“The Twa Brothers”


Two brothers agree to wrestle on their way to school. In the process, one is wounded by the other's knife. The unwounded brother (often) tries to save the wounded one, but it is too late; all that is left is to arrange for his burial and make excuses


In Friedman's A version, the brother is killed, not wrestling for fun, but in a fit of passion. - PJS

Indeed, this motif (which is not unusual; many of Davis's texts have it, for instance) gives rise to the possibility that what we have here is two songs mixed. Call them "The Twa Brothers" and "The Rolling of the Stones." In the former, the one brother kills the other as a result of accident or perhaps a (step?)mother's malice."

"The Rolling of the Stones," though it involves a death and is usually listed as a version of this song, has a very different feel. It is definitely a song of passion and jealousy, and ends with Susie, the girl of the piece, dancing to try to bring the dead man back to life.

The two have certainly mixed verses, making them hard to tell apart, but I'm not at all convinced that they are the same song. A curiosity is that the "Rolling of the Stones" texts seem to be mostly American, even though American texts rarely involve magic. But it should be noted that the endings of the texts in Child are very diverse; it may be that he simply hadn't found one of the "magic" endings.

Linscott has one of her usual folklorish explanations: "The event from which the ballad gets its theme happened near Edinburgh in 1589, when one of the Somervilles was killed by the accidental discharge of his bother's pistol." This connection ignores the fact that brothers are more than a little apt to quarrel over inheritances....

E. K. Chambers (_English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages_, p. 72) quotes a passage from a thirteenth(?) century fragment of a song which has not been connected with this piece, but which I find rather interesting:

Atte wrestling my lemman I ches,

And atte ston-kasting I him for-les.


At wrestling my love I chose,

And at stone-casting I him lost. - RBW

Also collected and sung by Ellen Mitchell, "Twa Brithers" (on Kevin and Ellen Mitchell, "Have a Drop Mair," Musical Tradition Records MTCD315-6 CD (2001)) - BS

Cross references


  • Nellie McGregor, "The Two Brothers" (on FSBBAL1)
  • Hobart Smith, "The Little Schoolboy" (on LomaxCD1702)
  • Belle Stewart, "The Two Brothers" (on Voice03) {Bronson's #13.2 in addenda}
  • Lucy Stewart, "The Twa Brothers [The Two Brothers]" (on FSB4, FSBBAL1) (on LStewart1) {Bronson's #11.1 in addenda}


  1. Child 49, "The Twa Brothers" (8 texts)
  2. Bronson 49, "The Twa Brothers" (41 versions plus 4 in addenda)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 99-106, "The Two Brothers" (1 text plus many excerpts including a complete Kentucky version, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
  4. Belden, pp. 33-34, "The Two Brothers" (1 text)
  5. Randolph 10, "The Two Brothers" (3 texts plus a fragment, 4 tunes) {Bronson's #13, #40, #3, #2}
  6. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 24-25, "The Two Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 10A) {Bronson's #13}
  7. Eddy 9, "The Twa Brothers" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #28, #30}
  8. Flanders/Olney, pp. 96-99, "Edward Ballad [listed as "Child 13" but obviously this piece though Bronson considers it a "too literary" mix of the two ballads with a peculiar tune]; pp. 230-232, "Martyr John" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #41, #38}
  9. Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 316-331, "The Twa Brothers" (4 texts, 5 tunes; the last two tunes are variants taken from the same informant) {A=Bronson's #41, B=38}
  10. Linscott, pp. 278-280, "The Rolling of the Stones or The Twa Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #14}
  11. Davis-Ballads 11, "The Twa Brothers" (11 texts, 6 tunes) {#23, #31, #5, #33, #10, #24}
  12. Davis-More 15, pp. 92-101, "The Twa Brothers" (5 texts, 5 tunes)
  13. BrownII 13, "The Two Brothers" (1 text)
  14. Chappell-FSRA 6, "The Two Brothers" (1 text)
  15. Hudson 7, pp. 73-74, "The Two Brothers" (2 texts)
  16. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 166-167, "The Twa Brothers" (1 text, locally titled "The Two Brothers")
  17. Brewster 9, "The Two Brothers" (2 texts)
  18. JHCoxIIA, #6, p. 21, "The Two Brothers" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
  19. Creighton/Senior, p. 25-26, "The Twa Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #39}
  20. Peacock, pp. 827-830, "The Two Brothers" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  21. Leach, pp. 163-167, "The Twa Brothers" (2 texts)
  22. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 136-138, "Two Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune)
  23. OBB 63, "The Twa Brothers" (1 text)
  24. Friedman, p. 169, "The Twa Brothers" (2 texts)
  25. Niles 20, "The Twa Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune -- a fragmentary text that opens like "The Twa Brothers," but has an ending that might be anything)
  26. Gummere, pp. 174-175+343, "The Twa Brothers" (1 text)
  27. SharpAp 12 "The Two Brothers" (12 texts, often short, plus a fragment ("E") that may be this; 13 tunes) {Bronson's #17, #10, #31, #24, #18, #19, #11, #9, #1, #15, #27, #25, #32}
  28. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 11, "The Two Brothers" (1 text, 1 tune -- an expanded composite version) {Bronson's #11}
  29. LPound-ABS, 18, pp. 45-46, "Two Little Boys" (1 text)
  30. JHCox 7, "The Twa Brothers" (2 texts)
  32. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #52-53, "The Wta Brothers" (1 text)
  33. Roud #38
  34. BI, C049


Alternate titles: “The Rolling of the Stones”; “The Murdered Boy”; “Two Little Boys Going to School”; “The Cruel Brother”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1825 (Motherwell)
Found in: Britain(England,Scotland), US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,NW,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)