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Miscegenation; one of the oldest sports. Have you ever seen Quest for Fire? I love that movie. The part where the "other" girl teaches the manbeast how to make love like humans? It's hard to let my mind drift back that far and imagine what it must have been like for different, first contact-type tribes to interact. The quest for the "other" must have been lustful, indeed.


Missouri, she's a mighty river
Way-aye, you rolling river
The redskin's camp lies on its borders
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


I happened across a tape today in a friend's car. I asked him to let me play this song. It turned out to be an instrumental version. It was so wonderful I would have teared up if I'd been alone. As it was, I held it in 'til I could get home and find a version around here somewhere. This is one of the most wonderful melodies ever written, and I can only try to imagine how it was handed down from whence it came to some godawful midi file on the World Wide Web today. The steps involved would be quite convoluted if one could trace them, I'm sure.


The white man loved the Indian maid
Way-aye, you rolling river
With notions his canoe was laden
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


Research says this is an old sea shanty which was sung while using the windlass, capstan, and the winches for loading cargo. (See, Webster knew this world quite well.) Frankly, I wish I hadn't researched this song at all. In my mind, it was always just a lovely melody about a river and being bound away. That was all. Just being bound away, across a wide, wide river. That's all I needed from the song, to accompany this melody which has every note so perfectly placed that it can rip your heart open with each dip and dive into the minor key.


Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Way-aye, you rolling river
I'll take her 'cross yon rolling water
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


Apparently, Shenandoah was an Indian chief living on the Missouri River. This version of the lyric seems to tell the story of a poor common sailor who falls desperately in love with the Chief's daughter and who courts her for a full seven years, only to see some fancy dude come along and sell the Chief firewater and get him drunk enough to let his daughter be taken from him.


The Chief disdained the trader's dollars
Way-aye, you rolling river
My daughter you shall never follow
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


I do not like this story. In fact, this story has almost ruined the pleasure I had in listening to this melody. All I wanted was a song about a wide, wide river and being bound away. What more needs be said, when the tune is this lovely? Anything else would be a distraction, wouldn't it?


For seven years I courted Sally
Way-aye, you rolling river
For seven more I longed to have her
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


What Indian girl is named "Sally?" This is bullshit. I didn't want to hear about some improbable Indian girl named Sally. If there is a girl in this story, why is she not named Tekawitha or Hydrangea? This Sally depresses me. This story has been told better in songs such as Spanish is a Loving Tongue. As a sidenote, Bob Dylan did a version of both these songs. Bob Dylan is very interested in the traditions of songs such as this, and I believe this is the bottom line in what critics are saying about his newest effort.


She said she would not be my lover
Way-aye, you rolling river
Because I was a tarry sailor
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


The origin of the song is not all that clear. Some believe it originated among the early American rivermen or Canadian voyageurs. Others believe it was a land song before it went to sea. There seems little doubt that it has a strong Irish flavor.


At last there came a Yankee skipper
Way-aye, you rolling river
He winked his eye, and he tipped his flipper
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


Wherever it came from, it must have been immensely popular (both on land and sea) to have survived all these years. It has been known by many names, including: "Shennydore," "The Wide Missouri," "The Wild Mizzourye," "The World Of Misery-Solid Fas" (a West Indian rowing shanty that may be older than other versions), "The Oceanida" and "Rolling River."


He sold the Chief that fire-water
Way-aye, you rolling river
And 'cross the river he stole his daughter
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri!


The song can be traced back to at least 1820. Two verses of the song were published in an article by W. J. Alden in Harper's Magazine (1882).


Oh Shenandoah! I long to hear you
Way-aye, you rolling river
Across that wide and rolling river
A way - we're bound away
'cross the wide Missouri


But that's all I want to hear. I just want to hear this one verse and forget about this white man / Indian story. I don't want to get Running Bear stuck in my head while I'm trying to enjoy one of the greatest melodies since Greensleeves.

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