“Old Dan Tucker”
‘Play, Ingalls!’ he said. ‘Play me down the road!’ So while he went down the creek road and out of sight, Pa played, and Pa and Mr. Edwards and Laura sang with all their might… — Little House on the Prairie, Chapter 5, “The House on the Prairie”
Although only appearing once in one Little House book, “Old Dan Tucker” is one of the songs (along with “Pop! Goes the Weasel”) that has become widely associated with Little House due to the fact that it was sung often by the Mr. Edwards character on the long-running Little House on the Prairie television show. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s manuscript for Little House on the Prairie, she included only two lines of the song: “Get out of the way for Old Dan Tucker; He’s too late to get his supper.” In an existing letter asking for a copyright search on song titles Wilder wanted to use in Little House in the Prairie, it was expressed that she only intended to use “two to four lines” of the song.
Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, the son of a blacksmith. He was apprenticed to a printer, and worked for a newspaper as a teenager, but his strong interest in music was apparent. He taught himself to play the flute and violin, and enlisted in Army in 1834 as a fife player, falsifying his age. He was released the following year. In the late 1830s, Emmett worked for a circus, writing blackface songs and performing – both on banjo and singing. In 1842, he formed an act in which the “bones” were used as a musical instrument. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that her father played the bones in the minstrel show performed for a Friday Night Literary in De Smet (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 21, “The Madcap Days”).
In 1842, Dan Emmett (fiddle), Billy Whitlock (banjo), Dick Pelham (tambourine), and Frank Brower (bones) formed the Virginia Minstrels, performing as an “Ethiopian band” in blackface. They wore costumes of plantation workers and performed both as a coordinated team and as individuals. Their songs were a hit, but touring America and England was costly, and the group disbanded. Both “Old Dan Tucker” and “De Boatmen’s Dance” – another Little House song – became part of the repertory of minstrels everywhere, and many, many verses to “Old Dan Tucker” were written. Although not believed to have originated as a song sung by slaves, there was a historical figure named Daniel Tucker (1740-1818) who many believe provided some of the inspiration for lyrics written by Emmett. Daniel Tucker was a Methodist minister in Elbert County, Georgia – a man who cared deeply for the slave population. There are stories that adoring slaves wrote many verses about Rev. Tucker, and that the song originated in the south.
Another of Emmett’s songs, “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land” – or “Dixie” – became a synonym for the South in the Civil War, and its success would prove to be the high point of Emmett’s career. Shortly after the Civil War, Dan Emmett lost his voice and toured as a violinist. He retired to Mount Vernon, Ohio, but performed “Dixie” on occasion, always to enthusiastic crowds. He died in Mount Vernon in 1904.
1. I come to town de udder night,
I hear de noise an saw de fight,
De watchman was a runnin roun,
Cryin Old Dan Tucker’s come to town.
[chorus] So get out de way! Get out de way!
Get out de way! Old Dan Tucker,
You’re too late to come to supper.
2. Tucker is a nice old man,
He use to ride our darby ram;
He sent him whizzen down de hill,
If he had’nt got up he’d lay dar still.
3. Here’s my razor in good order
Magnum bonum- jis hab bought ‘er;
Sheep shell oats, Tucker shell de corn,
I’ll shabe you soon as de water get warm.
4. Ole Dan Tucker an I got drunk,
He fell in de fire and kick up a chunk,
De charcoal got inside he shoe
Lor bless you honey how de ashes flew.
5. Down de road foremost de stump,
Massa make me work de pump;
I pump so hard I broke de sucker,
Dar was work for ole Dan Tucker.
6. I went to town to buy some goods
I lost myself in a piece of woods,
De night was dark I had to suffer
It froze de heel of Daniel Tucker.
7. Tucker was a hardened sinner,
He nebber said his grace at dinner;
De old sow squeel, de pigs did squall
He hole hog wid de tail and all.
OLD DAN TUCKER
(from Little House on the Prairie)
Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man;
He washed his face in the frying-pan,
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died of the toothache in his heel.
Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker!
He’s too late to get his supper!
Supper’s over and the dishes washed,
Nothing left but a piece of squash!
Old Dan Tucker went to town,
Riding a mule, leading a houn’…
Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker!
He’s too late to get his supper…
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Click on the above images to view a copy of sheet music for “Old Dan Tucker.”
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.
“Old Dan Tucker” (LHP 5)
“Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man”
“Git out the way for Old Dan Tucker”