I've been looking at some arrangements of "O Shenandoah", and am utterly confused about the lyrics. First of all: None make too much sense. I always thought it was about a river, but a good number of online sources such as Wikipedia claim it is about the Oneida Iroquois chief Shenandoah's daughter Sally.
A few things supporting the river interpretation:
Many songs make little to no reference to Native Americans (see the Tennessee Ernie Ford version on Wikipedia)
Why is the song addressed to Shenandoah if it's all about his daughter?
The real chief Shenandoah/Schenando/other versions of his name didn't live anywhere near the Missouri
This lyric makes even less sense in the chief interpretation: "When she rolls down, her topsails shiver"
The vocative case at one point is used on Shenandoah and then on the river
A few things supporting the chief interpretation:
What would a river's daughter be?
Why would so many versions reference Native Americans?
A few possibilities to consider:
Could there be two songs, one about rivers and one about a chief and his daughter, that got conflated into one song?
Wikipedia lists 4 different lyrics
Only 1 references Native Americans or Native American customs other than the name Shenandoah
So, here's the question:
Does anybody have further evidence to back one possibility, or an interpretation of the lyrics that makes it make sense? Furthermore, does anybody know of a version earlier than a supposedly pre-1860 sailing song found on Wikipedia?