Mudcat Café message #3063753 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57206   Message #3063753
Posted By: Charley Noble
30-Dec-10 - 09:30 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Yangtse River Shanty
Subject: RE: Origins: Yangtse River Shanty

Just to muddy the waters some more, here's a post from Sandy Paton on the origins of "Shawneetown":

At long last, some information for you. Malcolm Dalglish and Grey Larsen recorded "Shawneetown" on their The First of Autumn LP (June Appal JA026). What follows is taken from the booklet that accompanied the album.

We learned "Shawneetown" from a good friend of ours, Dillon Bustin. Dillon learned part of the song when he was young from a year-round fisherman (*) on the White River in Indiana. Since then he has picked up verses from travel logs and novels of the keelboat era. He even made up one of the verses. (**)
Shawneetown is an Ohio River town in southern Illinois just a little south of the Wabash River junction. The town was the first Anglo settlement on the Ohio and before 1830 was the major trade center for Illinois settlers and the Indians. The nearby salt mines provided the town's major commodity.
The most efficient commercial boats in those days were the keelboats. Unlike flatboats and rafts, which only travelled downriver, the keelboats made the difficult trip back as well. In the days before steam power, and before present dams tamed the river's currents, the methods for getting a boat back up river (whether "cordelling" or "bushwacking" ) involved the crew literally pulling the boat against the current. While a downriver trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans took only a few weeks, the return trip took several months. The use of the beech oar, a long oar that most river craft had to guide the boat as well as to physically maneuver it off mudslicks and snags, was the main work of the downriver course.

Here's the text as Dalglish and Larsen recorded it:

Some rows up, but we floats down,
Way down the Ohio to Shawneetown.

Hard on the beech oar, she moves too slow.
Way down to Shawneetown on the Ohio.

Now the current's got her and we'll take up the slack.
Float her down to Shawneetown and we'll bushwack her back.

The whiskey's in the jug, boys, the wheat is in the sack.
We'll trade 'em down to Shawneetown and we'll bring the rock salt back.

I got a wife in Louisville and one in New Orleans,
And when I get to Shawneetown gonna see my Indian Queen.

The water's might warm, boys, the air is cold and dank,
And the cursed fog it gets so thick you cannot see the bank.

(repeat first verse)

(*) This, as I recall, is the gentleman known as 'Poss Skaggs.
(**) They don't say which one, however.

That's about all I can come up with. It would seem, then, that credit for the song should be given completely to Dillon. He created the song from a fragment.

Sandy (Paton)

So while our discussion may make logical sense, that's not how the lyrics were originally composed by Bustin! Sandy goes on to explain that he was responsible for changing "hard" in the chorus to "haul" so that teenagers in school music programs would be less apt to giggle.

Anyway, this discussion would best be continued on the relevant thread or threads.

Charley Noble