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“Kitty Wells”

Laura looked at Pa, who was greasing his boots. His mustaches and his hair and his long brown beard were silky in the lamplight, and the colors of his plaid jacket were gay. He whistled cheerfully while he worked, and then he sang… — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 6, “Two Big Bears”

Kitty Wells was was written by Thomas Sloan, Jr., with music by Charles E. Atherton. It was first published by G.B. Demerest in New York City, 1858. Atherton was a violinist, tenor singer, and songwriter from Patterson, New Jersey. He sang in church choirs and led a men’s quartet called the American Bards.


1. You ask: what makes this darkey weep?
Why he, like others, am not gay?
What causes the tear to flow down his cheek,
From early morn till close of day?
My story, darkies, you shall hear;
For, in my memory fresh it dwells:
It will cause you all to drop a tear
On the grave of my Sweet Kitty Wells.

[chorus] While the birds were singing in the morning,
And the myrtle and the ivy were in bloom,
And the Sun on the hill was a dawning:
It was then we laid her in the tomb.

2. I never shall forget the day
That we, together, roamed the dells;
I kissed her cheek, and named the day
That I should marry Kitty Wells.
But Death came in my cabin door,
And took, from me, my joy and pride;
And when I found she was no more,
I laid my banjo down, and cried.

3. I often wish that I was dead,
And laid, beside her, in the tomb..
The sorrow that bows down my lead,
Is silent, in the midnight gloom.
The Spring-time has no charms for me,
Though flowers are blooming in the dells;
For, that bright form I do not see:
‘Tis the form of my Sweet Kitty Wells!

There are a number of “ballad sheets” with lyrics for “Kitty Wells” reproduced online. These historically didn’t contain musical notations as the melody would have been well-known at the time.

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Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “Kitty Wells.”    


“Kitty Wells” (BW 6)
     “The birds were singing in the morning”