The folk songs of traditional music have evolved from the blending of different cultural traditions. Familiar songs sometimes spring from surprising origins.
One of the most notable is the popular folk song “Red River Valley”.
It appears to be a simple song of lament from cowboy singers around campfires. In reality, it marks the end of a musical mix that has its foundation in the melodies of traditional folk songs. These songs became popular in the mists of a Gaelic past. Also, their lyrics evoke the personal expression of the cultural conflicts. Mostly, subjects centralize on clashes occurring during the nineteenth-century settlement of the American continent by Europeans and the related displacement of the indigenous natives.
A song that touches history
The Red River Valley is one of the best-known folk songs in the Prairie provinces. The fame of the song became widely known in America. The song was a Texas adaptation of an 1896 popular song, “In the Bright Mohawk Valley”. Later research by Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke indicates that it was known in some five Canadian provinces before 1896. Probably, the time of its composition was during the Red River rebellion of 1870.
The earliest known written manuscript of the lyrics was “The Red River Valley”. It bears the notations “Nemaha 1879” and “Harlan 1885.” Nemaha and Harlan are the names of counties in Nebraska and are also the names of towns in Iowa.
The song appears in sheet music, titled “In the Bright Mohawk Valley”, printed in New York in 1896 with James J. Kerrigan as the writer. The tune and lyrics were collected and published in Carl Sandburg’s 1927 American Songbag.
A Cowboy love song
“Red River Valley” was first recorded as “Cowboy Love Song” in 1925 by Carl T. Sprague, one of the first cowboy singers from Texas. The biggest hit of the cowboy version was the 1927 version by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett. In both recordings of the song, the lyrical associations are about the Red River Valley that marks the border between Arkansas and Texas.
The Red River Valley is a region in central North America that is drained by the Red River of the North. It is significant in the geography of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba for its relatively fertile lands and the population centers of Fargo, Grand Forks, and Winnipeg. Palaeographic Lake Agassiz laid down the Red River Valley silts.
Michael Martin Murphey, America’s foremost advocate of the Cowboys, deploys his own tunes to his complementary cover of “Red River Valley”.