THE RIVERS OF WASHINGTON, by Stewart Hendrickson

Columbia River Gorge facing east toward Beacon Rock

The Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, Stilliguamish, Shoalwater, Columbia, Copalis, Clearwater, Kalaloch, Klickitat, Humptullips, Hamma Hamma, Hoh, Dosewallips, Dungeness, Puyallup, Pilchuck, Physt, Quillayutte, Queets, Grey Wolf, Yakima, Taholah, Tieton, Naches, Elwha, Raft, Moclips…  When I first moved to Washington I was amused by the recitation of rivers in weather reports of flooding. There ought to be a song there. In fact, there are several.

Of course everyone knows Woody Guthrie’s song, Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. He also mentions other rivers in this song, which became the official Washington State folksong in 1987. Sung by Woody Guthrie:


Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Green Douglas firs where the waters cut through
Down her wild mountains and canyons she flew
Canadian Northwest to the oceans so blue
Roll on Columbia, roll on

Other great rivers add power to you
Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too
Sandy Willamette and Hood River too
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Tom Jefferson’s vision would not let him rest
An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

It’s there on your banks that we fought many a fight
Sheridan’s boys in the blockhouse that night
They saw us in death but never in flight
So roll on Columbia, roll on

At Bonneville now there are ships in the locks
The waters have risen and cleared all the rocks
Shiploads of plenty will steam past the docks
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

And on up the river is Grand Coulee Dam
The mightiest thing ever built by a man
To run the great factories and water the land
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

These mighty men labored by day and by night
Matching their strength ‘gainst the river’s wild flight
Through rapids and falls, they won the hard fight
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

But there are other songs. Inspired by the folk song  Rivers of Texas, Mary Garvey wrote Rivers of Washington to the same tune. Sung by Mary Garvey:


I’m going back to the place I was planted
The place I was formerly taken for granted
Back where the rivers all ripple and wind
And you can come with me if you are inclined

I’ll show you the lowlands most likely to flood
Show you the mess left by St. Helen’s mud
And if you prove willing and anxious to learn
I’ll show you some places where salmon return

In the Coweeman we’ll go for a swim
Pick the blackberries when daylight grows dim
Undo our boat and just let it drift
Coweeman is gentle the Toutle is swift

We’ll go where the Toutle used to run clear
And look for the track left by muskrat and deer
And think on the mountain before it exploded
The rivers diverted the banks all eroded

If you want to feel better than ever you felt
We’ll stand in the Cowlitz go dipping for smelt
You’re sure to get cold and you’re sure to get wet
But you’ll sure have a day you can never forget

And if you’re still up for what nature discloses
We’ll seek out Kalama’s sweet banks of wild roses
You’ve never smelt Mother Nature’s perfume
If you’ve not smelt the banks of Kalama in bloom

I know you’ve seen sunsets quite often before
But have you seen one on Columbia’s shore
And seen that great river turn into gold
It will give you more beauty than your poor heart can hold

So if you should ask where I’d like to reside
It’s right at the point where these waters collide
And if you should ask just how long I’ll remain
Just as long as these rivers are fed by the rain

Another song, Ode to Puget Sound, was written in about 1944 by Carlton Fitchett, a writer for the Seattle PI, and sold to Ivar Haugland (of Ivar’s Acres of Clams) for a box of Cuban cigars! It features a more northerly set of rivers than Mary’s song. You can find this song in Linda Allen’s songbook “Washington Songs and Lore” (out of print, but available in your public library). Sung by Allan Hirsch:


As happy as a butter clam when tides are high I sing,
A grateful ode to Puget Sound, the land of everything;
I love it from Tulalip to Puyallup, Sequim and Pysht,
And to the Dosewallips where many times I’ve fished.

From Brinnon to the Bogachiel, from Lummi to La Push,
And from the lordly Sol Duc to lovely Duckabush,
From Samish to Sammamish, Suquamish to Quilcene,
The climate is so friendly it’s a land that’s evergreen.

There’s peace on the Skykomish, on the Queets and on the Hoh,
There’s calm on the Nisqually, born of ageless ice and snow;
A land that Nature loves so much she stays the whole year ’round
I’d trade a royal palace for a shack on Puget Sound!

There’s Chimacum and Steilacoom, where spouts the geoduck;
The singing Stillaguamish and the swirling Skookumchuck
And Moclips and Copalis, where the razor clams abound
A little bit of heaven is a shack on Puget Sound.

Newcomers to Washington need to learn the names of all these rivers and their proper pronunciation. Then sing these songs!

One thought on “THE RIVERS OF WASHINGTON, by Stewart Hendrickson”

  1. Thanks, Stew. I grew up where the Chehalis meets the Wishkah, in Kurt Cobains home town.
    See you June 9th.
    Dru Druzianich

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