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“The Campbells are Coming”

Then he took his fiddle out of its box. He played for a long time in the twilight, while Laura and Mary sat close to him and Ma rocked Carrie nearby… — On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 26, “Grasshopper Eggs”

The Campbells Are Coming is a traditional Scottish tune (or jig). The song title in Gaelic is “Baile Inveraora,” meaning In the Town of Inverary; the family home of Campbell Clan is Inverary castle in Argyle, Scotland.

The Robert Burns lyrics below (from 1790) begin with part of a song about Clan Campbell joining the Jacobite rebels in 1715, then Burns alludes to Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisioned at Lochleven Castle in 1667. She was freed by a Campbell, “Great Argyll.” Historical documents record that “The Campbells Are Coming” was played by pipers of Argyll’s Highlanders in 1716. The first printed version of “The Campbells Are Coming” appeared in the mid 1700s. The tune was brought to America and was much played by fiddlers in the northeast. It is not known if Charles Ingalls played only the tune or if he sang along with the fiddle.

In the manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t include “The Campbells Are Coming” in the list of songs Pa played before leaving to find work in the east. “The Campbells Are Coming” is mentioned in one of the manuscripts for By the Shores of Silver Lake, but it was not included in the published book. In the manuscript, after Pa is introduced to Reverend Stuart by Reverend Alden, Pa comments on Stuart’s “burr” (Scottish accent) and says: “If I’d known you were coming, Rev. Stuart, I’d have played ‘The Campbells Are Coming.'”

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born near Ayr, Scotland, the son of a poor farmer. As a teenager, “Rabbie” began writing verses in Scots dialect and received recognition for his writing. He unsuccessfully labored as a farmer until circumstances (he fathered at least nine children by five different women) made him decide to move to Jamaica. In order to secure money for the trip, he published a book of his verses at Kilmarnock in 1786. It was so highly regarded that he was asked to come to Edinburgh and publish another edition of the work.

This was the turning point in Burns’ life. In Edinburgh, he was among society, riches, and learning, and both his poetry and conversational skills were much in demand. Hard work and hard drink led to health problems, however, and he died at age 37. Today, Burns is the Official Bard (poet) of Scotland, and on his January 25th birthday each year, Scots around the world celebrate with a Burns Night Supper.

Mary Ingalls was such a fan of Robert Burns that at her graduation from the Iowa College for the Blind, she recited an essay on Burns, “Bide a Wee and Dinna Weary.”

(by Robert Burns)

[chorus] The Campbells are comin, Oho! Oho!
The Campbells are comin, Oho! Oho!
The Campbells are comin to bonnie Lochleven
The Campbells are comin, Oho! Oho!

1. Upon the Lomonds I lay, I lay
Upon the Lomonds I lay, I lay
I looked down to bonnie Lochleven
And saw three bonnie perches play.

2. Great Argyle he goes before
He maks his cannons and guns to roar
Wi’ sound o trumpet, pipe and drum
The Campbells are comin Oho, Oho!

3. The Campbells they are a’in arms
Their loyal faith and truth to show
Wi’ banners rattling in the wind
The Campbells are comin Oho, Oho!

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the above images to view view a copy of Little House era sheet music of “The Campbells Are Coming.” At the bottom of the cover image is a link to the next page.


Click on the above image to see a single sheet version of the song.

This music is archived in the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, part of Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of The Johns Hopkins University. The collection contains over 29,000 pieces of music and focuses on popular American music from 1780-1960.    


“The Campbells Are Coming” (BPC 26)
     “The Campbells are coming, Hurrah! Hurrah!”