Missouri, Bright Land of the West

(Composed by Harry Macarthy, 1861)

Dave Para—classical guitar, vocal; Cathy Barton—vocal; Bob Dyer—vocal;
Norma Puntney—piano; Dave Wilson—mandolin; Knox McCrory—harmonica

In early 1861 there was much nationwide concern over whether Missouri would stay with the Union or join the Confederacy. Although Missouri was a slave state, and many of its citizens had roots in Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee there was no general sentiment for secession in the state, and there was a very strong Unionist sentiment among the many German immigrants living in and around St. Louis. Citizens living in the western and central parts of the state, especially areas bordering the recently admitted “Free” State of Kansas, and areas along the Missouri River, expressed the most overtly secessionist sympathies.

Missouri governor in exile, Claiborne Fox Jackson, and a small group of legislators loyal to him met in Neosho, Mo., in October 1861 and announced the passage of an Act of Secession (penned by Sen. George Graham Vest) that was acknowledged by the Confederate government in November 1861. But Unionist legislators in Jefferson City and other loyal government officials declared the governorīs office vacant and appointed provisional governor Hamilton Gamble who did not recognize the Act of Secession.

Composer Harry Macarthy (spelled “McCarthy” in some sources) is addressing Missourians of Southern persuasion in this propaganda song meant to induce the state to secede. The song, written in 1861, became popular for a time, but never achieved the fame of Macarthy's other 1861 composition, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” second only to “Dixie” in popularity throughout the South. Although Macarthy later added another verse to the “Bonnie Blue Flag” announcing that Missouri had joined the Confederacy, this was more wishful thinking than fact:

We cast our eyes far northward and lo! Missouri comes,
With a roar of dread artillery and the sound of martial drums.

Macarthy was an English-born actor, singer and songwriter popular on the vaudeville circuit in the South. Billing himself as “The Arkansaw Comedian,” he gave “impersonation concerts” where he was able to popularize his own compositions as well as other Southern songs. He apparently joined the Confederate Army in Arkansas for a period of time, but went North before the end of the war and eventually moved to California where he died in 1888.

Missouri! Missouri! bright land of the west!
Where the way worn emigrant always found rest,
Who gave to the farmer reward for his toil,
Expended in turning and breaking the soil.
Awake to the notes of the bugle and drum,
Awake from your slumber the tyrant hath come!
And swear by your honor your chains shall be riven,
And add your bright star to our flag of eleven.
They forced you to join in their unholy fight,
With fire and with sword, with power and with might.
'Gainst father and brother, and loved ones so near,
'Gainst women, and children, and all you hold dear;
They've o'er run your soil, insulted your press,
They've murdered your citizens—shown no redress—
So swear by your honor your chains shall be riven,
And add your bright star to our flag of eleven.
Missouri! Missouri! oh, where thy proud fame!
Free land of the west, thy once cherished name,
Now trod in the dust by a despot's command,
Proclaiming his own tyrant law o'er the land;
Brave men of Missouri, strike without fear,
McCulloch, and Jackson, and Price are all near.
Then swear by your honor your chains shall be riven,
And add your bright star to our flag of eleven.

© Big Canoe Records, 1995