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The first appearance of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" in print was in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag in 1927. Sandburg reports that the negro spiritual “When the Chariot Comes", which was sung to the same melody, was adapted by railroad workers in the Midwestern United States during the 1890s. It is often heard today with responses that add on to the previous verse.
The original song was published in Old Plantation Hymns in 1899. It ostensibly refers to the Second Coming of Christ and subsequent Rapture, with the she referring to the chariot that the returning Christ is depicted as driving. Typically, she would refer to the church itself, not a chariot since nowhere in the Bible is Christ on a chariot. Like many spirituals that originated in the African-American community, this was probably a coded anthem for the Underground Railroad.
The secularized version that developed among railroad work gangs in the late 19th century has become a standard over the years, appearing in printed collections of children's music while also being performed by both children and adults in sing-alongs, particularly as a campfire song. Since the mid-1920s, "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" has been recorded by numerous musicians, ranging from Tommy Tucker and Bing Crosby to Pete Seeger and Neil Young.