Singing beloved, storytelling songs of the 1850s with Grandma | NevadaAppeal.com

Singing beloved, storytelling songs of the 1850s with Grandma

Ruby McFarland
Special to the Appeal

I grew up with a grandmother who loved to sing. No matter if life was handing her a load of garbage, she sang. She and I sang together often. I’m so glad we did, as those songs are now history.

Laura Tennant and I were talking one Saturday morning about songs we remembered as children. Her mother sang a lot, even though she didn’t have too much to sing about. Surprisingly, the songs were the same songs Grandma and I sang.

I’m writing this because I find a link between music, songs and the times we can’t ignore. Songs we sang then were “Springtime in the Rockies,” “Nighttime in Nevada,” “Where the White Azaleas are Blooming,” “Let the Rest of the World Go By” and a few timely songs like “Red Sails in the Sunset.”

With a little digging around for music and songs that were played and sung in the 1850s-60s, there are sure some I know and love. I wonder what they played at Nevada’s first dance held in Dayton in 1853? I would love to know what instruments were played. More than likely, there was a fiddle, and possibly nothing else.

Steven Foster wrote the songs of that era – he was very popular. New songs traveled as fast as good gossip. One of the songs of the day in the 1860s was “Little Brown Jug.” We almost all know that song. There was also, “My Darling Nellie Gray,” along with songs many of us would remember, like, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” – it has survived the times.

One song I sang with Grandma was “Wait for the Wagon.” It’s a simple song that is easy to remember. Some songs were politically oriented, like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” a favorite in 1853.

Most songs written then were melancholic about lost loves or loved ones. Like today’s country-western songs, they tell a story. Catchy tunes were the most often remembered and sung.

I’ll bet that although “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written in 1858 about Texas, it was sung by everyone. The 1850s went down in history being the most prolific song-writing time in American history.

As I noted earlier, it didn’t take long for a new piece of music to be heard, even way out here in the uncivilized West. Large musical instruments like pianos and organs rarely made it over the 40-mile desert trail. They were treated with care when they did.

There are a couple of pianos and one organ in the Dayton Museum that were important to the musical pleasure of the Comstock.

If you have anything to add to the musical history of this area, stop by the Dayton Museum and “set a spell” – we will sing along together.

The Dayton Museum is on Shady Lane and Logan Street in Old Town Dayton. It’s also the location of the Dayton Chamber office. It is open during the week upon request and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Check out daytonnvhistory.org. Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-0462 or 246-0441. The Historical Society of Dayton Valley meets at noon on the third Wednesday of the month at the Community Center.

• Ruby McFarland is a 17-year resident of Dayton, a board member of the Dayton Historical Society and a docent at the museum.