Red Iron Ore [Laws D9]
DESCRIPTION: A sailor tells of a trip he took on the E.C. Roberts. They set out from Escanaba with a load of ore, and at last wind up in Cleveland. Life aboard an ore boat was not pleasant, but the sailor is proud of the good time the ship made
EARLIEST DATE: 1922 (Dean)
KEYWORDS: ship travel
FOUND IN: US(MW) Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (12 citations):
Laws D9, "Red Iron Ore"
Rickaby 45, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean, pp. 12-14, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text)
Peters, pp. 98-99, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Walton/Grimm/Murdock, pp. 119-122, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-Ontario 55, "The E.C. Roberts" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sandburg, pp. 176-178, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 477-479, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 63, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 183-184, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 95, "Red Iron Ore" (1 text)
DT 612, REDIRON*
Stanley Baby, "The 'E. C. Roberts'" (on GreatLakes1); "Red Iron Ore" (on ONEFowke01)
Harry Barney, "Red Iron Ore" (1938; on WaltonSailors; a fragment with a chorus probably from a "Sailor's Alphabet" song)
James Putnam, "Red Iron Ore" (1938; on WaltonSailors)
Art Thieme, "Red Iron Ore" (on Thieme02) (on Thieme06)
cf. "Iron Ore by 'Fifty-Four" (tune)
cf. "Joe Livermore" (form, tune)
NOTES: When this song was first indexed, II made several attempts to locate the E. C. Roberts, with partial success -- the Great Lakes has ships by that name, but I failed to identify one which was an ore carrier. Solomon Foster, using resources that hadn't been made available online when the Index was started, was able to identify it, but I'm going to leave my 2008 notes so you can know what not to look for:
There was an E. C. Roberts sailing Lake Michigan in 1871; she lost her jib boom in a collision near Chicago that April. An E. C. Roberts also grounded in the lakes in 1865.
Possibly the same as the preceding, and surely the best candidate, is an E. C. Roberts mentioned on page 18 of Julius F. Wolff, Jr., Lake Superior Shipwrecks, (Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., Duluth, 1990). She was carrying ore in 1872 when she stopped at Marquette, Michigan. A major storm blew up, and because she was unloading coal, there was no way to get her moving quickly. She (and one other ship) had to be scuttled on September 18.
Curiously, Walton/Grimm/Murdok, p. 119, says that "The Roberts, 273 gross tones, was built in Cleveland in 1856 for Brown and Reddington of that city for the general carrying trade. It remained on the lakes for over half a century." One of Walton's infomants claimed to have sailed on her when she served as an ore carried. I wonder if this is the right boat, though, since a general carrier would not make an ideal ore boat. And not even Walton can identify this particular trip.
Interestingly, Stanley Baby. who sang this song for Fowke, was the son of James Baby, who reportedly was mate on the E. C. Roberts in 1875, and another Fowke, informant C. H. J. Snyder also knew James Baby. But the data Fowke offers is not sufficient to identify the ship.
If we look for vessels named the Roberts but with variations in the initials, there was a boat the E. K. Roberts which sailed the Great Lakes in the late nineteenth century. According to Wes Oleszewski's Ghost Ships, Gales & Forgotten Tales: True Adventures on the Great Lakes (Avery Color Studios, 1995), p, 100, she was active at the time of the gale of November 10-11, 1883. I do find it noteworthy that a ship named the Escanaba was active at this time, hauling other ships around Mackinac. I would bet a great deal that it's the same Escanaba even if it isn't the same Roberts.
Google searches reveal the E. K. Roberts as a steamer launched commissioned in 1883; renamed City of Windsor in 1890 and Michipicoten in 1910, she burned in 1927; she was originally a fish tug but later carried passengers.
Now the solution to the conundrum, which was found by Solomon Foster. What follows is a slightly edited version of what Foster sent me:
I think we can say with some confidence that the E.C. Roberts is this ship -- http://greatlakeships.org/2897492/data?n=64 -- the 1856 one mentioned in Walton et al. According to the database she was owned by one H. Rumage from 1866 through 1873. Given that some versions of the song speak of "Captain Harve Rummage" and that time period overlaps nicely with the periods of service of the Escanaba, Kate Williams, and Exile (not to mention three Minches), it would be a fantastic coincidence if the song were about some other E.C. Roberts.
The other ships:
Tug Escanaba: http://greatlakeships.org/2901197/data?n=1
Schooner Exile: http://greatlakeships.org/2900874/data?n=1
The Minch is harder. I'm guessing it's
Schooner Charles P. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
But based on the other dates I'm working with, it could conceivably be
Schooner Anne S. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
Schooner Sophia Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2902718/data?n=7
as they were both built in 1873, the last year H. Rumage was owner of the Roberts. (Though if the song was written at a time there were three Minches sailing out of Cleveland, it would be a bit odd to not be more specific naming her.)
The Exile was built in 1867, so combining that with the time H. Rumage was an owner gives us 1867-1873 as the time period for the events of the song. I don't see any obvious way to narrow it down further.
The 1866 owner is listed as "Rumage & Anderson". I've been assuming that was the same Rumage as "H. Rumage", but there was also a Solon Rummage active in Cleveland shipping. If that's the Rumage of Rumage & Anderson, then we'd have narrowed down the possible timeline to 1871-1873. But that's pure speculation.
(My thanks to Mr. Foster for freely giving me all these results!)
One of Walton's informants, J. Sylvester Ray, claimed that Billy Clark of Buffalo wrote the song, but a second informant, John W. Green, attributed it to Peter O'Donnell.
Walton lists this as second only to The Bigler in popularity with Great Lakes sailors.
The tune is a bit of a conundrum. Dean/Rickaby (whose version is reprinted by Lomax and Peters) and Sandburg use the Derry Down tune. The versions Walton collected do not have the Derry Down refrain, and are in major rather than minor; they seem to be based on "The Dreadnought" [Laws D13]. The by-blows listed in Walton ("Bound Away on the Twilight," "A Trip on the George C. Finney") seem to use the Dreadnought form. This is a matter which perhaps calls for further investigation. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.