Red River Valley

Red River Valley

It's hard, but I'm trying to educate people about the origins of this Great Plains classic, which most everyone, even on the northern plains, thinks originated in Texas. Now I ask you, Would a Texas cowboy say to his sweetheart, "Do not hasten to bid me adieu"?

As was shown by the research of Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke, the song originated among British troops who came to Manitoba, the Red River Valley of the North, to put down the Metis rebellion of the late 1860s. Like "Fraulein" and all the other soldier's-sweetheart songs that were popular country standards in Cold-War America and on Armed Forces Radio, "Red River Valley" is a song of military occupation.

Living in North Dakota I have encountered a number of versions of this song, all of them clearly tied to the northern, not southern, traditions of the text. This text, because of some of the terms in it, is politically incorrect, and when I was an academic dean, I had to worry about that. Lately, however, I have lapsed into historical authenticity.

Red River Valley
It's a long time, you know, I've been waiting
For the words that you never did say,
Now alas! all my fond hopes have vanished,
For they say you are going away.

From this valley they say you are going.
I shall miss your blue eyes and sweet smile,
For you take with you all of the sunshine
That has brightened my pathway a while.

So consider a while ere you leave me,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
But remember the Red River Valley
And the half-breed who loved you so true.
So remember the valley you're leaving,
How lonely, how dreary it will be;
Remember the heart you are breaking,
And be true to your promise to me.

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 in its bowers.