Bounty Jumper, The
DESCRIPTION: "Friends and jolly citizens, I'll sing you a song... It's all about a jumper, Old Donald was his name." Captured at last, he prefers death to revealing where his money is hidden. The jumper is condemned, executed, and buried.
EARLIEST DATE: 1883 (Smith/Hatt)
KEYWORDS: death execution money Civilwar
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW) Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
FSCatskills 17, "The Bounty Jumper" (1 text, 1 tune)
Smith/Hatt, pp. 92-93, "The Bounty Jumper" (1 text)
Dean, p. 101, "The Bounty Jumper" (1 text)
ST FSC017 (Partial)
NOTES [284 words]: During the Civil War, the Union grew so desperate for men that it began to use drastic recruitment measures. One of these was the bounty -- paying a man a large sum (sometimes as much as $300) to enlist, and then giving him leave to go off and spend it. Naturally, a large number of men -- the "Bounty Jumpers" -- took the money and ran. The harsh punishment a captured jumper received did little to discourage the practice.
Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover), p. 75, articles "Bounty Broker" and "Bounty Jumper," describes how "Bounty Brokers," would sometimes encourage men to enlist, collect their bounty, desert, and repeat. "One man confessed to deserting 32 times and was sentenced to four years in prison [a very light sentence, considering that deserters were usually shot!]. The large bounty payent, rather than having the amount spread over the period of enlistment, was partly responsible for the high desertion rate of the Union Army, totaling 268,000 men" (meaning that probably between 5% and 10% of men inducted eventually deserted).
It appears there were at least three songs by this name, although this seems to be the only one that went into tradition. Edwin Wolf 2nd, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides 1850-1870, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963, p. 14, also lists one credited to J. Cross Casten, using the tune "Joe Bowers, which begins "My song is of a fast young man whose name was Billy Wires," and one called "The Bounty-Jumper #2" with no author but clearly a parody of "Just before the battle, mother," since it uses that as its first line. - RBW
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