Wanted: Mormon Folk Songs

I love Mormon folk songs. Except for a few very well known folk songs (“Whoa! Haw! Buck and Jerry-boy” and “Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys”), and our pioneer hymns and anthems, true Mormon songs can be hard to find.

Below is a lesser known song of defiance, of whistling in the face of danger, dating from the Utah War of 1857-58 — do you realize that we’re entering another great sesquicentennial period, by the way? Ever hear this song before? know any other songs connected to the Utah War?

In 1857

When Uncle Sammy first sent out his army to destroy us,
Says he, “Those Mormons we will rout! They shall no more annoy us!
We’ll send a force quite competent to hang them all for treason!”
But this, you know, they didn’t do, and do you know the reason?

As they were going up the Platte, they sang a lusty ditty,
Saying, “We’ll do this,” and “We’ll do that, when we get to Salt Lake City.”
And sure enough, when they got there they made the Mormons pay, sir.
That is – I mean – they would have done, but, oh, they didn’t get here!

They got within two hundred miles, and their officers were saying,
“It will be but a little while ‘till the Mormons we are slaying!
We’ll hang each man that has two wives. We’ve plenty of rope quite handy –
That is – I mean – we would have had, but Lot Smith burned it on Sandy.”

When Uncle Sam first heard that news, it made him feel quite wrathy.
“Who’ll go and fetch those burners in?” “I will!” said Captain Marcy.
“I’ll go and fetch those burners in, and by the necks we’ll stretch ‘em.”
And this you know they would have done – but, oh, they couldn’t ketch ‘em!

Then on Ham’s Fork they camped and said, “Let’s wait a little longer
Till Johnston and his troops come up to make us all the stronger.
Then we’ll go in and take ol’ Brig, and Heber, his companion.”
That is – I mean – they would have done, except for Echo Canyon.

Now, Uncle Sam, take our advice. You’d better stay at home, sir.
You’ll need your money and your men to defend your rights at home, sir.
But if perchance you need some help, the Mormons they’ll prove kind, sir.
They’ve helped you once. They can again – that is, if they’ve a mind to.

There’s a great commotion in the East about the Mormon question.
The subject is, to say the least, too much for their digestion.
We claim the rights of liberty; we’ll break our bonds asunder.
They want us all to bear their yoke, but we never will come under!

49 comments for “Wanted: Mormon Folk Songs

  1. “Ever hear this song before?” No. Thanks for sharing.

    “know any other songs connected to the Utah War?” Nope. Sorry.

    Do we know anything about the tune for this song? (As with Emily Dickinson, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” works pretty well.)

  2. Somewhere, I have a tape recording of my grandfather singing this song, or a version of it. He was born in 1895.

  3. There is a book on this very subject… Mormon songs from the Rocky Mountains : a compilation of Mormon folksong / edited by Thomas E. Cheney. Salt Lake City : University of Utah Press, 1981

    ‘Hear Porter’s dreaded war-cry, Wheat!!!”

  4. Edje, I know a tune associated with this song but didn’t have a way to indicate it here. Another tune that works well, if you happen to know it, is the Mormon folk song “St. George and the Drag-on” (“Oh, what a desert place was this when first the Mormons found it … they said no white man could live here and Indi’ns prowled around it …”). With folk singing, and with early Mormon hymn singing, it would be authentic to substitute just about any tune with the right meter.

    Cool, Left Field. I get a kick out of knowing that it was sung long after the fact.

  5. Thanks, aml. I’m not familiar with that one but will look it up. I have the Fifes’ book, and folk songs used to be an occasional topic in early Utah journals (usually one basic folk song per discussion, with endless minor variations), and somewhere around here I have something on cowboy songs with a few Mormon mentions, but I missed Cheney. Oh, and there’s that book of Mormon folk songs that was distributed in church history seminary classes in the 1970s (the one with the vinyl record in a sleeve pasted inside the front cover).

  6. Ardis, you do know about the two Beehive Songster records that are mostly taken from the Fife recordings, don’t you? I imagine they are hard to get ahold of now, but I have them, and I think my husband can make CDs from them if you don’t have them already. Hal Cannon put them together in the late 70s. There’s also a Deseret String Band recording of some of them. We used to have a Manifesto anniversary party and sing Mormon folk songs from those sources, but our ward here is a bit too stodgy for that.

    One of my favorites on Beehive Songster is Margaret Y. Doyle, born in Edinburgh, about 1853, singing the Handcart song. Runs in mind that it’s online somewhere now.

    Another favorite folk song of mine is actually an old vaudeville song, The Mormon Love Serenade, “Say Susan will thou come with me, in sweet serenity to live, of heart and hand and home to thee, a sixteenth part I’ll freely give…. nay tell me not too many share, the blessings that I offer thee, thou’ll find but fifteen others there, a household, moderate, gay and free…. say yes and let our joy be sealed with just a sixteenth of a kiss.”

  7. Paula, I’ve got a Deseret String Band CD around here somewhere with a few real folk songs on it. If it’s the same one you mean, there is also at least one very modern song, “in the style of” a Mormon folk song (Mormon filk, maybe? a pretty song imagining sister-wives as the only ones who know each other’s sorrow) and some songs about Mormons that might be old but are so mean-spirited that they hardly seem to be the kind of songs Mormons would have sung about themselves, even in jest. And then, as you point out, there are popular song parodies — the vaudeville song you quote is a good example, something that might have been sung about the Mormons, or even by us in a self-mocking way (stopping short of adopting it as our own in the way “Yankee Doodle” was transferred from British to American ownership) but which doesn’t express Mormon sensibilities, or, like the version of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” that Mormons adapted slightly to fit our circumstances but which are still clearly recognizable as somebody else’s song. The ones I like best are the purely Mormon ones or those that may have started life elsewhere but which have been so thoroughly Mormonized that you would hardly know they weren’t born with us — things like the handcart song, and George Hicks’s “Cottonwood,” and “All Are Talking of Utah.” They’re the ones that really have something to say about who we are/were, and I love ’em!

  8. Mormon folks songs? Wow. Somehow I’d never thought of them. I’d love to hear some!

  9. Hello,
    I was a big fan of the “3 D’s”. They sang ballads about Mormon History, although I’m not certain if any of the songs come from the historical period you mentioned. Interesting topic!!!!

  10. Ardis, I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I still think Mormon Love Serenade is very fun. I think that many of the songs that were anti songs are so absolutely over the top silly that they’re pretty fun too. And that’s why I don’t like the mormon version of Hard Times Come Again no More– it’s too victimish for me, too much about how we’re right and everyone else is wrong. I’ll try to find out the Deseret String Band CD I’m thinking of actually is. But my husband tends to leave his CDs in about five places, and he’s out of town, so it may take awhile to find it. Hal Cannon did a great session on mormon folk songs, but it was a LONG time ago, when they still met at the old Hotel Utah. Maybe 1983 or so and that session is not online. There’s this session at http://www.sunstoneonline.com for $1.00, SL96162, Mormon Folk Songs: Past and Present – speakers: Mike Iverson, Shauna Iverson – symposium: 1996 Salt Lake Symposium . I haven’t heard it so can’t make a recommendation for or against it.

  11. Dear A.P,
    i have two lp’s
    The Iron Horse:
    mormon folk ballads/the 3-D’s Sing

    FolkSongs of Idaho and Utah
    sung by Rosalie Sorrels
    Folkways Records FH 5343
    only one small problem i dont have a record player anymore

  12. Ooh, fun! My Pa has an old record of folk songs regarding Mormonism (some the Mormons sang, some were sung about the Mormons). I’ll give him a ring and see if he can send me a copy! I do remember that one involved a pioneer breaking down and cursing God after stepping on a prickly pear….

  13. Ardis, my dad has an old LP with a bunch of old Mormon songs. I’ll have to dig it up to see it that’s on it. The first two are, but don’t recall the last one.

  14. PDoE — We had it all, in our 19th century gathering, which is what, I suppose, has given rise to what people think of as “Utah culture” rather than “Mormon culture.” It’s harder to have a folk culture now when we have such few shared cultural, as opposed to strictly religious, experiences.

    Remembrancer — I remember the 3D’s! I heard one of their presentations at a Know Your Religion series (or something like that) that I think of whenever we sing “Praise to the Man.” They pointed out that “Praise” was, on the surface, a tribute to Joseph, but that the music itself suggested that what really got to us was getting even, because we really put our full singing power into belting out the high notes of “traitors and ty-y-RAAAAAAANTS” in the chorus.

    Paula — Thanks for the leads. Maybe I’m a history snob — I don’t mean to be, but after using so many authentic journals, fictionalized accounts like “The Work and the Glory” seem lifeless to me. I know that fiction and modern folk-like songs can be powerful aids to understanding the past, especially emotionally, and I should take advantage of any tool available.

    tj — So near and yet so far! But since you can’t take advantage of your records, I’d be more than happy to help you declutter your life by accepting delivery of your records at my house! ;-)

    Janet and Alison, and anyone else who runs across the text of a folk song — Feel free to post it as a comment, or, if you’re willing, send it directly to me at AEParshall at aol dot com. I suspect the one that Janet is remembering is Hick’s “Cottonwood” — when he gets to Dixie, his wagon wheel breaks so he has to improvise a slide, and his poor wife Betsy has to walk until she is so worn out that she sits down, right on a prickly pear. One of the best Mormon folk songs ever! It acknowledges the dirty little secret that helping to build the kingdom is as painful as it is glorious, but its upbeat tune (if you sing it upbeat, instead of as a dirge) turns what might otherwise have been a sour complaint into a moment of “we’ll laugh about this sometime, after the wounds have healed.”

  15. How about the variation on the “Popcorn Song”:

    I looked out the window and what did I see… two Mormon missionaries smiling at me… etc…

    Does that qualify? :)

  16. If we’re counting variations, you have to include “I am a child of God… has given me an earthly home, with parents kind of weird” and “High on the mountain top, a badger chased a squirrel…” as well as some my family made up, “Count Your Many Calories” and “Bob, the Builder of the Nation”.

  17. #16. “I think of whenever we sing “Praise to the Man.” They pointed out that “Praise” was, on the surface, a tribute to Joseph, but that the music itself suggested that what really got to us was getting even, because we really put our full singing power into belting out the high notes of “traitors and ty-y-RAAAAAAANTS” in the chorus.”

    Yes, but the music is an adaptation of “Scotland the Brave” (not the chorus part). And as for revenge, the original text of part of the second verse read:

    “Long shall his blood which was shed by assassins,
    Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame.”

  18. Here is a folk song from the Mormon Battalion, or at least a poem, written by MoBat chaplain Levi Hancock. It memorialized an incident during the Battle with the Cattle, a stampede that resulted in a few casualties.

    The Bullfight on the San Pedro
    But Corp’ral Frost stood bravely by,
    And watch’d the bull with steady eye;
    The brute approach’d near and more near,
    But Frost betray’d no sign of fear.
    The colonel ordered him to run—
    Unmov’d he stood with loaded gun;
    The bull came up with daring tread,
    When near his feet, Frost shot him dead.

    cited in Henry William Bigler by M. Guy Bishop p. 40

  19. Hi Ardis,

    I remember a song my grandmother sang called \”Put you in Limbo.\” Unfortunately, I only remember one verse:

    All you cohabs gather \’round
    You better get on underground
    For if with number two you\’re found
    They\’ll put you in Limbo.

  20. I have some that I got from a wonderful lady on my mission, no idea what book they came from or if they are fully covered in the stuff mentioned in previous comments. They are:

    The Gospel News
    Echo Canyon
    St. George and the Dragon
    The Lonesome Roving Wolves
    On the Road to California
    Mormon Yakee Doodle
    Whoa! Ha! Buck and Jerry Boy
    Hard Times Come Again No More
    None Can Preach the Gospel Like the Mormons Do
    The Unknown Grave
    Handcart Song
    Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys
    Blue Mountain

    Are all of those well loved classics, or are there any in there you hadn’t heard of?

  21. This is more of a filk song than a folk song, but it’s an interesting LDS music video.
    A tribute to Teancum “Javelin Man” killing Amalickiah.

  22. the version of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” that Mormons adapted slightly to fit our circumstances

    I heard a song once that went something like “this is the song, the cry, of the Mormons. Hard times, hard times, have long oppressed us sore.” Is this the same thing?

  23. Y’all are coming up with some good ones — keep ’em coming! David Keller’s is a bit of what appears on Jacob J’s list as “On the Road to California”, or sometimes “Bull Fight on the San Pedro.” I’ve got those words and may post them, since there seems to be some interest in Mormon folks songs.

    Jacob J, your list has some new ones: “The Gospel News,” “The Mormon Yankee Doodle,” and “Blue Mountain” are ones I don’t know at all (unless, like “On the Road to California,” there may be more than one title).

    Bookslinger, you give me an idea for a post on filk.

    Adam, that’s the one. The Mormon version begins, “I will sing of the Mormons, the people of the Lord, since the time that Joseph prayed for light, and the way they’ve been guided by Jesus’ holy light and saved by the power of his might.” The chorus is unchanged from the Stephen Foster original, but the verses were Mormonized.

    Honestly, this post was kind of a throw-away to put something up in a hurry since we all seemed exhausted by the PBS discussion and were eager to turn to something new. There seems to be genuine interest in folk songs, though. Cool.

  24. Ardis, I’d always assumed that filk was something not discussed on family websites, but that must not be the case. I look forward to that post. I think.

  25. The Mormon version of “Hard Times” always makes me cry. Here’s how I know the first part of it — there’s more, but my brain is a little like a sieve …

    I will sing of the Mormons, the people of the Lord,
    Since the time that Joseph came to light,
    And the way they’ve been guided by Jesus’ holy word
    And blessed by the power of his might.

    ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the Mormons,
    Hard times, hard times long have ‘pressed us sore,
    Many days they have lingered around our cabin door,
    But now we’ve brighter days in store.

  26. Ana — Not only did you come up with more than I did, you’ve illustrated something important about folk songs: Everybody remembers and performs them just a little bit differently. If a song is passed along through enough singers, the little differences add up. So, thanks!

  27. Has the song \”Mormon Sunday School\” been mentioned yet? I can send in the funny verses if someone is asking for them.

  28. I have a recording and song book of the songs listed in comment 22 above.

  29. Yes, Janet is remembering “Oh once I lived in Cottonwood”. My husband used to play guitar and sing bedtime songs for our kids and our oldest got stuck on that as a favorite when he was bout four, and we heard it about every night for several years. I remember one night my husband started it out as “Oh once I used to like this song….. “

  30. Is there anywhere to buy the sheet music or recordings mentioned here? I\’d love to have copies.

  31. Hi Ardis, I found my husband’s CD. Maybe it’s the one that you’re talking about, but the liner notes indicate that almost all the songs are from the 1920s or earlier, except Hal Cannon’s Oh Sisters. It’s still available:

  32. Paula, that’s the one; I recognize the list of songs. Thanks.

    Kelly, unless someone is currently performing these songs — like the CD Paula links to — I’m not aware of any in-print source for Mormon folk songs. A number of them appear in old book collections of folk songs, and in journal articles. The best thing, if you can find it to copy, is the book of folk songs used as a teaching aid in the 1970s (was it used later?) in Seminary, during the church history year. That was a nice little compilation of genuine folk songs of all kinds — sad, funny, with religious themes, and wholly secular — with the printed words, piano score, and guitar fingerings all shown.

  33. Kelly, email me at [email protected]. I have some of them in old photocopies. We used to have either a Pioneer Day Party or a Manifesto Day Party and sing them at the party. But I can’t imagine anyone in our current ward finding that fun at all, so have quit dong the party. I can make copies and send them to you, unless I can’ t find the old folder.

  34. Coming back to this late, but I found the rest of the words to the Mormon version of Hard Times. It’s the last verse that made me not like it before. (I’m digging up some songs for the Rocky Mountain Retreat, in early June.)

    First two verses as quoted in Ana’s comment above:
    I will sing of the Mormons, the people of the Lord,
    Since the time that Joseph came to light,
    And the way they’ve been guided by Jesus’ holy word
    And blessed by the power of his might.

    ‘Tis the song, the sigh of the Mormons,
    Hard times, hard times long have ‘pressed us sore,
    Many days they have lingered around our cabin door,
    But now we’ve brighter days in store.

    Then (from Mormon Songs from Rocky Mountains, compiled by Thomas Cheney)
    Each time the wicked have tried to overthrow
    And to bring the work of God to naught,
    The way has been opened for the Saints of God to escape
    A ram in the thicket was caught.

    The grasshoppers, crickets and mobbers all combined
    Were powerless to crush our noble cause
    The more we are hated, the more we are maligned,
    The more the church of Jesus grows.

  35. Shara, I would like to have the funny verses to “Mormon Sunday School”. I have never heard of that one before. Sounds cute. Thanks, Susan Y.

  36. Please email the words to the Mormon Sunday School. please
    Thank you so much.
    There are many folk songs in the Daughter\’s of the Utah Pioneers Song Book and in the old Seminary song book with arrangments by Dan Carter that came out in the 1960\’s or 70\’s. There were also songs about the Utah War from the musical published in the early 1960\’s \”Pappa and the Playhouse\”. We preformed it at the Seattle World\’s Fair in 1961.
    We heard the Mormon Sunday School Song by a very elderly brother in Southern Arizona in 1970. I have lost the words but would love to have them. He told us that they used to sing it in the \”colonies\” before moving to St. David.

  37. The Battle Hymn of the Utah War was \”Up Ye Defenders of Zion\”. It used to be in the Mormon Hymnals. The words in the hymnal changed through the years to tone them down. It was eventually taken out of the Hymnal all together. Find an old hymnal and enjoy it!

    There is a web site with the score, words, and a little history on \”Hard Times\” (at least that is what we called it): http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiBRTRDAYS;ttHRDTIMES.html

    St. George and the Dragon has several verses. The ones I know are:

    Oh what a dreary place this was \’er first the Mormons found \’er
    they said no white man could live hear and indians prowelled around \’er
    they said the land it was no good the water was no gooder and the bare idea of living here was enough to make men shudder.

    Mesquite, soap root, prickly pear and briars,
    St. George \’er long will be a place as everyone admires.

    The sun it is so gol durn hot it makes the water siz\’ sir.
    The reason that is is so hot is simply \’cause it is sir!
    The wind it blows so strong and hot that when we plant or sow sir,
    we put one foot upon the seed and hold \’er \’till she grows sir!

    My dad used to sing a song that I suspect is an old Mormon folk song, but I have never heard or found it anywhere else. If you have heard it or know something about it, I\’de love to hear from you.

    Tonight we\’ll have bread and gravy.
    The next will have gravy and bread.
    The night after that we\’ll have gravy
    gravy without any bread!

  38. The bread and gravy song goes like this:

    While traveling along through the country
    I stopped at a lot of motels
    Some were good, some were bad, some were indifferent
    Some were even like cells.

    The last one I went to was a daisy
    So cozy, so comfy, so neat
    But I thought I would go crazy
    When I found out what they gave me to eat

    On Monday was bread on gravy
    On Tuesday was gravy on bread
    On Wedsday and Thursday was gravy on toast
    But that is only gravy on bread.

    On Friday I went to the landlord
    Can’t you give me something else instead
    So on Saturday morning just for a change
    She gave me gravy without any bread.

    My grandfather sang this song to my father and now I sing it to my kids.

  39. There are a few musicians around who make an effort at tracing old Mormon songs and performing them. The best, in my opinion, is fiddler Mark Jardine, who lives in Salt Lake and has been a member of a variety of groups, including being a founder of the Deseret String Band, also Tenpenny, Yankee Clipper, and the Beehive Band. The Beehive Band put out a double CD several years ago that featured lots of fiddle tunes, hymns, and other songs of early Mormondom. It\’s hard to find now, but you can still get it from Mark.

    A few years ago, I worked with Mark and others to put on the Beehive Jubilee at This is the Place Heritage Park. We did it two years in a row (I think it was 2005-2006), but then management changed at the park, and it sort of died. It was a festival focusing on Utah music performed in traditional style. Maybe someday we\’ll resurrect it . . .

    I still perform a lot of old Utah music, and am currently working on a CD of original Fife field recordings, hopefully to be released Spring 2008. It will include a version of the Handcart Song with an unfamiliar but delightful melody, as well as some great songs that have been documented by the Fifes, Cheney, and Hubbard, but never released on CD. Contact the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at USU for information on it–435.797.3630.

    The two best books I\’ve found on Mormon folk songs are Thomas Cheney (mentioned above) and Lester Hubbard\’s Ballads and Songs from Utah. Both are out of print, but you might be able to locate them in a library or used book store.

    Anyone who has old recordings or written versions of Utah folk songs–please consider donating them to the Utah State University, University of Utah, or BYU archives. We need to preserve these things. There are those of us out here who actively work to perpetuate them.

  40. Hi,
    We received an Idaho Humanities Council grant to search out and preserve historical Idaho music. We have discovered 1000 songs to dat but only three Mormon songs! That\’s right, only 3 Mormon songs. If you have any information about early Idaho Mormon folk songs we would be deeply appreciative. We are trying to make our collection as complete as possible and it seems there should be many more Mormon songs in existance.
    Thank You,
    Marv Quinton 208-891-6398
    Gary Eller 208-442-8844

  41. There were some mention the Mormon Sunday School Song, and that was one of my favorite laughs. I had been taught it as a kid, but I had forgotten a couple of the verses and had looked for years to find them so I could teach my family. Not to be slowed down, we simply made up a few new verses. Later I found the verses I had forgot, and none of them overlapped. So, anyone who wants to see what we came up (and the old stuff too) with it\’s at :

  42. Here is a book at BYU Library with music from my ancestor mothers:

    Grandmothers songs Bushman Family.
    Title: Grandmothers songs / pub. by the John Bushman Family.
    Publication info: [United States] : John Bushman Family, c1959 [(Salt Lake City, Utah : Pioneer Music Press)]
    Physical description: 1 close score (106 p.) ; 27 cm.
    General Note: Chiefly close score; some songs are piano acc. with words between staves or unacc. melodies.
    General Note: \”The purpose of the book is to preserve… the songs that were sung in the early Bushman home\”–foreword.
    Local note: Printer from stamp on preliminary leaf.
    Local note: Five songs used by Mormon missionaries to the northern Arizona Indians: p. [101]-104.
    Personal subject: Bushman, John, 1843-1926.
    Subject term: Church work with Indians–Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Subject term: Folk songs–United States.
    Subject term: Mormons–Songs and music.
    Added author: Bushman Family.

    Music and Dance
    Copy Material Location
    M 1629 .G72x 1959 1 Music Score Music Library
    HBLL Special Collections
    Copy Material Location
    M1629 .G72x 1959 1 Americana Americana Collection – 1130 HBLL

  43. 47: Devie, you should watch for an announcement from the Mountain West Center (http://www.usu.edu/mountainwest/) regarding a CD, however far in the future it may be. Elaine is not a regular participant at T&S and is unlikely to see your note.

    And you won’t be the only one eager to hear a CD like hers is likely to be! Count me in, too.

  44. Hello,

    I\’m a music critic with a strong interest in American religious music traditions. I\’m wondering if anyone on this board knows of any Mormon rock bands — i.e., groups comparable with Christian (evangelical) rock. I would think that somewhere, especially in the mountain West, there would be such bands, or at least one. Any information would be helpful.

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