Cripple Creek Song History

Cripple Creek
By Richard L. Matteson Jr.

If you've ever learned the banjo, chances are you've played Cripple Creek. A meandering or a crooked stream is referred to as a "cripple" creek. The most famous Cripple Creek is a town in Colorado. Gold was discovered there in 1891 and the mining town that sprang up was considered by some to be the source of the song. Folklorist Alan Jabbour, of the Library of Congress found that the oldest Appalachian fiddlers he collected from could recall the first time that they had heard "Cripple Creek," leading Jabbour to speculate that the title might have something to do with the Cripple Creek, Colorado, labor troubles.

I believe that the Cripple Creek location in our bluegrass song is Cripple Creek, Virginia, a small community located in Wythe County at latitude 36.821 and longitude -81.098 with an elevation of 2,188 feet. The Cripple Creek, Virginia area was explored in 1654 and settled in the mid-1700's. A settlement was built at Fort Chiswell (lead was discovered in 1756 by John Chiswell) and farmers moved into the fertile land around the Cripple Creek and New River. In Virginia is was lead and iron ore that was mined, not gold.  In 1887 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad reached the area, a zinc smelter was started and charcoal furnaces to make iron were built up and down Cripple Creek and the New River.

Betty Vornbrock confirms that there is a ‘town’ by the name of Cripple Creek south of Wytheville, in Wythe County adjacent to Grayson County, near Elk Creek and Bull Mountain (both in Grayson). She heard the name came from “hunters were on the trail of a large buck elk who led them over Buck Mountain, then along and across Elk Creek and on up north till they shot him, but only crippled him, at Cripple Creek.

According to Bob Coltman: "My opinion is that the tune probably is earlier than the Cripple Creek gold strike (1891), but that the words, and thus the song title, could have been put to it afterward, say at the turn of the century." ” Mike Yates (2002) confirms that “most Virginia musicians believe that it relates to a location in Wythe County, Virginia.” Glen Lyn, Virginia, fiddler Henry Reed (1884-1968), for example, told Alan Jabbour that he was sixteen years old when he first heard “Cripple Creek.” Jabbour explains that Reed said the man who first played it for him was from Texas and was simply passing through the Tug River region (i.e. Tug Fork of Big Sandy River) of the West Virginia/Kentucky border, where Reed and his brother were employed as young men in the coal country region of southern West Virginia doing blacksmith work (which perhaps does argue for western origins for the tune).

Versions of the bluegrass song began appearing in the early 1900s. The first reference to the tune as "Cripple Creek" is in the Journal of American Folklore, 1915. Two fragments of "Cripple Creek" were collected by E. C. Perrow, and published in JOAFL, 1915, vol. 28,  "Songs and Rhymes of the South," Part VIII, no. 42. No musical score.

42. CRIPPLE CREEK (1) 1909 Versions

A. "(From East Tennessee; mountain whites; from memory; 1909)"

Goin' to Cripple Creek, goin' ter Rome (roam),
Goin' ter Cripple Creek, goin' back home.

See them women layin' in the shade,
Waitin' fer the money them men have made.

Roll my breeches ter my knees
En wade ol' Cripple Creek when I please.

"(1) A well-known mining district in Virginia." (2) Probably Rome, Tennessee; also a Rome in Georgia.

B. "(From South Carolina; country whites, MS. of Mr. Bryan; 1909)"

Goin' to Cripple Creek, going in a run;
Goin' to Cripple Creek to have my fun.

When Cecil Sharp collected folk songs in the Appalachian Mountains in 1917 he found one version of Cripple Creek:

*Gone to Cripple Creek" Sung by Mrs. Wilson Pineville, KY Aug 27, 1917.

Gone to Cripple Creek, gone in a run,
Gone to Cripple Creek to have some fun.

Gone to Cripple Creek, gone in a run,
Gone to Cripple Creek to have some fun.

*Gone is probably a mishearing of- goin'.

Sharp also collected a tune named Cripple Creek that was a different tune and song. It shows that Cripple Creek was a popular location and song in the early 1900s. Certainly the song originated in the 1800s but there is no documented proof. I have an autographed copy of banjo picker Bascom Lamar Lunsford's  1927 book “30 and 1 Folksongs From the Southern Mountains” where he knew of a Cripple Creek within five minutes walking distance of his office in the Flat Iron Building in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Lunsford sang "Cripple Creek" in 1921. His version also appears in The Frank C. Brown Collection of NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE Vol 5, "The Music of the Folk Song," Chapter VIII, "Folk Lyric" Duke University, #299, p212 as well as "Cripple Creek" sung by Mrs. Arthur Moore, Lenoir, Caldwell county in 1922.

Cripple Creek was a frequently recorded by early country musicians in the 1920s and 1930s. The first recording issued was by a black one-man band Sam Jones, as Cripple Creek- Stovepipe No. 1 on August 20, 1924.   The day before that, Fiddlin' Powers of Dungannon, VA recorded it but it was not issued. The song was well-known in the Atlanta area; Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett of the Skillet Lickers also recorded the song in 1924. It was also recorded by Arthur Tanner and Fiddlin' John Carson as "Going Down to Cripple Creek" (OKeh 45214, 1928). Musicians from all over the Appalachian region flocked to the Georgia Fiddlers Convention, held in Atlanta, where the tune was transmitted.

Two early recordings are by Virginians from the Galax area, Stoneman and the Hopkins Brothers (Hill Billies). Cripple Creek isn't that far west from Galax up in Wythe County. According to one source Ernest Stoneman claimed to write the song, but this seems unlikely. Stoneman made a living off his royalties from copyrighting traditional songs.

Many artists, probably to avoid copyright issues, changed the name to a different local creek or river. Land Norris of Georgia recorded it in the mid-20's as "Red Creek." Clark Kessinger and later Milton Brown and his Brownies recorded it as "Goin' Up Brushy Fork." Charlie Poole recorded a great version titled '"Shootin' Creek" on July 23, 1928. There's a Shooting Creek region in Franklin County also in Southwest Virginia. This area was famous as a center for distilling homemade whiskey and it appears that Poole was a frequent visitor. Here's a bit of Poole's version which has the standard chorus:

Shootin' Creek (Charlie Poole)

CHORUS: Going up Shootin' Creek, going in a run,
Going up Shootin' Creek, have a little fun.

VERSE: Ida Red she's a darned old fool,
Tried to put a saddle on a humpbacked mule.
Up the road and across the creek,
Can't get a letter but once a week.

Here's a list of recordings:

RECORDING INFO: Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, "Shootin' Creek" Columbia15286-D, 1928. Charlie Higgins, Wade Ward & Dale Poe, "Cripple Creek" instrumental, LomaxCD1701; American Heritage 515, Mark O'Conmner- "You Be the Judge." Columbia CL 2134l, Flat and Scruggs- "Live at Vanderbilt University." County 703, Vernon Solomon- "Texas Hoedown." Davis Unlimited 33015, Doc Roberts (Ky.) - "Classic Fiddle Tunes." Edison 51789 (78 RPM, 1925), and Victor (78 RPM, 1924) Fiddlin Cowan Powers (b. 1877, S.W. Va.). Folkways FA 2426, Doc Watson (N.C.) - "At Folk City." Gennett 5635B (78 RPM), 1925, Tweedy Brothers (W.Va.). Gennett 6336 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts (Ky.). Heritage XXIV, Tommy Jarrell - "Music of North Carolina" (Brandywine, 1978). Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Cyril Stinnett - "Plain Old Time Fiddling." OKeh 40336 (78 RPM), The Hill Billies (1925). Rounder 0058, Albert Hash, Paul Spencer, Jones Baldwin (Va.) - "Old Originals, Vol. II" (1978). Rounder 1823, Jimmie Strothers - "Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia-String Bands, Songster and Hoedowns." Tradition Records TLP 1007, Hobart Smith- "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" (1956). Voyager 309, Benny and Jerry Thomasson (Texas) - "The Weiser Reunion: a Jam Session" (1993). Marie Rhines- "Tartan and Sagebrush." Addiss and Crofut. 400 Years of Folk Music, Folkways FA 2404, LP (1962), cut#B.02a ; Anderson, Bob; and the Country Ramblers. Indiana Hoedown, Puritan 5003, LP (1973), cut#A.05; Austen, Seth; and Madeline MacNeil. Ye Banks and Braes, Roots and Branches RBR 002, LP (1981), cut#B.03c; Austen, Seth. Appalachian Fiddle Tunes for Finger Style Guitar, Kicking Mule KM 174, LP (1982), cut# 15c; Baker, Etta. Third Annual Farewell Reunion, Rounder 0313, CD (1994), cut#12; Bird, Elmer. Elmer's Greatest Licks, Bird, Cas (1980), cut# 6; Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. Folk Festival of the Smokies. Vol. 1, Traditional FFS-528, LP (197?), cut# 1a; Brower, Cecil; and his Square Dance Fiddlers. America's Favorite Square Dances, Smash MGS 27015, LP (196?), cut#A.03 (Going Up Brushy Fork); Buck Mountain Band. Southern Journey. Vol. 1: Voices from the American South, Rounder 1701, CD (1997), cut#11; Byrd, Robert (Senator). Mountain Fiddler, County 769, LP (1978), cut# 4; Carpenter, Ernie. Elk River Blues, Augusta Heritage AHR 003, LP (1986), cut# 10; Carson, Fiddlin' John. Fiddlin' John Carson. Vol 4, Document DOCD 8017, CD (1997), cut#22 (Going Down to Cripple Creek); Carwile, Daniel & John. Family Old Time Fiddling, Dande SLP 1002, Cas (198?), cut# 4; Cedar Point String Band. Cedar Point String Band, Roane, Cas (1993), cut# 14; Cheatwood, Billy. 5-String Banjo Greats, Liberty LST 7357, LP (196?), cut# 2; Cheatwood, Billy. Anthology of the Banjo, Tradition TR 2077, LP (196?), cut# 10; Clemmens, Ginni. Sing a Rainbow and Other Children Songs, Folkways FC 7637, LP (1967), cut#A.04c; Cline, Curly Ray. Curly Ray Cline and His Lonesome Pine Fiddle, Melody MLP-17, LP (1970?), cut#A.04; Cooney, Michael. Still Cooney After All These Years, Front Hall FRH 016, LP (1979), cut#B.04; Country Gentlemen. Yesterday and Today. Vol 2, Rebel SLP-1527, LP (1973), cut#A.05; Ensemble. Shivaree!, Esoteric ES-538, LP (1955), cut# 1; Feldmann, Peter. How to Play Clawhammer Banjo, Sonyatone STI-104, LP (1975), cut# 2; Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys. Foggy Mountain Banjo, Columbia LE 10043, LP (196?), cut# 6; Hicks, Buna. Traditional Music of Beech Mountain, NC, Vol II, Folk Legacy FSA-023, LP (1965), cut# 9 ; Hinkle, Hubert. Rackensack. Volume 1, Driftwood LP 278, LP (1972), cut#B.07; Holcomb, Roscoe. Mountain Music of Kentucky, Smithsonian/Folkways SF 40077, CD (1996), cut#1.13; Holt, David. Reel and Rock, Flying Fish FF 372, LP (1985), cut#B.03b; Homer and the Barnstormers. Blue Grass Banjos - Flaming Banjos, Alshire 2-120-1/2, LP (197?), cut#1B.02 (Goin' Up Cripple Creek); Jarrell, Tommy. More Clawhammer Banjo, County 717, LP (1969), cut# 8; Jarrell, Tommy. Music of North Carolina, Heritage (Galax) 024 (XXIV), LP (1979), cut#A.05; Jenkins, Oren. American Banjo, Folkways FA 2314, LP (1966), cut# 7; Kessinger Brothers. Kessinger Brothers, County 536, LP (1974), cut# 12 (Going Up Brushy Fork); Kottke, Leo. Mudlark, Capitol ST-682, LP (197?), cut# 1; Luxon, Benjamin; and Bill Crofut. Simple Gifts. British and American Folk Songs, Stolat SZM 0124, LP (1981), cut#B.04b; Mainer's Mountaineers (J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers). J. E. Mainer & the Mountaineers. Vol 20. 20 Old-Time Favorites, Rural Rhythm RC-250, Cas (1988), cut#A.10; March, Bob. Chicago Mob Scene. A Folk Song Jam Session, Riverside RLP 12-641, LP (196?), cut# 13a; McCoy, Paul (B.). Allegheny Trails, Jewel LPS 504, LP (1975), cut#B.05; Miles, Paul, Vernon and Wade (Miles Brothers). Folk Music in America, Vol. 3, Dance Music, Breakdowns & Waltzes, Library of Congress LBC-03, LP (1976), cut#B.05b; Mountain Ramblers. Mountain Ramblers, County 720, LP (1969), cut# 1; Parmley, Don; and Billy Strange. Don Parmley and Billy Strange, GNP Crescendo GNP-98, LP (196?), cut# 10; Poole, Charlie; and the North Carolina Ramblers. Old Time Songs, County 505, LP (196?), cut# 3 (Shooting Creek); Reno, Don; Bill Harrell and the Tenn. Cutups. Rivers and Roads, King Bluegrass KB-528, LP (197?), cut# 10; Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Down Home, Roan Mountain, CD (2000/1983), cut#25; Roberts, Fiddlin' Doc. Classic Fiddle Tunes, Davis Unlimited DU 33015, LP (197?), cut# 13; Robins, Butch. Fifth Child, Rounder 0130, LP (1980), cut# 8; Roylance, Dave. National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest & Folk Music Festival. 1965, Century, LP (1966), cut# 24a; Sainte-Marie, Buffy. Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Vanguard VSD 3/4, LP (197?), cut# 18 ; Schilling, Jean. Old Traditions, Traditional JS-5117, LP (196?), cut#B.03; Seeger, Mike. Anthology of the Banjo, Tradition TR 2077, LP (196?), cut# 6 (Going Down There); Seeger, Mike. Feuding Banjos, Olympic 7105, LP (197?), cut#A.03; Seeger, Pete. How to Play the Five String Banjo, Folkways FTS 38303, LP (1974), cut# 4; Seeger, Pete. We Shall Overcome, Columbia C2K 45312, CD (1989), cut#1.02a; Shannon, Bookmiller. Music of the Ozarks, National Geographic Soc. 0703, LP (1972), cut# 15; Shannon, Bookmiller. Southern Journey. Vol. 7: Ozark Frontier, Rounder 1707, CD (1997), cut# 8 (Down in Arkansas Among the Sticks); Simmons Family. Wandering Through the Rackensack, Dancing Doll, LP (198?), cut#A.04; Smith, Hobart. Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, Tradition TR 1007, LP (196?), cut# 1; Smith, Peggy Donaldson. Shady Grove, Shady Grove PDS 11-30-78, LP (1978), cut#B.05; Smoke, Herbert. Anglo-American Shanties, Lyric Songs, Dance Tunes & Spirituals, Library of Congress AAFS L 2, LP (195?), cut# 19; Solomon, Vernon. Texas Hoedown, County 703, LP (1965), cut# 6; Stanley Brothers. Stanley Brothers on the Air, Wango 115, LP (1976), cut#A.01; Stanley Brothers. Stanley Brothers on the Air, Wango 115, LP (1976), cut#B.05b; Stinnett, Cyril. Salty River Reel, MSOTFA 104, Cas (1992), cut# 19; Stinnett, Cyril. Plain Old Time Fiddling, Stinnett SLP 1013, LP (197?), cut#A.05; Stringbean (David Ackerman). Stringbean and His Banjo. A Salute to Uncle Dave Macon, Starday SLP 215, LP (196?), cut# 11; Sweeney, Ed. American Sampler, North Star NS0033, Cas (1991), cut# 10a; Tarriers. Tarriers at the "Bitter End", Decca DL 4342, LP (196?), cut#B.03b (Eric's Banjo); Thomasson, Benny & Jerry. Weiser Reunion, Voyager VRCS 309, Cas (1993), cut# 1; Upper Hamilton Gravediggers. Undertaking Bluegrass, Concord HRL-1657, LP (1964), cut# 1; Ward, Wade. Traditional Music From Grayson and Carroll Counties, Folkways FS 3811, LP (1962), cut# 21; Watson, Doc. Folk Box, Elektra EKL-9001, LP (1964), cut# 49; Watson, Doc. Traditional Music at Newport, 1964, Part 1, Vanguard VSD 79182, LP (1965), cut# 21; Watson, Doc; and David Holt. Young Fogies, Heritage (Galax) 056, LP (198?), cut# 18 (Raincrow Bill); Wood, Charlie. Appalachia, The Old Traditions, Home Made Music LP-001, LP (1982), cut# 13a;

OTHER NAMES: "Going Up/Down Cripple Creek," "Going Up/Down Shootin' Creek;" "Going Up/Down Brushy Fork," “Shootin' Creek;” “Buck Creek Girls (Gals).”

RELATED TO: Ida Red; Greasy String; Liza Jane (tune); If Hattie Wants to Lu, Let Her Lu Like a Man; Seven and A Half; Coming Thru the Rye (tune); Valley Forge; Half Past Four;

SOURCES: Lomax-FSNA 118, "Cripple Creek; J.S. Price (Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, and Claude Keenan, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma) [Thede]; Benny Thomasson (Texas) [Phillips/1989]; Clark Kessinger & Benny Thomasson [Phillips/1994]. In the Mid-west it was recorded from Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940's by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph for the Library of Congress; Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; pg. 79. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; pg. 94. Phillips (Fiddlecase Tunebook), 1989; pg. 14. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994; pg. 61 (two versions). Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; pg. 109-110; Traditional Music in America, Folklore Associates, Bk (1940/1965), p 94b; Blevins, Frank. Devil's Box, Devil's Box DB, Ser (196?), 32/2, p18a; Hash, Albert. Old Originals, Vol. 2, Rounder 0058, LP (1978), cut# 24 ; Hellman, Neal. Life Is Like a Mountain Dulcimer, TRO, sof (1974), p41; Bell, David. Learning the Fiddler's Ways, Penn State, Sof (1980), p 57; Keenan, Claude. Fiddle Book, Oak, Bk (1967), p110; MacNeil, Madeline. Dulcimer Player News, Dulcimer Player News DPN, Ser (1973-), 6/3, p20; Maloy, Frank. Devil's Box, Devil's Box DB, Ser (196?), 22/3, p52; Price, J. S.. Fiddle Book, Oak, Bk (1967), p109; Seeger, Pete. How to Play the Five String Banjo, Seeger, sof (1962), p30. Kuntz, Fiddler's Companion,

Here are the lyrics my group play:

 CRIPPLE CREEK (Bluegrass Messengers)

Verse: I gotta gal and she loves me,
She's as sweet as she can be,
She's got eyes of baby blue,
Make's my gun shoot straight and true.

Chorus: Goin’ up Cripple Creek, goin’ in a whirl,
Goin’ up Cripple Creek, to see my girl.  
Goin' up Cripple Creek goin' in a run
Goin' up Cripple Creek to have some fun.

Verse: My gal lives at the head of the creek,
I go up to see her ‘bout twice a week.
She’s got kisses sweet as any wine,
wraps herself ‘round me like a sweet pertater vine.

Repeat Chorus:

Verse: Cripple Creek's wide and Cripple Creek's deep,
I'll wade old Cripple Creek before I sleep
Roll my britches to my knees
I'll wade old Cripple Creek when I please.

Repeat Chorus:


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