ROCKY BANKS OF THE BUFFALO
The ancestor of “Rocky Banks” is of English origin and was called called “Babylon”, or
“The Bonnie Banks o Fordi”. In it, three sisters meet an outlaw in the woods. As here, he
threatens to kill them if they will not marry him. After knocking off two of them, he
threatens the third, but she is not afraid.
On this side of the water, the song is usually known by title “The Bonny Bonny Banks of
the Virgie-O”. The result is a rather dirge-like piece that never really became very
popular. Then something happened to the song, this version (from the Ozarks by way of
Wisconsin) wound up with a completely different ending. It’s clearly the same song and
scans almost identically, and several other American texts are also fairly similar. But the
ending here is much more upbeat — at least if you’re the women.
There were three maids lived under a bluff,
Shickel-aye-shoo and a shuffle-oh
In the Ozark mountains wild and rough
On the rocky banks of the Buffalo.
One day a wild man came along,
And he was mighty fierce and strong.
He courted them the whole day long,
And on his pipes he played this song.
He said to the youngest, “Won’t you be my wife?
Or I’ll take your hide and I’ll take your life.”
“Before I’d be a wild man’s wife,
I’d lose my hide and I’d lose my life!”
He took her hide and he let her go,
And she danced all night on the heel and toe.
He said to the second, “Won’t you be my bride
Or I’ll take your hair and I’ll take your hide!”
“Before I’d be a wild man’s bride
I’d lose my hair and I’d lose my hide!”
He took her hair and turned her loose
And she looked just like a new plucked goose.
He said to the oldest, “Won’t you be my squaw?
Or I’ll take your pelt to my mother in law.”
She said, “Now wild man, that cannot be,
I’m a tough old gal and you can’t fool me!”
He throwed at her his hunting knife,
But it bounced right back and took his life.
She put the hide back on her kin;
They were twice as pretty and young again.