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The dark history of "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain"

So, I guess this is Part II in my "series" on the dark, twisted past of children's songs. Last time I covered "I've Been Working On The Railroad" if you want to search for that. Something along the lines of how adult-oriented fairy tales generally are. Nursery rhymes with inappropriate-for-kids origins, the like. I didn't really intend to start researching song lyrics until I got curious and here we are.

Today's feature is that yeehaw, folksy tune "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain." You know it...six white horses. We'll all go out to greet her. Annoying for its simplicity yet kids love it. Mine came home from our Minnesota visit having heard it on a kid's dvd.

Like many of these songs, it's actually a mixture of a few incarnations. It wasn't until I started reading for this post that I came across versions with "ey ey yippee yippee ey." That version is at least popular enough to have a few well-made videos using it...mostly from the UK.

"Incarnations" is probably a fair word to describe SBCRTM because it started life as a spiritual called "When The Chariot Comes." In that realm, the "she" is the chariot...that Jesus is driving for the Second Coming! With angels. The Rapture. The whole thing. Think about that the next time your toddler starts singing it. I'll not get into the Biblical literalism, eschatology, Christology, and bad use of metaphor involved with apocalyptic Christianity here.

We'll just keep moving ahead.

Later, the song moves to Appalachia where it gets a...weirder? Than the Second Coming?...element of coal mining unions, puppies, killing an old rooster, etc.. Bet you didn't know the chicken and dumplings verse! Coal miners saw labor unions as their salvation and hoped for labor organizers to come "round the mountain." Railroad work gangs in the Midwest apparently had a love for the song just before the turn of the 20th century.

And then the first time the song appears in print is 1927 when Carl Sandburg includes it in "The American Songbag." That particular book is available for free online if you care to browse. It's a nice piece of American folk history.

So there you go. Whether it's Jesus driving the holy vehicle of redemption or you just feel like killing a chicken for some dinner after she drives the horses down that 5 mile road, she'll be coming around that mountain whenever she darn well gets here. You ready?

I confess I wouldn't mind if somebody brought me 3 white puppies when I arrived somewhere. It's a bit creepy though, don't you think?

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