Bigler's Crew, The [Laws D8]

DESCRIPTION: The Bigler sets out for Buffalo from Milwaukee. A number of minor incidents are described, and the Bigler's lack of speed sarcastically remarked upon: "[We] MIGHT have passed the whole fleet there -- IF they'd hove to and wait"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1922 (Dean-FlyingCloud)
KEYWORDS: ship travel humorous
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW,NE) Canada(Mar,Ont)
REFERENCES (19 citations):
Laws D8, "The Bigler's Crew"
Rickaby-BalladsAndSongsOfTheShantyBoy 47, "The Bigler's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickaby/Dykstra/Leary-PineryBoys-SongsSongcatchingInLumberjackEra 47, "The Bigler's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean-FlyingCloud, pp. 19-20, "The Bigler's Crew" (1 text)
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, pp. 101-103, "The Bigler's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
Walton/Grimm-Windjammers-SongsOfTheGreatLakesSailors, pp. 129-135, "The Timber Drogher Bigler" (1 text plus excerpts from several other versions, 1 tune); p. 135, "The Stone Scow" (1 text, which Walton considered a separate adaption of this song but which has the same chorus and is exactly the same sort of plot as "The Bigler," so there seems litle reason to split them)
Lewis-FavoriteMichiganFolkSongs, pp. 25-29, "The Schooner Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune, arranged as a choral piece)
Eckstorm/Smyth-MinstrelsyOfMaine, p. 243, "Buffalo" (1 fragment)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 19, "Jump Her, Juberju" (this version rather heavily folk processed); 20, "The Bigler" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Creighton-MaritimeFolkSongs, p. 141, "The Cruise of the Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 56, "The Cruise of the Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-FolkSongUSA 46, "The Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-OurSingingCountry, pp. 220-222, "The Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, pp. 174-175, "Bigerlow" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Colcord-SongsOfAmericanSailormen, pp. 200-202, "The Cruise of the Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shay-AmericanSeaSongsAndChanteys, pp. 105-108, "The Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-TreasuryOfAmericanFolklore, pp. 843-845, "The Bigler's Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: David C. Peterson, "Wisconsin Folksongs," chapter in _Badger History: Wisconsin Folklore_, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Volume XXV, Number 2, November 1973), pp. 61-62, "The Bigler" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #645
Stanley Baby, "The Trip of the 'Bigler'" (on GreatLakes1)
Harry Barney, "The Timber Drogher Bigler" (1938; on WaltonSailors)
Asa M. Trueblood, "The TImber Drogher Bigler" (1938; on WaltonSailors)

cf. "The Crummy Cow" (tune)
cf. "The Dogger Bank" (tune, chorus, meter)
cf. "The Great Northern Line" (tune, chorus, meter)
cf. "The Knickerbocker Line" (tune & meter)
cf. "The Light on Cape May" (tune, chorus, meter)
cf. "The Tramway Line" (tune, chorus, meter)
cf. "Ten Thousand Miles From Home" [Lomax AFSB A, pp. 28-29] (chorus & meter)
cf. "The Second Front Song" (tune, one chorus phrase & meter (see Notes))
cf. ("The Erie is raging and the gin is getting low") [Lomax AFSB pp. 461-462] (chorus)
The Crummy Cow (File: HHH501)
The Light on Cape May (File: Doe130)
NOTES [524 words]: According to Julius F. Wolff, Jr., Lake Superior Shipwrecks, Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., Duluth, 1990, p. 42, a ship named J. Bigler was lost near Marquette, Michigan in 1884, but he was unable to find many other details. Walton said that the John Bigler was built in Detroit in 1866 and was wrecked in 1884, confirming Wolff's account. I know of no proof that this was "the" Bigler, but it seems likely. - RBW
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario: "Aemilius Jarvis, from whom Mr. Snider learned this song, had heard it when sailing on the Lakes in 1875, and believed it dated from about 1871." - BS
According to one of Walton's informants, the song's description of the Bigler's sailing qualities is fairly accurate. The ship was built to carry waneys (partly cut logs), and like most such ships (known as timber droghers), she was narrow, with high sides, to fit through the Welland Canal between Lakes Erie and Ontario. Most such ships were rather slow. The Bigler carried more sail than most, but also had an extremely square bow, making her hard to steer and meaning that the extra sail did little to improve her speed.
Walton considers this the most popular of all the Great Lakes songs, and prints "The Stone Scow" as a parody on this basic pattern. Looking at the versions, I suspect this has in fact happened many times -- sailors would take "The Bigler" and supply details of their own voyages. I am not aware of any of these variants which have "taken off," and for the moment am classifying "The Stone Scow" and other similar variants here. - RBW
Solomon Foster has found links with information about several of these ships (slightly edited):
The Bigler:
Robert Emmett:
The Bigler was built in 1866, while the Emmett was renamed Colonel Graham in 1869, so that suggests the events of the song occurred between those years.
There were two tugs Sweepstakes in that time period, both living near Lake St Clair, so I don't see any obvious way to conclude which one it was:
Though only the second is explicitly listed as a St. Clair River tug.
There are three possibilities for the Maple Leaf and loads of them for the "Hunter".
One possibly interesting point: given that "The Stone Scow" (at least [Walton's version]) doesn't mention any ship names at all, it's conceivable it was actually still about the Bigler! According to, the Bigler's last cargo was stone. - (RBW, quoting Solomon Foster)
"The Second Front Song" is another parody, dating from World War II. It was recorded by Ewan MacColl on "British Army Songs," Washington Records WLP 711 LP (1965). The chorus keeps enough of the "Bigler's Crew" chorus to show the parody's source: "It's hitch 'em. It's hitch 'em. / It's the second front for you. / In spite of our old Atlantic war we're the boys to see it through. / It won't take long to finish it / When we have got their range / And then we can all go home and live like humans for a change." - BS
Last updated in version 6.2
File: LD08

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