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March 4, 2015: “Cheechako”

Last night, Pete and I went to the Dorothy Page Museum in Wasilla – it was where a story telling session was taking place. There were numerous old timers present. One older man began singing this song – and the event organizer, a woman named Bethany, ran and got the book with the song in it as he was singing. He never missed a beat. After he sang, I got a hold of the book. I was going to copy the song in my notebook, but Bethany ran to the front room and made me a copy.

The introduction to the song that “Cheechako” is a “very choice piece of Alaskana.” It was “written some years ago” by an “old timer, real estate man, and what have you Gustave E. (Shorty) Gustafson.” The writer also says that the song was copyrighted in 1941, but he had permission to reprint it. He adds “Its theme song is ‘Where Do They Come From, Where Do They Go.’ Shorty always sings it with his guitar as accompaniment, but if you sing it yourself to the old tune of ‘Join the Baptist Sunday School’ you will also have a lot of fun and perhaps you will catch some of the spirit of old Alaska and understand a bit more about its early people. A ‘Cheechako’ is the name Alaskans give to newcomers, the equivalent in our west was ‘greenhorn,’ it means one who has not seen the ice go out of the Yukon, which is, of course, the prerequisite for being a true ‘sourdough.’ “

The song is as follows:


We are among the thousand that have come up north,
We’re seeking for a fortune; We’re partly seeking sport.
We boarded the steamer, got our luggage put away,
And landed in Alaska, just happy and gay.

If you’ve always been a failure,
Why here is your chance,
You could go up in the valley and get yourself a ranch.
There is gold up in the mountains, we have fields of coal,
And rabbits in the woods, the way that we was told.

Where do they come from and where do they go,
They may have places that we never know.
You got to have your bacons and your beans that’s all,
And crawl into your cabin when the snow begins to fall.

Make your home in Alaska, and put this in your mind,
That fishing, trapping, hunting up here is surely fine.
We have moose in the timber, there are fish down in the bay,
And sheep up in the mountains, the way they say.

Chorus (Repeat)
If you do not like Alaska and you do not like the style,
Just bundle up your parcels and be gone with a smile
There’s a train that goes to Seward and be happy on your way,
But this is what you’ll hear all the sourdoughs say:

Where do they come from and where do they go,
They must have places that we never know.
The boats are leaving Seward so be happy on your way,
There is no one to hold you if you don’t want to stay.

Next: 63. 3/5/15: Doing what Needs to be Done

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