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State of Arkansas

This song is by Lee Hays and appears on the split album The Soil and the Sea (1964) by various artists and on the compilation American Roots: A History of American Folk Music (1999).

Version One

My name is Charlie Brennan, from Charlestown I come
I've traveled this wide world over, some ups and downs I've had
I've traveled this wide world over, some ups and downs I saw
But I never knew what mis'ry was till I hit old Arkansas
I landed in St. Louis with ten dollars and no more
I read the daily papers till both my eyes were sore
I read them evening papers, until at last I saw
Ten thousand men were wanted in the State of Arkansas

I wiped my eyes with great surprise when I read this happy news
And straight off I went to see the agent, Billy Hughes
He said "Pitch me five dollars, and a ticket you shall draw
To ride upon the railroad to the State of Arkansas"

I started off next morning at a quarter after five
I started from St. Louis, half dead and half alive
I bought me a quart of whiskey, my misery to thaw
And I got drunk as a boiled owl when I left for Arkansas

'Twas in the year of '82 in the merry month of June
I landed in Ft. Smith on a sultry afternoon
The air so hot and dusty, my breath I could not draw
But I got off to see what was in the state of Arkansas

I dodged behind the depot, to duck the oven wind
There I met a walking skeleton, his name was James T. Glynn
His hair hung down in rat-tails o'er his long and lantern jaw
Invited me to his hotel, "the best in Arkansas"

I followed my conductor into his dwelling place
There mis'ry and starvation could be seen in ev'ry face
His bread it was corn dodger, his meat I could not chaw
But he charged me a half a dollar in the State of Arkansas

I started off next morning, in a hard and driving rain
He says to me, "If you will work, I have some land to drain
I'll pay you fifty cents a day, your board and wash and all
You'll find yourself a different man when you leave old Arkansas"

He fed me on corn dodgers, as hard as any rock
Till my teeth began to loosen and my knees began to knock
I grew so thin on sassafras tea, I could hide behind a straw
And, indeed I was a different man when I left old Arkansas

So farewell to swamp-angels, to canebrakes and fever chills
Farewell to sage and sassafras and corn-dodger pills
If I ever see this land again, I'll give to you my paw
But it'll be through a telescope, from Hell to Arkansas

Version Two

My name is Charlie Brennan, from Charlestown I come
I've traveled this wide world over, and many a race I've run
I've traveled this wide world over, and some ups and downs I saw
But I never knew what mis'ry was till I came to Arkansas
I dodged behind the depot, to duck that blizzard wind
Met a walking skeleton whose name was Thomas Quinn
His hair hung down in rat-tails on his long and lantern jaw
He invited me to his hotel, the best in Arkansas

I followed my conductor to his respected place
Where pity and starvation was seen in every face
His bread it was corn dodger, his meat I could not chaw
But he charged me half a dollar in the state of Arkansas

But I didn't like the work, nor the food, nor the swamp-angel
Nor his wife, nor none of his children. So I went up to him and I told him
"Mister, I'm quittin' this job. I want to be paid off"
He says to me, "All right, son." And he handed me a mink skin
He says, 'That's what we use for currency down here in Arkansas'
So I took it into a saloon to see if I could get a pint of whisky
Put my mink skin on the bar, and be durned if the bartender didn't slip me that pint
Then he picked up my mink skin, blowed the hair back on it
And handed me three 'possum hides and fourteen rabbit skins for change...

I started back in Texas a quarter after five
Nothing was left but skin and bones, half dead and half alive
I got me a bottle of whiskey, my misery for to thaw
Got drunk as old Abraham Linkern when I left old Arkansas

Farewell, farewell, Thomas Quinn, and likewise his darling wife
I know she never will forget me in the last days of her life
She put her little hand in mine and tried to bite my jaw
And said, "Mr. Brennan, remember me when you leave old Arkansas"

Farewell, farewell, swamp-angels, to canebrakes and to chills
Fare thee well to sage and sassafras tea and corn-dodger pills
If I ever see that land again, I'll give to you my paw
It will be through a telescope from here to Arkansas

O now I am a railroad man at a dollar and a half a day
An' there I 'low to work, boys, till I can get away
Then I'll go to the Cherokee mountains and marry me a squaw
Farewell to hog and hominy in the state of Arkansas

Credits

versions:

version one as per linked spotify

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