This is a recording of me singing one of only a few Ozark folk songs I have memorized. It’s called “The State of Arkansas” and versions have been collected by both Mary Celestia Parler and Vance Randolph.
My name is Charlie Brennen, and I come from a lonesome town,
I’ve traveled the whole world over, traveled the whole world round,
I’ve had my ups and downs in life, and better days I saw,
But I never knew what misery was ’til down in Arkansas.
I started from Saint Louis with ten dollars and no more,
I read the mornin’ paper until my eyes were sore,
Lookin’ for good tidings until it was I saw,
Ten thousand men were wanted in the state of Arkansas.
I wiped my eyes with great surprise when I read that happy news,
And straight away to the agent Billy Hues,
He said, “Give me five dollars, I’ll give to you a draw,
“To ride upon that railroad to the state of Arkansas.”
I started off next mornin’ at a quarter after five,
I started from Saint Louis, half dead and half alive,
I bought me a quart of whiskey, my misery to thaw,
And I was drunk as a boiled owl, on my way to Arkansas.
In the year of ’82, in the merry month of June,
We landed in Fort Smith, on a sultry afternoon,
The air so hot and dusty, my breath I could not draw,
But I got off to see what was in the state of Arkansas.
I dodged behind the depot, to duck the oven wind,
And there I met a skeleton, his name was James T. Glenn,
His hair fell down in rattails, o’er his long and lantern jaw,
He invited me to his hotel, the best in Arkansas.
I followed my conductor into his dwelling place,
There misery and starvation could be seen on every face,
His bread it was corn dodger, his meat I could not chaw,
But he charged me half a dollar in the state of Arkansas.
I started off next mornin’ in a hard and driving rain,
He said, “If you will work for me, I have some land to drain,
I’ll give you fifty cents a day, your food and wash and all,
And you’ll find yourself a different man when you leave Arkansas.”
He fed me on corn dodger, as hard as any rock,
Until my teeth were awful loose and my knees began to knock,
I grew so thin on sassafras tea, I couldn’t hide behind a straw,
And indeed I was a different man when I left Arkansas.
So goodbye to swamp angels, to cane breaks and fever chills,
Goodbye to sage and sassafras and corn dodger pills,
If I ever see this land again I’ll give to you my paw,
But it’ll be through a telescope, from Hell to Arkansas.