Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Joke’s on Us – Folk Song Edition
 


The Joke’s on Us – Folk Song Edition

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 24, 2011

You’re probably familiar with the popular 19th century ballad about “Sweet Betsy from Pike, who crossed the broad prairie with her lover Ike.” (Or maybe she crossed the mountains in your version, or the desert, or the ocean, or a river – there are certainly enough variants out there to suit just about any setting.) Betsy and Ike traveled everywhere, met Indians, went hungry, outwitted outlaws, survived stage crashes and prairie fires, wore out their clothes, went dancing, ate shoe leather, repaired their wagon, got married, got divorced, did just about anything that any singer’s imagination could devise. In many versions –

They stopped at Salt Lake to ask for the way,
And old Brigham said that sweet Betsy must stay.
But Betsy was skeered, run around like a deer,
And old Brigham pawed up the ground like a steer.

Poor “old Brigham”! He or his fellow Mormons starred in other folk songs that survived long enough to be written down, and are even still performed occasionally today. Two of my, uh, favorites –

Brigham, Brigham Young

Old Brigham young was a Mormon bold,
And a leader of the roaring rams,
And a shepherd of a heap of pretty little sheep,
And a nice fold of pretty little lambs.
And he lived with five-and-forty wives
In the city of Great Salt Lake,
Where they woo and coo as pretty doves do,
And cackle like ducks to a drake.

Refrain, repeated after each verse:

Brigham, Brigham Young,
‘Tis a miracle he survives,
With his roaring rams and his pretty little lambs
And his five-and-forty wives.

Number forty-five was about sixteen,
Number one was sixty-three,
And among such a riot how he ever keeps them quiet
Is a right-down mystery to me.
For they clatter and they claw, and they jaw, jaw, jaw,
Each one has a different desire;
It would aid the renown of the best shop in town
To supply them with half what they require.

Old Brigham Young was a stout man once
But now he is thin and old,
And I love to state, there’s no hair on his pate
Which once wore a covering of gold.
For his youngest wives won’t have white wool
And his old ones won’t take red,
So in tearing it out they have taken turn about,
‘Till they’ve pulled all the wool from his head.

Now his boys they all sing songs all day,
And his girls they all sing psalms;
And among such a crowd he has it pretty loud,
For they’re as musical as Chinese gongs.
And when they advance for a Mormon dance
He is filled with great surprise,
For they’re sure to end the night with a Tabernacle fight,
And scratch out one another’s eyes.

There never was a home like Brigham Young’s,
So curious and so queer,
For if his joys are double he has a terrible lot of trouble,
For it gains on him year by year.
He sits in his state and bears his fate
In a sanctified sort of way;
He has one wife to bury and one wife to marry
And a new kid born every day.

Now if anybody envies Brigham Young
Let them go to Great Salt Lake,
And if they have leisure to examine at their pleasure
They’ll find it’s a great mistake.
One wife at a time, so says my rhyme,
Is enough for the proudest don,
So e’er you strive to live lord of forty-five
Live happy if you can with one.

This last one claims on the surface to have been sung by thbe Mormons ourselves, but there are lines that no Mormon would have sung – except, perhaps, in the 19th century equivalent of being “edgy”:

Tittery-Irie-Aye

Come all my good people and listen to my song,
Although it’s not so very good it’s not so very long;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Now concerning this strange people I’m now a-going to sing,
for the way they have been treated I think it is a sin;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

They’ve been driven from their homes and away from Nauvoo
For to seek another home in the wilderness anew;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Oh, they stopped among the Indians but there don’t mean to stay,
And they’ll soon be a-packing up and jogging on their way;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

They made a halt at Council Bluffs but there don’t mean to stay,
Some feed their cattle rushes and some prairie hay;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Oh, of logs we’ve built our houses, of dirt we have for floors,
Of sods we’ve built our chimneys and shakes we have for doors;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

There is another item, to mention it I must,
Concerning spiritual women that make a hell-uv-a fuss;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Some men have got a dozen wives and others have a score,
And the man that’s got but one wife is a-looking out for more;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Now young men don’t get discouraged, get married if you can,
But take care don’t get a woman that belongs to another man;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

Now concerning this strange people I have nothing more to say
Until we all get settled in some future day;
And sing tittery-irie-aye, sing tittery-irie-o.

–oOo–

There you go. The Mormon Moment of the 19th Century. Maybe they should award a historical Tony.



3 Comments »

  1. These songs wouldn’t qualify to win the Tony unless someone filled them with liberal amounts of foul language

    Comment by andrew h — June 24, 2011 @ 7:11 am

  2. But … but … but “hell-uv-a” isn’t strong enough for you??

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2011 @ 7:17 am

  3. Well, under the category of taking artistic liberties, there are these lines:

    And I love to state, there’s no hair on his pate
    Which once wore a covering of gold.

    I realize that color photography wasn’t around, but my recollection is that Brigham’s hair was originally dark, and while I suspect some thinning over the years, I also don’t recall a bald Bro. Brigham.

    No Tonys here. Any notes in your research, Ardis, about the choreography associated with the latter two songs?

    Comment by kevinf — June 24, 2011 @ 11:53 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI