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“Bo-peep has lost her sheep”

A play to amuse children, by peeping from behind any object, as a screen, and crying out bo! — Webster, 1882

And in the afternoons Mary and Laura and Carrie recited. Even Grace knew “Mary’s Little Lamb,” and “Bo-peep Has Lost Her Sheep.” – The Long Winter, Chapter 22, “Cold and Dark”

Even before the Christmas barrel brings a shiny Mother Goose book for Grace, she is able to recite Mother Goose rhymes, both “Mary’s Little Lamb” and “Bo-peep Has Lost Her Sheep.” At the time of the Little House books, Mother Goose rhymes had already been around for generations, and of course Grace Ingalls was familiar with them, just as they weren’t new to sister Laura when Mrs. Oleson showed her a Mother Goose book in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The first known edition of Mother Goose’s Melodies was compiled and printed by Thomas Fleet, Boston, in 1719. The complete title was: Songs for the Nursery, or, Mother Goose’s Melodies for Children. Mother Goose was Mr. Fleet’s mother-in-law; he having married her daughter, Elizabeth Goose. At first annoyed by the rhymes his mother-in-law recited to her grandchildren, he then decided to compile and publish them. The rhymes were already old when first published by Mr. Fleet, and there had been a French book of fairy tales published with the title Contes de ma mère l’Oye, or, Tales of My Mother Goose. Because Mother Goose rhymes were originally brought to America not as the printed word, but verbally, there are many variations of each.

note“Bo-peep Has Lost Her Sheep”
Below are four versions of “Bo-peep Has Lost Her Sheep” which appeared in print during the Little House years. The illustration at right is from the December 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly magazine.

Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep / And can’t tell where to find them. / Let them alone! / They’ll all come home, / Wagging their tails behind them. [1864]

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, / And couldn’t tell where to find ’em. / Let ’em alone, and they’ll come home, / And bring their tails behind ’em. [1871]

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, / And can’t tell where to find them; / Let them alone and they’ll come home, / And bring their tails behind them. // Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep, / And dreamt she heard them bleating; / But when she awoke, she found it a joke, / For still they all were fleeting. // Then up she took her little crook, / Determined now to find them; / She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed, / For they’d left their tails behind them. // It happened one day, that Bo-Peep did stray / Unto a meadow hard by; / And their she espied their tails side by side, / All hung on a tree to dry. // Then with heavy sign, and with tearful eye, / Away ran little Bo-Peep, / And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should, / To tack its own tail to each sheep. [1873]

Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep / And does not know where to find them: / Leave them alone and they will come home, / And bring their tails behind them. // But what shall she do? the lambs are gone too, / And, oh dear me! she nowheres can spy them. / So she left them alone and the lambs all came home; / But their tails, alas! some one did fry them. [1876]

And a version for adults:
Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep, / And someone or other’s lost little Bo-peep– / Or she’d never be wandering at twelve o’clock / With a golden crook, and a velvet frock, / In a diamond necklace, in such a rout,– / In diamond buckles, and my! how shocking, / A beautiful leg in a red silk stocking! / And an ankle a sculptor might rave about. / But I think she’s a little witch, you know, / With her broomstick-crook and her high-heel’d shoe / And the mischievous fun that flashes thro’ / The wreaths of her amber hair–don’t you? / No wonder the flock follows little Bo-peep, / Such a shepherd would turn all the world into sheep / To trot at her heels and look up in the face / Of their pastor for–goodness knows what, not for grace?– / Her face that recalls in its reds and its blues, / (Blue eyes, and red lips full of pearls if you choose) / There’s “Little Bo-peep,” dress, diamonds, and all, / As I met her last night at the Fancy Ball.” [1877]

The Bo-peep game.
As noted in the 1882 Webster’s Dictionary, today’s “peek-a-boo” game played by mothers and babies was also known as the “Bo-peep” game. According to the American Journal of Education (1869), while the game was very enjoyable to young children, the momentary separation of a child from its mother – followed by a joyful reunion – was also a child’s first lesson about good (togetherness) versus evil (separation). The game was often chanted: “Little Bo-peep, Little Bo-peep, now’s the time for hide-and-seek…” The illustration at right is from the 1853 book, A Day of Pleasure.


“Bo-peep Has Lost Her Sheep” (TLW 22), see also Mother Goose