Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ballad of Eugene Butcher

A few years ago, I remember hearing a true central West Virginia folksong about Eugene Butcher, a brakeman for the railroad. I got to thinking about it a few days ago, and decided to do a little research on it.

I believe our folk hero was born Eugene F. Butcher and that he was the son of Granville & Madura Butcher. Eugene was born in October of 1890 in the Salt Lick District of Braxton County, WV. He married Bessie Beatrice Butcher, daughter of J.N. and Margaret Butcher on July 21, 1909 in Weston, Lewis County, WV. Eugene’s father Granville went mostly by his initials G.S.M. Butcher, and he worked at the lumber company’s planing mill in Weston, so I’m sure Eugene grew up near the lumber industry and the mills, and that he was very capable at his job.

After the horrible accident that claimed Eugene Butcher’s life, there seems to have been several children (both boys and girls) born in that area of West Virginia that were named after Eugene Butcher. I found several instances of boys with the first and middle names of Eugene Butcher, and even several instances of girls with the first name of Eugenia or with their first and middle names being Eugenia Butcher. I even found one instance of a middle name of a girl being Eugene. The births of these children all fell within a 15 month window of Eugene’s death, so I’ve no doubt they were named in his honor.

Here is a link to a recorded version of “The Ballad of Eugene Butcher” that was performed by Georgie Carr of Gilmer County, WV in 1986. The recording comes from the Oral History Collection at Glenville State College in Glenville, WV.

Below I’ve transcribed the words to the Ballad and I’ve done my best to get them correct. I may be off a few words here or there, but I think it is complete.

The Ballad of Eugene Butcher

Eugene Butcher was a brakesman,
Toiling for the B & O,
While enlisted, 33 wrecked,
And threw him far below.

When his comrades found him later
He was fastened ‘neath the rod
“Release me, please,” he pleaded
And in prayer he turned to God.

“Lord, receive my soul in Heaven,
Give to me a home on high,
Where I’ll meet my own dear mother,
God, protect my wife and child.”

Yes, he had a wife and baby,
Toiling for them day by day.
And perhaps for him she is kneeling,
“God have mercy” hear her say.

Someone brings to her the message,
See her kiss her darling babe,
as she reads the fateful story,
“Killed last night on Hawkins Grade”.

In obedience to the engine,
O’er the icy rails he sped,
Twas the first of February,
And he was carried back home dead.

It was the first of February,
In the year of Nineteen and twelve,
It was in the town of Weston
that Eugene he did dwell.

To the home of Melvin Meadows,
he was taken that fatal night,
and there he lived eleven hours,
and as though asleep he died.

And we trust he entered Heaven,
Earnestly, he prayed while here
And we hope sometime to meet him
Up there with our Savior dear.

And it was his brother trainmen,
That greets him as he rushes by,
Though it may be our last greeting
‘til we meet again on high.


tipper said...

I've heard this song-although I can't remember by who. Neat history-amazing how many kids were named after Eugene-girls and boys.

Granny Sue said...

Matthew, this ballad has been on my list to learn, and here you've done all the homework! I wanted to learn it to sing at the WV Storytelling Festival, since the accident that claimed Butcher's life was supposed to have happened in that area. I heard it on a cassette by Everitt White, I believe, from Augusta Heritage. Thank you for sharing so much information about the ballad.

Matthew Burns said...

Granny Sue,
I'm happy that you want to add this ballad to your collection. It does my heart good to hear that others are interested in preserving these old songs. I wonder how many of these old ballads have been lost. If I can help you get any more information about Eugene, just let me know. I've been thinking of checking out newspaper accounts of the wreck.

I hope that the ballad of Eugene Butcher will once again ring from the hills of central West Virginia. I'm pretty sure that Eugene's Butcher's originally came from Pendleton County, as did many families in that area.

The Tile Lady said...

It's a marvelous ballad, and really moved me to hear this wonderful man so memorialized! Thank you so very much for sharing this, and it was great to hear it sung! Really wonderful post!

I asked Granny Sue, and haven't seen her response yet but I will ask you also--are you familiar with Sheila Kay---(I have lost her last name somewhere in the recesses of my memory!) who is one of the few ballad singers left? She is from the topmost area of the NW NC. Just wondered if you are familiar with her.