Does Anyone the Origins of the Song, "Go to sleep little baby, the wind’s from the west"?

Donna Buttram Barksdale wrote:

I’m looking for the origins to a song my grandmother used to sing to us, here’s what I remember…

Go to sleep little baby.
The wind’s from the west
and the turkey’s on its nest.
and I can’t get my rest for the baby.
The old sheep lost its lamb
way over in the holler,
the buzzards and butterflies
pecked out its eyes
and the poor little thing cried mammy.

If anyone knows anything about this song, perhaps even where it’s sung, please let us know in the comments below.


Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 at 3:07 pm and is filed under Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, England, English, English Children's Songs, English Lullabies, Languages, Lullabies, Lullabies from Around the World, Questions, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Does Anyone the Origins of the Song, "Go to sleep little baby, the wind’s from the west"?”

  1. Uly Says:

    That’s odd. The first half looks like a floater that occurs in a lot of songs. I’m most familiar with it from variations on the song that runs “Farewell, my own true love, and fare well for awhile, dadadada, I’ll be back though I go ten thousand mile”. The second shows large similarity to the second verse of “Pretty Little Horses”. I didn’t know that verse floated at all.

  2. Gail Says:

    Following from childhood memory:

    Go to sleep, go to sleep
    Go to sleep little baby.
    The buzzards and the flies
    They pick at his eyes
    And the little thing
    hollers out mammie.
    Go to sleep, go to sleep
    Go to sleep little baby.
    When you wake
    You’ll have some cake.
    Go to sleep little baby.

  3. Lisa Says:

    I found the following version in “On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs” (1925) by Dorothy Scarborough, Ola Lee Gulledge:

    Go to sleep, little baby,
    When you wake
    You shall have
    All the mulies in the stable.
    Buzzards and flies
    Picking out its eyes,
    Poor little baby crying,
    Mamma, mamma!

    It seems to be a version of “All the Pretty Little Horses“. Check out these two verses:

    Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
    Go to sleepy little baby,
    When you wake, you’ll have cake,
    And all the pretty little horses.

    Way down yonder, down in the meadow,
    There’s a poor wee little lambie.
    The bees and the butterflies pickin’ at its eyes*,
    The poor wee thing cried for her mammy.

    According to Wikipedia, “The origin of this song is not fully known. Commonly, the song is thought to be of African American origin.” [According to Alan Lomax’s book American Ballads and Folksongs.]

    It continues: “One such version is provided in Alan Lomax’s book American Ballads and Folksongs, though he makes no claim of this. ‘Way down yonder, In de medder, There’s a po’ lil lambie, De bees an’ de butterflies, Peckin’ out its eyes, De po’ lil lambie cried, Mammy!’ Another version contains the lyrics ‘Buzzards and flies, Picking out its eyes, Pore little baby crying’. The theory would suggest that the lyrics ‘po’ lil lambie cried, Mammy’ is in reference to the slaves who were often separated from their own families in order to serve their owners. However, this verse is very different from the rest of the lullaby, suggesting that the verse may have been added later or has a different origin than the rest of the song. The verse also appears in the song’Ole Cow’ and older versions of the song ‘Black Sheep, Black Sheep’.”

  4. sharon darnell Says:

    My mama sang this song to me when I was little…bye bye bye little black sheep…way down yonder in the meadow….buzzards and the flies picking out there eyes…poor little thing cried mama mama…..there were other verses that I don’t recall…..I thought my mama made this up…ha…I guess not!

  5. Karen Nall Says:

    When I was in elementary school in KY, about 50 years ago, we sang a similar song. I remember it was about a lamb and the words “the bees and the butterflies swarming ’round its eyes and the poor little thing is crying mammy. This made me cry, so our music teacher only had us sing it a few times because it upset me so much. Yet I have never forgotten those words.

  6. Julie Dozier Says:

    I remember Dad singing this to me in the rocking chair when I was little about 55 years ago. He died a few months ago and in my grief I was also trying to remember all the words to the song. All I could recal was “the buzzards and the flies a’peckin’ at his eyes and the little sheepie hollerin’ maaaaaamie.” As a Child I just liked being sung to, Dads pretty voice, his attention, and the funny sheep sound, not really thinking much of the visual of the lyrics. Yet each time I would say “sing it again, Daddy,” he’d rare his head back in laughter that I liked a song with such gross lyrics. Then he’d sing it again and again. Probably my first really close memory of times with Dad.

  7. Lisa Says:

    What a wonderful memory Julie.

  8. David Haymore Says:

    My grandmother sang the following:
    Go to sleepy little baby, before the boost man gets you
    Baa sheep Baa Where’s your lamb
    Way down yonder in the valley,
    The buzzards and the butterflies pickin out his eyes
    Poor little thing cryin Mammy Mammy
    Poor little thing cryin Mammy

    I sang it to my daughter and she was fine until I got to the part about pickin out his eyes then she would start cryin

  9. Ann Howe Says:

    My grandfather sang this to me 90 years ago. I remember it as being about a black lamb left behind and I always cried when he sang it to me. I remember the emotion but not the words. All the words I remember are…

    The buzzards and the flies
    Are pickin’ out his eyes
    And the poor little sheep
    Is crying Mammy.

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