The Ballad of Eskimo Nell
The Ballad of Eskimo Nell (Roud 10124) is a bawdy rhymed recitation or song that recounts the tale of Deadeye Dick, his accomplice Mexican Pete and a woman they meet on their travels, named Eskimo Nell. In the view of some, Eskimo Nell is in her own way an authentic heroine and, by the yardstick of the sentiments of the poem, gets the better of Dick in the end. It is certainly true that Dick's manhood is belittled in the end by Nell. Nevertheless, some critics see the poem as an example of sex-hate literature. The ballad makes frequent use of crude and (to some) offensive body-related terminology, with humorous consequences.
There are multiple variations to the poem and some stanzas are left out of certain versions but the basic narrative structure remains constant. It details the adventures of the generously endowed Deadeye Dick and his gunslinging sidekick, Mexican Pete. Fed up with their sex life at Dead Man's Creek, they travel to the Rio Grande. There they visit a whore-house, but before Dick has finished with two out of the 40 whores, they are confronted by Eskimo Nell. She is described as something of a sexual champion, and challenges Dick to satisfy her. Dick accepts but Nell's skill and power soon gets the better of him and he climaxes prematurely. Pete attempts to avenge his mate's affront by sticking his gun up Nell and firing all six rounds but all this achieves is to bring Nell to her own orgasm. Disappointed, Eskimo Nell chides the pair for their poor performance. She expresses nostalgia for her home in the frozen North, where the men apparently have better staying power. Dick and Pete return to Dead Man's Creek, their pride severely dented.
The opening lines (in one version) are:
- Gather 'round, all ye whorey!
- Gather 'round and hear my story!
- So pull up a seat, and buy me one neat
- And a tale to you I will tell,
- About Dead-Eye Dick and Mexican Pete,
- And a harlot named Eskimo Nell.
- When Dead-Eye Dick and Mexican Pete
- Go forth in search of fun,
- It's Dead-Eye Dick that swings the prick,
- And Mexican Pete the gun.
- When Dead-Eye Dick and Mexican Pete
- Are sore, depressed and sad,
- It's always a cunt that bears the brunt,
- But the shooting's not so bad
- Now Dead-Eye Dick and Mexican Pete
- Lived down by Dead Man's Creek,
- And such was their luck that they'd had no fuck
- For nigh on half a week.
- Oh, a moose or two, and a caribou,
- And a bison cow or so,
- But for Dead-Eye Dick with his kingly prick,
- This fucking was mighty slow.
- Dick pound on his cock with a huge piece of rock
- And said, "I want to play!"
- It's been almost a week at this fucking creek,
- With no cunt coming my way.
- So, do or dare, this horny pair
- Set off for the Rio Grand.
- Dead-Eye Dick with his kingly prick,
- And Pete with his gun in hand.
- Then as they blazed their noisy trail,
- No man, their path withstood.
- Many a bride, her husband's pride,
- A pregnant widow stood.
The closing stanza mimics the opening:
- When a man grows old, and his balls grow cold,
- And the tip of his prick turns blue,
- And the hole in the middle refuses to piddle,
- I'd say he was fucked, wouldn't you?
Origin and history
This is a folk poem with no known author. It is in the style of Robert Service the writer best known for his writings of the Canadian North, in particular of his poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". As with all traditional poems/songs, there is variation to the texts. It appeared in bawdy song books compiled by university students in South Africa in the 1940s, so it is at least sixty years old. Nell has been the subject of serious research and differences of interpretation have been recorded.
One tradition is that the poem was written by Noël Coward in the style of Robert Service's Yukon ballads. This is recounted by John Masters in his historical novel "By the Green of the Spring". Masters recounts Coward's first performance of the poem in a Paris nightclub in August 1919. He includes four verses from the poem, which differ somewhat from those above.
Nell in print and record
The poem, owing to its bawdy nature, has generally been passed on by word of mouth or in manuscript from one generation to another. There are a few published versions.
Nell on the Web
Nell in popular culture
- The True Story of Eskimo Nell is a 1975 film by Australian director Richard Franklin, in which two men, Deadeye Dick and Mexico Pete, go forth in search of the famed prostitute Eskimo Nell in the Australian Outback. Eskimo Nell is also the name of another 1975 movie from the UK directed by Martin Campbell in which three men are enlisted by a producer to make an erotic film inspired by The Ballad of Eskimo Nell.
- The poem plays a significant role in one section of The Mathematics of Magic, a 1940 novella by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Having traveled to the parallel world of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Harold Shea and Reed Chalmer are seized by a monster, the Blatant Beast, who demands of them (on pain of death) a work of epic poetry. The only long poem which Shea knows by heart is "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell", and so he repeats it, despite the presence of a young woman, Belphebe (Spencer's Belphoebe). The Blatant Beast departs, appalled at being given a work even he would be ashamed to repeat. There are several later references to the incident, particularly relating to Belphebe's desire to have the poem explained to her. (The story was later included in The Incompleat Enchanter (and several later collections which incorporated that book). See this bibliography of the Harold Shea stories.)
- Service, Robert (1972). Songs of a Sourdough (5th Edition ed.). London: Ernest Benn. pp. 57–63. ISBN 0-510-32421-5.
”A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malemute saloon; The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune; Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat dangerous Dan McGrew; And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou”
- Masters, John: By the Green of the Spring. First published in Great Britain by Michael Joseph Ltd 1981. Published by Sphere Books Ltd 1982 (paperback.) The reference is in chapter 26, pages 505 - 507 in the paperback.
- "Tom Atkinson<rev FFS>]".
- "Heretical Press".
- "An Englishman's Castle".
- "A composite version".
- "Eskimo Nell (Amalgamated)".
- Sheridan, Simon (2007) Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema, 3rd ed. Reynolds & Hearn Books
- Baker, Ronald L. (1987) "Lady Lil and Pisspot Pete". In: Journal of American Folklore 100:pp. 191-199
- Cray, Ed (1992) The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs Urbana: University of Illinois Press