Neighbors: Some North Dakota farmers enjoyed this parody of an old gospel hymn

Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist. The Forum
Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist. The Forum

Neighbors ran an inquiry from Albert “Ike” Fischer, Frazee, Minn., a while ago, asking if anyone else was familiar with a song about North Dakota of which the opening lines were, “Our chickens are too poor to eat, and on our hogs there is no meat.”

Ike said the music was about the same as that of “O Tannenbaum.”

In response, a Fargo woman who wishes to remain anonymous writes that she knows the song, and that the tune was probably the same as that of the hymn “Beulah Land.”

Well, she’s right on, according to Dr. Timothy Kloberdanz, professor emeritus at North Dakota State University.

The song was a folk song, “O Dakotaland, Sweet Dakotaland,” Tim writes.

“There are many, many versions of this song from both North and South Dakota,” he says. “In fact, it is known all over the Great Plains, from Texas way up to Saskatchewan. Some people sing it as ‘Sweet Kansas Land’ or ‘Sweet Nebraska Land.’”

Tim says, depending on the place and the singer, two of the lines are:

“We do not thrive but we do stay.

“We’re just too poor to move away.

“Whenever you come across a song like this — with so many different versions — you know that it is a true folk song. And this one is one of the best-known folk songs from the Great American Plains,” Tim says.

Backing up the woman who wrote in, Tim says the song is a parody of an old gospel hymn from the 1870s, “Beulah Land,” written by Edgar Page Stites. Its original lines include these:

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land!

As on Thy highest mount I stand,

I look away across the sea

Where mansions are prepared for me.

“There were undoubtedly Great Plains farmers who sang ‘the official version’ in church,” Tim writes, “but when they got home they sang a quite different and often ironic and even biting version of their own. Such is the enduring power of folk song — the voice of the people.”

Tim ought to know what he’s talking about. He taught folklore and anthropology at NDSU for more than 30 years, so he’s very familiar with this topic.

“I loved teaching those classes, but I am managing to keep busy in retirement,” he says.

Neighbors hopes Tim continues to find ways to keep busy. And the same goes for all of you who are in or about to enter retirement.

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Remembering old song

But going back to the original topic of this column, here’s an email from Wayne Pedersen, North Port, Fla., who writes, “I’ve enjoyed the comments on North Dakota songs.

“Growing up, I attended Bohnsack Consolidated School, located between Grandin, Hillsboro and Hunter, N.D.”

From his school days, Wayne says he remembers the second verse of the “North Dakota Song”:

“The skies are bluer than blue, the sun is sunnier, too,

If you don’t believe it, there is only one thing to do . . .

You got to go to North Dakota.

See the cattle and the wheat and folks that can’t be beat.

You say hello to North Dakota

And you just can’t say goodbye.”

Wayne concludes his email by noting that there are “Lots of memories from grade school.”

There sure are. What are yours, neighbors?

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email