TITLE: Sweet Betsy from Pike
AUTHOR: claimed by John A Stone (Old Put)
EARLIEST DATE: 1858 (Put’s Golden Songster, second edition)
KEYWORDS: travel hardtimes settler
HISTORICAL REFERENCES: westward expansion, california gold rush
John Lomax in his 1910 Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads calls “Sweet Betsy from Pike “A favorite California immigrant song of the fifties. Carl Sandburg includes Sweet Betsy from Pike in his American Songbag and says “It has the stuff of a realistic novel. It is droll and don’t -care, bleary and leering, as slippery and lackadaisical as some of the comic characters of Shakespeare.’”
This well-known comic song, in all its variations and versions, “mentions pre-marital sex, starvation, cholera, slaughter, privation, drunkenness, public disorderliness, public (partial) nudity, racial slurs, scalping, mortal fear, manslaughter, debility, toxemic seizure, bickering, morbid frustration, despair and discouragement, terror, pain, religious slurs, bigamy, kidnap, vehicular breakdown and crash, possible infanticide, animal abuse & death, alcohol poisoning, jealousy, unfaithfulness, and divorce” (Mudcat.org). The version I perform is cleaned up a tad but still has, I hope, the passion and plaintiveness the story. It is one of my favorites and I love the Matthew Sabatella version (listed below) with all its pathos.
OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:
- Betsy from Pike
- Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers, “Sweet Betsy from Pike” (Crown 3121, 1931)
- Logan English, “Sweet Betsy from Pike” (on LEnglish02)—Amazon MP3
- Bradley Kincaid, “Sweet Betsy From Pike” (Bluebird B-5321/Montgomery Ward M-4421, 1934)—Amazon MP3
- Cisco Houston, “Sweet Betsy from Pike”—Amazon MP3
- Pete Seeger, “Sweet Betsy from Pike” (on PeteSeeger31)—Amazon MP3
- Johnny Cash, “Sweet Betsy from Pike”—Amazon MP3
- Matthew Sabatella, “Sweet Betsy from Pike”—Amazon MP3
- BR549, “Sweet Betsy from Pike”—Amazon MP3
- Sons of the Pioneers, “Sweet Betsy from Pile”—Amazon MP3
- Connie Dover, “Sweet Betsy from Pike”—Amazon MP3
Sweet Betsy from Pike
Oh, don’t you remember Sweet Besty from Pike?
Who crossed the wide prarie with her lover Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yaller dog,
A tall Shanghai rooster and one spotted hog.
One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
‘Twas nearby the road on a green shady flat,
Where Betsy, sore-footed, lay down to repose.
With wonder Ike gazed on that Pike county rose.
The Shanghai ran off, and their cattle all died,
That morning the last piece of bacon was fried,
Poor Ike was discouraged & Betsy got mad,
The dog drooped his tail & looked wondrously sad.
Oh Sweet Besty from Pike
They soon reached the desert where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about,
While Ike, half distracted, looked up with surprise,
Saying, “Betsy, get up, you’ll get sand in your eyes.”
Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain,
Declared she’d go back to Pike county again,
But Ike gave a sigh, & they fondly embraced,
And they traveled along with his arm ’round her waist.
Out on the prairie one bright starry night,
They broke out the whisky and Betsy got tight;
She sang & she shouted and danced o’er the plain
And made a great show for the whole wagon train.
Oh Sweet Besty from Pike
Oh Sweet Besty from Pike
They swam the wide rivers and cross’d the tall peaks,
And camped on the prairie for weeks upon weeks,
Starvation and cholera and hard work and slaughter,
They reached California spite of hell and high water.
Long Ike and sweet Betsey attended a dance,
Where Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants;
Sweet Betsey was covered with ribbons and rings.
Said Ike, “You’re an angel, but where are your wings?”
Well, Ike, and sweet Betsey got married of course,
But Ike, getting jealous, obtained a divorce;
And Betsy, well satisfied, said with a shout,
“Good-by, you big lummux, I’m glad you backed out.”
- Laws: B9
- Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
- Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books
- The American Songbag, Carl Sandburg, 1927 Harcourt, Brace, and Company. —Amazon Books
- Folk Songs of North America (in the English Language), Alan Lomax, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1960—Amazon Books
NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg