(As sung by Art Thieme)
Oh, a timber raftsman’s life is a weary life;
Robs young girls of their hearts’ delights.
It causes them to weep, it causes them to mourn
The loss of a true love, never to return.
“Father, oh father, build me a boat,
That down the Wisconsin I may float,
And every raft that I pass by
There I will inquire for my sweet pinery boy.”
As she was floating on down the stream
She saw three rafts all in a string.
She hailed the pilot as they drew nigh,
And there she did inquire for her sweet pinery boy.
“Pilot, O pilot, come tell me true,
Is my sweet William among your crew?
Answer me swiftly, give me great joy,
For none do I love better than my sweet pinery boy.
“Black is the color of my true love’s hair,
His eyes are blue and his cheeks are fair.
His lips are of a ruby fine;
Ten thousand times have they met with mine.”
“Oh honored lady, he is not here.
He’s drowned in the Dells, as I do fear,
’Twas at Lone Rock as we passed by,
That is where we left him, your sweet pinery boy.
She wrung her hands, she tore her hair,
Acted like a maiden in greatest despair.
She flung her boat against Lone Rock;
Oh, you’d have thought this young girl’s heart was broke.
“Oh, dig my grave both wide and deep.
Put a marble stone at my head and feet,
And on each stone, carve a snow-white dove,
To let the world know that I died for love.”
Art Thieme, from whom I learned this song, was from Illinois, but there are several Wisconsin versions. Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, Wisconsin Lore, pp. 95-96, print five verses corresponding to verses 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8 of the present text (and imply that there are others). Franz Rickaby’s version, which is also found on p. 94 of Harry B. Peters, Folk Songs of Wisconsin, came from Mrs. M. A. Olin of Eau Claire, and is almost identical to the version here, except that it begins “Oh, a raftsman’s life is a wearisome one,” and the boy’s hair is auburn. The three-and-a-half-verse fragment on p. 210 of Rickaby, which is from Mrs. M. W. Deputy of Bemidji, Minnesota, may be of the original song “The Sailor Boy”; it corresponds to verses 2, 4, 7A, 8.