Continuing our journey on the Red River Valley, today we'll look at some other names and versions. Red River Valley has been sung as "The Bright Mohawk Valley," "The Bright Sherman Valley," "The Green Little Valley," "The Dear Little Valley," and "The Cowboy's Love Song."
One of the most endearing country ballads of all time, it is also a bluegrass song (sometimes as Bright Sherman Valley) and in 1959 was even a hit rock song, Red River Rock.
One of the first recordings done in 1925 was Carl Sprague's Cowboy's Love Song where he called the valley the "bright little valley" not naming a location. Even before Sprague's recording the song was being sung in the Appalachians by Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others. Lunsford first called the song the Laurel Valley and then when he recorded the song for Okeh in Asheville NC in 1925 it was the "Sherman Valley."
Shermans Dale in Perry County, Pennsylvania is the probable site of the Bright Sherman Valley. Published in the 1909 Bulletin: United States Geological Survey of 1899-1905, there was a Newport and Sherman Valley Railroad, a Sherman Creek, and naturally a Sherman Valley. Today the area is no longer known as the Sherman Valley.
The other claim is Sherman Texas which is in the Red River basin. Surely Goebel Reeves, who was from Sherman Texas named his version "Bright Sherman Valley" because he grew up there.
Looking at the first recordings I'd say Lunsford and others from the Appalachian Mountains probably were referring to Sherman Valley, Pennsylvania. We'll never know. One author claimed (with no documentation) the song was brought to Pennsylvania by the early settlers and disseminated from there.
Here's one of the early versions by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. First I'll give you a link where you can look at the sheet music from Lunsford: http://books.google.com/books?id=sKlOYEg_5c8C&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185&dq=sherman+valley+lunsford&source=web&ots=Q9vFN5srET&sig=U2jVw72wLw-juJOD2Fw5UtvIWuY&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result
I have waited a long time my darling,
For the word you never would say,
But alas, my poor heart it is breaking,
For they say you are going away.
Then consider a while ere you leave me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu,
But remember the bright Laurel Valley,
And the girl who has loved you so true.
Bascomb Lamar Lunsford, 1921. He also used the title Sherman Valley (as did a Miss Hardin, 1922). From Brown, North Carolina Folklore, vol. 5, The Music of the Songs, p. 185-186. Joe Offer has the volume with the rest of the lyrics.
SHERMAN VALLEY Bascom Lamar Lunsford (from the CD anthology Mountain Frolic - Old Timey Classics 1925-30)
I've been waiting a long time my darling
For those words you never would say
And alas, my poor heart it is breaking
For they say you are going away
CHORUS: Then consider a while ere you leave me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
But remember the bright Sherman Valley
And the girl who has loved you so true
When you're far, far away from this valley
I will miss your bright eyes and bright smile
You will take away all the sunshine
That has brightened my path for a while CHORUS
When you're far, far away from this valley
And you're thinking of loved ones at home,
Remember that you left one behind you
That will love you wherever you roam CHORUS
Volume V, pages 186-187 of The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore has this excerpt: #260G "Red River Valley" Sung by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, of Turkey Creek, Buncombe County, probably in 1921. This is a second version by this singer. The text, however, is based on the second stanza of the A version. The recording is very poor and breaks up at the end of the stanza. The singer, upon inquiry, informed this editor that the chorus uses the same tune.
Lunsford, who was a folk collector and organized folk festivals, learned the song as Laurel Valley and after hearing it sung as Sherman Valley changed the name. This was the song Frank Walker of Columbia knew when he made the 1926 recording of Luther Clark and his Blue Ridge Highballers led by Charley LaPrade. As we saw in the earlier blog Walker had Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett recording the song in 1927 as the Red River Valley. After it became a hit the song became the Red River Valley on almost all subsequent recordings.