An old wife goes to the doctor for a potion to blind her husband. The doctor suggests (eggs and) marrowbones. He says he wishes to die and asks her to push him off a cliff. As she runs to do so, he steps aside. She drowns; he says he cannot see to help


At one time witches were killed by drowning, and Flanders and Olney connect their fragmentary text (which mentions only the drowning and the husband pushing the wife in) with this phenomenon.

Mark Twain quotes a fragment of this piece in _Life on the Mississippi_.

The Catskills version has a peculiar ending in which the lady swims to the other shore and survives. Much as we would like this to be a feminist touch, it seems more likely that it was a lapse of memory.

Sam Henry had a text in which the man eventually rescued her. Perhaps there was an onlooker around somewhere?

A number of editors confuse "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] and "Marrowbones" [Laws Q2]. They obviously have thematic similarity, and probably have exchanged parts. But the "gimmick" is different in each case; there seems no doubt that they are now separate songs. - RBW

Cross references


  • Horton Barker, "There Was an Old Lady" (on Barker01)
  • Harry Cox, "Marrowbones" (on HCox01)
  • Betty Garland, "Love My Darlin' O" (on BGarland01)
  • Jimmy Knights, "Marrowbones" (on Voice06)
  • A. L. Lloyd, "Tigery Orum" (on Lloyd1)
  • John Maguire, "Marrowbones" (on IRJMaguire01)
  • Red Mick McDermott, "Marrowbones" (on IRHardySons)
  • Lawrence Older, "Woman from Yorkshire" (on LOlder01)
  • Ken Peacock, "Woman from Dover" (on NFKPeacock)
  • Wesley Smith, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (on MREIves01)


  1. Laws Q2, "The Old Wife of Slapsadam (The Wily Auld Carle; The Old Woman in Dover; etc.)"
  2. Belden, pp. 237-239, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, but only the second, with no letter, is this piece)
  3. Randolph 754, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, 2 tunes, but the "A" text goes with "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] while the "B" text belongs with this piece)
  4. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 239-240, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text)
  5. Eddy 30, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
  6. Flanders/Olney, pp. 13-14, "The Drowning Lady (The Witch Song)" (1 fragment, 1 tune, which might be either "Marrowbones" or "Johnnie Sands")
  7. Linscott, pp. 255-258, "The Old Woman in Dover" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. FSCatskills 141, "The Old Woman from Boston" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. SharpAp 55, "The Rich Old Lady" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
  10. Peacock, pp. 261-264, "Eggs and Marrow-Bones" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  11. Leach-Labrador 113, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Karpeles-Newfoundland 39, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Creighton-Maritime, p. 122, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 73, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. Ives-DullCare, pp. 109-110,243, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. BrownII 182, "The Old Woman's Blind Husband" (2 texts)
  17. Chappell-FSRA 44, "The Old Woman" (1 text, 1 tune)
  18. Brewster 60, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
  19. Doerflinger, p. 281, "The Wife of Kelso (The Wily Auld Carle)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  20. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 51, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
  21. Lomax-FSNA 274, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
  22. Chase, pp. 130-131, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune -- with a second verse created by Chase)
  23. SHenry H174, p. 507, "The Auld Man and the Churnstaff" (1 text, 1 tune)
  24. McBride 70, "The Wee Woman in Our Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
  25. Morton-Maguire 35, pp. 89-90,121,170, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  26. Kennedy 208, "The Old Woman of Blighter Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
  27. JHCox 157, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
  28. Darling-NAS, pp. 144-145, "There Was an Old Lady" (1 text)
  29. Silber-FSWB, p. 173, "Eggs And Marrowbones" (1 text)
  31. Roud #183
  32. BI, LQ02


Alternate titles: “Eggs and Marrowbones”; “Old Woman from Wexford”; “Dover”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1874 (quoted in Mark Twain, _Life on the Mississippi_)
Keywords: suicide trick drugs death
Found in: US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So) Britain(England(Lond,South),Scotland) Canada(Newf) Ireland