Sung by: Almeda Riddle
Recorded on 5/14/70
Click here to listen to the original recording
Way out in the hills, in the hills of Rome County,
That’s where in my happy boyhood I played,
And that’s where my heart keeps a-turning, oh, ever.
That’s where the first mistake in my life I made.
I was thirty years old when I courted and married,
And Amandy Gilbraith became my sweet wife,
But for some unknown reason her brother Tom shot me.
Then three weeks later I had taken Tom’s life.
Now I wandered o’er the earth in sorrow and sadness.
I went out to Europe, to Asia and Spain,
But I grew heartsick for the hills of Rome County.
I boarded a tramp steamer, and I came home again.
I was captured and tried in a village called Kingston.
Not a man in the whole county would say a good word.
The jury came in with a verdict next morning:
“Guilty of murder” were the words that I heard.
The train, it pulled out; my poor mother stood weeping,
And sister stood speechless with tears in her eyes,
And the last words I heard was, “Willie, God bless you.
God bless you and keep you, my darling. Goodbye.”
In the burning hot sands down here in the foundry
I’m a-working and toiling my whole life away.
They will measure my grave on the banks of the Cumberland,
Whenever I’ve served out the rest of my days.
For no matter whatever has happened in Rome County,
And no matter what the people have done unto me,
I still love those hills, those Cumberland Mountains,
Way back in my home in old East Tennessee.
(Mrs. Riddle: “That’s the way my grandfather sang it.”
Dr. Wolf: “Tell . . . Tell about the song, the history of it.”
Mrs. Riddle: “Well, my grandfather . . . I don’t remember the name of the young man that he said he learned it from--supposedly, that he’d written it, I believe. I believe that’s the way it was. But he did know the young man, and he did tell me that Jesse James knew this song and sang it. That he had sang this song, ‘Rome County,’ with Jesse James. That was back before the war when my grandfather was a young man, married man, with a family of two or three children when the war came out. And Jesse only was a lad, you see, and they met through the war . . .”
Dr. Wolf: “OKay. . . . That's one of the first songs I ever heard you sing.”
Mrs. Riddle: “Now, that would have properly shocked my mother. But the James side of the family wouldn’t have cared. But you never seen my mother even in her stocking feet. You knew her.”
Dr. Wolf: “Oh, yes.”)