♫ Running Bear ♫ (Redux)

I played this one once before, back in 2020, and it was on my list of “songs that pop into my head unbidden in the middle of the night.”  So, what better time than the present?

This song was written by Jiles Perry (aka J.P.) Richardson, an influential Texas disc jockey known as “The Big Bopper.”  Richardson had a hit of his own in 1958 with Chantilly Lace, and on February 3, 1959, was killed in the same plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Rock and Roll was still in its infancy in the ’50s, and teenagers were the target audience. Many of the songs of that era are about teenagers, and like this one, often involve tragedy. In this song, Running Bear is a young Indian who falls in love with a girl from the rival tribe across the river. At the end of the song, they swim to meet each other and drown.

Richardson thought the Romeo & Juliet theme of this song was too serious for him to record. He passed it on to his friend, the Cajun musician friend Johnny Preston, who originally was unsure about the song but was eventually persuaded to cut it.

Released in 1959, this recording featured background vocals by Richardson, George Jones, and the session’s producer Bill Hall, who provided the “Indian chanting” of “uga-uga” during the three verses, as well as the “Indian war cries” at the start and end of the record. It was No. 1 for three weeks in January 1960 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart

This song makes me sad, but yet I cannot help but love it.  Tonight, I am offering two versions … both by Johnny Preston, but 49 years apart.  I don’t know about you guys, but I love to see the artists decades later performing their music from … well, decades before.  Pick one, pick both … it matters not as long as you enjoy the song.  That, after all, is what music is about … bringing us pleasure.

Running Bear
Johnny Preston

On the banks of the river stood runnin’ bear, young Indian brave
On the other side of the river stood his lovely Indian maid
Little white dove was-a her name, such a lovely sight to see
But their tribes fought with each other so their love could never be

Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love big as the sky
Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love that couldn’t die

He couldn’t swim the raging river ’cause the river was too wide
He couldn’t reach little white dove, waiting on the other side
In the moonlight he could see her blowing kisses ‘cross the waves
Her little heart was beating faster, waiting there for her brave

Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love big as the sky
Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love that couldn’t die

Runnin’ bear dove in the water, little white dove did the same
And they swam out to each other through the swirling stream they came
As their hands touched and their lips met, the ragin’ river pulled them down
Now they’ll always be together in that happy hunting ground

Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love big as the sky
Runnin’ bear loved little white dove with a love that couldn’t die

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: J. P. Richardson
Running Bear lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Carlin America Inc

15 thoughts on “♫ Running Bear ♫ (Redux)

  1. Jill, thanks for the back story. I had no idea The Big Bopper wrote this song. I always thought of him as DJ who had one big hit with Chantilly Lace and had the misfortune to be on the plane with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valenzuela that crashed.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that many of us didn’t realize that the Big Bopper wrote this … I surely did not until I first researched it! It’s so much fun to learn the background of these songs as I play them and remember them once again!


  2. Pingback: ♫ Running Bear ♫ (Redux) | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  3. I have to admit I loved the record as a nine year-old boy. Then I grew up, and the colonial lyrics of this song have becone increasingly offensive. People from India can be called “Indian,” but no one else can. Indigenous people in the Americas (which itself is an insulting term) should not have to put up with being labelled as something they are not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fully expected this would be your opinion, and was surprised that you hadn’t commented on it the last time I played it. Ah well, my friend … to me, as I’ve said many a time before, it is the music and I like the music. But, if we all liked the same things, the world would be a pretty dull place.


    • Only European colonizers refer to indigenous ppl as Native American. Clearly they were here long before Amerigo Vespucci “discovered” the new land.
      Indigenous Americans, who include Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations, and Native Americans, descend from humans who crossed an ancient land bridge connecting Siberia in Russia to Alaska tens of thousands of years ago.
      So where did the first Americans come from? Most researchers think Native American roots lie in Asia, although exactly where is not clear; but a few have suggested Europe, a decidedly minority view because today’s Native Americans have clear Asian ancestry. It turns out that both may be right, according to the latest ancient DNA evidence. A team based in Europe and the United States sequenced the entire genome from the skeleton of a boy who lived in Siberia 24,000 years ago (see photo), the oldest complete genome of a modern human to date. Surprisingly, the boy is closely related both to Eurasians and to Native Americans, but not to East Asians. So the researchers think that Native American ancestors with Eurasian roots might have interbred with East Asians sometime before making the journey over the Bering land bridge to the New World. The work, first reported by Science from a meeting in Santa Fe last month, is published today in Nature.
      Just goes to show… Mitakuye Oyasin – “we are all related” 🙂


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