Digital Tradition Mirror

The Handcart Song

[GIF Score]

(This score available as ABC, SongWright, PostScript, PNG, or PMW, or a MIDI file)
Pennywhistle notation and Dulcimer tab for this song is also available

The Handcart Song

Ye Saints who dwell on Europe's shore,
Prepare yourselves for many more
To leave behind your native lands
For sure God's judgements are at hand.
For you must cross the raging main
before the promised land you gain,
then with the faithful make a start
to cross the plains with your handcart.

cho: For some must push and some must pull,
     As we go marching up the hill.
     For merrily on our way we go,
     Until we reach the valley-O

The land that boasts of so much light
We know they're all as dark as night
Where poor men toil and want for bread
and rich men's dogs are better fed.
The land that boasts of liberty
You ne'er again would wish to see
When you from England make a start
To cross the plains in your handcart.

But some will say it is too bad,
the saints upon the foot to pad,
And more than that, to pull a load,
As they go marching o'er the road.
But then we say it is the plan,
To gather up the best of men,
And women too, for none but they
Will ever travel in this way.

As o'er the road the carts were pulled,
'Twould very much surprise the world
To see the old and feeble dame
Thus lend a hand to pull the same
And maidens fair will dance and sing,
Young men more happy than a king,
And children too will laugh and play,
Their strength increasing day by day.

And long before the valley's gained,
We will be met upon the plains
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.
And then with music and with song
How cheerfully we'll march along
And thank the day we made a start
To cross the plains with our handcart.

When you get there among the rest,
Obedient be and you'll be blessed,
and in God's chambers be shut in
While judgements cleanse the earth from sin.
For we do know it will be so;
God's servant spoke it long ago.
We say it is high time to start
To cross the plains with our handcart.

note: The tune is set to a Scottish dance tune called the Cumberland Reel.
A colleague of mine who teaches Scottish Country Dance (to one of my
daughters) supplied the name of the tune when I heard it at the class.
I found the music on the Ceolas web site. Note that only the first part
of the tune was used for the song. Each verse repeats the melody twice
and the chorus repeats it once more.
     There were ten handcart companies in all, from 1856 to 1860.
Although food was always in short supply, eight of these companies came
through with no more loss of life than a comparable wagon company would,
and less in some instances. They were also said to be as fast or faster
than any other means of crossing the plains - apparently humans can pull
handcarts faster than oxen can pull wagons. The other two handcart
companies, called the Martin and Willy after their captains, left late
(August/September) from Iowa, and were caught in early winter storms
in Wyoming, suffering much loss of life and being rescued heroically
era as far as immigration to Utah goes.
     In 1997 a 150 year anniversary reenactment of the pioneer journey
was staged, where a company of wagons and a company of handcarts followed
the route as closely as possible from Florence (Winter Quarters), Nebraska
to Salt Lake City, Utah. They left in April and arrived in SLC July 22nd.
People could come and go as they pleased, but many made the whole trip.
Those who desired were allowed to march in the Pioneer Day parade on July
24th. I was at the parade with my family, and believe me, to see those folks
coming up the street (they were last in the parade), both wagons and
handcarts, was really something. We gave them a standing ovation which
probably lasted 20 minutes or more as they passed. JW
     There's a modern version of which I can only remember the first
 verse (there might not be any more):

When pioneers went to the west,
with courage strong they faced the test
They pushed their handcarts all day long
And as they pushed they sang this song:


Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!

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