Monday, September 16, 2013

The Ballad of the Bald Knobbers

Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice - Part 3

Read Part 1 of Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice  by clicking here.

Read Part 2 of Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice  by clicking here.

The Ballad of the Bald Knobbers is an important chronicle of the events that transpired during the 1880's & 90’s in the Ozarks.  Though I may not agree with every word of the song, it is an important side of the Anti-Bald Knobber history that should not be lost. 

I have found this song written in a couple of sources.  I also looked for the music for the Ballad of the Bald Knobbers to no avail.  According to author Vance Randolph’s book, Ozark Folksongs, Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey, a daughter of an original Bald Knobber, A.S. Prather, testifies to the originality of this song.  She also recalls its lyrics to the melody of My Name is Charles Guiteau.  Since I didn’t have the music to the Ballad of the Bald Knobbers, I decided if I could discover the tune to My Name is Charles Guiteau, I would also have the time to the Ballad of The Bald Knobbers.

Here's a little history behind the song about Charles Guiteau. It proves to be quite interesting.

The History of a President, a Lunatic & a Tune.

James A. Garfield was elected to the office of the President of the United States in 1880. Mr. Garfield was the third consecutive Union general to become President after the Civil War.  After being in office for less than four months, Mr. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on the 2nd of July, 1881.  The reasoning for the murder was that Charles Guiteau believed he had been promised a job in the Garfield administration because Mr., Guiteau believe it was his zeal and one small political speech, that was poorly attended, that prophetically launch Mr. Garfield to the presidency.

President James A. Garfield
Charles Guiteau

When Charles Guiteau realized that a job would not emerge, Guiteau attempted to assassinate Mr. Garfield on the 2nd of July, 1881.  Garfield was severely in the back but did not die.  After two and a half months of agony & mishaps by doctors who didn’t wash their hands or disinfect the wound, President Garfield died on the 19th of September, 1881.
Sickroom of President Garfield
The trial for the murder of President Garfield was a boon for the media and a circus for the day’s press.  Mr. Guiteau, the defendant, viewed himself as a martyr and a celebrity.  Charles Guiteau was sentenced to be executed on the 30th June, 1882.

Before being hung on the gallows, Charles Guiteau gave a rousing & confusing oratory in the form of a poem called:

I Am Going to the Lordy.
I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy.
I love the Lordy with all my soul,
Glory hallelujah!
And that is the reason I am going to the Lord,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lord.
I saved my party and my land,
Glory hallelujah!
But they have murdered me for it,
And that is the reason I am going to the Lordy,
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am going to the Lordy!
I wonder what I will do when I get to the Lordy,
I guess that I will weep no more
When I get to the Lordy!
Glory hallelujah!
I wonder what I will see when I get to the Lordy,
I expect to see most glorious things,
Beyond all earthly conception
When I am with the Lordy!
Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah!
I am with the Lord.

After hearing these words uttered from the scaffold, many people were convinced Guiteau was insane.  Nevertheless, justice was meted out.  Subsequently, a ballad was written concerning these events.  This song is also known as a traditional Appalachian song, and it is sometimes referenced as a "Touch-up" & “Confession Ballad.”  

The Ballad of Charles Guiteau
Come all you tender Christians, wherever you may be,
And likewise pay attention to these few lines from me.
For the murder of James A. Garfield I am condemned to die
On the thirtieth day of June, upon the scaffold high.

My name is Charles Guiteau, my name I'll ne'er deny.
I leave my aged parents in sorrow for to die.
But little did they think, while in my youthful bloom,
I'd be taken to the scaffold to meet my fatal doom.

Judge Walter Cox
'Twas down at the station I tried to make my escape,
But Providence being against me, there proved to be no show.
They took me off to prison while in my youthful bloom
To be taken to the scaffold to meet my earthly doom.

I tried to play off insane but found it ne'er would do,
The people were all against me, to escape there was no clue.
Judge Cox, he read my sentence, his clerk he wrote it down,
I’d be taken to the scaffold to meet my earthly doom.

My sister came to see me, to bid a last farewell.
She threw her arm around me and wept most bitterly.
She says, "My darling brother, this day you must cruelly die
For the murder of James A. Garfield, upon the scaffold high.
 End of Song

I have also found the following audio & YouTube files of this song.
Track 1
Track 2
Track 3
      Musician: Clay Riness

This ballad about Charles Guiteau was modeled after an earlier ballad of an execution of James A. Rogers who was executed November the 12th, 1858, in New York.  It may not be a shocker to find out that this same tune also conforms to other confession& murder ballads, such as:

Fower  Maries (Four Marys) - 1546
Lisnagade  - July  13, 1789
Come All You Warriors / Father Murphy - 1798
Fair of Turloughmore - Aug. 1, 1843
My Name is Joe Bowers - 1849
The Lamentation of  or Execution of James A. Rogers  - Nov. 12, 1858
My Name it is John T. Williams - 1870's
Execution of Gustave Ohr  - June 25, 1880
The Ashland Tragedy  - Dec. 23, 1881
Execution of Charles Guiteau  -  June 30, 1882
Ewing Brooks  - Aug. 10, 1888
Ballad of the Bald Knobbers - Late 1880's
Gruber Meadow – May 1925

Back to the Ballad of the Bald Knobbers
I finally took this very old tune that has been used for hundreds of years and incorporated the words of the Ballad of the Bald Knobbers.  
I made an an audio file  it's currently on Google Play at Vincent Anderson's Ozarks' History.

The Ballad of the Bald Knobbers
Adieu to old Kirbyville, I can no longer stay,
Hard times and Bald Knobbers has driven me away,
Hard times and Bald Knobbers has caused me for to roam,
My name is Andrew Coggburn, near Kirbyville’s my home.
My friends and relations, it’s much against my will.
To leave my dear old mother and go from Kirbyville.
But for the sake of dear ones, who want me for to go,
I'll arm myself with weapons and I'm off to Mexico.

Bald Knobbers are no gentlemen, they're nothing more than hogs,
they tried to hunt me down and treat me like a dog.
They’re nothing but big rascals, and their names I'll expose.
They’ll take all of your money and rob you of your clothes.
There’s one big Bald Knobber who is a noted rogue.
He stole from Joseph Bookout some sixteen head of hogs.
Walked boldly in the courthouse and swore they was his own.
He stole them by the drove and horsed ’em over home.

There’s another Bald Knobber who rides a pony blue.
He robbed old Nell MacCully and Mister Thompson, too.
He took from them their money and from them rode away,
And now the highway robbers is the big men of the day.
There’s one big black rascal whose name I will expose.
His name is Nat N. Kinney, and he wears his Federal clothes.
He tries to boss the people and make them do his will.
There’s some that does not fear him, but others mind him still

To raise Bald Knobber excitement, I made a splendid hand.
I don’t fear judge nor jury, I don’t fear any man.
If the Knobbers want to try me, they’ve nothing else to do.
I’ll take me my old Colt and I’ll make an opening through.
These Knobbers run the country, but they can’t keep it up.
They’ll stick their tail between their legs, like any other pup.
And there’s a day a-coming when they will hunt their dens,
And if I’m not mistaken, there’s some will find their ends.

I’ve tried to live in peace with all, Bald Knobbers they say no;
And if you don’t do what they say, you have to up and go.
My mother begs and pleads with me, she’s fearful for my life;
She wants me to depart from here & from Bald Knobber strife.
For each stripe that they gave me, I’ve sworn to get a man,
I’m spending all my time now in thinning down the klan.
And there’s a day a-coming when they all will hunt their dens,
And if I’m not mistaken, there’s more will find their ends.

It is amazing to look back at the intricate threads that are woven into our past.  These threads still survive in the remnants of our conduct, speech, and songs.  In retrospect of our Ozarks’ History, it may seem we have been placed remotely in the solitary hills of our past. Actually, we are never alone in our words & deeds.  We are surrounded by a grand host of witnesses that are looking on to see where we walk.  We all are pilgrims & pioneers. 

With all its flaws and bruises I still gratefully called the Ozarks home.  Whether you are a native from the Ozarks or have the heart of a pioneer, you too can have the same heart.  When we look back for the lessons of the past, we should never take our hand off the plow nor despise the field we are currently plowing.  We are all a part of this tapestry.  Enjoy your Ozarks’ History.

Anderson, Vincent S. Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice. (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013).

"My Name is Joe Bowers." American Ballads and Songs (Accessed August 21, 2013).

"My Name is Joe Bowers - 1846"  Lyon College: John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection (Accessed August 21, 2013).

Randolph, Vance. Ozark Folksongs, (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 175.

Traywick, Ben T. Who Was Joe Bowers? (Accessed August 21, 2013).