Forked Deer

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FORKED DEER, (THE). AKA – "Forked Buck," "Forky Deer," "Forked-Horn Deer," "Forked Deer Hornpipe," "Forked Deer River," "Hounds in the Horn," "Long-Horned Deer." AKA and see "Deer Walk (1)," "Bragg's Retreat," "Old Pork Bosom," "Van Buren." American, Reel (cut or 2/4 time). USA, Widely known. D Major. Standard or ADae (Edden Hammons/Bruce Molsky) tunings. AB (Silberberg): AABB (most versions): AA'BB (Phillips): AA'BB'CC (Salyer). Many older versions have several more parts than the two that are commonly played in modern times, and Jeff Titon (2001) suggests that the influence of the recording industry had much to do with shortening and standardizing the parts of the melody. Clay County, W.Va., fiddler Wilson Douglas, heir to an older tradition, plays the tune in three parts, as did his mentor French Carpenter. Roscoe Parish of Coal Creek, Va., also had a third part. Blind northeastern Kentucky fiddler Ed Haley (1883–1951) played a five-part version, as did Charlie Bowman and Kentuckian J.W. Day. Kerry Blech says that Bowman's version includes the familiar 'A' and 'B' parts, a high 'C' part that is also shared with some other sources, and two last parts that seem to be Bowman originals. John Johnson, an itinerant man originally from West Virginia who had artistic talent in several areas, had a version that had six parts, played ABACCDEFDEF (son of a jailer, he was said to have "fiddled his way in and out of most jails from West Virginia to Abiline"). Johnson (1916–1996) visited Kanawha County, West Virginia, fiddler Clark Kessinger (1896–1975) just a week before he died, an encounter from which he remembered:

I went and played the fiddle for him, played The Forked Deer. Clark said, "That's not The Forked Deer." "Well," I said, "I don't know whether it's The Forked Deer or not, but I learned it from a record Arthur Smith made when I was a kid, and I know the tune's way older than I am." And Clark said, "That ain't The Forked Deer." But you see, I play six parts of The Forked Deer and he just played two. So I suppose that's the reason why he said that wasn't The Forked Deer. I learned that whole tune just like Arthur Smith played it. I've heard lots of other fiddlers put just two parts to it. ..... [Michael Kline, Mountains of Music, John Lilly ed. 1999].

R.P. Christeson (1973) notes that the tune bears considerable resemblance to a Scottish tune named "Rachel Rae," which can be found in some of the older Scottish tune collections (and which in America was printed in such collections as White's Solo Banjoist, Boston, 1896). He notes that some fiddlers play the first part of this tune differently than the Missouri version he gives, and use a portion of "The Forked Deer" as published by George Willig's in George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels (vol. 1, No. 4, Baltimore, c. 1839)—which appears to be the first time the "Forked Deer" tune appears in print. It has been suggested (by William Byrne) that the title "Forked Deer" (the first word is pronounced as if hyphenated, 'FORK-ed') is a corruption of 'Fauquier Deer', referring to the name of a county in northern Virginia. Others believe it may have derived from association with the Forked Deer River in Tennessee. Apparently, it was asserted in a fictionalized traveller's account (published in the late 1880's by Dr. H.W. Taylor) entitled "The Cadence and Decadence of the Hoosier Fiddler" that the title referred to a Deer river and its tributaries (i.e. 'the forks of the Deer'). John Hartford and Pat Sky have speculated the original title may have been "Forked Air," meaning a crooked melody. Indeed, Paul Tyler reports the "Forked Air" title was used in a 1950 notebook in which A. Hamblen noted down tunes played by his grandfather and brought to Brown County, Indiana, from Virginia in 1857. The tune, as "Forkadair," appears in W. Morris's Oldtime Viloin Melodies: Book No. 1, and the "Forkedair Jig" is a title Gerry Milnes (1999) says was used in a minstrel-era version.

Miles Krassen (1973) remarks the tune is very popular through most of the southern Appalachians, though it was not played for the most part by Galax, Va., style bands. Tommy Jarrell, quintessential Round Peak (near Mt.Airy, N.C./Galax, Va.) fiddler learned the tune in Carroll County, southwestern Virginia, where he listened to his father-in-law, Charlie Barnett Lowe play it on the banjo with local fiddlers Fred Hawkes and John Rector. It is one of the tunes mentioned in the humorous dialect story "The Knob Dance," published in 1845, set in eastern Tenn. (C. Wolfe), and was also known before the Civil War in Alabama, having been recalled by Alfred Benners in Slavery and Its Results as played by slave fiddler Jim Pritchett of Marengo County. The tune was mentioned by William Byrne who described a chance encounter with West Virginia fiddler 'Old Sol' Nelson during a fishing trip on the Elk River. The year was around 1880, and Sol, whom Byrne said was famous for his playing "throughout the Elk Valley from Clay Courthouse to Sutton as...the Fiddler of the Wilderness," had brought out his fiddle after supper to entertain (Milnes, 1999). Charles Wolfe (1982) remarks it was popular with Kentucky fiddlers, especially in eastern Kentucky (a remark probably based on recordings of regional fiddlers Ed Haley and J.W. Day). Jeff Titon (2001) finds the title in the 1915 Berea, Kentucky, tune lists, and notes that it was played at the 1919 and 1920 Berea fiddle contests. It was one of the few sides cut in the first recorded session of American fiddle music in June, 1922, for Victor—a duet between Texas fiddler Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland (though unissued). The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph in the early 1940's from the playing of Ozarks Mountains fiddlers. It is on Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden's list of '100 essential Missouri fiddle tunes'. Alternate titles "Forked-Horn Deer" and "Forked Deer Hornpipe" appear in a list he compiled of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes. G. Legman's edition of Vance Randolph's "unprintable" Blow the Candle Out: "Unprintable" Ozark Folksongs and Folklore, vol. 2 (1992, p. 759), records:

The dance tune known as "Forked Deer" is regarded as vulgar in the Ozarks, because the title has a double meaning. 'Forked' might refer to the deer's antlers, but it is also the common Ozark term for 'horny', which means sexually excited. The word is always pronounced 'fork-ed' , in two syllables. I have seen nice young girls leave a dance when the fiddler began to play "Forked Deer." Lon Jordan, veteran fiddler of Farmington, Ark., always called it "Forked-Horn Deer" when ladies were present. Buster Fellows once played it on a radio program, but the announcer was careful to call it "Frisky Deer!" (Station KWTO, Springfield, Mo., May 3, 1947.)

Ira Ford's (1940) rather preposterous story of the origins of the title is as follows: "The old dance tune, 'Forked Deer', is easily traceable to the days of powder horns, bullet molds and coonskin caps. Like many other very old tunes of American fiddle lore, it had its origin on the isolated frontier and this one has been traced to the first settlers along the Big Sandy River, the border line of Virginia and Kentucky. In the family which preserved this tune, the story, handed down through several generations, credits the authorship to a relative, a noted fiddler of pioneer days. This kinsman was also a famous hunter. There was a spirit of friendly rivalry in the hunt, much the same as there were championships in other lines of activities, and he had established a reputation as a champion deer hunter by always bringing in a forked deer. The forked deer, or two-point buck, was considered prime venison. As a token of admiration for the hunter as well as the fiddler, his friends set the following words to this popular dance tune which comes down to us as 'Forked Deer'.

There's the doe tracks and fawn tracks up and down the creek
The signs all tell us that the roamers are near,
With the old flint-lock rifle Pappy's gone to watch the lick,
With powder in the pan for to shoot the forked deer.

"Forked Deer" is mentioned in a poem by Richard L. Dawson entitled "The Hoosier Fiddle," printed in the Indiana State-Sentinel [Indianapolis] of July 29, 1885, p. 6:

Bring up the Hoosier fiddle,
And play me the rollicking reels,
That gave such joy to the country boy,
And shake the old farmer’s heels;
Put by the waltz and the schottische,
And the operatic airs.
And give me a whirl with the Hoosier girl,
To the tunes that lighten my cares!

Set the wild “Gray Eagle” screaming,
Let the “Rye Straw” tickle my ear,
And fully as rich as old “Leather Breeches”
Are “Burnt Woods” and “The Forked Deer.”
Chase the “Possum Up the Gum Stump,”
From “Natchez Under the Hill.”
Wave the “Mullen Stalk” from “Hanging Rock,”
O’er the “Sunk Lands” dark and still!
Then fiddle me down to “Clear Creek,”
To that “Nine-Mile Island” of yours,
While the current rolls o’er “Mussel Shoals,”
And into “Broad Ripple” pours.
Then stir up “Hell on the Wabash,”
Let us hear “Five Miles Out of Town,”
“The Jaybird,” when “The Cackling Hen”
“The Black Cat’s” wail shall drown!

In “The Awkward Reel” comes dancing
“Sally Goodin” and rough “Buck Horn,”
And “The Wagoner” passes by waving grasses
And the rustle of “Yaller Corn.”
With “Billy in the Low Grounds,”
The “Injun Creek” we ford.
Then “Jump Up, Joe,” for still, you know,
There’s “Sugar in the Gourd.”

Then tune for the rich fantasias,
“Big Piney” so plaintive and slow,
Let “The Wild Goose” call, and the echoes fall,
From the “Walls of Jericho;”
So come to the rare “Lost Injun,”
And play it again and again,
Let its golden streams flow on in my dreams
And play no other then.

I listen and dream of my boyhood
In the heart of the Hoosier hills,
And the old days rise before my eyes
When the fiddle my memory thrills;
I think of the farmer singing
While the dinner is on the fire,
And the strange wild calls the fiddler bawls,
While the dancers never tire.

Yes, bring up your resonant fiddle,
And play for me far in the night,
Till the cares of the day are swept away
And sorrow has taken flight;
For all the heaven of music
No sweeter melody swells
Than the fiddle sings from bow and strings,
Where the happy Hoosier dwells.[1]


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 110. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; p. 64. Stephen F. Davis - Devils Box, vol. 24, No. 3, Fall 1990; p. 38. Duncan (Mel Bay's Complete Fiddling Book), 1990; p. 145. Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 45 (the first part is similar to some versions of "Grey Eagle"). Frets, vol. 3, No. 7, July 1981. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 2: Old-Timey Fiddle Tunes), 1982 (revised 1988, 2003); p. 5. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 43 (includes one 'B' part variation). Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; pp. 212–213. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; p. 20. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 91. Silberberg (Fiddle Tunes I Learned at the Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 46. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 135. Titon (Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; No. 45, p. 76. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997; p. 80.

Recorded sources : - Berea College Appalachian Center AC003, "John M. Salyer: Home Recordings 1941–1942" (1993). Cartunes 105, Bruce Molsky & Bob Carlin – "Take Me As I Am" (2004. Sourced to Jilson Setters). Cassette C-7625, Wilson Douglas – "Back Porch Symphony." Columbia 15387 (78 RPM), Charlie Bowman (1929). Condor 977-1489, "Graham & Eleanor Townsend Live At Barre, Vermont." County 202, "Eck Robertson: Famous Cowboy Fiddler." County 527, Charlie Bowman (East Tennessee) and His Brothers – "Old-Time Fiddle Classics, Vol. 2" (originally recorded 1929). County 707, Major Franklin – "Texas Fiddle Favorites." County 756, Tommy Jarrell – "Sail Away Ladies" (1976. Learned from Fred Hawks, though Tommy's father Ben Jarrell also played it). Flying Fish FF-009, Red Clay Ramblers – "Stolen Love" (1975). Flying Fish FF-055, Red Clay Ramblers – "Merchant's Lunch" (1977). Front Hall FHR-021, John McCutcheon – "Barefoot Boy with Boots On" (1981. "Inspired by" J.P. Fraley and Tommy Hunter). June Appal 007, Tommy Hunter – "Deep in Tradition" (1976. Learned from his grandfather, James W. Hunter of Madison County, N.C.). Kanawha 301, French Carpenter – "Elzic's Farewell: Old Time Songs and Tunes from Clay County, West Virginia" (1976). Library of Congress (2742-A-3), 1939, by H.L. Maxey (Franklin County, Va.) {as "Forky Deer"}. Marimac 9000, Dan Gellert & Shoofly – "Forked Deer" (1986. Ed Haley's version, "without the 5th part"). Marimac 9060, Jim Bowles – "Railroading Through the Rocky Mountains" (1994). Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Cyrill Stinnett (1912-1986) – "Plain Old Time Fiddling." Morning Star 45003, Taylor's Kentucky Boys – "Wink the Other Eye: Old Time Fiddle Band Music from Kentucky, Vol. 1" (1980. Originally recorded in 1927 for Gennett). Ok 45496 (78 RPM), The Fox Chasers. Rounder 0037, J.P. and Annadeene Fraley – "Wild Rose of the Mountain" (1974). Rounder 0045, Highwoods String Band – "Dance All Night." Rounder 1010, Ed Haley – "Parkersburg Landing" (1976). Rounder 0047, Wilson Douglas – "The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek" (1975. Learned from French Carpenter, the tune appears as "Forked Buck"). Rounder 0058, John Rector (western Va.) – "Old Originals, vol. II" (1978). Rounder 0194, John W. Summers – "Indiana Fiddler" (1984). Vetco 506, Fiddlin' Van Kidwell – "Midnight Ride." Rounder 1131, Ed Haley – "Forked Deer" (1997). Vetco 102 (reissue), James W. Day "Jilson Setters" (under the name Blind Bill Day) – "The Wonderful World of Old Time Fiddlers, vol. 1." Victor 21407 (78 RPM), Jilson Setters (Blind Bill Day, b. 1860 Rowan Cty., Ky.), 1928. Voyager 340, Jim Herd – "Old Time Ozark Fiddling." Also recorded by Frank George and John Summers, French Carpenter and Uncle Am Stuart (b. 1856, Morristown, Tenn.) {for Vocalion in 1924 under the title "Forki Deer"}. West Virginia University SA-1, "The Edden Hammons Collection vol. I" (1984).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear Charlie Bowman's recording at the Roots of American Fiddle Music [2] and on youtube.com [3]
Hear east Ky. fiddler John Salyer's 1941/41 recording at Berea Sound Archives [4]
Hear north Arkansas fiddler Mulkey Kent's 1959 field recording at the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection at Lyon College [5] and at Slippery Hill [6]



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  1. Posted to the Mudcat Café forum, 26 Sept. 2019 [7]