and was interested in selling this land to settlers who would then become future customers of the railroad. The Northern Pacific staged a massive advertising campaign to attract potential land buyers, at one point advertising in 200 English-language, 68 German, and 32 Scandinavian newspapers. The company even established newspapers in Germany , Switzerland , and England and sent lecturers to Europe to advertise their land. In the first half of the 1880s, the Northern Pacific had 831 agents in Great Britain and 124 working in Norway , Sweden , Denmark , Holland , Germany and Switzerland . [ Dee Brown, Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow. The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads .New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1977. p. 245-246. ] Settlers came from all these countries as well as from the eastern United States . The largest national group were the Norwegians. Between 1870 and 1890, the population of North Dakota increased from 2400 to 191,000. By 1890, immigrants from Europe and their children made up 70% of the population of North Dakota . [ www.prairiepublic.org/features/changing/past.htm ]

Though Eastern investors established several large-scale farms, most new settlers had only relatively small holdings. Life for the newly-arrived small farmers on the treeless, semi-arid plains was hard. Breaking the sod was back-breaking work. It was so tough, the plowshares had to be sharpened every night after work. To survive, the farmers had to put in long hours. Most of them followed the lead of the large-scale farmers and planted wheat, but with their 160 acres and freight prices dictated by the railroad, they had trouble competing. It cost more to ship grain from Dakota to Chicago than from Chicago to Liverpool . Sinking wheat prices and a long drought in the 1880s caused large numbers to give up and leave. Many, though, were too poor to leave.

A further problem was the isolation of life on the plains, an isolation no Europeans could have ever imagined. Overwork and loneliness took a toll on the settlers, especially on the women. Some women settlers went years without visiting a town. This, combined with the long, dark winters and seemingly never-ceasing wind, was more than many could handle and some farm women lost their sanity.

The winter of 1886-1887, after several years of drought, was especially hard, Arctic storms sending the temperature ever lower. The wind-chill in Dakota reached a hundred below.

„Trapped for weeks, even for months, in a warp of frozen treeless prairie, thousands of pioneers literally lost their minds. As the last of the chairs were being chopped and burned, settlers contemplated a desperate hike to the nearest town, unable to decide whether it was crazier to stay or to leave. No one knows how many lost their lives, but when the spring thaw finally came, whole families were discovered clutching their last potatoes or each other, ice encrusted on their starring, vacant eyes.“ [ Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert . The American West and Its Disappearing Water . New York : Penquin Books, 1986,1993. p. 105. ]

In 1889, North Dakota was admitted to the Union and state politics took on an insurgent nature which grew out of the frustration resulting from the dependence of the North Dakotans on large out-of-state corporations, in particular the railroads. In 1890, the Farmers Alliance created the Independent Party and after combining with the minority Democratic Party, captured the state government, only to lose it again two years later, largely due to inexperience.

By 1905, however, growing frustration ushered in an era of political upheaval. In 1907, the American Society of Equity, a cooperative movement, came to North Dakota and during the next six years created over four hundred marketing and purchasing locals were founded. Political radicals, among them newly-arrived immigrants, formed the North Dakota Socialist Party. These movements sought to limit the power of outside corporations, called for fair taxation and better services from the state government. Out of them grew the Nonpartisan League (NPL), founded in 1915, which by 1918 dominated the state government. A reform program was enacted including expanded educational opportunities, improved healthcare agencies and regulation of public services and corporations.

All this gave rise to fierce opposition. Many NPL leaders were socialists who had opposed American participation in the First World War. During the red scare after war's end, this fact combined with sinking wheat prices, a drought, and internal dissension in the NPL to cost them support and their influence in state government. But the Nonpartisan League left behind the state-owned Bank of North Dakota in Bismarck , which became a major economic force, the State Mill and Elevator at Grand Forks , and a tradition of political insurgence.

The story was much the same all over the Great Plains . The old hymn “ Beulah Land ,” written in 1875 or 1876 by Edgar Page Stites and set to music by John R. Sweney, was taken and changed into a song making fund of their own gullibility. Versions of the song have been collected all over the Plains: Kansas Land , Montana Land and Dakota Land , and endless variations.

back to stories behind the song







Crossing the Border
Si Kahn

As a young man he traveled through Russia
With his uncle and two other singers
But they drafted him into the Army
And he had to escape from there
When the guards that they'd bribed at the border
Started shooting at him and the others
They turned back, but he kept going
And kept going for ninety two years

We are crossing the border
We are crossing the border
We are crossing the border
Come go, come go, come go

He got passage to Nova Scotia
Was married in Manitoba
He shoveled dirt for the Canadian Pacific
Carried hod when they built the hotel
Land was a dollar an acre
But he was too careful to buy it
So when they found oil on it
He still had the story to tell

Then he moved down south of the border
By the mills on the Merrimack River
He pumped gas and kept store for a living
Raised up his daughter and sons
He'd sit at the head of the table
Drinking Haig and Haig pinch bottle whiskey
And I'd wonder how someone so gentle
Could have done all the things that he'd done

He got old and lived by the ocean
I went with my children to see him
He stared through the cataracts at them
But I think that he saw them just right
We buried him up in New England
And maybe that's home for the wanderer
But home is where the heart is
And my heart's with my Zade tonight


Zade is Jiddish for grandfather.


recording of “Crossing the Border”:
Si Kahn, Doing My Job, Flying Fish FF 221, LP
Si Kahn, In My Heart: Live in Holland, Philo Records CD

Musical notation:
Si Kahn songbook, Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Company, 1989.



Crossing the Border

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Every child in America is taught that. And the country is a melting pot. That all sounds clear and simple, but history is more complex. First of all, it excludes the peoples native to the continent. Their distant ancestors were surely also immigrants, but after 30,000 years it seems fair to consider them natives.

In school children are taught that people came to America to seek freedom. That is surely true in a sense, but as often as not they were fleeing from something rather than to something. The goal was to flee their old life. Emigrating to America was a way out when conditions seemed unbearable, be it Irish, who were fleeing hunger, Germans, who were forced to leave their homeland after the revolution of 1848, Scandinavians, who were unable to acquire land in the own country, Mexicans, who fled from poverty, or Vietnamese, who had to leave their home after the American war. Many came of their own free will. A large portion were „economic refugees.“ They were less concerned with the ideal of freedom than their own economic advancement.

The immigrants were rarely made to feel welcome. Up to the 20 th century, America desperately needed workers and settlers, yet the newcomers often faced mistrust and rejection. Anti-foreign, or „nativist“ movements are just as much a part of American history as immigration. As a rule, the immigrants remained strangers in their new land, with an incomplete command of the language, without the hoped-for economic success. It was usually the second generation which reaped the fruits of their parents deeds.

The melting pot legend should also be scrutinized a bit more closely. There is much truth in it. People of many different nationalities were successfully Americanized. The children of the immigrants learned the new language, the grandchildren could no longer speak the old one and married a partner of a different national background. That has been the common path of Americanization. But the process has certainly not always been so peaceful, voluntary and rarely as complete as the legend suggests. Every wave of immigrants brought it culture with in and changed their new home. What it means to be an American has always been constantly changing. And some national groups have been astonishingly resistant to assimilation.

Up to the American Civil War, for example, the Germans in America were looked upon with great mistrust. They stuck together and many of their ways were disconcerting to the „Americans.“ Instead of spending Sundays at home with the family, they enjoyed sitting in beer gardens listening to brass bands. Many were Catholics or freethinkers. But with time, they became accepted although they retained their language, had their own organizations and newspapers and formed a community within the larger American community. They were, afterall, hard-working and law-abiding. Then the First World War broke out. The German-American community took the Kaiser's side and did what it could to keep the United States out of the war. When the United States did enter the war against Germany, a wave of patriotic passion hit the „Germans,“ although they proved entirely loyal to their country. It became fashion to question the loyalty of all „hyphenated Americans.“ But the „Germans“ were the most visible target. They were physically attacked, German stores were demolished, German newspapers banned, German language instruction dropped from school the curricula. The German community in the United States did not survive the war. Many a German-American as well as other „hyphenated Americans“ anglicized the names.

Yet the cultures of the immigrants never perished entirely, not even the German. The United States continues to be and is perhaps increasingly a multi-cultural society. For example, one can still hear music from Germany, Spain, Finland, Norway, Poland and many other cultures. The Irish musical tradition in America is especially lively.

Then there were the other „immigrants,“ the entirely involuntary ones, the Africans. Every effort was made to rob them of their cultural identities and languages, and yet at the same time not allowing them to integrate themselves into the American society until well into the 20 th century, a process as yet not completed, one that perhaps never will be. Still, the influence of the African-Americans on American culture, especially music, is immeasurable.

Being a land of immigrants means being a land which is a constantly changing mosaic. When a piece is lost, another is added and the picture becomes ever more colorful.

After the assassination of Czar Alexander III, a wave of anti-Semitism swept across Russia. Jews experienced increasing repression in education, in their choice of jobs and in the practice of their religion. They lived in constant fear of physical attacks and pogroms. Of the eight million immigrants who came to America in those years from Russia and Austria-Hungary, two and a half million were Jews.

The song tells the story of Gabriel Kahn, Si Kahn‘s grandfather. At the age of 20, he was called to military service. Being a Jew in the Russian army at that time was a terrible fate. His family made plans for his desertion and flight from Russia. One day he reported he was sick and he never returned to duty. He was smuggled over the border, took a ship to England and then to Canada. Later, he settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he is buried.


Ethnic recordings:
The World in Our Backyard (Music and around New York City: Irish, Bulgarian, Thai, Peruvian, Portugese, Hungarian, Jordanian and more), Chub CD1005
Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest (German, Polish, Slowenian, Czech, Finnish, Croatian and Norwegian), Smithsonian Folkways CD40088
Texas-Czech, Bohemian – Moravian Bands 1929-1959, Arhoolie CD 7026
Music of New Mexico: Hispanic Traditions, Smithsonian Folkways, CD40409
The Texas-Mexican Conjunto – 1936-1966, Arhoolie Cas 9049
Pawlo Humeniuk, King of the Ukrainian Fiddlers, Arhoolie CD7025
The Wheels of the World Vol. 1: Early Irish-American Music, Yazoo-CD7009
Klezmania: Klezmer for the New Millennium, Shenachie CD67007
Masters: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Instrumental Collection, Dancing Cat-CD38032
Les flemmes d'enfer/ Flames of Hell: Best of Cajun/Zydeco Tradition Swamp Music Vol. 1, Trikont US 0156-E/U / Aziz Herawi
Master of Afghani Lutes, Arhooloe CD 387

back to stories behind the song



Anna Olsen
Tom Russell

My name is Anna Olsen, leaving Norway, was so hard
I watch my nearest neighbors now, planting fruit trees in their yard
Their dreams of the olde land has but added to their tears
As most of their young children died, before they reached six years

I married a Solvaer man, praise God, we've faired quite well
While others fled in the dark, from land too poor to sell
Some hung themselves in apple trees, on broke and bankrupt farms
And the sun would rise on rotten fruit and the smoke of burning barns

American Primitive man
In an American Primitive Land
Never touched me with an angry hand
An American Primitive man

This land was conquered horseback, and it's horses now we raise
Percherons and Clydesdales are trained in farming ways
Our daylight's gone to dusty work; the night is storms and fright
And the lonesome sound of the Orphan Trains, whistling through the night

And when the wind moves through the barley, and the owls begin to moan

Makes a body mournful for, the one's we left back home
So many nights I've watched the storm, and stared out through the rain
And dreamed of our departed boy, riding on the Orphan Train
The son who ran away from us, on that orphan train.

recording of "Anna Olsen":
The Man from God Knows Where , Hightone Records FXCD 209


Anna Olsen

In 1850, there were fewer then twenty thousand Scandinavians living in America . During the Civil War, the United States recruited soldiers in Scandinavia . Those men willing to serve in the American army were promised land. The American consulate was flooded with volunteers, but the United States did not have the transportation capacity to benefit from the situation. During the war, in 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, the law which practically gave land away. In Scandinavia, „ America fever“ broke out.“

Scandinavia has a cool, dark climate, not well-suited to agriculture, upon which the overwelming majority of the population was nevertheless dependent for their livelihood. The Norwegian and part of the Swedish landscape is mountainous and not particularly fertile. In 1850, only 4% of the land in Norway and Sweden was being used for agriculture. [Barbara Kaye Greenleaf, America Fever: The Story of American Immigration . New York : Mentor , 1970. p. 77] In all three countries, (that is, in Denmark as well) the aristocracy owned the largest part of the land and would not sell land to peasants. During the 19 th century, the population of Scandinavia rose by almost 100%, so that fewer and fewer people were in a position to feed themselves from their own land. For the members of the lowest social class in Sweden , the possibility of acquiring land in America meant freedom and social advancement. In Scandinavia , there was practically no chance of economic or social advancement.

Yet another reason for emigration from Scandinavia was the growing intolerance of the Lutheran church, which was practically the state church. Every individual was under its control and had to pay a church tax.

Unlike most other immigrant groups, the Scandinavians did not remain in the big cities. They instead headed for the Midwest and West to become farmers. Life on the prairies was hard and lonesome. Neighbors were few and far between. The climate was extreme. The cold winters, when people were almost entirely confined to their houses, took their toll. Isolated people became desperate, drank, lost their minds, committed suicide. But Scandinavian farmers were extremely successful. Swedish immigrants cultivated an area in America bigger than their entire homeland.

In contrast to the Irish and immigrant groups that came later, the Scandinavians were welcomed in America . They were white, protestant, disciplined and hard-working. They were absorbed more quickly than others into the larger American population.

The emigration was a turning point in the history of Scandinavia . 1,250,000 Swedes, 850,000 Norwegians and 350,000 Danes went to America . Though these numbers appear small when compared to the numbers of Germans, Irish or Italians who left their homes, no other countries lost such a large percentage of their populations to emigration. In 1900, there were five million Swedes and two million Norwegians. In some areas, almost all the young people from the lower classed emigrated.

All of this forced social and economic reforms in Scandinavia , so that not even more people would be lost. That was the basis of the Scandinavian social welfare state which became a model for many other countries.

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The Church in the Wildwood

There's a church in the valley by the wildwood
No lovelier spot in the dale
No place is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning
To listen to the clear ringing bells
Its tones so sweetly are calling
Oh come to the church in the vale

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

There, close by the church in the valley
Lies one that I loved so well
She sleeps, sweetly sleeps, 'neath the willow
Disturb not her rest in the vale

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

There, close by the side of that loved one
'Neath the tree where the wild flowers bloom
When farewell hymns shall be chanted
I shall rest by her side in the tomb

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

Carter Family, “The Church in the Wildwood
Charlie Pride, "The Church in the Wildwood"

recordings of “ The Church in the Wildwood
Bushnell's Basin Delegation . Time in Our Lives, Bushnell's Basin BBD-7901, LP (1979).
Carter Family . Carter Family in Texas. Vol. 7, Old Homestead OHCS 139, LP (1984).
June Carter. Wildwood Flower, Dualtone 80302, CD (2003).
Carmen Holland. All Time Favorite Sacred Songs on the Autoharp, Sound Productions , LP (197?).
Bonnie Leigh. Down in the Shady Grove, Maywind K56-03, CD (1998).
Rose Maddox. Beautiful Bouquet , Arhoolie 5030, LP (1983).
Charles Maxson and Karen Skidmore . From the Heartland of West Virginia . The Hammered & Plucked Dul , Peaceable 4, LP (1975).
Cloise and Harley Sinclair. American Hammer Dulcimer , Troubadour TR-6, LP (1978).

musical notation
Charles Johnson, One Hundred & One Famous Hymn, Hallberg , (1982), (Little Brown Church in the Vale)
Linda Lowe Thompson. Dulcimer Players News, DPN , Ser, 18/1, p13(1992)
Ruth Burton Herren. Jack & Olivia Solomon (eds.). Sweet Bunch of Daisies, Colonial Press , Bk (1991), p108.


The Church in the Wildwood

The song „The Church in the Wildwood“ was written by Dr. William S. Pitts (1830-1918). While traveling from Wisconsin , where he taught school in Rock County, to Fredericksburg, Iowa in June 1857 to visit his fiancée, the coach stopped in Bradford, small town of about 500 souls just 14 miles west of Fredericksburg. The small settlement had been founded just nine years before. To stretch his legs, Pitts, a music teacher, walked along Cedar Street and saw an empty lot in a beautiful setting in the Cedar River Valley . He imagined a church being built there and a few days later he wrote a poem to get the image out of his head, later putting it to music. He put the song away and forgot it.

1860, after the congregation in Bradford, Iowa had met in a lawyer's office, abandoned stores and private home, the foundation of a new church was laid. Using donated lumber work on the church work proceeded slowly.

In the meantime, William Pitts had married and was again living in Wisconsin. In 1862, the Pitts relocated to Fredericksburg to be near her elderly parents. Pitts received a position teaching singing at the Bradford Academy. He was surprised to discover that on the very spot where he had imagined a church could stand, that one was being built, and because it was the least expensive color, was being painted brown. He found a copy of the song he had written and at the dedication of the church his class the forgotten song for the first time in public.

In 1865 Pitts left Bradford to enroll in Rush Medical College in Chicago and to pay his enrollment fees he sold the rights to the song to a publisher for $25. By the time he finished his studies in 1868 the song “Church in the Wildwood” had again been forgotten.

Pitts settled in Fredericksburg, Iowa, where he practiced medicine for forty years.

As the 19 th came to an end, the little town of Bradford was in decline after having been passed up by the railroad and the flour mill had removed to Nashua, Iowa . The population had declined so far that the already neglected church was closed in 1888.

After the turn of the century, the Society for the Preservation of the Little Brown Church was founded and by 1914 services were again being held in the church. The congregation as well as the song experienced a revival. It was picked up by the Weatherwax Quartet, which traveled throughout the United States and Canada in the 1920s and the 1930s using “The Church in the Wildwood” as it signature song. The made the church well-known and visitors began to travel to Bradford to see it. Today, over 40,000 visitors come to visit the Little Brown Church and more than 400 couples choose to be wed there each year. The congregation is alive and well and affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

The Little Brown Church in internet

Foto: Weatherwax Quartet and the Little Brown Church

New York Times article about the Little Brown Church

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Pretty Polly

Polly, pretty Polly, come go along with me,
Polly, pretty Polly, come go along with me,
Before we get married some pleaure to see.

O Willie, o Willie, I'm afraid of your ways,
O Willie, o Willie, I'm afraid of your ways,
I'm afraid you will lead my poor body astray.

Polly, pretty Polly, you're guessing just right,
Polly, pretty Polly, you're guessing just right,
I dug on your grave the best part of last night.

Well she stepped a few steps further and what did she spy?
Well she stepped a few steps further and what did she spy?
But a new dug grave and a spade lying by.

He stabbed her to the heart and her heart's blood did flow,
He stabbed her to the heart and her heart's blood did flow,
And into the grave pretty Polly she did go.

He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,
He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,
Leaving no one behind but the wild birds to mourn.

It's a debt to the devil poor Willie must pay,
It's a debt to the devil poor Willie must pay,
For killing Pretty Polly and running away.


recordings of "Pretty Polly"
E.C. (Estil C.) Ball, Anglo American Ballads , Library of Congress AFS L 1, LP
E.C. (Estil C.) Ball, Bad Man Ballads, Prestige International INT 25009, LP
E.C. (Estil C.) Ball, High Atmosphere, Rounder CD 0028, CD
E.C. (Estil C.) Ball, Southern Journey. Vol. 1: Voices from the American South, Rounder 1701, CD
E.C. (Estil C.) Ball, Southern Journey. Vol. 5: Bad Man Ballads, Rounder 1705, CD
E.C. Ball and Oma, Fathers Have a Home Sweet Home, Rounder 0072, LP
Dock Boggs, His Folkways Years 1963-1968, CD40108, CD
Dock Boggs, Legendary Dock Boggs, Verve/ Folkways FV 9025, LP
Dock Boggs, Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings (1927-29), Revenant 205, CD
Paul Clayton, Bloody Ballads, Riverside RLP 12-615, LP
Fred Cockerham, Southern Clawhammer, Kicking Mule KM 213, Cas
Judy Collins, Sanity & Grace, Gold Castle
Judy Collins, So Early in the Spring, Elektra
Judy Collins, Who Knows Where the Goes, Elektra
Coon Creek Girls, Early Radio Favorites Old Homestead C142, Cas
Wilma Lee Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan, Daisy a Day, Rebel REB 1625, LP
Bill (Banjo Bill) Cornett, Mountain Music of Kentucky, Smithsonian/Folkways SF CD 40077, CD
Country Pardners, Sound of Bluegrass, Pickwick ACL-0535, LP
Erik Darling, Eric Darling, Elektra EKL-154, LP
Sandy Denny, Sandy Denny, Saga 13153, LP
Dillards, Live Almost, Elektra EKS-7265, LP
Dillards, Folk Box, Elektra EKL-9001, LP
Walter Forbes, Ballads and Bluegrass, RCA (Victor) LPM-2472, LP
Addie Graham, Been a Long Time Traveling, June Appal JA 0020, LP
Frank Hamilton, Frank Hamilton Sings Folk Songs, Folkways FA 2437, LP
Russell Higgins, Old-Time Banjo Anthology, Vol. 1, Marimac AHS 4, Cas
Will Holt, Will Holt Concert Stinson SLP 64, LP
Ivor Melton, Ballads and Songs of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asch AH 3831, LP
New Lost City Ramblers, Rural Delivery No. 1, Verve/ Folkways DW-90705, LP
Tom Paley, Folk Banjo Styles, Elektra EKL-7217, LP
Tom Paley, O Love Is Teasin', Elektra BLP-12051, LP
Raymond Pendleton, 38th Annual Galax Old Fiddlers Convention, 1973, Gazette 38, LP
Dirk Powell, If I Go Ten Thousand Miles, Rounder 0384, CD
Red Fox Chasers, Red Fox Chasers, County 510, LP
Jean Ritchie, Best of Jean Ritchie, Prestige International 13003, LP
Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson, Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson At Folk City, Smithsonian/ Folkways CD SF 40005, CD
Jean and Lee Schilling, Porches of the Poor, Traditional JLS 617, LP
Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard, Greenhays GR 704, LP
Pete Seeger, American Ballads, Folkways FA 2319, LP
Lee „Boy“ Sexton, Mountain Music of Kentucky, Smithsonian/Folkways SF CD 40077, CD
B.F. Shelton, Old Time Ballads from the Southern Mountains, County 522, LP
Hobart Smith, Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, Tradition TR 1007, LP
Ed Spencer, Traditional Music From Grayson and Carroll Counties, Folkways FS 3811, LP
I.D. Stamper, Red Wing, June Appal JA 0010, LP
Stanley Brothers, Stanley Brothers, Harmoyn HL 7291, LP
Ralph Stanley & Patty Loveless, Clinch Mountain Country, Rebel REB-5001, CD
Raymond Stanley, Kirkland Recordings, Tennessee Folklore Society TFS-106, LP
Pete Steele, Anglo American Ballads, Library of Congress AFS L 1, LP
Pete Steele, Banjo Tunes and Songs, Folkways FS 3828, LP
Unknown Singer(s), Music of the Worlds Peoples. Vol. 1, Folkways P 504, LP
Harry and Jeanie West, Smokey Mountain Ballads, Counterpoint/Esoteric CPT-545, LP
Hedy West, New Folk, Vanguard VRS 9096, LP
White Lightning, White Lightning, ABC ABCS-690, LP
Paul Wiley, Comin' Round the Mountain, Voyater VLRP 302, LP

musical notation
The American Songbag, Carl Sandburg and Garrison Keillor, Harcourt Brace, 1990.
Folksong U.S.A. John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax. New York Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947.
Southern Folk Ballads, Vol. 1. American Originals: A Heritage, Maud Boelyn, August House, 1987.
A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains, Dorothy Scarborough. New York : AMS Press, 1966.
Songs to Remember, Wilma Lee Cooper

Pretty Polly

Jean Ritchie remembers: „My mother wouldn‘t allow me to sing 'Pretty Polly‘ because it was unseemly for a woman“[The Folk Music Encyclopedia, Kristin Baggelaar und Donald Milton. London: Omnibus Press, 1974, S. 316.]

This ballad first became known in 18 th century England as the „Gosport Tragedy“ of „The Cruel Ships Carpenter.“ Twenty-seven verses told the story of the murder of a young women in Gosport , near Southhampton. In the original ballad, Willie attempts to flee by ship, but the ghost of Polly and her murdered baby find him and haunt him.

Away from the Captain he turned with speed
And met his dearest Polly, which made his heart bleed.
She rent him, she stripped him, she tore him all in three;
Because he had murdered her and her baby.

The singers of Kentucky reduced the story to the essentials. We no longer hear about the baby and the ghost. Greil Marcus wrote: „You can imagine that Polly's pregnancy is missing from the American song not because of Puritan prudery but because of the secret Puritan recognition of those places in the heart that cannot be reached, wishes that can't be explained, not even explained away – you can imagine that the motive has been removed from the song because that way the song is scarier.“ [Greil Marcus, Invisible Republic , S. 181.]

There are a whole series of American ballads concerning murdered pregnant women, „Omie Wise“ and “Knoxville Girl,“ for example. Perhaps they were meant as warnings to young women.

back to stories behind the song








Something in the Rain
Tish Hinojosa

Mom and dad have worked the fields
I don't know how many years
I'm just a boy now but I know how
And go to school when work is slow
We have seen our country's roads
Bakersfield to Illinois
And when trouble comes our way, oh yeah,
I've seen my daddy pray

There's something wrong with little sister
I hear her crying by my side
Mama's shaking as she holds her
We try to hold her through the night
And Mama says close your eyes Mijito [my son]
Dream of some place far from here
Like pictures in your school books
Someday you can take us there

There must be something in the rain
I'm not sure just what that means
Abuelita [grandmother] talks of sins of man
Of dust that's in our hands
There must be something in the rain,
Wel, what else could cause this pain
Those airplanes cure the plants so things can grow
Oh no, it must be something in the rain

Little sister's gone away
Mama's workin' long again
And me, I think I understand
About our life, about our land
Well, talkers talk and dreamers dream
I will find a place between
I'm afraid but I believe
That we can change these hurting fields

Cause there's something in the rain
But there's more here in our hands
' Buelita's [grandma‘s] right about the sins of man
Whose profits rape the land
And the rains are pouring down
From the growers to the towns
And until we break the killing chains
There's something in the rain.

recording of “Something in the Rain”:
Tish Hinojosa, Culture Swing, Rounder CD3122, CD

Something in the Rain

Every year, an many as a million migrant workers are on the road in the United States, a large part of them Spanish speakers. Most of these migrants come from Texas. They, and as a rule it is entire families, go from harvest to harvest.

It is a hard life. Migrant workers earn little. The hourly wages are low and they are often without work for months at a time. The housing made available to them is substandard. They are poorly educated, the children of migrant workers are forced by the circumstances to change schools year after year. They usually sit in classes with children much younger and many school districts do not like to see them. Their parents do not pay taxes in the district, yet the migrant children can at times make up the largest part of the students. Their parents often consider formal schooling unnecessary.

Probably the biggest problem facing the migrant workers is health care. Few are insured and many doctors refuse to treat them. Worst of all, while working in the fields, they are exposed to the numerous toxic chemicals used in modern agriculture, and that over a period of many years. Most suffer from skin problems, some from poisonings.

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Big Water
Tom Russell

They call this river the father of waters
I guarantee you that's a fact
Old man river, he gone high, wild and angry
He's taking the bottomlands back
You know that old saying, "Come hell or high water."
They mean the same thing to me
I watched my home and everything I'd worked for
Floating down to the sea
Down to the Mexican sea

Big water risin' on the plans of mice and men
Mother Nature's tears are floodin' the levee
Of the worn-out promise land
Of a worn-out promise land

Noah built his arche as God had directed
He loaded the zebras two by two
Well me, I got my wife and kids and a pair of old hounddogs
And a Sears and Roebuck canoe
We floated down to Hannibal, Missouri
Where the snakes were nestin' in the trees
I shouted Mark Twain as we was rollin' through the levee
But no one shouted back at me
No one shouted back at me

They call this river the father of waters
I guarantee you that's a fact
Old man river, he gone high, wild and angry
He's taking the bottomlands back
He took the bankrupt farms and the empty coal mines
And the ghost of the factory town
Well, the Bible tells of a fire next time
But there'll be nothing left to burn down
Nothing left to burn down

Big water risin'


recording of “Big Water”
Tom Russell & Iris DeMent, The Long Way Around, Hightone HCD 8081, CD

Big Water

A flood is a natural occurance and in and of itself a blessing. It only becomes a catastrophe when people attempt to resist the power of the river. After the great flood of 1927, the Mississippi River Commission began a massive flood control program. Almost all measures, however, were concentrated on the section below Cairo, Illinois .

The flood of 1993 did not have the dimensions of 1927, but it did devastate the Midwest . The largest part of the damage was north of Cairo , which led many to call for even more flood control measures to try to tame the river. Others supported a return to natural conditions, the reconstruction of wetlands and flood areas. The Sierra Club initiated a program to recapture the natural environment of the river. The fact is that floods maintain a river's health. Natural floodplains improve water quality by acting as filters, stopping sediments and filtering our pollutants. Floodplains also relieve pressure during high water periods, storing the excess water and letting it run off slowly. For many species of fish, the high water acts as a reproductive cue. Floods also create side channels, islands, and sloughs, which wildlife need as habitat and floods encourage biodiversity by allowing plants and animals to migrate. In the long run, flood control is counter-productive and only makes matters worse.

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Dust Storm Disaster (The Great Dust Storm)
Woody Guthrie

On the fourteenth of April of nineteen thirty-five
There came the worst of dust storms, that ever filled the sky
You could see the dust storm coming, a cloud looked death-like black
And through our mighty nation it left a dreadful track.

From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line,
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande,
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom.

The radio reported, we listened with alarm,
The wild and windy actions of this great mysterious storm;
From Albuquerque and Clovis, and all New Mexico,
They said it was the blackest that ever they had saw.

From old Dodge City , Kansas , the dust had rung their knell,
And a few more comrades sleeping on top of old Boot Hill,
From Denver, Colorado, they said it blew so strong,
They thought that they could hold out, but didn't know how long.

Our relatives were huddled in their oil boom shacks,
The children they was crying as it whistled through the cracks.
The family it was crowded into their little room,
They thought the world had ended, they thought it was their doom.

This storm took place at sundown and lasted through the night,
When we looked out next morning we saw a terrible sight;
We saw outside our windows where wheat fields once had grown,
Was now a rippling ocean of dust the wind had blown.

It covered up our fences, it covered up our barns,
It covered up our tractors in this wild and windy storm,
We loaded our jalopies and pilied our families in,
We rattled down the highway to never come back again.




recordings of “Dust Storm Disaster (The Great Dust Storm):
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Hard Travelin': The Songs of Woody Guthrie and Others, Fantasy F. 24720, LP. 1977
Woody Guthrie, Dust Bowl Ballads, Buddha Records. 2000. CD

musical notation:
Sing Out Reprints, Sing Out, 1959

Dust Storm Disaster

The term „Dust Bowl“ refers to an area which suffered from extreme wind erosion during the 1930s, parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

The term was used for the first time by an Associated Press writer reporting about the disastrous dust storm of April 14, 1935. Huge clouds of dust rolled over the land, like a wall, as people recalled. Day became night, the brightest light could only be seen a few inches away. The wind blew so hard that boxcars were pushed along the tracks. The topsoil, the seeds and the plants were ripped off the fields. Barns, fences and roads were buried in dust. It was the worst storm of the Dust Bowl, but between 1932 and 1941, dust storms were an everyday occurrence. During those years, the region was practically dead and still today it is a land marked by those events. The area affected by the dryness reached all the way to Canada . Most of the people living in the Dust Bowl stuck it out, but the dust combined with the Great Depression gave many people no other choice but to flee the area. In Cimarron County , Oklahoma , there was no harvest between 1932 and 1937. During the worst year, 1938, as much as 850 tons of topsoil was blown away by the wind. In the worst-hit areas, half the population left. 114 counties in the western parts of Kansas and Nebraska practically emptied of people, some areas given up forever. The population of Nebraska dropped by 37,000.

The Great Plains had long been known as the „ Great American Desert “ and was considered uninhabitable. But after the railway and roads opened up the area, a stream on settlers poured in and no one considered the natural limitations for agricultural development. The 1870s and 1880s were years of sufficient rainfall on the prairies. People took the saying, „the rain follows the plow,“ seriously. The railroad companies had received huge grants of land as compensation for the costs of building the lines and were interested in attracting settlers to their land, settlers who would be future customers. The territories which were one after the other being admitted to the union as states also had large amounts of public land. They did whatever they could to attract settlers and future tax payers and advertised in Europe . The Homestead Act on 1862 made it possible to get land practically for nothing. A large part of the new settlers were immigrants, arriving directly from Europe . Englishmen, Irishmen, Dutch, French, Jews from Eastern Europe , Germans and Swedes sought a new home on the prairie. In 1875, the majority of Nebraska 's population lived in households whose heads had been born outside the United States . Among the older Americans who settled the plains during these decades there were 15,000 former slaves fleeing the repression of the post-Reconstruction South. [Geoffrey C. Ward, The West, p. 267 u. 244.] By 1886, three and a half million people were living on the Great Plains . Fifty years later, it was 15 million people.

Up to 1907, a large part of the land which later became the Dust Bowl was still untouched by the plow. Then, that which had kept the plains green for millions of years was destroyed in a couple of decades. The fact is that there had always been dry spells on the plains at regular intervals and during those periods there was wind erosion. But the problem worsened as more and more grassland disappeared. Many farmers were financially unable to take measures to protect the soil. The demand for and the price of wheat rose during the First World War. Between 1910 and 1920, the amount of cultivated land doubled. After the war, the price of wheat dropped but did remain stable for many years. The farmers, with the aid of newer technology, further expanded their production in order to raise their profits. The amount of grazing land decreased and that which remained was destroyed by overgrazing, leaving the soil unprotected. Even before the beginning of the dry spell, soil experts had recommended returning millions of acres to grassland and practicing soil conservation on the rest. When the Depression set in, the Great Plains farmer was faced with sinking prices, overcapacity, debts and mortgages he could not repay.

Three factors led to the Dust Bowl: the makeup of the soil of the Great Plains , the climate with its periodic dry spells and human settlement. The Dust Bowl was therefore not a „natural catastrophe,“ but an environmental disaster produced by human beings, the worst environmental disaster in American history, the result of ignorance, greed and irresponsibility toward the earth. [Kenneth Allsop, Hard Travellin' , p. 367.]

In the years after 1932, nature struck back when a dry period set in on the plains. The soil, no longer protected by grass, was swept away and with it many of the people. The land had been raped by the plow. Many of those who gave up and set out for California had not been living on the plains very long. They had heard of the legendary harvests, but had remained strangers in a land that they had never gotten to know. By the time the dry spell set in, they had not become established themselves enough to survive the hard times.

For most of those who gave up, California was the goal, the Promised Land. In three years, 350,000 left the Dust Bowl for California . In 1935, the Los Angeles Times was already calling for closure of the state's borders. The movement of people from the Dust Bowl to California was not so much a migration as flight. The people had no choice.

The Dust Bowl refugees were not pioneers who moved further west to seek new opportunities, but people who had failed. They were beggars, dependent o the help of others, waste products of the American dream. The Dust Bowl refugees, „were victims of, products of, an increasing rootlessness in American life.“ [Prof Paul P. Taylor, Univ. of California , quoted in Kenneth Allsop, Hard Travellin' , p. 410.]

Woody Guthrie wrote: „I've lived in these dust storms just about all my life (I mean I tried to live). I met millions of good folks trying to hang on and to stay alive with the dust cutting down every hope. I am made out of this dust and out of this fast...“ [ The Collected Reprints from SingOut! The Folk Song Magazine Volumes 7-12, 1964-1973.p. 193.]

John Steinbeck's novel about the Dust Bowl refugees, The Grapes of Wrath , as well as the film made from it in 1940 starring Henry Fonda put the „Okies“ in the spotlight and brought them much sympathy. The novel sold 420,565 copies during the first year after its publication in 1939. Then the Associated Farmers, an organization of large-scale growers, started a propaganda campaign against the book, calling it obscene, vulgar, immoral and managed to have it banned from libraries. The public lost interest in the „Okies.“ In 1941, the rains returned. Then the United States entered the Second World War.

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