Friday, July 22, 2022

Folk Song for April 2023: Red River Valley

Sometimes things just ain’t what they seem. Turns out, there are two Red River Valleys on the North American continent. There's the Red River which defines the border between Texas and Oklahoma, and another which runs northward (one of the few North American streams that do) from the southern borders of North Dakota and Minnesota all the way up into Manitoba in Canada. Though many associate this song with Texas cowboys and western lore, it actually originated around 1870 in Manitoba (with possible Celtic/Gaelic origins going even further back). 

Edith Fowke, the noted Canadian folklorist, said it was the best-known folk song across at least five Canadian provinces well before the turn of the century. 

For more juicy folklore on the song’s roots in Canadian history, this page is helpful

Recordings that feature all of the typical verses are a real challenge to find! This live performance by Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak (who learned the song as small children from their grandparents) absolutely nails it. They sing the exact set and sequence of the lyrics I remember from childhood. 

Red River Valley

From this valley they say you are going

We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile

For they say you are taking the sunshine

That has brightened our pathway awhile

Do you think of the valley you're leaving

O how lonely and dreary ’twill be

Do you think of the fond hearts you're breaking

And the sadness you’ve cast over me


Come and sit by my side, if you love me

Do not hasten to bid me adieu

Just remember the Red River Valley

And the one who has loved you so true

I have waited a long time my darlin’

For the sweet words you never would say

Now, alas, all my fond hopes have vanished

For they tell me you’re goin’ away

As you go to your home by the ocean

May you never forget those sweet hours

That we spent in the Red River Valley

And the love we exchanged with the flowers


See my playlist for versions of Red River Valley by Gene Autry, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Wills. 

Lynn's Youtube Playlist for AO Folk Songs 2022-2023

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.

These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

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