With your kind attention a song I will trill,
All ye who must toil with the pick and the drill,
And sweat for your bread in that hole at Oak Hill,
That goes down, down, down.

“When I was a boy,” said my daddy to me,
“Stay out of Oak Hill, take my warnin’,” said he,
“Or with dust you’ll be choked and a pauper you’ll be,
Broken down, down, down.”

But I went to Oak Hill and I asked for a job,
A mule for to drive or a gangway to rob;
The boss said, “Come out, Bill, and follow the mob
That goes down, down, down.”

The lampman he squints through the windie at me,
“What’s your name? What’s your age?  What’s your number?” says he
“Bill Keating; I’m thirty; my check’s twenty-three;
Mark that down, down, down.”

I asked them what tools would I need in the place.
“Very few,” said the boss with a grin on his face;
“One number six shovel and damn little space
While you’re down, down, down.”

With a note from the boss to the shaft I made haste,
Saluted the topman, in line took my place;
Sayin’, “Gimme a cage, for I’ve no time to waste,
Let me down, down, down.”

“All aboard for the bottom!” the topman did yell;
We stepped on the cage, and he gave her the bell.
Then from under our feet like a bat out of hell,
We went down, down, down.

I groped in the gangway; they gave me a scoop.
The “out” was just fired, muck was heaped to the roof.
I stooped and I scooped till my back looped the loop,
Stoopin’ down, down, down.

You could look at the rib or the face or the top,
Ne’er a sign of a laggin’ or slab or of prop;
Someday I expect that old mountain to drop –
And come down, down, down.

Last pay day my buddy he cussed and he swore,
In fact it’s enough to make any man sore,
When your wife drags your wages all out in the store,
While you’re down, down, down.


“A very different breed of singing miner was the lad who dug out the coal beneath the smoke-grimed hills of Pennsylvania. Most of his ballads were grim accounts of fights for unionization, for better wages and shorter hours. His work was hard; his life in the shack towns of the coal companies was even harder. ‘Down, Down, Down’ comes from […] an indestructible, bass-voiced, blue-eyed, dancing fool of a little Irish anthracite coal miner, by the name of William Keating.”

–John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A. (1966, pgs. 216-217)

I’ve traveled all over this country
Prospecting and digging for gold,
I’ve tunneled, hydraulicked and cradled
And I have been frequently sold,

And I have been frequently so-o-old,
And I have been frequently sold,
I’ve tunneled, hydraulicked and cradled,
And I have been frequently sold.*

For each man who got rich by mining,
Perceiving that hundreds grew poor,
I made up my mind to try farming,
The only pursuit that was sure.

So, rolling my grub in my blanket,
I left all my tools on the ground,
I started one morning to shank it
For the country they call Puget Sound.

Arriving flat broke in midwinter,
I found it enveloped in fog,
And covered all over with timber,
Thick as hair on the back of a dog.

When I looked on the prospects so gloomy,
The tears trickled over my face,
And I thought that my travels had brought me,
To the end of the jumping off place.

I staked me a claim in the forest
And sat myself down to hard toil,
For two years I chopped and I niggered,
But I never got down to the soil.

I tried to get out of the country,
But poverty forced me to stay,
Until I became an old settler,
Then nothing could drive me away.

And now that I’m used to the climate,
I think that if a man ever found
A place to live easy and happy,
That Eden is on Puget Sound.

No longer the slave of ambition,
I laugh at the world and its shams,
As I think of my pleasant condition,
Surrounded by acres of clams,

Surrounded by acres of cla-a-ams,
Surrounded by acres of clams,
As I think of my pleasant condition,
Surrounded by acres of clams.

* The refrains of all subsequent stanzas are similarly formed by repetition of the fourth and third lines.

–John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A. (1966, pgs. 238-239)

“For many of the miners who came to the goldfields with little more than their hopes to sustain them, the search for Eldorado ended in dismal failure. […] Yet, in spite of their disillusionment, prospectors kept following the new strikes across the West: south of Leadville and Cripple Creek, west to the new silver mines in the Southern California desert, east again into Nevada, south to Tombstone, Arizona. They grew stooped and grizzled, and many a man of them died alone in the desert where the coyotes picked their bones. Except for the lucky few, the men who prospered were those who settled down in the Western states and began to make stable communities of the shanty towns the miners had thrown together.

I’ve traveled the mountains all over,
And now to the valleys I’ll go,
And live like a pig in the clover,
In sight of the mountains of snow.

I’ll marry a rich senorita,
And live on a ranch in the west,
Have forty young greasers to greet her,
And fifty if put to the test.

“These were exactly the sentiments of the unknown miner who composed ‘The Old Settlers’ Song,’ the best ballad we know of from the Northwest.”

–John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A. (1966, pgs. 214-216)

I’m old Tom Moore from the bummer’s shore,
In the good old golden days,
They call me a bummer and a gin shot too.
But what cares I for praise?
I wander around from town to town,
Just like a roving sign,
And the people all say, “There goes Tom Moore of the days of forty-nine.”

My comrades, they all loved me well,
A jolly saucy crew,
A few hard cases I will admit,
Though they all were brave and true;
Whatever the pitch they ne’er would flinch,
They never would fret or whine—
Like good old bricks, they stood the kicks
In the days of ’49.

There was old Lame Jess, a hard old cuss,
Who never did repent;
He never was known to miss a drink
Or ever spend a cent;
But old Lame Jess, like the rest,
To death he did resign
And in his bloom went up the flume
In the days of ’49.

There was Poker Bill, one of the boys,
Who was always in for a game,
Whether he lost or whether he won,
To him it was always the same;
He would ante up and draw his cyards
He would go you a hatful blind,
In the game with death Bill lost his breath
In the days of ’49.

There was New York Jake, the butcher’s boy,
He was always getting tight;
And every time that he’d get full
He was spoiling for a fight;
Then Jake rampaged against a knife
In the hands of old Bob Sine;
And over Jake they held a wake
In the days of ’49.

There was Ragshag Bill from Buffalo,
I never will forget,
He would roar all day and roar all night
And I guess he’s roaring yet;
One night he fell in a prospect hole
In a roaring bad design;
And in that hole he roared out his soul
In the days of ’49.

Of all the comrades that I’ve had
There’s none that’s left to boast;
And I’m left alone in my misery
Like some poor wandering ghost;
And as I pass from town to town
They call me the rambling sign—
“There goes Tom Moore, a bummer shore,
Of the days of ‘49 “

In the days of old, in the days of gold,
How ofttimes I repine—
For the days of old when we dug up the gold
In the days of ’49.

–John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A. (1966, pgs. 232-235)

“[The ’49er] songs were as rough and ready as the audience that ate them up and howled for more, and none of them was better liked, or better portrayed the ’49 audience than ‘The Days of ’49.’”

–John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A. (1966, pg. 214)