Little Brown Bulls, The [Laws C16]

DESCRIPTION: Bold McCluskey believes his steer can out-pull anything on the river, and backs his belief by betting that they can out-pull Gordon's little brown bulls. Despite McClusky's confidence, the bulls are victorious
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1923 (Rickaby)
KEYWORDS: contest animal gambling lumbering
FOUND IN: US(MW,NE) Canada(Mar,Ont)
REFERENCES (17 citations):
Laws C16, "The Little Brown Bulls"
Rickaby 13, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text plus a fragment, 2 tunes)
Peters, pp. 248-249, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering 107, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text)
Lomax-Singing, pp. 224-226, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 54, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach, pp. 775-777, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text)
Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 849-851, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Beck 37, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-Lumbering #47, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-NewBrunswick, pp. 168-171, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AFS2, pp. 431-432 "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 178-179, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text)
DT 603, BRWNBULL*
ADDITIONAL: _Sing Out_ magazine, Volume 39, #2 (1994), pp, 96-97, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune, a combination of two versions sung by Robert Walker)
Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, _Wisconsin Lore: Antics and Anecdotes of Wisconsin People and Places_, Wisconsin House, 1962, pp. 68-70, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, presumably from Wisconsin although no source is listed)
James P. Leary, Compiler and Annotator, _Wisconsin Folklore_ University of Wisconsin Press, 2009, article "The Wanigan Songbook" by Isabel J. Ebert, pp. 210-212, "The Little Brown Bulls" (1 text, 1 tune, sung by Emory DeNoyer)

Roud #2224
RECORDINGS:
Charles Bowlen, "The Little Brown Bulls" (AFS, 1941; on LC55)
Warde Ford, "The Little Brown Bulls" (AFS 4213 B, 1939; in AMMEM/Cowell)
Carl Lathrop, "The Little Brown Bulls" (AFS, 1938; on LC56)

NOTES: According to Fred Bainter, who sang Rickaby's "A" text, "the ballad was composed in Mart Douglas's camp in northwestern Wisconsin in 1872 or 1873. It was in this camp and at this date... that the contest between the big spotted steers and the little brown bulls was held" (quotation from Botkin, not Bainter; Laws quotes this information from Rickaby, but without comment on its truth or falsehood. Fowke notes that Beck had a different story).
Rickaby's second version lacks the Derry Down refrain, but the informant apparently knew it with the Derry Down tune. Fowke describes her tune as a "Villikens" variant. The Robert Walker recording is said to use the tune of "Rye Whisky." - RBW
Beck notes that some lumberjacks have suggested this song comes from Maine, but it is not included in R. P. Gray's collection Songs and Ballads of the Maine Lumberjacks. - PJS
This is going to be hard to solve. As best I can tell, there are 23 or 24 versions of this known from tradition (depending on whether the Gard/Sorden text is independent or copied from someone else; the text gives no indication, although they say that almost all lumberjacks in Wisconsin knew it, and on page 3 they mention hearing it from "an old lady in Forest County").
Five of these versions (found in Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and two from the Ford family in California) are clearly not native to their area. Of the other 18, six are from Michigan and six or seven from Wisconsin (plus the Ward and Pat Ford versions surely derive from that state). Two are from Maine, two from Ontario, one from New Brunswick, and one from Nova Scotia.
In addition, Emery DeNoyer, who sang in lumber camps all over Wisconsin, claimed to have met McCloskey, the hero of the song, who was "a big Scotchman and popular wherever he worked." DeNoyer also said that McCloskey had heard several tunes for this song but considered DeNoyer's to be the original. (It may have been changed because it is hard to sing, with a range of an octave and a fourth.)
Did the song originate in the Midwest and travel east? The fact that 14 versions are ultimately from Wisconsin and Michigan argues for this. But it is more likely for a song to move west with the lumbermen than for six versions to make their way east. I think we just have to say we don't know. If I had to choose, I'd argue for the Wisconsin origin, but I'm far from sure. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.2
File: LC16

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