Clementine is still a darling

You’ll surely recognize this folk character….

In a cavern
In a canyon
Excavating for a mine
Lived a miner
And his daughter
She was nutsy crazy freaky
And her feet were rather large
But her ducklings they did follow
When into the creek she charged
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
With big feet
Your can’t swim like the ducklings
For you’ve no flippers on your feet.
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
Oh my darlin’
With big feet
You are lost and gone forever
Next in Heaven we shall meet

Did you recognized this poem as a song and thought, the writer has the lyrics all wrong?

Well, it may please you to know that you are right… as well as wrong.

This “nusty, crazy, freaky” version is from a filk song, a sort of rewritten folk song, I think I heard at a science fiction convention in 1987. I even called my ex to see if he remembered the lyrics, but he did not.

The actual folk song, Clementine, has no clear author or copyright status.

Percy Montrose and Barker Bradford have each received credit as writing Clementine in the 1840s.
The 1863 song, “Down By the River Liv’d a Maiden” by H. S. Thompson could also have provided source material.

Author Gerald Brenan attributes the song’s origins to an old Spanish ballad sung by Mexican gold rush miners.
Yet an older version I ran across, hints that the lovely maiden Clementine was a soiled dove.

No matter the origins, many of us probably know just the first part of the song that ends with our sandal wearing maiden drowning in the creek. However, Boy Scouts in the audience may be able to sing you these verses, sans refrain:

Ruby lips above the water
Blowing bubbles soft and fine
But, alas, I was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine

Then the miner, forty-niner
Soon began to peak and pine
Thought he oughta join his daughter
Now he’s with his Clementine

There’s a churchyard on the hillside
Where the flowers grow and twine
There grow roses, mongst the posies
Fertilized by Clementine

In my dreams she still doth haunt me
Robed in garments soaked in brine
Though in life I used to hug her
Now she’s dead, I draw the line

Now you Scouts may learn the moral
Of this little tale of mine
artificial respiration
Would have saved my Clementine

Oh, my darling, oh, my darling
Oh, my darling Clementine
You are lost and gone forever
Dreadful sorry, Clementine
And the final verse of the last part of the purported Scout version:

How I missed her, how I missed her
How I missed my Clementine
Till I kissed her little sister
And forgot my Clementine

Although Clementine’s popularity has dwindled over the years she has not been forgotten. Clementine the school marm was the love interest of one of the Earp bothers in the 1946 film, My Darling Clementine. Cartoon character Huckleberry Hound was known to sing Clementine horribly off-key. Tom Lehr, a 50s Harvard math professor with a bar act, also sang of Clementine, off-key.

Clearly, Clementine is not Natalie Cole, but she is an unforgettable part of the West.

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