“Oh My Darling, Clementine” is an American western folk ballad usually credited to Percy Montrose (1884) though sometimes to Barker Bradford. The song is believed to have been based on another called “Down by the River Liv’d a Maiden” by H. S. Thompson (1863).
The words are those of a bereaved lover singing about his darling, the daughter of a “49er” (a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush). He loses her in a drowning accident – though he consoles himself towards the end of the song with Clementine’s “little sister”.
Oh My Darling, Clementine quickly became popular, especially with scouts and other groups of young people, as a campfire and excursion song, and there are several different versions of the words. (There is even a Scottish version, the Climbing Clementine, which begins “In a crevice, high on Nevis…”) The lyrics most often sung are those shown below.
The verse about the little sister was often left out of folk song books intended for children, presumably because it seemed morally questionable. [information borrowed from wikipedia] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh_My_Darling,_Clementine
Down by the River Liv’d a Maiden [by H. S. Thompson 1863]
Down by the river there lived a maiden,
In a cottage built just seven by nine,
And all around this lubly bower,
The beauteous sunflower blossoms twine.
CHORUS [sung after each verse]
Oh! my Clema, Oh! my Clema,
Oh! my darling Clementine,
Now you are gone and lost forever,
I’m dreadful sorry Clementine.
Her lips were like two luscious beefsteaks
Dipp’d in tomato sauce and brine,
And like the cashmere goatess covering
Was the fine wool of Clementine.
Her foot, Oh! Golly! Twas a beauty,
Her shoes were made of Dig-by pine,
Two herring boxes without the tops on
Just made the sandals of Clementine.
One day de wind was blowing awful
I took her down some old rye wine,
And listened to de sweetest cooings,
Ob my sweet sunflower Clementine.
De ducks had gone done to de riber,
To drive dem back she did incline,
She stubb’d her toe and Oh! Kersliver,
She fell into the foamy brine.
I see’d her lips above de waters,
A blowing bubbles bery fine,
But ‘turnt no use I want no swimmer,
And so I lost my Clementine.
Now ebry night down by the riber,
Her ghostess walks long half past nine
I know tis her a kase I tracked her,
And by de smell tis Clementine.
Now all young men by me take warning,
Don’t gib your ladies too much rye wine,
Kase like as not is this wet wedder,
Dey’ll share de fate ob Clementine.