Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines


 I’m Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,
I often live beyond my means,
I sport young ladies in their teens,
To cut a swell in the army.
I teach young ladies how to dance,
How to dance, how to dance,
I teach young ladies how to dance,
For I’m their pet in the army.

I’m Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines,
I give my horse good corn and beans,
Of course ’tis quite beyond my means,
Though a Captain in the army.

I joined my corps when twenty-one,
Of course, I thought it capital fun;
When the enemy came, then off I ran;
I wasn’t cut out for the army.
When I left home, Mamma she cried,
Mamma she cried, Mamma she cried,
When I left home, Mammy she cried,
“He ain’t cut out for the army.”

The first day I went out to drill,
The bugle-sound made me quite ill;
At the balance-step, my hat it fell,
And that won’t do for the army.
The officers they all did shout;
They all cried out, they all did shout;
The officers they all did shout,
“Oh! that’s the cure for the army.”

My tailor’s bills came in so fast,
Forced me one day to leave at last;
And ladies too no more did cast
Sheep’s eyes at me in the army.
My creditors at me did shout
At me did shout, at me did shout,
My creditors at me did shout,
“Why, kick him out of the army!”

(Click here for a PDF version of the music) * (Click here to hear the instrumental version)

Laura Ingalls Wilder seems to have been very taken with this song; she cites it three times (Little House in the Big Woods, chapter 7, supposedly dating from 1872; On the Banks of Plum Creek, on the next to last page, and By the Shores of Silver Lake, chapter 15, from 1879). If her recollection is accurate — and it should be recalled that she wrote sixty years after the event — the song became popular in her family very early in its existence, because the earliest dated sheet music, by J. L. Peters, was dated 1868. A roughly contemporary but undated sheet music publication by Lee & Walker credits it to T. Maclagan, but the history of the song is not really known.

Ethel Barrymore in 1901 in one of the famous d...

Ethel Barrymore in 1901 in one of the famous dresses from ”Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is by no means clear that Laura actually knew it in Minnesota. The song has gone into tradition, but it has not to my knowledge been collected in the Midwest. Vance Randolph, however, picked up two versions (one a playparty) in the Ozarks, near where Laura spent her later years. So the possibility must be admitted that she learned it there and retrojected it into her midwestern years.

Still, it was probably heard in Minnesota parlors at one time or another, so we might as well include it. The version here is based on the version printed on pp. 47-48 of Sigmund Spaeth’s Weep Some More, My Lady, with the punctuation modernized. Spaeth’s text also includes interjections that might be spoken between the verse and chorus, but I have omitted them; they’re pretty feeble.

It is interesting to note that Laura’s version does not quite match the sheet music version; she has “folk processed” it somewhat.

Spaeth notes that the song was used in a play of the same name, in which Ethel Barrymore made her debut.

3 thoughts on “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines

  1. Pingback: References – The Argothald Journal

  2. Mary Pat Kleven

    Good catch, Brian. Iva played it as a dance tune; the original tune is based on a traditional Irish tune called John Kelly’s Slide, so it is also possible that it was played by the Irish who moved to Minnesota. It is also important to note that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are considered historical fiction, and this is one good reason why. When she put the music in her stories. her publisher had to clear them, so they put in the tunes that they had permission to use. She commented later in a letter to her daughter that the versions in her books weren’t always the ones that she had remembered, but those originals were long gone. (See The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anderson – Harper – 2016.


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