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Red River Valley (song) facts for kids

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"Red River Valley (also "Cowboy's Love Song")"
Song by Jules Verne Allen
Language English
Written c. 1890s
Genre Canadian folk music, cowboy music

"Red River Valley" is a folk song and cowboy music standard of uncertain origins that has gone by different names (such as "Cowboy Love Song", "Bright Sherman Valley", "Bright Laurel Valley", "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", and "Bright Little Valley"), depending on where it has been sung. It is listed as Roud Folk Song Index 756 and by Edith Fowke as FO 13. It is recognizable by its chorus (with several variations):

From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.

So come sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the cowboy that has loved you so true.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time, ranked #10.


According to Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke, there is anecdotal evidence that the song was known in at least five Canadian provinces before 1896. This finding led to speculation that the song was composed at the time of the 1870 Wolseley Expedition to Manitoba's northern Red River Valley. It expresses the sorrow of a local woman (possibly a Métis) as her soldier lover prepares to return to the east.

The earliest known written manuscript of the lyrics, titled "The Red River Valley", bears the notations "Nemaha 1879" and "Harlan 1885." Nemaha and Harlan are the names of counties in Nebraska, and are also the names of towns in Iowa.

The song appears in sheet music, titled "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", printed in New York in 1896 with James J. Kerrigan as the writer. The tune and lyrics were collected and published in Carl Sandburg's 1927 American Songbag.

In 1925, Carl T. Sprague, an early singing cowboy from Texas, recorded it as "Cowboy Love Song" (Victor 20067, August 5, 1925), but it was fellow Texan Jules Verne Allen's 1929 "Cowboy's Love Song" (Victor 40167, March 28, 1929), that gave the song its greatest popularity. Allen himself thought the song was from Pennsylvania, perhaps brought over from Europe.

Another important recording in this song's history was the 1927 Columbia Records master (15206-D) performed by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett, under the actual title of "Red River Valley". This was the very first commercially available recording of this song under its most familiar title, and was the inspiration for many of the recordings that followed.

Jimmie Rodgers wrote new lyrics titled Dear Old Sunny South by the Sea and recorded by himself in 1928.


  • 1924 Luther B. Clarke "Bright Sherman Valley" (Columbia 15069-D)
  • 1926 Kelly Harrell "Bright Sherman Valley" (Victor 20527 9 June 1926).
  • 1927 Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett "Red River Valley" (Columbia 15206-D).
  • 1928 Jimmie Rodgers "Dear Old Sunny South by the Sea".
  • 1944 Woody Guthrie for Asch Recordings 19 April 1944. Guthrie also recorded for Asch the Spanish Civil War version, "Jarama Valley".
  • 1946 Gene Autry recorded "Red River Valley" for Columbia Records on August 30, 1946 which issued in 1947 with the 78 rpm set Gene Autry's Western Classics and later appeared on various compilations including The Gene Autry Collection and The Essential Gene Autry 1933-1946.
  • 1947–50 Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing – vocal by Tex King.
  • 1948 Jo Stafford and the Starlighters recorded August 28, 1948 for Capitol Records (catalogue No. 742)
  • 1950s Jack Arthur for Peter Pan Records (453B).
  • 1955 Norman Luboff Choir – the song was featured in their album Songs of the West.
  • 1956 Jimmy Wakely recorded the song for his album Santa Fe Trail.
  • 1959 Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album How the West Was Won.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, Al Hurricane recorded an instrumental version, which was released as a single by Warner Records, it was also released on the much later 1973 album Instrumentales con Al Hurricane. This version's pacing would become the basis for the popular 1959 Johnny and the Hurricanes "Red River Rock" version of the song. The track made use of traditional New Mexico music and Western music, while mixing rock and early electronic music synthesizers.
  • 1960, Marty Robbins recorded it for his album More Greatest Hits by Marty Robbins (CS 8435). He also sang this song live on his show.
  • 1961 Connie Francis recorded "Red River Valley" for her 1961 album release Connie Francis Sings Folk Song Favorites.
  • 1963 The Ventures released a version on their 1963 Dolton album The Ventures Play Telstar and the Lonely Bull, BST 8019.
  • 1977 Slim Whitman's version was included on his 1977 #1 UK album Red River Valley.
  • 2004 Don Edwards recorded a version on The Last of The Troubadours: Saddle Songs Vol II
  • 2019 Bill Frisell included the song in his album Harmony.
  • A Czech version (Červená řeka) by Helena Vondráčková also exists.
  • An Estonian version with Harald Ferdinand Suurkask's words Kaugel, Kaugel, kus on minu kodu has been performed by many artists including Ivo Linna, Tarmo Pihlap & Apelsin, Lindpriid and Parvepoisid.

"Red River Valley" has also been recorded by Roy Acuff, Arlo Guthrie, Lynn Anderson, the Andrews Sisters, Eddy Arnold, Moe Bandy, Suzy Bogguss, Johnny Bond, Boxcar Willie, Elton Britt, John Darnielle, Foster & Allen, Larry Groce, the McGuire Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Michael Martin Murphey, Johnnie Ray, Riders in the Sky, Riders of the Purple Sage, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Rogers, Pete Seeger, the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Morton, Billy Walker, Roger Whittaker, Cassandra Wilson, Glenn Yarbrough, James McMurtry and George Strait.

Film appearances

  • 1936, Gene Autry sang the song in the Republic film Red River Valley and, with the Cass County Boys, sang the song again in the 1946 film Sioux City Sue.
  • 1940, It was particularly memorable in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, whose tale of displaced Oklahomans associated it with the southern Red River.
  • 1943, An instrumental version appeared in the film The Ox-Bow Incident.
  • 1962, An instrumental version played on a harp by Harpo Marx in Episode 1-4 "The Musicale" of ABC's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a sitcom starring Fess Parker, based on the 1939 Frank Capra film. This was Harpo Marx's last television appearance.
  • 1971, Another film in which it had important – but more subtle – usage in was The Last Picture Show a film about the internal decay of small town Texas in the early 1950s.
  • 1979, Carol Connors sang it in the X-rated Movie Sweet Savage.
  • 1981, Lorraine De Selle and Zora Ulla Keslerová sing the song in video nasty Cannibal Ferox.
  • 1987, An electronic rendition of "Red River Rock" was recorded by Silicon Teens, and featured in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
  • 1989, The song was sung in an adult contemporary style on the Shining Time Station episode "Mapping It Out". It also appeared on the direct to video special "Jukebox Band Lullaby".
  • 1990, Played in the film score when the gang member played by David Morse meets his demise in the movie Desperate Hours
  • 1993, Dana Delany sang it in the film Tombstone, though not in its entirety.
  • 2006, Sung by Garrison Keillor and cast in the film A Prairie Home Companion.
  • 2012 “Hemingway & Gellhorn”
  • 2014, A part of the song was sung in the film Wild by child actor Evan O'Toole during a scene with Reese Witherspoon.
  • 2017, Harry Dean Stanton sang it in Part 10 of Twin Peaks (2017 TV series).
  • 2017, Harmonica version played repeatedly in the film Lucky.
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