ink and watercolor
( See below to hear the original song by Mike Craver)

I first came across (and was immediately & throughly struck by) “Wagoner’s Lad” in 1999. The singer-songwriter was Mike Craver (one of the founders of The Red Clay Ramblers). Not surprisingly, my friend Madelyn Smoak (see notes for “In The Land of Dreamy Dreams”) immediately told me “Oh, I’ve know Mike for YEARS……”, and she put me in touch with him.
He’s a really lovely person, and an equally great musician. Look him up on The Google.
The markedly chilling (but beautiful) song of his that I illustrated was “Wagoner’s Lad”. As I’d done previously, I used Maude Adam’s portrait, in addition to a well-known portrait from Walker Evans and James Agees’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”…


Here are the lyrics:
“I was the son of a wagoner, born with a heavy load
I grew up at the old home place, down by the Rockford Road
Down by the Rockford Road
For years I worked the wagoners’ trade, making those buggies shine
I courted little Mary with the chestnut curls, rosebud blooming on the vine
Rosebuds blooming on the vine
Had me a shop in the Rockford town, Nineteen Hundred and Two
Built me a barn with the carbide lights, a cottage with a river view
A cottage with a river view
Fly away little birdie oh fly away
Winter’s a coming little birdie, so fly, fly, fly
Married little Mary in the Dunkard Church, the second day of June
Breaking out the fiddles at the old camp ground, dancing to the yellow moon
Dancing to the yellow moon
But oh kind stranger listen to me, things ain’t what they seem
The sweetest flower withers on the vine, life is a sorrowful dream
Life is a sorrowful dream
Found my little Mary in the new mown hay, pale as a winter sky
Brushed the curls from her burning cheeks, a fever in her eyes
A fever in her eyes
Oh kind stranger listen to me, once I was just like you
Standing on the hill with a new made plow, blackberries in the dew
Blackberries in the dew
But the only one I ever loved, sleeping in the cold, cold ground
I took me a torch and gallon of oil, I burned those buildings down
I burned those buildings down
The Miller boys come in the dead of the night and beat me deaf and dumb
Left me in the middle of the Rockford Road, I reckon my kingdom’s come
I reckon my kingdom’s come
For years I wandered the Natchez Trace, rambled East and West
But I couldn’t forget my little Mary’s face and never could I find my rest
Never could I find my rest
So I returned to the old home place in Nineteen Twenty Two
Slept on the sacks in the wagon shed, walked in the morning dew
Walked in the morning dew
I roamed the streets of Rockford town, begging for rags and bread
Trying to tell my story on the courthouse steps, a fire burning in my head
A fire burning in my head
Now the young folks are selling off the old home place, cutting all the timber down
I sit and sing in the evening shade but nobody hears a sound
Nobody hears a sound
Oh kind stranger listen to me — the end is coming soon
Live your life in the burning light, dance to the yellow moon
Dance to the yellow moon
Oh once I was a wagoner’s lad, drinking from the living stream
Now I’m sleeping in the old church yard, life is a curious dream
Life is a curious dream