Sweet Betsy from Pike: About the Song

Historical Background

The journey to California in the days of the Gold Rush wasn't easy by sea or land. A clipper ship leaving New York took at least three months, with all the usual dangers of traveling by sea, to round the bottom of South America and reach San Francisco. The journey by land took six months from the mid-West, with many coming from further away.

Song History

"Sweet Betsy from Pike" comes from a songbook published in 1858 called Put's Golden Songster. "Old Put" was the pseudonym of John A. Stone, a San Francisco-based entertainer who wrote, performed, adapted, collected, and published songs for and about gold miners. This one was based on an Irish tune that was most likely brought to the New World during the potato famine. There is a Pike County in both Missouri and Illinois from where many California-bound gold seekers began their land journeys.

Lyrics

Did you ever hear tell of sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the wide prairies with her lover Ike
With two yoke of cattle and a one-spotted hog
A tall Shanghai rooster and an old yellow dog

One evening quite early they camped on the Platte
Made down their blankets on a green shady flat
Where Betsy, sore-footed, lay down to repose
With wonder Ike gazed on his Pike County rose

Their wagons broke down with a terrible crash
And out on the prairie rolled all sorts of trash
A few little baby clothes, done up with care
'Twas rather suspicious, though all on the square

The Shanghai ran off and the cattle all died
That morning the last piece of bacon was fried
Poor Ike was discouraged, and Betsy got mad
The dog drooped his tail and looked wondrously sad

They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out
And down in the sand she lay rolling about
While Ike, half distracted, looked on with surprise
Saying "Betsy, get up, you'll get sand in your eyes"

Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain
Declared she'd go back to Pike County again
But Ike heaved a sigh, and they fondly embraced
And they traveled along with his arm 'round her waist

They swam the wide rivers and climbed the tall peaks
And camped on the prairies for weeks upon weeks
Starvation and cholera, hard work and slaughter
They reached California spite of hell and high water

That morning they stood on a very high hill
And with wonder looked down into old Placerville
Ike shouted and said, as he cast his eyes down
"Sweet Betsy, my darling, we've got to Hangtown"

Long Ike and sweet Betsy attended a dance
Where Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants
Sweet Betsy was covered with ribbons and rings
Said Ike "You're an angel, but where are your wings?"

This Pike County couple got married, of course
But Ike became jealous, obtained a divorce
And Betsy, well satisfied, said with a shout
"Goodbye, you big lummox, I'm glad you backed out"

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