The Blue Juniata

(1844)

The song "The Blue Juniata," the first commercial hit written by an American woman, is about the plight of the Native Americans. The Juniata river is located in Pennsylvania and is a tributary of the Susquehanna River. During the French and Indian War, the Juniata river was the site of many bloody conflicts between white settlers and Native Americans.

The song is a parlor song, with a catchy melody and simple harmonies. The original arrangement is for voice and guitar. Sullivan's husband, J. W. Sullivan, wrote the text for the song.

Mark Twain mentions the song when he writes of minstrel shows in his Autobiography:

"In the beginning the songs were rudely comic, such as 'Buffalo Gals,' 'Camptown Races,' 'Old Dan Tucker,' and so on; but a little later on sentimental songs were introduced, such as 'The Blue Juniata,' 'Sweet Ellen Bayne,' 'Nelly Bly,' 'A Life on the Ocean Wave,' 'The Larboard Watch,' etc."

Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of "The Blue Juniata" in Little House on the Prairie. She writes that her parents would play and sing the song to her as a lullaby, though instead of putting her to sleep, the song only raised questions in the little girl's mind about the Native Americans.

--Christie Finn

Image: From the cover of "The Blue Juniata," 1844, public domain

The Blue Juniata
The Blue Juniata
Lyrics by J. W. Sullivan


Wild roved an Indian girl,
Bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters
Of the blue Juniata!

Swift as an antelope
Through the forest going,
Loose were her jetty locks,
In many tresses flowing.

Gay was the mountain song
Of bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters
Of the blue Juniata.

"Strong and true my arrows are,
In my painted quiver,
Swift goes my light canoe
Adown the rapid river.

"Bold is my warrior good,
The love of Alfarata,
Proud waves his snowy plume
Along the Juniata.

Soft and low he speaks to me,
And then, his war-cry sounding,
Rings his voice in thunder loud,
From height to height resounding."

So sang the Indian girl,
Bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters
Of the blue Juniata.

Fleeting years have borne away
The voice of Alfarata;
Still sweeps the river on—
Blue Juniata!

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