“Captain Jim Rees and the Katie”


"Captain Jim Rees said when the Katie was made, Arkansas City goin' to be her trade." The remaining verses describe the life and plans of a river worker, perhaps on the Kate Adams

Supplemental text

Captain Jim Rees and the Katie
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Mary Wheeler, Steamboatin' Days, p. 12. Said to have been collected
"from the singing of an old colored watchman and two younger Negroes
employed on the levee."

Captain Jim Rees said when the Katie wuz made,
Arkansas City gwine be her trade.

I lef' my woman in the do',
Says, "Work down the rivuh, an' honey, don't you go."

Captain will you be so good an' kind,
Take all the cotton, an' leave the seed behind.

Heep seed[1] an' a few knows,
Heap starts an'a few goes.

I ain't gwine tell nobody
What they done to me.

But ef I evuh git to the long plank walk,[2]
I won't come no mo'.

[1] Wheeler glosses this as "sees"
[2] Wheeler explains this as the stage plank.


According to Wheeler, James Rees ran a steamboat manufacturing company from 1854. In the aftermath of the Civil War, he built several boats for use on the southern Mississipi and offered them to southern firms on credit.

Three boats on the Mississippi were named Kate Adams. The second was responsible for a run from Helena, Arkansas to Memphis (ninety miles) in less than five and a half hours. The third was said to be the subject of this song, and the Jim Rees was the son of the founder of the Jim Rees Duquesne Engine Works.

Wheeler's second text, "She Leaves Memphis," has only the one verse in common with her first -- but since it's the key verse, and all the others are the sort of generic items one expects of bluesy songs, I concluded they were the same.

Even more complicated is the case of "Vicksburg Round the Bend." The first stanza is generic, with different cities being used; the second is standard blues, the third is found also in "What Does the Deep Sea Say," the fourth is the "Katie" verse, and the fifth is from "The Katie and the Jim Lee Had a Race."

More than anything else, these two versions (and even the first) show the difficulty of classifying songs of this type. These may be distinct in their origins, but they have cross-fertilized to the point where no clear line can be drawn. - RBW


  1. MWheeler, pp. 10-12, "Captain Jim Rees and the Katie" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 20-21, "She Leaves Memphis" (1 text, 1 tune); also perhaps p. 22, "Vicksburg Round the Bend" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. ST MWhee010 (Full)
  3. Roud #9997
  4. BI, MWhee010


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1944 (Wheeler)
Keywords: sailor work river
Found in: US