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oxen ploughing songs

21 Mar 00 - 03:03 PM (#198797)
Subject: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,

I have hearad it said that ploughmen used to sing to their oxen and direct them by the songs; when they stopped singing the oxen would stop, such as at the end of a furrow.

Does anybody know if this is true and does anybody know any of the songs? Any leads woudl be useful. I am involved with a ploughing team and would put the songs to good use!

21 Mar 00 - 03:14 PM (#198803)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: MMario

I am sure some ploughmen sang to their teams, though I doubt anyone sang continously. If they did, then their throats must have been lined with cast iron, for ploughing often went on nearly continously throughout the daylight hours. "gee" and "haw" are commands I have heard were used - and in one demonstration with an ox team I witnessed the ploughman repeated the command in what appeared to be a set rythme, whenever he used it. I suppose some commands might have been more or less "sung"

21 Mar 00 - 04:03 PM (#198824)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: catspaw49

You're probably not going to believe this but..........

One of our members, Dave Swan, is interested in ploughing with oxen and such teams. As a matter of fact, the boy is going to be at some sort of ox ploughing clinic in June in Michigan. For all of you who are used to me making jokes about El Swanno, I swear to you this is true.

He may be a source for such info so I'll e-mail him and ask that he check-in on this thread in case he's not around the 'Cat today. El Swanno is a firefighter/paramedic and a tremendous singer, a member of "Oak, Ash, and Thorn." I really love the guy and his wonderful wife Pam, so I am a happy he is doing something he wants to do...........although I admit to finding it hard to understand the turn-on in kicking clods while breathing oxen emissions........

I'll e-mail him now.


21 Mar 00 - 04:59 PM (#198845)
Subject: Lyr Add: Ox Driver's Song
From: Art Thieme

OX DRIVERS SONG---traditional (from Burl Ives)

I pop the whip--I bring the blood,
I make the leaders take the mud,
Haul the lines and bring 'em 'round,
One long pull and we're on hard ground.

Chorus) To my rol, to my rol, to my ride-e-o,
To my ride-e-ay,
To my ride-e-o,
To my rol, to my rol, to my ride-e-o.

'Twas early in October-o,
I hitched my team in order-o,
To ride the hills of Salud-i-o,
To my rol, to my rol, to my ride-e-o.

When I got there the hills was steep,
'Twould make a tender person weep,
To hear me cuss and pop my whip,
And to see the oxen pull and slip.

When I get there I'll have revenge,
I'll have my family and all my friends,
I'll say goodbye to the whip and the line,
I'll drive no more in the wintertime. ^^ Art Thieme

21 Mar 00 - 05:26 PM (#198866)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Margo

Say Art, do you know if and where this song is recorded? I'd like to hear it. Margo

21 Mar 00 - 06:47 PM (#198908)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Art Thieme

Margo, I did it for about 25 years. WFMT in Chicago has a 1996 New Years Eve recording of my version. Burl Ives did it on Decca I believe. Pete may have done it on Folkways.


21 Mar 00 - 07:01 PM (#198922)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Timehiker

You can find a wagon load of information about plowing and pulling with oxen, including some links to some songs at (I can't remember which links went to the songs, so you'll have to do a little searching. Shouldn't be a problem if you like livestock.)

I'm interested in training an ox team myself. Who's this Swanny guy?

Take care Timehiker

21 Mar 00 - 07:15 PM (#198938)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: catspaw49

Timehiker......Dave Swan is a member here too, lives in California and I gave you a brief bio above. You can find his picture at bbc Mudcat Resources by hitting the pull down menu in the "Quick Links" on the main forum page, then just follow along. He is, as I said, a great guy, tremendously talented, and has a completely warped sense of humor.

You can send him a Personal Message by going to the Quick Links again and selecting "Send a Personal Message" or by doing the same thing from your personal page.


21 Mar 00 - 08:10 PM (#198977)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Uncle_DaveO

Another great ox pulling (though not plowing) is "The Little Brown Bulls", about a lumbermen's contest pulling felled timber out of the woods with cattle. The contest is hotly contested between The Little Brown Bulls and The Big Spotted Steers. As you might expect from the title, the Little Brown Bulls win.

Dave Oesterreich

21 Mar 00 - 08:18 PM (#198984)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: richardw

Then there is "Whow back buck" , performed by Leadbelly and a few others. I recorded it 15 years ago but it is out of print now.

Art: Who was that other 60s guy who did Bulgine Run? I'll have to check with my bro, who has the record. He also did a great version of Abdul A bulbul... Grossman?


21 Mar 00 - 08:49 PM (#199000)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Bud Savoie

Yep, the Birch Grove Singers did "Ox Driver's Song" on their (our) Wand record, now a collector's item. Pete Seeger did it on one of his two Folkways Frontier Ballads albums. And then there were Odetta, the Modern Folk Quartet, and the Brothers Four, depending on how desperate you are.

I have read from a reliable source that farmers used to sing Psalms to their oxen when plowing (for words but not music check your Bible), which might have cut down on the swearing just a bit.

21 Mar 00 - 09:47 PM (#199039)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Margaret V

At the living history museums where I've worked, none of the ploughmen I've known have sung to the oxen, but you might want to contact for more information. Also, Timehiker, this would be a good organization for you to know about if you are interested in hands-on learning of such things! It's the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums.

21 Mar 00 - 10:37 PM (#199062)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: raredance

Other recordings of "Ox Driver"

Belafonte Singers on "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall" (RCA LSO-6007)

Joe & Eddie on LP "Joe & Eddie" (GNP 75 Crescendo) also on 1998 CD compilation "The Best Of Joe & Eddie"

Burl Ives on "Songs For And About Men" (Decca DL8125)

rich r

22 Mar 00 - 11:42 AM (#199151)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: richardw

Now I remember. It was Bob Grossman I was thinking of.


22 Mar 00 - 06:25 PM (#199414)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Art Thieme


Sam Hinton too---on Decca. An LP called THE FAMILY TREE OF FOLK SONGS. Therein were contained wonderful variations of different folksongs.


22 Mar 00 - 08:23 PM (#199514)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs

Well, the original request was for "oxen ploughing songs."

I don't know bout you, but my daddy woulda kilt me iffen I'd ploughed any oxen. BUT he mighta axed me to use the oxen to plough.

23 Mar 00 - 04:21 PM (#200113)
Subject: Lyr Add: The Ox-Plough Song^^
From: GUEST,Paul Slater, UK

What about 'The Ox-Plough Song' as sung by Johnny Collins and others?

Come all you sweet charmers and give me choice
There's nothing to compare with a ploughboys voice
To hear the little ploughboy singing so sweet
Make the hills and the valleys around us to meet

And it's hark the little ploughboy gets up in the morn
Move along, jump along
Here comes the ploughboy with Spark and Beauty, Berry
Goodluck, Speedwell, Cherry, and it's walk along
We are the lads that can keep along the plough
We are the lads that can keep along the plough

In the heat of the day what a little we can do
We lay by the plough for an hour or two
On the banks of sweet violets where we take our rest
While the cool breezy winds blow around us so fast

If the farmer has no corn, no corn can he sow
Then the miller has no work for his mill also
And the baker has no bread for the poor to provide
If the plough should stand still we should all starve alive

And now to conclude my song must here have an end
I hope the little ploughboy won't ever need a friend
Here's health unto the ploughboy wherever he may be
Here's health to the ploughboy and God save the Queen

23 Mar 00 - 05:19 PM (#200143)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Charlie Baum

"Chela" is a wonderful lyric song about ploughing with oxen. It's from the Caucasus mountains, and it's in Mingrelian. Do you want foreign-language songs?

--Charlie Baum

23 Mar 00 - 05:41 PM (#200162)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Bud Savoie

Robert Burns: [NB: the operative word is pronounced "plooman"]

O the ploughman lad is a bonnie lad, his mind is ever true, jo. His gairters knit below his knee, his bonnet it is blue, jo.

Then up an' wa' the ploughman lad, hi, my merry ploughman. O' a' the trades that e'er I saw, commend me to the ploughman.

Snaw white stockin's on his legs, siller buckles glancin' The bonniest sicht that e'er I saw was the ploughman laddie dancin'

Of course, there is no specific mention of oxen (or "owsen") here.

23 Mar 00 - 07:05 PM (#200228)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,John in Brisbane

While I can't recall any songs to be sung to the beasts there is a large Australian contingent of written materials about bullocks in both prose and verse.

The ones that easily spring to mind are:

'I draw for Speckle's Mill, bullocky-o, bullocky-o'
'Twas gettin dark, the team (of bullocks) got bogged, and hungry too was I, and the dog he shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai'
The classic poem 'Holy Dan'

Bullock teams were much more common than horses in rural Australia before the introduction of motorised vehicles. Oxen were much better suited to the Australian environment and were used extensively for logging and pulled huge loads of wool and wheat to the nearest rail or riverboat location. It was only after WW11 and tractors became affordable for most farmers that bullock and horse teams disappeared other than for eccentrics and those wishing to preserve our history. (Or are they the same thing??)

Other Aussies can provide lots of material if you wish. The best book I can think of is by Australian collector, Ron Edwards. The name escapes me but it's something like 'The Great Big Book of Australian Folk Song. I wouldn't be surpised if there was a more specialised book on this subject.

Regards, John

25 Mar 00 - 12:21 PM (#201273)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Dave Swan

Well, that covers all the oxen songs I know. I hope to learn more this summer at Tillers, a school which teaches animal traction, timber framing, and blacksmithing, amongst other things. You can find them on the web.

The Midwest Ox Drovers Association (also on the web) holds its annual gathering at Tillers this year, June 24 & 25. Classes, clinics, and pulling competition are scheduled.

Let me second the recommendation of Rural Heritage. They maintain a great website and publish a highly informative periodical.

Cheers, E.S.

02 May 11 - 09:13 AM (#3146390)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,Vicki

I am a board member and News Editor for the Midwest Ox Drovers Assoc. I am delighted that some of you will be coming to our 16th anual Gathering this June at Tillers International in MI!

Consider this your personal invitation. If I have my old Dexter boys there, you are welcome to try driving them. I will have my 4H club kids from Ohio with me, with probably some calves.

If you'd like a PDF of our newslewtter, please email me

Hope to meet you at MODA Gathering,

02 May 11 - 01:45 PM (#3146560)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,Shimrod

The Revd. Sabine Baring-Gould collected a song called, 'The Oxen Ploughing' from a Cornish singer called Adam Landry in the late 19th century. It's on ps. 18/19/20 of Roy Palmer's book, 'Everyman's Book of English Country Songs' (J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1979).

02 May 11 - 04:28 PM (#3146664)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Megan M

I have a great live recording of the Hudson Valley chapter of Kartuli doing "Chela," which Charlie Baum mentioned above, if anyone wants. (Still getting used to Mudcat -- this thread is older than the kids I babysit!)


02 May 11 - 04:45 PM (#3146673)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,mg

I have one from the point of view of the ox..

Here are some lines I can remember..

your master's name does he treat you fair
her name is sue she's beyond compare

does she ever have to use the whip
only when my feet do slip

03 May 11 - 03:17 AM (#3146915)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Mary Humphreys

There are quite a few ox-driving songs in Welsh. I don't suppose they would be much use to you, but you can PM me for details.
I'm told that one of the drovers would walk backwards in front of the oxen and sing to them to make them pull the plough.

03 May 11 - 04:00 AM (#3146930)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,Shimrod

I recently watched the latest 'Robin Hood' film, starring Russell Crowe (and rather dull and unconvincing it was too). In one scene medieval peasants are depicted using shire horses to pull the plough. I suspect that this is an anachronism and that peasants of the period (12th century, I think) would have used oxen. Does anyone know if I'm right?

I suppose that I could look it up ... but I'm feeling idle ...

03 May 11 - 05:49 AM (#3146969)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Rob Naylor

From Wikipedia:

Though oxen were used for most farm work into the 18th century, horses 'fit for the dray, the plough, or the chariot' were on sale at Smithfield Market in London as early as 1145.[8]

[8] Hart, E. (1986). The Book of the Heavy Horse. Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens Limited. pp. 45–63. ISBN 0-85059-640-8.

03 May 11 - 06:46 AM (#3146986)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,Shimrod

Wow! Thanks Rob! You're undoubtedly right - but I think that I would have been more convinced if the film-makers had used oxen (given that it's possible to find an ox-ploughing team these days).

03 May 11 - 04:54 PM (#3147280)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Cats

The Oxen Ploughing collected by Baring Gould was collected from about a mile as the crow flies from me and I can see it from my window. Interestingly, the names for the oxen are also the names of the oxen in the farm books for the Lower Farm here in the hamlet where I live and have been for centuries.

04 May 11 - 12:25 AM (#3147473)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: Desert Dancer

On Small Farms, Hoof Power Returns, in New England, at least.

One summer at camp in Vermont in the '70s, a friend and I broke a pair of Jersey steers to yoke. When we saw them the next summer, doubled in size, we found them a little intimidating. (The picture with the article in the link reminds me of our "boys" -- they were named "Simon" and "Garfunkel". :-)

~ Becky in Long Beach

04 May 11 - 06:13 AM (#3147572)
Subject: RE: oxen ploughing songs
From: GUEST,Shimrod

Hi Cats,

Thank you for that information. I have to admit that I never been to Cornwall (my excuse is that I was born in the East Midlands and now live in the North West - and Cornwall always seemed like a far off foreign land when I was growing up - which is stupid because I've been to Devon, Somerset etc. several times!). Anyway, I originally learned the Oxen Ploughing song from a singer called Mick Bramwich and remember being bowled over by the song's unusual tune and venerable subject matter.

Thank you very much, Becky for the wonderful link. I so much admire people who can attempt such things and make a success of them!

I wonder if American farmers could re-introduce oxen ploughing to Cornwall? They would have to use the traditional names, referred to by Cats, though: " Sparkleberry", "Speedwell" and "Cherry".

Incidentally, I have seen farmers using cows for pulling ploughs in the Balkans (Macedonia and Bulgaria ... which, OK, are much further away from where I live than Cornwall!!).