“Jim Fisk”


Jim Fisk, though a rich and fine man, still remembers the poor and gives aid to many at the time of the Chicago fire. Fisk is shot by Edward Stokes (his rival for a girl); the singer is afraid that Stokes's wealth will allow him to win his freedom


Belden calls "Jubilee Jim" Fisk (1834-1872) "Jay Gould's fellow bandit in Wall Street."

He did in fact work with Jay Gould to secure control of the Erie Railroad from Cornelius Vanderbilt, and also helped manipulate the "Black Friday" gold crash of Sept. 24, 1871, but his business practices do not appear to have been unusual for the time -- and, unlike many speculators, he did try to appeal to the public (he has been called "the most opulent of the robber barons"). According to Gilbert, he sent supplies to help the survivors of the Chicago Fire (October 8, 1871). It is ironic that it is his murder, rarely mentioned in the histories, that gained him a place in oral tradition.

Fisk's assassin, Stokes, died in 1901, reportedly having spent his last years in neurotic fear of Fisk's ghost (e.g. Stokes would only sleep in lighted rooms).

Much additional information can be found in Cohen, who notes incidentally that the recorded versions of this song are generally much shorter than the original "Stokes' Verdict" text.

Botkin, apparently quoting Barry, claims there are three Jim Fisk songs. This one (which exists in many variants, but is recognized by the fact that most stanzas end with the word "poor") is said to be the "most popular" -- and is, as of this writing, the only one I have encountered.

Spaeth, _A History of Popular Music in America_, mentions this song several times, noting on p. 217 both the fact that this song was attributed to William J. Scanlon (whom he calls a typical composer of the era) and the difficulty with this attribution: The first sheet music, published in 1874, has the initials "J. S.," rather than "W. J. S.," and Scanlon in any case was only 15 at the time. - RBW

Historical references

  • Jan 6, 1872 - Edward Stokes shoots Jim Fisk, "his rival for... the actress Josie Mansfield." Stokes (who, despite the song, was not rich) spent four years in prison for manslaughter


  1. Laws F18, "Jim Fisk"
  2. Cohen-LSRail, pp. 90-96, "Jim Fisk" (2 texts, 1 tune, plus a copy of the cover of the sheet music)
  3. Belden, pp. 415-416, "Jim Fisk" (1 text)
  4. Dean, pp. 30-31, "Jim Fisk" (1 text)
  5. Friedman, p. 207, "Jim Fisk" (1 text)
  6. Flanders/Brown, p. 75, "Jim Fiske" (1 fragment, linked to this mostly on the strength of the line "He never went back on the poor.")
  7. Burt, pp. 49-50, "(no title)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Sandburg, pp. 416-419, "Jim Fisk" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 550-552, "Jim Fisk" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Gilbert, pp. 101-102, "Jim Fisk or He Never Went Back on the Poor" (1 text)
  11. DT 631, STOVRDCT*
  12. Roud #2215
  13. BI, LF18


Author: William J. Scanlon ?
Earliest date: 1874 (broadside)
Keywords: homicide trial money
Found in: US(MW,NE,So)