The singer meets a schoolmarm who is seeking her lost lover Johnny. He tells her Johnny is drowned and buried far from home. The woman curses Wisconsin and Johnny's boss, and promises to give up teaching and any home near water
The Little Eau Pleine River (yes, there is also a Big Eau Pleine) flows into the Wisconsin River between Wausau and Stevens Point in central Wisconsin. About thirty miles long, it is hardly more than a creek.
Cazden et al regard this song as a parody of "Erin's Green Shore" [Laws Q27]. This is somewhat deceptive. It was set, by the author, to the tune of "Erin's Green Shore," but the lyrics are not derived from that piece, though they have links to assorted traditional pieces.
The plot description above sounds serious, and it is, but the song itself veers between humor and pathos -- e.g. the first verse notes that "the mosquito's notes were melodious," and the singer's clothes are described as "His pants were made out of two meal-sacks, with a patch a foot square on each knee."
Rickaby has extensive notes about William N. Allen, whom he met near the end of the latter's career.- RBW