Red Wing (song)

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"Red Wing"
Sheet music cover (1907)
Composer(s)Kerry Mills
Lyricist(s)Thurland Chattaway

"Red Wing" is a popular song written in 1907 with music by Kerry Mills and lyrics by Thurland Chattaway. Mills adapted the music of the verse from Robert Schumann's piano composition "The Happy Farmer, Returning From Work" from his 1848 Album for the Young, Opus 68. The song tells of a young Indian girl's loss of her sweetheart who has died in battle.


There once lived an Indian maid,
A shy little prairie maid,
Who sang all day a love song gay,
As on the plains she'd while away the day.
She loved a warrior bold,
This shy little maid of old,
But brave and gay he rode one day
To battle far away.
Now the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing,
The breeze is sighing, the night bird's crying,
For afar 'neath his star her brave is sleeping,[N 1]
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away.
She watched for him day and night;
She lit all the campfires bright;
And under the sky each night, she would lie
And dream about his coming by and by,
But when all the braves returned,
The heart of Red Wing yearned,
For far, far away, her warrior gay
Fell bravely in the fray.
Now the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing,
The breeze is sighing, the night bird's crying,
For afar 'neath his star her brave is sleeping,
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away.[1]
  1. ^ in later versions usually: "For a far far away her brave is dying"


The song has been recorded numerous times in many different styles. It was sung by John Wayne in the 1943 film In Old Oklahoma and again by John Wayne and Lee Marvin in the 1961 film The Comancheros and finally by John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in the 1976 film The Shootist. In 1950 Oscar Brand recorded a bawdy version in his Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads, Volume 3.

"Union Maid" by Woody Guthrie[edit]

In 1940 Woody Guthrie wrote new lyrics to the tune, retitled "Union Maid". Guthrie's are perhaps the most famous of alternative words for the song; his song begins:

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come 'round
She always stood her ground.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.

The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin[edit]

Red Wing was parodied in a version popular among British troops during the First World War, which begins with the line, "Now the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin." This variant originated in response to the comedian's refusal to enlist, and was featured in the movie Oh! What A Lovely War.[3] It was subsequently perpetuated among British schoolchildren. During the 1970s, Harry Boardman and the Oldham Tinkers folk group recorded a version incorporating all of the verses that they remembered from their childhood.[4]

First World War[edit]

The following version was published in 1916 by B. Feldman.[5]

You've sung of the boys in blue,
You've sung of their girls so true,
You've marched to the strain of the well-known refrain
Of "Who's Your Lady Friend?" and "Tipperary" too,
Our Tommies so brave and strong
Have sung ev'ry kind of song
But what is the lay they're singing today
As they go marching along?
When the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
His shoes are cracking, for want of blacking
And his little baggy trousers they want mending
Before we send him to the Dardanelles.
Some day there will come a time
To "Wind up the Watch on the Rhine",
And Tommy and Jack will come marching back
And take a cup for the sake of "Auld Lang Syne".
But ere that happy day
The Germans have got to pay,
When we march in to capture Berlin
We will sing this little lay.

Oldham Tinkers[edit]

The moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
His boots are crackin’ for want of blackin‘
And his owd fusty coat is wanting mending
Until they send him to the Dardenelles
Charlie Chaplin had no sense
He bought a flute for 18 pence
But the only tune that he could play
Was ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay
Charlie Chaplin meek and mild
Stole a sausage from a child
But when the child began to cry
Charlie socked him in the eye
Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance
First you heel, and then you toe
Lift your skirts and up you go
Charlie Chaplin Chuck-Chuck-Chuck
Went to bed with three white ducks
One died and Charlie cried
Charlie Chaplin Chuck-Chuck-Chuck

References in pop culture[edit]

  • A music box version of Red Wing can be heard in the 1994 cult classic Pulp Fiction during the scene in which Butch returns to his apartment to retrieve his great grandfather's gold watch.
  • John Wayne and Lee Marvin sing a few lines in the western The Comancheros.
  • Ohio-based folk music band, Over the Rhine mention it in the titular song of their 2014 album, Blood Oranges in the Snow.


  1. ^ Mills, Kerry. "Red Wing: An Indian Intermezzo" (sheet music). New York: F.A. Mills (1907).
  2. ^ a b c O'Connor, Mark (July 15, 2011). "Red Wing". The O'Connor Method - A New American School of String Playing. New American School of String Playing. II. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  3. ^ Oh What a Lovely War
  4. ^ Oldham Tinkers
  5. ^ The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Chaplin

External links[edit]