Music

Buffalo Gals

buffalo-gals

While researching the various childhood games we’ve been discussing, I discovered an old song I’m familiar with was used as a dance party game back in the day. “Buffalo Gals” is a song that’s often taught to beginning musicians because it’s fairly easy to play and has a sing song quality to the words that makes it easy to remember.

Chatter and Chitter first learned the song during the Junior Appalachian Musicians session they participated in back in the day. I believe that’s where my nephews learned the song as well. Not sure where Paul learned it, but back in 2010 we filmed him and Pap doing it with the boys. Paul only sings one short verse, but the song has many.

Here’s one of the entries I found about the song on Mud Cat Cafe:

Subject: RE: Help: Buffalo Gals
From: raredance
Date: 11 Sep 99 – 11:29 PM

The information in the Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore supports the these that “Lubly Fan” was a direct antecedent of “Buffalo Gals”. The former was copyrighted in 1844 by Cool White, whose real name was John Hodges. The Bowery Girls version was in the Christy Minstresl repertory. The Buffalo Gals version was copyrighted in 1848 with no composer or author listed. It took off as a hugely popular play-party song and many of the verses offer specific dancing instructions. Its popularity at community socials would seem to indicate that hookers were not the source of inspiration, but rather a town name that fit the meter. It would also seem to predate the attempted bison extermination on the Great Plains. The cowboys likely brought it with them from back east. The Frank C Brown text that it may have been inspired by an old English singing game “Pray, Pretty Miss” which also involves a bouncy rhythm and an invitation to dance and adds that “any place-name may be substituted for Buffalo. It cites versions with “Alabama Gals”, “Round Town Gals”, “Down Town Girls” and says that the tune is basically the same as an old German music hall song,”Im Grunewald, im Grunewald ist Holzauktion”. Botkin in “treasury of American Folkore” says that he had been “told that this song originated on the old Erie Canal and landed early on the Mississippi in the keel-boat days.” He doesn’t offer any specific evidence but it is plausible and Wally will be pleased by this. Botkin also includes a couple of verses from the upper Mississippi called “Corn-Fed Girls” and a long story of the supposed origins of that particular text. Versions in “Cowboy and Western Songs” by Austin and Alta Fife include some pretty detailed dance instructions, e.g “break and bounce with the couple on the right, and swing four hands around” and “partner with the left and the left hand round- Lady in the corner and seven hands round” etc. Vance Randolph in “Ozark Folksongs” references a “Cincinnati Girls” version and includes one of the sweeter gentler sets of lyrics:

I says, my angel, would you lide to walk,
Like to walk, like to walk,
And have with me a little talk,
And shake those feet I view?

And would you like to take a dance,
Take a dance, take a dance,
Quadrille or polka fresh from France,
They’re all alike to me.

For I will love you all my life,
All my life, all my life,
And you shall be my happy wife,
If you will marry me.

rich r

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Like many old song, there are various versions of the tune. Some with similar words, some with totally different words. Here’s two entries regarding the differing versions:

Subject: RE: Help: Buffalo Gals
From: rich-joy
Date: 02 Aug 02 – 06:12 AM

I came across an old photocopy of a chapter from a book by, I believe, Roy Palmer, the UK Folk Historian. (I can’t believe that I didn’t write a reference on my copy!!!!)
Anyway, the 7th chapter is called “The Life of a Man : Seasons and Ceremonies” and in it is a song entitled “Bell Tune” from Lancashire, UK. (there was some thought that the title MAY have been a corruption of “Beltane” the Celtic May festival). It bears a striking similarity to “Buffalo Gals” (the first line is “I danced wi’ a girl wi’ a hole in her stockin’ an’ her heel kep’ a-rockin’ …”)

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Subject: RE: Help: Buffalo Gals
From: Stewie
Date: 03 Aug 02 – 02:26 AM

As well as ‘Round Town Girl(s)/Gals’, ‘Alabama Girl’ etc mentioned above, it was also recorded under titles such as ‘Ain’t You/Ya/She Comin’ Out Tonight’ (Vernon Dalhart, Bill Boyd’), ‘Dance In the Light of the Moon’ (Emmett and Aiken String Band), ‘Maxwell Girl’ (Aulton Ray), ‘Brownstown Girl’ (Kessinger Brothers), ‘Arkansas Girl’ (Bob Miller and His Hinky Dinkers). The very popular ‘Dance All Night (With a Bottle in Your Hand)’ tune, originating in Georgia, is possibly derived from ‘Buffalo Gals’. [Info from Meade, Spottswood, Meade biblio-discography).

–Stewie.

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I really enjoyed learning a song I’ve always known was once sung for play parties. Now I’m wondering if someone in Brasstown could teach the dance moves along with the song.

Tipper

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Neva
    September 3, 2018 at 2:43 am

    Tipper, we learned this song in elementary school. Man of the song that are mentioned in your blog, we learned in school. Sing was a required class back in he day. Neva

  • Reply
    Susie
    September 2, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    I remember this song from way back too, and especially remember it sung on the Gene Autry show, and the Christmas movie, ” It’s A Wonderful Life ”

  • Reply
    Tmc
    September 2, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I remember this song, where I heard it first I don’t know, probable Hee Haw.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    September 2, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Enjoyed!! Dad called the tune Alabama girls.

  • Reply
    Doug Bishop
    September 2, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Yes, I remember this song and others like it from years ago. Miss Cindy, the great thing about songs like this: If you don’t remember the words, make them up as you go along ! They seem to have endless verses.

  • Reply
    Fletcher, Smedley, Bacon and Barnes pllc
    September 2, 2018 at 9:24 am

    I wonder if Austin and Alta Fife were related to Barney. Wouldn’t that be sumpin?

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 2, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Nice picking by Mandolin Man and Guitar Man! I remember this song from as far back as I can remember. Seems like I remember a song called Camp Town Girls that uses this same tune and rhythm too, but that’s a long time ago and I’m not certain of the title or the words.

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