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happy? - May 3

Abby Sale 03 May 05 - 10:56 AM
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Subject: happy? - May 3
From: Abby Sale
Date: 03 May 05 - 10:56 AM

In Folk Songs of North America p327, Lomax quotes the following diary entries cited in Forty-Niners by Archer Butler Hulbert (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1931), pp. 16,41. They are real but composit entries – not exactly from any one source.

May 3, 1849: Fifteen miles to Bull Creek (Kansas)...the guide pointed out the continuous rise and fall of the track across what are rightly called the billows, or little ridges of the prairie. 'No, it's not high mountains ner great rivers ner hostile Injuns,' says Meek,...'that'll give us most grief. It's the long grind o' doin' every day's work regler an' not let-up fer nobody ner nothin'... Figger it fur yourself; 2,100 miles--four months to do it in between April rains and September snows--123 days. How much a day and every cussed day?' I saw the point. Seventeen miles a day.

'Yaas,' drawled the scout. 'And every day rain, hail, cholera, breakdowns, lame mules, sick cows, washouts, prairie fires, flooded coulees, lost horses, dust storms, alkali water. Seventeen miles every day--or you land in the snow and eat each other like the Donner party done in '46.'

May 13, 1849. Long pull. Here we are beginning to meet people who are turning back, discouraged. They had seen enough of the 'Elephant'... Graves are more frequent these last days... We saw whitening on the plains, bones of animals which had died on the way.

        They swam the wide rivers and crossed the tall peaks,
        And camped on the prairie for weeks upon weeks.
        Starvation and cholera and hard work and slaughter,
        They reached California spite of hell and high water.

                "Sweet Betsy from Pike" first appears in and is assumed to be by John A. Stone, writing as
Old Put in Put's Golden Songster, 1858. The tune used (Villikins) was first printed both in England
and the US only seven years earlier.

It's a comic song, of course. But Old Put's audience knew it was also Truth.

Copyright © 2005, Abby Sale - all rights reserved


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