Let my gratitude roll out like the waves, crashing upon the shores of those who so generously contribute on this.
Bernard deVoto's "Across The Wide Missouri", a history of the 'mountain men' of the early west, contains an unattributed inclusion in it's frontispiece of the song we know as "Shenandoah", but as "Shennydore".
That began this intrigue as deVoto, a Hahvahd Mahn, did not explain why he put it there.
At the Fort Davis (west Texas) gift shop during a trip to the Big Bend Nat'l Park, I picked up a cassette of "Distant Horns...Territorial Brass" (not in my hands at this second) which included an utterly haunting rendition of the subject song.
Though sung to the contemporary lyrics, the cassette's insert cites "c. 1820" as the date for the song.
Perched in camp above Glenn Springs (raided by Pancho Villa associates), I played the song from that tape over and over. The anathemas of American western history were quite striking to me at the time, this brought on by contemplation of the borderlands. The song played on.
Where the hell does Shenandoah and Missouri cross? What is this dang song? Why is it so appropriate to sitting 'here' in the Big Bend, the ghost of old Chisos glowing up on the mountain, the Rio Grande not far, and Mexico beyond.
Why is this thing so Western? Not because anyone said it should be (though 'they' do), but why did it seem to be the utter theme of the moment while I was there.
A lonely place it was, the absolute ghost town of Glenn Springs. Shenandoah is a great 'lonely' song.
So that's where this started.
Your answers are most appreciated.
Polling up to the Missouri, jumping ship at the goldrush, sloshing down from Canada, all certainly were the transfer of this shanty to land.
Missouri got in there because the melody could take any words. Why did it stick?
A search for the earliest printed versions of the song continues. Bruce, Martin and Allan, (Mrs. Bookay, too) ya'll are great!
Thanks all for sharing in the enigma. If you are a singer to an audience, perhaps our work here will give you a little something to intrigue the crowd, beyond the old "Indian stories", though they could still prove associated, even if I doubt 'Shenandoah' by any various interprets, including the Daughter of The Stars, had a thing to do with it.
I know we'll never get the thing nailed down Solid Fast, but every contribution here is helping.
PS: Whall's 1910: "Originally it was a song, not a shanty"...and on... is baffling. I accuse the gent of poor scholarship. But, he didn't have the Internet.