1] According to Carl Sandburg, this song originated as "In the Bright Mohawk Valley" (1896) and became "The Red River Valley" in the western United States and Canada. H. F. P., the arranger of the song in The American Songbag, describes this version as being "from Gilbert R. Combs as he heard it on Pine Mountain. Three final stanzas are added from the R. W. Gordon collection" (130). However, the maiden of the final three stanzas is "dark" (and thus has a native heritage). Canadian folk-lorist Edith Fowke shows "that it was known in at least five Canadian provinces before 1896, and was probably composed during the Red River Rebellion of 1870." The "dark maiden" may, then, be Metis. See The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs, ed. Edith Fowke (Markham, Ont: Penguin Books Canada, 1986): 206 (M 1678 P45 Music Library).
The Red River of the North flows north from North Datoka through Fargo and Grand Forks into Manitoba, Canada, where it continues northwards through Winnipeg and then empties into Lake Winnipeg. This great river passes through farm land and regularly floods in the spring. This editor remembers singing this version -- without the final two stanzas -- with his father at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Winnipeg in the early 1950s, when it was a great favourite.
For an audio file with a performance of this song, see the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, ed. Dr. Michael F. Murray (Southwest Missouri State University Department of Music and Springfield-Greene County Library). The singer is Doris Viene in Springfield, Missouri on June 30, 1958. Back to Line