Western Song: Sweet Betsy from Pike
Sweet Betsy from Pike is an American Gold Rush-era ballad with lyrics (believed to be) written by San Francisco-based entertainer John A. Stone in 1858. He collected and published folk songs primarily about gold miners and their life in the California Gold Rush during the mid-19th century. Moreover, the earliest publication date for the song was in 1858, under Stones’s songbook called Put’s Golden Songster. “Old Put” was Stone’s pseudonym during his time. Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag also collected and published the American ballad in 1927.
Meanwhile, members of the Western Writers of America included “Sweet Betsy from Pike” on its list of Top 100 Western songs of all time.
About the Song
The classic ballad, Sweet Betsy from Pike, tells the journey and trials of a pioneering couple, Betsy and Ike. They migrated from Pike County (possibly in Missouri) to the California gold fields by horse and wagon in the “days of forty-nine.” Although the couple lost many of their livestock and property during their journey, they had a wondrous trail experience.
The words “Betsy” and “Old Betsy” showed the popularity of these terms as frontier nicknames for the long rifles men carried on the frontier. Even during the present time, some older men call their vehicles “Betsy.”
Years after its first recording and release, the American ballad gained more than 50 versions recorded by many well-renowned artists including:
- Radio Mac (Harry McClinktok)
- Crockett Kentucky Mountaineers
- Burl Ives
- Cisco Houston
- Eddy Arnold
- Sons of The Pioneers
- Rex Allen
- Rosemary Clooney with Chorus and Orchestra
- Pete Seeger
- Oscar Brand with The Tarriers
- Jackie De Shannon
- The Limeliters
- Bob Gibson
- The New Christy Minstrels
- Johnny Cash
- Riders in the Sky
- David Allan Coe
- Burl Ives with Bing Crosby (Released more than 10 years after its recording)
- Suzy Bogguss
- Iggy Pop
- Tom Roush
Listen to Sweet Betsy from Pike (Burl Ives Version)
Sweet Betsy from Pike (Burl Ives Version) Lyrics
Do you remember sweet Betsy from Pike, Crossed the big mountain with her lover Ike, With two yoke of oxen a big yaller dog, A tall Shanghai rooster and one spottled hog. Hoodle dang polly dido hoodle dang polly day They soon reached the desert where Betsy give out, Down on the sand she lay rolling about, Ike he gazed at her with sobs and with sighs, Quoth he, "Get up Betsy you'll get sand in your eyes." Hoodle dang polly dido hoodle dang polly day The Shanghai run off and the cattle all died, The last piece of bacon that mornin' was fried, Ike got discouraged and Betsy got mad, The dog wagged his tail and looked wonderf'ly sad. Hoodle dang polly dido hoodle dang polly day Long Ike and sweet Betsy attended a dance, Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants, Sweet Betsy was dressed up in ribbons and rings, Quoth Ike, "You're an angel, but where are your wings?" Hoodle dang polly dido hoodle dang polly day A miner come up says will you dance with me, I will you old hoss if you don't make too free, And I'll tell ya the reason da you want ta know why, Doggone you I'm chuck full of strong alkalai. Hoodle dang polly dido hoodle dang polly day.