Collected by Irene Carlisle
Transcribed by Mary C. Parler
Mrs. Rachel Henry
Spring Valley, Arkansas
February 15, 1951
Reel 91 (and 95), Item 3
Bonnie Black Bess
(Learned as a girl in Arkansas, near Goshen. Mrs. Henry
and her sister, Mrs. Frances Oxford, also of Spring Valley, sing
the same version, but Mrs. Oxford's, which is on Reel 95, is
the complete text. I have indicated here in parentheses the
lines which Mrs. Henry did not sing, which were sung on Reel 95
by Mrs. Oxford.)
"Dick Turpin was a outlaw, that used to run in the Indian
Territory back in the '80s; his horse was this here Bonnie Black
Bess, but he taken her life and his both. He wrote this song, and
'twas found on his person when they found him dead."
For the gods of misfortune has led me abroad;
King friends proved ungrateful; I took to the road
To plunder the wealthy and relieve my distress;
I bought you to aid me, my Bonnie Black Bess.
No vile whip nor spur did your sides ever gore;
You 'as never ungrateful; you 'as bound at my call;
(In each act of kindness you did me caress;)
(You 'as never ungrateful, my Bonnie Black Bess.)
(Oh, how gentle you stood when the mail coach 'ld stop,)
( And the bright gold and silver for the inmates we got;)
No poor man did I plunder, nor ever distress
The widow nor orphan, my Bonnie Black Bess.
(When the dark shades of midnight her mantles had thrown)
(O'er the face of green Nature, how ofttimes we've gone)
(From the points to the low heath, an unwelcome guest,)
(To plunder the wealthy, my Bonnie Black Bess.)
(When Augustus the justice he had us pursued,)
From London to Yorktown like lightning we flew;
No toll bars could stop us; wide rivers we'd breast;
In twelve hours I rode it, my Bonnie Black Bess.
Hark, hark! I hear the bloodhounds approach;
They never shall have a beast so noble, true and brave;
So I must kill you, my dearest Bonnie, though it does me distress
Oh, there, I have shot you, my Bonnie Black Bess.
Bonnie Black Bess (Cont'd)
Reel 91(and 95), Item 3 (Cont'd)
In age after ages when I'm dead and gone,
My history 'll be handed from father to son.
So some they will pity, while others confess;
So I'll die with you, my Bonnie Black Bess.
In the bosom of Turpin: "A fort I have got,
Though the world had pursued me for the many I've shot;
I'll die like a man, and soon be at rest;
So farewell to my kind friends, and to Bonnie Black Bess.
(Reel 95: Mrs. Oxford: "I learned this song from a cousin of
mine that come in from Oklahoma to Arkansas.")
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