A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 22, 2007
“If the good Lord’s willin’ (and the creeks don’t rise)”

"If the Good Lord’s Willin’ (and the Creeks Don’t Rise)” means that if all goes well and nothing unforeseen occurs, this event will happen. “If The Good Lord’s Willing and The Creek Don’t Rise” is the title of 1955 country song by Jerry Reed, also recorded by Johnny Cash in 1958. “If The Good Lord’s Willin’ (And The Creeks Don’t Rise)” is the title of a Hank Williams, Jr. song from 2002.

“God willing and the creeks don’t rise“ was cited in 1834. “Providence permittin’, and the creek don’t rise” was cited in 1851. High water levels made routes impassable for 19th century Americans traveling on horses.

Some people have interpreted the saying to be about the Creeks (Native American tribe) rising, but the lack of capitalization—plus the context of the citations—seems to indicate that “creek” means a body of water.


Never ask a man if he is from Texas
Good Lord willin’; and the creek don’t rise. 

Longhorns, Aggies & the Texas State of Mind
“God willing and the creek don’t rise” means “if nothing unforeseen happens we’ll be there.”

July 1834, The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States (Washington, DC), pg. 387:
MAILS IN THE WEST.
FORT GIBSON, ARKANSAS, April 20, 1834.
MR. EDITOR: (...) There the half wild post-boy urges a worn and ancient steed through, not absolutely, “trackless forests,” but bridgeless swamps and streams; and, whenever he arrives, rara avis as he is, tells a tale forgotten though unknown.
(...)
This much he may hope that, “God willing and the creeks don’t rise, (as once said a Methodist preacher,) his answer will be received in sixty some odd days.

21 July 1849, The Spirit of the Times (New York, NY), “Reply to ‘A Young Turfman’: ‘Pop and that ‘Sharp Stick,’” pg. 258, col. 2:
... for it is our intention—the Lord willing and the creeks not too high—to leave here to-morrow on our way Northward.

June 1851, Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art and Fashion, “The Doolittle Delegation to a ‘Woman’s Rights Convention’” by Miss L. Virginia Smith, pg. 447:
“‘Feller-citizens—I’m not ‘customed to public speakin’ before such highfalutin’ audiences....Yet here I stand before you a speckled hermit, wrapt in the risen-sun counterpane of my popilarity, an’ intendin’, Providence permittin’, and the creek don’t rise, to ‘go it blind!’....”

17 November 1868, Petersburg (VA) Index, pg. 2, col. 1:
“Trust in Providence and keep your powder dry,” “God helps them who help themselves,” “Providence permitting and the creek don’t rise,” are all expressions which would never have occurred to a pious Mussulman.

6 August 1892, Portsmouth (OH) Times, pg. 1, col. 2:
Postmaster Clark says that “so preventing providence and the creeks don’t rise” he will get into the new postoffice by the first of October.

In Bad Company and Other Stories
by Rolf Boldrewood
London: Macmillan
1901
Pg. 214: ("Five Men’s Lives for One Horse"):
“I don’t care if it rains till Christmas,” remarked a dissipated-looking youth, who had successfully finished a game of euchre with a dirty pack of cards and an equally unclean companion. “It’s no odds to us, so long’s the creeks don’t rise and block us goin’ to the big smoke to blue our cheques. I don’t hold with too much fine weather at shearin’ time.”

28 Nov. 1908, Portsmouth (OH) Times, p. 4, col. 5:
It sprinkled a bit Monday, just in mocking reminder of what might have been had we been wise enough to return to the good old Democratic days of “Divine Providence permitting and the creeks don’t rise.”

YAHOO! Music
Hank Williams, Jr. 
If The Good Lord’s Willin’ (And The Creeks Don’t Rise) (2002)
From the album: Almeria Club
Genres: Outlaw Country

YouTube
If the Good Lord’s Willing - Johnny Cash
gduwen
Published on Nov 3, 2008
If the good Lord’s willing and the creek stays down
I’ll be in your arms time the moon come around ...

World Wide Words (February 25, 2012)
God willing and the creek don’t rise
(...)
That argues for a more mundane origin: the old-time difficulties of travelling on dirt roads that forded rivers and streams; a sudden storm could cause water levels to rise without warning and render the route impassable.
(...)
Mentioning Benjamin Hawkins is a masterstroke, since he was the General Superintendent for Indian Affairs between 1796 and 1818 and was principal Indian agent to the Creek nation; he became so close to its people that he learned their language, was adopted by them and married a Creek woman. Who better to write about the risks of the Creek rising in revolt?

But if the supposed letter was ever written, it doesn’t now exist in any archive that any researcher has so far found (his letters have been published, if anybody would like to check).

YouTube
Hank Williams Jr. - If The Good Lord’s Willin’
Tom Page
Published on Apr 18, 2013
From the 2002 album “Almeria Club”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Thursday, February 22, 2007 • Permalink