Red River Valley

From the text of Canadian Folklorist Edith Fowke. Associated with the Metis rebellion of late 1860s.

It's a long time, you know, I've been waiting
For the words that you never did say,
Now alas! all my fond hopes have vanished,
For they say you are going away.


From this valley they say you are going.
I shall miss your blue eyes and sweet smile,
For you take with you all of the sunshine
That has brightened my pathway a while.


So consider a while ere you leave me,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
But remember the
Red River Valley
And the
Red River girl who loved you.

So remember the valley you're leaving,
How lonely, how dreary it will be;
Remember the heart you are breaking,
And be true to your promise to me.


As you go to your home by the ocean,
May you never forget those sweet hours
That we spent in the
Red River Valley
And the love we exchanged in its bowers.

 
And the dark maiden's prayer for her lover
To the Spirit that rules all this world
Is that sunshine his pathway may cover
And the grief of the Red River Girl.


So consider a while ere you leave me,

Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
But remember the Red River Valley
And the Red River girl who loved you.

So remember the valley you're leaving,
How lonely, how dreary it will be;
Remember the heart you are breaking,
And be true to your promise to me.

 
Tom Isern :

“It's hard, but I'm trying to educate people about the origins of this Great Plains classic, which most everyone, even on the northern plains, thinks originated in Texas. Now I ask you, Would a Texas cowboy say to his sweetheart, "Do not hasten to bid me adieu"?

As was shown by the research of Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke, the song originated among British troops who came to Manitoba, the Red River Valley of the North, to put down the Metis rebellion of the late 1860s. Like "Fraulein" and all the other soldier's-sweetheart songs that were popular country standards in Cold-War America and on Armed Forces Radio, "Red River Valley" is a song of military occupation.

Living in North Dakota I have encountered a number of versions of this song, all of them clearly tied to the northern, not southern, traditions of the text. This text, because of some of the terms in it, is politically incorrect, and when I was an academic dean, I had to worry about that. Lately, however, I have lapsed into historical authenticity.”

 

"Red River Valley": Edith Fowke's Text

Texas and “Edith Fowke is the Canadian folklorist whose research has established that the venerable Great Plains folksong, "Red River Valley," originated not along the river that forms the boundary between Oklahoma but rather along the one that forms the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota and, of course, empties into Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. The song is associated with the Métis rebellion of 1869, commonly known as the Red River Rebellion.

The text here provided is one published in the Calgary Herald and discovered by Hugh Dempsey of the Glenbow Museum in the papers of Col. Gilbert E. Sanders, a former Mountie. Fowke published it in Western Folklore in 1964 and considered it "typical of various other early versions." This is not a very politically correct text, but I trust you understand that this is an Anglo-Canadian document lifted from historical context.”

O consider awhile ere you leave me,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
But remember the Red River Valley,
And the half-breed that loved you so true.

It's a long time, you know, I've been waiting
For the words that you never did say,
But alas! all my fond hopes have vanished,
For they say you are going away.

From this valley they say you are going,
I shall miss your blue eyes and sweet smile,
And you take with you all of the sunshine
That has brightened my pathway awhile.

So remember the valley you're leaving,
How lonely and dreary 'twill be;
Remember the heart you are breaking
And be true to your promise to me.

As you go to your home by the ocean
May you never forget those sweet hours
That we spent in the Red River valley
And the love we exchanged 'mid its bowers.

There could never be such a longing
In the heart of a pale maiden's breast
As dwells in the heart you are breaking
With love for the boy who came west.

And the dark maiden's prayer for her love
To the Spirit that rules all this world
Is that sunshine his pathway may cover
And the grief of the Red River Girl.

Notes from Mudcat.org 

Lyr Req: Alternate Red River Valley (26)
 Origins: Red River Valley, Gaelic? (68)
Lyr Req: In the Bright Mohawk Valley (24) 

According to Carl Sandburg, this song originated as "In the Bright Mohawk Valley" (1896) and became "The Red River Valley" in the western United States and Canada. H. F. P., the arranger of the song in The American Songbag, describes this version as being "from Gilbert R. Combs as he heard it on Pine Mountain. Three final stanzas are added from the R. W. Gordon collection" (130). However, the maiden of the final three stanzas is "dark" (and thus has a native heritage). Canadian folk-lorist Edith Fowke shows "that it was known in at least five Canadian provinces before 1896, and was probably composed during the Red River Rebellion of 1870." The "dark maiden" may, then, be Metis. See The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs, ed. Edith Fowke (Markham, Ont: Penguin Books Canada, 1986): 206 (M 1678 P45 Music Library).

The Red River of the North flows north from North Dakota through Fargo and Grand Forks into Manitoba, Canada, where it continues northwards through Winnipeg and then empties into Lake Winnipeg. This great river passes through farm land and regularly floods in the spring. This editor remembers singing this version -- without the final two stanzas -- with his father at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Winnipeg in the early 1950s, when it was a great favourite.

For an audio file with a performance of this song, see the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, ed. Dr. Michael F. Murray (Southwest Missouri State University Department of Music and Springfield-Greene County Library). The singer is Doris Viene in Springfield, Missouri on June 30, 1958.

In 'The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs', compiled by the late Edith Fowke. The text of the song in the book was from the research of Canadian historical song collector Mrs. A. Fraser, Lancaster, Ontario, who contributed many other Canadian historical song references and texts as well.

'This is probably the best known folk song on the Canadian prairies. It is also widely known in the United States, where it was believed to be a Texas adaptation of an 1896 popular song, 'In the Bright Mohawk Valley'. Later research indicates that it was known in at least five Canadian provinces BEFORE 1896, and was probably composed during the Red River Rebellion of 1870 (reference: 'The "Red River Valley" Re-Examined', Western Folklore, Issue 23, P. 163). Later versions are short and generalized, but the early form told of an Indian or half-breed girl lamenting the departure of her white lover, a soldier who came west with Colonel Wolseley to suppress the first Riel rebellion. Mrs. Fraser's text is very similar to the earliest known versions, and (Marius) Barbeau gives another traditional version from Calgary in 'Come A-Singing''.
 
On the basis of documented history, an American claim to the original 'Red River Valley' is rather thin. On the other hand, Colonel Wolseley's men certainly bivouaced along the Red River in May, 1870, probably in the area of what is now St. Norbert, a safe distance from the saloons and brothels of a fledgling Winnipeg. The Red River Rebellion was continental news, and Wolseley's troops were credited with easing Manitoba into confederation in that year. His troops were amassed from Canadian militia units and British regulars, assembled in both Montreal and Quebec for immediate dispatch to the north west under Sir John A. MacDonald's direct orders. Many units were drawn from the Halifax and St. John's garrisons.
 
As one might expect, social intercourse between Wolseley's troops and citizens would certainly lead to matters best described by songs and poems. The similarity of versions of this particular song in our historical records is very substantive evidence supporting the claim of a Manitoba-born song called the Red River Valley.
 
Around the same time, unlike in Manitoba, land settlement issues along the Red River in Texas were fairly inocuous by comparison, with the Lincoln County 'wars' in neighbouring New Mexico and railway building about the only thing making the six-o'clock news then. Paring away the usual cowboy mythology from actual history, one would find that particular area to be predominantly Spanish influenced, with 'vaqueros' and local natives holding the 'cowboy' role. Highly unlikely that they'd use a French word 'adieu' when the Tex-Mex 'adios' was daily fare. If the song was eventually heard and sung in that area, it would've likely been as a result of later immigration by easterners (the 'Mohawk Valley' reference) and northerners bringing it with them. - Tony Smith, in St-Boniface, just east of the suburb of Winnipeg.

 

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