From this valley they say you are going.

We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,

For they say you are taking the sunshine

That has brightened our pathway a while.

So come sit by my side if you love me.

Do not hasten to bid me adieu.

Just remember the Red River Valley,

And the cowboy that has loved you so true.

The familiar folk/cowboy song made famous by Marty Robbins and others brings to mind the cowboy country of the American Southwest. Actually there are two significant Red River Valleys on the North American continent — the Red River Valley of the South where the river acts as a border between Texas and Oklahoma, and the Red River Valley of the North. The song was written about the Red River Valley of Northern United States and Canada.

Moorhead, Minnesota; Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Winnipeg, Manitoba, were settled by ethnic Europeans, and the Red River Valley grew in population in the late 19th century. Completion of major railroads, availability of cheap lands, and extinguishing of Indian land claims brought many new settlers. Some developed large-scale agricultural operations known as Bonanza Farms, which concentrated on wheat commodity crops.

Manitoba author Edith Fowke wrote that the six verses and iconic chorus of “Red River Valley” were composed prior to 1896 and were well known in five Canadian provinces. The earliest known written manuscript of the lyrics to this song was found in Iowa bearing the notation of the year 1879.

There is speculation, drawn from the descendants of settlers in the area, that the song was sung by a Métis (mixed indigenous and Euro-American ancestry) who was the lover of one of the men in the Wolseley expedition. She was lamenting in song the departure of her soldier lover from the Red River Valley after the victory.

The Wolseley expedition was a military force to confront the Métis in 1870, during the Red River Rebellion at the Red River Colony in what is now Manitoba. The expedition was also intended to counter American expansionist sentiments in northern border states.

“Metis” was originally the term applied to French-speaking mixed-race families, especially in the Red River area of Manitoba. Traditional Gaelic folk songs of personal expression of the cultural conflict of displacement of indigenous natives that was occurring were popular during the European settlement during 19th century.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose “Red River Valley” as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time, ranked number 10.

More information about the song and Manitoba history may be found on the Manitoba Historical Society website:

“Genealogy is not only names and dates; it is also the history of the time and place of your ancestors.”

Becky McCreary is newsletter editor for the Green Valley Genealogical Society. Contact her at or visit the society’s website at, where her columns are archived. The articles may not be reprinted without written permission of the author.

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