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      Off to California

            Music from the Gold Rush Era

Sweet Betsy from Pike

John A. Stone made the overland trip in 1850, spent some wasted years in the mines and then became the miners’ favorite troubadour.  Between 1853 and 1858 he published more than 50 miner songs, and with his traveling minstrel company known as The Sierra Nevada Rangers, became a favorite among entertainment-starved miners.  “Old Put” as he was called is buried in Greenwood, not far from where gold was discovered in Coloma.  The ballad of Betsy and Ike is probably his most famous song.  Most of us learned it as school children, usually lightly censored.  Consequently there have been many versions with verses added and subtracted.  Even the chorus has variations; most of us know the “too-ra-lai” syllables but Alan prefers the “hoodle-dang” approach in our recording.  Somehow it’s easier to picture a rough and tumble miner singing “hoodle-dang.”  Since our project grew from a film about the Sacramento cholera epidemic of 1850, we wanted to include a cholera verse.  While there are some out there, most likely Put didn’t compose them, so we wrote our own.  The verse addressing cholera below was composed by Andy.

Note: there are a number of states with Pike Counties–some believe the fabled home of Ike and Betsy was in Arkansas, others in Missouri, which was the gateway to the west and staging area for overland journeys.  Hangtown was the former name of Placerville, CA, where miner justice was often swift and brutal.

Lyrics -- Hear it
Traditional
Sung by Alan Fuller

Oh don't you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the broad prairie with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yeller dog
A tall shanghai rooster, and one spotted hog.
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
It was near by the road on a cool shady flat;
Where Betsy, sore footed, lay down to repose,
And long Ike stood and gazed at his Pike County rose.
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

Out on the prairie one dark starry night
They broke out the whiskey and Betsy got tight
She sang and she shouted she danced o'er the plain,
And showed her bare bum to the whole wagon train.
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

The wagon tipped over with a terrible crash
and out on the prairie rolled all sorts of trash
a few little baby clothes done up with care
looked rather suspicious but 'twas all on the square

They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about.
While Ike half distracted looked on in surprise,
Sayin' "Betsy, get up! You'll get sand in your eyes."
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain
and declared she'd go back to Pike County again
well Ike gave a sigh and they fondly embraced
and they travelled along with his arm round her waist
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

the shanghai ran off and the cattle all died
the last piece of bacon that morning got fried
poor Ike got discouraged and Betsy got mad
the dog wagged his tail and look wonderfully sad
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

the cholera came and the cholera went
and some very quickly to heaven were sent
they died on the prairie their bones for to bleach
for them California was just out of reach
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

One morning they stopped on a very high hill
and with wonder looked down into old Placerville
Ike shouted and jumped two feet clear of the ground
saying "Betsy, my darling we've come to Hangtown!"
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

Long Ike and sweet Betsy attended a dance
And Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants.
Sweet Betsy was covered in ribbons and rings,
Said Ike "You're an angel, but where are your wings?"

A miner said "Betsy, will you dance with me?"
"I will, you old hoss, if you don't make too free;
But don't dance me hard. Do you want to know why?
Doggone you, I'm chock full of strong alkali."
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

oh don't you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the wide prairies with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of cattle and one spotted hog,
A tall shanghai rooster, and old yaller dog?
Hoodle dang foll de di do hoodle dang foll de day

 


from the CD
Hard Times in the Promised Land

Hard Times in the Promised Land CD Available at CDBaby