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“The Mulligan Guard” / “The Skidmore Guard”

The man in the middle was clog-dancing. Back against the wall stood the four raggedy black-faced men. One played a jew’s-harp, one played a mouth organ, one kept the time with rattling bones, and one man clapped with hands and feet. — Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 21, “The Madcap Days”

While Charles Ingalls and four other De Smet men (Gerald Fuller is also named as a possible member in Little Town in the Prairie) perform what seems to be a minstrel show for the Friday Night Literary, “The Skidmore Guard” and its companion “The Mulligan Guard” are not minstrelsy per se, although they do draw on the tradition of minstrel shows in the United States. “The Skidmore Guard” was published in 1875 as part of Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart’s “Mulligan Guard” series. The series began in 1873 with a song and sketch performed at the Academy of Music in Chicago; it was developed into a full-length play. The Mulligans were Irishmen; the Skidmores were black, and the two were in constant competition. From 1879 until Hart’s death in 1891, these productions dominated the New York stage.

In the years following the Civil War, a number of pseudo-military or hunting clubs were formed, with men wearing what could only be described now as outlandish “military-like” uniforms. Many clubs were also formed by ethnic groups which weren’t allowed membership in the official militia. The Mulligan and Skidmore Guards were spoofs on such organizations, and their drills were subject matter for songs and skits.

Charles Ingalls and Company aren’t described as wearing the “military” dress of the Skidmore Guard in Little Town on the Prairie, nor are they carrying guns or swords as the Harrigan & Hart players would have been. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mention of “jews-harp, mouth organ, and bones” and “rag-tag clothing” suggests more of a traditional minstrel show, such as those performed by Daniel Decatur Emmett’s Virginia Minstrels (the first to use bones as a musical instrument). Wilder included a number of Emmett songs in the Little House books, including “Dixie” and “Old Dan Tucker.”

Edward “Ned” Harrigan (1844-1911) was born in New York of Irish parents. At age 14, he left New York to work on a banana boat in the south. He went to San Francisco in 1867 and performed as “Ned Harrigan, the Irish comic singer,” dancing and singing in minstrel shows. Harrigan met Tony Hart (1855-1891; his real name was Anthony Cannon) in 1871 and the two formed the team of “Harrigan and Hart.” They moved to New York and remained in partnership until 1885. Harrigan also worked with David Braham, who became his father-in-law. Braham wrote music and Harrigan wrote sketches, and their plays were always performed to full houses.


1. We represent de members of de noble colored troops,
Who march about de streets of York in French imperial suits,
Black pantaloons and yaller stripes, and helmets trimmed with blue,
De wenches shout when we turn out on South Fifth Avenue.

[chorus] Nobby, airy, light as a fairy,
Music playing sweet and gay,
Hats a-waving we’re parading,
Marching down Broadway. Umph.
Talk about your Mulligan Guard,
Dese darkies can’t be beat,
We march to time, we cut a shine,
Just watch dese darkies’ feet.
De left foot first, de right foot follow,
De heel down mighty hard…
Ten platoons of dandy coons
March in de Skidmore Guard.

2. Dar’s Mister Brown, de waiter man to de Astor House Hotel,
He’s sargent in de second Brigade, division Company L.
He’s six foot high, he carried de flag, so noble, proud and gay.
He took de prize for marching out on ‘Mancipation Day.

3. Dar’s Adjunct General Lem Primrose, and Parson Simpson’s son,
De envy of de yaller gals, with boquets on der guns,
Dey look just like a circus horse, when de band’s a playing loud,
For elegant style and sweet hair lie, dem darkies lead de crowd.

4. We never hire a German band, Italians carry a can
Of lemonade dat’s fresh and sweet, for every colored man.
Dey follow up de Regiment, Mackrony in de rear,
And when dey get ob-strop-a-lous, we bounce dem on dar ear.

(from Little Town on the Prairie)

Oh, talk about your Mulligan Guards! These darkies can’t be beat!

Oh talk about your Mulligan Guards!
These darkies can’t be beat!
We march in time and cut a shine!
Just watch these darkies’ feet!

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the images above to view a copy of sheet music of “The Skidmore Guard.”


Click on the images above to view a copy of sheet music of “The Mulligan Guard.”

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 Skidmore Guard” (LTP 21; PG), see also Charles Trousdale
     “Oh talk about your Mulligan Guards”