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Mary Hale Woolsey: Always Springtime

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 07, 2009

Cowboy singer Gene Autry starred in a 1937 movie pitting sheepherders against cattlemen in the American west. Betty Grable starred in a 1942 movie recounting the romantic capers of a couple at Lake Louise. The two films shared the title “Springtime in the Rockies” and are memorable chiefly for the ballad featured in both scores:

When it’s springtime in the Rockies
I’m coming back to you,
Little sweetheart of the mountains,
With your bonnie eyes of blue.

Once again I’ll say I love you
While the birds sing all the day.
When it’s springtime in the Rockies,
In the Rockies, far away.

The ballad became a hit single for Gene Autry, and later for country singer Hank Snow. The nostalgic words set to their simple melody suggest that this is an old folk song, its words polished by countless anonymous singers. But it is a 20th century creation, its lyrics written by a Mormon girl, Mary Hale Woolsey, born in Springville, Utah, in 1899.

Mary attended Provo High School, then Brigham Young University where she served as a class officer and wrote for student publications. With a keen ear for the spoken word, Mary wrote several operettas performed by local theater and church groups and found a ready market for her radio plays.

She successfully collaborated with professional musicians. “Springtime in the Rockies” was published in 1929 with music written by Robert Sauer, and was followed by other songs in the sentimental western genre – “When the Wild, Wild Roses Bloom,” “Colorado Skies,” and “On the Trails of Timpanogas” were all popular for a time. Her successes led to her becoming the first Utah woman accepted for membership in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Mary also became a staff writer for The Salt Lake Tribune, covering society events and fashion. She married, had four daughters, and divorced. She taught school, wrote advertising copy, and edited the Utah Clubwoman, a publication of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was active in political issues, serving as executive secretary for the Utah Association for the United Nations in the early 1950s.

For more than 40 years, Mary was a frequent contributor of short stories to the Relief Society Magazine and the Improvement Era. She turned to children’s writing late in life, and her 1963 novel The Keys and the Candle, about an 11th century “boy scribe” facing down the Danish marauders of England’s monasteries, won the California Book Award silver medal that year. She died in California in 1969.

Nothing else she wrote, though, ever reached the popularity of one of her earliest compositions, about the longing for love and the old home in the mountains in the spring of the year.

The twilight shadows deepen into night, dear.
The city lights are gleaming o’er the snow.
I sit alone beside the cheery fire, dear;
I’m dreaming dreams from out the long ago.

I fancy, it is springtime in the Rockies.
The flowers with their colors are aflame.
And though I long to be back in the Rockies,
I’ll wait until the springtime comes again.

Once again I’ll say I love you
While the birds sing all the day.
When it’s springtime in the Rockies,
In the Rockies, far away.



29 Comments »

  1. Thank you for article on this lovely song!

    This was my great-grandmother’s favorite song and sung at her funeral in the early 1970′s when I was a child. It made such an impression on me that I learned the song immediately and continue to sing it often. She was from Alabama and married a missionary who had served in the Southern States. He took her back to Idaho and then Wyoming. Now I live in the Atlanta area, and this song keeps me reminded of “home” in Star Valley, WY.

    Comment by Allison — August 7, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  2. Nice. The sentiment in her poem calls to mind, of course, the lines from the hymn, “The Wintry Day, Descending to its Close.” Thanks for this.

    Comment by Hunter — August 7, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  3. I remember singing this with my mother. Thank you for the background information.

    Comment by Maurine — August 7, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

  4. Here’s a Slim Whitman version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85y5xI67MXU

    Comment by Rob — August 7, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  5. And a Johnnie Ray version (with slides) that’ll make you wish you were there (for those of us far away) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o04EQOBqKg&feature=related

    Comment by Rob — August 7, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  6. And finally the Gene Autry version (if you dare!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UdqENXmaF4

    Comment by Rob — August 7, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  7. Thank you for this article. Mary Hale Woolsey is my great-grandmother, so I’m smiling to see her featured here! Several of her daughters went on to become writers themselves, and creativity has remained a respected family trait.

    Comment by Tamary — August 7, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  8. You might be interested to know the story behind the writing of “Springtime in the Rockies.” (This story has been passed down through the family, so I can’t swear to exact accuracy!)

    Mary Hale was 16 when she wrote a poem that she thought would sound good as a song. She took it to a teacher she knew, Robert Sauer, who wrote music. He glanced over it, then put it away and said he’d look at it more closely when he had time.

    Years went by and Mary never heard back from him. She married, had several children, and then one day happened to be listening to the radio when a new song came on. As she heard the words, she realized she had written them!

    Angry now, Mary went to see Sauer. He quickly explained what had happened. He had found her poem after all that time, but her name wasn’t on it. All he could remember was that her last name had something to do with the weather. He had made up a name (Mary Snow or something like that) for the unknown lyricist, and he was very grateful she had found him so he could now give credit to the correct person. The song became a big hit, and the rest is history.

    Comment by Tamary — August 7, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

  9. Tamary, you made my day. I hope your great-grandmother would have been pleased to know that her song was remembered all these years, and that it brings back pleasant memories to some of us. I’ll bet she heard the recordings that Rob linked to (thanks, Rob!), too.

    I had heard a version of the story in your #8, which explains why there are different credits on some of the websites. Your version is more charitable than the one I heard, from people who were not members of the family, who said that Sauer deliberately tried to steal the words and that there was great bitterness on the part of Mary’s family. Well, everybody loves a scandalous, sensational story — but I prefer to accept your version. Not just because it ends more pleasantly, but because if there were hard feelings in the family you would be aware of the even if you didn’t understand all the details.

    My grandmother, a year older than Mary, loved this song and others like it. She used to perform with two other women who sang and played harmonicas and guitars. They specialized in western (not country, but western, when that was a separate genre). I sure wish I had a recording as well as a couple of pictures.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 7, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  10. Ardis, keep your eye peeled among family trinkets for fair booth recordings. We were pleasantly surprised when a pressed recording from a western Nebraska county fair was found among my husband’s grandmother’s things, apparently dated to the early ’30s. We didn’t dare attempt playing it because it appeared so old and fragile, but a company in Canada was able to digitally extract the sound from the disc. It turned out to be a sample of his grandfather’s youthful voice demonstrating his auctioneering banter. Everyone then living had forgotten that he had gone to auctioneering school before marriage, but when grandmother heard it, it opened up a floodgate of memories. So you never know what you might find yet.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 8, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  11. Wow awesome contribution Ardis. And the comments have made it just that much better.

    This is why I love history. It makes what seems ordinary and usual to the person so important and tear jerking to people like me years later.

    Reminds me of the time I visited my ancestral home. Looking in the window of a three hundred year old house marveling at the amazing chimney and fireplace in a house that my ancestors would have taken for granted.

    I still to this day want to buy the place before some English man wrecks it.

    Comment by JonW — August 8, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

  12. Wow! I stumbled across this by mistake and I am trying to find out my ancestrial roots that supposedly came from the mountains. My mother grew up in an orphanage and was told her mothers name was Mary Hale from Ky,Va,or Mi. Could I be on the right track? My mother was also told she had alot of half sisters and family members.

    Comment by Sherri Vassar — August 30, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  13. Sherri, you haven’t provided enough background for anyone to begin to answer your query, other than to say that the Mary Hale who is the subject here is from Utah, as stated in the post. She didn’t leave any daughters in orphanages in Kentucky, Virginia, or Michigan.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 30, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  14. I was surprised to see your reply!My mother grew up in an orphanage and numerous foster homes.She passed on to us some of the things that were told to her. She was told that her father was Ralph Black and her mother was Mary Hale supposedly born in Magoffin Co.,Kentucky in 1907 and she was part Cherokee Indian.Mary’s parents were John Hale and Maragret Trusty and he had been married more than once.Ralph Black’s parents were William Black and Susie Ann Steele. I’ve been trying to find out the correlation between my ancestors on both sides…it seems the Vassar’s and Hale’s go back to the 1800′s or maybe even earlier. I would appreciate any help I can get. I feel like I need to finish this for my grandchildren.

    Comment by Sherri Vassar — January 11, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

  15. Sherri, I’m confident that the Mary Hale discussed in this post is absolutely a different person from the Mary Hale you are looking for — the dates, the places, the relatives, the circumstances, all of it conflicts with what is known about Mary Hale Woolsey of Utah.

    Sorry, but you won’t find your answers here. Good luck with your continued search.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 11, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

  16. Hello, When I was a child in Monta Vista (Cupertino, CA) in the 1960′s. Mary Hale Woosley was my neighbor. She lived in a small house down an alley next to our house. It was near Blackberry Farm. She was the nicest lady and she gave me a copy of her book, The Keys and the Candle. I spent a lot of time with her. She and my mother were friends. She told my mom the same story as #8 above.

    I was recently talking to the boy (now a man) who lived in the house in front of her. He remembers her too and also has the same book The Keys and the Candle.

    Mary Hale Woolsey was one teriffic lady and I was privlidged to have known her.

    Sincerely,

    Lorie Geiger

    Comment by Lorie (Lorraine Yates) Geiger — May 16, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

  17. One of my favorite songs I learned as a child and still sing is “I Have a Garden” by Mary Hale Woolsey. I’m glad to know more about her.

    Comment by Martha Blair — October 8, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  18. I stumbled upon this site and am delighted to learn the history of Springtime in the Rockies. From the earlier posts, it seems many mothers have taught this song to their daughters.

    The history of “Springtime in the Rockies” in my family is:
    My grandmother taught this song to my mother which they sang in harmony while washing dishes together, my mother taught this song to me when I was 5 years old (I sang harmony) while washing dishes, I taught the tune/harmony to my daughter (but now the dishwasher was washing the dishes!) and now my granddaughter. So it has become a 4 generational song! I am a singer and when I do concerts, I almost always sing this song as a tribute to my mother and grandmother. In the audiences, there are always a number of people who are familiar with the song and I’ll sing the harmony while they sing the tune!

    “Thank you,” to Mary for the song that has provided so many rich experiences and wonderful memories for me!

    With Blessings and Love!
    Patricia

    Comment by Patricia Caldwell — August 25, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  19. What a delightful story, Patricia! Thanks for taking the time to tell it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 25, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  20. thanks for the story. however, my father a church youth leader used to tell a story with the song that was quite different and teach the kids the song. wonder where the song came from. Story has it that

    A song writer from New York a famous radio show in the 1920s spent time on a dud ranch in Wyoming. He fell in love with daughter of the owner. The Song writer wanted to marry the daughter. The ranch Owner/father stated they must separate for a year with no communication. If at the end of the year he returned and still loved her then he would allow the marriage. So in March he wrote the song “When it is spring time in the rockies” and preformed it on national radio program. She heard it and knew he loved her. He returned in the Spring and married her. Supposedly they were part of annual rodeo in Cheyenne.

    where did the story come from??

    Thanks

    Comment by Teddric Mohr — September 29, 2012 @ 3:10 am

  21. Out of a wild, romantic imagination, Teddric — it isn’t true.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 29, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  22. I will accept that it may not be true but my father and mother taught school in Wyoming in the 1940s so where did the story come from. Just like to trace it understand he got it from Wyoming

    Comment by Teddrc mohr — September 29, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

  23. Teddric, there’s really no way for me to trace the origins of a fanciful story — there isn’t anything specific enough to verify or correct or research. All I can say is that Mary Hale Woolsey did write the piece, under the conditions I’ve outlined, and that the romantic Wyoming tale has all the earmarks of a folk legend/fairy tale. Anybody could have heard the song, and imagined a scenario leading up to the song, and made up a story to fit. This story doesn’t even approximate the plots of either of two movies using the song, so it isn’t a retelling of the Hollywood version.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 29, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

  24. It does sound kind of “truthy” though. ;-)

    Comment by Julia — September 29, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

  25. Oh my, I almost missed this gem. So happy to have seen it!

    Comment by Mina — September 29, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

  26. I am the youngest child of Maryhale Woolsey’s oldest daughter (93 and still holding on). I remember hearing the ‘Mary Snow’ story when I was young. I also remember singing “I have a Garden..’” in primary. Our chorister also had us sing “Springtime in the Rockies” knowing it was my grandmother’s song. Maryhale also wrote “Shangri-la and Rain Across the Moon which I also enjoyed singing. It was wonderful to hear the comments from those of you who knew her in California. She traveled so much when I was young. I’m glad she was finally able to settle down in such a lovely place. Thanks for all your memories of that wonderful lady. Hi, Tamary.

    Comment by Deborah Dunn — November 16, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

  27. I was looking for guitar chords for I Have a Garden and look where my search lead me instead! Hi Ardis, this is Michelle Glauser’s mom. This song has always been a favorite of mine. T’was so fun to find this story since Springtime in the Rockies was also a staple of my childhood. Thanks for keeping gems like this alive!

    Comment by Lauri Glauser — March 1, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  28. Welcome to Keepa,Lauri! Any mother of Michelle’s is a–, well, a friend, of mine!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 1, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  29. I am thrilled to find a website which is discussing a subject on which my husband and I have recently, done much research. Prows family tradition for 3 generations holds that my grandfather, Seymour Virgil Prows, introduced “Springtime in the Rockies.” An article in the July 30, 1923 Provo Post written by E. A. Mitchell, seems to substantiate this tradition: “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies” the popular ballad composed by Professor Robert Sauer, sung by Seymour Prouse (sic. corrected later), was the feature of the concert of the Provo Concert Band in the Pioneer Park yesterday.”

    According to the music copyright date which was 1923 also, it appears that his was one of the first, if not the first, public performance of this piece. Seymour was a well-known tenor in the state of Utah, was acquainted with Professor Sauer and a member of his Provo Concert Band.

    If anyone has more information, we would be very grateful if you would reply.

    Comment by Jean Prows Vincent — July 24, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

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