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Jane Barnes

The Shores of Oregon

Poem by John Dashney (1942-2019), Music by Gordon Bok

Jane Barnes was a barmaid in Portsmouth Town

When she decided it might be fun

To give up her job, take up with a man

And sail for the shores of Oregon

Sail for the shores of Oregon

So she sailed away from Baker’s Bay

Round the horn in the Isaac Todd

It’s thirteen months from Portsmouth Town

To the shores of Oregon by God

There to the shores of Oregon

Donald McTavish was the man she chose

When that long trip was first begun

The new governor at old Fort George

That sat on the shores of Oregon

Sat on the shores of Oregon

But the governor’s boat was swamped and sunk

And McTavish and his crew were drowned

His body washed up on the shore

And the rest of men were never found

The rest of the men were never found

So Jane was left without a man

Alone as on the sands she trod

1814 on rainy beach

On the shores of Oregon by God

There on the shores of Oregon

Then Prince Cassakas said to her

I am Great Chief Comcomly’s son

I got four wives but marry me

And live on the shores of Oregon

Live on the shores of Oregon

I’ll give you kinnikinnick to smoke

Seal oil to rub on your skin so white

And you’ll never have to grub for roots

Nor dig for clams on the shore at night

Clams on the shore at night

By God said Jane I do need a man

Why did McTavish have to drown?

But a man that smells like rotten fish

I’d rather serve beer in Portsmouth town

And smell like the beer in Portsmouth town

So Jane sailed away for Baker’s Bay

To the west and followed the setting sun

Clear round the world to Portsmouth town

And far from the shores of Oregon

Far from the shores of Oregon

Jane never made the history books

And children never read of her life

For she was a barmaid bold and not

Some pious missionary wife

Pious missionary wife

Jane was a barmaid coarse and bold

And yet, when all is said and done

My God! She was the first and far from the worst

To come to the shores of Oregon

To come to the shores of Oregon

John Dashney was an internationally loved storyteller, historian, and author of children’s books. We had corresponded for a few years when he sent me this poem, wondering if it might become a song. I loved the story, the nuts and bolts of it, the characters and the way John presented them with such honesty and respect, so I made this tune for it, which he said he liked.

Here’s why I believe this is a true story. The “bar” off the mouth of the Columbia River is one of the most dangerous river-bars in the world, and captains who pilot the ships across it must have the highest credentials in the world. In their office in Astoria, there’s a plaque on the wall commemorating the first known Columbia River Bar Pilot. -Comcomly.

[Thanks to friend & hero Capt. Deborah Dempsey, Bar Pilot, for al lher kindnesses]