The Blue Juniata

Dale Cockrell

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Wild rov’d an Indian girl, bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters of the blue Juniata.
Swift as an antelope, through the forest going,
Loose were her jetty locks in wavy tresses flowing.

Gay was the mountain song of bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters of the blue Juniata.
Strong and true my arrows are in my painted quiver,
Swift goes my light canoe on down the rapid river.

Bold is my warrior good, the love of Alfarata,
Proud waves his snowy plume along the Juniata.
Soft and low he speaks to me, then his war-cry sounding,
Rings his voice in thunder loud, from height to height resounding.

So sang the Indian girl, bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters of the blue Juniata.
Fleeting years have borne away the voice of Alfarata,
Still sweeps the river on, the blue Juniata.

© Dale Cockrell. All rights reserved.

About this song:
Marion Dix Sullivan composed the lyrics and melody to “The Blue Juniata,” which was then arranged by Edward L. White and published in 1844. The song appeared during a time when many Americans were becoming more concerned about the plight of the American Indian, as its sympathetic narrative suggests.

The song’s placement in Little House on the Prairie points up an important moral dilemma. In a dramatic chapter (“The Tall Indian”), Ma and her daughters manage to hold off two Osage men who were attempting to steal the family’s cache of furs, virtually their entire capital. (In a telling parallel, the Ingalls family was then, in 1870, living on land that was officially “Indian territory,” virtually all that still “belonged” to a whole nation of people.) As the Ingalls children prepare for bed, they hear Ma sing “The Blue Juniata,” a deeply poignant expression of loss. Laura, who is clearly moved by the sympathetic portrayal of the song’s protagonist, asks, “Where did the voice of Alfarata go, Ma?” She is told that Alfarata probably went west because that is what “the government makes [the Indians do].” She wonders if the Osage will have to go west. “Yes,” Pa said. “When white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on.” “But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory. Won’t it make the Indians mad to have to—” “No more questions, Laura,” Pa said, firmly. “Go to sleep.” And the chapter ends, but the question, underscored by the song, lingers.

Dale Cockrell

About the Artist:

Dale Cockrell is director of the Program in American and Southern Studies at Vanderbilt University and Professor of Musicology and American Studies.
He has published widely in the field of American music studies, including Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), which was the recipient of the C. Hugh Holman Award presented by The Society for the Study of Southern Literature; and Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846 (Stuyvesant, New York: Pendragon, 1989), which won the Irving Lowens Award.
Dale is a former president of the Society for American Music and a member of the American Antiquarian Society. He is currently at work on a volume for the Music of the United States of America series, titled The Ingalls-Wilder Songbook (a critical edition of the music referenced in the Little House® books by Laura Ingalls Wilder); a study of music in the lives of common-class antebellum southerns (titled Common People and Their Uncommon Music); and an exploration of the place of American Music Studies in the pantheon of scholarly disciplines.

He is the founder, owner, and president of Pa’s Fiddle Recordings, LLC, a record label dedicated to recording the music referenced in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books so that children and their parents might once again engage and enjoy the magnificence of America’s musical heritage.


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