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Poor Ellen Smith
Composer: Traditional

Poor Ellen Smith was performed by Jerry Garcia, Marshall Leicester and Robert Hunter at the Carlos Bookstall in San Carlos in July 1961.

A traditional song that occurs in a number of forms. The song usually occurs as Poor Ellen Smith but the titles Ellen Smith, Poor Little Ellen, The Fate of Ellen Smith or similar also occur. On the tape of the Garcia, Leicester and Hunter show Garcia introduces the song as Ellen Smith.

The song is probably based on a real event. An Ellen Smith was murdered by someone possibly called Peter DeGraff in North Carolina in 1893 or 1894.



Recordings

no info Single (Ellen Smith / Travelling Man), Henry Whitter, 1924
no info Single (Poor Ellen Smith / Frankie), Dykes' Magic City Trio, 1927
no info Single (The Fate Of Ellen Smith / Santa Barbara Earthquake), Green Bailey, 1928
no info Molly O'Day, 194?
info North Carolina Ballads, Artus Moser, 1955
info Bowling Green, Kossoy Sisters with Erik Darling, 1956
info Bloody Ballads, Paul Clayton, 1956
info Banjo Songs of the Southern Mountain, Various Artists (Obray Ramsey), 1955
info Banjo Tunes and Songs, Pete Steele, 1958
info Folk Music USA, Vol. 1, Various Artists (Pete Steele), 1958
no info Single (Poor Ellen Smith / The Devil And The Farmer), Cecil Surratt & Smitty Smith, 1959
no info Single (Poor Ellen Smith / Helen), Country Gentlemen, 1960
info Country Songs Old & New, The Country Gentlemen, 1960
info Roamin' the Blue Ridge with Jeanie West, Harry & Jeanie West, 1960?
no info Blue Ridge Mountain Music, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 1960
no info Five String Banjo Jamboree Spectacular, Various Artists (Country Gentlemen), 1961
info Bluegrass Gentlemen, Bluegrass Gentlemen, 1962
info Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs, Frank Proffitt, 1962
info Folk Songs of Our Land, Flatt & Scruggs, 1962
info Fleming Brown, Fleming Brown, 1962
info Ballads and Bluegrass, Walter Forbes, 1962
info Traditional Music from Grayson and Carroll Counties, Virginia, Various Artists (Vester Jones), 1962
info Bluegrass Recordings By All Star Artists Featuring The 5 String Banjo EP, Various Artists (Country Gentlemen), 1962
info On The Road, The Country Gentlemen, 1963
no info New Frontier, The Kingston Trio, 1963
no info Way Back In the Hills of Kentucky, Stringbean, 1964
info Sunny Side of the Mountain, Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys, 1965
no info Traditional Music Of Beech Mountain, NC, Vol II, Captain Hicks and Viola, 1965
no info Doc Hopkins, Doc Hopkins, 1965
info Don Reno and Bill Harrell with the Tennesse Cutups, Don Reno and Bill Harrell with the Tennesse Cutups, 1967
info Old Time Music, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, 1968
no info Blue Ridge Mountain Music, Hobart Smith, 196?
info Pickin And Singin, Jim McCall, 1972
info The Bluegrass Touch, Earl Taylor & the Stoney Mountain Boys, 1973
no info Outback, Pine River Boys With Maybelle, 1974
info Country Bluegrass from Southwest Virginia, Glen Neaves and the Virginia Mountain Boys, 1974
no info Come and Go With Me, Tommy Jarrell, 1974
info Springtime In The Mountains, Various Artists (Ted Lundy & The Southern Mountain Boys), 1975
no info Wilma Lee And Stoney Cooper, Wilma Lee And Stoney Cooper, 1976
no info Music From South Turkey Creek, Various Artists (Bascom Lamar Lunsford), 1976
no info Not A Word From Home, Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys, 1977
no info Bluegrass Fiddle Jam, Virgil Shouse, 1977
info 20 Years: Concert Performances, The New Lost City Ramblers, 1978
no info Directions, Norman Blake, 1978
no info Fiddle Band Music from Kentucky, Vol.2: Wish I Had My Time Again, Various Artists (Green Bailey), 1980
no info Someday We'll Meet Again, Iron Mountain String Band, 1981
info Stanley Series. Vol. 1 #3, Stanley Brothers, 1982
no info Country & Western Classics: The Women, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 1982
info Old Time North Carolina Mountain Music, David and Billie Ray Johnson, 1985
no info Rainbow Sign, Tommy Jarrell, 1986
no info John Hardy, Frank Proffit, 1986
info Grassroots to Bluegrass, Mac Wiseman, 1990
no info In Memory, Molly O'Day, 1990
info Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 1: Golden Age, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 1990
info 1959-1963, Flatt and Scruggs, 1992
info Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, 1992
info Sounds of the South, Various Artists (Hobart Smith), 1993
info Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys, Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys, 1994
info Rhythm of the Mountains, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 1994
no info Mountain Music Collection, Vol. 2: Fair and Tender Ladies, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 1994
info Diamond Joe, Joe Val, 1995
no info Another Side of the Fraleys, J. P. and Annadeene Fraley, 1995
info Old-Time Mountain Ballads, Various Artists (Green Bailey), 1995
no info Live in Europe, Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers, 1996
info Riverside Folklore Series, Vol. 2: Singing the American Roots, Various Artists (Obray Ramsay), 1996
info 20 Bluegrass Favorites, Don Reno and Bill Harrell, 1997
info Southern Journey, Vol. 2: Ballads and Breakdown, Various Artists (Estil C Ball), 1997
info Country Roots, Vol. 1: 21 Old-Time Favorites, Various Artists (Reno & Harrell), 1997
no info The Bottom Line, The McPeak Brothers, 1998
no info Bound to Ride, Jim Mills, 1998
no info Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight, Kristin Hersh, 1998
info Legacy of Tommy Jarrell, Vol. 2: Rainbow Sign, Tommy Jarrell, 1999
info Legacy of Tommy Jarrell, Vol. 3: Come and Go with Me, Tommy Jarrell, 1999
info Sounds Like Bluegrass to Me, Tony Ellis, 1999
no info Redbird Country & High Ground, David Essig, 1999
no info Blue Ridge Ballads, Texas Gladden and Hobart Smith, 19??
info Country Bluegrass, Harry & Jeanie West, 2000
info Holly Ding, Tom, Brad & Alice, 2000
no info New Frontier/Time to Think, The Kingston Trio, 2000
no info The Stewart Years, The Kingston Trio, 2000
no info The Warner Collection, Vol. 1: Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, Various Artists (Homer Cornett), 2000
info 40 Years of Concert Performances, New Lost City Ramblers, 2001
info Blue Ridge Legacy: The Alan Lomax Portait Series, Hobart Smith, 2001
info On the Road (And More), The Country Gentlemen, 2001
info Ballad Legacy: The Alan Lomax Portait Series, Texas Gladden, 2001
no info Canadian Amp, Neko Case, 2001
no info Bluegrass Bonanza: Classic Bluegrass 1946-50, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 2001
info Bluegrass Bonanza, Various Artists (Molly O'Day), 2001
no info Home Brew, Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers, 2002
no info In Concert at Cypress Gardens, Larry Stephenson, 2002
no info Toolshed, Kevin Maul, 2002
no info Old As Dirt, Bluegrass Intentions, 2002
info O Sister 2: The Women's Bluegrass Collection, Various Artists (Wilma Lee Cooper), 2002
no info 25 Bluegrass Classics: Vintage 60's: Songs of Rural America, Various Artists (Reno & Harrell), 2002
no info The Best of the Bluegrass Tradition, Various Artists (Kossoy Sisters), 2002
no info Bluegrass Jamboree, Various Artists (Kossoy Sisters), 2002
info The Executioner's Last Songs, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts w/ Neko Case, 2002
info Cool Blue Outlaws: Songs of Rogues Rascals and Rapscallions, Various Artists (Jim Mills), 2002
info 25 Bluegrass Classics: Vintage 60's: Songs of Rural America, Various Artists (Don Reno & Bill Harrell), 2002
no info A Stringband from Chattanooga, Citico, 2003
no info Bluegrass Festival, Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys, 2003
info Ballads and Bluegrass / Folksong Festival, Walter Forbes, 2003
no info Country Mountain Favorites, Pine Tree String Band, 2003
no info American Gothic: Bluegrass Songs of Death and Sorrow, Various Artists (Mac Wiseman), 2003
info Kentucky Mountain Music, Various Artists (Theophilus Hoskins), 2003
info Don't Cry to Me, Jimmy Martin, 2004
info An Evening Long Ago: Live 1956, The Stanley Brothers, 2004
no info Second Generation Bluegrass, Various Artists (Country Gentlemen), 2004
no info Wildwood Flower: Classic Country Performances, Various Artists (Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2004
no info Outlaws, Renegades & Rogues: Songs of the Badman, Various Artists (Reno & Harrell), 2004
info Can't You Hear Me Callin': Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music, Various Artists (Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2004
no info The Best Of Can't You Hear Me Callin', Various Artists (Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2004
no info The Ballads, Sweetwater, 2005
no info Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, 2005
no info Love Call Me Home, Peggy Seeger, 2005
no info Humming by the Flowered Vine, Laura Cantrell, 2005
no info Hard Times, Fernando Goin, 2005
no info Intended Play 2005: Wrongs of Spring, Various Artists (Laura Cantrell), 2005
info San Francisco: 1968, Vern & Ray, 2006
no info Clawhammer and Dobro, Ivan Rosenberg, 2006
info Blockbuster Bluegrass, Various Artists (McPeak Brothers), 2006
info People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938, Various Artists (Dykes Magic City Trio), 2007
info The Essential Guide To Bluegrass, Various Artists (Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2007
no info Appalachian Mountain Bluegrass: 30 Vintage Classics, Various Artists (Reno & Harrell), 2007
no info The Best of Bluegrass, Various Artists (Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2008
no info Essential Bluegrass Anthology, Various Artists (Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2008
no info Best Loved Bluegrass: 20 All-Time Favorites, Various Artists (Ted Lundy and the Southern Mountain Boys), 2008
no info Oh Brother, Here Art Thou Bluegrass, Various Artists (Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks), 2008
info Folk Songs of Our Land/Fabulous Sounds of..., Flatt & Scruggs, 2009
no info Vintage Bluegrass Essentials: 40 Bluegrass Classics, Various Artists (Reno & Harrell), 2009

Lyrics

The lyrics of the version on the San Carlos tape are;

Poor little Ellen, sweet as a rose
How I love my Ellen, there ain't nobody knows
Ain't nobody knows
How I love my Ellen, there ain't nobody knows.

Poor little Ellen, how was she found
Shot in the heart, lying cold on the ground
Lying cold on the ground
Shot in the heart, lying cold on the ground.

(Not drinking and gambling,) just (loafing) around
A (bullet) from my pistol knocked sweet Ellen down
Knocked sweet Ellen down
A (bullet) from my pistol knocked sweet Ellen down.

On Monday I was arrested, on Tuesday I was tried
By the laws of my country I had to abide
I had to abide
By the laws of my country I had to abide.

I got a letter yesterday, I read it today
The flowers on her grave have withered away
Have withered away
The flowers on her grave have withered away.

The warden told me yesterday that soon I'll be free
To visit Ellen's grave 'neath that lonely willow tree
'Neath that lonely willow tree
To visit Ellen's grave 'neath that lonely willow tree

Poor little Ellen, how was she found
Shot in the heart, lying cold on the ground
Lying cold on the ground
Shot in the heart, lying cold on the ground.

 
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