Notes on the Source and Origins of Missouri Fiddle Tunes

Notes on the Source and Origin of Fiddle Tunes

Below is an unorganized conglomeration of notes, anecdotes and hear-say concerning the origin of various Missouri and American fiddle tunes.

As every schoolboy knows, there are at least two tunes that get called “Bummer’s Reel”. One of them is the lovely tune played by Elmer Barton on L-62. The other is the old Pennsylvania Fiddler’s National Anthem, which was printed in 1,000 Fiddle Tunes under the name of “Levantine’s Barrel”. This latter tune was printed as Bummer’s Reel by S.S.Stewart in a banjo/piano arrangement, in 1884. It may be easier to go to and navigate through American Memory and music collections and search in the collection of sheet music from 1870 to 1885, under Bummer’s Reel.  Fiddle-L post by Joel Shimberg (24 Feb 2001).

        Paul Gifford wrote: >William McNally (1870-1954), a well-known dulcimer player from Glasgow, claimed to have
popularized that tune (and also “Skye Boat Song”). He entertained for many years on on excursion boats out of Oban in the Hebrides, and recorded “Road to the Isles” on Regal-Zonophone about 1932. His claim would at least indicate that the tune wouldn’t date from much before 1890 at the earliest.  Fiddle-L post by Paul Gifford (22 Feb 2001)

This would be Louis [or Lewis] Ostinelli, a hotshot Italian, and Italian-trained violinist who was big news in art music in Boston in the early 19th century, having arrived in town in 1818.  Not a friend of fiddling, as seen by this passage in Michael Broyles’ book, “Music of the Highest Class: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum Boston”:  “He was keenly aware of the reputation the violin had as a vernacular instrument in new England.  According to several anecdotes, he was furious when his violin
was referred to as a fiddle or when he was requested to play dance music. Once when asked by a lady if he was to play for a dance following a concert, he deliberately cut his violin strings and said ‘Veree story, veree story, madam, you see I can no play.'”

He was very much a part of the movement to “elevate” music in America at this time.  One of the bad guys in American music history, or good guys, depending on your perspective.  I’ve always wondered about his associations with a couple of tunes in Ryan’s/1000FT.  “Ostinelli’s Reel” and “Souvenir de Venice Hornpipe” are among the most technically-challenging tunes in the book.  I’ve always sort of assumed that if he did, indeed, compose them, that he did so as an in-your-face gesture to Yankee dance fiddlers: “Here, Rube, play these suckers!”

The above was originally from Paul F. Wells, Director of the Center for Popular Music/Middle Tennessee State University, writing in 1998.  Fiddle-L post (Feb 2001).

Salamanca was the name of a racehorse famous in the 19th century.

Alan Smitley wrote:

>Following is a list of names to whom various tunes in Cole’s 1000 Fiddle
>Tunes are attributed:
>Backus, Zeke            Garfield                Nagle, R.
>Braham, J.              Gilmore, P. S.          Nagle, R. B.
>Brown, J. A.            Gow, Niel               Ostenelli, L.
>Buckley, J. Red         Gunn, A.                Oswald, J.
>Buckley, James          Hall                    Parnell
>Carleton, Harry         Hand, J.                Pushee, A.
>Carey, H.               Hand, Jas.              Regan, Conn.
>Christie, E.            Hayes                   Sampson, N.
>Christie, Edwin         Higgins, Conn.          Snow
>Colbath, King           J. H.                   Sullivan, J.
>Densmore, O.            J. L.                   Titus, Clem
>Densmore, T.            Knowlton, C.            Tracy, G. L.
>Dietrich, B. F.         Knowlton, C. W.         Tyson, R.
>Doyle, Tom              Livingston, Frank       Whiddon, W. H
>Emmett, Dan             Morrison, F. A.         Williams, W. F.
>Fox, Eddie              Myers, Dick

For Dan Emmett, see Sacks, _Way Up North in Dixie_, along with the literature on blackface minstrelsy.  Several of the other names will show up in these sources, as well…

I believe that Paul Wells (and probably several other people) have done some research on several of these individuals, so I hope that others will respond.  Here are some data from my files:

The Densmores were probably O. Densmore from Chelsea, VT, who led a dance band in the 1840s and 1850s, and/or a relative of C. Densmore, Claremont, NH, a musician/band leader from the same era.  Though I have no record of a T. Densmore per se, the ‘Messrs. Densmore’ from Chelsea (along with a Densmore [probably C.] from Claremont), joined more than two dozen musicians who played at a Musicians’ Annual Ball in Lebanon, NH in 1847. O. Densmore was (at least) once listed as playing the ‘clarionet’ (clarinet).

PS Gilmore was an Irish musician/bandleader who left service in the British Army in Canada and headed south to Salem and later, Boston, MA in the mid-19th century.  At least one biography of him is available, as well as chapters in books on brass band or American music history.  He promoted/directed the ‘National Peace Jubilee’ and ‘World PJ’ in Boston in
1869 and 1872?, which were massive concert series with thousands of performers, in a specially-built ‘Colliseum’.  He is said to have ‘competed’ with keyed-bugle player Edward (Ned) Kendall (Kendall’s Hornpipe…) in a head-to-head test of the newer cornet.  Kendall supposedly wowed the audience with Money Musk (a technical tour de force if played in the standard key of A), while Gilmore’s cornet proved even more versatile…but I have not been able to find primary source
documentation of this epic encounter.

Hall was probably either David (DC) or Rhodolphus Hall, brothers from Lyme, NH, both of whom had wide-ranging careers which included stints in Boston (also Lowell, MA, New Haven, CT, and Saratoga Springs, NY) as well as
considerable touring activity, such as a trip to California in the gold rush days.  While they probably both fiddled, they were best known on cornet and/or clarionet.

A. Pushee (Abram, often misspelled as Abraham) was a fiddler, band leader and dancing master who lived most of his life in Lebanon, NH.  He was born in Fitzwilliam, NH in 1791, and died in 1868.  He taught fiddle (and dancing) to several generations of aspirants, and was probably the best-known dance musician in central Vermont and New Hampshire during his performing lifetime.  For many years, he organized Musicians’ Annual Balls (mentioned above) which brought together dance bands/musicians from NH, VT and MA.  Several years ago, I made contact by mail with a music collector
who had acquired his manuscript part books from a band he led in Lowell, MA in 1849.  I was able to obtain a photocopy of the 1st violin parts, but sadly, I’ve lost contact with the collector and have not even seen the other part books.  Two death notice/obit items follow: 03.21.68 “From the Free Press of March 21, 1868.)  ‘We regret to learn just
before going to press of the death of Mr. Abraham [sic] Pushee, of this town, a veteran musician widely known in this state and Vermont, and esteemed by all who knew him.'” 03.28.68 “(From the Free Press of March 28, 1869. [sic]) In recording the decease of this well known citizen, it becomes a labor of love, to express in some special manner the tribute of respect and esteem, that so worthily belongs to his memory.  Distinguished in all his intercourse with mankind,
for suavity, affability, and kindness, and coming with these elements of character of [sic] high moral purity, and a spirit of unaffected humanity he could not fail to compel the respect, and win the affection, not only of the wide community at home, but also of a large circle of friends, abroad. Genial and graceful in his nature, and his outward accomplishments were of a character well suited to serve and enliven, in the satisfying of those social wants which require a suitable degree of festivity and amusement. He excelled as a musician, few being his superiors, or more popularly known.  In connection with his art, he always exerted the refining and restraining influence, which purity of principle and sense of propriety can
never forget.  It was not in his nature of practice to tolerate anything morally discordent or unseemly.'” [from notes on Abraham [sic] Pushee by Robert Leavitt, Lebanon Historical Society, Inc.] A more personal account of Pushee describes him as rather loud-mouthed and an atheist, at least in private! (I have extensive files on Pushee, and some of the musicians who worked with him…) I have less confidence that the following are the composers listed in Ryan’s, though they might be:

A Mr. Morrison from Wells River, VT is listed at the MABall of 1849. Higgins, Lyon & Hall’s Band, Boston (DC and/or Rhodolphus Hall, again, but no first name for this Higgins), played at a ‘Grand Annual Ball, Complimentary to Mr. Pushee,’ in Lebanon, NH in 1854. There was a Lewis Higgins active as a musician and bandleader in the
Brattleboro, VT area around 1850, but it’s unlikely that he ever lived in Connecticut.

I don’t have a copy of Ryan’s/Cole’s handy,  but I seem to remember that there is a tune connected with Hough (Hough’s Favorite, or Hough’s Hornpipe, or something like that?) which may have been Albyron E. (AE) Hough, who played in Pushee’s band in Lebanon in its later years, and more or less took it over after Pushee’s death.  I believe that Hough fiddled, but was known as a cornetist, (and he also tuned pianos…).

Michael McKernan  MA
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Fiddle-L Post (20 Feb 2001)

on 2/20/01 4:58 AM, John Harfordd at wrote: > We’ve been trying to find out anything about Zeke Backus for years and > everything seems to be a dead end except the possibility than he might be a > pen name for Dan Emmett…but even that has no basis in anything.   John > Hartford

I was once looking at website at either the Library of Congress or at Duke and came across a poster (IIRC) listing Zeke Backus as a minstrel performer. I just did a look at the Duke website and found a couple of music publications by Backus.  It appears he was a San Francisco minstrel performer, at least for a while.

— Bob Borcherding
Fiddle-L Post (20 FEB 2001)

Buena Vista was the name-site of a battle in the (glorious) Mexican War of 1848. (It was also the first name of a fine Beech Mt., NC, singer, Buena Vista Hicks [pronounced approximately ‘byoonie’].) If my memory serves, Salamanca is a municipality in Spain, and is or was the site of a seminary that was attended by many Irishmen studying for the priesthood. (Something in the back of my head is telling me that this idea of mine was once subjected to correction [unsuccessfully], so don’t take
this as gospel, althouguh it is a place name in Spain.) Joel Shimberg (Fiddle-L Post 20 Feb 2001)

> Re: Haning’ Farewell
> It is from “The Fiddle Book” by Marion Thede, and is attributed > to J.S. Price. According to the notes, he learned it from John > Crooks from west Texas some sixty-five years earlier, which > I guess would be around the turn of the century.
> On Sunday, February 18, 2001 8:53 AM, Allen Feldman > [SMTP:afeldman@MINDSPRING.COM] wrote: >> Does anybody have information on the origins of this tune.  Fiddle-L Post 19 Feb 2001.

I would like to know more about these folks too.  I remember encountering some of the names as being connected with
the minstrel era, particularly Dan Emmett and Edwin Christie (Christie’s Minstrels).  I think Zeke Backus was also of that
age, but I am not sure.  The section with all the 2/4 jigs is definitely minstrel stuff.

I played a fair number of these tunes with Bill Northcutt of Houston, Texas a long, long time ago.  One of his favorites
was the American Rifle Team Hornpipe, which he said was written in celebration of some sort of world championship
that the US team won during the latter half of the 1800’s. Whatever, these are some great tunes (and great titles).
Someone out there, please tell us more about them.   Ed (Fiddle-L Post 19 Feb 2001)