Edited excerpt from “The Red Man and the Blues,” by Max Haymes at http://www.earlyblues.com
The eastern territory in Oklahoma, the ‘Indian Nation’, was admitted to the United States in 1907, along with Oklahoma Territory. But because of lack of law and order and relative freedom from white oppression, which attracted working-class blacks, Blues singers up to thirty-five years later still referred to the “Territo” or “Nation”.
Andrew and Jim Baxter’s “Bamalong Blues” includes this verse:
“Bin to the Nation, an’ I jus’ got back,
Bin to the Nation, an’ I jus’ got back.
Didn’t git no money but I brought the sack.”
The guitar player employing some sarcasm in the third line, which would not be lost on his black listeners. The ‘sack’ referred to was a Nation sack used to store any money which the Blues singer, or his lover, could hustle, cheat or otherwise cajole, ‘from those in employment around him, in order to survive.
Erstwhile leader of the great Memphis Jug Band (1927-34), Will Shade, recalled to Paul Oliver how the women (c.1900) used to follow the famous steamboat, the ‘Katy Adams’ as she plied her trade between Memphis and the Delta town of Rosedale in Mississippi. They made so much money from the roustabouts on the boat, who made “…a hundred and fifty dollars a trip totin’ all that cotton…”, that the women “…they used to wear ‘Nation’ sacks in them days – and they used to wear their money twixt their legs, hung on (sic) a sack tied round their waists.” This custom seemed to continue into the mid-1930’s when youthful, Delta Blues man, Robert Johnson sang:
“Aaah! she’s gone, I know she won’t come back,
I taken her last nickel out of her Nation sack.”
probably advertising one of the reasons why his woman left him, having got tired of Johnson draining her financial resources.
Blues singers regarded the Nation as some sort of haven, safe from white interference. So Sam Collins, an older singer with a similar pitch and timbre to the young Jim Baxter, would have no doubt where he was headed in 1931:
“Went to the Nation, new Territo’,
Gonna catch me the first train, I got to go.”
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