Friday, April 26, 2013

Early Sources & Versions Of The Song "Turkey In The Straw"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series on the song "Old Zip Coon" and the song "Turkey In The Straw". Both of these songs use the same tune.

This post provides information about early sources of the song "Turkey In The Straw". This post also include lyrics & videos of versions of the song "Turkey In The Straw".

Click for Part I of this post.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Turkey In The Straw" is a very well known American fiddle tune (instrumental). "Turkey In The Straw" used to be a dance song for people of all ages. However, it now is mostly considered to be a children's song.

"Turkey In The Straw"'s lyrics can be rightly considered to be "nonsense" verses. While the tune for "Turkey In The Straw" is the same as that used by a song which originally had racist lyrics, it appears that the early & the later lyrics for "Turkey
In The Straw" weren't and aren't racist.

Like other songs of that era, it's difficult to determine how much of the early versions of "Turkey In The Straw" originated with African Americans or with White Americans. However, it's clear from documentation that early versions of "Turkey In The Straw" contain floating verses that are found in a number of songs that were sung by (Southern) Black Americans.

Here's a lengthy quote about "Turkey In The Straw" from
"Turkey In the Straw was one of the earliest American minstrel songs. It was a fiddle tune named Natchez Under the Hill befoe [sic] it was published with words in 1834 as Old Zip Coon. It was very popular during Andrew Jackson's presidency.

The first verse of Old Zip Coon is:
There once was a man with a double chin
Who performed with skill on the violin,
And he played in time and he played in tune,
But he wouldn't play anything but Old Zip Coon.

According to Linscott, the tune is derived from the ballad My Grandmother Lived on Yonder Little Green which in turn derived from the Irish ballad The Old Rose Tree


As I was a-gwine down the road,
With a tired team and a heavy load,
I crack'd my whip and the leader sprung,
I says day-day to the wagon tongue.
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw
And twist 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.

[The words in italics are henceforth given "Chorus"]

Went out to milk, and I didn't know how,
I milked the goat instead of the cow.
A monkey sittin' on a pile of straw,
A-winkin' at his mother-in-law.


Met Mr. Catfish comin' down stream.
Says Mr. Catfish, "What does you mean?"
Caught Mr. Catfish by the snout,
And turned Mr. Catfish wrong side out.


Came to a river and I couldn't get across,
Paid five dollars for a blind old hoss;
Wouldn't go ahead, nor he wouldn't stand still,
So he went up and down like an old saw mill.


As I came down the new cut road,
Met Mr. Bullfrog, met Miss Toad
And every time Miss Toad would sing,
Old Bullfrog cut a pigeon wing.


Oh I jumped in the seat and I gave a little yell
The horses ran away, broke the wagon all to hell
Sugar in the gourd and honey in the horn

Click for song examples from Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise [henceforth referred to as "Talley: Negro Folk Rhymes"] that refer to going down a new cut road, "went to a river" etc, "milking a goat instead of a cow" etc, and dancing the pigeon wing.

"Turkey in the Straw/Old Zip Coon/Natchez Under the Hill/Old Bog Hole

Bluegrass and old-time song and breakdown. Very widely known

ARTIST: by either? George Washington Dixon, George Nichols, or Bob Farrell- Old Zip Coon (1834) CATEGORY: Fiddle and Instrumental Tunes
DATE: 1834 (Five publications) as “Old Zip Coon;” Fuld reports the title "Turkey in de Straw" appeared in 1861; Earliest recording c. 1901 Silas Leachman;
RECORDING INFO “Old Zip Coon”: Arkansas Charlie [pseud. for Charlie Craver], "Old Zip Coon (Vocalion 5384, c. 1930); Hindermyer & Tuckerman [Goldy & Dusty], "Zip Coon" (Edison 51830, 1926)...
SOURCES “Turkey in the Straw”: Ceolas; Digital Tradition; Folk Index; Traditional Ballad Index; Randolph 274, "Turkey in the Straw" (2 texts plus a fragment, 1 tune); Randolph/Cohen, pp. 234-237, "Turkey in the Straw" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 274A); BrownIII 94, "Turkey in the Straw" (1 fragment); also 511, "The Preacher Song" (1 text, a complex mix of verses from "Turkey in the Stray" and "Some Folks Say that a Preacher Won't Steal" with the "Uncle Eph" chorus)"...
My focus is on the songs "Some Folks Say that a Preacher Won't Steal" with the "Uncle Eph [Got A Coon & Gone].

Click for information about & some lyrics of the song "Some Folks Say that a Preacher Won't Steal". Warning: What is now known as the n word is fully spelled out on that page.

A version of that song is also found in "Talley: Negro Folk Rhymes" under the name "They Steal Gossip". There’s an ongoing debate as to whether the word “preacher” was a substitution for the "n word" or vice versa.

Click for information about "Uncle Eph Got A Coon And Gone". That link is just one of the comments on that discussion thread about that song. Warning: What is now known as the n word is fully spelled out in that discussion thread.

The word "coon" in this song rerfers to "racoon". That said, it should be remembered that "coon" also was a 19th century referent for Black people that was used by some Black Americans & some White Americans, particularly in the South.

A YouTube video of "Uncle Eph Got A Coon And Gone" can be found at

Floating verses found in "Uncle Eph Got A Coon" are also found in "Old Dan Tucker", "Possum Up A Gum Stump", "Liza Jane", "Shake Them 'Simmons" and a parody of Golden Slippers also have contributed. [from cited Mudcat link posted by Q, 2003]

Example #1: Merry Singers-Turkey In The Straw

KiddieRecordKrazy, Uploaded on Mar 26, 2010

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
Merry Records

Example #2: The Skillet Lickers-Turkey In The Straw

BBYMRLCCOTN, Uploaded on Feb 3, 2010

The Skillet Lickers-Turkey In The Straw

Example #3: turkey in the straw (first version 1942)

bloodboiler666, Uploaded on Oct 26, 2007

old time folk music
Note: This actually isn't the first version of "Turkey In The Straw".

Read information about this song that is presented above.

Thanks to those whose comments & transcriptions I quoted. Thanks also to the publishers of this sound file & videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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