Behind the Meaning of the Classic Country Nursery Rhyme, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”

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Videos by American Songwriter

We all know the lyrics. We’ve heard it from kindergarten on. She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes! But who is she? What mountain? And where is she going?

And what’s with all the accoutrements that accompany her on her journey around this mountain?

Meaning and Origins

The traditional folk song is derived from a Christian spiritual known as “When the Chariot Comes.” The song has the regular refrain “…when she comes.” Like the nursery rhyme in question here, the song is about the return of Jesus.

The first time the song, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain,” appeared in print was in Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbook in 1927. Even before that, the Black spiritual, “When the Chariot Comes,” which was sung to the same melody, was later adapted by railroad workers in America’s midwest just prior to the 20th century in the 1890s.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning and History of the Nursery Rhyme “Three Blind Mice”]

The song was originally published in Old Plantation Hymns in 1899. All of these point to the Second Coming, or the return of Jesus Christ to the known world. In this way, the “she” in the song is actually the chariot, not a person, and Christ is the one in the driver’s position. “When the Chariot Comes” may have even been a coded anthem for the Underground Railroad. In this case, Black slaves used religious text to create messages for others to get free from their slave owners.

The song was also used in labor circles to refer to the coming of Mother Jones, a labor activist who visited fringe communities with labor issues and unionizing.

Later Adoptions of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”

Over time as communities have moved away from these more oppressive times, the song has become a standard for children and sung in schools. It’s appeared in many children’s music books, too. And since the 1920s, the song has been sung and recorded by many, from Bing Crosby to Pete Seeger and Neil Young.

Today, the song generally begins with the same three stanzas, which you can see below. But other lyrics are often added on or switched in later stanzas, from We’ll be eating purple pizza when she comes to She’ll be wearing pink pajamas when she comes. Check out the more common opening lyrics below:

She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes (yee-haw)
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes (yee-haw)
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes (yee-haw)

She’ll be ridin’ six white horses when she comes (whoa back)
She’ll be ridin’ six white horses when she comes (whoa back)
She’ll be ridin’ six white horses
She’ll be ridin’ six white horses
She’ll be ridin’ six white horses when she comes
(Whoa back)
(Yee-haw)

And we’ll all go out to greet her when she comes (yo, what’s up?)
Yeah, we’ll all go out to greet her when she comes (yo, what’s up?)
Oh, we’ll all go out to greet her
Yeah, we’ll all go out to greet her
We’ll all go out to greet her when she comes
(Yo, what’s up?)
(Whoa back)
(Yee-haw)

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning and the History of the Traditional Nursery Rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”]

Animation

The traditional railroad song was turned into a 1938 short animated film, called Mickey’s Trailer, in which Goofy sings the song as he drives the car and trailer up a hill. In the 1941 short, Timber, Donald Duck sings the song. (Outside of Disney, the song has been used in Peanuts cartoons, too).

Those included the lyrics:

We will kill the old red rooster when she comes
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes
We will kill the old red rooster, 
We will kill the old red rooster,
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes

Oh, we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes
Oh, we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes
Oh, we’ll all have chicken and dumplings, 
We’ll all have chicken and dumplings
Oh, we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes

She will have to sleep with Grandma when she comes
She will have to sleep with Grandma when she comes
She will have to sleep with Grandma, 
She will have to sleep with Grandma
She will have to sleep with Grandma when she comes

Check out a common children’s version below.

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