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Roll On Columbia, Roll On

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Uploaded on Feb 22, 2008

words and music by Woody Guthrie.

Finely had time to make a new video, The photos are of the Columbia river from the Pacific Ocean all the way up to Canada.

Historical and Geographical Content

The chorus of "Roll On, Columbia, Roll On" declares that the Columbia River is "turning the darkness to dawn". This refers to the electricity generated by the New Deal hydropower projects that brought electricity to homes in rural areas.
The first verse describes the path of the Columbia River from the Canadian Northwest to the Pacific Ocean. The second verse lists a number of the Columbia's tributaries: the Yakima, the Snake, the Klickitat, the Sandy, the Willamette, and the Hood.
In some later versions, after the first two verses, a verse was inserted describing how Thomas Jefferson had sent Lewis and Clark to explore this region. Lewis and Clark had reached the mouth of the Columbia in 1805. However, this verse did not appear in Guthrie's original recording of the song.
The next four verses describe the late 19th century American Indian Wars that took place in the Columbia basin after white settlers followed the Oregon Trail westward and were met with resistance from the Native Americans. The first three of these four verses describe a battle with a congress of the northwestern tribes in the area surrounding Cascade Locks on the Washington bank of the Columbia. If the Indians had taken the blockhouse at this location, they would have continued on into Oregon and to the Willamette Valley. However, they were stopped when Philip Henry Sheridan sailed across from Fort Vancouver with soldiers. The fourth of these verses refers to additional Indian wars that occurred "year after year", citing battles fought near Cascades Rapids, in The Dalles, and on Memaloose Isle.
The final three verses describe the construction of two Columbia River dams: Bonneville Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Bonneville Dam, the first dam built on the Columbia, had locks built into it so ships could navigate past it, alleviating worries that a dam would prevent the shipment of goods and passengers along the length of the river. Guthrie's lyrics describe Grand Coulee Dam as "the mightiest thing ever built by a man"; when it was built it was the largest concrete dam in the world, and as of 2012 it is still the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States and one of the largest concrete structures in the world.

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