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Book chronicles the Upper Midwest’s forgotten legacy of lumberjack songs

University of Wisconsin Press

Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota were rich hunting grounds for a young man in the early part of the 20th century. He wasn’t hunting game. He was in search of lumberjack songs.

Franz Rickaby documented the folk songs, the song-makers and singers in a 1926 book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy.

Stateside's Lester Graham spoke with Gretchen Dykstra, the granddaughter of Franz Rickaby. She and folklorist James P. Leary teamed up for a  follow-up book, reintroducing the songs and story of Franz Rickaby’s travels through the lumberjack camps up the upper Midwest. That book is Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era.

Some of these songs talk about tragedy and death, drinking and women. 

“The loss of girlfriends, the death of comrades, to say nothing of the difficult life that they led in a dark and cold forest of winter,” Dykstra says.

Two of the songs you can hear in the interview come from Brian Miller Minnesota Lumberjack Songs, and are based in part on the version collected by Franz Rickaby.

The song "Save Your Money When You’re Young" is originally from Arthur Millow, who was working in the Michigan woods around 1894. It's a little advice from a narrator who apparently had learned some hard lessons. 

The other comes from Michael C. Dean, who was working in the woods near Manistee.  It’s called “The Persian’s Crew,” about a schooner that sank around 1868 near Presque Isle.

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