You damned fools.

When I wrote 1995’s “Cotton Eye Joe” for electric bluegrass supergroup the Rednex, it was as a mission of mercy. I hoped that by weaving the grim truth of Cotton Eye Joe’s existence into the lyrics of a popular dance song I could reach the public and ready them. Ready them to face the godforsaken reality that Cotton Eye Joe, the 8-foot-tall burlap scarecrow whose sickle-bladed hands had left so much destruction in their wake, might someday return.

So many had already forgotten the danger. So many had already forgotten Cotton Eye Joe.

I tried to warn the world.

But none of you listened.

Where did you come from, where did you go?

Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?

These are the questions I ask myself every second of every day; the same questions hundreds of townspeople in Raven’s Perch County, Arkansas repeat each night as they clutch the faded pictures of those the scarecrow has taken. We’ve all heard the stories. Of the two farmer’s boys who wandered into an old silver mine and discovered the dried, burlap body of a scarecrow impaled beneath a heavy mining spike. How those boys then found two, wispy cotton eyes lying in the shadows atop a stalagmite nearby.

No one knows why they placed those damned cotton eyes back in Joe’s straw skull. But we all know the aftermath: a trail of burning villages, and families lying awake at night, remembering the sound of sickle scraping against bone.

If it hadn’t been for Cotton Eye Joe, I’d been married a long time ago

I can’t understand how you all misinterpreted this. Did you think Cotton Eye Joe was some small-town heartbreaker? A neighborhood cheat?

God, no. Cotton Eye Joe killed my fiancé. On the eve of our wedding night, as my bride and I prepared to sleep, we heard it: the faint scraping of a hewn blade on our window, a sickled hand proclaiming an inevitable doom. Then, right there, as my beautiful Shalia and I gazed nervously out into the blackness, we saw them. Those damned cotton eyes. Soulless and, yet, so cruel.

He brought disaster wherever he went

How was this lyric not clear to you?! Did I need to describe Cotton Eye Joe further?! Did I need to describe his lilting gait?! How he had no feet, just the pointed edges of two hard, wooden stakes? Should I have described his mouth? A single stitch in a patch of rough burlap that somehow curled into a smile of indescribable malice.

No. You see, all of these features were trivial compared to the nightmare of those pallid, cotton eyes. The way they shimmered in the darkness. The way they gleamed in the fires.

Of course, there were other lyrics, other lyrics I wrote that the Rednex’s were too cowardly to perform.

Joe makes man atone for his sins

Cuz’ he burns his crops and wears his skins

The only way to stop this fallen God

is to singe his eyes out with a burning cattleprod

The last one “didn’t fit the musical tone,” which was the same excuse the Rednex gave me when they cut my mid-song monologue! A tense four minutes in the middle of the piece in which I wept, lambasted Christ for creating something so unstoppably vengeful, and told the necessary story of how we stopped Joe during his first awakening.

You see, Joe would sometimes replace a scarecrow the townsfolk had built with his own body: a form of sick—but intelligent—camouflage. When a farmhand came to take the scarecrow down before a hard night’s rain, Cotton Eye Joe would strike.

It was only in one of these near animalistic assaults that we were able to lure Joe into a local church, and trap him there as we set the place ablaze. I still remember seeing him writhing near the pulpit, his sickle-bladed arms striking out at the burning boards as the roof caved in, and his eyes—his cold, cotton eyes—crackling with a coming vengeance that I knew would be far worse than the terrors we had known.

We never found Joe’s eyes in the rubble that night.

The Hearts of the Girls was to Hell, Broken, Sent

They all ran away so nobody would know

And left only men cause of Cotton Eye Joe

THIS! This is the doom to which you’ve consigned us all! Mothers and children sent, heartbroken, from towns where trembling men stage futile defenses against the burlap horror. A creature with no goal but to wreak a foundationless revenge on humanity itself!

As you danced your flailing foursquares in time to my words of warning, you ignored your one chance to stop the cycle and prevent whomever found Joe’s eyes from raising that stitch-hewn hellspawn once again.

Have you read the Arkansas Gazette? Entire counties are disappearing. Cotton Eye Joe’s back! All because you line-danced to my song, instead of listening to the dark truth in its lyrics!

Fools! I’d laugh, if I could!

But no. Now, there’s only one thing left to say.

Where did you come from?

Where will you go?

Where did you come from?

Cotton Eye Joe.

Suggested for You