*The Bigler’s Crew (new material)

Laws D8

As sung by M. C. Dean and collected and printed by Franz Rickaby.

Come all my boys and listen, a song I’ll sing to you.
It’s all about the Bigler and of her jolly crew.
In Milwaukee last October I chanc’d to get a sight
In the schooner call’d the Bigler belonging to Detroit.

Chorus:
Watch her, catch her, jump up on her juberju.
Give her the sheet and let her slide, the boys will push her through.
You ought to seen us howling, the winds were blowing free,
On our passage down to Buffalo from Milwaukee.

It was on a Sunday morning about the hour of ten,
The Robert Emmet towed us out into Lake Michigan;
We set sail where she left us in the middle of the fleet,
And the wind being from the south’ard, oh, we had to give her sheet.

Through Skillagallee and Wabble Shanks, the entrance to the Straits,
We might have passed the big fleet there if they’d hove to and wait;
But we drove them on before us, the nicest you ever saw,
Out into Lake Huron from the Straits of Mackinaw.

The Sweepstakes took eight in tow and all of us fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clair and stuck us on the flats.
She parted the Hunter’s tow-line in trying to give relief,
And stem and stern went the Bigler into the boat called Maple Leaf.

And now we are safely landed in Buffalo Creek at last,
And under Riggs’s elevator the Bigler she’s made fast.
And in some lager beer saloon we’ll let the bottle pass,
For we are jolly shipmates and we’ll drink a social glass.

Source: The text is M. C. Dean’s, with the tune from Rickaby. To keep the song from getting too long, I have reduced Dean’s 11 verses to five.

ADDENDUM: Since the Heritage Songbook was printed, I have found the version of this printed in Ivan H. Walton and Joe Grimm, Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors, Wayne State University Press, 2002. On pp. 131-133, they print a version from Carl Joys of Milwaukee. But Walton apparently collected quite a few versions; the notes to the song declare it “the most popular song among schoonermen, and most seemed to know at least parts of it.” There was at least one derived song, “The Stone Scow.”

Walton also found at least some history of the ship involved. The John Bigler was launched at Detroit in 1866, and was intended to serve as a timber drogher — that is, a boat to carry logs from the upper Great Lakes to the ports at the foot of the lakes. Walton in fact titles his version “The Timber Drogher Bigler.” Walton and Wolff agree that the ship was wrecked near Marquette, Michigan, in 1884.

Walton supposedly talked to a sailor, William Head, who had actually sailed on the Bigler. Since timber droghers had to fit through the Welland Canal between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, they tended to be narrow and rather high-sided. Head said that the Bigler “the lines of a shoe box.” This would explain the jokes about how slow she was, even though she carried more sail than most timber droghers: Her bow was almost square, making her at once hard to steer and hard to move forward.

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