Weevily Wheat

Weevily Wheat

Oh, Charlie, he’s a fine young man,
Oh, Charlie, he’s a dandy!
Charlie likes to kiss the girls
And he can do it handy.

I don’t want none of your weevily wheat,
I don’t want none of your barley.*
I want fine flour in half an hour
To bake a cake for Charlie.

Over the river to feed my sheep,
Over the river, Charlie,
Over the river to feed my sheep
And measure up my barley.

The higher up the cherry tree,
The riper grow the cherries,
The more you hug and kiss the girls,
The sooner they will marry.

Take her by the lily white hand,
Lead her like a pigeon,
Make her dance the weevily wheat
And scatter her religion.

* Most versions of this, in my experience, give these lines as
I don’t want your weevily wheat,
Neither do I want your barley.

(Click here for a PDF version of the music) * (Click here to hear an MP3 Recording)

This song is an amazing demonstration of the mutability of folk song, especially “lyric” songs without a strong plot, and especially lyric songs used as dance tunes. For that is what this is — a song often played on the fiddle at country dances. There are at least three sort of songs based on this approximate tune: “Weevily Wheat” (also known by such titles as “Charlie”), “Fly Around, My Pretty Little Miss,” and “Devilish Mary.” All of these have been known to swap verses; they have also been known to use other tunes.

A typical version of “Fly Around, My Pretty Little Miss” begins
Fly around, my pretty little miss,
Fly around, my daisy.
Fly around, my pretty little miss,
Almost drives me crazy.

“Devilish Mary” begins something like this:
When I went down to London town,
I thought that I would marry;
There I met a pretty little girl,
Her name was Devilish Mary.
(She proceeds to earn the name by abusing her husband and eventually taking away his clothes; he vows that, if he marries again, he will marry a girl “about three feet tall Who can’t put on my britches.”)

Some people have tried to link this with Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart prince who in 1745 went to Scotland to try to regain his ancestral throne. It is certainly true that there are many songs in which Charlie is found “in disguise,” under names such as “the bonnie moorhen” and “the chevalier.” But I really doubt this is one of them; it’s just a dance tune and a singing game! Though a few versions have picked up a Bonnie Prince Charlie verse, such as the one which Harvey H. Fuson included on p. 164 of Ballads of the Kentucky Highlands:
Charlie’s here and Charlie’s there
And Charlie’s over the ocean;
And he won’t come back again
Unless he takes a notion.

Jean Ritchie’s first verse, in Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians, makes Charlie something of a scamp:
Charlie’s neat and Charlie’s sweet
And Charlie he’s a dandy,
Charlie he’s the very lad
That stole my striped candy.
Ritchie’s version, interestingly, is in minor, as opposed to the version I learned, which is in major (Laura of course prints no tune). But the melody is hexatonic (sometimes pentatonic), making it very easy to shift from mode to mode.

Source: The tune is as I’ve heard it many times over the years.

Laura Ingalls Wilder quotes two verses of this in On the Banks of Plum Creek, chapter 41, “Christmas Eve.” This is the only direct evidence that the song was known in Minnesota. But it is so widely known that I think it likely it was played by others than Pa Ingalls.

Laura supplied the first two verses here, which are about as “naughty” as she allowed herself to be. These are typical of the song, but other versions are a little bit more explicit. Leah Jackson Wolford, The Play Party in Indiana, has three versions, and says of one of them, “The stanza which Miss Agnes Taylor heard in Hearne (central Texas) is proof of the bad repute of the game, which was played like the old Virginia Reel.” Nonetheless the tune is definitely not a reel.

The third verse is one I have heard in may versions of this song, and two of Wolford’s informants had something similar. The fourth is given by both Wolford and Carl Sandburg inThe American Songbag, among other sources, but it is a “floating verse” that can show up in other songs. Sandburg’s version has another floater:
My pretty little pink, I suppose you think,
I care but little about you,
But I’ll let you know before you go
I cannot live without you.
(In other versions of this stanza, the final line is, “I care very little about you.”)

The final stanza is the one Wolford cited as proving the “bad repute” of this song.

I note with some interest that, though Randolph managed to pick up no fewer than seven versions of this in the Ozarks, he did not get any part of it from Rose Wilder Lane.

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