No one is very sure where this song comes from. Hardly anyone agrees on the correct lyrics. No one is even sure what it is about. Some say it is the song of nostalgia and loss, some say it is a song of lost love, others say that it is the song of travellers who had to leave their homes in hope for a better place. Even others associate the song with slaves who escaped, looking to the river to lose their trail.
Although this music has a long oral history, it was first printed published in 1882 having been sung by British sailors around the same time, being referred to as a 'bowline chant' used aboard ships. How did a song about the Missouri River get this far? Was it through the clippers that ran down that river and out into the seas around the world?
I don't know. But I do know that it's a fantastic and uplifting piece of music. This version is not sung by the massed ranks of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (though I wish it was) but instead is recounted by just about every digital choir I have at my disposal: Mellotron, Magnus, Spectrasonics, Vocoder, and some real lo-tech types too.
This is also available on YouTube.