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From Our Exchanges: Howard S. Swan, “The Music of the Mormons, 1830-1865″

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 23, 2008

Howard S. Swan, “The Music of the Mormons, 1830-1865,” The Huntington Library Quarterly, v. 12, no. 3 (May 1949), 223-252.

Howard S. Swan (1906-1995), “Dean of American Choral Music,” as one 1995 obituary called him, was the choir director at Occidental College in Los Angeles for nearly 40 years. After his “retirement,” he went on to teach at Fullerton and Irvine. A prize in his name is awarded annually to a retired California music teacher who typifies Swan’s artistry, personality, humanitarian spirit, and continuing dedication to music after the end of a formal career. Tragically, Swan himself could not sing during much of his adult life, suffering from a paralyzed vocal chord.


Early in his career Swan collected a variety of Mormon folk songs, many of which he presents in this 1949 article. His opening sentence, “The music of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a vivid reflection of the story of the Mormon people,” sums up the entire thesis of the article. After that introductory sentence, Swan narrates, in an affectionate and readable fashion, the history of the Latter-day Saints, inserting the text of songs at appropriate points.

Because he has little to say in the way of interpreting the songs or discussing their role in Mormon life, this post will not be a review of the article’s history. I will simply present the text of some of the songs he published here, most of which were new to me.

A song written by John Taylor, published in the Millennial Star of 15 November 1847, and probably sung to the tune of “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” contrasts American claims of liberty with the experience of unpopular groups such ask the Mormons:

O! This is the land of the free!
And this is the home of the brave;
Where rulers and mobbers agree;
‘Tis the home of the tyrant and slave.

Here liberty’s poles pierce the sky
With her cap gaily hung on the vane;
The gods may its glories espy,
But poor mortals, it’s out of your ken.

The eagle soars proudly aloft,
And covers the land with her wings;
But oppression and bloodshed abound,
She can’t deign to look down on such things.

All men are born equal and free,
And their rights all nations maintain;
But with millions it would not agree,
They were cradled and brought up in chains.

Eliza R. Snow published this song encouraging the Camp of Israel in the Millennial Star of 15 May 1848 (no tune is named):

Although in woods and tents we dwell,
Shout! Shout! O camp of Israel;
No “Christian” mobs on earth can bind
Our thoughts, or steal our peace of mind.

We’d better live in tents and smoke
Than wear the cursed Gentile yoke;
We’d better from our country fly
Than by religious mobs to die.

We’ve left the city of Nauvoo,
And our beloved temple, too;
And to the wilderness we go
Amid the winter frosts and snow.

The Camp, the Camp, its numbers swell!
Shout! Shout! O camp of Israel!
The King, the Lord of Hosts is near;
His armies guard our front and rear.

Saints gathering from England apparently sang this song, published in an 1853 history:

Yes, my native land, I love thee;
all thy scenes, I love them well;
Friends, connections, happy country,
Can I bid you all farewell?
Can I leave thee,
Far in distant lands to dwell?

Yes! I hasten from you gladly,
From the scenes I love so well;
Far away, ye billows bear me;
Lovely native land, farewell!
Pleased I leave thee
Far in distant lands to dwell.

William Clayton wrote this song calling on the Saints to forego the Gold Rush, singing it to the tune of “A Man That Is Married”:

O ye noble and kind, who to mirth are inclined,
Pay attention to what I shall say;
While my song I proclaim, your kind audience I claim,
‘Tis of gold, that great charm of the day.
To the ends of the earth, both prudence and mirth,
Must now all be laid on the shelf;
For the world’s in a stew, while gold is in view –
Ev’ry man goes to dig for himself.
Gold! Gold!! That glittering gem:
‘Tis the god of this world and a mighty one too,
For all else is forsaken while gold is in view.

There’s the priest with his Bible, now grasps at the foible,
Takes his pack and starts brisk with the train;
Leaves his flock so beloved, he’s by lucre much moved,
For the gold fever racks his whole brain.
And the lawyer likewise, with his spectacled eyes,
Leaves his clients to shift for themselves.
While the doctor, his pills with his powder sand squills,
Leaves to moulder in dust on his shelves.
Gold! Gold!! Nothing but gold –
The fever runs high, don’t you think it’s too bad,
For Columbia’s sons after gold to run mad.

Now, ye Saints, my advice I will give without price,
Don’t be tempted to worship the dust;
But stick close to your farms, and build up your good barns,
For the grain is much better, I trust.
And in ages to come, when the gold fever’s gone,
You will have all the wealth you desire;
For your kingdom will then be esteemed amongst men,
And your prudence mankind will admire.
Gold! Gold!! That gift from above –
‘Tis a blessing I own sirs, wherever used well.
But my song is quite done, and I bid you farewell.

Some of the lawyers mentioned in that last song must have stopped by Deseret. A Latter-day Saint with the dramatic name of James Bond wrote this song for the Deseret News in September 1852 – sung to the tune of “Teddy the Tyler,” it’s the Mormon lawyer joke:

The greatest men who e’er were known,
To rise to honor or renown,
In every state, in every town,
Most surely were the lawyers.

The tribe in numbers is not few,
They’re noted for their sharpness, too,
They’re just the men to raise a stew,
For Satan helps the lawyers.

‘Mong rich and poor and high and low,
They’re always moving to and fro –
They’ll follow you where’er you go
For smart men are the lawyers.

Now we, to live a peaceful life
Did leave the place where law was rife,
And hoped no more to hear the strife
Occasioned by the lawyers.

We came to peaceful Deseret,
We hoped no lawyers here could get,
And law no more our minds should fret;
What bliss when free from lawyers.

But when we thought redemption near,
Lo! Satan emigrated here,
And lawyers likewise did appear –
Where can we get from lawyers?

There’s only two who here do dwell,
And one is going back to hell,
The other soon will sulphur smell,
Then there’s the end of lawyers.

So then our griefs will all be o’er,
Of Lawyer’s strife we’ll hear no more,
And peace will reign on Zion’s shore,
When the devil has got the lawyers.

The Las Vegas missionaries of 1856 sent in this song by William P. Vance, sung to the tune, “Do They Miss Me at Home?”

Away among deserts and mountains,
On a mission of virtue we stay;
In the midst of the remnants of Israel
We rest and we toil night and day.
To win us a crown of salvation,
To gain a celestial reward,
And reign with a pure exaltation
In Zion, the seat of our Lord.

Our labors are here on the Vegas,
The Indians are friendly and kind,
And thus we have nothing to plague us
As we’re all of one heart and one mind.
‘Tis true our red neighbors are hungry,
Yet all we can spare them we give.
And thus they quite seldom are angry
While here on the Vegas we live.

They’re well satisfied with our motive,
They believe we are faithful and true;
And while the work with us is onward,
We wish to do all we can do;
That when the great work is all over,
We all may receive the applause,
“Enter into my joys forever,
You’ve been faithful and true to the cause.”

Swan presents the famous “St. George and the Drag-On,” songs of the handcarts, a few anti-Mormon songs, some familiar Utah War songs, and the hymn reminding newcomers that they must “Think not when you gather to Zion, that all will be holy and pure, that deception and falsehood are banished, and confidence wholly secure …” He even found a song about elections, again by James Bond, published in 1852 but without an indication of tune:

Let Whigs and Democrats agree
To stir up party strife;
And thus shall opposition be
The very hinge of life.
Each party strives to gain the way
To beat the rest, their bent;
All say they’re going to win the day
And choose their president.

For Mormons always vote one way
And soon a voice they’ll get,
And unison will bless the day
That shines on Deseret.
But never mention what we’ve said
For this partic’lar reason,
That if you do, we’re good as dead,
Because, you know, IT’S TREASON!

Swan says that if Brigham Young were to come back today – 2008 as well as Swan’s 1949 – he would find much about which to be concerned: “He would deplore the number of Gentiles who call Utah their home, whose ancestors came to secure the metals which Brigham Young despised … If his sermons were shouted today from the tabernacle pulpit, President Young’s admonitions might be questioned before they were obeyed. But Brigham Young would find many Saints who were living their religion in the old way, with a homely kind of industry and neighborliness which is respected throughout the West.” He would, Swan concludes, sing with us:

O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,
Where the pure breezes blow and the clear streams flow
How I’ve longed to your bosom to flee.
O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,
Now my own mountain home, unto thee I have come.
All my fond hopes are centered in thee.



3 Comments »

  1. Great post, Ardis. I loved reading through these texts. As an attorney, I had to laugh when I read the “what bliss when free from lawyers” one. Ha!

    Comment by Hunter — November 23, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  2. Thanks for being a good sport about it, Hunter. If Researcher or Justin, our champion locaters of obscure data, can come up with the tune for “Teddy the Tyler,” you should learn a few verses and perform them at your next bar association meeting!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 23, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

  3. ooo I might have to have a go at googling that one…

    Comment by Jon W. — November 23, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

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