Today I went to see Fletcher Collins. I recently discovered that he lives just over the mountain from me, so I called him up and said I wanted to come talk to him about "Buckeye Jim". He was glad to spend some time with me. He is 95 years old and acts like he's about 65. We cleared up at least one of the mysteries. He did publish the version of "Limber Jim" that he originally collected from Mrs. Newman in his little booklet called ALAMANCE PLAY-PARTY SONGS AND SINGING GAMES (1940). While this is a somewhat obscure source, I think that it is probably the origin of the "Limber Jims" that are out there on the web and also the one mentioned above in Richard Johnston's book.
So, there were/are two versions out there, the "Limber Jim" published by Collins in ALAMANCE and the "Buckeye Jim" made popular by Burl Ives and subsequently published by Alan Lomax in FOLK SONG U.S.A. And it is the latter one that is the more familiar one. The lyrics for Collins' "Limber Jim" are as follows:
Way up yonder above the moon
A jay bird lived in a silver spoon.
Chorus: Go limber, Jim; you can't go.
Go weave and spin; you can't go.
Way up yonder above the sky
Jay bird built in a bluebird's eye.
Way down yonder in a sycamore trough
An old lady died with the whoopin' cough.
Wake up, snakes, and come to taw.
We won't have any more your link and law.
The tune is the same as the one on the link to "Old Colony Times" in my opening note on this tread. In a "note for users" of the play-party booklet, Collins says:
"Do not suppose that these songs exist here because of unusually fortunate environmental and historical conditions. These are not "Southern mountain" songs' they were picked up in and around a busy textile-mill town in the industrial Piedmont area (of North Carolina), and - of all places - within a stone's throw of a liberal arts college."
However, he did say that Patty Newman's family background was primarily North Carolina on both her mother's and her father's sides. See also the previous note for possible Missouri and Ohio influences.
I shared with Fletcher Collins what we had come up with here. He was quite interested, especially in the Lafcadio Hearn piece. He suggested the possibility that "shiloh" might be related to the "game of craps", as something you say when you roll the dice. Anybody know about this? We talked about all of the possibilities having to do with "limber" and with "buckeye". He suggested that "buckeyed" might be a synonym for "wall-eyed".
At least we have the definitive text as far as his collected version is concerned. And we know that it contained the "limber, Jim" reference. And we know that he did publish this, and where and when. Now we just need the missing chapters between Lafcadio Hearn's roustabout song and Mrs. Patty Newman's lullaby (as well as anything prior to Hearn). Collins said she did sing it slow.