“The Vulture (of the Alps)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: set to music c. 1842 and sung by the Hutchinson Family
Keywords: bird family disaster death
Found in: US(Ap,So)

Description

A family of shepherds is out with their sheep when a vulture swoops down and carries off their youngest child. Though the baby cries and reaches out to its father, there is nothing the others can do

Supplemental text

Vulture (of the Alps), The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

The Vulture

From W. K. McNeil, Southern Folk Ballads, Volume II, pp. 108-110.
Collected in 1978 from Dee Hicks of Tinchtown, Tennessee.

I've been among those mighty Alps,
I've wandered through their vales,
I've heard the oldest mountaineer
Relate their dismal tales.
But when around the financher (sic.) cottage homes,
But when their daily work were o'er,
They would talk of those who had disappeared
And ne'er returned no more.

(9 additional stanzas)

Notes

On its face, this has nothing to do with "The Lonesome Dove," in which a child is carried off by consumption. But that song describes the disease as a vulture. I wonder if this might not be a badly messed up form of the same idea.

It is highly unlikely that a vulture would carry off a baby, and only slightly more likely that an eagle or other carrion bird would do so. At least in America; our babies are too big. But this may well be one of those subliminal fears, like the fear of snakes (now known to be an instinct in monkeys, even those which have never seen a snake). I base this on comments in Lee R. Berger, _In the Footsteps of Eve: The Mystery of Human Origins_, Adventure Press, 2000. pp. 157-163. On page 162, Berger mentions that the Crowned Eagle of South Africa "is a specialist in primate hunting and has even been known to take human children."

What is more, it is Berger's belief that the Taung child -- a member of the species _Australopithecus africanus_ now about three million years old and first documented by Raymond Dart in 1925 -- was killed by an eagle. There remains much debate about just where _Australopithecus africanus_ stands in the lineage of humanity, but it hardly matters. If eagles were hunting that sort of australopithecine, they would hunt the others -- and one of those australopithecine species was our ancestor. American parents probably don't have to worry about vultures -- but we have at least two and a half million years of thinking we should. - RBW

Cross references

References

  1. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 108-113, "The Vulture"; "The Vulture of the Alps (2 texts, 1 tune)
  2. ST MN2108 (Partial)
  3. Roud #4777
  4. BI, MN2108