Boonville Musicians Record Civil War Music From Missouri
Three Missouri folk musicians have produced the first ever album of music from and about the Civil War as it was fought in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. Cathy Barton and Dave Para, known nationally and internationally as proponents of traditional folk music from Missouri and the Ozarks, and Bob Dyer,, well-known songwriter, poet and historian, have compiled an album of songs and instrumental pieces mostly rare and pre-viously unrecorded. Published by Dyer's own Big Canoe record company, the album, "Johnny Whistletrigger: Civil War Songs from the Western Border," is available on both cassette and compact disc, and includes an extensive booklet of lyrics, history and illustrations.
While American Civil War historians since the 19th century have ignored or much misunderstood the significance of activities west of the Mississippi River, some recent scholars have argued that the Civil War actually began along the border of Missouri and Kansas in the 1850s, Early Union successes in the West helped shift attention back east; one easily can hypo-thesize a very different course of the war had those early victories been Southern.
With the interest in Civil War history revived, a number of recent studies have begun to reverse the trend of neglect of the western battles. The three Boonville musicians have turned their interest toward the musical history in their own region. The First Battle of Boonville, in June 1861, made the cover of Harper's Weekly as one of the earliest skirmishes of the war. Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was the first general to die in the war at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861.
"Like many people, we were inspired by the broadcast of Ken Burns' documentary of the Civil War on PBS," Para says, "but we noted how little time and footage con-cerned this area. The fights for a free-state Kansas and to keep Missouri in the Union were important struggles, not only for the people who lived here, but for the rest of the country as well."
Much of this regional music from the Civil War has remained in obscurity until this time. A popular St. Louis entertainer wrote "Shelby's Mule" set to the tune of a minstrel song. Men under the command of cavalry raider Gen. Jo Shelby were known to have sung the song, and at one time it was preferred by Missourians of Southern sympathies over "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag." Research by Barton, Para and Dyer allows the song to be heard again. "The Invasion of Camp Jackson by the Hessians," is another rare, previously un-recorded song which tells of the riot in St. Louis in early 1861 which convinced many Missourians that neutrality would not be possible. Songs more favorable to Missouri Germans, who did much to keep the state Union, are the humorous "I Goes to Fight Mit Sigel," and "Gen. Sigel's Grand March," honoring the famous Missouri officer.
A number of songs deal with guerrilla warfare, which was more prominent in Missouri than in any other state. "The Quantrill Side," collected in Oklahoma, is a dark, moody song about a young man's decision to join the irregulars led by the notorious William Clarke Quantrill. Published in the late 1940s and again in the 1960s, the song has not circulated widely.
Traditional folk songs often change dy-namically over distance and time. An example is "Pea Ridge," a song about the battle in northwestern Arkansas that is actually a variant of a song about an Indian attack in 1791 against a fort in northwestern Ohio. Somehow, this ballad traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Ozarks where its people and place names changed before it was collected by Max Hunter of Springfield In the 1940s. While the melody has changed, most of lyrics remain intact from the earlier version. Another example is "The Guerrilla Man," which is an Ozark version of a widespread American folk song, "The Gambling Man." In this case, only the occupation of the hero has changed.
Inspired by the characters in their own historical research, Bob Dyer and Cathy Barton have written three original songs for the album, Bob set his two to tradition-al fiddle tunes. One song, "The Last Great Rebel Raid," is about Gen. Sterling Price's raid in Missouri in 1864 which ended at the Battle of Westport The other, "Johnny Whistletrigger," the title song, concerns the antics of a Boonville character who joined Price's army early in the war. Cathy has written a song about Kate King, of Blue Springs, Mo., who at age 13 ran off with Quantrill and rode with him until months before his death in Kentucky in 1865.
Between them, Barton, Para and Dyer sing and play guitars, banjo, hammered and mountain dulcimers, autoharp and bones. They are also joined by an impressive cast of Missouri musicians. Dave Wilson, from the Springfield bluegrass band Radio Flyer, adds clear expressive lines on the fiddle and cello. Folk singers Judy Domeny of Springfield, and Lisa Redfern of Columbia contibute lead and harmony vocals. Howard "Rusty" Marshall of Columbia, leads Cathy and Dave through some old-time Missouri fiddle tunes. Also heard on the record are flute, penny whistles, bagpipes, tuba and percussion.