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Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

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"Deportee" is a protest song
Protest song
A protest song is a song which is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs . It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre...

 with lyrics
Lyrics are a set of words that make up a song. The writer of lyrics is a lyricist or lyrist. The meaning of lyrics can either be explicit or implicit. Some lyrics are abstract, almost unintelligible, and, in such cases, their explication emphasizes form, articulation, meter, and symmetry of...

 by Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his...

 detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon, 20 miles west of Coalinga in Fresno County, California
Fresno County, California
Fresno County is a county located in the Central Valley of the U.S. state of California, south of Stockton and north of Bakersfield. As of the 2010 census, it is the tenth most populous county in California with a population of 930,450, and the sixth largest in size with an area of . The county...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The crash occurred in Los Gatos Canyon and not in the town of Los Gatos
Los Gatos, California
The Town of Los Gatos is an incorporated town in Santa Clara County, California, United States. The population was 29,413 at the 2010 census. It is located in the San Francisco Bay Area at the southwest corner of San Jose in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains...

 itself, which is in Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County, California
Santa Clara County is a county located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S. state of California. As of 2010 it had a population of 1,781,642. The county seat is San Jose. The highly urbanized Santa Clara Valley within Santa Clara County is also known as Silicon Valley...

, approximately 150 miles away. Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers
Migrant worker
The term migrant worker has different official meanings and connotations in different parts of the world. The United Nations' definition is broad, including any people working outside of their home country...

 who were being deported
Deportation means the expulsion of a person or group of people from a place or country. Today it often refers to the expulsion of foreign nationals whereas the expulsion of nationals is called banishment, exile, or penal transportation...

 from California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 back to Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...



The genesis of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" reportedly occurred when Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

 coverage of the event did not give the victims' names, but instead referred to them merely as "deportees." For example, none of the deportees' names were printed in the January 29, 1948 New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard. Guthrie responded with a poem, which, when it was first written, featured only rudimentary musical accompaniment, with Guthrie chanting the song rather than singing it. In the poem, Guthrie assigned symbolic names to the dead: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita; adiós, mis amigos, Jesús y María..."

The Mexican victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California
Fresno, California
Fresno is a city in central California, United States, the county seat of Fresno County. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 510,365, making it the fifth largest city in California, the largest inland city in California, and the 34th largest in the nation...

. There were 27 men and one woman, with only 12 of the victims ever being identified. The grave is 84 feet by 7 feet with two rows of caskets and not all of the bodies were buried the first day, but the caskets at the site did have an overnight guard.

A decade later, Guthrie's poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher
A teacher or schoolteacher is a person who provides education for pupils and students . The role of teacher is often formal and ongoing, carried out at a school or other place of formal education. In many countries, a person who wishes to become a teacher must first obtain specified professional...

 named Martin Hoffman. Shortly after, folk singer
Folk Singer
Folk Singer is a 1964 album by Muddy Waters. Waters plays acoustic guitar, backed by Willie Dixon on string bass, Clifton James on drums, and Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar...

 and friend of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger
Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

, began performing the song at concert
A concert is a live performance before an audience. The performance may be by a single musician, sometimes then called a recital, or by a musical ensemble, such as an orchestra, a choir, or a musical band...

s and it was Seeger's rendition that popularized the song during this time.

It has been suggested by the Three Rocks Research website that in fact, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" betrays Woody Guthrie's lack of understanding regarding the Bracero Program
Bracero Program
The Bracero Program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico, for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States.American president Franklin D...

. The program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements created by the U.S. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 in 1942, that permitted Mexican farm laborers (or braceros) to work in the United States due to the severe labor shortages caused by World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Under the terms of the program, the labor contractors were expected to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border, with the U.S. Immigration Service
Immigration and Naturalization Service
The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service , now referred to as Legacy INS, ceased to exist under that name on March 1, 2003, when most of its functions were transferred from the Department of Justice to three new components within the newly created Department of Homeland Security, as...

 being required to repatriate the Mexican citizens if the contractor defaulted. As such, the "deportation" of braceros in this fashion was simply a way of meeting the obligations of the program. However, it could be argued that Guthrie's song is less about the Bracero Program itself and more a comment on the attitude of American society
Society of the United States
The society or culture of the United States is a Western culture, and has been developing since long before the United States became a country with its own unique social and cultural characteristics such as dialect, music, arts, social habits, cuisine, folklore, etc...

 and the media
News media (United States)
Mass media are the means through which information is transmitted to a large audience. This includes newspapers, television, radio, and more recently the Internet. Those who provide news and information, and the outlets for which they work, are known as the news media.Some high-quality news media...

 towards the Mexican farm laborers.

In addition to being a lament
A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.-History:Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in human history have been laments. Laments are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and laments continued to be sung in elegiacs accompanied by...

 for the braceros killed in the crash, the opening lines of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)":
"The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote
Creosote is the portion of chemical products obtained by the distillation of a tar that remains heavier than water, notably useful for its anti-septic and preservative properties...


are another protest by Guthrie. At the time, government policies paid farmers to destroy their crops in order to keep farm production and prices high. Guthrie felt that it was wrong to render food inedible by poisoning it in a world where hungry people lived.

"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" has been described by journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 Joe Klein
Joe Klein
Joe Klein is a longtime Washington, D.C. and New York journalist and columnist, known for his novel Primary Colors, an anonymously written roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. Klein is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former Guggenheim...

 as "the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants "all scattered like dry leaves" in Los Gatos Canyon." The song has been covered
Cover version
In popular music, a cover version or cover song, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song...

 many times, often under a variety of alternate titles, including "Deportees", "Ballad of the Deportees", "Deportee Song" and "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)".


The song has been covered by a multitude of artists, including:
  • Dave Guard
    Dave Guard
    Donald David "Dave" Guard was an American folk singer, songwriter, arranger and recording artist. Along with Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane, he was one of the founding members of The Kingston Trio.Guard was educated in Honolulu, Hawaii, at Punahou School in what was then the pre-statehood U.S....

     and the Whiskey Hill Singers (featuring Judy Henske
    Judy Henske
    Judy Henske is an American singer and songwriter, once known as "the Queen of the Beatniks".-Life and recording career:...

    ) on Dave Guard and the Whiskey Hill Singers (1962)
  • The Kingston Trio
    The Kingston Trio
    The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that helped launch the folk revival of the late 1950s to late 1960s. The group started as a San Francisco Bay Area nightclub act with an original lineup of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds...

     on Time To Think (1963)
  • Cisco Houston
    Cisco Houston
    Gilbert Vandine 'Cisco' Houston was an American folk singer and songwriter who is closely associated with Woody Guthrie due to their extensive history of recording together....

     on Cisco Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie (1963)
  • Judy Collins
    Judy Collins
    Judith Marjorie "Judy" Collins is an American singer and songwriter, known for her eclectic tastes in the material she records ; and for her social activism. She is an alumna of the University of Colorado.-Musical career:Collins was born and raised in Seattle, Washington...

     on Judy Collins #3
    Judy Collins 3 (Judy Collins album)
    Judy Collins #3 is an album by American folk singer Judy Collins released in 1963. It spent 10 weeks on Billboard's Top 150 album charts in 1964, peaking at #126 on May 16.-Track listing:# "Anathea"...

  • The Byrds
    The Byrds
    The Byrds were an American rock band, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964. The band underwent multiple line-up changes throughout its existence, with frontman Roger McGuinn remaining the sole consistent member until the group disbanded in 1973...

     on the Ballad of Easy Rider (1969)
  • Joan Baez
    Joan Baez
    Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

     on Blessed Are...
    Blessed Are...
    Blessed Are... was a 1971 album by Joan Baez, and her last with Vanguard Records. It included her hit cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", and work by Kris Kristofferson, the Beatles, Jesse Winchester and The Rolling Stones, as well as a significant number of Baez' own...

     (1971), and live on Bowery Songs (2004)
  • Arlo Guthrie
    Arlo Guthrie
    Arlo Davy Guthrie is an American folk singer. Like his father, Woody Guthrie, Arlo often sings songs of protest against social injustice...

     on Arlo Guthrie
    Arlo Guthrie (album)
    Arlo Guthrie is a 1974 album by folk singer Arlo Guthrie.-Track listing:All tracks composed by Arlo Guthrie; except where indicated# "Won't Be Long"# "Presidential Rag"# "Deportees" # "Children of Abraham"...

     (1974) and with Pete Seeger
    Pete Seeger
    Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

     on Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger: Together in Concert (1975)
  • Bob Dylan
    Bob Dylan
    Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

     and Joan Baez
    Joan Baez
    Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

     during the 2nd Part of the Rolling Thunder Revue
    Rolling Thunder Revue
    The Rolling Thunder Revue was a famed U.S. concert tour consisting of a traveling caravan of musicians, headed by Bob Dylan, that took place in late 1975 and early 1976; the prevailing theory was that the tour was named after the Native American shaman Rolling Thunder. Others maintained that tour...

  • Dolly Parton
    Dolly Parton
    Dolly Rebecca Parton is an American singer-songwriter, author, multi-instrumentalist, actress and philanthropist, best known for her work in country music. Dolly Parton has appeared in movies like 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Steel Magnolias and Straight Talk...

     on 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
    9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
    Allmusic rated 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs four-and-a-half out of five stars. William Ruhlmann, who reviewed the album, stated that "most of Parton's albums are hard to recommend", but that "[the songs are] enough to put it a notch above most of Parton's RCA catalog." Critic Robert Christgau rated the...

  • Sweet Honey in the Rock
    Sweet Honey in the Rock
    Sweet Honey in the Rock is an all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble. They are an American Grammy Award-winning troupe who express their history as women of color through song, while entertaining their audience. They have together worked from four women to the difficult five-part harmony...

     on The Other Side (1985)
  • Christy Moore
    Christy Moore
    Christopher Andrew "Christy" Moore is a popular Irish folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is well known as one of the founding members of Planxty and Moving Hearts...

     on, Spirit of Freedom (1985)
  • The Highwaymen
    The Highwaymen (country supergroup)
    The Highwaymen were an American supergroup comprising four country music artists well known for, among other things, their involvement and pioneering influence on the outlaw country subgenre: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson...

     on Highwayman (1985)
  • Christina Lindberg
    Christina Lindberg (singer)
    Christina Lindberg, born November 4, 1968, is a Swedish country and dansband singerChristina has sung together with the "dansband" Lasse Stefanz and is probably most known for the song De sista ljuva åren, which was a Svensktoppen hit from February 1989 and the upcoming 65 weeks...

     on Stanna stanna (1985), in as "Flyktingarna" ("The Refugees") with lyrics by Martin Hoffman
    Martin Hoffman
    Martin L. Hoffman is an American psychologist, a professor emeritus of clinical and developmental psychology at New York University.His work largely has to do with the development of empathy, and its relationship with moral development....

  • Hoyt Axton
    Hoyt Axton
    Hoyt Wayne Axton was an American country music singer-songwriter, and a film and television actor. He became prominent in the early 1960s, establishing himself on the West Coast as a folk singer with an earthy style and powerful voice. As he matured, some of his songwriting efforts became well...

     on Hard Travelin (1986)
  • Gene Clark
    Gene Clark
    Gene Clark, born Harold Eugene Clark was an American singer-songwriter, and one of the founding members of the folk-rock group The Byrds....

     on So Rebellious a Lover (1987) – with Carla Olson
  • Peter, Paul and Mary
    Peter, Paul and Mary
    Peter, Paul and Mary were an American folk-singing trio whose nearly 50-year career began with their rise to become a paradigm for 1960s folk music. The trio was composed of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers...

     on Lifelines (1995) and Lifelines Live (1996)
  • Concrete Blonde
    Concrete Blonde
    Concrete Blonde is an alternative rock band based in the United States. They were initially active from 1982 to 1995, and again from 2001 to 2004, and once again in 2010.-Biography:...

     on Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals
    Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals
    An album produced as a joint effort between Johnette Napolitano and James Mankey, previously founding members of alternative rock band Concrete Blonde, and L.A. pachucho punk band Los Illegals...

  • Nanci Griffith
    Nanci Griffith
    Nanci Griffith, is an American singer, guitarist and songwriter from Austin, Texas.-Biography:...

     with an ensemble including Lucinda Williams
    Lucinda Williams
    Lucinda Williams is an American rock, folk, blues and country music singer and songwriter. She recorded her first albums in 1978 and 1980 in a traditional country and blues style and received very little attention from radio, the media, or the public. In 1988, she released her self-titled album,...

    , Tish Hinojosa
    Tish Hinojosa
    Leticia Hinojosa is a folksinger recording in both Spanish and English. Hinojosa was the youngest of 13 children. Hinojosa's parents were Mexican immigrants...

    , Odetta
    Odetta Holmes, known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement". Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals...

    , Steve Earle
    Steve Earle
    Stephen Fain "Steve" Earle is an American singer-songwriter known for his rock and Texas Country as well as his political views. He is also a producer, author, a political activist, and an actor, and has written and directed a play....

    , and John Stewart on Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful)
    Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful)
    Other Voices, Too is a 1998 album by Nanci Griffith. Following on from the Grammy Award winning album Other Voices, Other Rooms, Other Voices, Too is a second album of cover songs penned by a wide variety of singer/songwriters...

  • Los Super Seven
    Los Super Seven
    Los Super Seven is a predominantly Latin American supergroup which debuted in 1998. The group won a Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album in 1999 for its self-titled album. The group's musical style has changed with each incarnation, blending sounds from Tejano, mariachi, Cuban,...

     on Los Super Seven (1998).
  • Svante Karlsson on American Songs as "Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos/Goodbye Juan)" (1999)
  • Bruce Springsteen
    Bruce Springsteen
    Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen , nicknamed "The Boss," is an American singer-songwriter who records and tours with the E Street Band...

     on 'Til We Outnumber 'Em (2000)
  • Ox
    Ox (band)
    Ox is a Canadian alternative country indie band. The core of the band consists of Mark Browning on lead vocals and guitar, Ryan Bishops on guitar and piano, Shawn Dicey on bass and Max Myth on drums...

     on Dust Bowl Revival (2003)
  • Paddy Reilly
    Paddy Reilly
    Patrick 'Paddy' Reilly is an Irish folk singer and guitarist. He is one of Ireland's most famous balladeers and is best known for his renditions of "The Fields of Athenry" and "The Town I Loved So Well"....

     on The Very Best Of Paddy Reilly: 30 of His Finest Performances (2003)
  • Barbara Dane
    Barbara Dane
    Barbara Dane is an American folk, blues, and jazz singer.-Early life:Barbara Dane's parents arrived in Detroit from Arkansas in the 1920s. Out of high school, Dane began to sing regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she sat in with bands...

     on Classic Folk Music From Smithsonian Folkways (2004)
  • Derek Warfield and the Wolfe Tones
    Derek Warfield
    Derek Warfield is an Irish singer, songwriter, historian, and a founding member of the musical group Wolfe Tones.-Personal life:Warfield was born the eldest of four in Inchicore, Dublin in 1943 and he was educated at Synge Street CBS. He was apprenticed as a tailor until becoming a folk musician....

     on 50 Great Irish Rebel Songs and Ballads (2005)
  • The Battlefield Band on The Road of Tears (2006)
  • Billy Bragg
    Billy Bragg
    Stephen William Bragg , better known as Billy Bragg, is an English alternative rock musician and left-wing activist. His music blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs, and his lyrics mostly deal with political or romantic themes...

     on Talking with the Taxman about Poetry
    Talking with the Taxman about Poetry
    Talking with the Taxman about Poetry is the third release by Billy Bragg, released in 1986. With production by John Porter and Kenny Jones, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry featured more musicians than Bragg's previous works, which were generally little more than Bragg himself and a guitar....

     extended edition (2006)
  • Roy Brown Ramírez
    Roy Brown (Puerto Rican musician)
    Roy Brown Ramírez is a composer, singer and a fervent believer in the cause for the independence of Puerto Rico. Some of his songs have been performed by several renowned international artists.- Early years :...

    , Tito Auger
    Tito Auger
    Alfonso "Tito" Auger Vega is a Puerto Rican musician most known for being the lead singer of the Rock en Español band Fiel a la Vega. Auger is also the band's main songwriter, together with Ricky Laureano....

    , and Tao Rodríguez-Seeger
    Tao Rodríguez-Seeger
    Tao Rodríguez-Seeger is an American contemporary folk musician. He plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, and sings in Spanish and in English. He is known as a founder of The Mammals and is the grandson of folk musician Pete Seeger....

     on Que Vaya Bien (2006) (Spanish
    Spanish language
    Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

  • Richard Shindell
    Richard Shindell
    Richard Shindell is an American folk songwriter. Shindell grew up in Port Washington, New York. He currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his wife, a university professor, and their children....

     on, South of Delia
    South of Delia
    South of Delia is the seventh solo album by American folk singer-songwriter Richard Shindell. South of Delia is a cover album. Although he himself is sometimes described as a "songwriter's songwriter," covers are not new to Shindell...

  • Old Crow Medicine Show
    Old Crow Medicine Show
    Old Crow Medicine Show is an old-time string band based in Nashville, Tennessee. Their music has been called bluegrass, Americana, and alt-country, in addition to old-time. Along with original songs, the band performs many pre-World War II blues and folk songs...

     on Song of America
    Song of America (album)
    Song of America is a 3-disc, compilation album comprising 50 songs related to the history of America. Released on September 18, 2007 under Split Rock Records/Thirty One Tigers, the music collection was conceived by former U.S...

  • John Stewart "Illegals/Deportee Medley" on Secret Tapes 1984-87 (2009)

External links