IT’S A TRAGIC TALE … telling of the death of one Timothy Merrick, who died on August 7, 1761 in Wilbraham, Massachusetts from the bite of a serpent. The town clerk recorded at the time, “Lieut Thomas Mirick’s only Son dyed, August 7th, 1761, By the Bite of a Ratle Snake, Being 22 years, two months and three days old, and very nigh marridge.”
And that’s pretty much where the facts ends and the story begins. Somehow over time, an alternate tradition far removed from the tragic nature of the tale developed. Woody Guthrie did a totally bizarre version, and over time the song has developed into a rather long tale with a pun of a punch line.
Perhaps it shows that back then, people laughed in the face of tragedy. Or perhaps it only shows that nothing can keep a bad joke down.
On Springfield Mountain
Traditional, United States, Eighteenth Century
On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A lovely youth I knowed him well.
This lovely youth one day did go
Down to the meadom for to mow.
He scarce had mowed quite round the field
When a cruel serpent bit his heel.
They took him home to molly dear
Which made him feel so very queer.
Now Molly had two ruby lips
With which the poison she did sip.
Now Molly had a rotting tooth,
And so the poison killed them both.