The True Story of The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Things are not always what they seem, no matter how much you want to believe them. This is the case in my debut novel, Song of Simon, and my historical fantasy series The Watchmage of Old New York (both available now, plug plug plug). Whether that says something horrible about me, I don’t know. Read below, and then judge…or not, your call.

If you want your childhood shattered, read the article below. I first wrote it many years ago for Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Originally published in

The True Story of The Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Sinister History of the Classic Kids’ Song

Every kid grows up knowing about “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” that fabled paradise filled with “peppermint trees” and “soda water fountains.” However not every kid, or their parents, knows that “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” was originally a cautionary song about the dangers of life on the road among the hobos.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain: A Kids’ Song With a Checkered Past

The kids’ song that we know as “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” with “lemonade springs where the bluebird sings,” is considerably different from the original. Harry McClintock, was the first person to record “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” in 1928 The man known as “Haywire Mac” claims that he wrote the song much earlier, around 1898, at the age of 16. He was living on the streets, singing for change, and as he says and radio host Fred Bals relates:

“I was a shining mark; a kid who could not only beg handouts but who could bring in money… a valuable piece of property for the jocker who could snare him… there were times when I fought like a wildcat or ran like a deer to preserve my independence and virginity…”

Are you disturbed yet?

Kids were often seduced into the hobo lifestyle by “jockers” — aggressive hobos who would trick children and then force the kids to work for them begging and sometimes to perform sexual favors.

McClintock says that the version he wrote in 1898 was much more adult than the version he recorded in 1928. During a court case questioning the authorship of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” McClintock produced the final verse from his original song:

“The punk rolled up his big blue eyes and said to the jocker, “Sandy, I’ve hiked and hiked and wandered too, But I ain’t seen any candy. I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore, I’ll be God damned if I hike any more, To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

“The Appleknocker’s Lament” Reinforces the Danger of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”

There are other songs very similar to McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” implying that there is an original source that Haywire Mac took his version from. One other derivative of this mystery source is called “The Appleknocker’s Lament” and further presents “The Big Rock Candy Mountain’s” dark history.;ttBIGROCK.html

“The Applekocker’s Lament” is a brutally raw story told from a child’s point of view about how he was convinced to go with a hobo and then violated. Instead of showing the kid “the bees in the cigarette trees, The big rock candy mountains,” the hobo “made me beg and steal his eggs (sit on his peg)/ And he called me his jocker. When I didn’t get pies he blacked my eyes/ And called me his apple-knocker.”

Eventually, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” would get cleaned up for the general public. As is often the case with traditional songs, the original meaning was lost through years of repetition. What was once a horror story warning the dangers of the hobo lifestyle is now a beloved kids’ song.

The Watchmage Is Coming

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2 thoughts on “The True Story of The Big Rock Candy Mountain

    • Yeah. It’s amazing how people can take songs like this and sanitize them into children’s music. The first song I ever learned on guitar was Tom Dooley, which is about a dude that murdered a girl and is now waiting at the gallows to hang

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