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Origins: Take Me Home (Kentucky)

cnd 01 Jun 21 - 12:47 AM
GUEST,cnd 02 Jun 21 - 02:44 PM
GUEST,# 02 Jun 21 - 05:53 PM
cnd 05 Jun 21 - 10:17 PM
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Subject: Origins: Take Me Home (Kentucky)
From: cnd
Date: 01 Jun 21 - 12:47 AM

Here's a poem I've come across recently which *believe* is read to the tune of State of Arkansas, as the stanzaic structure works well to that tune. Additionally, the lines scan well, plus the overall thematic idea makes believe it's a parody of the song applied to a different state. However, as far as I can find, it was written only as a poem, with no music or hint at a melody included. Despite that, the author, N. L. Bachman, did write several songs to known themes.

First, a little on the author of the song.

In a obituary published in The Shield, Vol. 19, the quarterly magazine of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity, Nathan LaFayette Bachman (1848-1903) [1] is credited as having written the poem (note: I discovered the primary sources, as so often happens, after having written this; see [5] and [8]). Nicknamed "Old Fate," Bachman was born in Cloverbottom, Sullivan County, Tennessee. He served in the Confederacy during the Civil War despite his young age (reportedly he entered the war at age 15 [3]), and was reported later to have fought in several battles. An 1890 biography of him, however, makes his service seem limited. He stated he "'fought, bled and died' for the Southern Confederacy in a very 'private' way, in the reserve corps, and was a brevet-major for two days, seven and one-half hours, commanding a mule train hauling salt for Basil Duke's (Morgan's) brigade of Kentucky Rebs." [2] It was later reported that he fought against fellow assemblyman William F. Rowell [3] [4].

Following the war, he enrolled in 1868 in New York's Hamilton College. He earned his Master's Degree from Hamilton in 1874 and got a Bachelor of Laws from Columbia College (NY) in 1876; at that time he was admitted to the NY State Bar. After practicing law in Schoharie, NY from 1876-July 1884, he traveled to California at the advice of a physician, partially because he was seeking relief from a cold he had contracted one winter in Montreal (though it was later noted his health remained poor in California, suffering frequently from "hemorrhages and heart trouble"), and partially to help settle estate of his uncle, who had been murdered in Fresno. He was at a cattle ranch "at the foot of the Sierra Nevada" in 1885, and by 1886 he was in Fresno; by 1888 he was managing editor of The Fresno Republican, however he later started his own weekly, called The Watchman, also based out of Fresno. After some time working for The Expositor, Bachman was elected to the California Assembly as a Democrat, where he served from 1895-97. He was noted in legislature for his "strenuous opposition to women's rights" and his "keen wit" and speech-giving skills [2] [4].

Following his term in the Assembly, "Old Fate" returned to The Fresno Republican in 1896; he worked with that paper for the remainder of his life, writing under the name "Bach." [2] At this time, he primarily wrote topical poetry.

"Take Me Home" was written on June 13th, 1900 during the Goebel Troubles in Kentucky [5].

TAKE ME HOME

Take me back to old Kentucky,
Where the crystal waters glint
As they dance along the borders
Through the fragrant beds of mint:--
Where the lasses and the horse
Are terms of grace and speed,
And the whiskey and the statesman
Both are noted for their "bead."

Take me back to old Kentucky,
Where the strong waters flow so free;
Where they cool off in the summer
'Neath the spreading julip tree:--
Where the "high balls" and the "low balls"
Always hit the center square;
And you never have "next morning"
Rheumatism in your hair.

Take me back to old Kentucky
Where the blue grass decks the hills;--
Where they have no use for water,
Save for operating mills:
For they scorn it as a beverage,
On that dark and bloody ground,
As they claim--e'er since the Deluge--
That it tastes of sinners drowned.

Take me back to old Kentucky,
To the State where I was born,
"Where the corn is full of Kernels
And the Colonels full of 'corn,'"
Where to disapprove that beverage
Is to toy with sudden death:
And they have a bounded warehouse
Where they barrel up the breath.

Take me back to Kentucky;
Let me hear the pistol's pop--
See the pigs and politicians,
With snouts eye-deep in slop:
Take me to those blue mountains,
Where they argue points with lead;
But you needn't rush the matter--
Take me back--when I am dead.



The poem was first published on January 1st, 1901 in Bachman's Fresno Morning Republican [8]. From there, it slowly spread across the country. It seems to have hit its stride in 1903, when dozens of papers reprinted it, mostly attributing it anonymously. It was surprisingly popular in Kentucky, with at least five papers publishing the poem from 1903-1904. From there, it was popular in the exchange or poetry sections for several years.

A few notes on the background in the poem; first, the Goebel Troubles. William Goebel was the 34th Governor of Kentucky, a role in which he performed for just 4 days. Sworn into office on January 31st, 1900 following a highly contentious election filled with broken agreements, re-cast votes, several electoral factions, and a special assembly, he died of his wounds on February 3rd, 1900. Goebel was assassinated on January 30th while walking into the Kentucky State Capitol Building, despite having been warned about assassination plots; The legislature confirmed his election the day after his shooting. His sole act of office while governor was to dissolve a militia called up by his opponent, William S. Taylor; the militia ignored the order. National press ran with the story, which helped deepen stereotypes about the backwardness of southern states and their penchants for violence, especially relating to politics.

Now, to break down some of the humorous lines of the poem:

Where the crystal waters glint / As they dance along the borders / Through the fragrant beds of mint
Where the strong waters flow so free / Where they cool off in the summer / 'Neath the spreading julip tree
These verses refer to the mint julep. Long a popular cocktail among the Kentucky wealthy, the mint julep is now made of bourbon (more on that later), sugar/simple syrup, mint leaves, and ice, though earlier versions used gin, genever, cognac, or brandy.

Where the lasses and the horse / Are terms of grace and speed
Horse racing has long been a popular sport and passtime in Kentucky, and continues to be do this day. While in racing it is best to have a fast horse, a woman who is 'fast' is not so desirous. Fast refers to a woman who is a strumpet, while a fast house is a dated term for a brothel [6].

The following verses all specifically refer to alcohol, especially moonshine. Moonshining has been a popular money making scheme in the rural south for centuries, and it was especially prominent in the mountain south, which comprises much of Kentucky -- at least, in the public's popular mind.

And the whiskey and the statesman / Both are noted for their "bead."
The "bead" comment refers to both the "bead" of moonshine (a process to find the proof of the drink involving shaking the moonshine in a glass and seeing how fast the bubbles dissipate) and a dated slang phrase, "to draw a bead," meaning "to attack an opponent by speech or otherwise: from backwoods parlance" [6]. Given the referenced Goebel Troubles, the intention is obvious.

Where the "high balls" and the "low balls" / Always hit the center square / And you never have "next morning" / Rheumatism in your hair.
"High balls" refers to drunkards, deriving the name from the highball, a classic cocktail made of scotch and soda, as well as a style of glass used in mixed drinks. "Highballing" also refers to a train running at full speed, insinuating that trains don't stop in the state because it was too rural.   Now, I'm speculating some here, but I think "low balls" is specifically referring to Goebel and how he broke his deal with William J. Stone; at the beginning of the election process, a third candiate, Wat Hardin, had been the clear frontrunner; as such, Stone and Goebel agreed to work together against Hardin, in a plan where Goebel would eventuall drop out of the race and defer to Stone. Upon discovering this plan, Hardin dropped out, believing it impossible to defeat their alliance. Goebel broke the alliance and did not drop out of the race, prompting Hardin to re-enter. Goebel was later assassinated in front of the capitol building, in the center of Frankfort's town square. The "next morning" and stiff hair lines refer to hangovers and one of the side effects of repeated heavy drinking.

Where they have no use for water / Save for operating mills / For they scorn it as a beverage
"Where the corn is full of Kernels / And the Colonels full of 'corn,'"
Where to disapprove that beverage / Is to toy with sudden death / And they have a bounded warehouse / Where they barrel up the breath.
These lines all refer to the making of moonshine, or corn liquor/whiskey. Kentucky is now the state which makes most of the world's bourbon; it should be noted that moonshine is (approximately speaking) just unaged bourbon. First, it says that Kentuckians would rather drink moonshine (or bourbon) than water, and that their only use for water is turning mill wheels. The corn and colonels lines are a few puns invoking corn. A 'Colonel' was "a male inhabitant of Texas, Kentucky (or of one of a few other States) who loved good liquor", especially one who enjoys drinking often [7]. The Colonels would naturally be full of corn (liquor).

On that dark and bloody ground
Take me back to Kentucky / Let me hear the pistol's pop
Take me to those blue mountains / Where they argue points with lead
These lines obviously refer to the quarrelsome nature of the stereotyped Kentuckians and their aforementioned frequency to resolve disputes with bullets.

As they claim--e'er since the Deluge / That it tastes of sinners drowned
Though Bachman could here be referring to the frequent flooding of the state (Louisville by the Ohio River and elsewhere by the Kentucky River in particular, with especially bad flooding in 1883), he's more likely referring to the Biblical flood described in the story of Noah. Bachman then jokes that the dead sinners drowned in the flood add to the taste of the corn used to make the sinful whiskey.

[1] FindAGrave
[2] The Shield, Vol. 6 (April 1890), p. 439
[3] The Shield, Vol. 19 (March 1903), pp. 167-182
[4] JoinCalifornia
[5] Some Poetry and Prose, Bachman (1905), p. 30
[6] A dictionary of slang and colloquial English, Farmer and Henely, pp. 154, 34
[7] The Farmer and Mechanic [Raleigh, NC], October 19th, 1909, p. 9, "More About The Colonels"
[8] The Fresno Morning Republican, January 1st, 1901, p. 14, "'Bach' Doffs To The New Year In Verse"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Take Me Home (Kentucky)
From: GUEST,cnd
Date: 02 Jun 21 - 02:44 PM

In retrospect, the sinners drowned line is probably actually a flimsy excuse not to drink water. I can't find any examples of anyone else having used the phrase, but Bach did phrase it in a very particular way.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Take Me Home (Kentucky)
From: GUEST,#
Date: 02 Jun 21 - 05:53 PM

Excellent post from start to finish.

Might be some truth in it though. Ya don't hear about many sinners drowning in moonshine.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Take Me Home (Kentucky)
From: cnd
Date: 05 Jun 21 - 10:17 PM

Thanks, I appreciate it! And, now that you point it out, I haven't heard of many sinners drowning in moonshine!


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