Introduced by Mark Gilston
This song was “gifted” to me by Ben Mendel from New York City in the late 1970’s. He told me he learned it from Bob Beers and that it was originally from Montana. I have been unable to find any other recorded sources or versions, though my understanding is that the huge evil cervine premonition of death is a legend in the northwestern states and in southwestern Canada. It certainly is a wonderfully eerie song, and I always included it in concerts around Halloween.
Listen to Mark sing the tune:
It was a lonely summer’s day. Two brothers, they did go
To labor in the stony field, some harvest for to mow.
All in a row the three did reap: the lonely farmer’s wife,
And last of all the eldest son did wield the mighty knife
They scarce had followed once around, when in the clearing stood
The specter of a devil buck come bounding through the wood.
His eye did burn with evil, and his horn was dark with moss;
And on his mighty whistle side, they saw the bloody cross.
Now the brothers, they did shun the field, and threw away the blade;
And there, betwixt the two of them, a bitter oath was made.
“Oh, I will take the mountains high, and you, the river west;
And ere the sun does set again, we’ll snare him in his nest.”
And, oh, the widow tore her hair all on the farmer’s grave,
For it was this dreadful wicked beast did make her weep and rave.
Now the youngest one he did go west, but took the rise instead.
And there he spied the devil buck a-standing in his bed.
Oh he did waver in his spell, and trembled to the ground;
But with a sick and fevered eye, his bloody mark, he found.
The air was torn with thunder, as he took his dreadful aim.
And there, upon a mark of blood, his brother he has slain.
See the widow tear her hair. Hear her mournful wail;
Beware the lonely hunter’s fate that makes her weep and rail.
Feel the lonesome summer’s wind. Hear its mournful cry.
There’s many a youth whose life was spent, all on the mountains high.
Mark Gilston was born and raised in New York City. Both of his parents were steeped in the folk music revival scene of the 1950’s. He grew up listening to 78’s and LP’s of American, Russian, Spanish, Caribbean and Israeli folk music. Learning guitar and taking piano lessons starting at age 5, he was constantly immersed in music. In his youth, Mark gained a love of traditional American ballads and Old-Time songs and instrumentals from recordings and from his father, who often sang the old ballads which he had learned in his youth in Appalachia.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Folklore, Mark went to graduate school at SUNY Binghamton studying ethnomusicology and ended up settling there until 1994.
Mark has been giving concerts and leading workshops since 1971. He interned at the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song, and has worked as a researcher for Alan Lomax. He has published numerous articles and books on music and folklore. Mark is also a multi-instrumentalist with an international reputation in English concertina and mountain dulcimer. He won the prestigious National Mountain Dulcimer Championship in 2016. Mark has 14 CDs on the Ramble Creek and Creative Engineering labels. “Devil Buck” is on Mark’s debut CD, “It Would Sure Be a Miracle.”