Mudcat Café message #1385309 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #21456   Message #1385309
Posted By: Azizi
22-Jan-05 - 01:17 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Railroad Bill
Subject: RE: Help: Railroad Bill
In her 1925 collection 'On The Trail Of Negro Folk Songs" Dorothy Scarborough writes:

"There are various Negro versions of Railroad Bill, the best that I have found being given by Professor Odum in Journal of American Folklore. {Folklore Associates edition; page 251-252}

I's Looking Fer Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill mighty bad man,
Shoot dem lights out o' de brakeman's hand-
It's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill mighty bad man,
Shoot the lamps all off the stan'-
An it's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

First on table, next on wall,
Ole corn whiskey cause of it all-
It's looking fer Railroad Bill.

Ole McMillan had a special train,
When he got there wus a shower a rain-
Wus lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Ev'body tole him he better turn back,
Railroad Bill wus goin' down the track-
An it's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Well, the pilicemen all dressed in blue,
Comin down sidewalk two by two,
Wus lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill he had no wife,
Always lookin fer somebody's life-
An it's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Railroad Bill was the worst ole coon
Killed McMillan by the light o' the moon-
It's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Ole Culpepper went up on Number Five,
Goin' bring him back, dead or alive,
Wus lookin' fer Railroad Bill.

Standin' on the corner, did n't mean no harm,
Policeman grab me the arm-
Wus lookin' fer Railroad Bill."

end of quote

Scaborough {Odum} writes 'It's lookin' fer Railroad Bill.' but I wonder if this was a mis-hearing of "I'se lookin fer Railroad Bill"..

Scaborough also includes this verse:

Railroad Bill got so fine
He shot a hole in a silver dime
Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill
Railroad Bll got sore eyes,
An' won't eat nothin' apple pies.

(p. 253 Folklore Associates edition, 1963}

Needless to say, to African Americans of that time 'Railroad Bill' was an anti-hero, a man with attitude who didn't take no stuff, who challenged the system and won {at least for a while}.

"Coon" was used as an informal referent for African Americans by both Black Americans and others. Though it is now, then it was not necessarily a negative term. The only positive use of 'coon' that I have ever heard among African Americans {though it's very rarely used now} is the internal rhyme "ace boon coon" as in "You're my ace boon coon".

Though I don't view Wild N--- Bill/Railroad Bill as a role model for contemporary African Americans, I think it's a shame that so few of us know this folklore...

Ms. Azizi