Appalachia Music

Grooms Tune

Grooms Tune is the same as Bonapartes Retreat

Ever heard Bonaparte’s Retreat? It’s an old fiddle tune. In 1950 Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart penned words to the old tune-they went something like this:

Met the girl I love
In a town ‘way down in Dixie
‘Neath the stars above
She was the sweetest girl I ever did see
So I took her in my arms, and
told her of her many charms, I
kissed her while the fiddles played, the
Bonaparte’s Re-treat.

All the world was bright
As I held her on that night
And I heard her say
“Please don’t ever go away”,
So I held her in my arms, and
Told her of her many charms, I
Kissed her while the fiddles played, the
Bonaparte’s Re-treat.

I grew up hearing the song performed with lyrics and never gave any thought to its origin.

Bonaparte's Retreat

Chitter came home from fiddle practice playing Bonaparte’s Retreat a while back. I asked her if she knew the words-she didn’t. But the next time the Blind Pig Gang got together Paul sung them for her.

A few weeks ago, I was about to upload a video of the Blind Pig Gang playing the tune with Chitter leading us all on the fiddle, when one of those weird serendipitous events of life occurred.

C. Ron Perry, Sr. asked me if I knew the story of Henry Grooms and his fiddle. Ron sent me the story which detailed the chain of events resulting in Bonaparte’s Retreat being called Grooms Tune in Haywood Co. NC.

It was an exciting discovery for me-since The Deer Hunter is from Haywood Co. I googled around and found the same story C. Ron had told me on the Find A Grave website. Ronald Halford graciously allowed me to share the story-and the photo below.

Henry Grooms Mitchell Coldwell

Tradition has it that George Grooms Jr. and his brother Henry Grooms were working in their field in Cataloochee on April 10, 1865. A group of raiders from Teague’s Company came into the field and captured George and Henry. They marched them to the Tennessee Line, nearly 8 miles away where they met up with other raiders who had captured Henry’s brother in law, Mitchell Coldwell. The raiders decided to shoot the three. The story continues that George cursed the raiders as they shot him tied to a tree. Mitchell Coldwell was said to have been a kind and simple minded individual and the raiders made him pull his hat down over his face. They did not want to kill a man that was smiling at them. Henry who was a fiddle player asked to pray before he was shot. The raiders agreed that they would let him pray but he would have to play them a tune on his fiddle. Henry played them Bonaparte’s Retreat, said to be his favorite tune. Afterwards, he also was shot. All three were left in the road beside the bullet scarred tree where they were tied and shot. Henry’s wife Elizabeth Coldwell Grooms (sister to Mitchell) and a Sutton boy, probably a relative, went to the site later and took the three bodies back on a sled pulled by an ox. All three were said to have been buried in a common grave in this cemetery and all three in one large pine box (coffin). The story continues that the actual fiddle belonging to Henry Grooms is on display at Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. The song Bonaparte’s Retreat is known locally as the Grooms Tune. This information was gathered from several sources including information on display at the Theme Park. Accuracy and truth of this account is unknown by the writer. Note the photo of the grave stone is inscribed Mitchell Coldwell but by tradition it is the burial place of Henry, George, and Mitchell.

written by Ronald Halford.

Now with that story in your mind-listen to our version of Bonaparte’s Retreat/Groom’s Tune.

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did-and the song as well.


*Update: I got this information from a facebook reader, Cody Marie Phoenix, and thought I would add the information here:

I just found your web page and read the story about the Grooms Tune. Some of the information is inaccurate as the 2 Grooms men were my mother’s great great grandfather and uncle. The 2 Grooms men that were shot were George (our grandfather) who was the fiddle player and his brother Anderson Grooms. Henry Grooms and his wife Elizabeth Arrington Grooms were the parents of George and Anderson. The were all Unionist but didn’t fight in the war. George and Anderson’s brother Adolphus was in the Confederacy and friends with Teague but no one is sure if he was there that day when his brothers were killed. There is a book written about Haywood Co., NC that lists George and Anderson as the Grooms men but they have Anderson as the fiddle player. My great grandmother said they had it wrong too, it was George. 😉


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  • Reply
    July 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Loved the story and the fiddling!

  • Reply
    July 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Interesting, but sad, story.
    Prayers said!!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 19, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Mitchell(who is a Sutton on his mama’s side) says the story has been handed down in his family almost exactly as you tell it. Times were tough in that section of Haywood County during the Civil War. The oldtimers talked about THE WAR a lot when Mitchell was growing up, but never mentioned the Depression. Guess times stayed tough…

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    It seems I have known that song all my life, but didn’t realize it was 1950; I would have been nine years old and probably heard it on the old battery powered radio. I enjoyed the story you told.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I’d never heard that tune before and Chitter played it beautifully. Will pray for the lady’s husband-we are kind of like family that have never met around here, aren’t we?

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    June 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Wonderful story and background. And my prayers go out for healing and peace for your reader’s husband.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Loved the Bonaparte’s Retreat! Haven’t heard that in years. Tipper, Miss cindy could tell who was in the white cap. To me, I knew who it was when I saw the thumb. I remembered it from past photos and made a mental note.
    To the reader of the Blind Pig with the sick husband; All is well, we will be among all that remember him in prayer.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 18, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Jim, I remember th DittysDon references, I also rmember that Mrs. Lillian Thomason didn’t seem to apreciate the one about France in her French Classes but that just made it more fun to hum Bonaparte’s Retreat (at least that’s what we told her we were humming). Mrs. Thomason actually had a great sense of humor and we remained good friends until her passing. When signing up for a French Pen Pal I requested a female with measurements of 38-24-36, as Mrs. Thomason was perusing our requests she laughed out loud and advised the whole class that I wanted a Pen Pal who was deformed. A great memory of great Educator.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I have heard this old tune all my life. Enjoyed the story and thoroughly enjoyed hearing Chitter play it. She’s good on that fiddle! Let’s hear some more soon. I am sending prayers for all the Blind Pig readers and families and for your family too.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 18, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Tipper–B. Ruth is a good woman, because she makes no pretense about her age (she tells us when she finished high school and it’s easy enough to do the math). For what it is worth, she’s two years my senior and seems to have about two decades more wisdom.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Tipper–I’d offer apologies for my younger brother’s wandering mind, but the offbeat poetic memories he had must have been common to Swain County (wonder if Bill B. and Ed A. remember?). Other offerings along the line of “There’s a place in France”
    There’s a place on Mars,
    Where the women smoke cigars.
    While the men run around . . .
    Another one was:
    There’s a place on Venus,
    Where a woman’s got a . . .
    Of course I noticed something a year or two back over Cherokee County way:
    There’s a girl in Cherokee County,
    Who carries a knife like a Mountie.
    Reckon she could readily skin a deer,
    Or the hide off a boy drawing too near.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. The author and book Paula mentions is probably Wayne Caldwell’s “Cataloochee.”

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I like the history/story about Bonaparts Retreat or the Grooms tune. Great job playing the fiddle Chitter for only learning to play about a year. What a blessing to be such a musical family.
    Many prayers sent to the friend(reader) who’s husband is in poor health. Sending a Godspeed recovery to him and blessing to his wife.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    My prayers are lifted for our
    friends of the Blind Pig reader.
    I guess the events taking place
    during our Civil War divided our
    nation the most in history. And
    both sides did bad deeds!
    Chitter done great swaying with
    her fiddle while everyone else
    complimented with the background
    sounds. Nice…Ken

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    and Don…tsk, tsk, tsk, being a girl in high school from 54′ and graduating in 58′! You can be shore I heard that little “ditty”.
    If’n the vice-principal (Mr. Sneaky Sneakers, we called him)or a teacher was lerking in the hallways, then the boys just hummed that verse!…LOL
    That little comment shore brought back memories..Don..
    Thanks Tipper, I think that little European trip was tripping Don…must’ve done too much “old man girl watchin'”, like my ole hubby does! He says. Hit’s caused from a bad case of “the cain’t-help-its!”…Tsk, tsk, tsk, and no cure I guess?..,Sometimes a good, swift “head bonkin'” from me helps for a little while!…LOL

  • Reply
    Joy Newer
    June 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Had never heard this story before but did find it very interesting, glad you shared it and we also will send up sage and a prayer for your readers husband. Love blessings to you all. Grandmother Joy

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    June 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    What beautiful talent your family has..I heard of the song but not the story,,

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    June 18, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Tipper, I’m from Haywood County and I think this story is true. I believe I first read about it in a book written by a man who grew up in Cataloochee. Jim mentioned it was in memorialized in Charles Frazier’s book and I remember it was also in the movie, though not portrayed exactly like it happened (certainly the place was different). Loved the music and I will be praying for the Blind Pig reader’s husband.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    June 18, 2012 at 10:40 am

    The phrase “Bonaparte’s Retreat” also showed up in a country song from the late fifties or early sixties called “Waterloo” by Sonewall Jackson.
    If I remember correctly, the verse went something like this:
    Little General, Napoleon of France,
    Tried to conquer
    The world but lost his pants.
    Met defeat, called it Bonaparte’s retreat,
    And that’s how Napoleon met his Waterloo.
    Historically, Bonaparte’s retreat refers to the retreat from Russia in 1812, and Waterloo wasn’t until 1815, but it was a pretty good song anyhow.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo
    June 18, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Tipper I remember that song from the early 50’s but never knew the story of the Groom Brothers and Mitchell Caldwell. Chitter did a great job.
    Just yesterday while researching Gentrys from Cherokee County..I stumbled upon “William met an untimely death during the Civil War.. In September 1864, he and two of his sons, John and Stephen, were “taken prisoner by rebel soldiers at their farm on Hanging Dog Creek [in Cherokee County]. They were taken to the Tomatia Community, tied to a mulberry tree and shot to death.” They were buried in a common grave in Hanging Dog Baptist Church cemetery. This was a time of raids by Union bands of irregulars, as well as by Rebel groups, and we can surmise that William was known for his Union sympathies. He may possibly have harbored Union forces in his home, or his sons may even have taken part in some raids.” Stephen Gentry was only 17. I think that The Father William had been a Confederate Soldier but had deserted. Anyway they were all tied to a tree and shot and there is a picture of their tombstone with the three in one together. with the date Sept 11, 1864.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

    After listening to Miz Chitter and watching that woman with the white ball cap nodding time and swaying to and fro like she was trying to belly dance while seated, I was carried back more than a half century ago.
    Some of the boys I hung around when growing up (I’d never do such things myself) would make up interesting lyrics to the section starting at about 33 seconds, such as:
    There’s a place in France
    Where the women wear no pants,
    And the men go ’round
    with their ………
    Okay. I’ve already been whacked over the head by Miz Susan for some other comments lately, so I’ll stop there lest another pump knot get raised.
    But I wonder if some of your other readers had the same recollections. I’ll bet you a yankee dime that I know of at least a couple-three that do 😉
    (Prayers being lifted for your long-time reader’s husband and for her as well.)

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Keeping the gentleman in prayer.. would help if I had a first name to give to my prayer group.
    This song has been a favorite of mine for many years, so happy to have heard it this morning.. started my day off in a great way!
    Thanks for the history of the song.. love hearing how things came to be!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Shank
    June 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Enjoyed the fiddle music!
    Just prayed for the woman’s husband.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 18, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Great job on a song that I too was raised listening to. The Henry Grooms story shows just another example of the criminal acts perpetrated on the residents of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee by Bushwackers during the War of Northern Agression (Civil War) with the approval of the Yankee Military Commanders. Many innocent non-military residents were murdered by these Outlaws leading to generations of hard feelings.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I enjoyed this story, thanks.
    Prayers and healing thoughts!

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 9:12 am

    that is some story, fits right in with us watching Hatfields and McCoys a couple weeks ago. tell Chitter love that fiddle.

  • Reply
    Charles Ron Perry, Sr.
    June 18, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Great video. I have always loved the story and Chitter did a great job. Tell her that Alison Krauss started out with her own band at age 14.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Tipper, you may or may not have realized it, but they almost certainly went by way of the old Cataloochee Turnpike – which you traveled for a bit when you and the crew went to Little Cataloochee Church last summer.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    June 18, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I really enjoyed the video as well as the story behind the words. Thanks for sharing. Your daughter seems to have some real talent. If you are familar with Heritage Days held at Bolick Pottery which this year is June 30th, there will be lots of fiddling to listen to. I am looking forward to that event. Prayers will be said to help the long time reader’s husband.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I just can’t wait until you’ll tour around these here parts…
    Chitter does a wonderful job on that fiddle…Does she know the Tennessee Waltz…I always loved to hear a good fiddle player, like Chitter, play that’un…We are just a hop, skip, jump and two spits into the wind from Brasstown, N.C….so maybe she would’nt get in too much trouble playin’ a Tennessee tune….LOL
    Especially, since Dolly has the original fiddle…bless her little heart! LOL
    My Mom shore could tinkle that tune on the ivories….and when I was a young’un could sing every word and not skip a beat. Can’t even read the words now much less sing’um…LOL
    Great post as usual, and thinkin’
    and prayin’ for the medical problems of the husband of the Blind Pig reader….
    Thanks again, Tipper

    • Reply
      Bettie Ramsey
      April 24, 2018 at 5:20 pm

      Dolly doesn’t have the original fiddle. This is a rumor started by an ex-sister-in-law. Dolly’s ancestor was Solomon Grooms who was hung for killing a 17 year old boy with an axe 3 years before George and Henry Grooms and Mitchell Caldwell were murdered. One of the scouts who murdered them took George’s fiddle. 189 page Pension record doesn’t lie.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Tipper–It is difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the story of Grooms Tune, Teague’s Raiders, the fate of the fiddle, and more. Here are some tidbits connected with the saga:
    *Supposedly the fiddler was an idiot savant.
    *The story figures in Charles Frazier’s book,”Cold Mountain,” if memory serves.
    *I believe the men were initially all buried in one grave, with the bodies subsequently being dug up by their family and moved to separate graves.
    *I think the men are now buried in the little crossroads community down near the mouth of Big Creek just outside the Park (Don will remember this).
    *There were other bushwhackings like this. There are graves from the era and a similar situation on the Boogerman Trail in Cataloochee.
    *I’ve heard, more than once, that Dolly Parton not only owns the fiddle but has family ties of some kind.
    *There’s a book on the Civil War in the mountains which focuses in large measure on Teague’s Raiders.
    *Although it’s off the subject a bit, the bushwhackers who were so active in the Smokies during and just after the Civil War apparently more than met their match when they decided to give Quill Rose, the famous fiddler and moonshine maker of Eagl Creek, the same treatment accorded the Grooms. He got word they were coming, met the band of 15 or so men on his porch with a six-shot revolver in each hand and offered them words to the effect they could start shooting when they wished, but that a bunch of them were going to die along with him. That statement, no doubt backed up by the fact that Rose was, in mountain parlance, “much of a man” in both stature and bearing, was more than the bushwhackers wanted. They turned tail and left.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    June 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Great song. My dd used to play it on the banjo when I was young, probably before 1950. I am really impressed with Chitter’s playing. Smooth!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 18, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Hey Tipper, you can’t fool me, I know that’s you in the ball cap. I think this is the first time we’ve had a glimpse of you playing.
    Great story! Glad you followed you guidance.
    Well, Chitter just did a fine job on that fiddle. She just keeps getting better!
    I’ll hold a good thought for the Blind Pig reader’s husband.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 18, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Wonderful to read Mr. Halford’s story of “The Grooms Tune.” How sad the events behind it! The Blind Pig Gang (as usual) did a fantastic job playing “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Chitter is a natural! Loved hearing her and watching her! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 18, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Very familiar with Bonaparte’s Retreat. My great-great-grandfather was named Napoleon Bonaparte McClain (spelling was changed by my great-grandfather). He was born in 1822, so I guess Bonaparte, as an anti-royalist, may have been something of a hero to the Scots-Irish in Appalachia.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 7:33 am

    She’s doing a fine job on the fiddle. Such a talented family. Been awhile since I’ve heard that old song.

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 6:42 am

    I uploaded the video last week Ed. And yes a ball hat always makes the bass sound better. The fiddle has 4 strings : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Ed-she’s been playing a little less than a year.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    June 18, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Such talent in one family! That was great..

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    June 18, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Very interesting story I know the song well, play it myself, tell Chitter she is doing very well, just keep it up… yall got yourselves a fiddle player…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 18, 2012 at 6:20 am

    How long has she been playing? That is actually pretty good? Very good for a beginner!!!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 18, 2012 at 6:10 am

    That’s the same video I saw last week. If you hadn’t uploaded it yet, how did I see it? I must have ESPN or something.
    Chitter did a great job despite her disability!!!
    I heard the words to Bonaparte’s Retreat when I was young. I was born in ’50 so I guess I grew up with it.
    I have a couple of questions;
    1. Would I need a white ball cap like that if I want to learn the bass?
    2. Does my ancient eyesight fail me or does that fiddle have only three strings?

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    June 18, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Maybe the fiddle-player was trying to send them a subliminal message.

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