The music would go rollicking while only Pa and Mr. Boast sang: ‘I bet my money on the bob-tailed mare, and you bet yours on the gray!’… — By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 22, “Happy Winter Days”
Stephen Foster’s “De Camptown Races” (or “Camptown Races”) was originally titled “Gwine to Run All Night” and was published in 1850. Its foolish lyrics rank it with Foster’s earlier hit, “Oh! Susanna;” the melody is similar to two songs not by Foster: “Roll, Jordon Roll” and “Doo-Dah Day.”
Many believe that these songs were influenced by Foster instead of the other way around. In 1850, Stephen Foster sent a copy of “Gwine to Run All Night” to E.P. Christy of the Christy Minstrels, and the song was widely published as sung by them (as were many of Foster’s songs). Although the song is recognized today, many people don’t know that Stephen Foster was the composer. It was only moderately successful in the years after its publication, with only about 5000 copies sold in the first seven years it was in print.
While “Camptown Races” wasn’t mentioned in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl manuscript, it was included with the songs (sung with the Boasts) in the existing manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake. In the manuscript, another song often sung by the Christy Minstrels is also included, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia.”
Stephen Foster Collins (1826-1864) was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh. A musically gifted child, Stephen was educated in the private schools of Pennsylvania and worked as a bookkeeper for a steamship company in Cincinnati as a young adult. It was during this period that Foster made arrangements with several publishers to pay royalties on future songs, usually 2 cents per copy. Foster married in 1850 and the couple had one child, a daughter.
In today’s music business, Foster would have earned millions from performances and sale of his music, but in the 1850s and 60s, it was a hard way to earn a living. Following an accident in New York in January 1864, Stephen Foster died with only thirty-eight cents in his pocket. His music lives on, in over two hundred songs and instrumentals composed during a twenty-year period.
Stephen Foster songs mentioned in the Little House books include: “Oh! Susanna,” “Uncle Ned,” “Nelly Was a Lady,” “Oh Boys, Carry Me Along,” “De Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”
1. De Camptorn ladies sing dis song – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
De Camptown racetrack five miles long – Oh! doo-dah day!
I come down dah wid my hat caved in – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
I go back home wid a pocket full of tin – Oh! doo-dah day!
[chorus] Gwine to run all night!
Gwine to run all day!
I’ll bet my money on de bob-tail nag,
Somebody bet on de bay.
2. De long tail filly and de big black hoss – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
Dey fly de track and dey both cut across – Oh! doo-dah day!
De blind hoss sticken in a big mud hole – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
Can’t touch bottom wid a ten foot pole – Oh! doo-dah day!
3. Old muley cow come on to de track – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
De bob-tail fling her ober his back – Oh! doo-dah day!
Den fly across like a railroad car – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
Runnin’ a race wid a shootin’ star – Oh! doo-dah day!
4. See dem flyin’ on a ten mile heat – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
Round de racetrack, den repeat – Oh! doo-dah day!
I win my money on the bob-tail nag – Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
I keep my money in an old tow bag – Oh! doo-dah day!
(from By the Shores of Silver Lake)
I bet my money on the bob-tailed mare
And you bet yours on the gray!
CLICK HERE to listen.
Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “Camptown Races.” At the bottom of the cover image is a link to the next page. This image is of music copyrighted in 1850 by F.D. Benteen in Baltimore, Maryland.
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.
“Camptown Races” (SSL 26)
“I bet my money on the bob-tailed mare, and you bet yours on the gray!”