You must have had the experience: A song you know is out there, that is fairly well known, but that you never paid much attention to because you had never heard a good version. I knew that The Jam on Gerry's Rocks was the most famous of all logging ballads -- but I never learned it.
That was before I started working on the Minnesota Heritage Songbook. The book has to include several logging songs, of course, and this was a logical one to include -- and there are two Minnesota versions, one from A. C. Hannah of Bemidji (found in Franz Rickaby's Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy) and one from M. C. Dean. of Virginia MN. Since Dean is responsible for more than half of the 193 English-language folksongs I have so far managed to document in Minnesota, I chose to use the Hannah version. I put it in the computer -- and learned that it had an absolutely smashing tune, well worth sharing with you as well as with the schools to whom we will distribute the songbook.
I won't say much more about it; the song is largely self-explanatory. Many attempts have been made to locate Gerry's (Garry's, Derry's, Geary's) Rocks; none is convincing. We'll just have to say that we don't know the origin, though the story is a familiar one in the history of logging.
I don't know of any old-time recordings, but the song has been collected over one hundred times, from as far away as Scotland; I'll bet there are some. Not of this version, though.
Come all ye true-born shanty-boys, whoever that ye be,
I would have you pay attention and listen unto me,
Concerning a young shanty-boy so tall, genteel, and brave.
'Twas on a jam on Gerry's Rocks he met a wat'ry grave.
It happened on a Sunday morn as you shall quickly hear.
Our logs were piled up mountain high, there being no one to keep them clear.
Our boss he cried, "Turn out, brave boys. Your hearts are void of fear.
We'll break that jam on Gerry's Rocks, and for Agonstown we'll steer."
Some of them were willing enough,but others they hung back,
'Twas for to work on Sabbath they did not think 'twas right.
But six of our brave Canadian boys did volunteer to go
And break the jam on Gerry's rocks with their foreman, young Monroe.
They had not rolled off many logs when the boss to them did say,
"I'd have you be on your guard, brave boys. That jam will soon give way."
But scarce the warning had he spoke when the jam did break and go,
And it carried away these six brave youths and their foreman, young Monroe.
When the rest of the shanty-boys these sad tidings came to hear,
To search for their dead comrades to the river they did steer.
One of these a headless body found, to their sad grief and woe,
Lay cut and mangled on the beach the head of young Monroe.
They took him from the water and smoothed down his raven hair.
There was one fair form amongst them, her cries would rend the air.
There was one fair form amongst them, a maid from Saginaw town.
Her sighs and cries would rend the skies for her lover that was drowned.
They buried him quite decently, being on the seventh of May,
Come all the rest of you shanty-boys, for your dead comrade pray.
'Tis engraved on a little hemlock tree that at his head doth grow,
The name, the date, and the drowning of this hero, young Monroe.
Miss Clara was a noble girl, likewise this raftsman's friend.
Her mother was the widowwoman lived at the river's bend.
The wages of her own true love the boss to her did pay,
An a liberal subscription she received from the shanty-boys next day.
Miss Clara did not long survive her great misery and grief.
In less than three months afterwards death came to her relief.
In less than three months afterwards she was called to go,
And her last request was granted -- to be laid by young Monroe.
Come all the rest of ye shanty-men who would like to go and see,
On a little mound by the river's bank there stands a hemlock tree.
The shanty-boys cut the woods all round. These lovers they lie low.
Here lies Miss Clara Dennison and her shanty-boy, Monroe.