45 Friday: BROKEN ARROW & THE TOMAHAWKS – I Get Rainy River Blues

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By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

What would a local record story be without a mystery or two, and a lot of missing information? I don’t know, because I almost never have those!

Except for a minority of records – the most common ones – there isn’t much information on a lot of these. I’ve bemoaned that fact before here, and talked about the reasons for it. The main reason is that it was expected that no one would really ever care. Especially about “also-rans” and “misses”, not hits.

But WE care. And so today we venture into the politically-incorrect world of 1960 & 1961, with a record (and a couple of its fellows) that probably would not be made today, but that at least it showed a sympathy for the plight of the Native American.

The background to it is the Kinzua Dam project begun in 1960 and completed in 1965. This involved building a dam to control the Allegheny River. In the process a lot of land on the Pennsylvania/ New York border had to be flooded and buried under water forever. 10,000 acres of that land was part of the Allegheny Reservation given to the Senecas in the Treaty of Canandaigua by President Washington. This not only forced relocation of the Senecas, it took away ground now considered sacred, ground which held the remains of their ancestors.

Naturally this led to considerable opposition to the dam by the Natives. But the Federal government used its power of eminent domain. President Kennedy refused the Seneca’s appeals. Lands were evacuated. 600 Seneca families forced to relocate. The towns or hamlets of Elko, Kinzua, Onoville and Quaker Bridge were all lost. Some of the land was added to Allegany State Park but much ended up under the Allegheny Reservoir.

Stan Johnson was from the Southern Tier area.  I don’t know exactly where but Jamestown and Salamanca are equally good guesses. He later recorded across the border, in Ohio. I also don’t know if he was of Native American descent but I believe so. In 1961 he recorded this gem. It’s both a serious lamentation of the relocation (he would rather die than be relocated away from his deer and beaver and his ancestors) and comedy/novelty -the water swept away his mother-in-law!

This kind of novelty was common enough that’s there’s at least two full compilation CDs of rockabilly-genre Native American-themed rockers and novelties. And many of them have the exact same elements this one has: the Indian drum rhythms, the chanting, the alternation of ethnic-sounding sections with straight Rock’n’Roll sections.

I don’t know why it’s the “Rainy River Blues”, as the only Rainy River even close is on Ontario. I also don’t understand the whole “I Get Rainy River Blues” title. But it’s clearly about the Kinzua situation. The record is on the Salamanca Records label (though it has a Jamestown address). It’s credited to Broken Arrow And The Tomahawks, which may just be a coincidental use of a Native term – but a broken arrow is the sign of a broken promise, a broken treaty.

This was a one-off for Stan Johnson who never used the Broken Arrow name again. But it’s almost certainly Johnson singing, and he wrote both sides (the flip is “You’re A Million Miles Away”). This was pressed by Rite records in Ohio and released in 1961.

And that’s almost the whole story. But there’s a couple other seemingly-related records, though I’m not sure of their relevance.

Billboard Magazine’s listing for Oct 16, 1961 lists one more record on the Salamanca label and it’s the only other Salamanca I’ve heard of. Roger Smith released “I Get Rainy River Blues”, also in 1961. I don’t have a clue who Roger Smith is and don’t have this one, have never heard it. But its likely the same song, possibly even the same version re-credited. This time it’s backed with “Land Of Liberty” which may or may not be concerned with local events.

The other record is one credited to Red Arrow & The Braves. “The Last Days Of Kinzua” is about the same events, and it namechecks Cornplanter in the lyrics. This 45 came out on the Kinzua label and was issued twice, one as a two-sider (Part 1 and an instrumental Part 2) and again as “The Last Days Of Kinzua” b/w the “Red Skin Rumble”. There’s several mysterious angles to this record. It’s connected to both Olean and Rochester.

Clyde Dickerson, Southern Tier sax played and arranger, was behind the Red Arrow & The Braves records. Maybe we’ll talk about “The Last Days Of Kinzua” next week. What’s relevant today is that I have a suspicion that it’s his sax we hear on the “Rainy River Blues” track.

If that wasn’t enough, it seems “Rainy River Blues” was released by Salamanca twice! Once with a different catalog number on one side, but otherwise identical. Most likely, only to confuse record collectors in the future.

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