Navigation Menu+

“The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song”

‘Bring me the fiddle, Laura. I want to try a song I heard a fellow singing the other day. He whistled the chorus. I believe the fiddle will beat his whistling’… — Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 11, “Miss Wilder Teaches School”

The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song was written by Harrison Millard in 1865. Harrison Millard (1830-1895) was born in Boston. During the Civil War, he served in the 19th U.S. Infantry, and was wounded at Chickamauga. After leaving the army, he settled in New York, where he worked in the customs house. His leisure time was devoted to composing music.

Laura Ingalls Wilder first mentioned “The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song” in her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, saying that she heard the song at a 4th of July celebration in Walnut Grove. The song was sung by a man and woman who “looked at each other while they sang.” Several days later, Laura overheard Ma and Pa saying that the man and woman had run away together after the celebration. Wilder didn’t include a 4th of July celebration in either the manuscript or published On the Banks of Plum Creek. The song is used in a similar fashion in the Little Town on the Prairie manuscript; Wilder again wrote that it was sung at a 4th of July celebration, this time in De Smet. In the published version, Pa has heard the music in town and plays it for the family. “Pa sang low and longingly, with the sweet clear voice of the fiddle.”


1. Oh meet me when daylight is fading,
And is darkening into the night;
When songbirds are singing their vespers,
And the day has far vanished from sight;
And then I will tell to you, darling,
All the love I have cherished so long,
If you will but meet me at evening,
When you hear the first whip-poor-will’s song.

[chorus] Whip-poor-will! Whip-poor-will!
You hear the first whip-poor-will’s song’
Oh, meet me; oh, meet me,
When you hear the first whip-poor-will’s song.

2. ‘Tis said that whatever sweet feeling
May be throbbing within a fond heart,
When listening to whip-poor-will’s singing,
For a twelve-month will never depart;
To then we will meet in the woodland,
Far away from the hurrying throng,
And whisper our love to each other,
When we hear the first whip-poor-will’s song.

3. And in the long years of the future,
Through our duties may part us awhile,
And on the return of the evening,
We are severed by many a mile;
Yet deep in our bosoms we’ll cherish
The affection so fervent and strong,
We pledged to each other this evening,
When we heard the first whip-poor-will’s song.

(from Little Town on the Prairie)

Then meet me– Oh, meet me,
When you hear
The first whip-poor-will call–

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the images above to view a copy of “The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song.”    


“The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song” / “The Whippoorwill’s Song” (LTP 11; PG) – see also whip-poor-will
     “Then meet me, oh meet me, when you hear the first whip-poor-will call”