ROOT HOG OR DIE
The phrase ‘root hog or die,’ whose exact meaning is unknown but whose general
meaning is ‘to become productive or perish,’ first appears in the 1834 publication “A
Narrative Life of David Crockett”. The tune is listed as a ‘jig’ in Cole’s 1001, meaning not
the Irish jig, but a type of American banjo tune named perhaps for the type of dance.
I am a jolly driver of the Salt Lake City line,
I can whip the rascal who would yoke an ox of mine
You’d better bring him out; you bet your life I’d try
I would sprawl him with an ox bow, root hog or die.
I tell you how it is when you first get on the road,
You have an awkward team and a very heavy load
You cut and you slash, if you swear it’s on the sly
Punch along your team, boys, root hog or die.
There’s many strange sights for to see along the road
Antelopes and deer’s and big sand toads,
Buffaloes and elks where the rabbits jump so high
Where all those bloody Injuns are. Root hog or die.
Times on Bitter Creek-they are hard to beat,
Root hog or die’s on every wagon seat
The sand’s within my throat and the dust is in my eyes
So bend your back and bear it, boys, root hog or die.
Every day there is something to do,
If nothing else there’s an ox for to shoe.
You trip him with a rope and there you make lie
While you tack on the shoes, boys, root hog or die.
I suppose you’d like to know what we have to eat
A little piece of bread and a dirty piece of meat,
Little old molasses and sugar on the sly,
Potatoes when you get them, boys, root hog or die.
When we arrived in Salt Lake City, ’twas the twenty-fifth of June
The people were surprised to see us come so soon,
We are the bold bull-whackers on whom you can rely
We’re tough and we can stand it, boys, root hog or die