Red River Valley (song)

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This article is about a folk song. For other uses, see Red River Valley (disambiguation).

"Red River Valley" is a folk song and cowboy music standard of uncertain origins that has gone by different names—e.g., "Cowboy Love Song", "Bright Sherman Valley", "Bright Laurel Valley", "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", and "Bright Little Valley"—depending on where it has been sung. It is listed as Roud Folk Song Index 756, and by Edith Fowke as FO 13. It is recognizable by its chorus (with several variations):

From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.

So come sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the cowboy that has loved you so true.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[1]


Edith Fowke offers anecdotal evidence that the song was known in at least five Canadian provinces before 1896.[2] This finding led to speculation that the song was composed at the time of the 1870 Wolseley Expedition to Manitoba's northern Red River Valley. It expresses the sorrow of a local woman (possibly a Métis) as her soldier lover prepares to return to the east.[3]

The earliest known written manuscript of the lyrics, titled "The Red River Valley",[4] bears the notations "Nemaha 1879" and "Harlan 1885."[5] Nemaha and Harlan are the names of counties in Nebraska, and are also the names of towns in Iowa.

The song appears in sheet music, titled "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", printed in New York in 1896 with James J. Kerrigan as the writer.[6] The tune and lyrics were collected and published in Carl Sandburg's 1927 American Songbag.[7]

In 1925, Carl T. Sprague, an early singing cowboy from Texas, recorded it as "Cowboy Love Song" (Victor 20067, August 5, 1925), but it was fellow Texan Jules Verne Allen's 1929 "Cowboy's Love Song" (Victor 40167, March 28, 1929), that gave the song its greatest popularity. Allen himself thought the song was from Pennsylvania, perhaps brought over from Europe.[8][dubious ]

Recordings and performances[edit]

Kelly Harrell recorded "Red River Valley" under the title "Bright Sherman Valley" (Victor 20527 9 June 1926).

Gene Autry recorded the song for the 1936 film Red River Valley. He re-recorded the song with the Cass County Boys for the 1946 film Sioux City Sue. Autry's recording later appeared on various Autry compilations, including Gene Autry's Western Classics and The Essential Gene Autry 1933-1946.

"Red River Valley" was the theme song of Our Gal Sunday, a soap opera broadcast on CBS radio from 1937 to 1959.[9]

An instrumental version appeared in the 1943 film The Ox-Bow Incident.

Woody Guthrie recorded "Red River Valley" for Asch Recordings 19 April 1944. Guthrie also recorded for Asch the Spanish Civil War version, "Jarama Valley".

Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing recorded a version in the late 1940s.

In the 1950s Peter Pan Records issued "Red River Valley" on an extended play 45 which also featured "The Arkansas Traveler" and on the other side "My Grandfather's Clock" and "The Syncopated Clock".

Jo Stafford and the Starlighters released a version in October 1949. Stafford re-recorded the song for her 1953 Starring Jo Stafford album.

Johnny and the Hurricanes recorded a rock and roll instrumental version in 1959 of the song entitled "Red River Rock" which became a hit in both the U.S. (#5) and in the UK (#3). An electronic rendition was recorded by Silicon Teens, and featured in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.[10]

The Ventures released a version on their 1963 Dolton album The Ventures Play Telstar and the Lonely Bull, BST 8019.

The tune of "Red River Valley" was used for the verses of the 1963 Connie Francis hit "Drownin' My Sorrows" (#36).[11] Francis had recorded "Red River Valley" for her 1961 album release Connie Francis Sings Folk Song Favorites with the track subsequently being featured on the 1964 Connie Francis album In the Summer of His Years. "Drownin' My Sorrows" was covered in German as "Ich tausche mit keinem auf der Welt" in 1964 by Margot Eskens and in Croatian as "Uz Tebe Sam Sretna" in 1968 by Ana Štefok.

"Jarama Valley", a song about the Battle of Jarama of the Spanish Civil War, used the tune to "Red River Valley". It was recorded by Woody Guthrie and The Almanac Singers, featuring Pete Seeger.

The premier Czech vocalist Helena Vondráčková made her recording debut in September 1964 with "Červená řeka", a rendering of "Red River Valley".

The tune to "Red River Valley", set to new lyrics and entitled "Can I Sleep In Your Arms", was used on Willie Nelson's 1975 album Red Headed Stranger.

Slim Whitman's version was included on his 1977 #1 UK album Red River Valley.

Johnny Cash wrote and performed a humorous song entitled "Please Don't Play Red River Valley" for his 1966 album Everybody Loves a Nut

Leonard Cohen, a lifelong country music enthusiast, has been recorded playing the song live in concert.

A version of this song is featured on "Songs of the West," recorded by the Norman Luboff Choir.

The song and tune have been used in numerous films. It was particularly memorable in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, whose tale of displaced Oklahomans associated it with the southern Red River. Another film it had important - but more subtle - usage in was The Last Picture Show (1971), a film about the internal decay of small town Texas in the early 1950s.

A fatalistic chorus can be found in some sources related to F-105 pilots in Vietnam:[12]

Come and sit by my side at the briefing,
We will sit there and tickle the beads,
Then we'll head for the Red River Valley,
And today I'll be flying Teak lead,

To the valley he said we are flying,
With a Thud of the plane to the earth,
Many jockeys have flown to the valley,
And a number have never returned

Dana Delany sang it in the 1993 film Tombstone, though not in its entirety.

Chris Isaak and Stevie Nicks performed a duet of the song on The Chris Isaak Hour.

Judy Collins and Kris Kristofferson sang this song together in concert.

A part of this song was sung in the 2014 film Wild by child actor Evan O'Toole during a scene with Reese Witherspoon.

Carol Connors sang it n the X-rated Movie Sweet Savage.

The Kidsongs Kids parodied this song on their Let's Put on a Show video as "We'll Put on a Show".

"Red River Valley" has also been recorded by Roy Acuff, Arlo Guthrie, Lynn Anderson, the Andrews Sisters, Eddy Arnold, Moe Bandy, Suzy Bogguss, Johnny Bond, Boxcar Willie, Elton Britt, John Darnielle, Foster & Allen, Larry Groce, the McGuire Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Michael Martin Murphey, Johnnie Ray, Riders in the Sky, Riders of the Purple Sage, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Rogers, Pete Seeger, the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Morton, Billy Walker, Roger Whittaker, Cassandra Wilson and Glenn Yarbrough.

See also[edit]

  • David McEnery (1914-2002), singer-songwriter otherwise known as Red River Dave


  • Edith Fowke and Keith MacMillan. (1973). The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Allen, Jules Verne. "Singing Along" (reprinted from New Mexico Magazine, 1935). Roundup of Western Literature: An Anthology for Young Readers pp. 82–85, edited by Oren Arnold.
  • Kerrigan, James J. "In The Bright Mohawk Valley". New York: Howley, Haviland & Co. (1896).
  • Fowke, Edith "The Red River Valley Re-examined." Western Folklore 23 (July 1964) 1630-71.
  • Fuld, James J. The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. Dover Publications (2000).
  • Waltz, Robert B; David G. Engle. "The Red River Valley". The Traditional Ballad Index: An Annotated Bibliography of the Folk Songs of the English-Speaking World. Hosted by California State University, Fresno, Folklore, 2007.


  1. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Fowke, Edith (1964). "'The Red River Valley' Re-Examined". Western Folklore: 163–171. 
  3. ^ H. Stewart Hendrickson (Research Professor Emeritus, University of Washington), Red River Valley (Retrieved 23 March 2014)
  4. ^ The Red River Valley, Edwin Ford Piper Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.
  5. ^ Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music (1966), p. 457.
  6. ^ Kerrigan, In The Bright Mohawk Valley.
  7. ^ Sandburg, Carl (1927). The American Songbag (PDF). New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. p. 130. Archived from the original on 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-06. 
  8. ^ Allen, "Singings Along", p. 83.
  9. ^ Fairfax, Arthur (December 28, 1940). "Mr. Fairfax Replies" (PDF). Movie Radio Guide. 10 (12): 43. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Planes, Trains and Automobiles | Retrieved on 2017-04-11.
  11. ^ Billboard Vol. 75 #29 (July 20, 1963) p.4
  12. ^ There Is a Way - F-105 Jets / United States Air Force 1967 Educational Documentary - WDTVLIVE42. YouTube (2012-06-27). Retrieved on 2017-04-11.

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