“ Clementine” is an American western folk ballad usually credited to Percy Montrose
(1884), though sometimes to Barker Bradford. The song is believed to have been based
on another called “Down by the River Liv’d a Maiden” by H. S. Thompson (1863). The
words are those of a bereaved lover singing about his darling, the daughter of a “49er“, (a
miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush). He loses her in a drowning accident – though
he consoles himself towards the end of the song with Clementine’s “little sister”. The
verse about the little sister was often left out of folk song books intended for children,
presumably because it seemed morally questionable.
In his book “South from Granada”, Gerald Brenan attributes the melody to originally
being an old Spanish ballad, which was made popular by Mexican miners during the
Gold Rush, and given various English texts. No particular source is cited to verify that
the song he used to hear in the 1920s in a remote Spanish village was not an old text with
new music, but Brenan states in his preface that all facts mentioned in the book have been
checked reasonably well.
The song was featured in the film “My Darling Clementine” by John Ford and starring
Henry Fonda, the 1963 Paul Newman film HUD, and in the television series M*A*S*H.
Bobby Darin had a top ten success in the UK with this song. It was also the favorite song
of Hanna-Barbara character Huckleberry Hound, who sang it in his cartoons. The song
was one of two bases, the other being La Cucaracha, of a protest anthem sung by the
animals of Animal Farm when they were fighting Mr. Jones.
In a cavern
In a canyon
Excavating for a mine
Dwelt a miner
And his daughter
OH MY DARLING OH MY DARLING
OH MY DARLING CLEMENTINE
THOU ART LOST AND GONE FOREVER
DREADFUL SORRY CLEMENTINE!!!
Light she was and like a fairy
And her shoes were number nine
Herring boxes without topses
Sandals were for Clementine
How I missed her
How I missed her