COLD MISSOURI WATERS

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs

COLD MISSOURI WATERS

James Keelaghan wrote a song about this fire entitled “Cold Missouri Waters” after being inspired by Young Men and Fire. The song was covered by Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky on their album Cry Cry Cry. It was also covered by Hank Cramer in his album, Days Gone By. It was again recorded by the Scottish Paul McKenna Band on their 2012 album ”Elements”. A cover version also appears on the 2014 album ”The Call”, by Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar. In 2016, Irish singer Pauline Scanlon covered the song on her album Gossamer. It is sung from the perspective of foreman Dodge, lying on his deathbed dying of Hodgkin’s disease five years after the fire. It imagines Dodge saying of his decision to set the escape fire:
“I don’t know why, I just thought it. I struck a match to waist-high grass, running out of time. Tried to tell them, ‘Step into this fire I set. We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get.’ But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead. I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters.”
Ross Brown, a musician/songwriter from Townsend, MT (about 35 miles south of Helena) wrote a similar song entitled “The Mann Gulch.”

My name is Dodge, but then you know that
It’s written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed
They think I’m blind, I can’t read it
I’ve read it every word, and every word it says is death
So, Confession – is that the reason that you came
Get it off my chest before I check out of the game
Since you mention it, well there’s thirteen things I’ll name
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters

August ‘Forty-Nine, north Montana
The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
Lightning strikes in the mountains
I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly
Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
See the circle of the fire down below
Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters

Gauged the fire, I’d seen bigger
So I ordered them to sidehill and we’d fight it from below
We’d have our backs to the river
We’d have it licked by morning even if we took it slow
But the fire crowned, jumped the valley just ahead
There was no way down, headed for the ridge instead
Too big to fight it, we’d have to fight that slope instead
Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters

Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
I don’t know why I just thought it
I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get
But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

And when I rose, like the phoenix
In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived
I stayed that night and one day after
Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive
Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall
I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more
I’ll join them now, those that left me long before
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore