≡ Menu

 Shenandoah: The Great Hymn of the American Land

Until the 19th century only adventurers who sought their fortunes as trappers and traders of beaver fur ventured as far west as the Missouri River. Most of these Canadian and American “voyageurs” in the fur trade era were loners who became friendly with, and sometimes married, Native Americans. Some lyrics of this song heard by and before 1860 tell the story of a trader who fell in love with the daughter of the Oneida Iroquois pine tree chief Shenandoah (1710–1816), who lived in the central New York state town of Oneida Castle. He was a co-founder of the Oneida Academy, which became Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and is buried on the campus grounds.

The canoe-going fur-trading voyageurs were great singers, and songs were an important part of their culture. Also in the early 19th century, flatboatmen who plied the Missouri River were known for their shanties, including “Oh Shenandoah”. Sailors heading down the Mississippi River picked up the song and made it a capstan shanty that they sang while hauling in the anchor. This boatmen’s song found its way down the Mississippi River to American clipper ships, and thus around the world. — La Wik

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Look away, you rollin’ river
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Now the Missouri is a mighty river
Look away, you rollin’ river
Indians camp a long her border
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Well, a white man loved an Indian maiden
Look away, you rollin’ river
With notions his canoe was laden
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Look away, you rollin’ river
It was for her I’d cross the water
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

For seven long years I courted Sally
Look away, you rollin’ river
Seven more years I longed to have her
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Well, it’s fare-thee-well, my dear, I’m bound to leave you
Look away, you rollin’ river
Shenandoah, I will not deceive you
Look away, we’re bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tim June 30, 2017, 9:19 AM

    I live in Irondequoit, NY, which, as you can probably tell by the name, has rich history related to American Indians.

    In a couple hours I’ll be headed down to Seneca Lake, also with rich history, to spend the next four days of our great country’s Independence Day weekend fishing, drinking and B.S.’s, not necessarily in that order, with friends and family.

  • CCW June 30, 2017, 10:05 PM

    Sissel Kyrkjebø – Shenandoah

  • Ok July 1, 2017, 9:40 AM

    CCW thanks for posting that, my favorite version of my favorite song. It honestly brings me to tears. Sissel is so perfect. I love her smile.
    For those who care, she sang the music in Titanic, other than “that song”.

  • Foodog July 1, 2017, 11:04 PM

    Best version ever. Of the few songs I could sing, this was most requested by my kids, as lullabies. And Sweet Baby James.

  • jwm July 30, 2021, 10:43 AM

    Thanks to Gerard, I got the words to Arlo’s version memorized, so I can sing this on the bike or in the car. One of my all-time favorites.
    And CCW- a zillion thanks for that! I just spent three minutes with my jaw dropped.
    Absolutely breathtaking.


  • ghostsniper July 30, 2021, 1:07 PM

    @CCW, nice set of pipes!

  • Jack Lawson July 30, 2021, 2:03 PM

    Quite simply… beautiful !!!

  • greg July 30, 2021, 3:12 PM

    Thanks. Now the wanderlust has set in.

  • gwbnyc July 30, 2021, 4:57 PM

    know the melody but not the lyrics, nor the history.

    happily enlightened.

  • jd July 30, 2021, 5:44 PM

    Thank you, Gerard, for Sissel’s.

  • Andy Texas July 30, 2021, 7:56 PM

    Beautiful and unknown story to me. Sends me back in better days.

  • Sam L. July 31, 2021, 6:49 AM

    I was born in Missouri, and later went to California (NOT to see “the elephant”, though). Arlo sang it goooooood. Thanks! Great way to start the morning.

  • andre July 31, 2021, 2:15 PM

    Makes you long for another America

  • Mike-SMO July 31, 2021, 2:38 PM

    Disappointed to read that “Shenandoah” might have originally referred to an actual person. I had long assumed that it was an indirect reference to the “civilized” Shenandoah River and Valley in eastern Virginia in contrast to the Missouri River which was, for a time, the western limit of the much wilder, “Illinois Country” of the Virginia colony. Arlo’s interpretation fit that concept better, since it wasn’t overly sweet, like the dress-up theater version.

  • Mark July 31, 2021, 4:01 PM

    Took me a second to realize it was Paddy Moloney on the penny whistle. Great rendition. Thank you Gerard.
    “Never was piping so sad,
    And never was piping so gay.”

  • Bill August 3, 2021, 10:29 AM

    I imagine there are other lyrics. I seem to remember one about “He gave that chief some fire water.”