Sacred Texts  Americana  Index  Previous  Next 

Coffee in the Gourd, ed. J. Frank Dobie [1923], at



    The following ballad was given to me by Mr. Preston Churchill, a freshman student of mine from Fort Worth. He states that he learned the ballad at Fort Worth when he was seven or eight years old (about 1910 or 1911) from a migratory family coming from the vicinity of Amarillo, Texas. They were poor and illiterate, and their chief method of earning a livelihood was picking cotton in the late summer and throughout the autumn. Their custom was to leave in August or early September and go as an entire family to the farmers living from twenty-five to one hundred miles from Fort Worth, remaining away from Fort Worth until the cotton-picking season was over. The ballad was brought back by the family when they returned one winter from their cotton-picking expedition. It was the favorite song among a number that the family sang, and Mr. Churchill was so impressed with it as a child that he memorized it accurately. "I again heard this song," says Mr. Churchill, "in the summer of 1922 at Tucumcari, New Mexico. A sheep-herder--at least I was told that he was a sheep-herder--sang it. He gave about three more verses of the song, but I do not remember them." The last part of the ballad relates the manner of death of the heroine, but Mr. Preston cannot recall any of the details of these additional stanzas, though he thinks the girl grieved herself to death.

    The composition has all the earmarks of a late ballad. A few old words seem to indicate that there was an earlier original. In the fifth stanza "rush and cruel" may be a corruption for "rash and cruel" or perhaps "harsh and cruel." The old or obsolete form "gare" for "gore" seems to be a survival of older ballad diction. In the sixth stanza the word "muvven" is entirely new to me. I do not find it recorded in Wright's Dialect Dictionary nor in The Oxford Dictionary. It may be a corruption of "heaven." Mr. Preston is certain that he has reproduced the word exactly as he learned it. In the last stanza, "o'er-casting" is probably a corruption for "o'er-cast them."

One evening as I sat courting,
  My brothers seemed to interfere,
Saying, "This courtship must soon be ended,
  Or we'll force him a long ways to his grave."

The next morning they rose early
  For a game of hunting for to go;
Upon this young man they both insisted
  To come along and with them go.

They rode o'er hills and over mountains
  And over lands that were unknown,
Till they came to a place in a lonesome valley
  And there they killed and left him alone.

They got up, and on returning,
  Their sister asked where he might be.
They said, "We lost him in our game of hunting;
  No more of him you will ever see."

She went to bed all heavy-hearted,
  And in her dreams her true love came,
Saying, "Your brothers killed me rush and cruel,
  And in a gare of blood I've lain."

The next morning she rose early,
  She dressed herself, put on her gloves,
Saying, "I'll ride all day to the end of muvven,
  Or find the object of my love."

She rode o'er hills and over mountains
  And over lands she did not know,
Till she came to the place in the lonesome valley,
  And there she found him dead and cold.

His dark blue eyes were forever faded,
  His lips were salty as the brine,
But she kissed him o'er and over, weeping,
  "He was a darling friend of mine."

She got up, and on returning,
  Her brothers asked where she had been.
She said, "Hold your tongues, you deceitful villains;
  Far across the sea you both will land."

The next morning they rose early
  For a trip across the sea to roam,
But the ship was sunk, and the waves o'er-casting,
  And they were buried in the foam.


Next: Human Foundation Sacrifices In Balkan Ballads, by Max Sylvius Handman